*** medieval country trends -- national historical trends

Medieval Europe: National Trends

Figure 1.--This ink drawing is from an Enid Blyton book 'Tales of Brave Adventure'. The book features short stories of knights etc. during medieval times i.e. King Arthur. This illustration shows the prophecy taking place of "Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England" Many try to draw the sword but it does not yield. The young Arthur tries and the sword comes out and he flourishes it. "We will have Arthur for our King!" We are unsure who the illustrator was or the accuracy of the drawing.

The fall of Rome in the 5th-century had profound consequences throughout Europe. The fall of Rome was to also affect the future history of Europe, but the impact varied with both the local populations and the specific Barbarians tribes which graduall spread throughout Europe and the British Isles. The Barbarians did not invade in a hughe wave, but in different sized groups of various tribes (Franks, Teutons, Visigoths, Burgundians, Vandals, Vikings, and others). Over time the Barbarians and local populatiuons and their cultures merged. Although Roman armies were defeated, the Roman Church would succed in Christianizing the Barbarians. the Carolingian family had by the mid-8th century deposed the Merovingian dynasty. Charlemagne and his descendents would found many of the major European nations. The barbarian war lords of the 5th the century had emerged as rulers annointed by God, responsible for preserving the Faith as well as the security of his subjects. The dual role invested the king with political, religious, and culture responsibilities. While the Feudal System and Catholic Church dominated Europe a variety of factors made for the develooment of natioinal differences. Europe even before the Barbarian invasions was split between the Germanic east and the Roman west and south. This cultural divide was to have a profound impact on Europe. Even within the Roman Empire there were many regional differences. While city centes were often Romanized, throughout the Empire rural populations often retained their native languages and cultural destinctness. In addition differentares of Europe were conquered by different Barbarian tribes. Many other factors such as geogeaphy and climate caused the evelopment of economic and other cultural differences.



The medieval history of the Low Lands in genral was complicated, but led to the development of an independent spirit which caused the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. Here they were assisted by both geography and the interests of the English in preventing a continental power from dominating the area. Charlemagne had his son Louis the Pious made co-emperor during his life time. When Louis died, his sons quareled. Much of European history can be seen as a coninuation of these quarels. A series of battles eventually led to the Treaty of Verdun (843). Three of Charlemagne's grandsons agreed on how to divide his empire. Charles the Bold took West Francia which evolved into modern France. Lothair took the title of Emperor and the Middle Kingdom which would become the basis for the small sttes tht developed between France and Germany. Louis the German took West Francia which would evolve into modern Germany. Most of modern Belgium was in Lothairs Middle Kingdom. A narrow strip of land located north and west of the Scheldt river was part of Louis' German kingdom. Gradually most of modern Belgium came under the control of the German kings. As with other areas of Lothair's Middle Kingdom. The textile industry of Fkanders would make it ione of the most valuable provinces in Europe. The Low countries would be contested by France and Germany not only in the medieval era, but into the 20th century. Here England would play a major role beginning in the late-medieval era to ensure that the Low Countries would remain independent. Geography also played an important role. Rivers from Germany flowing north emptied into the North Sea through the Low Countries. As rivers were he principal arteries of garments, this would help to make the Low countries important commercial centers.


