The University of Bologna, Italy, the site of the first university in Europe.

(AD 476- 1453) by Lance Wilson and Michael Holland
"I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God to help me govern my conduct. And the first time I was very much afraid." - Joan of Arc

The Battle of Crecy, which was the first major battle of the Hundred Years' War.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, many barbarian tribes took over the area, but only the Franks were long lasting. The first of their leaders to convert to Christianity was Clovis in 500 AD. This was the start of an increasing amount of power held by the church in Europe. The Christian church of the west had come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, and the its leader was the bishop of Rome, called the pope. The church began to exercise political rule in 590 when Gregory I became pope, as well as serving as the leader of Rome and the surrounding areas, called the Papal states. During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Frankish power began to shift from the kings to the king's chief officers. Pepin, the son of Charles Martel (who defeated the Muslim invaders at Tours in 732), took the throne. At his death in 768 his son, Charlemagne, became king. Charlemagne was a great and mighty ruler, and his lands extended from modern day northern Spain to central Germany and from central Italy to the coast on the North Sea. Charlemagne was a pious Christian and a great supporter of learning and knowledge, which caused an intellectual rebirth and increased interests in the works of Greek and Roman scholars. Charlemagne power grew, and in 800 he was crowned Roman emperor by the pope. The empire did not last long after his death in 814, though, and by 844 his grandsons had divided it into the West Frankish, East Frankish, and Middle Kingdoms. After the Carolingian Empire (as Charlemagnes lands were known) fell, Europe was troubled by invasions from all directions. A group of west Asians known as the Magyars invaded and settled in modern day Hungary. Muslim invaders came from the south, taking most of Spain. But perhaps the greatest raiders were the Vikings, who came from Scandinavia. The Vikings conducted raids all over Europe. In 911, the west Frankish king attempted to assimilate them into European culture by giving them Normandy, the section of land near the mouth of the Seine River, and converting them to Christianity. However, this did not decrease their warlike behavior. The German kings also held great power in the 10th century, and in 962 Otto I of Germany was crowned Roman emperor. His successors, Frederick I and Frederick II, attempted to take control of both German and Italian lands and create a Holy Roman Empire. However, the northern Italian cities valued their independence, and the result of these campaigns was the weakening of the empire, and the German nobles created their own kingdoms. On October 14, 1066, the Norman leader William land on the English coast and defeated the incumbent king, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans, who spoke French, soon mixed their culture with that of the Anglo-Saxons, who were in England at the time, and created a new English civilization. While the Normans had taken control of much of modern England and France, many other kingdoms were appointing vassals as bishops in the Catholic Church. In 1073, Gregory VII was elected pope. He believed it was his mission to reform the church so that it had authority to elect its own leaders. He met opposition from King Henry IV of Germany, who had appointed many bishops as administrators. Gregory banned this in 1075. This was not resolved during either of their reigns. In 1122, however, the reigning German king and pope reached an agreement called the Concardat of Worms. Under this system a bishop was elected by the church, but then paid homage to the king. The church also increased its political power, creating a new type of monastery, the strict Cistercians. They also created the inquisition, a court that tried heretics, people who denied basic church doctrine. Kings in the fourteenth century did not accept the rule of the pope over the rule of the kings. When Pope Boniface VIII died in 1305, the French King Philip IV elected a French pope, Clement V, who took up residence in Avignon on the south coast of France. The pope remained there until 1377 when Gregory XI, noticing the popes authority declining, returned to Rome. Europe continued to grow with religious fervor during this time. However, in 1347 disaster struck. Sailing from Caffa on the Black Sea, Italian merchants brought the Bubonic Plague with them to Sicily in October of that year. The disease spread rapidly, and by the end of 1348 it had afflicted the southern two thirds of Europe. In 1349, it devastated much of Germany and Britain. As church power began to decline in the decades after the plague, conflict between France and the papacy grew. In 1378, the Roman cardinals elected an Italian pope, Urban VI. The French cardinals elected their own pope, creating the Great Schism. This created undetermined faith in the church among the common people, and lasted until the church council met at Constance, Switzerland, and agreed that both popes would resign or be deposed, and a new pope acceptable to all would be elected. Also occuring during this time was a the conflict between England and France known as the Hundred Years' War. The war began in 1337 when the duke of Gascony, who was also the king of England, was requested to make Gascony part of the French kingdom. Edward III of England refused, and declared war on the French king. While the war began in 1337, the first major battle was not fought until 1346, at Crecy. In 1429, Joan of Arc inspired the French army to win the battle at Orleans, though she was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1431. As a result, the French were able to defeat the English at Bordeaux in 1453, ending the war.

