Europe History - Middle Ages

Europe History: Middle Ages

In the mid-700’s, Arab expansion reached its peak. In the centuries before the year 1000, Europe was divided into a Western Roman Catholic-Latin and an Eastern Grass Orthodox-Byzantine Christian culture. In addition, Islam had gained a foothold in southwestern Europe, and pagan cultures prevailed in northern and eastern Europe. The Muslims had invaded the south of France and had settled on the Iberian Peninsula. North Africa, the Middle East and southeastern Turkey were Arab territory. The Eastern Roman Empire had thus lost over half of its lands, and therefore the kingdom was reorganized in the following time. In the historians of posterity, this reorganization has been expressed in the term Byzantine Empire, which was not used at the time. The empire maintained some political and ecclesiastical connection with the pope in Rome until the final schism between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in 1054, due to the possessions of the kingdom in Italy, which were lost in the late 1000-t. But the orientation was from the mid-700’s. aimed at the central parts of the Balkans and Asia Minor.

Butiksgade in Paris

Butiksgade in Paris around 1500 with i.a. clothing store, barber and pharmacy. From 1200-t. Europe’s cities changed from small administrative and ecclesiastical units to commercial growth centers with money economies, credit systems, and varying degrees of municipal autonomy. Criticism of cold capitalism arose, for example, among the begging monks, but it was poor in relation to the acceptance of the new economic thoughts. Illustration from a textbook for princes, which tells how to stimulate trade and thus increase the wealth of the principality.

The Byzantine Empire continued the traditions of the late Roman state in a more direct sense than the new empires of Western Europe and to some extent also than the Arab Empire. Revised versions of the laws of the Roman Empire bound the kingdom together under one common law. The notion of a sovereign state represented by the emperor, who stood above the law, was part of Byzantine law. The power of the emperor was absolute; he was supreme legislator, judge and military leader and moreover head of both the secular and the ecclesiastical administration. Although the emperor could not administer the sacraments, he had an influence on the interpretation of the religion as well as the right to appoint and remove patriarchs and other clergy.

The further advance of the Arabs in Western Europe (as currently known as European Union or EU on CountryAAH) was effectively halted after Pippin III the Little, with the consent of the pope in 751, had deposed the last Merovingian king and proclaimed himself king. Pippin conquered southern France from the Arabs, and his son Charles, nicknamed the Great, drove back the Muslims of northern Spain. Charles conquered the kingdoms of the Lombards in Italy and defeated and forcibly Christianized Saxony; he created a kingdom that could be compared to the Western Roman Empire.

The center of the Carolingian Empire became the Rhineland and the flourishing city of Aachen, where Charles had his palace and court chapel built. The establishment of this empire decisively strengthened Western Christianity north of the Alps, and with the imperial coronation of Charles in Rome on Christmas Day 800, the connection between the secular and the clerical power was finally established. A state monetary system and an expanded administration were developed, which linked the aristocracy strongly to the central power.

Yet it was a fairly loose empire, which had more features in common with the former Germanic kingdoms than with the contemporary Byzantine and Arab ones. After Charles’ death in 814, the weaknesses became apparent, and quarrels broke out between his sons. At the Settlement of Verdun in 843, the kingdom was divided into three: a western kingdom (later France), an Austria (later Germany) and a kingdom that included the area from the Netherlands across the Rhineland to northern Italy. The ruler of this noblest part retained the imperial title after the father.

In the following time the division increased in the two westernmost kingdoms, while the royal power in the easternmost part managed to hold its own. King Otto I the Great’s successful defense of Austria against the Magyars’ attack from the east strengthened him both internally and vis-à-vis the outside world. He obtained the title of emperor by his intervention in favor of the pope in Italy in 962, and as emperor he and his descendants claimed Italy, Burgundy and the Rhineland. In the middle of 1000-t. most of these lands were placed under the emperor, who also had some power over the areas north and east of the kingdom, Denmark.

The German Empire was considered by scholars to be the continuation of the Carolingian Empire and thus also of the Roman Empire, and the German emperors competed with the papacy for the leadership of Western Christianity. This power struggle culminated in the defeat of the German emperors in the Battle of Investitur (1075-1122). The decision on the controversy marks the liberation of the church from worldly power, first and foremost by the denial of the influence of imperial power on the appointment of bishops. It is also the beginning of the unfolding of the spiritual as well as secular and especially political power of the medieval papacy.

Simultaneously with the beginning of the Christianization of the Nordic countries, the monarchy was established around the year 1000 in Norway and Denmark. Sweden with Finland first emerged as a kingdom in the mid-1100’s. In Viking times, eastern England was linked to the Nordic countries, and in the period 1019-42, Denmark and England, and for a short number of years also Norway, were united in one kingdom.

With the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the Anglo-Nordic connection was broken. England’s union with Normandy laid the foundations for a new Western superpower, and when Henry II came to the English throne in 1154 and married Eleonora of Aquitaine, the whole of western France came into the hands of the English kings. As early as 1202-06, however, the French king subjugated the English counties in northwestern France, but the English kings still had considerable possessions in southwestern France.

