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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
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Chapter 13: Europe in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages Europe developed a unique civilization that synthesized Germanic custom, Greco-Roman thought, and Christian belief.  Through cycles of crisis and recovery, Europe met the challenge of barbarian invasion; saw the rise of the Latin Church as a unifying institution and the emergence of the nation state; developed and new urban culture and vibrant international economy; saw the rise of a new and important commercial class that challenged that traditional class hierarchy; created new forms of philosophical inquiry and artistic expression; and faced devastating plagues, wars, and civil wars.  The activities below will help you reinforce what you have already read and learn more about the culture of medieval Europe.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • One of the most important developments in this period was the emergence of a large Frankish kingdom. Go to Map 1 and locate the Frankish kingdom in 768. Compare and contrast this map with Map 2, a contemporary depiction of Europe. What current nations occupy the land that the Franks controlled?
  • The Frankish kingdom reached its height during the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century. Map 3 shows the extent of Carolingian rule. (You can also study Map 13.1 on page 367 in McKay, A History of World Societies [Sixth Edition].) Although the extent of this rule is impressive, the Carolingian Empire was not a tightly organized state like its contemporaries in Byzantium and China. Go to The Frankish Empire. How did the Carolingians promote order and stability in their realm? How successful were they? Compare their attempts to those of The Later Empire: The Song, which ruled China between 960 and 1279. Why were the Song more successful than the Carolingians in creating a strong central government? What long–range impact did this difference have on Europe and China? Record your responses in a few paragraphs.
  • The Carolingian Empire, despite its inability to restore order and stability to western Europe, had a huge impact on the history of Europe. For example, go to Charlemagne. Make a list of Charlemagne's reforms that helped create a common culture and identity among Europeans. Now go to Alcuin of York. After examining this site, review pages 367-368 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). How would you define the Carolingian intellectual revival? What inspired this period of creativity? What intellectual traditions did it reflect? How innovative was it? Compare and contrast Alcuin and other Carolingian scholars to Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Musa Al–Khwarizmi. As you can see, the Carolingian scholars were not nearly as innovative as their Muslim contemporaries, even though they both drew inspiration from the Greco–Roman intellectual tradition.
  • The failure of the Carolingians to establish a strong central authority led to the emergence of a decentralized and hierarchical political and social structure. As pages 368-369 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), points out, more recent scholars have referred to these arrangements as feudalism. For an overview of this term, see The End of Europe's Middle Ages: Feudal Institutions. Note that feudalism refers to political relationships between landowners (nobility) in western Europe.
Activity Two:
  • Around the first millennium, the instability of the past two hundred years began to subside.  One of the major forces of stability was the Catholic church, which asserted its independence from feudal lords and kings as a result of the investiture controversy. For an explanation of this development, go to Investiture Contest or Controversy. After 1000, the church developed many new institutions to assert its power. For example, go to INQUISITION: INTRODUCTION. What was the Inquisition? How did it reflect the growing power of the church? Now review "Monastic Revival" on page 372 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). How did the church contribute to common culture among western Europeans after 1000?
  • The church tried to promote order and stability (not unlike a central government) in western Europe before and after the year 1000. For example, read about the Truce of God and its related concept, the Peace of God. For a primary source on the Peace of God movement, see Medieval Sourcebook: Peace of God — Synod of Charroux, 989. What was the goal of this church initiative? What methods did church officials use to bring about these plans? Did they have an army, or did they rely on other means of enforcement? How successful do you think this effort and others like it were?
  • Later in the Middle Ages the Church suffered severe blows to its authority and prestige.  To learn more about these read The End of Europe's Middle Ages: The Church. Focus on the sections covering the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism. According to this site, what major trend in the fourteenth century undermined the foundations of western European civilization? What were the specific consequences of this development?
Activity Three:

