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Kievan Rus

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Varangians – the Vikings played the crucial role in the establishment of Kievan Rus. They built their trade centers in the eastern Baltic from where they penetrated deep into today’s Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and traded with the Byzantine Empire and Asia. The primal goal of the Varangians was the quest for new markets and trade routes but it ended with occupation of today’s western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where they established their kingdom – Kievan Rus.

Vladimir I

Vladimir I

Kievan Rus was established about 882 when prince Oleg, the ruler of Novgorod seized Kiev and made it his capital. His successors led successful campaigns against the Khazars, Pechenegs and Bulgarians, and several times endangered the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines managed to repulse the Kievan aspirations through political means and achieved an alliance with Kievan Rus through marriage of Anna, sister of Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir I (980-1015). Kievan Rus reached its zenith during the reign of Vladimir I and his successor Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054). The Golden Age of Kievan Rus also saw adoption of Christianity and increased influence of the Byzantine culture.

Kievan Rus began to decline in the second half of the 11th century mostly due to nomadic invasions and struggles over the throne. In the middle of the 12th century began to rise the regional centers of power: Halych on the west, Novgorod on the north, Vladimir-Suzdal on the northwest and Kiev on the south. However, Kievan forces were severely defeated by the Mongols in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and Kievan Rus was invaded and subjugated by the Mongols in 1237-1240.

Demographical Changes in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The High Middle Ages was marked by the rapid growth of population. By some estimations the European population between 1000 and 1300 even doubled. According to J.C. Russel 22,6 million people lived in Western Europe about the year 1000 and 54,4 million before outbreak of the Black Death in 1348. M.K. Benett estimated that population in Europe numbered 42 million about the year 1000 and 72 million about the year 1300.

The causes for the dramatic growth of population during the High Middle Ages are not exactly known. Some historians believe that the progress of agricultural techniques and tools which enabled more efficient production is the main reason for the rapid growth of population in Europe between 1000 and 1300. However, this theory does not explain the growth of population in regions where the agricultural progress did not occur. Growth of population in the High Middle Ages was most likely influenced by several factors including the growth of the cities, increased trade with the East after the Crusades, colonization of new areas by deforestation and drying of marshes, and cessation of the Viking and Hungarian invasions.

Invasions and Conquests in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Viking and Hungarian invasions in Western Europe ceased by the beginning of the High Middle Ages, while the Muslim rule in Sicily and Southern Italy collapsed. However, at the same time Europe saw the invasions of the Normans (descendants of the Vikings who settled in today’s Normandy in northern France in 911), Mongols and Ottomans.

The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy mostly took place during the 11th century, while the Norman Conquest of England began with the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. In 1169, the Normans invaded Ireland and at the same time subdued Wales and Scotland and replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class. Eventually the Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Normans but during the Hundred Years’ War they already identified themselves as English. In 1130, after capturing Sicily and Southern Italy from the Saracens Roger II of Sicily established the Kingdom of Sicily which besides Sicily encompassed the whole Mezzogiorno region of Southern Italy and until 1530 the islands of Malta and Gozo. However, the Normans held Kingdom of Sicily only until 1194 when it passed to the Hohenstaufens through marriage.

The Mongol Invasion in the early 13th century had the greatest impact on Eastern Europe where Kievan Rus was at the time at its height. The Mongol forces decisively defeated the Kievan army in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and invaded the Kievan Rus in 1237-40 which afterwards ceased to exist. The Mongol Invasions also greatly affected Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Serbia. However, the Mongol Invasions in the mentioned countries ceased after year 1241 when Batu Khan returned to the Mongolian Empire because of the death of the Great Khan, Ogedei Khan despite being victorious against King Bela IV of Hungary in the Battle of Mohi.

The expansion of the Ottomans who were a major threat to the weakened Byzantine Empire started at end of the High Middle Ages. The founder of the Ottoman Dynasty, Osman I extended the Ottoman territory to the Byzantine frontiers and captured the Byzantine city Bilecik in 1299. The city of Bilecik was the first of many Byzantine cities and villages captured by the Ottomans in the Late Middle Ages and marked the beginning of the rise of the Ottoman Empire which extended its power over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The period of the High Middle Ages also saw the first European conquests and expansion out of Europe. The Crusades resulted in the establishment of the Crusader states in Syria and Palestine, while the Vikings settled in Iceland, Greenland and even reached North America.

