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Middle Ages: 500-1500. Between the Roman Empire and the Early Modern Period. 500-800: Dark Ages: little cultural or scientific advancement. 1050 - 1450: High Middle Ages: social institutions matured; era of greater creativity.

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Middle ages 500 1500
Middle Ages: 500-1500

  • Between the Roman Empire and the Early Modern Period.

  • 500-800: Dark Ages: little cultural or scientific advancement.

  • 1050 - 1450: High Middle Ages: social institutions matured; era of greater creativity.

  • The culture of Western Europe was a blend of classical (Greco-Roman), Christian, and Germanic elements.


  • Political System

  • Through interdependence and mutual responsibilities, feudalism provided people with protection and stability.

  • A lord gave each of his vassals a parcel of land called a fief in exchange for military service and payments called relief.

  • A vassal protected the inhabitants of his fief, collected revenue (taxes), and dispensed justice

Manor system
Manor System

  • A great fief was subdivided into hundreds of smaller estates called manors, which were the basic social and economic units of the Middle Ages.

  • Most were about 1,000 acres and supported 200-300 people.

  • Peasants were not allowed to leave the manor.

  • The lord could not evict them from the land.

  • They were required to do any labor the lord demanded.

  • They also had to work a plot of land for the church, God’s acre.

  • The lord of the manor traditionally took half the produce.

Roman catholic church
Roman Catholic Church

  • With both spiritual and secular power, the church dominated life and was the primary institution of medieval society.

  • The church was believed to be the only way to salvation and possessed great influence.

  • Secular clergy were the parish priests.

  • Regular clergy lived in monasteries and kept literacy alive.

  • It was a time of Church corruption.

    • Vows of poverty and chastity were ignored.

    • Nobles often sold the offices of Bishops and Archbishops.

Crusades causes
Crusades: Causes

  • Goal: to liberate the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the Muslims

  • 1071: Seljuk Turks took over Palestine and were allegedly torturing Christians.

  • 1095: Byzantine Emperor asked Pope for help.

  • Between 1096 and 1270, there were multiple crusades, but only the 1st Crusade in 1099 was successful.

Crusades appeal
Crusades: Appeal

  • The crusades appealed to people’s desire for wealth, honor, sense of adventure, freedom from serfdom, freedom from debts, and hope for spiritual salvation.

  • Encouraged by Venetian merchants, the 4th Crusade attacked and looted Constantinople.

  • The Crusades failed in their chief goal - the conquest of the Holy Land.

Political outcome
Political Outcome

  • briefly increased the power and prestige of the pope

  • increased the power of monarchs who levied taxes to support the Crusades

  • increased trade between east and west

  • rise of towns

Economic outcome
Economic Outcome

  • encouraged the growth of a money economy in Western Europe

  • selling goods for a profit became acceptable

  • Italian merchants and shipbuilders got rich by maintaining supply lines and transportation to the Holy Land

Social cultural outcome
Social & Cultural Outcome

  • contact with other civilizations opened minds to new ideas

  • sparked an interest in exploration

  • increased persecution of Jews

  • thousands were slaughtered & much property was destroyed

High middle ages 1050 1350
High Middle Ages 1050-1350

  • Agricultural Revolution

    • iron plows

    • horse harness

    • windmill to grind grain

  • Expanding Production

    • peasants cleared forests, drained swamps, reclaimed waste land

  • Led to population increase

  • Towns grew up around castles and monasteries to provide them with goods and services. 

Trade revives
Trade Revives

  • people began to desire more than what was produced on the manor

  • peasants wanted iron for tools

  • nobles wanted fine wool, furs, and spices from Asia

  • regular trade routes were set up

    • traders formed merchant caravans for safety

  • local goods (honey, furs, fine cloth, tin, lead) were exchanged for imported goods (Chinese silks, Byzantine gold jewelry, Asian spices)

  • Constantinople to Venice to Flanders to England

Trade fairs
Trade Fairs

  • located near navigable rivers and where trade routes met

  • people from nearby villages, towns, and castles attended

  • entertainment included jugglers, acrobats, and dancing bears

New towns
New Towns

  • merchants would wait out the winter near a castle or bishop’s palace

  • artisans came to live

  • eventually populations reached 10,000

  • most prosperous cities were in northern Italy and Flanders – which were centers of the wool trade and prosperous textile industries

  • charter - merchants would ask the local lord for a written document that set out the rights and privileges of the town

  • in return the merchants paid the lord a large sum of money, a yearly fee, or both

  • charters usually allowed townspeople to choose their own leaders and control their own affairs

