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Chapter 17:. The Foundations of Christian Society in Western Europe. The Germanic Successor States, c. 500 CE. Last Roman emperor deposed by Germanic Odoacer, 476 CE Administrative apparatus still in place, but cities lose population Germanic successor states: Spain: Visigoths

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Chapter 17:

The Foundations of

Christian Society

in Western Europe

the germanic successor states c 500 ce
The Germanic Successor States, c. 500 CE
  • Last Roman emperor deposed by Germanic Odoacer, 476 CE
  • Administrative apparatus still in place, but cities lose population
  • Germanic successor states:
    • Spain: Visigoths
    • Italy: Ostrogoths
    • Gaul: Burgundians, Franks
    • Britian: Angles, Saxons
the frankish empire
The Frankish Empire
  • In the territory known as Gaul, and what is currently the country of France, the Franks emerged as the dominant tribe in the area.
  • In the late 400’s, Clovis was the first king of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler. His conversion to Christianity gained him a great ally in the Roman Catholic Church.
the franks
The Franks
  • Heavy influence on European development
  • Strong agricultural base
  • Shifts center of economic gravity to Europe
  • Firm alliance with western Christian church
clovis ruled 481 511
Clovis (ruled 481-511)
  • Major Frankish leader
  • Destroyed last vestiges of Roman rule in Gaul
  • Dominated other Germanic peoples
  • Franks establish themselves as preeminent Germanic people
clovis conversion to christianity
Clovis’ Conversion to Christianity
  • Paganism, Arian Christianity popular among Franks
  • Clovis and army chooses Roman Catholicism
  • Influence of wife Clotilda
  • Political implications:
    • Alliance with western church
the carolingians
The Carolingians
  • Charles “The Hammer” Martel begins Carolingian dynasty
  • Defeats Spanish Muslims at Battle of Tours (732)
    • Halts Islamic advance into western Europe
Charles de Steuben\'s Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732 depicts a triumphant Charles Martel (mounted) facing ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours.
charlemagne r 768 814
Charlemagne (r. 768-814)
  • Grandson of Charles Martel
  • Centralized imperial rule
  • Functional illiterate, but sponsored extensive scholarship
  • Major military achievements
charlemagne s administration
Charlemagne’s Administration
  • Capital at Aachen, Germany
  • Yet constant travel throughout empire
  • Spread Christianity
  • Set Up Education System
    • Increased Scriptoriums
    • Alcuin, the leading scholar and educator under Charlemagne introduced the 7 liberal arts
  • Begins Romanesque Architecture
  • Expansion of Territory
  • Imperial officials: missi dominici (“envoys of the lord ruler)
    • Continued yearly circuit travel

Romanesque church in Poland

Romanesque church in Normandy

charlemagne as emperor
Charlemagne as Emperor
  • Hesitated to challenge Byzantines by taking title “emperor”
    • Yet ruled in fact
  • Pope Leo III crowns him as emperor in 800
    • Planned in advance?
    • Challenge to Byzantium
louis the pious r 814 840
Louis the Pious (r. 814-840)
  • Son of Charlemagne
  • Lost control of courts, local authorities
  • Civil war erupts between three sons
  • Empire divided in 843

Charlemagne crowns Louis the Pious

  • South: Muslims
  • East: Magyars
  • North: Vikings
    • Norse expansion begins c. 800 CE
    • Driven by population pressure, hostility to spread of Christianity
    • Superior seafaring technology
    • Sailed to eastern Canada, northeastern US

The dissolution of the Carolingian Empire (843 CE – divided amongst Charlemagne’s grandchildren) and the invasions of early medieval Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries

the vikings
The Vikings
  • From village of Vik, Norway (hence “Viking”)
  • Boats with shallow drafts, capable of river travel as well as open seas
  • Attacked villages, cities from 9th century
    • Constantinople sacked three times
  • Carolingians had no navy, dependent on local defenses
  • Viking invasions force consolidation of Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples under King Alfred (r. 871-899)
  • Built navy
  • Fortified cities against attack
germany and france
Germany and France
  • King Otto of Saxony (r. 936-973) defeats Magyars, 955
  • Proclaimed emperor by Pope in 962
  • Establishment of Holy Roman Empire
  • France endures heavy Viking settlement
  • Loss of local autonomy
early medieval society
Early Medieval Society
  • Concept of Feudalism
    • Lords and vassals
    • Increasingly inadequate model for describing complex society
  • Ad hoc arrangements in absence of strong central authorities


A political, economic, and social system based on loyalty and military service.



