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Papal States (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Papal States were established with the Donation of Pepin in 756 and besides the lands granted by the Frankish King Pepin the Short (the lands of Exarchate of Ravenna in central Italy) encompassed the Duchy of Rome (today’s Lazio), Sutri and some hill towns in Latium which were granted to the Papacy by the Lombard King Liutprand with the Donation of Sutri in 728.

Pope Stephen II accepting the Donation of Pepin

Pope Stephen II accepting the Donation of Pepin

The collaboration between the Popes and Frankish Kings was crucial for the rise of power and establishment of the Papal States with Popes as spiritual and secular leaders. Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian King Childeric III and crowned himself King of the Franks with Pope Zachary’s approval. In return for Zachary’s support Pepin the Short provided military assistance to Pope Stephen II against the Lombards and recaptured the lands between the cities of Rome and Ravenna which were granted to Papacy with the Donation of Pepin in 756.

The Donation of Pepin provided the legal basis for the establishment of the Papal States. The Popes also legitimized the establishment of the Papal States with the forged Donation of Constantine according to which the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great granted the dominion over the city of Rome and the entire Western Roman Empire to Pope Sylvester (314-33) and his successors. Good relations between the Papacy and the Frankish Kingdom continued under Pepin’s successor Charlemagne (768-814) who confirmed the donation of his father and was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope Leo III on Christmas Day (December 25) in 800.

Political Changes in the Early Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Rise of Germanic Kingdoms

The first phase of the Migration Period (ca. 300-500) and the fall of the Western Roman Empire was followed by the emergence of the Germanic kingdoms in Central, Western, Southeast and South Europe, and even North Africa: Visigothic Kingdom, Burgundian Kingdom, Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, Thuringian Kingdom, Kingdom of the Gepids, Ostrogothic Kingdom, Suebic Kingdom, Kingdom of Alamanni, Lombard Kingdom and the Frankish Kingdom which later came to be known as the Carolingian Empire (realm of the Franks under the Carolingian dynasty). Virtually all early medieval Germanic kingdoms ceased to exist by the end of the Early Middle Ages including the most powerful of all – the Carolingian Empire.

Realm of the Franks under Charlemagne

The Franks under Clovis I (481-511) established the strongest state in Western Europe which reached its height under Charlemagne (768-814) when it encompassed much of Western and Central Europe. Charlemagne was crowned Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans) by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800 and came to be regarded as the renewer of the Western Roman Empire.

Division of Carolingian Empire

Charlemagne’s empire was divided between the three sons of Louis the Pious (814-840) into three kingdoms with the Treaty of Verdun in 843:

  • Lothair I received the central part of Carolingian Empire (Low Countries, Lorraine, Alsace, Burgundy, Provence and Italy)
  • Louis the German acquired the eastern part (today’s Germany)
  • and Charles the Bold gained the western part (today’s France)

Division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 and further disintegration of the former Charlemagne’s empire in the 9th century laid the foundation for the rise of the future European powers: Kingdom of France and Holy Roman Empire.

Anglo-Saxon England

England was invaded by barbarian peoples after the withdrawal of the Romans in 410. Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians occupied much of Great Britain by the end of 6th century and established their own kingdoms known as the Heptarchy. Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex eventually emerged as the strongest of all Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and subdued other political units. Neither of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms was able to repulse the Danish invasions at the beginning of the 9th resulting in establishment of Danelaw.

Emergence of Slavic States

The first phase of the Migration Period was followed by migration of the Slavic peoples (ca. 500-700) resulting in emergence of Slavic states in Eastern Europe, part of Central Europe and the Balkans: Great Moravia, Bohemia, Kievan Rus, Balaton Principality or Lower Pannonia, Serbia, (King) Samo’s Empire or Samo’s Realm, Carantania, Medieval Croatian State and Bulgarian Empire. By the end of the Early Middle Ages most of the mentioned Slavic states were conquered by the powerful neighboring states and ceased to exist as independent kingdoms.

