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27 Jul

The Early Middle Ages

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.

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