Tsar Boris I converted to Christianity (865 AD). One source reports that a Byzantine monk painted a picture of hell on the palace walls frighten Boris into accepting Orthodox Christianity. Many Bulgars object to this characterization as mocking the Tsar and suggesting that his choice of Christianity was unreasoned. There were important cultural and political reasons that influenced Boris to convert the Bulgarians to Christianity. [Cherneva] It was his rule that encoureged that the Cyrilic alphabet was invented and spread. A substantial part part of the European population uses this alphabet. Tsar Simeon (893-927) expanded the Bulgar kingdom. At this time Bulgaria experienced a "Golden Age" since Bulgaria experienced amazing cultural progress and geographically possesed the areas between three seas surrounding the Balkans - Black, Aegean and Adriatic. Simeon was crowned as an 'Emperor of Bulgarians and Romans' by the Patriarch in Constantinople (913). [Cherneva] The Byzantine Emperor, Basil II gained a decisive military victory and had the eyes of 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers put out (1014). Bulgaria came under Byzantine rule in 1018. A Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) was created when two brothers, Asen and Peter, led a general uprising against Byzantium. The Second Empire extended over Thrace, Macedonia and Albania. It was Tsar Ivan II (Ivan Asen) (1218-1241) who extended the Bulgarian empire over the largest area. He conqquered virtually the entire Balkan Peninsula, except for Greece in the extreme South which remained under Byzantine control. After Ivan II, Bulgaria declined and was confronted with a rising Srbian Christian kingdom. Macedonian which had been part of Bulgaria was conquered by Serbia (1330). Fighting between the two Christian kingdoms weakened both.


Although not part of Western Christendom, Byzantium was an important part of the Medieval world. Its geographic location and religious break with the Roman Cathloic Church took Byzantium out of the Western European mainstream, biy it played an important and often not fully reported role in Medieval European history.


The area of modern Croatia was part of Rome's Panonnia province. After the fall of Rome the area was settled by the Slavic Croats (7th century). The process of Christinization began t this time as a result of the surviving Roman population. From the beginning the Croats became a pawn situated between larger, more powerful nations. The Croats accepted Christianity (9th century). The first monarch of independent Croatia was King Tomislav. An independent Croatian kingdom existed between 923-1102. The Roman Catholic Papacy was at the heighth of its power and endorsed the crowning of King Tomislav. He was crowned (925) and then disappeared (928). A dispute developed between the Croatian and Roman Catholic Church over which Catholic Church should be the only Church in Croatia. Crosatia became a province ruled by the Hugarian monarchy. The Ottoman victory at the battle of Battle of Moh�cs (1526) destroyed the Hungarian monarchy. Dynastically the Austrian Hapsburgs inherited the Hungarian crown and Croatia, but for two centuries both were occupied by the Ottoman Empire.


The end of Roman rule in Britain can be seen as the beginning of the Medieval era. Raids of Germanic tribes had begun even before Rome withdew it legions. The Anglo-Saxons and Jutes gradually expand their raids which become waves of invasion which gradually turned into settlement by the 5th century just as it did in the rest of the Western Empire. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were Christianized by missionaries from both Rome and Ireland. Christianity became an important cultural influence in England for the first time. The first Viking or Norsemen, appear in the 8th century and raids gradually increase in severity. The first raids were on islands and coastal towns. The Vikings are often referred to in English history as the Danes, but not all came from Denmark. The Vikings began full scale invasions (865). The Danes almost overran all of Britain , but were fimnally stopped by King Alfred of Wessex. Feudalism developed in Britain much as it did on the continent. The Germanic invaders (Saxons and Jutes) were freeman (ceorl). They were responsible to the tribal chiefs and were not serfs. Over time war and subsistence farming had reduced most freemen into serfdom. William the Conqueror after defeating Harold at Hastings (1066) brought Norman-style political and military feudalism to England. He was the most efficent administrator since the departure of the Romans. William used the feudal system to collect detailed information on his new realm and collect taxes. England as other Medieval kingdoms was faced with a struggle for supremecy between Church and state. This conflict became especially severe during the reign of Henry II. Loyal supporters of the king murdered Arch Bishop Thomas � Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. King Edward I initiated the conquest of both Wales and Scotland. The trading interest of the Danes had brought renewed vigor to towns in England. Norman rule with their concern woith administration further promoted the growth of towns. Another factor was the perpetual need of English kings to borrow money. Many towns were able to in effect purchase royal charters which detailef grants of rights. In all the Feudal kingdoms of Europe, there was an inherent tension between the king and his nobels. This conflict became became increasingly serious under Richard I and reached a crisis under King John. A victory by the barons forced Jpohn to sign the Magna Carta (1215). Thedocument is considered to be one of the modst important constitutional charters in history. While it applied only to the barons, it limited royal power and was a major first step in English democracy. Edward III initiated the Hundred Years War with France (1337). Edward had a claim to the French crown through his mother. Hostilities erupted and cintinued over 100 years. The plague or Black Death devestated Europe. It began in Italy and moved rapidly north. The Channel was no barrier. It soon reched England (1348). Along with the pain and suffering there was a significant economic impact. The huge number of people killed significantly reduced the labor force, altering the relationship beteen the nobility and the peasantry. The plague accelerated a process already underway of breaking down the Feudal System. The Wars of the Roses was a drawn out dynastic civil war pitting the House of Lancaster against the House of York. The English economy centered on the wool trade and the inclosues to increase wool production had profoundconsequences. Almost independent of the German Refomation was the Reformation in England, but this proved to be crucial because of the future imperial role of England. Political rather than religious issues were to drive the Reformation in England. England emerged from the Medieval era during the Tudor era.


