Bruce Morrison » European Middle Ages, 500–1200

European Middle Ages, 500–1200

Charlemagne unites the Germanic kingdoms, the feudal system emerges, and the Church strongly influences the lives of people in Europe.


Section 1: Charlemagne Unites Germanic Kingdoms

Section 2: Feudalism in Europe

Section 3: The Age of Chivalry

Section 4: The Power of the Church


Section 1: Charlemagne Unites Germanic Kingdoms

Many Germanic kingdoms that succeeded the Roman Empire are reunited under Charlemagne’s empire.


Invasions of Western Europe


Effects of Constant Invasions and Warfare

  • Germanic invaders overrun western Roman Empire in 400s
  • Fighting disrupts trade and government; people abandon cities
  • Marks the beginning of theMiddle Ages—period from 500 to 1500


The Decline of Learning

  • As cities are abandoned, level of learning declines
  • Knowledge of Greek language and culture is almost completely lost


Loss of a Common Language

  • Introduction of German language changes Latin; dialects develop


Germanic Kingdoms Emerge


Years of Upheaval Between 400 and 600

  • Germanic kingdoms replace Roman provinces
  • Continual wars change borders between kingdoms
  • The Church provides order and security


The Concept of Government Changes

  • Germans held together by family ties and loyalty, not government
  • Small communities are governed by unwritten rules and traditions
  • Germanic warriors pledge loyalty to their chief; live in lord’s hall


Clovis Rules the Franks

  • Germanic people calledFrankshold power in Roman province of Gaul
  • Clovis, leader of the Franks, converts to Christianity in 496
  • Leads warriors against other Germanic armies
  • Unites Franks into one kingdom with Church’s help by 511


Germans Adopt Christianity


How the Church Spread

  • Frankish rulers convert Germanic peoples to Christianity
  • Missionaries travel to convert Germanic and Celtic groups

Monasteries, Convents, and Manuscripts

  • Church buildsmonasteries—where monks live to study and serve God
  • Italian monk,Benedict, writes rules that govern monastic life
  • His sisterScholasticaadapts rules for nuns living in convents
  • Monks establish schools, preserve learning through libraries


Papal Power Expands Under Gregory I

  • In 590,Gregory I, also called Gregory the Great, becomes pope
  • Under Gregory, Church becomessecular—a political power
  • Pope’s palace becomes center of Roman government
  • Uses Church money to raise armies, care for poor, negotiate treaties
  • Establishes aChristendom—churchly kingdom fanning out from Rome


An Empire Evolves


Europe’s Kingdoms

  • The Franks control largest and strongest of Europe’s many kingdoms
  • By 511, Frankish rule extends over what is now France


Charles Martel Emerges

  • Most powerful official in kingdom ismajor domo—mayor of the palace
  • In 719, major domoCharles Martelbecomes more powerful than king
  • Defeats Muslims from Spain at Tours in 732; becomes a Christian hero
  • Son,Pepin, beginsCarolingian Dynasty—family that ruled 751–987


Charlemagne Becomes Emperor


From Pepin to Charlemagne

  • Pepin dies in 768, leaves kingdom to two sons; in 771 one son dies
  • Second son,Charlemagne(Charles the Great), rules kingdom


Charlemagne Extends Frankish Rule

  • Charlemagne’s armies reunite Western Europe, spread Christianity
  • In 800, Charlemagne travels to Rome to protect Pope Leo III from mobs
  • Pope crowns Charlemagne emperor; gives him title, “Roman Emperor
  • Germanic power, Church, heritage of Roman Empire now joined together


Charlemagne Leads a Revival

  • Charlemagne limits nobles’ power by governing through royal agents
  • Encourages learning and orders monasteries to open schools


Charlemagne’s Heirs

  • Charlemagne dies in 814; his son, Louis the Pious, rules poorly
  • Louis’s three grandsons fight for control of empire
  • In 843 they divide empire into three kingdoms; signTreaty of Verdun






Section 2: Feudalism in Europe

Feudalism, a political and economic system based on land-holding and protective alliances, emerges in Europe.


Invaders Attack Western Europe


The Vikings Invade from the North

  • Warlike Vikings raid Europe fromScandinavia—Denmark, Norway, Sweden
  • Viking long ships sail in shallow water, allowing raids inland
  • Eventually, many Vikings adopt Christianity and become farmers


Magyars and Muslims Attack from the East and South

  • Magyars(Hungarian nomads) invade western Europe in late 800s
  • Muslims strike north from Africa, attacking through Italy and Spain
  • Viking, Magyar, Muslim invasions cause widespread disorder, suffering


A New Social Order: Feudalism


Feudalism Structures Society

  • 850 to 950,feudalismemerges—political system based on land control
  • Alord(landowner) gives fiefs (land grants) in exchange for services
  • Vassals—people who receive fiefs—become powerful landholders


The Feudal Pyramid

  • Power in feudal system much like a pyramid, with king at the top
  • Kings served by nobles who are served by knights; peasants at bottom
  • Knights—horsemen—defend their lord’s land in exchange for fiefs


Social Classes Are Well Defined

  • Medieval feudal system classifies people intothree social groups-those who fight: nobles and    

  knights -those who pray: monks, nuns, leaders of the Church -those who work: peasants