Muslim Conquests in Europe

The European political map went through further changes after the Muslim conquests in the early 8th century. The Umayyads conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula except for Kingdom of Asturias between 711 and 718. The Muslim conquests in Western Europe came to an end after the Umayyad forces were decisively defeated by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 732.

Arrival of the Hungarians

Arrival of the Hungarians at the end of the 9th century had a major impact on the course history of medieval Europe as well. Europe was horrified by their devastating raids which came to an end only when they were decisively defeated by Otto the Great in the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. After the defeat against Otto the Great, the Hungarians settled in the Pannonian basin, adopted Christianity as well as European culture and political system.

Byzantine Empire under Justinian I

The Byzantine Empire managed to withstand the barbarian invasions but it went through dramatic political and territorial changes in the Early Middle Ages. The eastern half of the former Roman Empire reached its golden age under Justinian I (527-565) who recaptured North Africa from the Vandals and Italy from the Ostrogoths.

Byzantine-Sassanid Wars

The period after Justinian’s death was marked by wars with Persia under the Sassanid dynasty as well as the migration of the peoples. The Byzantines lost much of their territory in Italy after the invasion of the Lombards in Italy in 568, while the Slavic peoples threatened the Byzantine northern frontiers. The Byzantine Empire decisively defeated the Sassanids in 629 and recovered some of the lost territories but neglected its northern frontiers. This enabled the Slavic peoples to capture the entire Balkan Peninsula by 615.

Byzantine Empire under Basil I

Iconoclasm in the 8th and fist half of the 9th century caused an inner crisis which was followed by a civil war and siege of Constantinople (821-823). The Byzantine Empire recovered under Basil I (867-886) and expanded its political and cultural influence in the Balkans. Sicily and parts of Southern Italy were lost to the Saracens in the mid-9th century.

The Decline of the Western Roman Empire and the Fall of Rome

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Crisis of the 3rd Century

The Western Roman Empire officially ceased to exist on September 4, 476, when Germanic chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus but the event itself was not the cause for the fall of one of the greatest empires in history. The Roman Empire began to decline already in the 2nd half of the 2nd century when it was severely weakened externally by invasions, and internally by a civil war and economic crisis which resulted in the so-called Crisis of the 3rd Century.

Crisis in the Countryside

The end of territorial expansion almost completely stopped the inflow of slaves at the end of the 2nd century which has had a devastating impact on the Roman economy that mostly based on slave labour. The lack of slave labour force severely affected the countryside where started to increase the number of coloni, tenant farmers who worked on large Roman estates called the latifundia and paid a rent to the owners.

Invasion of the Germanic Peoples

Economic crisis weakened the bonds between the integral parts of the Roman Empire and seriously endangered its unity. The Roman provinces became economically independent and the income from provinces declined. The monetary value has been falling, while the costs for administration, imperial court, public works and Roman games have been rising. Significantly also increased the costs for defensive measures against the Germanic peoples (Saxons, Franks, Vandals, Goths, Alamanni) who became more organized and started to invade deeper into the Roman Empire.

Spiritual Crisis and Rise of Christianity

The eastern frontier of the Roman Empire was endangered by the Sassanid Persian Empire, while the Roman army became unreliable and corruptive. Roman Emperors were unable to deal with the economic and social crisis which was further worsened by the outbreak of famine and plague. The Crisis of the 3rd Century was also marked by spiritual crisis on one hand and rise of Christianity on the other.

Roman Empire under Constantine the Great

Diocletian (284-305) ended the Crisis of the 3rd Century and managed to postpone the collapse of the Roman Empire for 150 years. His abdication in 305 was followed by a civil war which was won by Constantine the Great who ruled the entire Roman Empire from 324 until his death in 337. During his reign, the Roman Empire restored its former power and prestige for the last time in history.