Paralleling, and in some ways fostered by, the rise of the Church was the recovery of commerce, urban life, and intellectual culture.
  • To see the extent of trade by high-point of the Middle Ages, examine Map 4, which depicts trade routes in northern Europe. What peoples were involved? What goods were they trading? (Review pages 384-389 in McKay, A History of World Societies [Sixth Edition].) How does this map reflect the impact of the Vikings in earlier centuries? Longer–distance trade meant that Europeans had more contact with other civilizations. For example, go to Map 5, which shows trade routes in the Mongol Empire. How did this benefit European merchants? How did Latin Christendom benefit from this trade? For clues, go to Silk Road Chronology. Look for examples of the spread of new technologies from Asia into western Europe. How would these technologies change western Europe in the future? (Don't be afraid to speculate.)
  • Cities emerged as hubs of commerce.  Cities had different social and political arrangements than the old feudal and manorial order. Go to Medieval Sourcebook: Leges Edwardis Confessoris: The Liberties of London, c. 1120 and Medieval Sourcebook: William Clito, Count of Flanders: Charter for Town of St. Omer, 1127. According to these sites, what obligations did citizens of towns have to feudal lords and kings? What led to this change?
  • The growth of cities and commerce brought western Europe into contact with the wider world. One outgrowth of this trend was the spread of new technologies into western Europe. Go to Medieval Technology Timeline. Click on the years 1000–1200. As you study the technological developments in western Europe between 1000 and 1200, keep a list of those you can identify as having originated elsewhere. For example, paper was first developed in China and did not appear in western Europe until the central Middle Ages. What role do you think commerce played in the technological development of western Europe during this time?
  • One of the greatest symbols of medieval creativity is the development of intellectual life in the university. Read more about medieval universities and the medieval university curriculum. Be sure to click on the links under The Trivium and The Quadrivium and read about each of the subjects. Why and when did medieval universities emerge? How similar are they to universities today? How different are they? What was the role of the church in medieval intellectual life? What intellectual traditions did these universities draw on? How original was the scholarship they produced? In other words, did new schools of thought emerge? (For further insight here, see Medieval mathematics.) Who went to the universities? What did they do with their education? How did universities affect the lives of ordinary Europeans?
Activity Four:
  • A more aggressive symbol of European resurgence was the Crusades between Latin Christendom and the Islamic world (umma) between 1096 and 1204. A complex set of circumstances led to this development. One factor was greater stability and unity in western Europe. Another was more division in the Islamic world. Read A History of Medieval Islam: The Turkish Irruption. What developments in Islamic civilization led to the Crusaders' success in creating several kingdoms in the Levant? For a map of the Crusader kingdoms, see Map 13.2 on page 375 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).
  • The Crusades were a turning point in the history of western Europe, the Islamic world, Byzantium, and world history. To place the Crusades in the proper context, read The Crusades. Pay particular attention to the concluding section, "Effects of the Crusades." According to this author, how did the Crusades alter western European, Byzantine, and world history?
  • In addition to its other effects, the Crusades shaped the development of European art.  examine the following objects of Crusade-era art: Saint Louis window, enamel basin, effigy of Jean d'Alluye, and water vessel.  What do these objects tell you about how the crusaders saw themselves and wished others to see them? What do they tell you about how the crusaders' contact with the east helped shape the art and culture of Europe?
Activity Five:

During the Later Middle Ages plague, famine, and war rocked the civilization of Europe.
  • Plague took the form of the Black Death.  To understand this plague and its role in history, it is essential to understand its global scope in the fourteenth century. Go to The Pestilence Tyme Home Page and read Chapters 1 and 2. Also examine Map 6.  Where did the plague begin? How did it spread? What impact did it have on other areas of the world? (Note that he uses a different calendar; the Western dates are in parentheses.) According to Khaldun, was the plague as disruptive to society in the Middle East as it was in western Europe?  Now consider the effects of the plague.  Read In the Wake of the Black Death: how did changes in population, prices, wages, and rents affect the social and economic structure? Who might have benefited from these changes in the long run? Who might have suffered?
  • Overlapping with the Black Death in Western Europe was the Hundred Years' War. For a brief overview of this conflict, go to THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR. Who were the winners and losers in this conflict? According to this site, what were the major effects of this long conflict? What impact did technology have on the outcome of this struggle? (For example, go to Gunpowder Weapons of the Late Fifteenth Century.) How did this new military technology transform traditional political institutions in western Europe?
Activity Six:

Architecture played a vital, visible role in strengthening the shared culture of the Middle Ages.  Wherever anyone went in Latin Christendom, one could easily find the church or cathedral, buildings that employed a common, familiar symbolism in their layout, sculptural programs, and other decorations.
  • To learn more about how the Church used art and architecture to promote a common culture, see IMAGES OF MEDIEVAL ART AND ARCHITECTURE. What do these images reveal about a shared culture in Western Europe? How did the church foster it?
  • Medieval architecture reached its highest development in the Gothic. Go to a The End of Europe's Middle Ages: Visual Arts; read this essay and study the images. What is the difference between Romanesque and Gothic architecture? How does the development of Gothic architecture symbolize the role of the church in western Europe during the central Middle Ages? What role did Gothic cathedrals play in the lives of ordinary Europeans? What led to the end of the construction of Gothic cathedrals?