The Frankish warlord Charles Martel turned back the Moors at Tours (732). His son and grandson (Pipin and Charlemagne) created the greatest state in Europe since the demise of the Roman Empire. The division of the Caroligian Empire provided the basis for modern Germany and France. After the Carloginians, the descendents of Hugh Capet for almost 1,000 years provided France with its kings as direct descendents and later branch families (Valois and Bourbon). France played a major role in the Crusades which absorbed the energies of kings, counts, clergy, and commoners, reducing interacine conflict. Medieval French history swirls round conflicts with both a divided Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) and a united England. The Norman conquest of England in the 11th century initiated centuries of conflict between England and France. The proud French nobility competed with the monarchy for power until French kings after expelling the English in the Hundred Years War. The French economy with its large population and a and rich agriculture became a vital part of the developing medieval European economy. The French nobility weakened by the War finally was forced to bow to the monarchy and its claim of absolute authority. Gradually trade revived and cities and towns begin to grow. The bourgeois of the towns engaged in a resurgent trade of agriculture and artisan crafts. The French built magnificent cathedrals to glorify God. Important universities were founded at many of these cathedrals. The quickening economy was caped by the Renaisance brining and end tp the medieval era.


The Medieval history of Germany is difficult to syynthesize because Germany lacked a clear geographic focus. The Germanic tribes, probably originated from the peoples living along the Baltic Sea, dominatd much of northern Europe (500 BC). The German Tribes were part of a larger group of people the Celts. The history of the Germanic tribes beginning in the 2nd century AD through the 6th century is one of extended migration (Völkerwanderung) out of their native lands west. There were many reasons for this migration. They were attracted by the fruits of civilization developed in the Roman Empire. The dynastic history of Medieval Europe in many ways begins with Clovis and the Merovingian dynasty, but even more with Charlemagne and his successors. Charlemagne founded the first empire after Rome. His grandson Louis II became the first King of Germany. The Saxon King Otto I founded the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire is a misnomer. It was not Holy, although the pope crowned the emperor, nor was it Roman. It was essentially a Germanic empire encompassing much of Western Europe and later was named by historians the First German Reich. he Salian Dynasty under Henry II became involved in thre The Empire was rocked by the Investiture Controversy in the 10th century and the struggle between Emperor Henry II and Pope Gregory VII. Although the Emperor established the principle of civil power, regional leaders used the controversy to significantly weaken the authority of the emperor within Germany and was a major reason that no centralized German state emerged as was the case in many other countries (England, France, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden) during the Medieval era. Several different dynasties ruled Germany during the Medieval Era. The first was the Merovingian dynasty founded by Clovis. It was the Hapsburgs that would lead Germany out of the Medieval Era and dominate Germany until after the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century. During the Roman imperial era the Germans pushed west. After the fall of Rome and the migrations west of the 6th century and 7th centuries, the Germans as begun by the Carolingians became increasingly concerned with the East. Germans played major roles in the 11th-13th centuries Crusades to free the Holyland from Islamic rule.