The Early Middle Ages Invasions, Migrations and Kingdoms

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Germanic Kingdoms

Migration of the Germanic peoples (ca. 300-500), also known as the first phase of the Migration Period came to an end by the end of the 5th century when the Germanic tribes settled in Western, Central, Southern and Southeast Europe where they established their own kingdoms: Visigothic Kingdom, Burgundian Kingdom, Thuringian Kingdom, Kingdom of the Gepids, Ostrogothic Kingdom, Suebic Kingdom, Kingdom of Alamanni, Lombard Kingdom and the strongest of all – the Frankish Kingdom which came to be known as the Carolingian Empire. The Germanic peoples also reached Great Britain which saw the emergence of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms or the Heptarchy, while the Vandals even migrated to North Africa.

All early medieval Germanic kingdoms were short-lived except for the Carolingian Empire and Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in Great Britain. Nearly all the remaining Germanic kingdoms in Central and Western Europe as well as in Italy were conquered by the Franks by the end of the 8th century, while the Visigothic Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula was destroyed by the Moors in the early 8th century.

Slavic States

Migration of the Germanic peoples was followed by migration of the Slavic peoples or the second phase of the Migration period (ca. 500-700). The Slavic peoples settled the territory between the Laba River on the west and Volga River on the east, and Baltic Sea on the north and Adriatic, Aegean and Black seas on the south where they established independent states: Great Moravia, Kievan Rus, Poland, Balaton Principality or Lower Pannonia, Serbia, (King) Samo’s Empire or Samo’s Realm, Carantania, Bohemia and Medieval Croatian state.

Like early medieval Germanic kingdoms, many Slavic states ceased to exist by the end of the Early Middle Ages. Most of them were conquered by their powerful neighboring states – the Carolingian Empire and later Holy Roman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire.

Invasion of the Avars and Bulgarians

In addition to migration of Germanic and Slavic peoples, Europe in the Early Middle Ages saw the invasion of the Avars and Bulgarians. Avars, nomadic people from Eurasia invaded Europe in 6th century. In alliance with the Lombards, they destroyed the Kingdom of the Gepids on the territory of the former Roman province of Dacia in 567. One year later, the Avars settled in the Danube River area and established a state which was destroyed by the Franks in 803.

The Bulgarians (Turkic origin, later slavicized) settled between the lower course of the Danube River and the Balkan Mountains in the 7th century. They subjugated Slavic peoples on the area and established an empire around 680.

Muslim Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and the Battle of Tours

The Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Moors in 711. The Muslims conquered the entire Hispania except for the Kingdom of Asturias by 718 when they moved northeast over the Pyrenees. The Muslim advance in Western Europe came to an end after they were decisively defeated by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 732.

Carolingian Empire

The Frankish Kingdom evolved into the strongest of all newly emerged medieval kingdoms under the Carolingian dynasty and reached its height and the greatest territorial extent under Charlemagne (768-814). After his death, the Carolingian Empire started to decline and was divided into three kingdoms with the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

At the beginning of the 10th century, the former Charlemagne’s empire permanently split into two halves – East and West Francia, the precursors of the Holy Roman Empire and Kingdom of France, respectively.

Muslim Conquest of Sicily

The Saracens, Arabs from Syria launched their first attacks on Sicily in the mid-7th century. They captured nearly entire Sicily and southern Italian cities of Tarent and Bari from the Byzantine Empire in the mid-9th century from where they were invading central Italy and southern France.

Hungarian Invasions

The Hungarians invaded Europe from the east and settled on the territory of the former Avar state between the rivers of Danube and Tisa at the end of the 9th century. They represented a serious threat to the Central Europe until 955 when they were decisively defeated by Otto the Great in the Battle of Lechfeld. Afterwards, they settled in the Pannonian Basin, converted to Christianity, and adopted European culture and political system.

Viking Invasions

The Vikings or Norsemen seriously endangered the Western Europe in the 9th century. They were invading deep into the Carolingian territory and besieged Paris several times forcing Charles the Simple to give the Viking leader Rollo the lower Seine area (today’s Normandy) as a fief in 911.

The Viking invasions were a serious threat to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms as well. The Anglo-Saxon kings who were unable to repulse the invaders had to accept the establishment of an independent Viking settlement in England (Danelaw) in the second half of the 9th century.

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