middle Ages

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In European history, the Middle Ages denotes the epoch between the end of antiquity and the beginning of the modern era , i.e. the period between the 6th and 15th centuries. Both the beginning and the end of the Middle Ages are the subject of scientific discussion and are set quite differently.

In the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages , the political and cultural unity of the Mediterranean area, which was shaped by Greco-Roman antiquity , broke up. While the Byzantine Empire remained intact in the east, the Western Empire fell in 476. New empires were formed within (such as the Frankish Empire , the Visigoth Empire on the Iberian Peninsula and the Anglo-Saxon empires in Britain) and outside (such as the rule of the Slavs in Eastern and Southeastern Europe and the new empire formations in Scandinavia ) of the former Western Roman Empire. These empires were populated by the resident Romanized population and groups that immigrated during the migration period ( Germanic tribes and Slavs).

While the ancient core area was already influenced by Christianity , the other, pagan ( pagan ) areas of Europe were Christianized in the Middle Ages . In the early Middle Ages, the basic political order of later times emerged. The subsequent High Middle Ages were characterized by the boom in economy, science and culture. In the late Middle Ages there was a slow transition into the early modern period .

With Islam , a new religion emerged in the 7th century, which spread as a result of the Arab conquests in West and Central Asia, North Africa and also in parts of southern Europe, before Christian rulers initiated the reconquest in Spain ( Reconquista ) and southern Italy / Sicily. In Southeastern Europe, however, the Ottomans continued to advance in the late 14th century .

The predominant form of society and economy in the Middle Ages was feudalism . Principles that time were one of booths ordered society , a certain through Christianity worldview , a Christian-influenced science and literature , architecture , art and culture , as well as Latin as a common, cross- training language . After the Great Schism of 1054, both the targeted Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church , the unity of Christianity under its umbrella. However, these efforts failed.

The Jews were of great importance for “Christian” Europe . Due to the prohibition of interest by the Catholic Church, Christians were forbidden to conduct money transactions, but not Jews of other faiths. They were protected by the sovereigns and, as a minority, were only reluctantly tolerated. Due to anti-Judaism in the Middle Ages , they were victims of pogroms and expulsions .

The term "Middle Ages"

Medieval concept of its own

Cog (ma. Representation on Stralsund seal)

The Christian Middle Ages did not yet see itself as a “Middle Ages”, but understood itself in terms of salvation history as an aetas christiana (“Christian age”), superior in faith to all other ages , which began with the birth of Christ and was only to end on Judgment Day . While the previous world ages of salvation history were further subdivided according to the doctrine of the three, four or six world ages ( aetates mundi ) , there was no firmly established epoch scheme for the internal periodization of the aetas christiana , but only approaches such as the doctrine of the seven Periods of the Church (derived from the Apocalypse of John ) or the division established by Joachim von Fiore into a time of the “Son” (from the birth of Christ to around 1260) and a subsequent time of the “Spirit”.

The idea that historical development in the sense of progress or decline could also take place within the aetas christiana was by no means alien to the Christian Middle Ages. From the point of view of the Roman Church, however, it was precarious because, on the one hand, it did not allow or admit any further development or surpassing of Christian teaching since the time of the Gospel and the Fathers of the Church and, on the other hand, it did not want to allow its own development to be viewed from the point of view of decay. To the extent that corresponding historical ideas were combined with reform concepts critical of the church and eschatological calculations of the end times, they were therefore opposed by the Roman Church , like the teaching of Joachim and his successors.

In the political, at the same time, salvation-historical perspective, ideas of periodization emerged particularly in the form of the doctrine of the Translatio imperii , according to which the Roman imperial dignity was first assigned to the Eastern Roman emperors of Byzantium , then in the renovatio imperii of Charlemagne to the Franks and finally with the imperial coronation Otto the Great was transferred to the Emperors of the Roman-German Empire . The doctrine of translation was compatible with the Christian doctrine of the age of the world, as it did not question the preferential position and dogmatic unity of the aetas christiana and instead its potential for conflict lay in the relationship between the Pope and the Empire . A periodic table for the historiography of the Christian era did not result from this idea.