Under Henry VI, the German Empire was expanded with the Kingdom of Sicily through a marriage alliance. After Henry’s death in 1197, civil war broke out in the kingdom. The pope supported Otto IV, who came to power, and in 1214 Otto entered into an alliance with the English against France. The French king, Philip 2 August, however, won a crushing victory in 1214 at Bouvines in Flanders. He thus temporarily halted the British attempt to recapture their former county in France. In Germany, the defeat led to Henrik VI’s son Frederik II becoming emperor in 1220. He concentrated on Italy with the result that Germany was split into a series of small principalities, which were formally under the emperor’s supremacy.

The division of Germany and the French king’s control of the northwestern French counties strengthened the French central power. Now it was France that sought to subjugate the old middle kingdom. In 1246, Provence came under French influence, and the diocese of Lyon and the Duchy of Burgundy and Dauphiné were incorporated into France in the 14th century. In the north the French advanced on Hainault, Alsace and Lorraine, and in Italy Charles I of Anjou conquered Sicily in 1266. The papacy also came under strong French influence; Philip IV blocked the pope’s revenue in France and in 1309 moved the papacy to Avignon.

Europe History - Middle Ages

The weakening of the German empire also meant a strengthening of the kingdoms of the north and east – Denmark, Poland, Bohemia and Hungary – and also of the principalities within the empire, which had been created during the great colonization of Northeastern Europe in the 1100’s and 1200’s.., i.e. Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, the German Order State, etc. Europe’s population grew through the Middle Ages until the 1300’s, and some could indicate that the growth was strongest from the 1000’s to 1200’s. In northwestern Europe, certain areas were marked by significant population pressure, which was alleviated by emigration. From the Netherlands and northwestern Germany, emigration took place to the newly Christian areas east of the Elbe.

Although most of the German kings also became kings of Italy, throughout the Middle Ages the country was effectively dissolved into areas under various princes. Unlike the cities in the north, the Italian cities were inhabited by the nobility, and many of them were episcopal cities. The Italian cities were larger and had natural conditions to become trading centers with a proto-industrial development, and their central location on the Adriatic and the Mediterranean contributed to their development into strong city-states in step with the decline of the Byzantine Empire and after the Arab Kingdom collapse.

Following the acquisition of the Umayyad caliphate in Cordoba in 1031, the Arab possessions on the Iberian Peninsula were split into small units, and these small kingdoms soon became the subject of aggression by Christians. It culminated tentatively with the conquest by Alfonso VI, king of León and Castile, in 1085 of the most important Arab city, Toledo. Nearly 200 years later, most of the Iberian Peninsula was taken from the Muslims and divided into three Christian kingdoms, Castile, Aragon and Portugal. The Byzantine and Muslim declines coincided with a strong cultural flourishing in Western Christianity, which was largely indebted to these declining cultures. By 1300, Western Christianity had become a major figure in European spiritual and cultural life.

Considerable cities had sprung up, and trade in goods had increased. A network of trade routes had emerged, tying Europe together and strengthening commercial relations with the Orient. The change in trade relations from mainly the exchange of luxury goods to a greater extent also to food and building materials reflected the division of labor that had long existed between country and city, and which was now also really breaking out between European regions. Proto-industrial centers had sprung up, especially in the Netherlands and northern Italy, which could only exist in cooperation with raw material and food supply regions. Imports of food to Flanders from the Baltic Sea region, Denmark, West Germany and northern France thus began early, at the same time as England supplied raw materials for Flemish garment manufacturing.

From 1200-t. and up to the year 1500 the political center of this culture lay in the rival kingdoms of England and France. Through a grueling conflict that began in the 1200’s. and ended with the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the French monarchy succeeded in conquering the English counties in southwestern France. With this, the French kings had created dominion over a territory that roughly corresponded to modern France. England, under Henry II, had conquered parts of Ireland, and Edward I brought Wales under the English crown. Scotland, on the other hand, managed to withstand the pressure of England in the 13th and 14th centuries, although the British influence in Scottish domestic politics at times was significant.

In the west, large territorial units were thus created in the form of royal powers, which gradually began to develop into actual state powers. The development went faster in England than in France. England had a better starting point due to an early strong monarchy, but just as important was the fact that the social and economic development of the country in these centuries created a number of societal needs, which led to the administrative and constitutional institutions that had become founded in the 1100’s and 1200’s, was expanded and strengthened.

According to CountryAAH, a similar but not so strong development took place in the Nordic countries, in Eastern Europe, on the Iberian Peninsula and in the area between France and Germany, where the Burgundian Empire expanded its territories in the 1300’s and 1400’s. From about 1450, Italy’s throngs of small territories were gathered in larger and firmer political units, while the dissolution of Germany, which had begun in the 1200’s, continued into the Middle Ages.

The last centuries of the Middle Ages were marked by plague epidemics. In 1347, the plague was brought to Italy, and from there it spread far and wide along Europe’s well-developed trade routes. The plague epidemics are believed to have halved Europe’s population during the second half of the 14th century, after which the frequency, spread and strength of the epidemics diminished. The decline in population led to extensive destruction of farms and villages across most of Europe and affected in various ways the spiritual and social and economic life, but European societies showed an astonishing ability to withstand the demographic decline. Urban and trade development continued despite the loss of population, as a result of a strengthened interregional division of labor between Eastern and Western Europe.