The Middle Ages: birth of an idea
The expression “Middle Ages” tells us more about the Renaissance who followed him than about the era itself. Starting around the 14th century, European thinkers, writers, and artists began to look back and celebrate their country’s art and culture. ancient Greece And Rome. As a result, they viewed the period after the fall of Rome as a “middle” or even “dark” age, in which no scientific achievements had been made, no great art had been produced, no great leaders. was born. According to this argument, medieval peoples had squandered the progress of their predecessors and became mired in what the 18th-century English historian Edward Gibbon called “barbarism and religion.”
This way of thinking about the era “in the middle” of the fall of Rome and the rise of the Renaissance prevailed until relatively recently. However, scholars today note that this era was as complex and dynamic as any other.
The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages
After the fall of Rome, no state or government united the people who lived on the European continent. Instead, the Catholic Church became the most powerful institution of the medieval period. Kings, queens, and other rulers derived much of their power from their alliances and protection with the Church.
In 800 CE, for example, Pope Leo III named the Frankish king Charlemagne the “Emperor of the Romans” – the first since the fall of that empire more than 300 years ago. Over time, Charlemagne’s kingdom became the Holy Roman Empire, one of several political entities in Europe whose interests tended to align with those of the Church.
Ordinary people across Europe were required to “tithe” 10 percent of their income each year to the Church; at the same time, the Church was mostly exempt from taxes. These policies helped him accumulate a lot of money and power.
The Middle Ages: the rise of Islam
Meanwhile, the Islamic world was growing larger and more powerful. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE, Muslim armies conquered large parts of the Middle East, uniting them under the rule of a single caliph. At its peak, the medieval Islamic world was more than three times larger than all of Christendom.
Under the caliphs, great cities like Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus fostered a vibrant intellectual and cultural life. Poets, scientists and philosophers wrote thousands of books (on paper, a Chinese invention that made its way to the Islamic world in the 8th century). Scholars translated Greek, Iranian, and Indian texts into Arabic. Inventors designed technologies such as the pinhole camera, soap, windmills, surgical instruments, and an early flying machine. And religious and mystical scholars translated, interpreted, and taught the Quran and other scriptural texts to the people of the Middle East.
Towards the end of the 11th century, the Catholic Church began to authorize military expeditions, or Crusades, to expel Muslim “infidels” from the Holy Land. The Crusaders, who wore red crosses on their coats to announce their status, believed that their service would guarantee the remission of their sins and allow them to spend all eternity in paradise. (They also received more material rewards, such as papal protection of their property and the cancellation of certain types of loan payments.)
The Crusades began in 1095, when Pope Urban summoned a Christian army to fight his way to Jerusalem, and continued intermittently until the end of the 15th century. In 1099, Christian captured armies Jerusalem of Muslim control and groups of pilgrims from all over Western Europe began to visit the Holy Land. Many of them, however, were robbed and killed as they passed through Muslim-controlled territories on their journey.
Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens created a military order with eight relatives and acquaintances which became the Military Order. Knights Templar, and they eventually gained the support of the pope and a reputation as formidable fighters. THE Fall of Acre in 1291 marked the destruction of the last refuge of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, and Pope Clement V dissolved the Templars in 1312.
No one “won” the Crusades; in fact, thousands of people on both sides lost their lives. They effectively gave ordinary Catholics throughout Christendom a sense that they shared a common goal, and they inspired waves of religious enthusiasm among people who might otherwise have felt alienated from the official Church. They also exposed the Crusaders to Islamic literature, science, and technology – exposure that would have a lasting effect on European intellectual life.
The Middle Ages: art and architecture
Another way of showing devotion to the Church was to build large cathedrals and other ecclesiastical structures such as monasteries. Cathedrals were the largest buildings in medieval Europe and could be found in the centers of cities across the continent.
Between the 10th and 13th centuries, most European cathedrals were built in the Romanesque style. Romanesque cathedrals are strong and substantial: they have rounded masonry arches and barrel vaults supporting the roof, thick stone walls, and few windows. (Examples of Romanesque architecture include Porto Cathedral in Portugal and Speyer Cathedral in present-day Germany.)
Around 1200, church builders began to adopt a new architectural style, known as Gothic. Gothic structures, such as the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis in France and the reconstructed Canterbury Cathedral in England, feature huge stained glass windows, pointed vaults and pointed arches (a technology perfected in the Islamic world), as well as arrows and flying buttresses. . Unlike heavy Romanesque buildings, Gothic architecture seems almost weightless. Medieval religious art also took other forms. Frescoes and mosaics decorated church interiors, and artists painted devotional images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and saints.
Also, before the invention of printing press in the 15th century, even books were works of art. Artisans at monasteries (and later universities) created illuminated manuscripts: handmade sacred and secular books with color illustrations, gold and silver lettering, and other embellishments. Convents were one of the few places women could receive higher education, and the nuns also wrote, translated and illuminated manuscripts. In the 12th century, urban booksellers began marketing smaller illuminated manuscripts, such as books of hours, psalters, and other prayer books, to wealthy individuals.
Chivalry and courtly love were celebrated in tales and songs spread by troubadours. Some of the most famous stories in medieval literature include “The Song of Roland” and “The Song of Hildebrand.”
The black death
Between 1347 and 1350, a mysterious illness known as ” black death “(bubonic plague) killed some 20 million people in Europe, or 30 percent of the continent’s population. It was particularly deadly in cities, where it was impossible to prevent transmission of the disease from one person to another. to another.
The plague began in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. Most of the sailors on the ships were dead and those who were alive were covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. Symptoms of the Black Death included fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains, and then death. Victims could go to bed healthy and die in the morning.
The plague killed cows, pigs, goats, chickens and even sheep, leading to a shortage of wool in Europe. Of course, terrified of this mysterious disease, some people in the Middle Ages believed that the plague was divine punishment for sin. To obtain forgiveness, some people became “flagellants,” traveling across Europe to make public displays of penitence that could include whippings and beatings. Others turned on their neighbors, purging people they believed to be heretics. Thousands of Jews were murdered between 1348 and 1349, while others fled to less populated areas of Eastern Europe.
Today, scientists know that the plague was caused by a bacillus called Yersina pestiswho travels through the air and can also be contracted through the bite of an infected flea.
The Middle Ages: economy and society
In medieval Europe, rural life was governed by a system that scholars call “feudalism.” In a feudal society, the king granted large plots of land called fiefs to nobles and bishops. Landless peasants, called serfs, did most of the work on the fiefs: they planted and harvested the crops and gave most of the produce to the landowner. In exchange for their work, they were allowed to live on the land. They were also promised protection in the event of enemy invasion.
However, in the 11th century, feudal life began to change. Agricultural innovations such as the heavy plow and three-field crop rotation made farming more efficient and productive, so fewer farm workers were needed – but thanks to the expanded and improved food supply, the population increase. As a result, more and more people were drawn to cities. Meanwhile, the Crusades had expanded trade routes to the East and given Europeans a taste for imported goods such as wine, olive oil, and luxury textiles. As the commercial economy grew, port cities in particular prospered. In 1300, Europe had around fifteen cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
In these cities, a new era was born: the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of great intellectual and economic change, but it was not a complete “renaissance”: it had its roots in the world of the Middle Ages.