Concept history

The term Middle Ages was first introduced in the form of medium aevum ("middle age") in the 14th century by Italian humanists , who in the following two centuries also established the understanding of their own epoch as an epoch of rebirth ( Renaissance ). In the humanistic view of history, the Christian faith was not replaced in its general binding nature, but in its validity as a yardstick for evaluating the development of world history and was replaced by a profane historical ideal of Greco-Roman antiquity, no longer primarily constructed by theologians but by poets and philologists replaced. From a humanistic perspective, the median age was supposed to be a "dark age" ( aetas obscura ) , an era of decay and decline, in which the linguistic, literary, technological and civilizational development of the Greco-Roman antiquity due to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was lost in order to only become the object of imitation ( imitatio ) or even surpassing ( aemulatio ) in one's own time through the rediscovery of ancient sources and the revival of ancient style norms .

With the humanistic concept of aetas obscura related, but is different in the importance of established especially in the English-speaking history and protohistory term " Dark Ages " ( Dark Ages ) , by which generally periods of missing or not yet reclaimed in research written or archaeological tradition , usually as intermediate phases compared to previous, comparatively better documented periods. In the history of England, for example, this is used to describe the period after the end of Roman rule until the immigration of the Angles , Saxons and Jutes (around 5th / 6th centuries).

The concept of the Middle Ages established itself in the following period as an epoch term with a tendency to derogatory meaning, whereby the epoch boundaries were mostly set on the one hand with the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and on the other hand with the end of the Eastern Roman Empire through the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 , the latter as well in view of the fact that Byzantine scholars, on their flight to the West, brought important Greek manuscripts with them that remained unknown to the Latin Middle Ages or were only known through Arabic translations.

A decidedly positive reassessment, partly connected with nostalgic transfiguration and with the need to determine one's own Christian or national roots and identity, did not emerge until the time of the outgoing Enlightenment and especially in the Romantic era . Since the end of the 18th century, this has been a major driver of the increased philological and historical preoccupation with the Middle Ages.

In modern research, which also makes use of new questions and methods, judgments are made in a much more differentiated manner. The original achievements of the Middle Ages and the existing lines of continuity are emphasized so that the Middle Ages are no longer judged by the humanistic yardstick of ancient “greatness”. Instead of the national, there is often a European-oriented return, which emphasizes the “birth of Europe in the Middle Ages” ( Jacques Le Goff ).

Outside of the technical language, ways of thinking or behavior or entire cultures are still exaggeratedly referred to as “medieval” in order to attribute particular backwardness and a lack of enlightenment and humanity to them.

Chronological order

Nuremberg Castle as an example of a castle in the Middle Ages

The term "Middle Ages" primarily refers to the history of the Christian West before the Reformation , because the term is rarely used in connection with non-European cultures (see below for the term in the context of the history of India, China and Japan). So it mainly refers to the European continent and the British Isles . The Middle Ages are roughly classified as being between 500 and 600 AD and around 1500. The following reference data are much more specific:

The European Middle Ages stretch roughly from the end of the Migration Period , the end of which is mostly dated in research in the year 568, to the Renaissance era from the middle of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th century. Regarding the problem of dating the beginning of the Middle Ages and the subsequent development, see also End of Antiquity , Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages .

The dating approaches are not always uniform because it depends on which aspects of the development are emphasized and which region one is looking at. If, for example, one puts the influence of Islam and the conquest of large parts of the once Roman territory by the Arabs in the foreground and looks more towards the eastern Mediterranean than western Europe, one can see Mohammed's Hijra (622) or the beginning of the Arab expansion ( 632) as the end of late antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. There are also different dating options for the end of the Middle Ages, for example the invention of the printing press (around 1450), the conquest of Constantinople (1453), the discovery of America (1492), the beginning of the Reformation (1517) or the great peasants' war (1525) ). Other approaches extend the period even more (so-called “long Middle Ages” up to the 19th century, for which Jacques Le Goff , for example, advocates), but these are minority opinions.

If you focus on individual countries, you can come to different key data. For example, antiquity on the Rhine or in Britain ended significantly earlier than in Italy, Asia Minor or Syria due to the developments there during the migration of peoples. On the other hand, the Renaissance era had already dawned in Italy at the beginning of the 15th century , while the same time in England is still counted as part of the Middle Ages. In northern Europe, the migration period was followed by the “Germanic Iron Age”, which was replaced in Sweden by the Vendel period (650–800). In Scandinavia , the Viking Age begins around 800 , ends in 1050 and then changes into the "Nordic Middle Ages".