Although Ireland was to become a European backwater, in the early Medieval era, Ireland was a center of learning and Christianity in a Europe dominated by Barbarians. A historian writes< "Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe that has known neither Renaissance nor Enlightenment--in some ways, a Third World country with, as John Betjeman claomed, a Stone Age culkture--had one momement of unblemished gloy. For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were jut learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of Western literature--everything they could lay thir hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the ruble and ruined vineyards of the civilization that they had over-whelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everyrhing that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Minks, who single-handedly refounded European civilizationthroughout the continent in the bays and valley of their exile, the world that came after them would have been n entirely different one--a world without books. An our own world would never have come to be." [Cahill, pp. 1-2.]


As the Western Empire declined in the 5th century, Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Huns, Heruli, Alemanni etc.) migrated west, many settled in Italy. The fall of Rome, however, meant a gradual decline in the economy and falling populations, especially urban populations. Despite the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy remained largely united in the early Meievil era. First Odoacer ruled who ws then replaced by Theodoric the Ostrogoth (493-526). With the fall of the Roman imperial regime, the influnce of the Christian church became increasingly important and the Papacy began exerting its auhority. Leo I (440-461) and Gregory the Great (590-604) played especilly important roles. With Gregory the Papacy begn to assume temporal political functions as it expanded its territory from Rome to an increasing part of central Italy. Westen monachism began to grow with the guidance of St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543). The Benedictine monasteries and abbeys and those of other orders were not only places of religious veneration, but centers for preserving culture and important economic institutions. The Eastern Emperor Justinian (527-565) efforts to reunite the Empire resulted in the destructive Graeco-Gothic War (535-553).

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire after conquering Anatomia began to challenge penetrate into the Christian Balkans and to challenge the Italian maritime states like Venice and Gnoa (14th century). This made the Ottomans and important medieval European as well as Asian state. The Ottomans sought to drive into Western and central Europ, only stopped at the gates of Vienna. While important during the medival era, the Ottomons became less a factor as the Europeans experienced the Renaissance, Reformation, and Engligtnment. As a result the Ottomans fell out of the European maunstream and was not involved in modernizing trends which led to democracu, capitalism, and science.


Poland was one of the great powers of Meieval Europe. Poland played a major role in stopping the expanion of the Ottoman Turks into Christian Europe. At its peak, Poland was a kingdom dominating Eastern Europe. It included Lithuania and included the basins of the importantrivers of Eastern Europe (Warta, Vistula, Dwina, Dnieper and upper Dniester). Ir included not only the Poles but the Balticic Slavs, the Lithuanians, the White Russians and the Little Russians or Ruthenians. Very little real historical date exists about Poland before the 10th century. The origins of the Poles may have been a people living along the Danube that were driven north by the expanding Roman Empire, settling in the forrests of the upper Oder and the Vistula. These people were the Lechici named for the mythical patriarch, Lech. Here they lived for centuries, in loosely associated tribal communities. A more centralized stated finally coaleased for protection from aggressive neighbors. This was the kingdom of the Piasts, named after its founder Piast. Virtually nothing is known about the kingdom. Prince Ziemovit, the great-grandfather of Mieszko (Mieczyslaw) I (962-992) is known to have expanded the kingdom at the expense of the weakening Moravian Empire when he seized the province of Chrobacyja (extending from the Carpathians to the Bug). Although Poland was to become perhaps the most Catholic country in Europe, Christianity did not appear until the 10th century and it was Greek Orthodox missionary monks who first arrived. Mieszko was eventually converted by Jordan, the chaplain of his Bohemian wife, Dobrawa or Bona. Jordan was made the first bishop of Posen. The subjects of King Mieszko appeared to have followed the choice of their monarch and Catholicism became estblished in the kingdom. Mieszko's decission appears to have involved power politics. The newly Christinized Germans were pressing eastward and accepting Christianity helped legitimize the Polishing kingdom in the eye of the Church and Christian Europe. Mieszko's son Boleslaus I (992-1025) made the church at Gnesen in Great Poland a national shrine. Boleslaus who added additional territiry to the Polish state was the first Polish prince to have been conformed as a king. The tile was conferred by Emperor Otto III in 1000.


