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The Middle Ages. Objectives: Students will apply the six themes of history to the Middle Ages. Students will discover how Charlemagne reshaped life during the Middle Ages Students will identify the social and economic systems of the Middle Ages

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The Middle Ages

  • Objectives:
  • Students will apply the six themes of history to the Middle Ages.
  • Students will discover how Charlemagne reshaped life during the Middle Ages
  • Students will identify the social and economic systems of the Middle Ages
  • Students will explore the cultural impact of the Middle Ages on the Modern World.
  • Students will identify where another system of exchange developed.

Frankish Empire

  • By 800s Franks ruled much of western, central Europe
  • Leaders most influential in expansion of Franks all belonged to one family—Charlemagne’s family, the Carolingians
    • Western Europe became known as Christendom where Christianity dominated all parts of life

Carolingian Dynasty in France





  • Charlemagne:
  • One of the most important figures in European History
  • Military Conquest
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Charles “the Hammer” Martel:
  • Turned back Muslim Invasion of France (Battle of Tours)
  • Grandfather of Charlemagne
  • Pippin III:
  • First king of the Carolingian dynasty
  • Charlemagne’s Father

Battle of Tours: Charles Martel

Pippen III: Coronation of the Carolingian Dynasty


Holy Roman Emperor


Holy Roman Emperor

Increased Kingdom

  • For the Carolingians family service to the Church, Pope Leo III thanked Charlemagne by naming him emperor of Roman people
  • Assembled army each year, led into battle against a foe
  • Incorporated land of vanquished foe into his sphere of influence, formed alliances with local rulers
  • In this way Charlemagne increased size and power of Carolingian kingdom

Military Power


Charlemagne’s Rule

  • Powerful
  • Charlemagne had tremendous power as emperor
  • Empire large, not easy to rule; changes made government efficient, effective
  • Broke territories into Counties
  • Delegating Authority
  • Built huge palace, cathedral to reflect own greatness
  • Chose counts, officials to help rule parts of empire in his name
  • Counts bound to obey, granted large tracts of land, given much authority
  • Oversight
  • Inspectors kept tabs on Charlemagne’s counts
  • Rewarded counts who did jobs well, punished those who did not
  • Inspectors helped ensure counts remained loyal, empire was well run



  • Charlemagne personally interested in learning, spent much time studying
  • Wanted leaders in empire to be able to read, write
  • Ordered churches, monasteries to start schools
  • Students learned:
    • Religion
    • Music
    • Grammar
  • Noted European scholars invited by Charlemagne to Aachen
  • Spent time teaching, as well as studying, copying ancient texts
  • Sent copies of texts to monasteries across Europe; monks there made copies
  • Saved many valuable works for posterity

A New Society

Although Charlemagne is known mostly as a warrior and a political leader, he also made sweeping changes to Frankish society.



Great Heights

  • Honored traditional laws of tribes brought under his rule
  • Most laws existed only in oral tradition
  • Had many tribal laws recorded
  • Allowed tribal legal codes to maintain separate existence
  • Western Europe reached great heights under Charlemagne
  • Empire did not survive long after death in 814
  • Civil war wracked kingdom, grandsons divided empire
  • Empire weak, invaders poured in Vikings, Magyars and Muslims


  • In addition to improving education, Charlemagne wanted to preserve, spread Christian teachings
  • Worked closely with church to create unified Christian empire
  • Used force to accomplish, ordered those he conquered to convert to Christianity under penalty of death
  • Sent monks to live among conquered to help Christianity take root

Origins of Feudalism

Knights and Lords

  • Feudalism originated partly as result of Viking, Magyar, Muslim invasions
  • Kings unable to defend their lands, lands of their nobles
  • Nobles had to find way to defend own lands
  • Built castles, often on hills
  • Not elaborate structures; built of wood, used as place of shelter in case of attack
  • Nobles needed trained soldiers to defend castles
  • Knights most important, highly skilled soldiers
  • Mounted knights in heavy armor best defenders
  • Being a knight expensive; had to maintain weapons, armor, horses
  • Knights demanded payment for services

The Feudal System


Fiefs and Vassals

Knights were usually paid for their services with land

  • Land given to knight for service was called a fief
    • Anyone accepting fief was called a vassal
    • Person from whom he accepted fief was his lord
  • Historians call system of exchanging land for service the feudal system, or feudalism

Feudal Obligations

  • Oath of Fealty
  • Lords, vassals in feudal system had duties to fulfill to one another
  • Knight’s chief duty as vassal to provide military service to his lord
  • Had to promise to remain loyal; promise called oath of fealty
  • Financial Obligations
  • Knight had certain financial obligations to lord
  • Knight obligated to pay ransom for lord’s release if captured in battle
  • Gave money to lord on special occasions, such as knighting of son
  • Lord’s Obligations
  • Lord had to treat knights fairly, not demanding too much time, money
  • Had to protect knight if attacked by enemies
  • Had to act as judge in disputes between knights

Theme 2: Religion



  • Not new, first Christian monks in Egypt in the 200s
  • Lived alone as hermits, or in small groups
  • During Middle Ages, new form of monasticism developed
  • Groups of monks lived in monasteries, abided by strict code of rules
  • Two monastic forms common in Europe in early Middle Ages: Benedictine, Celtic

Monks and Monasteries

  • Gregory the Great increased emphasis on monasticism
  • Believed monks played important role in church
  • Monasticism gained popularity in the early Middle Ages.