Subdivision of the Middle Ages

After the victory over Berengar II, Otto I receives his sword as a sign of submission (from a manuscript around 1200)

In the German-speaking countries, historiography, influenced by the national idea and oriented towards the history of the Franconian and German rulers, has divided the European Middle Ages and the history of Germany in the Middle Ages into three main phases:

This trinity was based on the idea of rise , flowering and decay , but is viewed in a much more differentiated manner in recent research. As a result of changed questions, in particular the consideration of economic, social and cultural-historical aspects, one gradually abandoned the order model based on the history of the rulers and emphasized the changes of the 11th / 12th. Century as a decisive turning point in the millennium known as the Middle Ages . This often leads to the fact that one only distinguishes the earlier from the later Middle Ages. Different classifications and assignments made by individual researchers are also influenced by different priorities.

In the English-speaking world, due to the subdivision, one speaks of "the middle ages", that is, in the plural form of several time periods.

Early middle ages

The migration of peoples is seen by research as a link between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. With the end of the Great Migration, which is traditionally associated with the incursion of the Lombards in Italy in 568 (however, in more recent research, the time afterwards is sometimes included in the consideration, at least as an outlook), this finally began, at least in Western and Central Europe Early middle ages. The transition is therefore fluid in the 6th century. In Eastern and Byzantium, however, ancient administrative structures lasted a few decades longer; ancient cultural elements were still cultivated later in Byzantium.

Early medieval armament:
Spatha , Sax , Franziska , Spangenhelm and shield hump ( Germanisches Nationalmuseum , Nuremberg)

In the early Middle Ages, many decisive developments took place that have had an impact up to modern times. A reshaping of the ancient Roman heritage took place, but despite numerous breaks, just as many lines of continuity can be recognized. Contrary to the older interpretation as a “dark” or “backward” epoch, the early Middle Ages are viewed in a much more differentiated manner in modern research. It is characterized by both continuities and changes in the political, cultural and social spheres. Europe and the Mediterranean region were divided into a Christian and an Islamic part, and the Christian part into a Latin and an Orthodox part, which included the culture of Byzantium. Several of the empires that arose in the early Middle Ages formed the basis for states that still exist today.

The Christianization came ( "pagan") areas in transition, for example east of the Rhine and later Irish in Scandinavia, including through the work of missionaries in pagan previously. Around 500, the important Frankish king Clovis I and his nobility converted to Catholic Christianity, the creed of the majority population in Gaul. The rise of the Frankish Empire began under the Merovingians , which eventually established its hegemony in western and central Europe on the basis of the remains of the Western Roman Empire and the empires of several Germanic peoples (such as the Burgundians and Visigoths in Gaul). Since the late 7th century, however, the real power in the Franconian Empire lay with the Carolingians , who were the Franconian kings from 751 to the 10th century. The Anglo-Saxons settled in Britain from the middle of the 5th century and established several empires ( heptarchy ) there before Alfred the Great created a unified Anglo-Saxon Empire in the late 9th century. England was conquered in 1066 by the Normans under William . The Longobard Empire in Italy lasted until the 8th century when it was conquered by the Franks. The Visigoth Empire arose in Hispania and collapsed in the early 8th century as a result of the Arab attacks. The Reconquista , the reconquest of the Arab-occupied territories, began there in the 8th century, starting from Asturias . A cultural heyday began in Moorish Spain ( Al-Andalus ). The Islamic expansion also had dramatic consequences for Byzantium, as large parts of the empire (such as Syria, the breadbasket of Egypt and Carthage ) fell to the Arabs. Nevertheless, Byzantium was able to hold the core area of Asia Minor .

The Franconian Empire was the most important Germanic-Romanic successor empire in the west. The Roman Empire , which collapsed in the west in 476, was an essential reference point for political thought throughout the Middle Ages. The high point of this development was the coronation of Charlemagne as "Roman Emperor" ( Translatio imperii ) by the Pope at Christmas in the year 800. Charles expanded the borders of the empire and provided a cultural revitalization. After his death in 814, however, the Franconian Empire gradually fell apart. The later France emerged from the western half, while the Eastern Franconian Empire developed from the eastern half and only in the High Middle Ages the later so-called “ Holy Roman Empire ” developed. Under the Ottonians , Eastern Franconia assumed a quasi-hegemonic position in Latin Europe and expanded, so to the east into Slavic territory and to the south, where the empire now also included imperial Italy . With the coronation of Otto I as emperor in 962, the empire was renewed, in return the emperors, as secular patrons of the church, gave the popes a security oath. Since the Ottonian period, only the East Franconian / Roman-German kings were in fact considered to bear the renewed “Roman” imperial dignity. In addition, through the so-called Pippin donation in 754 , the Pope received both his spiritual and secular power. The respective universal validity claim of the emperor and the pope was to lead to more tensions later (especially from the 11th century), whereby the decisive question was whether the crowned emperor was subordinate to the pope or not.