  • most had a clause declaring any serf who lived in the town a year and a day to be free

Commercial revolution
Commercial Revolution

  • money reappeared

  • merchants borrowed from moneylenders to buy goods

  • clergy felt the practice of usury (lending money at interest) was immoral

  • capital – money for investment

  • new business practices

    • partnerships – merchants pooled their funds to finance a large-scale ventures

    • insurance was created to compensate for lost or destroyed merchandise

    • bills of exchange used – deposit money in a bank in one city and cash in the paper in another city

Social changes
Social Changes

  • use of money undermined serfdom

    • lords needed money to buy goods

    • peasants sold produce to townspeople and paid the lord’s rent with money rather than labor

  • by 1000 – middle class of merchants, traders, and artisans emerged between nobles and peasants

  • nobles resented middle class for being a disruptive influence

  • by 1300 – few serfs were left in Western Europe


  • associations of merchants and artisans

  • dominated life in medieval towns by passing laws, levying taxes, and deciding how to spend funds

  • guilds limited membership, monopolized labor, made rules to ensure quality, regulated hours of labor, regulated prices, provided social services

  • apprentice (trainee) began around age 7, spent 7 years learning the trade, and only received bed and board

  • most became journeymen (salaried workers), a few became guildmasters

  • in some cities a third of all guildmembers were women

City life
City Life

  • cities were surrounded by walls for protection

  • narrow streets and tall houses

  • larger cities had a great cathedral or a splendid guild house

  • hawkers sold stuff during the day

  • unlit streets were deserted at night

  • no garbage or sewage collection

    • people yelled “gardyloo” as they flung their waste out a window into the street

  • filthy, smelly, noisy, crowded

  • facilitated the spread of disease

  • wooded buildings were a fire hazard

Major changes
Major Changes

  • return of a money economy

  • trade brought new products, ideas, and technology

  • middle class changed the social structure

  • monarchs increased their power

  • increased contact with other cultures

Learning literature
Learning & Literature

  • 1100s - first universities evolved out of cathedral schools

  • Literature began to be written in the vernacular (everyday language of the people) rather than in Latin only.

  • Scholasticism was developed by Christian scholars to resolve the conflict between faith and reason.

Medieval art
Medieval Art

  • Theme was religion.

  • illuminated manuscripts

  • great cathedrals

Romanesque 1000 1150
Romanesque: 1000 - 1150

  • thick walls, rounded arches and domed roofs

  • narrow slits for windows

  • simple, solid, dark, gloomy fortress

  • flat, masculine, and simply adorned

Gothic 1150 1300
Gothic: 1150 - 1300

  • tall, light, and airy

  • flying buttresses

  • large stained glass windows

  • complex, lacy, richly embroidered, feminine


  • Despite the lack of scientific observation and experimentation and the unquestioned authority of the Catholic Church, some scientific progress was made.

  • 1200s - Roger Bacon : founder of experimental science

  • Medicine was still poor - illness was the work of the devil

  • Cures = herbal folk medicine, prayer, and pilgrimages to holy shrines

1200s rise of towns
1200s - Rise of Towns

  • The growth of towns and a middle class weakened the position of the nobility.

  • Increased trade created a money economy, which replaced the barter economy.

  • Monarchs were able to hire soldiers for standing armies to protect the people, and they no longer relied on vassals for support.

  • Strong monarchs undermined feudal nobility.

1300s challenging century
1300s - Challenging Century

  • social unrest = peasant revolts

  • bad weather & crop failures early in the century = hunger and starvation

  • divisions in the Church

  • Babylonian Captivity: 1309 – 1378 = 2 Popes

  • heresies : Wycliffe and Hus

Hundred years war 1337 1453
Hundred Years’ War ~ 1337-1453

  • military conflict ~ England v. France

  • New weapons such as the longbow and cannons made armored knights obsolete and castles indefensible.

  • Many nobles died during the war.

Black plague
Black Plague

  • illness and death - killed 1/3 of the population

Economic transformation
Economic Transformation

  • growth of banking and capitalism

  • decline of feudal and manorial systems

  • weakening of the guild system

  • emergence of the domestic system - merchants hired laborers who were paid for piecework

1400s time of change
1400s - Time of Change

  • Strong national monarchies arose in England, France, and Spain to form centralized governments.

  • Most serfs were emancipated.

  • Flourishing in the arts and literature = the Renaissance.

  • Inquisition - court established by the Catholic Church in the 1200s to locate and try heretics - actively persecuted Jews, Muslims, and alleged witches.