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Medieval Time Period

Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Age of the Renaissance, centuries of history were swept under the rug. This was the medieval time period, a time when Western Europe was plagued by war, famine, disease, and persecutions. A rough timeline of this period dates from around 410 AD and lasts until the early 1400s. This millennium-long era is broken down into three periods: early, high, and late middle ages.

Medieval Time Period

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Around 410 AD, the Western Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of political infighting, Visigoth invasions, and the uprising of Germanic slaves. Rome, the city that unified the known world by building roads, making medicinal advances, and spreading language, art, and education for 800 years was shattered. The psychological devastation of Rome's collapse would ripple throughout Western Europe for centuries.

Early Middle Ages

In the 5th century, numerous barbarian clans such as the Goths, Vandals, Franks, Britains, and Saxons raided throughout the remains of the Roman Empire. It was an age of widespread violence, disease, superstition, and illiteracy. The urban populations of the cities dwindled, diminishing technologies and amenities associated with life in a city that included aqueducts, sewage, and trash disposal. The quality of life worsened for the average citizen living in all parts of Western Europe.

During the geographical and political fracturing, the Christian movement gained momentum. After centuries of persecution in Rome, people in the Middle Ages were more inclined to accept the missionaries and monks who carried the word of Jesus Christ. Barbarian leaders and war chiefs gradually turned to the Church, converting to Christianity and unifying their people under one religion.

The Church provided a minimal level of security against the plagues of mankind, where the noncombatants were desperate for hope and salvation. With the help of the Church, the Feudal system slowly took root, allowing noblemen and their guards to protect smaller populations of people in isolated manor homes. Life as a serf provided more security in the turbulent times than any other.

During the 6th and 7th centuries in Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire was ravaged by the first outbreak of bubonic plague. This plague would gradually migrate west over the next several centuries, culminating at the height of the late middle ages and leaving millions dead.

High Middle Ages

Western Europe's high middle ages began around 1066 with William of Normandy conquering Great Britain and settling himself onto the throne. Europe's population had grown and the constant wars within the former Roman territories became more political than barbarous. Acquisitive eyes were turned towards the east when the Church called for the reclamation of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. The Crusades acted as a valve for tempers in the western half of the continent, allowing soldiers of fortunes, second sons, and other nobles who lusted for blood and treasure to have an opportunity to travel thousands of miles away to claim it.

For the first time since the fall of the Empire, cities populated and the economy improved. Trade began to stretch beyond neighboring villages to neighboring nations and beyond. It was during this medieval time period that the great countries of Western Europe truly took shape, including Spain, France, Germany, and England. Monarchies flourished and noble treaties were negotiated between men of power.

Late Middle Ages

The shortest of the three medieval time periods, the late middle ages also saw the greatest trials and advancements for the political structures beginning with a series of famines, plagues, and a cessation of trade routes that culminated in a drive for exploration. During the 14th century, the Black Death swept through Western Europe, killing millions, reducing trade and food supplies, and breaking down the feudal system as the working classes fought to survive.

Matters were further exacerbated when the Church, the greatest source of personal security in the 800 years since the collapse of Rome, joined with Calvinists and Reformationists by breaking away from Catholic doctrine. Schools of thought, renewed interest in Greek and Roman texts, and the influx of classical ideas, such as printing, elevated education to new levels. Reading, an activity typically limited to clergy and royalty, grew in popularity with the masses.

In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Ottoman Empire rose in strength in the East, severing trade routes to Asia and beyond. Western Europe, spurred to find new trade routes, left the medieval period behind and entered an Age of Discovery and Renaissance that included a resurgence of Roman art, architecture, and learning nearly a millennium after the fall of Rome.

The Modern Era

Scholars assign the roots of the modern era to the Renaissance that began in the late middle ages. By the end of the 15th century, western Europe turned away from eastern trade routes and looked west for new routes, new adventures and a new world. The medieval time period, however, left a mark on European architecture, literature, as well as spiritual and political structures that would continue the legacy of Rome into the 21st century.