Towards the end of the early Middle Ages, the raids of the Vikings (approx. 800-1050) and the Magyars (" Hungarian invasions ", approx. 900–955) took place. The British Isles and northern France suffered most from the attacks of the Vikings, with the Vikings also establishing domains of their own. In the 10th and 11th centuries there was state consolidation in the Carolingian successor empires and in Anglo-Saxon England. Together with the conquest of North Africa and a large part of the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs, these lootings wiped out the last structures of late antiquity. A feudal economic system arose in Western Europe , but the details are controversial in recent research. Economically, natural economy played a role in the Latin West in the early Middle Ages , whereby the system of manorial rule should be emphasized . Yet the money economy remained an important factor, and long-distance trade did not come to a complete standstill. There was also a certain economic upswing. The main cultural bearers were Byzantium, the monasteries , especially those of the Benedictine order , as well as the scholars of the Arab-Islamic culture, through whom at least part of the ancient literature and science could be preserved.

High Middle Ages

Representation of a knight in the Codex Manesse , 14th century
Original double page from the Reiner Musterbuch (early 13th century)

The high Middle Ages were the heyday of chivalry , feudalism and minstrelsong . The population began to grow (aided by agricultural advances and the medieval warm period , among other things ), trade and industry increased, and numerous cities prospered. A new cultural and scientific development took place, whereby education was no longer reserved exclusively for the clergy . However, the development in the individual kingdoms was quite different.

The high Middle Ages was an era of conflict between secular (empire / empire) and spiritual (pope / sacerdotium) universal power in the investiture dispute . This broke out in the Roman-German Empire during the reign of Henry IV and was indeed settled by Henry V in 1122; However, the universal validity of the emperor and the pope led to conflicts in the period that followed until the 14th century. The Roman-German Empire lost its hegemonic position. This position of power had been shaken during the rule of the Salians by the investiture controversy and conflicts between the kingship and the great (for example, the kingship's disregard for the consensual practice of rule ). The Hohenstaufen succeeded in the 12./13. Century did not prevent the loss of royal power in the empire, instead the sovereigns gained influence. The active Italian policy of the Roman-German kings also tied strong forces in imperial Italy . Frederick I tried, while preserving imperial rights and claims ( Honor Imperii ) , to strengthen the power of rule in imperial Italy, but was never able to completely break the resistance of the Lombard League and also came into conflict with Pope Alexander III . Henry VI. succeeded in winning the Kingdom of Sicily, which Heinrich's son Friedrich II made the center of his rule. Frederick II was educated and is considered one of the most important medieval emperors, but he came into conflict with the papacy. After his death in 1250, the power of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in the empire effectively collapsed.

In northern and eastern Europe, new kingdoms such as England (which was conquered by the Normans who were also active in southern Italy in 1066 ), Norway , Denmark , Poland , Hungary and Bohemia were formed in the course of Christianization (starting in the early Middle Ages) . Even further east, under the influence of the Vikings and Orthodox missionaries from the Byzantine Empire , which reached its peak around 1000, other empires such as the Kiev Empire emerged . While Byzantium experienced a decisive weakening of its power by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the empire of the Kievan Rus was destroyed in the course of the Mongol storm; other Eastern European empires (especially Poland and Hungary) narrowly escaped ruin.

The reconquest of the territories conquered by the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula by the neighboring Christian kingdoms continued in the High Middle Ages. In Sicily, the Arabs were pushed back by the Normans and the Kingdom of Sicily was founded, which included the island as well as southern Italy. In Latin Europe, France and England gained increasing political influence. The English House of Plantagenet had large possessions in France, so that the English kings had been in feudal ties to the French kingship for these territories since the time of Henry II , but this repeatedly led to fighting with the French kings. The power of English royalty had been restricted since the Magna Carta of 1215 by further inclusion of the greats, who were now granted basic rights. The French kingdom in turn consolidated in the 12th / 13th centuries. Century its position, pushed back the influence of the Plantagenets under Philip II in the 13th century and strengthened in the time of Louis IX. the political position of France in Latin Europe. England and France had comparatively effective royal administrative systems and slowly developed into "national kingdoms" without being national states.

