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Introduction to the Course The High and Late Middle Ages
Periodization: Problems • Continuity vs. change • When did it begin? When did it end? • What would are markers be for answering this question? • What are the unifying features? How do we decide what features are worth emphasizing over others? • Specific questions: • The “end” of Rome: fall or transition? • The “Renaissance”: new period?
Periodization (cont.) • What does “medieval” mean? • Something “in between” ancient world, and something we call modern. • Tends to include the period from about 500 A.D. to 1450. • In reality, these dates incorporate a vastly varied period, changes over time and territory. Convenient breakdown: early middle ages ending at around 1000, high middle ages 1000-1300; late middle ages 1300-1450.
Beginnings of Rome • Civilization that originated on Italian peninsula, had great success at conquering neighbors, eventually gained dominance in Mediterranean. • Gave rise to Empire; was imperialistic before institutions of Republic gave way to autocracy. • 753: legendary date of founding • 509: Etruscan kings driven out, Republic was declared.
Republican Rome • Consuls held executive function • Imperium • Executive branch expanded; many offices • Senate had advisory function; ex-consuls • Assembly had veto power over legislation • Office of dictator instituted to deal with emergencies
Principate • Expansion of Rome made it increasingly unwieldy • Julius Caesar had himself declared dictator for life, was assassinated in 44 B.C. • Adopted son Octavian, 27 B.C. was declared imperator, Augustus, pontifexmaximus • Republican institutions continued in theory, autocracy in practice
Crisis of the Third Century • Empire was no longer expanding; army became a revenue sink • Hyperinflation; difficulty in providing basic supplies • High turnover in emperors, who were brought into power by violence • Increased pressure from beyond the borders • New order eventually instituted: Dominate
Separation of East, West • Diocletian (284-305) provided for two emperors and two successors, one of each in east, west. • Constantine built a capital, Constantinople, in eastern empire. • By 395 empire contact has decreased.
Barbarian Invasions! • Constant fighting around borders • Huns in 4th century: pushed people westward • Visigoths entered Rome with permission of emperor • 410: Sack of Rome by Alaric, Visigothic king • 456: Sack of Rome by Vandals • 476: last Roman emperor deposed • Justinian, emperor in the east, early 6th century, tried to reunite Rome • Lombards invaded 586 • Plague mid 6th century, followed by demographic collapse.
Islam Originated in Arabia in the early 7th century. • Last of the world’s major religions to undergo formative period. • 610, merchant named Mohammed, had a series of visions, believed to have come from the angel Gabriel. • Conquered Arabia, swept over North Africa, across Strait of Gibralter into Spain. Also pushed eastward into Persia. • Arabian cities highly cosmopolitan, presence of Christians and Jews; Mohammed’s seventh-century reform grounded in Jewish, Christian tradition. Also highly conversant in Greek, Roman world. • Stopped in 732 by a Frankish chieftain named Charles Martel, grandfather of emperor Charlemagne.
Byzantium • Less affected by population decline than in west; • Invasions by Germans mainly concentrated in west; • Maintained greater continuity with Roman institutions for a longer period; did not actually fall until 1453; • Religious institutions developed along different lines than in west; • Particularly affected by competition with Islamic world.
In the west: Basic points of comparison Roman Empire vs. medieval period • Ancient Rome: culture based in the cities. The culture of early Medieval Europe in the west was based in the countryside. Cities in the east survived better. • Religious pluralism characterized ancient Rome, not so medieval Europe, which was Christian. In Arab world: Islam imposed unity. • Population density of the ancient world was dealt a resounding blow in the 6th century, began to make a recovery only in the 9th century, but then was set back again.
Beyond stereotypes • Rome's urban life had been supported by an agricultural base (although long-distance trade and specialization characterized the empire's economy). • Roman empire's cultural, political dominance did not stamp out local customs, especially among people not of the ruling classes. • People still saw themselves in kind of continuity with Rome • Church • Emperor Charlemagne in 800. • Cities • Eastern half of the empire survived until 1453, when it was overthrown by the Ottoman Turks. Emperors continued to rule, and people thought of themselves as Roman.
Three components of early medieval society in the west: Rome • Bureaucratic state, impersonal institutions; • elaborate military machine; • long-standing written tradition; • codified laws; • technological sophistication; • Incorporation of artistic and literary forms as well as philosophical tradition of the Greeks; • Honor invested in family, political service.
Second component: Germanic • Personal leadership based on relationships of loyalty to individuals; • Warrior aristocracy with traditions based on personal bravery, fierce pride, independence; • Oral tradition; • Relatively primitive level of material life.
Third Component: Christianity • Gospel message of selflessness, humility, chastity, non-violence. • Two institutional frameworks: • Monastery, emphasizing living in community according to a Rule for sake of perfecting a holy life; • “Secular” priesthood, hierarchical, allowing for oversight
Feudalism • Became a means of combining military protection with governance. • A vassal would take an oath of loyalty to a lord, promising military service in return for a gift, usually land. • The land would become the vassal's fief, and he would enjoy the privilege of immunity. • He also had rights to the productive labor of those farming the land. • Song of Roland (late 11th c): • Great concern with honor; stability of the system rested on the personal faith one had in one's fellow warriors. • Physical bravery also essential.
High Middle Ages • Invaders assimilated; hunger for expansion. • Population growth, increase in trade, cities. • Crusades: at the end of llth century, drive eastward. • Contact with Islamic world leads to a recovery of texts of Aristotle, commentaries by Islamic authors. • Rise of the university, 13th century. • Guilds • Development of Scholasticism: Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas
Late Middle Ages • 1347/8 and onward: Black Death, demographic collapse. • 1337-1453: Hundred Years' War. • 1309-1378: Avignon Papacy; • 1378-1417: Papal schism • Breakdown of synthesis between reason, revelation • Period of Renaissance: occurred against the backdrop of these catastrophes
Looking ahead: Carolingian Europe • 800: crowned Emperor by the Pope. • Under Charlemagne: more systematic approach to monastic life, liturgy, even a revival of cultural life in his court. Called the Carolingian Renaissance. • Empire divided 843, Treaty of Verdun. • More invasions in 9th, 10th centuries: Vikings, Magyars, Saracens.