What did the people of the Middle Ages call their period?

What did the people of the Middle Ages call their period?

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It's clear that Middle Ages is a term from the Renaissance. My question is:

What names did scholars use during the Middle Ages for their own period?

Well, of course Middle Ages is a single name for a very heterogeneous period that covers approx. 1000 years, so different periods of the Middle Ages might have different names and, of course, in the same period many names could have been used by different people, so every name is welcome and wanted.

edit: I know this is a broad question, but I don't think it's too broad. I don't want a comprehensive list, I'm just curious about any names you can remember :)

Mr Durden got the basic idea. Most medieval historians were just compiling annals of their realm or diocesis or abbey and didn't think far beyond that. The historians who were trying to come up with schemas and narratives mostly came up with separate ones and used separate names for their then-present era. To add to the two that he mentioned, though, there are two more important templates that were set up by Fathers of the Church.

Many of the medieval historians would've been familiar the Four Ages of Hesiod (fl. 700 BC) whose Works and Days included a section on the ages of mankind, tracing its fall from

  1. the idyllic Golden Age, when mankind lived in carefree abundance among the gods under Kronos, dying in extreme old age only to become immortal heroes benevolently watching their children, through
  2. the Silver Age, when mankind enjoyed a long carefree adolescence under Zeus but came to strife and swift impious death when they reached adulthood, now dwelling peacefully below,
  3. the Bronze Age, the violent men before Deucalion's flood, now dwelling miseribly below,
  4. the Heroic Age,* the violent men of the age of Troy and Thebes, whose strongest men became Greek heroes and whose best men dwelt in peace in Elysium, to
  5. the present fallen Iron Age, when kings rule by force, men do wickedness without shame, and the gods have abandoned us to our fate.

This work survives in hundred of medieval manuscripts and influenced any capable medieval historian either directly or through the simpler copies sketched out in Vergil's Georgics, Ovid's Metamorphoses, & Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. They all essentially adopted similar formats, Christianized to fall from the paradise of Eden, through a silver age among the Patriarchs, a bronze age among the heroes of the Old Testament, a heroic age when the Savior walked the Earth, and a horrific fallen age now… with the heroes becoming saints and the redemptive coda that the gospels and St John's Revelation promise Christ's Second Coming and the creation of a New Jerusalem.

St Jerome (c. 347-420) translated Eusebius's now lost Chronicle from Greek into Latin, and Wikipedia and all its spawn claim somewhere in it he dated the five ages to 1710 to 1674 BC, 1674 to 1628 BC, 1628 to 1472 BC, 1460 to 1103 BC, and the Iron Age from 1103 BC to present. I can't find that in his Chronicle at all; it's just a 5th-century version of the Timetables of History without much commentary or division into ages. On the other hand, he worked from Hesiod's template (probably via its gloss in Dicaearchus's well regarded but lost Life of Greece) for his commentary on Daniel's vision of the statue with the clay feet, producing the influential interpretation that the golden empire was Babylon, the silver Media & Persia, the bronze Greece & Macedonia, and the iron Rome. With Rome falling to pieces and defended by the barbarians, the rock which destroys it and fills the world would be Christendom and the end of ages was nigh.

* This sounds less out of place in the original text, where Hesiod is actually talking about a succession of races of men rather than historical ages. Ovid already saw the schematic problem you're noticing now and just rolled the Heroic Age into Hesiod's Bronze Age, making everything nice and metallic. Vergil skipped the names and divisions and just traced man's fall from paradise into labor with iron tools, close enough to the Genesis account to earn himself his medieval reputation as a white mage and a place as Dante's companion through Hell and Purgatory.

This interpretation had already appeared in some Jewish literature like the books of III Baruch and II Ezra, both of which Jerome excluded from the Vulgate as apocrypha.

Medieval European historians would've been still more familiar with the Six Ages of St Augustine (354-430). Looking at the comparative tables being created of Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history by scholars like Jerome, Augustine sidelined them to suit his redemptive Christian narrative rather than to place Christianity into a Greco-Roman context. In his booklet On Catechizing the Uninstructed, he patterned the ages of mankind after the seven days of Creation in Genesis, taking the central divisions from Jesus's genealogy in Matthew:

  1. The First Age lasted from Creation until Noah's flood,
  2. the Second Age lasted from then until Abraham's convenant,
  3. the Third Age lasted from then until the anointment of King David,
  4. the Fourth Age lasted from then until the Babylonian Captivity,
  5. the Fifth Age lasted from then until Jesus's birth, and
  6. the Sixth Age, the last, has lasted from then until the present.

This Sixth Age-like the many ironically humble aspects of Jesus's own life-was considered a time of material collapse which only serves to heighten its spiritual triumph, a time when the soul leaves behind the things of this world, remaking the mind in the image of G-d as during the Sixth Day of Creation G-d made our bodies in His image. (Pre)millennialists were a major force in early Christianity and many before and after Augustine-and young Augustine himself-felt there would be a thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth based on a passage in John's Revelation. Older Augustine being the temporal genius that he was, his understanding changed and carried most of the rest of Christendom along with him until the Reformation. The Seventh Day of rest was not a next step along a timeline but the reunion of mankind with a G-d who has existed alongside and beyond all time the entire time.

Bede (c. 700) followed after this in his book On Reckoning Time, which was widely copied and became the medieval authority on figuring dates, especially the Easter calculations. The first Christians had thought Christ was coming back within their lifetimes; others after the destruction of the Second Temple; still others including Irenaeus around the year 500 because they interpreted various scriptures as indicating Augustine's eras were 1000-year spans except the last, which would take half as long; and a fourth set including Beatus around the year 800. Without addressing any knowledge of the timing of the End of Days, Bede followed Augustine and disarmed the last group by pointing out that the Septaugint dating that it was based on, which placed the Creation around 5000 BC, was off by thousands of years from the information in better translations of the Old Testament. By Bede's age, one of the Irish monks had figured the discrepancy as 1257 years. Bede also compared Augustine's ages of history to the stages of life (infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, senility), put exact dates on them from both the Septaugint and Hebrew chronologies, and tacked on a 7th & 8th age of an eternal sabbath and Christ's resurrection, rather misunderstanding Augustine's point about the utter timelessness of eternity. Some of his preference for "Hebrew dating" was resisted at home and abroad for chauvinistic reasons, but his & Augustine's other point that passages in the Bible (e.g. Mark 13:32) explicitly reserved the knowledge of the End of Days to G-d the Father became accepted dogma, ending official use of the age of the world to date its end until the revival of forms of the idea by the Protestants during the Reformation and the Evangelicals more recently.

