When you think about the Middle Ages, you’re probably thinking of knights, castles, and tales of war and conquest. While you’d be correct, there was more to this dark time than kings and knights in shiny armor.
The rise of Islam in Europe, the Crusades, the Great Famine, and the Black Death are only four of many major events during the Middle Ages. Although this era is often regarded as dark and deprived of progress, many important events greatly influenced our modern world.
The Middle Ages started after the Roman Empire’s fall and ended when the Renaissance started, but the exact dates of the Middle Ages are debated among scholars. It is generally accepted that the Middle Ages lasted from 500 AD to 1500 AD.
Table of Contents
- The Invention of the Anno Domini Calendar
- The Rise Of Islam During The Middle Ages
- The Rise And Fall Of The Vikings
- The Knights Templar And The Crusades
- Magna Carta
- The Great Famine
- The Black Death And Other Diseases Of The Middle Ages
- Hundred Years Of War
- The Invention Of The Printing Press
- Birth Of Leonardo Da Vinci
The Invention of the Anno Domini Calendar
In Antiquity, there was no standard calendar. Instead, each region had its method of date-keeping. The Egyptian calendar was based on the moon’s cycle, while the Eastern Roman Empire used the Diocletian calendar, invented by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Diocletian was incredibly cruel to Christians, brutally killing thousands during his reign. After the fall of the Roman Empire, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus wanted to erase all memory of this cruel Emperor.
He invented a calendar in 525 AD (Anno Domini) based on the birth of Jesus Christ. Anno Domini translates to “in the year of our Lord.”
What makes this calendar so significant is that it led to the invention of the Julian calendar and, later, the Gregorian calendar that we use today. While many historians have replaced BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) with Bce (before the current era) and Ce (current era), the years are calculated based on the Anno Domini calendar.
Feudalism was the social system of the Middle Ages, much like capitalism, communism, and socialism today.
The Feudal system started in the 800s and lasted well into the high Middle Ages. The Feudal system was incredibly complicated, but essentially it was a system of land ownership, starting with the king and trickling down to Noblemen and, at the bottom, peasants and serfs.
Kings could be kings of one region but a duke of another, owning a piece of land (called a Duchy) in that particular country. While peasants were free and could choose their profession, serfs had no land and worked for free in exchange for basic accommodation and protection against enemy attacks.
The Rise Of Islam During The Middle Ages
After the death of Muhammed, the Islamic prophet and founder of the Islamic faith, in 632, Islam quickly spread through Europe.
During the Early Middle Ages, the Muslims conquered the Sassanid and Byzantium Empires, followed by numerous cities across Egypt, Spain, and Turkey.
The Muslims were cultured people, educated in the sciences, philosophy, language, and arts. The empires and cities they conquered thrived with knowledge, poetry, and inventions. They translated texts from Indian and Greek to Arabic and made many discoveries in the field of Mathematics. Did you know that they introduced Europe to the game of Chess?
The Rise And Fall Of The Vikings
The Middle Ages often referred to as the Medieval Period, were the glory days of the Vikings. In 793, the Vikings from Scandinavia landed on England’s shore.
If you’ve watched the popular Netflix series “Vikings,” you would recall their first raid at a church near the town of Lindisfarne. The Vikings’ infamous raids continued for decades. In 820, some Vikings settled in France while others continued to sail to faraway lands to raid.
The Vikings discovered Iceland and Greenland in 860 and 982, respectively. Leif Eriksson led their journey west, where they discovered modern-day Canada in the early 1000s.
The Viking Age ended around the mid-11th century as their regions were conquered and converted to Christianity.
The Knights Templar And The Crusades
The spread of Islam across Europe threatened the Catholic Church, which was the ruler of Christianity during the Middle Ages.
To stop the expansion of the Muslims into the rest of Europe, Pope Urban II led the Christians to war against the Muslims. This religious war was referred to as The Crusades, starting in 1095. Over the next 200 years, the Christians fought the Muslims in numerous crusades.