  • Social class is usually inherited; majority of people are peasants
  • Most peasants areserfs—people lawfully bound to place of birth
  • Serfs aren’t slaves, but what they produce belongs to their lord


Manors: The Economic Side of Feudalism


The Lord’s Estate

  • The lord’s estate, amanor, has an economic system (manor system)
  • Serfs and free peasants maintain the lord’s estate, give grain
  • The lord provides housing, farmland, protection from bandits


A Self-Contained World

  • Medieval manors include lord’s house, church, workshops, village
  • Manors cover a few square miles of land, are largely self-sufficient


The Harshness of Manor Life

  • Peasants pay taxes to use mill and bakery; pay a tithe to priest
  • Tithe—a church tax—is equal to one-tenth of a peasant’s income
  • Serfs live in crowded cottages with dirt floors, straw for beds
  • Daily grind of raising crops, livestock; feeding and clothing family
  • Poor diet, illness, malnutrition make life expectancy 35 years
  • Serfs generally accept their lives as part of God’s plan


Section 3: The Age of Chivalry

The code of chivalry for knights glorifies combat and romantic love. 


Knights: Warriors on Horseback


The Technology of Warfare Changes

  • Leather saddle and stirrups enable knights to handle heavy weapons
  • In 700s, mounted knights become most important part of an army


The Warrior’s Role in Feudal Society

  • By 1000s, Western Europe is a battleground of warring nobles
  • Feudal lords raise private armies of knights
  • Knights rewarded with land; provides income needed for weapons
  • Knights’ other activities help train them for combat


Knighthood and the Code of Chivalry


The Code of Chivalry

  • By 1100s knights obeycode of chivalry—a set of ideals on how to act
  • They are to protect weak and poor; serve feudal lord, God, chosen lady


A Knight’s Training

  • Boys begin to train for knighthood at age 7; usually knighted at 21
  • Knights gain experience in local wars andtournaments—mock battles


Brutal Reality of Warfare

  • Castles are huge fortresses where lords live
  • Attacking armies use wide range of strategies and weapons


The Literature of Chivalry


Epic Poetry

  • Epic poems recount a hero’s deeds and adventures
  • The Song of Roland is about Charlemagne’s knights fighting Muslims


Love Poems and Songs

  • Knights’ duties to ladies are as important as those to their lords
  • Troubadours—traveling poet-musicians—write and sing short verses
  • Most celebrated woman of the age isEleanor of Aquitaine(1122–1204)
  • Eleanor’s son,Richard the Lion-Hearted, also wrote songs and poems


Women’s Role in Feudal Society


Status of Women

  • According to the Church and feudal society, women are inferior to men



  • Can inherit land, defend castle, send knights to war on lord’s request
  • Usually confined to activities of the home or convent


Peasant Women

  • Most labor in home and field, bear children, provide for family
  • Poor, powerless, do household tasks at young age


Section 4: The Power of the Church

Church leaders and political leaders compete for power and authority.


The Far-Reaching Authority of the Church


The Structure of the Church

  • Power within Church is organized by status; pope is supreme authority
  • Clergy—religious officials—includes bishops, priests, and others
  • Bishops supervise priests, settle Church disputes


Religion as a Unifying Force

  • Religion important in Middle Ages; shared beliefs bond people
  • Clergy administers thesacraments—rites to achieve salvation
  • Village church is place of worship and celebration


The Law of the Church

  • The Church has system of justice to guide people’s conduct
  • All medieval Christians expected to obeycanon law—Church law
  • Canon law governs marriages and religious practices
  • Popes have power over political leaders through threat of

-excommunication—banishment from Church, denial of salvation

-interdiction—king’s subjects denied sacraments and services

  • Kings and emperors expected to obey pope’s commands


The Church and the Holy Roman Empire


Otto I Allies with the Church

  • Otto I(Otto the Great) is crowned king of Germany in 936
  • Limits strength of nobles with help of clergy
  • Gains support of bishops andabbots(heads of monasteries)
  • Invades Italy on pope’s behalf; pope crowns him emperor in 962


Signs of Future Conflicts

  • Otto’s German-Italian lands becomeHoly Roman Empire
  • Holy Roman Empire is the strongest European power until about 1100


The Emperor Clashes with the Pope


Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII

  • Pope Gregory VII banslay investiture—kings appointing Church officials
  • Henry IV orders pope to resign; Gregory VIII excommunicates Henry


Showdown at Canossa

  • Henry goes to Canossa, Italy, to beg Gregory for forgiveness
  • Gregory forgives Henry, but lay investiture problem is not solved


Concordat of Worms

  • Concordat of Wormsis 1122 compromise in Worms, Germany
  • Compromise: pope appoints bishops, emperor can veto appointment


Disorder in the Empire


The Reign of Frederick I

  • In 1152, Frederick I becomes king; dominates German princes
  • Disorder breaks out whenever he leaves Germany
  • Frederick invades Italy, meets defeat at Legnano in 1176
  • Empire collapses after Frederick’s death in 1190


German States Remain Separate

  • German kings after Frederick try to revive empire
  • German princes, who elect kings, prefer to keep them weak