Portal:Middle Ages

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The Middle Ages Portal

The fortified town and abbey of Mont Saint-Michel off the northern coast of France is an iconic image of the Middle Ages that remains little changed since it was painted by the de Limbourg brothers in the 1430s

The Middle Ages is a period of European history that lasted from the 5th until the 15th centuries. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and was followed by the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the traditional division of Western history into Classical, Medieval, and Modern periods. The period is subdivided into the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages, and the Late Middle Ages.

In the Early Middle Ages, depopulation, deurbanization, and barbarian invasions, which began in Late Antiquity, continued. The barbarian invaders formed new kingdoms in the remains of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire), became an Islamic Empire after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with Antiquity was not complete. The still sizeable Byzantine Empire survived and remained a major power. The empire's law code, the Code of Justinian, was widely admired. In the West, most kingdoms incorporated extant Roman institutions, while monasteries were founded as Christianity expanded in western Europe. The Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, established an empire covering much of western Europe; the Carolingian Empire endured until the 9th century, when it succumbed to the pressures of invasion — the Vikings from the north; the Magyars from the east, and the Saracens from the south.

During the High Middle Ages, which began after AD 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and crop yields to increase. Manorialism — the organization of peasants into villages that owed rent and labor services to the nobles; and feudalism — the political structure whereby knights and lower-status nobles owed military service to their overlords, in return for the right to rent from lands and manors - were two of the ways society was organized in the High Middle Ages. The Crusades, first preached in 1095, were military attempts, by western European Christians, to regain control of the Middle Eastern Holy Land from the Muslims. Kings became the heads of centralized nation states, reducing crime and violence but making the ideal of a unified Christendom more distant. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism, a philosophy which emphasized joining faith to reason, and by the founding of universities. The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the paintings of Giotto, the poetry of Dante and Chaucer, the travels of Marco Polo, and the architecture of Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres are among the outstanding achievements of this period.

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The reconstructed St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral with its belltower as seen in 2007.
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery is a functioning monastery in Kiev, Ukraine. The monastery is located on the Western side of the Dnieper River on the edge of a bluff northeast of the St. Sophia Cathedral. The site is located in the historic and administrative Uppertown and overlooks the city's historical commercial and merchant quarter, the Podil neighbourhood.Originally built in the Middle Ages by Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych, the monastery comprises the Cathedral itself , the refectory of St. John the Divine, built in 1713, the Economic Gates , constructed in 1760 and the monastery's bell tower, which was added circa 1716–1719. The exterior of the structure was rebuilt in the Ukrainian Baroque style in the 18th century while the interior remained in its original Byzantine style. The cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s, but was recently reconstructed after Ukraine gained its independence. Some scholars believe that Prince Iziaslav I Yaroslavych, whose Christian name was Demetrius, first built the Saint Demetrius's Monastery and Church in the Uppertown of Kiev near Saint Sophia Cathedral in the 1050s. Half a century later, his son, Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych, is recorded as commissioning a monastery church (1108–1113) dedicated to his own patron saint, Michael the Archangel. One reason for building the church may have been Svyatopolk's recent victory over the nomadic Polovtsians, as Michael the Archangel was considered a patron of warriors and victories.


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Augustine of Canterbury (circa first third of the 6th century – probably 26 May 604) was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597. He is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church.

Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead a mission, usually known as the Gregorian mission, to Britain to Christianize King Æthelberht and his Kingdom of Kent from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism. Kent was probably chosen because Æthelberht had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert I the King of Paris, who was expected to exert some influence over her husband. Before reaching Kent the missionaries had considered turning back but Gregory urged them on, and in 597 Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet and proceeded to Æthelberht's main town of Canterbury.

King Æthelberht converted to Christianity and allowed the missionaries to preach freely, giving them land to found a monastery outside the city walls. Augustine was consecrated as a bishop and converted many of the king's subjects, including thousands during a mass baptism on Christmas Day in 597. Pope Gregory sent more missionaries in 601, along with encouraging letters and gifts for the churches, although attempts to persuade the native Celtic bishops to submit to Augustine's authority failed. Roman bishops were established at London and Rochester in 604, and a school was founded to train Anglo-Saxon priests and missionaries. Augustine also arranged the consecration of his successor, Laurence of Canterbury. The archbishop probably died in 604 and was soon revered as a saint. (read more . . . )

Did you know...

  • ...that a paillasse is a thin mattress filled with hay or sawdust and was commonly used in the middle ages?
  • ...that a barbican is a tower or other fortification defending the drawbridge, usually the gateway?
  • ...that a coif is a type of armored head-covering made out of chain-mail and worn under the helmet for extra protection?
  • ...that a heriot is a payment owed to the lord of the manor by a serf’s family upon the serf’s death; usually the family’s best animal, such as a cow, horse or most commonly ox?
  • ...that before 1066, it was noted in the Domesday Book, if one Welshman killed another, the dead man’s relatives could exact retribution on the killer and his family (even burning their houses) until burial of the victim the next day?
  • ...that buboes are pus-filled egg-sized swellings of the lymph glands of the neck, armpits, and groin; typically found in cases of bubonic plague?
  • ...that laws passed in the late 1300s aimed at maintaining class distinctions by prohibiting lower classes from dressing as if they belonged to higher classes?
  • ...that Pier Gerlofs Donia, a 15th century Frisian freedom fighter of 7 feet tall was alleged to be so strong that he could lift a 1000 pound horse?
  • ...that Edgar the Ætheling was the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England, but was only proclaimed, never crowned?

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Death of Bertrand du Guesclin.
Credit: Jean Fouquet

The Death of Bertrand du Guesclin.

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Medieval Armenia · History of Bosnia and Herzegovina (958–1463) · Bulgarian Empire · Britain in the Middle Ages · Byzantine Empire · Medieval Croatian state · Crusader states · History of the Czech lands in the Middle Ages · France in the Middle Ages · Germany in the Middle Ages · Italy in the Middle Ages · Kievan Rus′ · Poland in the Middle Ages · Portugal in the Middle Ages ·Romania in the Middle Ages · Scotland in the High Middle Ages · History of Medieval Serbia · Spain in the Middle Ages · Women in the Middle Ages · Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages

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