Arrival of King Philip II of France in Acre (1191)

After Pope Urban II called for a crusade at the Synod of Clermont (1095), the crusades to the Orient began . The declared goal of the crusaders was the liberation of the holy city of Jerusalem from the Saracens . In addition to religious and social motives, greed for prey and land also caused the crusaders to take part in the crusades. The crusaders succeeded in conquering the city of Jerusalem in 1099 and establishing four so-called crusader states , which were gradually lost until 1291. After 1099, the religious goals took a back seat in the later crusades, often in favor of power politics and economic interests. Crusades were also waged against Christians (around 1204 against Byzantium and in the late Middle Ages in Italy against political opponents of the papacy).

In the course of the Crusades, long-distance trade with the Levant developed again , from which the Italian city-states in particular benefited, especially the Republic of Venice . The money economy gained in importance with trade . New or rediscovered ideas also came to Europe; for example, Aristotle , whose writings were translated into Latin, became the main non-Christian authority in scholasticism . The first universities arose in Italy and later in France . The guild system arose especially in Central Europe, and it had a strong influence on social and economic processes in cities.

In addition to the Cistercians, the most important religious orders of the High Middle Ages were the Franciscan and Dominican mendicant orders . In addition, new Christian lay movements emerged which the Catholic Church classified as heretical , including the Cathar and Waldensian religious movements . The Inquisition was also brought into being to take action against so-called heretics .

Late Middle Ages

Municipal house, Halberstadt

According to older research, Europe experienced a certain period of crisis from around 1300 onwards. Climate changes, for example, which had a negative impact, can be objectively ascertained, but for a long time Germany was also dominated by the view that a time of political crisis had come. This research debate, however, was more concerned with German Medieval Studies , because there the sequence of the Middle Ages was formative in three stages. Such a sharp distinction was not made in Italy or France. In recent German-language research, judgments are much more differentiated and, among other things, the transitions into the early modern times are emphasized; Added to this are new research approaches and new sources. In this respect, a paradigm shift has taken place in late medieval research.

In the Holy Roman Empire (the term first appears in the sources in 1254) the already not particularly pronounced royal power lost further influence, while the power of the numerous secular and spiritual rulers grew stronger. Since the Interregnum, the election of a king was incumbent on the electors , who also influenced imperial politics. The kingship had to increasingly pursue a domestic power policy to compensate for the loss of the dwindling imperial property , with the houses of Habsburg , Luxembourg and Wittelsbach being the most influential. The empire was renewed after the end of the Hohenstaufen era with the coronation of Henry VII in 1312. During the time of his successor Ludwig IV there was the last fundamental conflict between the Empire and the Papacy. The most important emperor of the late Middle Ages is usually considered to be Charles IV , who considerably enlarged the Luxembourg power complex. The Golden Bull of 1356 , which was developed during his reign, formed a kind of imperial constitution. The late medieval Roman-German monarchy nevertheless suffered from considerable structural defects, so that no strong central power developed in the empire. With the death of Emperor Sigismund in 1437, the male line of the Luxembourgers died out; their inheritance in the empire came to the Habsburgs, who until the end of the empire in 1806 almost continuously provided the Roman-German emperors. The long reign of Friedrich III. and Maximilian I stabilized the Habsburg power complex, which Maximilian was able to expand in the west with parts of the Burgundian heritage . The desired comprehensive reform of the empire did not succeed, however.

In 1291 Acre , the last Crusader fortress in the Middle East, fell, and the Pope's authority waned in the wake of the so-called Western Schism . The worst catastrophe in the so-called crisis of the 14th century, however, was the plague , the " Black Death ", which came from the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea in 1347 and devastated the countries of Europe and between a third and half of the European population especially in the cities that cost lives. The depopulation led to uprisings and a change in social structures, which weakened chivalry in favor of the bourgeoisie and sparked some reform movements in the Catholic Church. While the Byzantine Empire slowly but surely approached its downfall after the conquest of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade , the Christian empires on the Iberian Peninsula gained more and more ground after the victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In 1492 the Reconquista ended with the conquest of the Emirate of Granada . As a result of the Reconquista, the Christian kingdoms of Portugal and Spain emerged (consisting of the united kingdoms of Aragon and Castile). Muslims and Jews who were unwilling to convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain (see also: Alhambra Edict ) . In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks , while printing with movable type was invented in the Roman-German Empire .

