“The Middle Ages” is the name given to the period of European history which spans from the 5th century (400 AD) to the seventeenth century, or approximately 1600 AD. Historians divide the Middle Ages into three distinct historical periods. The first of these is called the Early Middle Ages. The Early Middle Ages is the name given to the period from 400-900 AD. The Early Middle Ages directly followed the fall of the Roman Empire. The Early Middle Ages is sometimes called the Dark Ages. This is because there was very little cultural development during this era.
Due to a lack of written records from Western Europe between 400-900 AD, there are very few primary records of the time. This means that much of what we’ve learned about the Early Middle Ages comes from the records of the High Middle Ages, the period which came afterward. Archaeological excavations were also used to discover things about the architecture and day-to-day lives of the people from the Early Middle Ages.
While there were no specific, world-changing events that happened during the Early Middle Ages, there were a few societal trends in this period that would go on to change forever. The first of these was the Migration Period of 400-700 AD.
During the Migration Period, there were a large number of invasions throughout Western Europe. Due to the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was a vacuum of power in European society, and these invaders took advantage of the political unrest to pillage entire countries. However, despite these invasions, most nations remained intact during the Migration Period. Latin continued to be spoken as the main language of Europe by countries like France, Spain, and Italy, while other countries like England began to develop their own identity. The huge number of migrants brought by these “invasions” led to changes in property law, religion and culture. It also led to a breakdown in trade, and economic collapse across the continent.
During this period, there was also a twenty percent drop in population. Historians believe that this is partly because of the spread of new diseases, particularly one called “smallpox,” which killed thousands.
After the Migration Period came the “Resurgence of the Latin West.” This period is defined as being the years between 700-850 AD, and is described as being a time of great cultural, political, and agricultural development in Western Europe. Due to the improvement in climate and agricultural conditions in Europe during this period, the continent began to stabilize, and the newly formed kingdoms did extremely well for themselves. Examples of these kingdoms include the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain, and the Franks and Burgundians in Germany. The Resurgence of the Latin West is also partly defined as the period in which Christianity began to spread rapidly through Europe. All of the kingdoms listed above were Christian kingdoms, and many countries which had previously held pagan beliefs converted to Catholicism under their rule.
After this period, the Viking Age began. The Viking Age lasted from the eighth century to the eleventh century (700-1000 AD) and is sometimes known as the “Germanic Iron Age.” This is the period in history in which the Vikings were most active. Warriors and traders from Scandinavia were known internationally as Vikings at the time, and they were famous for their raids and pillaging in Europe. The Viking Age is marked as the time in which these Scandinavian warriors performed the majority of their looting – in particular, Africa, Europe, and North America were affected by these attacks.
Scandinavia had more means of water travel than most European nations, which encouraged them to explore new countries and develop trading relationships with them. Sometimes, the Vikings enslaved the villages they raided. This eventually led to the foundation of the “feudal system in Europe.”
Due to the difficulties faced by people living in the Early Middle Ages, (poverty, famine, disease, war) cultural development came to a stop. There was very little output of art or literature during this time, and literacy was extremely rare. Because there was no education offered to peasants in this period, historians refer to it as the “Dark Ages.”
– 400-900 AD.
– The Migration Period, the Resurgence of the Latin West, and the Viking Age.
– Changes in law, trading, and culture.
– As the newly formed kingdoms of Europe stabilized, culture began to develop that took direct inspiration from the old kingdoms of Rome and Greece. This led to improvements in art, writing, and architecture.
– There was a lack of education, and very little cultural output during this time.