Russia in the early Medieval era did not exist in any collective sence. There were a number of scattered cities along the major rivers with trade, but not political relationships. The history of Russia begins in the 9th century AD as part of the outburst of the Norsemen from Scandanavia that so affected England and Western Europe. Norsemen also moved east. The Varangians from modern Sweden crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The Varangians leader was the warrior Rurik. He was an actual historical figure, although most of what we know about him comes from legend. He led a band of Varangians to Novgorod on the Volkhov River (862). He became the ruler of the city, although we are not sure he actually conquered the city. Rurik's descendents became known as the Rus. Rurik's successor Oleg using Novgorod as a base, extended his influence south along rivers which were the principal trade routes at the time. Oleg seized control of Kiev, the most important city on the Dineper (882). This provided the beginning of a unified state based on dynastic rule. Kiev was of special importance. Its strategic location along the Dnipper surounded by rich farm land was a key trading center located between between Scandinavia in the north and Byzantium in the south. Dominated by tge Rus, Kiev was an important trading empire which dominated much of European Russia and the Urkraine for three centuries. Vladimir I ruled a Kiev which dominated a vast area extending south to the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains, controlling the Dnipper and much of the Volga (989). Vladamir decided that an established religion was necessary for the Kievian state. He reportedly assessed several possibilities before deciding on Greek Orthodoxy. It is likely that trade and diplomacy rather than religiius zeal explained his choice. The choice of Orthodoxy allied him with the rich Byzantine trading center of Constaniople, at the time the richest city in the world and crucial to the Kievian economy. Vladmir apparently rejected Islam, apparently because he did not want to give up alcoholic beverages and was not sure he could bring hius people to do so. Vladimir's successor Yaroslav the Wise codified laws and promoted the arts. He decided, however, to divide his kingdom among his sons upon his death (1054). Once powerful Kiev son was split with interacine warfare. Gradually regional power centers began to develop, including theonce small village of Moscow at the confluence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers which begins to appear in the historical record (1147). The decline of powerful central rule also exposed the Rus to raids by war-like people from the East which in the 13th century was the Mongols.


The Medieval era can be said to have begun with the recall of the Roman Legions from Britain (409). With the withdrawl of the legions, the Picts intensified their raids south. It is at this time that waves of migrating German tribes, the Saxons, sweep over Britain. Many Celtic Britons retreating from the Saxon invasions settle in Caledonia between the Firth of Clyde and the Solway Firth which eventually collaseses in to the Kingdom of Strathclyde. To the north at the beginning of the 6th century, Celtic invaders from Ireland establish the Kingdom of Dalriada. The pagan Angles, another invading Germanic tribe settled in what is now northern England founding the kingdom of Northumbria. The Angles in the mid-6th century moved north seizing much of the land south of the Firth of Fourth and east of Strathclyde. Strathclyde and some Picts were converted to Christianity and Columba came to Dalriada froim Ireland (563). He largely converted the remaing Picts. Conflicts develop between the Celts and Picts who fuse into the Scotts on one suide and the Angles in Northumbria. Keneth MacAlpine in the mid-9th century rules over all of Scotland, but faces incessent warfare with the Norse. The conflict between the Scotts and English continues when the the Normon William the Conqueror defeats the Saxons at hastings (1066). Malcomb's son, Edgar, with Norman assistance is crowned (1097). The Anglization of Scotland accelerated during Edgar's reign (1097-1107) and that of his two brothers, Alexander I (1107-24) and David I (1124-53). Edward I also succeeds in annexing Scotland to England, but is thwarted first by William Wallace anf finally by Robert the Bruce. The feuding Scottish nobility, however, prevents the establishment of a strong royal Government. After Robert there is a decline of royal authority and further English encroachments. The Stuart dynasty was founded by Robert II. The Stuarts were unable to overcome the Scottish nobility and impose strng royal authority in Scotland. As a result, Scotland under the Stuarts were unable to resist English encroachments. While the Reformnation was initaited by the English monarchy, in Scotland in occurred in spite of the opposition of the monarchy, although supported by the English. Ironically, although Queen Elizabeth executed her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scotts, her Protestant son James V of Scotland succeeded her as King James I of England, launching the English Stuart dynasty.