So, tl;dr?

What name did people use during the Middle Ages for their own period?

More often than not, even when they accepted that the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night, they felt themselves to be in some version of the end times.

Joachim of Fiore (1135 - 30 March 1202) divided history into 3 ages according to the Holy Trinity:

  1. The Age of Marriage (God)
  2. The Age of Holiness (Christ, the son of God)
  3. The Age of the Second Coming, i.e. the impending future (the Holy Ghost)

Erasmus in his work Ratio Verae Theologie (1519) divided the history of the world into five ages:

  1. The Age of the Old Testament
  2. The Age of John the Baptist
  3. The Age of Christ
  4. The Age of the Christian Empires
  5. The Age of Tyranny

where the time since the Vikings (850 AD) is the current age, being a time of secular kings who have "degenerated" away from Christianity in the view of Erasmus.

Note that both schemes vaguely imagine an unnamed pre-Biblical age where marriage was unknown, a sort of "pre-God" period in which the earth was populated by heathens.

Short answer: "The Present". Shorter answer: "Now".

Longer answer: "The date in the dating system used in their time and place. Or so many thousands of years since the biblical creation of the world. For example the Medieval Jewish calendar dated the creation to 3761 BC, and the medieval Byzantine calendar dated the creation to 5509 BC. Thus a Byzantine Christian and Jew could disagree about the age of the universe by 1,748 years.

Ancient history refers to the time period in which scientists have found the earliest remains of human activity, approximately 6,000 BCE. It ends with the fall of several significant empires, such as the Western Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, the Han Dynasty in China, and the Gupta Empire in India, collectively around 650 CE.

The Bronze Age is the time period in which humans around the world began to use bronze as a major metal in tools. It is generally accepted as starting around 3600 BCE and ending with the advent of iron in 1000 BCE.

The Iron Age is often called Antiquity or the Classical Era, but these periods more commonly refer to only one region. It begins around 1000 BCE with the widespread use of iron in tools. It is often accepted to end at approximately 650 CE, with the fall of the aforementioned major civilizations.

BC and BCE refer to the same time period. BCE is an abbreviation for Before Common Era, and BC for Before Christ. AD is Anno Domini, and CE is Common Era. This is done in order to standardize time periods across the world (ISO 8601).

    Ended between 6000 and 2000 BCE (depending on the area until 1600s European contact in Australia) (6000 BCE - 1100 BCE) (3500 BCE - 1300 BCE) (Egypt, 3000 BC) (Egypt, 2000 BCE - 1300 BCE) India (1750 - 500 BCE) (Egypt, 1300 BCE - 700 BCE) (China 1800 BCE - 1200 BCE) Dynasty (China, 1200 BCE – 500 BCE) , (circa 1000 BCE – 146 BCE) (see Timeline of ancient Greece) (India 600 - 300 BCE) (753 BCE - 476 CE) (600 BCE) (230 BCE - 500 CE) (China, 220 CE – 581 CE)
      (China, 220 – 280)

    The Postclassical Era, also referred to as the Medieval period or, for Europe, the Middle Ages, begins around 500 CE after the fall of major civilizations, covering the advent of Islam. The period ends around 1450–1500, with events like the rise of moveable-type printing in Europe, the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and the Ottoman Empire's conquest of Constantinople.

      (Europe, 5th century – 15th century) :
        (Europe, 5th century – 11th century) (Europe, 11th century – 14th century) (Europe, 14th century – 15th century)
        (France, 987–1328) (France, 1328–1498)

      The Modern Period covers human history from the creation of a more global network (i.e. the colonization of the Americas by Europeans) to present day.

      Early Modern Period (1500 – 1750) Edit

      The Early Modern Period is the first third of the Modern Period and is often used with the parent categorization. It starts with the invention of the printing press, covering the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and, more generally, the establishment of a more global network. It ends in 1750 with the beginning of British industrialization.

      • The Renaissance (Europe, 14th century - 17th century) (or Exploration) (Europe, 15th century - 18th century) - referring to commercial and military impact of sailing technology, usually dated as 1571–1862 (France, 1498–1515) and Valois-Angoulême (France, 1515–1589)
      • The Protestant Reformation (Europe, 16th century) (England, 1558–1603) (France, 1589–1792) (China, 1644–1912) (Europe, 18th century)

      Late Modern Period (1750 – 1945) Edit

      The Age of Revolution is a less commonly used period, but appropriately covers the time between the early modern and contemporary. It begins around 1750 with European industrialization and is marked by several political revolutions. It ends around 1945, with the relative advancement of industrialization in Europe, the United States, Japan, and Russia, and the end of World War II.

        (England, Great Britain, United Kingdom, Western Europe, elsewhere, 1760-1840 [1] ) (France, Europe, 1789–1799) and Napoleonic Era (France, Europe, 1799–1814 and 1815) (Western Europe, 1815-1914) (Europe, United States, elsewhere, 19th and 20th centuries) and Bourbon Restoration (France, 1814 and 1815–1830) and July Monarchy (France, 1830–1848) (United Kingdom, 1837–1901) (France, 1848–1852) (France, 1852–1870) (Japan, 1868–1912) (France, 1870–1940) (United States, 1870–1900) (United Kingdom, 1901–1910) (Most of Europe, much of Earth, 1914–1918) (Earth, 1918–1939) (Most of Earth, February 1918-April 1920)
      • The Roaring Twenties (United States, Earth, 1920–1929)
      • The Great Depression (United States, Earth, 1929–1939) (Most of Europe, Earth, 1939–1945)

      Contemporary Period (1945 – present) Edit

      The Contemporary Period generally covers history still in living memory, approximately 100 years behind the current year. However, for all intents and purposes, the period will be used here as spanning from the second world war in 1945 to present day, as it is considered separate from the past eras and the newest stage of world history.

