Unit Outline - The Dark Ages

Global Studies I
Mr. Mintzes
and The Early Middle Ages
The Dark Ages in Western Europe
Early scholars gave the name "Dark Ages" to the four hundred or so year period in Europe after
the fall of the Roman Empire.
During this period, barbarian Goths, Vandals, and Huns swept down on Europe from
the north and east.
They destroyed many fine buildings and works of art that had existed during
Roman times.
Many of the libraries that contained some of the great works of Greece and Rome
were destroyed, as were the records and the histories.
Knowledge survived only in monasteries – growth of Monastic orders
Benedictine Rule: a set of “rules” for monks: they could own no property – all
belonged to the community of the order – must spend time each day in prayer –
must work for the good of the community of the order. Abbot was the elected
head of the community.
Monks and priests were the only people who could read and write and there
were very few schools.
Monks also transcribed the Bible, producing the only books that were being made
or “circulated”
Monasteries also served as hospitals and Inns for the few people who were
traveling. Monasteries were the only real “safe” places.
Many of the old arts and crafts were lost. Very little in the way of scientific or cultural
Trade and Commerce
Trade and commerce virtually non-existent. Roads and bridges built by the Roman were
in a state of disrepair – no government to maintain them.
Roads were unsafe – barbarians and bandits would rob and kill travelers and merchants –
local “warlords” would charge tolls for using roads or bridges in their territory.
Church rules also limited commerce.
Church had rules against making a profit from business.
People who loaned money could not charge interest – Usury was against
church rules. (Many Muslims and Jews entered business and began to
become bankers who loaned money and invested in business. As nonChristians they were not bound by Church rule and regulations.)
Eastern Europe & the Eastern Empire
The eastern Roman Empire was not conquered by the barbarians. It was originally founded with
a capital at the old Greek city of Byzantium.
The name of Byzantium was changed to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine, who
ordered the construction of the great city.
The arts still flourished in the Eastern Empire.
Outside Europe people were still thinking and creating fine works of art, poetry, drama
and literature.
In China and India, great civilizations grew and spread. In the 1000s, Europe began to
slowly recover from its artistic darkness. The lost knowledge of the ancient Greeks and
Romans was found again. There was a new interest in learning, and the richer life of the
Middle Ages began.
The Age of Feudalism
During the Dark Ages many changes in society and the political structure took place.
Less writing, education, trade (called the Dark Ages)
Political fragmentation. There were many leaders. The kings had less power because
countries were divided into areas controlled by feudal lords.
 There were many barbarian tribes – most of which were Germanic.
German political traditions differed - People were loyal to a tribe, not to a country.
German legal traditions differed - They had laws for individual tribes.
German cultural traditions - They had no written literature, and ruins were used for
Magyars also invaded Europe
Magyars invaded north Italy and south Germany in the 9th Century, contributing to the
decline of central authority, disrupting trade, hurting agriculture, and destroying
settlements and monasteries.
The Magyars fought on horseback, which led to Europeans fighting on horseback.
The Magyars led to an increase in feudalism and a decline in monarchs' power.
 The Church preserved ancient writings and Biblical writings.
 The Christian Church helped unify people of Europe because of its centralized authority and
hierarchical nature.
 The Church unified the people because it was the only constant.
 The Church was the single most powerful entity and force in Europe in the Middle Ages.
 Issues with Church power:
Lay investiture – Kings and nobles sometime appointed loyal friends to high
church positions. Church objected but practice went on anyway.
Simony - people with money could pay to get high church positions.
Heresy - Church did not allow anyone to question the basic principles of the
Church – demanded total obedience.
Canon Law – the church had its own courts where members of the clergy were
tried for offenses – some Kings or lords wanted clergy who committed
offenses outside the church tried in civil courts not church courts.
Excommunication – a person who violated Church law could be
excommunicated (cut off from the church) The could not receive the
sacrament or be buried in sacred ground – all Christians had to avoid them
and could not give them aid or assistance.
Interdict – issued against an entire region for violations of church law. Churches
were closed, no burials or wedding could be performed, all persons in the
region risked eternal damnation.
Tithe – Church had the power to tax. One tenth of each person’s income was
collected from all Christians.
Feudalism & the Manor System
Feudalism was the political and social structure during the Middle Ages.