Both forms had similar rules about communal life, but the organization and details of life in their monasteries were quite different.



Benedictine Rule

  • Benedict of Nursia lived in Italy early 500s
  • Son of Roman noble, abandoned city to become hermit
    • Inspired others to live as he did
    • 529, persuaded Benedict to establish monastery with himself as first abbot
  • In time other monasteries adopted Benedict’s teachings as guidelines
  • Benedictine Order; vows of poverty, obedience
  • Benedict’s rule, collection of guidelines for monks, called Benedictine Rule
  • Based on daily schedule; combination of prayer, labor
  • Organization of Benedictine Order
    • Each monastery a distinct entity
    • No central authority
    • Each run by abbot chosen by monks, or local noble

Monks and Monasteries

The most common form of monasticism in most of Europe during the Middle Ages was Benedictine monasticism.


Theme 3: Writing

Benedictine Monks

Benedictine monasticism made tremendous contributions to Europe

  • Monks ran schools that trained some of finest minds of Middle Ages
  • Copied ancient manuscripts, helped preserve knowledge of Greece, Rome
  • Monasteries became centers of wealth, power
    • Kings, nobles donated money, gifts in exchange for prayers said on their behalf
    • As they became wealthier, monasteries drawn into local politics
    • Many monks acted as advisers, aides to local, national rulers in Europe


  • Religious texts richly decorated by illumination, decorating manuscript with pictures, designs and gold.
  • Illuminators brought pages to life with scenes from manuscript; painted plants, animals, people
  • Decorated the first letter on a page, making it large, colorful, and flowing


Literature included epics, romances

  • Long poems, stories of heroes, villains, written in language people spoke every day
  • Epic Poems
    • Tell tales related to war, heroes
    • The Song of Roland, Charlemagne’s fight against Muslims in Spain
  • Romances
    • Tell tales of true love, chivalry
    • Many tell stories of King Arthur and knights of Round Table
  • Epics, romances often performed by troubadours

Major Literacy Works

  • Canterbury Tales
  • Geoffrey Chaucer’s collection of stories
  • Group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury; each tells story to entertain others
  • Characters give insight into what life was like in the Middle Ages
  • The Divine Comedy
  • Dante Alighieri’s story of his imaginary trip through the afterlife
  • Composed in three parts, or cantos
  • On journey, met people from own life, as well as figures from history
  • Contributions
  • Chaucer helped increase use of written English language in England, where many had been speaking French
  • Dante’s writing shaped development of Italian language for centuries

The Divine Comedy: The Inferno, by Dante

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray. Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was, that savage forest, dense and difficult which even in recall renews my fear: so bitter – death is hardly more severe! But to retell the good discovered there, I’ll also tell the other things I saw. I cannot clearly say how I entered the wood; I was so full of sleep just at the point where I abandoned the path. But when I’d reached the bottom of the hill – it rose along the boundary of the valley that had harassed my heart with so much fear.”

What does the passage describe?

The word path shows up twice in this passage. What does Dante mean by “path”?


Thomas Aquinas


  • One of most influential medieval scholars, Thomas Aquinas
  • Keenly interested in works of ancient philosophers, especially Aristotle
  • He tried to use Aristotle’s methods of logic to prove existence of God
  • Aquinas’ use of intellect and logic to bring together opposing ideas became known as Scholasticism
  • Teachings helped expand former ways of thinking, understanding
  • New methods helped Europeans place themselves in wider world

Theme 4: Math, Science and Technology

  • Universities
  • Growth of European universities influenced by Islamic scholarship
  • Blending of European, Islamic cultures led to translation of Aristotle, other Greek scholars, from Arabic into Latin
  • European scholars exposed to new ideas
  • Universities taught mainly religious courses first, but later broadened scope to include medicine, law

Thinking and Learning

  • New Ideas
  • Religious writers of Middle Ages spread new ideas throughout Europe
  • New ideas gave rise to new ways of thinking and learning
  • Alchemy
  • People in Middle Ages curious about how world worked
  • Began to conduct scientific experiments in alchemy, early form of chemistry
  • Constrictions
  • Experiments constricted by reliance on authority of Greek writers
  • Also by teaching of the Catholic Church
  • Great Secrets
  • Alchemists convinced they could find way to turn base metals into gold, but could not
  • Work in alchemy influenced later growth of science

Gothic Architecture


Airy Feeling

  • Some of greatest examples of religious feelings found in churches
  • Built in new Gothic style
  • Taller, brighter than previous churches
  • Gothic designs possible through advances in engineering
  • New type of support, flying buttress
  • Supported walls from outside
  • Flying buttresses allowed higher ceilings, eliminated columns
  • Larger windows possible
  • Stained glass showed Biblical scenes, saints

Visual Arts

Many art historians consider the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris to be one of the finest artistic achievements of the Middle Ages. Like most art in the Middle Ages, it was created as a symbol of God.