Arrival of the Visigoths

The Huns destroyed the Gothic state at the Black Sea in 375 and forced the Germanic tribes to migrate closer to the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Roman Emperor Valens (364-378) allowed the Visigoths to settle on the territory south of the Danube River (today’s Serbia) but eventually, the territory became too small for the settlers.

Roman Defeat in the Battle of Adrianople

Visigoths rebelled and allied themselves with Alans and Huns. Emperor Valens moved north from Constantinople to intercept the rebels but he was killed in the Battle of Adrianople which resulted in decisive Roman defeat. Valens’ successor Theodosius I (379-395) solved the dangerous situation by reaching an agreement with the Goths: Visigoths were allowed to settle in today’s Macedonia, while Ostrogoths settled in Pannonia.

Division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern Halves

After Theodosius’ death in 395, the Roman Empire permanently split into western and eastern halves. The Eastern Roman Empire which later came to be known as the Byzantine Empire survived for a millennium, while the Western Roman Empire was unable to repulse the invasions of the Germanic peoples on the north and Huns on the north-east.

Sack of Rome by Visigoths (410) and Vandals (455)

In 410, Rome was captured and plundered for three days by the Visigoths led by Alaric I. By the mid-5th century most part of the Western Roman Empire was held by barbarians as foederati who were neither Roman citizens nor Roman colonies. At the same time, Rome was seriously endangered by the Huns under Attila but they did not attack the city. According to the legend Attila was persuaded to turn away from Rome by Pope Leo I. In 455, Rome was sacked by the Vandals, while the Roman institutions were crumbling.

Deposition of the Last Western Roman Emperor

The Western Roman Empire was ruled by eight emperors with formal authority only from the death of Valentinian III in 455 until the deposition of Romulus Augustulus. The power was de facto in hands of barbarian military commanders. Deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer therefore did not cause any major disruption at the time despite the fact that the event is traditionally viewed as the end of classical antiquity and beginning of the Middle Ages.

Medieval Art and Architecture

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and barbarian invasions were a major turning point in history of art and architecture. The period following the fall of Rome was characterized by the decline of artistic and architectural achievements of the classic civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome but the transition from ancient to medieval art and architecture took place gradually.

Medieval art and architecture were completely under influence of the Catholic Church and Christian believes but they included some of the Roman achievements. On the other hand, the Byzantine art and architecture reached their height after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire and greatly influenced the art and architecture in the Balkan Peninsula, Russia and other Eastern Orthodox countries.

The medieval art and architecture are generally divided in following periods and styles:

  • Early Christian art and architecture
  • Byzantine art and architecture
  • Pre-Romanesque art and architecture
  • Romanesque art and architecture
  • and Gothic art and architecture

Medieval Europe (5th to 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Medieval Europe emerged on the ruins of the Western Roman Empire but the transition from the Ancient to the Medieval Times took place gradually. The Western Roman Empire began to decline before the invasions of the barbarian peoples. Thus the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus by German chieftain Odoacer did not cause any greater disruption at the time although the event is traditionally viewed as the end of the ancient period and the beginning of the Medieval Times.

The period following the deposition of Romulus Augustulus was marked by the emergence of new political entities competing with each other for the territory. Medieval kings could extent their wealth and power only by territorial expansion which explains virtually incessant warfare that marked the period of the Middle Ages. Medieval kingdoms also had to deal with numerous invasions of non-European peoples which greatly affected the course of history of some parts of Europe particularly the Iberian Peninsula, Russia, Central Europe and the Balkan Peninsula.

The Early Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Early Middle Ages refers to a period in European history that followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. It is traditionally dated from the 5th to the end of the 10th century when Europe went through major political, economic, cultural, social, demographic changes.

Following the migration of the Germanic (ca. 300-500) and Slavic peoples (from the end of the 4th century to about 700), Europe saw the emergence of barbarian kingdoms most of which were short-lived and unable to maintain Roman institutions and infrastructure. By the end of the Early Middle Ages most of these kingdoms collapsed or were absorbed by their powerful neighbors such as the Carolingian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, while the Iberian Peninsula was captured by the Muslims in the early 8th century.

