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The Worlds Of Medieval Europe



Deftly written and beautifully illustrated, The Worlds of Medieval Europe, Fourth Edition, presents a distinctive and nuanced portrayal of the Greater West during its medieval millennium. By integrating the histories of the Islamic and Byzantine worlds into the main narrative, author Clifford R. Backman offers an insightful, detailed, and often witty look at the continuum of interaction--social, cultural, intellectual, and commercial--that existed among all three societies.




The Worlds of Medieval Europe



Advance Praise: "This fresh and often iconoclastic survey acknowledges the diversity of medieval experiences—from era to era, region to region, class to class. The solid and traditional political narrative is enriched with an energetic discussion of environmental and technological issues, while social history, fascinating in itself, is successfully integrated into these contexts. Important intellectual themes of religion and philosophy are particularly accessible to students through a clear and focused examination of broader issues. The later Middle Ages, now the focus of much research, receive extended treatment. There are suggested texts and studies to draw students into the library but the text itself is so richly annotated with primary sources that as a course resource it could stand alone."—James W. Brodman, University of Central Arkansas


In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period (also spelled mediæval or mediaeval) lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and transitioned into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.


The Middle Ages is one of the three major periods in the most enduring scheme for analysing European history: Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Modern Period.[1] A similar term first appears in Latin in 1469 as media tempestas or "middle season".[2] In early usage, there were many variants, including medium aevum, or "middle age", first recorded in 1604,[3] and media saecula, or "middle centuries", first recorded in 1625.[4] The adjective "medieval" (or sometimes "mediaeval"[5] or "mediæval"),[6] meaning pertaining to the Middle Ages, derives from medium aevum.[5]


Medieval writers divided history into periods such as the "Six Ages" or the "Four Empires", and considered their time to be the last before the end of the world.[7] The concept of living in a "middle age" was alien to them, and they referred to themselves as "nos moderni", or "we modern people".[8] In their concept, their age began when Christ had brought light to mankind, and contrasted the light of their age with the spiritual darkness of previous periods. The Italian humanist and poet Petrarch (d. 1374) was the first to revise the metaphor. He was convinced that a period of decline had begun when emperors of non-Italian origin assumed power in the Roman Empire, and described it as an age of "darkness". His concept was further developed by humanists like Giovanni Boccaccio (d. 1375) and Filippo Villani who emphasized the "rebirth" of culture in their age after a long period of cultural darkness.[9] Leonardo Bruni was the first historian to use tripartite periodisation in his History of the Florentine People (1442), with a middle period "between the fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of city life sometime in late eleventh and twelfth centuries".[10] Tripartite periodisation became standard after the 17th-century German historian Christoph Cellarius divided history into three periods: ancient, medieval, and modern.[4]


Women took part in aristocratic society mainly in their roles as wives and mothers of men, with the role of mother of a ruler being especially prominent in Merovingian Gaul. In Anglo-Saxon society the lack of many child rulers meant a lesser role for women as queen mothers, but this was compensated for by the increased role played by abbesses of monasteries. In contrast, in medieval Italy women were always considered under the protection and control of a male relative.[70] Women's influence on politics was particularly fragile, and early medieval authors tended to depict powerful women in a bad light. Examples include the Arian queen Goiswintha (d. 589), a vehement but unsuccessful opponent of the Visigoth's conversion to Catholicism, and the Frankish queen Brunhilda of Austrasia (d. 613) who was torn to pieces by horses after her enemies captured her at the age of 70.[71] Women usually died at considerably younger age than men, primarily due to infanticide and complacations at childbirth.[E] Infanticide was not an unusual practice in times of famine, and daughters fell victim to it more frequently than their brothers who could potentially do harder works. The disparity between the numbers of marriageable women and grown men led to the detailed regulation of legal institutions protecting women's interests, including the Morgengabe, or "morning gift", a compensation for the loss of virginity.[73] Early medieval laws acknowledged a man's right to have long-term sexual relationships with women other than his wife, such as concubines and those who were bound to him by a special contract known as Friedelehe, but women were expected to remain faithful to their life partners. Clerics censured sexual unions outside marriage, and monogamy became also the norm of secular law in the 9th century.[74]


