Middle AgesThe Middle Ages have long held a great fascination for both historians and laypeople alike, and it is certainly easy to understand why.  Many of our most cherished myths and folktales can be traced directly to this unique period of history.  In addition, many of the most loved works of literature have been written during the Middle Ages, or directly inspired by the events of the period.

The Middle Ages is defined as the period of time between classical civilization and the modern times.  In Western Europe the Middle Ages are generally understood to stretch from the 5th century, when the Roman Empire was divided into the western and eastern empires, and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which would forever change the world of religion and the world in general.

The term medieval is often used to refer to this time period, and the medieval period, with its lords and ladies, kings and knights and tales of dragons, continues to hold a certain fascination even in these enlightened modern times.

As the Middle Ages dawned, the great Roman empire had already begun to fragment.  With the central authority emanating from Rome fading, a succession of barbarian hordes and other invaders were able to penetrate the once impenetrable empire.  Among the infiltrators were such well known armies as the Goths, the Huns and the Magyars.  While Rome held on for a time, the empire eventually collapsed in one of the most fascinating period of history.  Subsequent civilizations have studied the collapse of the Roman empire, hoping to find clues that can keep their own societies from suffering a similar fate.

As the Middle Ages began, Roman architecture and art continued to flourish, and many Roman traditions continued to be celebrated even as the power of Rome itself continued to decline.

As the Roman empire fell, the fledgling Christian church began to rise in power and influence, eventually becoming the largest cultural influence during the period.  The church was instrumental in preserving Latin literature and culture, and it also helped to maintain the art of writing.  Bishops were among the only people in the period who possessed literacy skills, and their counsel was highly valued and greatly sought after.

During the early Middle Ages it was these bishops who retained much control over the urban centers, with dukes and counts maintaining control of the less populated territories.  As the Middle Ages wore on, the dawning of the High Middle Ages was marked by the rise of urban communes which were free of the traditional control of lords.  The High Middle Ages began around the year 1000 A.D., and this period was marked by more stability in Western Europe.  The period also saw the rise of Christian kingdoms and military incursions throughout the area.  This fascinating time period was also marked by the expansion of learning and culture, as well as an expansion of the population. 

By the 14th century, the Late Middle Ages were dawning.  This time period was marked by a decline in feudal power.   It was during the Middle Ages that the horrendous Black Death occurred, leading to the death of some one third of the population, and resulting in a severe shortage of cheap labor.  This labor shortage forced reluctant landlords to compete for scarce workers by offering freedom and wages, helping to lay the groundwork for the modern capitalist system.

The decline of feudal power during the Late Middle Ages gave way to the development of royal nation states, and during this time period these nation states were often at war with one another.

The Christian church continued to exert a strong influence in the medieval world, and the church would play an important role in bringing the Middle Ages to an end as well.  The famous split in the church during the Protestant Reformation.  This remarkable event in the church’s history continues to have repercussions to this day, making the Middle Ages relevant for people all over the world.