In the 14th century, the Hundred Years War between France and England began due to disputes over the French crown . From 1340 to around 1420, the English largely retained the upper hand. Joan of Arc , now known as the Maid of Orleans , gave hope to the French again in the early 15th century, who won a victory at Orleans in 1429 and went on the offensive. Joan of Arc was sentenced to death by the English in 1431, but France was able to end the war victoriously in 1453. While the French kings from the House of Valois now endeavored to consolidate their power again, they came at the same time into conflict with the House of Burgundy , a branch of the French royal family, which pursued its own interests. England suffered severe civil unrest in the second half of the 15th century that eventually led to the open battle for the throne of the Houses of York and Lancaster known as the Wars of the Roses . In the end, the House of Tudor prevailed in 1485 .

Art and science were on the move in the late Middle Ages. The founding of the first universities in the High Middle Ages, especially in Italy ( Bologna ) and France ( Paris ), gave science and philosophy a new impetus, because they spread the teachings of ancient scholars and thus paved the way for the epoch of Renaissance . Thanks to commissioned work for the self-confident bourgeoisie, the artists opened up new possibilities: painting, which was previously limited to church motifs, has now been expanded to other areas, and three-dimensionality has also been discovered by the painters. As a result of the Renaissance movement, the architecture was based on old Roman and Greek models.

The economy flourished despite the plague. The late Middle Ages were the times of the rising bourgeoisie of the cities and the money economy. The Italian city-states, the cities of Flanders and the Hanseatic League of Cities on the North and Baltic Seas should be mentioned. The Hanseatic League brought about a further settlement of northern and especially eastern Europe by mainly German colonists (see also: Eastern colonization ) . As a result of the trade contacts, a number of new principalities emerged in Russia , which gradually shook off the Mongolian yoke. From the most powerful of them, the Principality of Moscow , the Russian Empire would later develop.

End of the Middle Ages

The fall of Constantinople in a representation from the 15th century

As with the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, various research approaches are also possible for the end of the Middle Ages. Ultimately, it is a question of flowing transitions and not a break that can be precisely dated in terms of time. In general, the Renaissance period (depending on the country, late 14th to 16th century), the invention of modern letterpress printing with movable type around 1450 and the accelerated writing of knowledge, the Discovery of the New World in particular by Christopher Columbus in 1492, or the loss of the influence of the institutionalized Catholic Church and the beginning of the Reformation . These events can all be settled between the middle of the 15th and the threshold of the 16th century. During the same period, the end of the Middle Ages in Germany can also be identified with the imperial reform as the constitutional end of classical feudalism .

The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans (1453) is also mentioned, since with the fall of the Byzantine Empire the last living state structure of antiquity fell. The resulting flow of Byzantine refugees and scholars to Italy is seen as partly responsible for the beginning of the Renaissance. In addition, the trade routes to Asia were blocked by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire , so that Western European seafarers explored new trade routes. The search for a sea ​​route to India led, among other things, to the discovery of America in 1492.

Jews in Medieval Europe

In medieval Europe, the Jews were a minority with their own traditions, culture, language and religion. First in Eastern Franconia , then in the Holy Roman Empire, they were subordinate to the king or the Roman-German emperor in a special way , but were also protected by other masters. In Central Europe they interacted with a hostile society shaped by Christianity , on the Iberian Peninsula until the Reconquista with a society shaped by Islam that knew how to use its abilities. The Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages are known as Sefardim , those in the rest of Europe as Ashkenazim .

The Christians it was until the 15th century by the canon law prohibited money against interest rates to lend. Not so with the Jews. Since they were forbidden from practicing a trade in accordance with the guild and occupation with agriculture, they earned their living in trade , as pawnbrokers or in interest and bills of exchange .

In the early Middle Ages there were hardly any violent attacks against Jews, who already enjoyed a privileged special position in the Franconian Empire , even though they were legally restricted. Until the beginning of the First Crusade (1096), Jews lived relatively safely in medieval Europe. In the course of this, however, many Jews were given the choice of “baptism or death”. The crusaders first wanted to get rid of the "infidels" in their own country. Thousands of Jews who did not want to convert to Christianity were slain by the crusaders. Only in very few cases (as in Speyer by the episcopal city lord) were Jews protected from attacks.