The Early Middle Ages was marked by economic decline although most historians believe that it was not as severe as previously thought. In addition, the economic decline in Western Europe started long before the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor and even the beginning of the Migration Period. The Roman Empire fell into severe economic, political, social and spiritual crisis in the 3rd century which resulted in far-reaching changes that gradually led to emergence of medieval Europe.

During the Crisis of the 3rd Century and the period that followed, the Roman Empire saw collapse of the traditional trade networks, decline of cities as economic and cultural centers, emergence of half-free tenant peasants (coloni) who worked on large Roman estates and paid a rent to the land holder, and rise of Christianity providing a model to the medieval economy, culture and social organization. By the end of the Early Middle Ages, manorialism (also referred to as seigneuralism) became the predominant economic and social system in Western and Central Europe, while the entire Europe was virtually Christianized.

The barbarian peoples were culturally backward in compare to highly developed Roman art, architecture and literature. No major constructions were built nor planned until the 8th century except for religious buildings most of which were baptisteries. On the other hand, Byzantine art and architecture reached their height during the Early Middle Ages and the majority of major scientific works were created by Byzantine scholars. The scholars in the West who were almost exclusively clergymen have been primarily concerned with theological issues.

Arrival of new peoples in Europe resulted in dramatic demographic and ethnic changes. The migration of the Germanic and Slavic peoples was followed by the arrival of the Avars and Bulgarians, while the end of the Early Middle Ages was marked by the invasions of the Hungarians and Vikings. A part of the indigenous population was killed but the vast majority merged with the new settlers which resulted in formation of new ethnic groups.

About The Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Middle Ages refers to a period in European history that lasted about a millennium. It followed the period of the classical antiquity which came to an end with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The latter officially ceased to exists in 476 when Germanic chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was a result of a longer process. Deposition of Romulus Augustulus formally put an end to the empire that was already in ruins and has not caused any major disruption at the time. For that reason some historians suggested alternative start dates for the Middle Ages despite the fact that they all agree that the Middle Ages followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Some historians see the beginning of the Middle Ages in several events that happened before the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor and have had a major impact on the future course of history, while the others emphasize the events that took place after Romulus Augustulus’s deposition in 476.

Some of the most common alternative start dates for the Middle Ages are associated with the following events:

  • Issue of Edicts of Milan which ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire (313)
  • Beginning of the Migration Period (375)
  • Battle of Adrianople in which the Visigoths decisively defeated the Roman army and Killed Emperor Valens (378)
  • Sack of Rome by the Visigoths (410)
  • Death of the last de jure Western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos (480)
  • Closure of the last pagan school in Athens (529)
  • Muslim conquest of North Africa (647)

There is no unique view among the historians about the end date for Middle Ages either. It is commonly associated with Renaissance, a cultural movement that started in Italy in the 14th century and spread throughout Europe in the mid-15th century. However, some historians consider the spread of Renaissance as the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of the early modern period, while the others view it as a part of the Middle Ages.

In addition, some historians associate the end date for the Middle Ages with either of the following events:

  • Invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1445)
  • Fall of Constantinople (1453)
  • The end of the Hundred Years’ War (1453)
  • Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492)
  • The end of Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula (1492)
  • Beginning of the Italian Wars (1494)
  • Beginning of the Protestant Reformation (1517)
  • Battle of Lepanto in which the fleet of the Holy League decisively defeated the Ottoman Turks (1571)

Due to the fact that the Middle Ages comprises a period of about 1,000 years it is often subdivided into three periods:

  • Early Middle Ages, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages (from the 5th to end of the 10th century)
  • High Middle Ages (from the 11th to the end of the 13th century)
  • and Late Middle Ages (from the 14th to the end of the 15th century)
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