      Pestilence and war

      In 1300, Europe had about 100 million people then a series of calamities struck. First Germany and other northern countries experienced crop failures from 1315 to 1317, and these resulted in widespread starvation and death. Then, in 1347, Europe was hit by one of the worst disasters in human history, an epidemic called the Black Death. Sometimes called simply "the Plague," the Black Death killed between twenty-five and forty-five percent of the European population.

      The Black Death (1347–51)

      The outbreak began in Asia. Thanks to the Mongols' conquests, which had made travel between East and West safer and easier than ever before, it quickly made its way to the Black Sea shore, where it erupted in September 1346. Likewise the opening of trade that had followed the Crusades aided its spread, as Italian merchants unknowingly brought the disease home in their ships. The first outbreak in Western Europe occurred in October 1347, in the city of Messina at the northeastern corner of Sicily. From there it was an easy jump to the Italian mainland, and by the following April all of Italy was infected. Meanwhile, it had reached Paris in January 1348, and within a year, 800 people a day were dying in that city alone. Quickly it penetrated the entire European continent and beyond, from Palestine to Greenland.

      The only merciful thing about the Black Death was its quickness. Victims typically died within four days—a hundred hours of agony. If they caught a strain of bubonic (byoo-BAHN-ik) plague, their lymph glands swelled or if it was pneumonic (nyoo-MAHN-ik) plague, the lungs succumbed first. Either way, as the end approached, the victim turned purplish-black from respiratory failure hence the name. The ironic thing was that the force at the center of all this devastation was too small to see with the naked eye: a bacteria that lived on fleas, who in turn fed on rats.

      William Wallace - Braveheart

      Life of William Wallace - Braveheart - Death- Short Biography of William Wallace - Braveheart - Bio of William Wallace - Braveheart - Nickname - Born - Died - Nationality - Famous Character in the Middle Ages - Facts and Info - History and interesting Information- Facts - Info - Era - Life - Times - Period - Important Accomplishments - Scotland - Age - Middle Ages - Medieval - Key Dates and events - Achievements - Life - Death - Short Biography - Bio of William Wallace - Braveheart - William Wallace Life Story - Nickname - Born - Died - Story - Achievements - Story - William Wallace - History and interesting Information - Facts - Info - Era - Life - Family - Father - Mother - Children - Wife - Times - Period - Age - Middle Ages - Medieval - Important Accomplishments - Facts and Info - Story - Key Dates and events in the life of William Wallace - Braveheart - Written By Linda Alchin

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      What caused this change? One might conclude that the main driver was the seismic political event that took place in 1066, when the Normans under William, Duke of Normandy took over England. But as Dr Chetwood explains, it’s more complicated than that:

      “It’s a very sensible and logical explanation for lots of things that change, because after 1066 there is an influx of different names from the continent. However, I think that changes were already happening before the Norman conquest.”

      There are two significant developments, the first being a shift from Old English Germanic names to continental Germanic names (for example, names like William, Richard and Robert are the same type of name as Alfred, Edward and Wulfric, but just from a different linguistic background). They are Norman names in as much as they are carried by Norman people, but they are linguistically Germanic and formed in the same dithematic way.

      But by the time of the conquest, it’s likely that both Old English and Continental Germanic names had stopped being formed dithematically, and people just used names as we do today, naming their child Richard or Edward, without forming them from two parts. This made it easier for English people to choose new names brought over from the continent without completely changing how they used names.

      Later, there is another shift as ‘Christian’ names become very popular across the whole of western Europe. These do have some regionality, but many of these names are the same right across Europe, like John. By the 13th century, religious names of Greek, Roman or Biblical origins had become very popular, but many of these sorts of names didn’t come over straight after the Norman conquest.

      What drove this change towards a more homogenised naming system? It could partly be down to the development of surnames and by-names that mean there is less need to have such a wide choice of first names, but also, it’s potentially down to a change in the way that people are living between 800 and 1300.

      Dr Chetwood explains: “In the 600/700s, people would live in very small, dispersed settlements with maybe a couple of other extended family groups in close proximity. From the ninth/10th century onwards, there are more people and they start to live closer together in what we now know as villages.

      “Their lives are in full view of each other all the time – in the fields that they’re working in to create food, and in the same communal spaces, like churches. This creates a society where being like other people is more beneficial. You could see that as a good thing with community values and a ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude, or rather as just a case of not wanting to stand out. But we see across a greater propensity to try to be like the people in the immediate location.”

      One impact of this is that people increasingly start to choose the same names for their children, to an almost extreme extent. People share the same names today, but to far less a degree. By the 14th century, in some towns 50 or 60 per cent of the men would all be called one of about four or five names.

      I asked Dr Chetwood if he had come across any particularly surprising personal names in the course of his research. I have to warn you that there is some graphic language in the answer.

      “In the 11th century, there are a large portion of people who have these creative, nickname/by-names in addition to their given names. Some of them are a bit rude. There’s a bloke just known as Peacock. There’s someone called Tesco.

      “In the Winton Domesday, there are a number of people with either just the name Bollock or with ‘bollock’ in their surname. There’s an Alfred Toad Bollock, for example.

      “But the worst name I found is someone called Godwin Clawcunt.”

      Dr Chetwood explains that although these names were probably insulting to some extent, they weren’t anywhere near as offensive as they might be considered today, when using rude words related to bodily functions and sex is seen as taboo or rude. In the past, there would have been much more of a taboo about blasphemy.

      Though perhaps a somewhat unsavoury way to finish, it’s a fascinating piece of research that’s interesting in its own right for our understanding of personal names, but also for a wider reflection of how society transformed during the medieval period.

      Medieval baby name charts

      Popular boys and girls names from the Middle Ages

      Looking for a baby name with a historical twist? We asked Dr Chetwood to choose what might feature in a baby naming book from the medieval period…

      11th century
      14th century

      Dr David Musgrove is content director at HistoryExtra

      What did the people of the Middle Ages call their period? - History

      The Middle Ages are commonly divided in three epochs: The Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages. In this article you will learn the general political and religious beliefs during the Medieval Times as well as the causes that led to the beginning and end of the period.

