The Middle Ages, or medieval period, lasted from the Fall of Rome to about the
year 1500. (Medieval comes from the Latin words meaning “middle age.”) The
Middle Ages can be broken up into 2 parts: the Early Middle Ages (500-1000 AD)
and the High Middle Ages (1000-1500 AD)
Following the breakup of Rome, Europeans were again split up into hundreds of
small tribes. Fighting between these tribes often took place. Because war was a
constant part of life in the Middle Ages, people were mostly worried about the
afterlife. Therefore, throughout the Middle Ages, the influence of the Christian
church grew.
Learning, science, and logic, which had been encouraged by the ancient Greeks
and Romans, were replaced by faith alone. Therefore, people during the Middle
Ages lived in a state of poverty, fear, and ignorance.
The Church’s main function was to convert non-Christians and to help its
followers get into heaven when they died. Certain sacred rites, called
sacraments, were required to be performed by priests in order to get into
heaven. Unfortunately, over time, the Church became corrupt, as many priests
violated their vows of poverty and chastity. In addition, the Catholic Church often
encouraged kings to go to war. For example, Pope Urban II ordered Christians
to participate in a holy war against the Muslims. This was known as the
Democracy was almost nonexistent during the Middle Ages and was replaced by
feudalism. Feudalism is a system in which people pledged their loyalty to kings
and queens in return for land. In order to protect the monarch, castles were built,
new weapons were constructed, and a new class of knights (mounted warriors)
was created.
The only major democratic act took place in England, where a group of angry
nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”). This
document established two important principles. One was that the power of the
king was limited by law. The other was that the monarch had to obey the law.
During the High Middle Ages, powerful countries began to form under one king,
such as England, France, and Spain.
The Middle Ages came to an end after two devastating events. First, France
defeated England in an exhausting conflict known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Second, the bubonic plague (spread by fleas on rats) killed 1/3 of Western