Stylized Art

  • Nature of Byzantine mosaics, painting changed over time
  • Became more detailed, stylized
  • Symbols used for common themes
  • Examples: hand above cross, hand of God; 12 lambs, Christian flock, community, on earth

Theme 5: Art

  • Christianity greatly influenced artistic life of Byzantines
  • Art, architecture, literature based on religious themes
  • Byzantine art often featured saints, figures from Bible
  • Most art in form of mosaics
  • Mosaics decorated floors, walls, ceilings

Western Europe Art

  • Decorations
  • Cathedrals lavishly decorated
  • Statues of saints, kings, figures from Old Testament
  • Exterior had gargoyles, spouts to drain rainwater from roof
  • Many gargoyles carved into likenesses of hideous beasts
  • Adornments
  • Walls painted with elaborate murals of religious scenes
  • Candleholders, crosses, statues intricate works of art
  • Many decorated with gold, precious stones
  • Clothes of priests heavily embroidered, woven with gold threads

Lords, Peasants, and Serfs


Free People

  • Manors owned by wealthy lords, knights
  • Peasants farmed manor fields
  • Were given protection, plots of land to cultivate for selves
  • Most peasants on farm were serfs, tied to manor
  • Not slaves, could not be sold away from manor
  • But could not leave, marry without lord’s permission
  • Manors had some free people who rented land from lord
  • Others included landowning peasants, skilled workers like blacksmiths, millers
  • Also had a priest for spiritual needs

Theme 6: Trade and Economics

The Manorial System

With the collapse of the Roman Empire and invasions trade decreased during the Middle Ages. An economic system developed which is called the manorial system because it was built around large estates called manors.



Small Village

  • One field planted in spring for fall harvest
  • Another field planted in winter for spring harvest
  • Third field remained unplanted for year
  • Each manor included fortified house for noble family, village for peasants, serfs
  • Goal to make manor self-sufficient
  • Typical manor also included church, mill, blacksmith

A Typical Manor

  • Most of manor’s land occupied by fields for crops, pastures for animals
  • Middle Ages farmers learned that leaving field empty for year improved soil
  • In time, practice developed into three-field crop rotation system

Italian Trade Cities

Selling Goods

  • Italians among earliest to build thriving trade
  • Sailors set out to find valuable goods from distant lands
  • Venetian sailors traveled to Byzantine Empire, Muslim lands
  • Brought back silk and spices from China, India
  • Loaded onto Venetian wagons
  • Venetian merchants went north to sell imported goods
  • Goods were expensive, very profitable
  • Other Italian cities created trade routes
  • Genoa, Florence, Pisa, Milan, all major trading cities
  • Italians controlled almost all southern European trade

Growth of Trade

Trade began to grow in Europe after the Crusades. Increase in trade added to changing European economy during Middle Ages

Most of this trade was controlled by merchants from Italy and Northern Europe.


Hanseatic League

  • Italians dominated trade in south
  • Hanseatic League actively traded in northern Europe
  • Northern German towns, worked together to promote, protect trade
  • Controlled most trade between Europe, Russia, Baltic region
  • Trade Fairs and Markets
  • Merchants needed to get goods to customers, traveled long distances to visit trade fairs
  • Trade fairs held in towns, drew huge crowds, buyers and sellers met there
  • Great variety of goods offered, rare fabrics, aromatic spices, animals

Money and Credit

  • Money
  • Trade encouraged use of money, had not been common in Europe for years
  • Previously workers paid with goods
  • Cities began minting coins, workers began demanding coins for payment
  • Credit
  • Some merchants allowed customers to buy goods on credit
  • In return for goods, customer signed document stating when, how payment would be made
  • Banks
  • Use of money, credit led to creation of Europe’s first banks
  • People could deposit money for safekeeping, request loans
  • Most money-lenders were Jews, barred from many other occupations

Growth of Towns and Cities

  • Thriving trade, increase in use of money helped lead to expansion, growth
  • Hoping to make money, many peasants left farms and villages for cities, towns
  • Merchants moved into medieval towns to conduct trade
  • Did not want to pay high taxes to local lords in those towns
  • King allowed charters for new towns run by merchants, taxes paid only to king
  • Paris, London, and Rome grew quickly and began to be referred to as cities

Growth of Towns and Cities

  • Guilds
  • Increase in populations caused craftspeople to organize to protect interests
  • Created trade organizations called guilds; members had same occupation
  • Primary function to restrict competition; set standards, prices for products
  • Training
  • Guilds also trained children in their crafts
  • Apprentices worked learning the basic skills of the craft from one master
  • Journeymen traveled to different workshops, learning from many masters
  • Restrictions
  • Difficult for journeymen to become masters, due to guild restrictions
  • Most guilds open only to men
  • Some industries like textiles accepted women members