      The Beginning
      From the 3rd century onwards, large tribal groups consisting mainly of Huns, Magyars, Bulgars, Avars, and Slavs slowly incorporated into Roman territory. At first the Romans gave them land in exchange of peace. However, during the 4th century, many of these tribes became more hostile toward the Romans and began to pillage important Roman settlements. Some landholders accepted their new lords while others remained independent fighting for the Empire.

      The Roman laws and customs were adopted by most of the tribes. An important example is the Franks who invaded Gaul and aspired to the Roman ways of life. They adopted their customs and gradually polished the language we know today as French. In the early 4th century most Roman legions in Gaul and Spain left to defend Rome - however, the constant Hunnic raids seriously devastated the Roman Empire. The Huns reached as far as Paris and Orleans led by Attila the Hun, though they were finally defeated by general Aetius.

      Despite a succession of weak emperors, numerous plagues, natural disasters, rebellions, economical instability and a general lack of union in the empire, Rome was hardly about to collapse. What truly destroyed the Western Roman Empire and changed the course of history was the barbarians.

      Despite some Roman military success, the Goths, whom the Romans had allowed into their land, crossed the Danube on September 4, 476 successfully deposing the last Western Roman emperor: Romulus Augustus. This event has been traditionally seen as heralding the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

      The breakdown of Roman society led to many problems. It became unsafe to travel or trade goods over any long distance and therefore, most newly-conquered settlements faced many economical problems.

      Within a generation, illiteracy rose incredibly in the West as most Roman schools and libraries ceased to function. The Christian Church was the only real centralized institution that survived the fall of the Empire mostly intact. Bishops, who still studied and knew how to write properly, became more important in this newly-created society. This led to a very powerful church that was not as devoted to religion as it was to politics.

      The Ostrogoths settled in Italy and Southern Gaul, the Visigoths in Spain and Portugal, The Saxons in England and the Burgundians and Franks in Gaul and western Germany. These became kingdoms with the Catholic Church as their official religion. Until the 8th century, the new system was incapable to support the infrastructure required for public baths, education facilities and entertainment - mainly because of bad tax coverage and excessive corruption. Beginning in the 8th century, the medieval economy slowly improved. For the first time in four hundred years there was hope of improvement. Kingdoms were beginning to take form causing law and order to improve notoriously.

      With the ever-growing threats mainly from the Viking raids and the numerous warlike tribes that had recently settled in the West, Feudalism gradually developed. The concept was simple: Knights protected landlords in exchange of fief (land). At first during the Early Middle Ages, the system was very flawed as knights could easily change allegiance or not fight at all. However this system allowed peasants to work freely. The first real armies emerged in Europe since the Romans during this period.

      To the East, Islam became a very powerful religion which eventually invaded Spain and seriously threatened the Franks and most of Europe. However, a great leader and military genius stopped their progression. He is also credited for creating the first standing army of the West since the Roman Empire and for being able to defeat stronger opponents with more numbers and better weaponry - he was Charles Martel. At Tours, he won his greatest victory and successfully put Europe out of risk of a total Muslim invasion. Many credit him as "the savior of Christianity" and even though he was almost excommunicated years before, the church itself publicly recognized him as its savior.

      Martel's son, Pippin the Younger or Pippin the Short, was the first Carolingian king in 751. He expanded Frankish borders but still was not a very important figure. His son, Martel's grandson, Charlemagne was a much more prominent person. Charlemagne was crowned emperor in Rome on Christmas day, 800. His rule united most of modern France, Northern Italy and Western Germany.

      However, that unity didn't last long. For 200 years after Charlemagne's death, the West and East were in conflict - both seeking more power. One of the main events that historians consider to have set the High Middle Ages was the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Catholic Church was separated from the Orthodox Church.

      By convention, the High Middle Ages took place during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. It was a period of innovations with gunpowder being successfully incorporated into Asian (and shortly afterward European) warfare. In just three centuries, more discoveries were made than in the previous millennium.

      The Carolingian Empire was divided partly due to conflicts between East and West and more importantly because of political and military divisions caused by the two elder heirs of Louis the Stammerer. The Carolingian Empire was divided in France, Germany under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and other minor factions.

      A very important figure of the High Middle Ages is William the Conqueror who was crowned king of England in 1066. His rule marked the mass construction of castles that dominated warfare for the following three centuries.

      Before William the Conqueror's rule, Western Europe was frequently attacked by the Vikings who were eventually defeated and played a minor role in European affairs throughout the High Middle Ages. This peace and the Warm Period that lasted until the 14th century's Little Ice Age, gave room to an enormous increase in population. By the mid-13th century, many parts of Europe reached population levels surpassed only until the 19th century. While this caused many scientific discoveries and inventions, it also provided military stability which was despised by the army. An outlet for this desire of war was The Crusades - called by the pope.

      The Crusades caused thousands of deaths, but they also brought many innovations from the East to the West. Architecture was greatly improved and Eastern inventions that would prove useful for the Age of Exploration during the 15th century were usual.

      It is during this epoch when, due to increased population and decreased activities of the upper class, many new forms of literature emerged. In Southern France, troubadours who sang of courtly love appeared. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy which was the period's most important poem. Folklore took a sharp twist and new stories, such as Robin Hood, were continuously revised to fit the zeitgeist. Chess was also incorporated, just as many sports and games. The High Middle Ages gave birth to many important inventions such as the astrolabe and the very first glasses. The notion that the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages as some call them, lacked art or science couldn't be further from the truth.

      The Late Middle Ages is a term used to describe the period of European history during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the early 14th century, the progress that characterized the High Middle Ages came to a halt. The Little Ice Age that began in the 14th century caused poor harvest and a series of famines that killed hundreds of thousands and was a probable cause of the Black Death. With the addition of many wars, such as the Hundred Years War, the population of Europe during the 14th century halved. Popular uprisings broke out across Europe, causing the Late Middle Ages to become a period characterized with poverty. During this epoch, the catholic church was greatly divided against itself. At one point, the church was led by three popes at the same time, causing great instability.

      The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 had a devastating effect on European intellectual and economic affairs. Europe slowly recovered.