  • The Armored knight was the pre-eminent weapon in the medieval arsenal. He was worth approx. 50 to 100 common foot soldiers for he could inflict just as much damage.
organizing in a decentralized society
Organizing in a Decentralized Society
  • Local nobles take over administration from weak central government
  • Nominal allegiances, esp. to Carolingian kings
  • But increasing independence
lords and retainers
Lords and Retainers
  • Formation of small private armies
  • Incentives: land grants, income from mills, cash payments
  • Formation of hereditary class of military retainers
  • Development of other functions
    • Justice, social welfare
potential for instability
Potential for Instability
  • Complex interrelationship of lord-retainer relations
  • Rebellion always a possibility
  • Nevertheless, viable large states developed (Germany, France, England)
origins of serfdom
Origins of Serfdom
  • Slaves, free peasants in both Roman and Germanic societies
  • Heavy intermarriage
  • Appeals to lords, special relationships
  • Mid-7th century: recognition of serf class
    • Midway between slave and free peasant
serfs rights and obligations
Serfs’ Rights and Obligations
  • Right to pass on land to heirs
  • Obligation to provide labor, payments in kind to lord
  • Unable to move from land
  • Fees charged for marrying serfs of another lord
  • Large, diverse estates
  • Lord provides governance, police, justice services
  • Serfs provide labor, income
women in the middle ages
Women in the Middle Ages
  • Noblewomen were responsible for the entire running of an estate while her husband was in battle.
  • All women had very limited inheritance rights, as all possessions went to the oldest son.
  • In the Middle Ages, the Church portrayed women as weak and easily tempted into sin. Yet, women were also portrayed as modest and pure in spirit.
  • Learning was generally discouraged for women.
the economy of early medieval europe
The Economy of Early Medieval Europe
  • Agricultural center moves north from Mediterranean
  • 8th century iron-tipped plow introduced in Europe
  • Draft animals bred
  • Water mill technology
  • Agricultural output insufficient to support growth of cities
  • Strong Mediterranean trade despite Muslim domination of sea
norse merchant mariners
Norse Merchant Mariners
  • Commerce or plunder as convenient
  • Link with the Islamic world for trade
the formation of christian europe
The Formation of Christian Europe
  • Clovis’ conversion forms strong alliance with Roman Christianity
  • Church supplies Clovis with class of literate information workers:
    • Scribes
    • secretaries
the franks and the church
The Franks and the Church
  • Protectors of the Papacy
  • Charlemagne destroys Lombards, who threatened Pope, Rome
  • Spreads Christianity in northern areas
  • Support of scholarship, scribal activity
the spread of christianity
The Spread of Christianity
  • Charlemagne fights pagan Saxons (772-804)
    • Saxons later adopt Christianity
  • Scandinavia, other pockets of paganism until c. 1000 CE
pope gregory i 590 604 ce
Pope Gregory I (590-604 CE)
  • “Gregory the Great”
  • Asserted papal primacy
  • Prominent theologian
    • Sacrament of penance
  • Major missionary activity, especially in England
  • Egyptian origins, 2nd-3rd centuries
  • Monastic lifestyle expands 4th century
  • Large variety of monastic rules
    • Range from extremely ascetic to very lax
st benedict 480 547
St. Benedict (480-547)
  • Established consistent rule for monasteries
    • Poverty
    • Chastity
    • Obedience
  • St. Scholastica (482-543)
    • Sister of St. Benedict
    • Adapts Benedictine Rule for convents

A late 15th-century Scriptorium by of Jean Miélot

In the strictest definition of illuminated manuscript, only manuscripts with gold or silver would be considered illuminated.

St. Benedict by Fra Angelico, c. 1437-1446

Pope Gregory I, by Francisco de Zurbarán

monasticism and society
Monasticism and Society
  • Accumulation of large landholdings, serfs
  • Social welfare projects
    • Esp. labor contributions
  • Expansion of literacy
  • Inns, orphanages, hospitals

The Power of the Medieval Church

  • The church controlled about 1/3 of the land in Western Europe.
  • Tithe  1/10 tax on your assets given to the church.
  • Threat of excommunication and an inderdict gave the church tremendous control over European peasants and nobles.
  • The selling of indulgences, canon law and simony also fortified the church’s power, but led many to recognize these acts as corrupt.
church secular influence pope innocent iii
Church Secular Influence & Pope Innocent III
  • The Church claimed authority over all secular rulers, many of whom did not recognize this authority, often resulting in power struggles between monarchs and popes.
  • When King John of England challenged Pope Innocent III over the appointment of an archbishop, he was excommunicated in 1209.

Magna Carta, 1215

  • King John I
  • “Great Charter”
  • Monarchs were not above the law.
  • Kings had to consult a council of advisors.
  • Kings could not tax arbitrarily.
the medieval church
The Medieval Church
  • Reform
    • Church wealth & influence
    • Some clergy corrupted
    • Reformers
  • Nuns & Monks
    • Set up housing, hospitals, schools
    • Missionaries Preservation of learning
  • Everyday Life
    • Christians attend village churches
    • Priests run village churches
    • All Christians pay tithe
  • Power of the Church
    • Pope leads
    • Canon Law
    • Excommunication/ interdict