What would they think?

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Nov 7, 2022


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Middle Ages
Identify groups and individuals directly involved with Rome’s collapse
Identify the various cultures of these groups and their influences on the fall of the Roman Empire
Explain the reasons for the decline of Rome
Identify the changes in Europe due to the fall of the Roman Empire
Identify the origins of feudalism
Explain how and why the Church played such a significant part during this period
Explain the ways that the Church influenced thinking and behavior during the feudal period
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Early Middle Ages
Historians generally agree that the early Middle Ages lasted about 500 years, from the fall of Rome in A.D. 476 to the end of the 10th century. This time period of history is characterized by a decline in the orderly civilization of Western Europe and is known as the Dark Ages. From the early Middle Ages, historians agree that Western Europe passed into the late Middle Ages, which lasted about 300 years. During the first period of the Middle Ages, the population of Western Europe declined for various reasons. The primary reason for the population decline was due to the continuous fighting among the tribes in Western Europe such as the Huns, Lombards, Gauls, Franks, Saxons, and Ostrogoths. To add to its problems, Europe was invaded frequently and from almost every direction. From the north and west Scandinavian tribes called Vikings raided towns and settlements, reaching as far as Constantinople. From the east, Europe was invaded by Hungarian tribes called Magyars, and from the south, by Muslims.
Another reason for the decline in population was the spread of disease. Unlike the Romans, who believed in frequent bathing in bathing halls, the barbarian tribes and European towns did not. Many early European settlements thought the bathing halls of Rome were decadent and unchristian. Unsanitary living caused the spread of disease, and the death rate climbed. Except for the brief period of Charlemagne’s empire, the tribes of Western Europe were unable to unite as tribal leaders lacked any loyalty to one another. Unity brings strength, and from strength comes strong defense. With a strong defense, the Western Europeans would probably have been able to defeat the Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims. As Western Europe was so divided, they suffered greatly from the various invasions from outsiders.
Fun Facts: One of the earliest versions of the London Bridge was destroyed in 1014 when the Saxons rowed up the Thames River, tied ropes to it, and pulled it down! This helped the Saxons regain London for the Anglo-Saxon king against the Danes. It is possible that this event may have been the inspiration for the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down.”
The Feudal System
Castles were built for protection during this time. Around the castles were high walls and towers, with a garrison able to provide living quarters for soldiers. Usually, a moat was built around the outside of the castle to prevent attacks from using siege weapons. Peasants, called serfs, worked the farmlands that surrounded the castles for their protection. The serfs gave a share of their produce to their leader, who was called the lord. In return, the peasants were given protection within the walls in case of attack. For the defense of the castle, the lord hired professional soldiers called knights or vassals. In return for defending the castle, the knights were given a place to live and food to eat. A lord also could grant his vassal a fief, or estate, that could range from a few acres to hundreds of square miles in exchange for service or loyalty.
The area on which the castle and farmland were located was called the manor. The entire manor consisted of a manor house and land farmed by the serfs. People on the manor needed no outside assistance for support. All the necessities of life, like food, clothing, and shelter, were provided. The manor’s political and economic system of lord, vassal, and serf became known as the feudal system. In certain areas, powerful lords became kings.
Under the feudal system, it was difficult, if not impossible, for people to rise above their place in life. A serf’s children would be serfs. Because feudalism required that all vassals swore allegiance to their lords and all lords swore allegiance to their king, the feudal system was one of social, economic, and political dependence.
What was everyday life like during the early Middle Ages? When Charlemagne’s empire was divided, public road-building stopped. Bridges were not kept in good condition. Most people were insecure. All of this was a direct result of the constant warfare. Communication among the various manors almost stopped, and there was little trade among them because of the danger of traveling. There was almost no education. Many people, including the leaders, were illiterate.
In order to fully understand the entire feudal age, it is important to recognize the role the Church played during this period. The Roman Catholic Church also participated in the feudal system. The majority of schooling that occurred during the entire Middle Ages was through the Church. Monks formed study groups, further experimented with Greek and Roman ideas, and copied records and reports.
The Church also owned manors just like the lords. Serfs worked the land, and vassals fought to protect it. For the common people, the Church of the Middle Ages represented a place to escape from the turmoil of their everyday lives. It gave those who needed it a sanctuary, or safe place. The Church taught people to work hard, remain peaceful, and accept their roles in life. The Church taught that if you obeyed its religious teachings, you would go to heaven. Those who disobeyed the church were excommunicated or cut off from the church and its followers.
Late Middle Ages
As the invasions into Western Europe slowed, life began to change. The feudal system was well established and provided a degree of protection and stability for its people. The Church had established itself as the most important part of the lives of the people. The most powerful lords became kings and had less wealthy lords ally with them. A direct result of the decline of the invasions was an increase in population and trade.
With the increase in population, came the rising importance of cities and towns. A new class of people, called merchants, appeared and were responsible for trading goods from city to city. Within the cities, guilds appeared to answer the demand for tradable goods. A guild is a system in which a person learns a trade, as in unions today. Some guilds were composed of merchants, traders, and crafts workers. The middle class, or bourgeoisie, emerged as an important group. Communication increased between cities and towns because of safer travel. Trade routes with the Islamic and Byzantine empires improved as kings and lords could provide a measure of safe travel. Along with new goods, new ideas were introduced into Western Europe.
Throughout this period, however, the poor remained poor, although the serfs were now freer to move from place to place. Lords of manors realized that it was cheaper to give land to the serfs in return for rent than to force serfs to work the land in return for food and shelter. The political authority of the Church also increased.
Now, both the pope and kings were gaining more power. The Church of the late Middle Ages improved the education of the people. Learning also improved when universities were formed. One of the first universities was established in Bologna, Italy around 1158. Achievements were made in literature, history, science, and other educational subjects during the late Middle Ages.
The late Middle Ages saw the return of town life, an increase in trade and communication, and the gradual decline of the manor system. Education, especially through the Church and merchants from outside Western Europe, contributed to the changes in Europe.
Supplemental Lessons (These are optional. Please do not submit, as they will not be graded).
1. What would it be like if someone from the Middle Ages somehow appeared in modern times? What would they think? How would they react?
2. Research 3 important advancements in science and history during the middle ages. Write an essay on why they were important.
Please answer only the questions on the attached document ( that is the assignment)


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