      Every story, no matter how long, must eventually come to an end. The Middle Ages lasted a thousand years from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 to the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453. As you probably know by now, during all those years the world saw countless important events and discoveries that have a dramatic impact on us even now. Some call this period the "Dark Ages" because they believe that few discoveries were made during the Middle Ages which is obviously an erroneous statement.

      Folklore, art, medicine, science, alchemy and mathematics are just a few of the areas that were dramatically improved in the span of a thousand years. In fact, many of our beliefs come directly from the Middle Ages. Why do you celebrate Halloween? Have you ever used a compass? Have you ever gone to the doctor? Knowledge from the Middle Ages is everywhere. This is a period that we ought not to overlook as it is the most important and the one that has had the most influence in our lives.

      If you could mysteriously appear in XIV century England, you'd be surprised how similar most people are to you. You'd have trouble understanding Middle English and getting used to medieval customs, but for the most part their way of life was similar to ours. Many of our traditions come from that period - weddings were similar, people went to church on Sundays, kids played in the main plaza and people gathered around the castle.

      Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. N.Y.: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.

      Hollister, C. Warren. Medieval Europe: A Short History. Seventh edition. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994.

      Europe in the Middle Ages. Eds. Hoyt, Robert S., Chodorow, Stanley. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,

      History of Parliament Online

      All long-lived institutions have their antecedents, and the antecedents of the Lords are to found in the Anglo-Saxon witan which brought the leading men of the realm periodically together with the King for ceremonial, legislative and deliberative purposes. In its earliest history ‘Parliament’, first used as a technical term in 1236, was a gathering of the same type, an assembly of prominent men, summoned at the will of the King once or twice a year, to deal with matters of state and law. So it remained for much of the 13th century. Occasionally, however, these assemblies were afforced by the summons of a wider grouping. At first these extended assemblies – the first known dates from 1212 - served as the means by which the King could communicate with men who, although below the ranks of his leading tenants, were of standing in their localities and well-informed of local grievances. Had the Crown been able to function financially from its lands and feudal revenues alone, these representatives of the localities, the precursors of the Commons, might have remained no more than a source of information for the Crown and a conduit through which it could liaise with its subjects. The decline in the real value of the Crown’s traditional revenues and the financial demands of war, however, transformed these local representatives from an occasional to a defining component of Parliament because the levy of taxation depended on their consent. The theoretical principle of consent had been stated in Magna Carta, but that consent was conceived on the feudal principle that it need come from the King’s leading subjects, his tenants-in-chief, alone. But as the 13th century progressed this principle gave way to another, namely that consent must also be sought from the lesser tenants as the representatives of their localities. There was both a theoretical and practical reason for this: on the one hand, there was the influence of the Roman law doctrine, ‘what touches all shall be approved by all’, cited in the writs that summoned the 1295 Parliament and, on the other, there was the practical consideration that the efficient collection of levy on moveable property, the form that tax assumed, depended on some mechanism of local consent. Hence, from the 1260s, no general tax was levied without the consent of the representatives of local communities specifically summoned for the purpose of giving their consent, and only Parliaments in which the Crown sought no grant of taxation met without these representatives. The Crown’s increasing need for money meant it was a short step to the Commons becoming an indispensable part of Parliament. After 1325 no Parliament met without their presence.

      None the less, although this right of consent gave the Commons their place in Parliament, it did not give them any meaningful part in the formulation of royal policy. In so far as that policy was determined in Parliament, it was determined in a dialogue between the King and the Lords, who came to Parliament not through local election, as was the case with the Commons, but by personal writ of summons from the monarch. Further, the Commons’ right of consent was as much an obligation as it was a privilege. Since subjects had a duty to support the Crown in the defence of the realm, the Commons had few grounds, even had they sought them, on which to deny royal requests for taxation. What did, however, remain to them was some scope for negotiation. To make demands on his subjects’ goods, the Crown had to demonstrate an exceptional need, a need generally arising from the costs of war and, in making a judgment on the level of taxation warranted by this need, the Commons were drawn into a dialogue with the Crown over matters of royal policy, at least in so far as concerned expenditure. Hence the Crown had to measure its demands to avoid exciting criticism of its government. The consequences of its failure to do so are exemplified most clearly by the ‘Good Parliament’ of 1376, when the Commons, in seeking to legitimate the extreme step of refusing to grant direct taxation, alleged misgovernance, accusing certain courtiers of misappropriating royal revenue.

      Aside from the granting of taxation, the other principal function of the medieval Parliament was legislative. Even before the early Parliaments lawmaking was theoretically established as consensual between King and subjects, yet, in the reign of Edward I, legislation arose solely out of royal initiative and was drafted by royal counsellors and judges. In the course of the medieval period, however, the assent of Parliament, first of the Lords and then of the Commons, became an indispensable part of the legislative process. Here, however, the question was not, as in the case of taxation, simply one of parliamentary assent, it was also one of initiative. New law came to be initiated not only by the Crown but also by the Commons. In the early 14th century, in what was a natural elaboration of Parliament’s role as the forum for the presentation of petitions of individuals and communities, the Commons began to present petitions in their own name, seeking remedies, not to individual wrongs, but to general administrative, economic and legal problems. The King’s answers to these petitions became the basis of new law. Even so, it should not be concluded from this important procedural change that Crown conceded its legislative freedom. Not only could it deny the Commons’ petitions, but, by the simple means of introducing its own bills among the common petitions, it could steer its own legislative program through the Commons.

      By the end of the medieval period, Parliament was, in both structure and function, the same assembly that opposed the Stuarts in the seventeenth century. It bargained with the Crown over taxation and formulated local grievances in such a way as to invite legislative remedy, and, on occasion, most notably in 1376, it opposed the royal will. Yet this is not to say that Parliament had yet achieved, or even sought, an independent part in the polity. The power of the Lords resided not in their place in Parliament, but in the landed wealth of the great nobility. For the Commons, a favourable answer to their petitions remained a matter of royal grace, yet they were under an obligation to grant taxation as necessity demanded (a necessity largely interpreted by the Crown) and their right of assent to new law was a theoretical rather than a practical restraint on the King’s freedom of legislative action. Indeed, Parliament amplified rather than curtailed royal power, at least when that power was exercised competently. Not only were the Crown’s financial resources expanded by the system of parliamentary taxation, so too was its legislative force and reach extended by the Commons’ endorsement of the initiatives of a strong monarch, a fact strikingly demonstrated by the legislative break with Rome during the Reformation Parliament of 1529-36.