Feudalism organized to satisfy the two most basic needs of the time: protection and food.
Manor System - developed out of necessity. Landowning nobles had lots of power.
Many were left over from the old Roman Empire nobility
The Manor was a self-contained community. It provided almost everything that the
residents needed in terms of food, water, power to grind grains grown on the manor,
protection, etc.
Lord of the Manor: lived in the Manor House (generally large dwellings – often
fortified to provide protection – later became castles with walls and battlements.
manor residents could come within the walls of the manor house or the castle for
protection from barbarian raids, Viking attacks, bandits, etc.
There was no need for trade as everything needed was produced on the manor.
Most people during this period lived on manors – There were few villages or
towns and fewer cities.
A large percentage of the land in Western Europe was owned by nobles or the Church.
Church lands were often owned by monasteries. Monasteries were run by the
Abbot – often elected by the monks. Abbot had the right to grant land to nobles.
Feudalism was a system based upon mutual loyalty, fealty, service and protection.
Lord/King/Abbot would grant land to a noble. The noble became the vassal of the
King/Lord/abbot. The land was called a fief.
In return for the fief, the Vassal swore fealty/loyalty to the lord who had granted him the
land. The vassal might then divide his own land and award fiefs to lower level nobles
(knights) who then became his vassals
 If the lord’s lands were attacked, the vassal would join the lord’s army. If the vassal
had knights under him, his knights would go with him to fight for the lord.
 The vassal would also pay taxes to the lord, or a portion of the crops, etc. as taxes
Knights: many nobles became knights “Sir XXXX” – they learned how to ride, fight,
etc. Knights also practiced code of Chivalry - vowed to be honorable, brave and loyal.
Chivalry also meant a duty to protect women. (Today we still use the word “chivalrous”
to mean a man who is respectful and helpful to women.)
Serfs – majority of the population. They owned no land. Farmed the land, and could not
leave it – although they were not slaves. Lord gave them land to farm in return for their
services to him. The lord was obligated to protect them in times of war.
The Life of a Serf
Serfs lived in crowded living areas (1-2 room cottage).
Serfs had many obligations to lord in exchange for protection.
They turned over all crops to the lord, and paid for using the lord's stuff by giving some
crops from their own strips of land.
Serfs worked about three days a week for the lord, and they practiced crop rotation.
A serf could not leave the manor with out the lord's permission.
They could be told who to marry, but they did have some rights - their kids couldn't be
taken away.
Serfs had simple diets and traveling minstrels and entertainers came to the manor.
Serfs rarely left the manors, knew almost nothing of the outside world, and usually didn't
Role of Noblewomen: not formally educated but trained in weaving, spinning and
managing servants. Women took charge when husband (lord of the manor) was away
fighting wars – managed household. Few inheritance rights.
Primogeniture: right of the first-born son to inherit from the father.
Some powerful tribal chieftains/monarchs did appear in the early Middle Ages:
Clovis became King of the Franks in 481. He united all Frankish tribes, and conquered Romans
and Germans in Northern Gaul. The unification fell apart after his death because his sons messed
it up.
Charles the Hammer
In 732, Charles the Hammer (Charles Martel) defeated Muslims at Battle of Tours. The defeat
moved Europe toward Christianity and away from Islam. Without this victory, Europe may have
become a Muslim nation. The Battle of Tours united the Franks, and the Franks became the
leading power in western Europe. This increased the power of the church and the Pope.
Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was tall and powerful. He became the leader of the Franks in
768. Charlemagne united the Franks and expanded the kingdom, and promoted learning. In 800,
on Christmas day, he was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor. Even though he was a strong
Christian, he didn't like the Pope crowning him because he feared the Pope would have more
power. His empire blended Germanic, Christian, and Roman elements.
Carolingian Renaissance
 Much of his reign was spent at war – built largest empire since the fall of Rome
 Greatly interested in education – founded a school for children of nobles at his palace
 Brought in monks to teach at the schools – brought in artists and sculptors
 Ordered bishops to create libraries throughout empire and to have manuscripts copied
by monks.
 Ordered bishops to create schools for children of nobles and lower classes throughout
 He standardized the Bible
Charlemagne died in 814CE. His empire was divided among his three sons and soon
broke apart.