The coronation of Charlemagne as emperor on Christmas Day 800 is regarded as a turning point in medieval history, marking a return of the Western Roman Empire, since the new emperor ruled over much of the area previously controlled by the Western emperors. It also marks a change in Charlemagne's relationship with the Byzantine Empire, as the assumption of the imperial title by the Carolingians asserted their equivalence to the Byzantine state. In 812, as a result of careful and protracted negotiations, the Byzantines acknowledged Charlemagne's title of "emperor" but without recognizing him as a second "emperor of the Romans", or accepting his successors' claim to use his new title.[125] The empire was administered by an itinerant court that travelled with the emperor, as well as approximately 300 imperial officials called counts, who administered the counties the empire had been divided into.[126] The central administration supervised the counts through imperial emissaries called missi dominici, who served as roving inspectors and troubleshooters. The clerics of the royal chapel were responsible for recording important royal grants and decisions.[127]


Carolingian art was produced for a small group of figures around the court, and the monasteries and churches they supported. It was dominated by efforts to regain the dignity and classicism of imperial Roman and Byzantine art, but was also influenced by the Insular art of the British Isles. Insular art integrated the energy of Irish Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Germanic styles of ornament with Mediterranean forms such as the book, and established many characteristics of art for the rest of the medieval period. Surviving religious works from the Early Middle Ages are mostly illuminated manuscripts and carved ivories, originally made for metalwork that has since been melted down.[174][175] Objects in precious metals were the most prestigious form of art, but almost all are lost except for a few crosses such as the Cross of Lothair, several reliquaries, and finds such as the Anglo-Saxon burial at Sutton Hoo and the hoards of Gourdon from Merovingian France, Guarrazar from Visigothic Spain and Nagyszentmiklós near Byzantine territory. There are survivals from the large brooches in fibula or penannular form that were a key piece of personal adornment for elites, including the Irish Tara Brooch.[176] Highly decorated books were mostly Gospel Books and these have survived in larger numbers, including the Insular Book of Kells, the Book of Lindisfarne, and the imperial Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, which is one of the few to retain its "treasure binding" of gold encrusted with jewels.[177] Charlemagne's court seems to have been responsible for the acceptance of figurative monumental sculpture in Christian art,[178] and by the end of the period near life-sized figures such as the Gero Cross were common in important churches.[179]


The High Middle Ages was a period of tremendous expansion of population. The estimated population of Europe grew from 35 to 80 million between 1000 and 1347, although the exact causes remain unclear: improved agricultural techniques, assarting (or bringing new lands into production), a more clement climate and the lack of invasion have all been suggested.[190][191] Most medieval western thinkers divided the society of their own age into three fundamental classes. These were the clergy, the nobility, and the peasantry (or commoners). In their view, adherence to mainstream Christianity secured social cohesion.[192][193]


A special contractual framework, known as feudalism in modern historiography, regulated fundamental social relations between people of higher status in many parts of Europe. In this system, one party granted property, typically land to the other in return for services, mostly of military nature that the recipient, or vassal, had to render to the grantor, or lord. Although the vassals were not the owners of the land they held in fief from their lords, they could grant parts of it to their own vassals.[199][200] Not all lands were held in fief. In Germany, inalienable allods remained the dominant forms of landholding. Their owners owed homage to a higher-ranking aristocrat or the king but their landholding was free of feudal obligations.[201] With the development of heavy cavalry, the previously more or less uniform class of free warriors split into two groups. Those who could equip themselves as mounted knights were integrated into the traditional aristocracy, but others were assimilated into the peasantry.[202] The position of the new aristocracy was stabilized through the adoption of strict inheritance customs. In many areas, lands were no longer divisible between all the heirs as had been the case in the early medieval period. Instead, most lands went to the eldest son in accordance with the newly introduced principle of primogeniture.[203] The dominance of the nobility was built upon its landholding, military service, control of castles, and various immunities from taxes or other impositions. Control of castles provided protection from invaders or rivals, and allowed the aristocrats to defy kings or other overlords.[204] Nobles were stratified. Kings and the highest-ranking nobility controlled large numbers of commoners and large tracts of land, as well as other nobles. Beneath them, lesser aristocrats had authority over smaller areas of land and fewer people, often only commoners. The lowest-ranking nobles did not hold land, and had to serve wealthier aristocrats.[205][K] Although constituting only about one percent of the population, the nobility was never a closed group: kings could raise commoners to the aristocracy, wealthy commoners could marry into noble families, and impoverished aristocrats sometimes had to give up their privileged status.[207]


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