      Introduction to the Middle Ages

      So much of what the average person knows, or thinks they know, about the Middle Ages comes from film and tv. When I polled a group of well-educated friends on Facebook, they told me that the word “medieval” called to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Blackadder, The Sword in the Stone, lusty wenches, feasting, courtly love, the plague, jousting and chain mail.

      Roman de la Rose, M. 948, fol. 12r, 16th century (Morgan Library and Museum, New York) © Morgan Library, New York

      Perhaps someone who had seen (or better yet read) The Name of the Rose or Pillars of the Earth would add cathedrals, manuscripts, monasteries, feudalism, monks and friars.

      Petrarch, an Italian poet and scholar of the fourteenth century, famously referred to the period of time between the fall of the Roman Empire (c. 476) and his own day (c. 1330s) as the Dark Ages.

      Petrarch believed that the Dark Ages was a period of intellectual darkness due to the loss of the classical learning, which he saw as light. Later historians picked up on this idea and ultimately the term Dark Ages was transformed into Middle Ages. Broadly speaking, the Middle Ages is the period of time in Europe between the end of antiquity in the fifth century and the Renaissance, or rebirth of classical learning, in the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries.

      North Transept Rose Window, c. 1235, Chartres Cathedral, France, photo: Dr. Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0—video here

      Not so dark after all

      Characterizing the Middle Ages as a period of darkness falling between two greater, more intellectually significant periods in history is misleading. The Middle Ages was not a time of ignorance and backwardness, but rather a period during which Christianity flourished in Europe. Christianity, and specifically Catholicism in the Latin West, brought with it new views of life and the world that rejected the traditions and learning of the ancient world.

      During this time, the Roman Empire slowly fragmented into many smaller political entities. The geographical boundaries for European countries today were established during the Middle Ages. This was a period that heralded the formation and rise of universities, the establishment of the rule of law, numerous periods of ecclesiastical reform and the birth of the tourism industry. Many works of medieval literature, such as the Canterbury Tales, the Divine Comedy, and The Song of Roland, are widely read and studied today.

      The visual arts prospered during Middles Ages, which created its own aesthetic values. The wealthiest and most influential members of society commissioned cathedrals, churches, sculpture, painting, textiles, manuscripts, jewelry and ritual items from artists. Many of these commissions were religious in nature but medieval artists also produced secular art. Few names of artists survive and fewer documents record their business dealings, but they left behind an impressive legacy of art and culture.


      When I polled the same group of friends about the word “Byzantine,” many struggled to come up with answers. Among the better ones were the song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” sung by They Might Be Giants, crusades, things that are too complex (like the tax code or medical billing), Hagia Sophia, the poet Yeats, mosaics, monks, and icons. Unlike Western Europe in the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Empire is not romanticized in television and film.

      Byzantine Empire in 650 C.E.

      In the medieval West, the Roman Empire fragmented, but in the Byzantine East, it remained a strong, centrally-focused political entity. Byzantine emperors ruled from Constantinople, which they thought of as the New Rome. Constantinople housed Hagia Sophia, one of the world’s largest churches, and was a major center of artistic production.

      Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, 532-37 (architects: Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles), photo: Dr. Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 —video here

      The Byzantine Empire experienced two periods of Iconoclasm (730-787 and 814-842), when images and image-making were problematic. Iconoclasm left a visible legacy on Byzantine art because it created limits on what artists could represent and how those subjects could be represented. Byzantine Art is broken into three periods. Early Byzantine or Early Christian art begins with the earliest extant Christian works of art c. 250 and ends with the end of Iconoclasm in 842. Middle Byzantine art picks up at the end of Iconoclasm and extends to the sack of Constantinople by Latin Crusaders in 1204. Late Byzantine art was made between the sack of Constantinople and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

      In the European West, Medieval art is often broken into smaller periods. These date ranges vary by location.

      c.500-800 – Early Medieval Art
      c.780-900 – Carolingian Art
      c.900-1000 – Ottonian Art
      c.1000-1200 – Romanesque Art
      c.1200-1400 – Gothic Art

      Life in the Middle Ages

      In the Middle Ages most people lived on a manor . It was a village with a castle, a church and some land around it. The king gave land to his most important noblemen and bishops . They promised to give the king soldiers for his armies.

      The lowest people of society were the peasants . They didn't have their own land, but they got land from the lords . The lords also gave them protection . In return, the peasants had to fight for them. This was called the feudal system.

      Peasants worked on the land and produced the goods that the lord needed. But they did not lead a very nice life. They had to pay a lot of taxes and give the lord much of what they harvested . The peasants did not even "belong&ldquo to themselves. When they did something wrong, they were often punished by their lord or by the church. Some peasants were good craftsmen . They built the things that everybody needed. They made cloth , jewellery and, very often, repaired things that were broken.

      Peasants in the Middle Ages - Peter d'Aprix - http://www.galleryhistorical.figures.com

      Women led a very difficult life in the Middle Ages. They did housework like cooking, baking bread, weaving and spinning . They also hunted for food and fought in battles . They learned to use weapons to defend their homes and castles.

      Some medieval women had other jobs . There were women who worked as blacksmiths and merchants . Others worked in the fields or played musical instruments and danced for the king.

      Some women were known as witches , who could do magic and heal other people. Many of them were burned. Others became nuns and lived for God.

      Poor people didn't get very much to eat. They had to eat dark bread because white bread was only for the king and his family. Only rich people had meat to eat. Mutton and beef were very common and vegetables were also very popular . People liked eating onions , garlic and herbs that they picked from the castle garden. The best way to preserve food was to put salt on it because in those days there were no fridges. There were no plates and forks , so the food was put on flat bread, called trenchers.


      In the Middle Ages, people usually made their own clothes by spinning or weaving cloth themselves. Sometimes they bought linen to make the clothes they needed. Wool was very common at that time. It was sheared from sheep and then washed. The rich people made more expensive clothes from linen or silk.

