The Middle Ages

The term 'Middle Ages' was coined in the Renaissance, the time when there was a revival of Greek and Roman culture from the so-called 'Classical' age. The leaders of the Renaissance deemed all that existed between the fall of Rome and their own time to be barbaric, leading to such strange terms as 'Gothic' (as in the Gothic tribes) for the Cathedrals built in Europe in the Middle Ages. I have chosen to place the Middle Ages from 1000 until 1453, the year in which the Byzantine Empire was finally destroyed with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, and the year in which the Hundred Years War between England and France ended in French victory. The Hundred Years War in fact lasted much longer, almost from the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 until 1453. During this time English possessions in France grew and shrunk with the fortunes of battle, and the land of France itself writhed (sporadically) in the agony of war. Spain, occupied for most of the Dark Ages by the Caliphate of Cordova, fell more and more into Christian hands as the Middle Ages wore on. Following the breakup of Cordova into petty states, the Muslims were united first under the Almoravids and then the Almohads, who fought off the endless attacks of the militaristic Spanish Christian states. Germany and Northern Italy, and at times what is now southeastern France and Bohemia were held within the Holy Roman Empire. This Empire was too decentralized to really hold that title, and was unable to bring order to Europe's chaotic politics as its Classical namesake had. Hungary expanded into a mighty kingdom of its own, only to be devastated by the invasions of the Mongols and the Ottoman Turks. Russia, divided into many petty states, was also devastated by the Mongol Invasions. England made military forays not only into France but into Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. These three Celtic areas offered fierce, if incoherent, resistance. Wales would be completely conquered, Ireland would too, but neither area lost its Celtic culture completely and England paid a heavy price in blood to hold onto these lands. Scotland would be conquered and lost by England several times in the Middle Ages. But of all the political and military events of the Middle Ages the most important were the Crusades. The Christian rulers of Europe, militaristic and pious, set off time after time to battle the Muslim Turks in the Holy Land to take and Jerusalem. The First Crusade was a blood soaked success, its sequels were far less successful. By the end of the Middle Ages all that remained of the Crusades were the fighting orders of monk-knights, Templars, Hospitilars, the Knights of St. John and the Tectonic Order, who would bring their military and political power to bear in the later Middle Ages. It was in the Middle Ages that the primacy of Europe until this day was assured. One reason was that unity eluded Europe: The Byzantines, Hungarians, Germans, French and English were unable to conquer one another, leaving Europe in a constant state of war and division. China, India, and the Muslim world were generally more united, often completely united under one empire, giving greater political and military stability. Wars were by no means unknown in these areas, but Europe was constantly locked in combat, and warfare became completely ingrained in European culture, in a way that it was not in the rest of the world. Second, though Hungary and Russia would be devastated by the Mongol Invasions, the rest of Europe was spared these hordes. China, India, and the Muslim world were not so lucky. Up until the Mongol Invasions, by any standard European Civilization seemed an unlikely candidate to dominate the world. After, her military and economic power would brush aside all resistance. In 1492, an unknown and geographically incompetent sailor from Italy would lead a small Spanish fleet to the Americas. For better or worse, the light skinned peoples of Europe would were destined to dominate the earth in the centuries to come.

Questions, comments, and corrections are welcome! Direct comments and such toTony Belmonte