The Barbarian tribes which invaded the western Roman Empire or best known to history. The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empirew as confronted by the same problem. The modern Serbs descend from the barbarian tribes who invaded the Byzantine Empire from the north. Barbarian raids into Byzantium continued throughout the 5th century. There is no historical consensus as to just which Barbarian tribes were involved. Historical sources mentioned Scythes, Bulgarians, and Goths. At the beginning of the 6th century, during the reign of Justin I (518-527), a raid of Slavs (Antis), who lived in steppes north of the mouth of the Danube, was mentioned in Byzantum records for the first time. The Serbs by the second half of the 9th century had been converted to the Orthodox Christianity. Other Slavs like Albanians and Croats adhered to Roman Catholic church. The Byzantine Emperor designated provincial administrators ("Zupans") to rule in their name. There were a variety of military campaigns both with Byzantium and the encroiaching Bulgars. Even so the Slavs continued to accept the their position as a vassal entity within the Byzantine Empire. One Byzantine zupan, Stefan Voyislav (d 1050) proclaimed himself Prince of Serbia. This was the foundation of the Serbian royal family. Stefan was succeeded by his son, Michael (d 1080) and grandson Constantine (d 1106) as Serbian Kings then by a great-grandson, Vladimir (d 1115) and Grubesha (d 1122). With the extinction of this line, the great-grandson of Zupan Vukan of Rascia, Stefan I Nemanya (d 1200), emerged as paramount Prince, or King of Serbia. The second of his two legitimate sons, Saint Sava ( -1237) became Archbishop of Serbia and subsequently the Serbian patron. The elder Stefan II seceeded his father as King of Serbia (1217). A descendent Stefan Dushan (Urosh IV) ( -1355) proclaimed himself Emperor of the Greeks and Serbs (1346). Dusha's son Stefan Urosh V was murdered by Lazar Grebelyanovich (1367). Lazar married Milica, a distant descendent of Stefan II througgh an illegitimate son--Vuk, Prince of Zeta. The marriage provided Lazar a certain legitimacy. Lazar Grebelyanovich was killed at the Battle of Kosovo Polje when the Serbs suffered a disatrous defeat at the hands of Turkish Sultan Murat I (1389). This ended the Serbian royal line and the existance of Serbia as an independent state.


Roman Spain not only experiuenced Barbarian invasions from the North in the 5th and 6th centuries, but Moorish invasions from the south in the 8th century. Medieval Spain was notable for the degree to which peple of three faiths (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) coexisted and nutured each other. Despite their fudamental differences and 700 years of Arab-Christian warfare assocaited with the Arab Conquest and Christian Reconqista, a subtle culture of toleration developed over extended periods. There were even periods of relative religious toleration. The history of Medieval Spain reveals Arabized Jews and an Arab influence relected in architecure and philosophy. [Menocal] The rule of the Omayyid Caliph extended for three centuries and the court was the most splendid in Spain, one of the few centers of learning ans science in Europe at the time. With the fall of Grenada, King Ferdinand expelled both the Moors and Jews in 1492.


Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Historic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Doubleday: New York, 1995), 246p.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Toleration un Midieval Spain (Little Brown).


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Created: August 13, 2003
Last updated: 11:41 PM 11/26/2020