While western Europe was divided into kingdoms during the Middle Ages, eastern Europe was ruled mainly by the Byzantine Empire (the successor to the Eastern Roman Empire), and various Slavic and Russian kingdoms, such as Kevan Rus, founded by the Viking Oleg. Just 50 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Justinian came to power. Justinian's goal was to restore the Roman Empire across the Mediterranean world. He achieved many of these goals, and he extended the empire into northern Africa and Italy, as well as conquering parts of Spain. However, these areas were lost quickly after Justinians death in 565. By 568, the Lombards had conquered Italy. The Byzantine Empire was further weakened by Islamic invasions in Egypt and Syria, leaving little more than Asia Minor and the Balkans. However, the territory they did control was strong, and it would persevere for almost 900 more years. The capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, also served as the home of the patriarch, the leader of the eastern Orthodox Church. The disagreement between the patriarch and the pope over who was the leader of the church led to a schism in the church in 1054, forming two different branches of Christianity: Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Constantinople was also made into a wealthy city because of its trade. It was the pathway for products from Asia to reach Europe. By 1025, the Macedonian emperors had expanded the empire to its largest extent since the Muslim conquests began. The empires boundaries were pushed in Bulgaria in the north and Syria in the south. The Seljuk Turks took Syria in 1071, however, leading to Emperor Alexius I to request military aid from Europe. The resulting series of wars, in which the Europeans would attempt to retake the Holy Land, were known as the Crusades. The First Crusade was approved by Pope Urban II in 1095. The First Crusade was relatively successful, and by 1099 the crusaders had captured Antioch and Jerusalem. Four crusader states were made from the conquered land, and Italian cities, especially Venice, who supplied food for these states, grew very rich from the increased trade. In 1187 Jerusalem fell to Saladin, which led to the Third Crusade in 1189. This crusade was unsuccessful, but King Richard of England did manage to reach an agreement with Saladin that permitted Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade began in 1204, but the crusaders, who were from Venice, decided to weaken their most powerful trade competitor, Constantinople. They captured the city in 1204, and did not relinquish it until 1261. The recapture of Constantinople did not increase the power of the Byzantine Empire, however, and the empire would come to an end when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. The only other strong nation in eastern Europe, Kievan Rus, was conquered by the Mongols in the 1200's. The khan in 1242 awarded Alexander Nevsky the title of Grand Prince as a reward for defeating a German invasion force. In 1480, the prince of Moscow, Ivan III, became independent of the Mongols, creating a new Russian state.

An example of what a castle built in the Middle Ages may have looked like.

Charles Martel, who had defeated Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours in 732, rewarded people who fought for him by giving them land to rule over. This marked the start of feudalism. Feudalism is a system in which a person who has served a lord, called a vassal, receives land that was placed under their rule. The grants of land given to the vassals came to be known as fiefs in the 800's, which were centered around a castle, which was fortified to protect the lord living there. In return, the vassal would supply the lord with food and people to fight in the military. While common people could serve, the core of the military was the knight, an armored warrior on a horse. The knights were well trained, and would fight in tournaments, which were believed to be good training for war. The knights conducted themselves with a code of honorable behavior, which was called chivalry. Chivalry required knights to treat all people with respect, and expected them to defend both the church as well as any people they came across who appeared to be defenseless. The people who were ruled by the vassals were called serfs, and they were legally tied to the land. The serfs were allowed to live on the land and grow their own food on it in exchange for rent and labor service to the lord, usually 3 days out of the week. Of everything the serf made, a portion of it was also given to the lord. They also had to pay a tenth of it to the church, called a tithe. Being bound to the land, the serfs could not travel outside the manor or marry someone from outside the manor without permission from the lord. The life of serf was not constant work, however. Over 50 days out of the year were holidays that celebrated significant events of Christianity or the life of a saint. Cities grew as trade increased during this time. As a result, guilds formed. Guilds were the precursors to today's unions. The guilds set the standard for the quality of products and the price at which the guilds were sold. To join the guild, a person must first become an apprentice to a master at age 10. During this time they would learn their craft, and were given a place to stay by the master but were not paid. Once they learned their craft, they would become journeymen, and would work for wages for masters. Once they had produced a masterpiece, a finished product of their trade, the masters of the guild would judge whether the journeyman was qualified to join, and if he was, he would become a master and join the guild. Individuals were also educated and trained at universities. The first university was founded in Bologna, Italy. Universities were quickly created all over Europe, and by 1500 there were more than 80 of them. The curriculum taught at the university inclued grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, music, and astronomy. This was the liberal arts curriculum. If this was completed successfully, the student could study law, medicine, or theology, the study of religion.