In 1118 the Knights Templar was established by Hugues de Payens, a French knight. The purpose of the Knights Templar was to create an order of conduct among the knights that fought in the crusades.
Members of the Knight’s Templar gave up their possessions and devoted their lives to defending the Holy Land of the Christians, much like Monks.
The crusaders were sent to regain Byzantium from the Muslims, but, in a shocking turn of events, they took Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1204, which would eventually play a role in the Fall of Constantinople.
Although most of the Crusades were unsuccessful, they did expose Europeans to Islamic knowledge of technology, science, and farming practices. With this newly gained intellect, agriculture thrived.
Near the start of the 13th century, the barons of King John rebelled against him. They had grievances with certain aspects of his rule, and their unhappiness resulted in a civil war.
In 1215, the rebels demanded the Magna Carta be signed as part of the negotiations for peace. This document had over 30 chapters that laid down the barons’ grievances and how they wished the king to address them. The document gave nobles and peasants more rights and placed the Church and kings under the same laws.
King John unwillingly signed the Magna Carta in June of 1215. The Magna Carta introduced the first legal system to England and established many parts of today’s constitution. The right to have a fair trial, regardless of social class, was one of the chapters in the Magna Carta that is still a part of England’s constitution.
The Great Famine
During the high Middle Ages, the world experienced a cooling period where the climate shifted, resulting in what was known as The Little Ice Age. Climate change led to heavy floods across Europe, resulting in many crop failures.
Consequently, much of the population starved. The Great Famine endured from 1315 to 1317.
The Black Death And Other Diseases Of The Middle Ages
During the middle ages, the disease was rampant across Europe. The spread of disease was largely caused by the increased human population, highly unsanitary living conditions, lack of medical knowledge, and war.
The most common diseases were flu, smallpox, leprosy, malaria, and Saint Anthony’s Fire. Many of these diseases were deadly at the time. However, the bubonic plague was the worst of Medieval diseases, better known as The Black Death.
The Black Death originated in Asia and spread along the silk road, reaching Europe in 1346. By the end of the plague in 1353, about a third of Europe’s population had died.
Although we now know that flea-infested rats caused the plague, the Medieval people didn’t. Superstitions of vampirism spread, and many people, including thousands of Jews, were murdered.
As the rich and poor were equally affected by the plague, the working class realized the rich were not as untouched as they thought, leading to the Peasants Revolt and the first demands for basic worker rights.
Hundred Years Of War
The Hundred Years of War was a chain of wars between England and France. The conflict resulted from England’s claim to the French throne, lasting over 100 years.
The first of the wars, the Edwardian War, lasted from 1337 to 1360. This war was followed by the Caroline War nine years later, after which there was a short period of peace between the two countries. The Hundred Years of War ended with the end of the Lancastrian War in 1429.
During the two centuries of war, many lives were lost, and there was a desperate need for soldiers. As a result, the first army since the Fall of Rome was formed, giving ordinary peasants a new role.
The Invention Of The Printing Press
Towards the end of the Middle Ages came a world-changing invention. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 and made knowledge in printed books accessible to the masses.
A seemingly insignificant invention led to many other devices that changed modern science, medicine, and education forever. One of the immediate consequences of the printing press was a rise in educational institutes and a more knowledgeable society.
As more people began to read, a need for reading glasses emerged. The invention of reading glasses led to the microscope, changing our view of bacteria and disease. The microscope led to the invention of the telescope, increasing our knowledge of space and sparking our curiosity for exploration.
Therefore, you can see the invention of the printing press as one of the most pivotal inventions of the Middle Ages.
Birth Of Leonardo Da Vinci
In 1452, near the end of the Dark Ages, Leonardo Da Vinci was born. Leonardi played a significant role in the Renaissance and the revival of art and science.
His works, most notably The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, are world-renowned and inspire artists today.
The Middle Ages was a time of educational and intellectual darkness, but it was an important time in human history. You can almost see the Middle Ages as the uncomfortable “teenage years” of the modern world. Many wars and painful events took place, but many of these events laid the foundation for the Renaissance and the technological advancements that followed.