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7. Medieval World

The medieval era is generally defined as the period of European history from the fall of Rome (5th century) to the Renaissance (15th century). The Medieval era is often given only limited attention in histories of the West. In fact, the medieval era by far is the longest period of European history--spanning millennia.

Military Threats

•    The Huns were a major threat at the very outset pf Medieval Europe.
•    The next principal threat was the Moors and Saracens.
•    The Byzantines blocked the Islasmic advnce in the East, but Moorish armies invased Spain in the west and crossed the Pyranees into France. They were stopped by Frankish commander Charles Martel at Tours (732).
•    Saraceen raiders attacked into Europe penetrating into the Alps and even sacking Rome. Eventually the Ottoman Turls would renew the threat in the East.
•    The Hungarians raided throughout centrall Europe. They were a major threat until defeated and Christianized.
•    The northern Germani
•    people began raiding Christian Europe in the 8th century, first stiking the rich monastery at Lindesfarne, an island off northern England.
•    The Morsemen or Vikongs became a major threat to Christin Europe after the death of Charlemagne and the splintering of his domain.
•    The Vikings established Normany, a dukedom that rivaled the power of the French monarchy and Duke Willian of Normandy would conquer England (1066).
•    Danish and Norwegian Vikings struck west and south.
•    Swedish Vikings moved east and became reasons for development of Russia but also in spread of trade and evolution of democracy in England.
•    Late medieval Europe would face assaults from the Mongols ad than the Ottoman Empire.

Decisive Battles

•    The Medieval era streches for essebtially a millenium. During that era there were countless battles. The Medieval era can be defined chronolgically in different ways. It is difficult to define the beginnin and end of the medieval battles. We tend to view them with disappearance of the Eastern Roman Empire (5th century AD) and the increasing use of gun powder weapons (16th century).
•    The most famous battles of the medieval era are those fought in Western Europe.
•    The battle of Yarmuk (636) in the Middle East had profound consequences.
•    The Arabs at Yarmuk decisively ended the Christian Byzantine hold on the Middle East and within decades Muslim armies had entered Europe, conquered Spain and threatened France, a threat defeated at the battle of Poitiers (732).


The greatest artifacts of the medieval era are the castles that can be found all over Europe, especially Western Europe. These castles were an integral part of the Medieval era and feudal system. Security was a major concern of Europeans, constantly facing raids from war-like peoples like the Huns, Bulgars, Maygars, Mongols, Vikings, Saracens, and others.

Building fortified structures like castles was important for a feudal lord to establish his control over his land and to guarantee his security.
The first castles were rudimentary strongholds. Castle building technology gradually developed to a fine art. The Welsh castles built by the Normans are some of the finest examples of castles building.

The medieval era lasted for a millennia. In the later era the feudal lords and barons posed an obstacle to monarchs attempting to form nation states. Here the invention of gun powder and cannons gave monarchs the ability to reduce even imposing structures resulting in the emergence of modern nation state.


The medieval era spanned a milenia and during this period art made the transition from Roman art to an entirely new form, what we now know as medieval art. The base for medieval art is the classical tradition of Greece and Rome. Medieval art is generally seen as the art of Europe after the fall of Rome (5th century) through to the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). Give the vast time span and the many different cultures and peoples, there were many different types of medieval art. And the various types of medieval art were often expressed quite differently depending on the specific country. The major forms of medieval art in western Europe include: Late Antique art (lingering Roman styles in the early medieval period), Romanesque, and Gothic. Byzantine art was important in eastern Rurope. The Byzantines reqjected western art in the medieval era seeing as a barbaric (German) perversion oof Roman art.

There is also a wide ange of media, including wooden and stone free-standing and architectural sculpture to stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, manuscript illuminations (typically tempera and gold leaf on parchment or vellum), oil paintings, tapestries, and others. Painting as we now know it virtually disappeared with the fall of Rome. For an incrediblr 7-8 centuries there are almost no notable paintings. Western pictorial expression is almost totally focused on the art of manuscript illumination--mostly the illumination of Bibles and other religious texts.


The music of the medieval era is a vast and complex topic in that it encompases a period of avout a millenia from the fall of Rome (5th cetury AD) to the Renaisance (14th-14th centuries). There were two principal types of music during the medieval era, sacred (Church) and seciular music. Most of what we know about medieval music (especially) the Dark Ages is sacred music. Only the church had the institutional capability to create records of music and preserve it for future generations.

Church music was dominated by plainsong (chant) for most of the medieval era. Polyphony was invented (12th century), but did not immediately replace plainsong. An important part of church music was produced by choirs.

The early church turned away from communal singing and excluded women from singing in the church. Thus boys came to play an important role in sacred music.

Very little is known about secular music in the Dark Ages. After the fall of Rome the institutions which training singers and musicians disappeared. And what music continued was based on an oral tradition. It was not recorded on paper and virtually nothing has survived.


Passion Plays are medieval dramatizations of Christ's Passion. Traditionally Christ's Passion is seen as the last few day's of Christ's life, the period of intense suffering from the Garden of Gethsemane to his Crucifixion. The medieval passion plays gradually grew in length and commonly included Old Testament scenes as well as the Resurrection They began to appear in the 10th century in a basic form and had reached their peak of development n the 14th century. There were regional differences as the the style and content. In addition to the cycle plays (based on Biblical stories), there were also Morality Plays (allegorical plays in which personified virtues and vices competed for the soul of man.

The medieval dramas are of considerable historic importance because they represent an expression of the fervent religious belief of medieval Europe. They were also the first appearance of formal drama in Europe since classical times. Althoug the Church had played a role in the evolution of Passion Plays, they wereunable to mantain control of these productions which over time became more popular entertaiment than religious celebration. Ecclesiastical (Catholic and Protestant) and civil authorities acted to supress the productions in the 16th century. The Oberammergau Passion Play is the most important one to survive.

Cultural State

Various authors have addressed the problem of defining the medieval era. Some stress that medieval is not only a time period but also a cultural state of the people, a state of consciousness. Jean Gebser wrote a lot about states of consciousness.

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