A halberd and a crossbow, two weapons that were used during the Middle Ages.

Important People

  1. Charlemagne - The Frankish ruler who created the Carolingian Empire, which evolved into the Holy Roman Empire. He was crowned Emperor of the Romans, and was a powerful leader.
  2. Joan of Arc - The young woman who inspired the French to victory at the city of Orleans, which would lead to a French victory in the Hundred Years' War.
  3. Saladin - The Muslim general who was called the "Magnificent". He conquered Jerusalem from the crusaders in 1187, and was powerful enough that the crusaders would not be able to recapture it.
  4. King Richard I the Lionhearted - The English king who was known for his bravery and attempted to win Jerusalem back from Saladin, though he was unsuccessful.
  5. Clovis - The Frankish ruler who converted to Christianity after winning a battle in 481 AD. He was the first barbarian king to become a Christian.

Key Words

Popes- A word derived from the Latin word for papa meaning father. These Popes lead the Catholic Church and were elected by Cardinals.
Vernacular- Vernacular in Latin literature was the language used in everyday speech in certain regions. Examples of these languages are Spanish, English, French and German. Vernacular Literature produced troubadour poetry that spoke of love from a knight to a lady.
Black Death- The black death was considered to be "the most devastating natural disaster in European history." One form known as the Bubonic Plague was spread by black rats carrying the bacterium. Following trade routes this deadly virus took almost half of the European population.
Great Schism- Pope Gregory XI's death brought an election of the cardinals for a new Pope. The citizens of Rome threatened Rome into electing an Italian Pope - Pope Urban VI. French Cardinals then 5 months later elected a new pope saying that Pope Urban VI's election was invalid. This dispute between two Popes was known as the Great Schism.
Crusades- The Crusades were military expeditions between Christians and Muslims. The Christians attempted to regain the Holy Land by calling for help from the Europeans against the Seljuk Turks.


This is a map of midieval Europe in about 900-1000 AD.



This video describes the weapons used by the foot soldiers in the Middle Ages.

Important Events:

481: Clovis becomes the first barbarian king to become a Christian.
December 25, 800: Charlemagne is crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III.
1000: Leif Erickson, a Viking Explorer, lands at Newfoundland in North America.
1066: William the Conqueror begins the Norman conquest of England.
1096: The First Crusade begins.
1187: Jerusalem falls to Saladin "The Magnificent", a powerful Muslim General.
1215: The Magna Carta, which limited the power of the king of England, is approved.
1337: The Hundred Years' War begins.
1347: The Bubonic Plague begins to spread across Europe.
1429: Joan of Arc inspires the French to a victory at the Battle of Orleans, which leads to a French victory for the war.

For More Information...

Middle Ages This site has everything about the Middle Ages. A well written summary on the first page with other sections narrowed down to topics such as Middle Age Knights.
Feudal System This site is all about Feudal Life during the Middle Ages. With a summary on the first page of that on the first page, it also has links to religion, homes, clothing, health, arts and entertainment, and town life.
Timeline This site is a middle ages timeline from 507 to 1499 AD. It has a detailed list of events including the battles of the Crusades, to Columbus's time discovering the Americas.
Art During the Middle Ages, art was becoming a big thing. This site has pictures and details on paintings, as well as statues.
History Whats better to learn about the history than the History Channel? This site is and has detailed videos on anything from the Crusades to the plague.