      Poor women often wore long dresses made of wool. The colours were very dark - brown or grey . They also wore stockings and leather shoes.

      The medieval lady wore clothes made of fine silk, wool or fur. They were more colourful than the clothes of the poorer people. In the winter she often wore a fur coat or a cape. Only a rich woman could afford jewellery. She wore shoes that had wooden bottoms with leather on top of them.

      Men often wore tunics and trousers and later on stockings that went up their whole legs. Purple was a popular colour for men in the Middle Ages. Fur and velvet were also used a lot on the sides of coats.

      Medieval houses and homes

      Most medieval homes were cold, damp and dark. Sometimes it was brighter outside the house than in it. The windows were small, because homeowners didn't want people to look into it.

      Many poor families ate, slept and spent their time together in only one or two rooms. The houses had thatched roofs that could easily be destroyed.

      The homes of rich people were fancier than those of the peasants. They had paved floors and tapestries sometimes hung on walls. They made the house warmer. Only the rich people had glass in their windows.

      In most houses there were no chimneys. The kitchen had a stone hearth, where women cooked and kept the rooms warm. The kitchen of manor houses and castles had big fireplaces where meat and even large oxen could be roasted. Sometimes these kitchens were in different buildings because people were afraid of a fire.


      Most poor people did not have money to buy medicine, so they got ill quickly and didn't live very long. They had to help themselves .

      Only the rich people got good medical treatment . Doctors cured people with the help of plants and herbs . Others laid stones on a person's body. The man who cut your hair was often the one who operated on you if you were ill .

      Famous Medieval People

      When looking at famous medieval people there really is a lot of ground to cover. The medieval period is roughly the thousand years between the 5th and 15th centuries and that is a lot of people. I have taken some of the more famous ones here and they include Kings and Queens, Knights, Writers and Religious figures. I guess you could say this is a look at the most famous medieval people because you have probably heard of most of them if not all of them.

      A note from Will. You know as I was researching and writing this article I was awestruck by the people. It is quite a remarkable collection of famous people who were made famous for very different reasons. These include exploring, inventing, artistry, combat, leadership, writing and even shooting an apple with a crossbow. This is part of a remarkable history of humanity and the whole medieval period was really something. The really difficult task I had in creating this article and list is trying to figure who to leave out! There were so many remarkable figures.

      King Arthur (5th-6th Century?)

      There is a lot of debate as to whether King Arthur actually existed. Some evidence says yes. If he truly existed it was believed to be somewhere in the 5th or early 6th century. Some evidence points to him being a soldier while other evidence points to him being a King. The first viable written evidence of his existence showed up in the 9th century in a book called "Historia Brittonum" (History Of The Britons (Historia Brittonum) ) where he was purported to have won 12 military battles. The legend of King Arthur peaked and waned over the centuries and made another strong appearance in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which was first published in 1485. This book has been reprinted many times over the centuries but a strong and lasting fascination with Arthur took hold with another reprinting of Le Morte d'Arthur in 1816. This was part of a very strong Gothic revival. Since then the legend has firmly taken hold and only grown. Whether or not King Arthur really existed is still up for debate but his legend does live on. He is one of the most famous medieval person ever to have lived (or not!).

      Charlemagne (742-814)

      He was an Emperor and King who brought most of Western and Central Europe under his reign by a variety of means including military conquest. But he is not famous for just this. He was also a main force in something called the Carolingian Renaissance which changed much of Europe by bringing about a new monetary system, educational reform and a renaissance of the arts including military arts and the art of siege. He is often considered to be the father of what is now modern Europe.

      Leif Ericson ( 970-1020?)

      He was a Norse adventurer and explorer who is generally creditied as being the first European to discover North america. And this was a full 500 years before Columbus. He was the son of another famous Norse. (Eric the Red).

      William the Conqueror (1028-1087)

      His Normans were the last foreign force to conquer what is now Great Britain. He was King (William I) He began this conquest with the famous battle of Hastings in 1066 and in subsequent battles mostly to repress revolts and uprisings. His reign and influence had much impact on England. He brought about a lot of reform including adoption and English as the official language and adoptions of church reform. He instituted a wide plan for building castles and fortressess all over England to fortify his military strength and to control revolts and rebellions. The most famous of these buildings is the Tower of London.

      An added note by a web visitor

      Hi There. I love your site. -- about William the Conqueror. He was a Norman and the Normans, were descendants of Vikings. The Vikings were attacking Paris and areas in "Normandy" constantly. The "French" grew tired of this and made a deal with these invaders. They gave then land in return for the Normans not to attack anymore and to protect the region from new invaders. After many years thru trade and just by nearness to the French, the Normans adopted the French Language. William did not bring English to England, he brought over French! For the next three hundred years anyone who was important in England spoke French.

      Eleanor of Aquitane (1122-1204)

      She was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and King John. She was also a wealthy and powerful figure in the european High Middle ages. She was also Queen of the Franks through her first Marriage to Louis VII and Queen of the English through her second marriage to Henry II. She was an important figure in the culture of the High Middle Ages and she was instrumental in the defining and changing of values such as chivalry and romance. She also spent 16 years imprisoned for her alleged part in an attempt by her son to overthrow her husband Henry II. She led a remarkable yet tumultous life which included participation in the second crusades.

      Richard the Lionheart (1157-1195)

      He was the favored son of Eleanor of Aquitane and a central figure in the thrid crusades. He was the Duke and Lord of many various lands such as Normandy and eventually became King of England. The military battles of the third crusades are his largest claim to fame yet he never achieved his goal of recapturing Jerusalem. He is also well known for some other things including the fact that he became to be known as the first King who was also a knight. And he spent much time and resources building fortresses and castles throughout his lands.

      William Wallace (Died 1305)

      He is the figure now made very famous by the movie Braveheart. He was a Scottish knight and landowner who was a leading figure in the Scottish Wars for Independence. There are three notable occurrences in his life which are remembered. The first of which is that he was eventually captured and executed in a very brutal manner. He is also remembered for his famous victory in the battle of Stirling Bridge at which his forces were vastly outnumbered. And he is also remembered for his loss a year later at the Battle of Falkirk.

      Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

      He was a poet, writer and philospher of England. Who has not read "The Canterbury Tales" in high school? He is often considered to be the father of English literature and he brought a legitimacy to the English language when literature was considered to be either only in French or Latin.

      Johann Gutenberg (1398-1468)

      He invented the printing press and the concept of movable type which revolutionized the book making process. Up until his time books were copied by hand. His invention is considered to be among the most important of the modern period. Books became much easier to make and much more affordable. And most importantly this changed the availability and flow of information throughout the world. His inventions quickly spread across the whole known world.

      A Note from Will: There is an official Gutenberg Museum in Mainz Germany. I have visited it. It is small but interesting. If I remember correctly they didn't have his original movable type printing press but they did have the second version he made. Wow, now I really wish I took pictures.

      William Tell (Early 14th century?)

      He is a figure of swiss legend and a folk hero. According to legend he was famous for several different acts the top of which was his ability with the crossbow. He is told to have assassinated a tyrannical Austrian reeve (Gessler) with a difficult crossbow shot through a narrow pass. And of course he is most famous for having being forced to shoot an apple off his own son's head. He was forced to do this at threat of death to both he and his son.

      Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

      She was captured and executed by burning at the stake at the age of 19. She is also a national heroine in France and has been canonized a saint.

      She asserted that she had visions from God directing her to free her homeland from the English. And she started out as a missionary but quickly became a military leader who lead French troops in decisive and aggressive military battles the first of which was the lifting of the siege of Orleans in only 9 days.

      Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476)

      He was born in Sighi?oara , Transylvania which at the time was part of Hungary. And he is commonly known as yes. Count Dracula! The legend has changed dramatically over the centuries but it is known that he was a central figure in the resistance of the dominance of the Ottoman Empire. And that he was particularly cruel in the handling of his enemies. He used many forms of torture against them including impalation on spikes. But as far as vampirism goes there isn't any evidence to link Vlad with it other than the creation of the Bram Stoker Dracula book.

      Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519)

      He lived during the overlapping time between when the Medieval Period ends and the Renaissance begins. And he is considered to possibly be the archetype of what a Renassance man is and possibly the most diversely skilled human being to have ever lived. He was an architect, designer, inventor, painter, botanist, writer . well, you name it and he excelled at it. He realistically and symbolically represents humanities transformation from the medieval period into the rebirth or "renaissance".

      Disturbing Execution Methods From The Middle Ages

      All right, so this is an article about extremely disturbing execution methods of the Middle Ages, a period that lasted in Europe from around the 5th to the 15th centuries. Be advised that the methods outlined below are truly horrific and awful, and some of you may simply not want these ideas to occupy space in your brains. That’s OK you can go read something else. (Here’s an awesome article about puppies. You’re welcome.) But I know that many of you saw the title of this article and thought, “YES. I will click on that. Old-school torture and execution sounds fascinating.” I know, because that’s precisely the reaction I would have.

      I feel like, in a perfect world, we would study these centuries-old execution methods purely as cautionary tales about the potential of human cruelty, as distasteful, but useful examples of what happens when you give people too much power over the bodies and lives of others. But the truth is, people enjoy finding out about torture methods, and murder, and the horrible things that can happen to the human body. That enjoyment, that weird feeling of simultaneous repulsion and fascination, is why we watch gratuitously gruesome forensic shows (ahem, Bones ), and it’s why people are still obsessed with Jack the Ripper 127 years after the Whitechapel Murders, and it’s why people went to see all those awful Saw movies .

      Why do people (and I’m including myself here) like this stuff? Is it because, by looking at the cruelty of the Middle Ages, we somehow absolve ourselves of the violence of our own time? Does learning about archaic torture methods satisfy some deep, lizard brain desire for carnage? Are we drawn in by the transgression of physical boundaries when the body is torn apart? And does the fact that these execution methods are centuries old somehow make them approachable, or comprehensible, in a way they wouldn’t be if they were practiced today? I’M ASKING.

      Read on for 7 disturbingly creative ways that people killed other people in the Middle Ages. Er … enjoy? (Is that what we’re calling it?)

      1. Sawing

      In this method of execution, victims were sawn in half lengthwise, from groin to head or head to groin. If a victim was tied upside down, as in the image above, blood would stay in the head and chest, and it could take several hours for him or her to finally die.

      2. Judas Cradle

      The Judas Cradle was a torture device that looked like a pyramid on a stool. Victims would have the pointed end inserted into their orifices (anus or vagina), and then they would be pressed onto the device. The Judas Cradle would kill victims either through impalement, or through causing so much muscle and tissue damage that the victim would become septic and die.

      3. Breaking Wheel

      The breaking wheel was used as a form of capital punishment during the medieval period. Victims would be strapped across the wheel, and then pummeled with iron cudgels to break their bones. After being “broken,” they would be left out to die, which could take a matter of days.

      4. Burning at the Stake

      Burning at the stake is a very old, very painful way to kill people. In medieval Europe, burning at the stake was a common way to execute heretics. A bit later, in the Early Modern period, this method would be a common execution route for witches.

      5. Flaying alive

      Flaying people alive (stripping off their skin) is an ancient method of torture and execution that was used long past the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, the method was used to punish witches, criminals, and traitors.

      6. Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered

      A medieval punishment for high treason, hanging, drawing, and quartering involved having the victim first tied to a horse and dragged to the site of execution. Then he would be hanged almost to the point of death, then, while still alive, disemboweled. After burning his entrails, executioners would finally behead the victim and quarter the body (i.e., cutting or pulling it into four pieces).

      7. The Head Crusher

      The head crusher is exactly what it sounds like: a torture device that worked by crushing the skull. Used as a way to extract confessions, the crusher would slowly and painfully press the jaw and crown of the head toward each other, breaking the jaw, teeth, and facial bones and squeezing the eyes out of the sockets. If the victim wasn’t killed, he or she could nevertheless suffer from permanent bone and brain damage.

      OK, so now that we are all completely disturbed, let’s take a moment to clear our minds and look at puppies:

      Watch the video: Did the Romans Know the Empire Was Falling?


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