In the following period there were repeated expulsions of Jews and violent attacks, for example in France and England in the 13th century. With the plague in 1349 a new wave of pogroms against Jews began . They have been accused of poisoning the wells to exterminate all Christians. The survivors settled in Eastern Europe .

The late Middle Ages up to the early modern period were characterized by increasing hostility towards Jews. The Jews residing in the cities were forced to live in ghettos . After the Catholic Church's interest ban was relaxed , they lost their economic importance. Increasingly, Christians - now tolerated by the Church - were active as merchants and moneylenders, including citizens and high clergy . But not only financial, but also political and religious causes weakened the position of the Jews. In a society shaped by Christianity , religious hatred against those of different faiths grew. When combined, religious, socio-psychological, political and economic factors increasingly led to anti-Jewish actions. The result was the expulsions of Jews and the pogroms of the late Middle Ages , which did not end until the 16th century.

Popular myths, misunderstandings, and historical points of contention

As early as the Renaissance , the epoch between antiquity and the then present was seen as an age in which the knowledge and values ​​of ancient cultures had been forgotten, from which the cultural and intellectual inferiority of the Middle Ages could be derived. This assessment was adopted and expanded in the course of the emerging romanticism in the 19th century , whereby the reception of bygone times was influenced by the Enlightenment , the morality of the Victorian era and by "belief in progress" and reasoning. As a result, a modern reception of the historical Middle Ages emerged in the 19th century, which is still popular today, which is by and large based more on the romantic zeitgeist than on historical sources.

In the course of time, ideas of the historical Middle Ages have developed in this way, which have no historical basis and are nevertheless widely known.

Indian Middle Ages

The history of India knows a spread of feudal structures after the end of the Gupta empire in the year 550, in which the "golden age" of the classical period of India lies. The late Gupta empire was already in decline and had to defend itself against attacks by the " Huns " ( Hunas , by which the Alchon are probably to be understood) from the north, who after a brutal rule ultimately left a power vacuum. In northern India, the Gupta culture experienced a climax under the rule of Harshavardhana (606–647), the last Buddhist great king in Indian history, before the central structures of government disintegrated and actual power passed to local princes. The period of the fall of the Gupta Empire (6th century) is considered to be the beginning of the early medieval period in Indian history.

The exact assignment as “Middle Ages” of this time dominated by changing rulers varies in research and also depends on the respective perspective, since northern India and southern India developed historically differently. The formation of hierarchical feudal vassal systems from around 600 to the establishment of the Sultanate of Delhi in 1206 is often used as an important characteristic of the early Indian Middle Ages . In the north, Islam began to spread in the 8th century. The beginning of the late Middle Ages is dated to the establishment of the sultanate. In the south, new principalities emerged in the 7th century (e.g. the rule of the Pallava ). In the absence of a caesura, it is difficult to distinguish between the early and later Middle Ages; the sultanate spreads here from time to time, but the rule was shaken off again.

According to popular belief, the Indian Middle Ages ended in the period between the Mongol invasion in the north in 1398 and the changes following the discovery of a European sea ​​route to India around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498.

Chinese Middle Ages

With regard to the history of China , in modern research the period from the end of the Han dynasty or its factual disempowerment to the reunification of China under the Sui and Tang dynasties in the late 6th / early 7th centuries is sometimes referred to as the "Middle Ages" (in the Meaning of a transition period from state fragmentation to unity).

Japanese Middle Ages

In Japanese history , the period from approx. 1200 to approx. 1600 ( Kamakura , Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama times ) is referred to as the Japanese Middle Ages . This epoch was characterized by a strong dominance of Buddhism and feudalism .

African Middle Ages

The French Africa specialist François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar describes the phase of founding the early African kingdoms from the Niger region to the Christian kingdoms in Nubia and to Zimbabwe as the African Middle Ages since the 6th century.

Mesoamerican Middle Ages

Occasionally there is also talk of a Mesoamerican Middle Ages.

See also

Portal: Middle Ages  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of the Middle Ages


Important sources are collected to a large extent in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica . See also the German-Latin. Issues of the Freiherr vom Stein Memorial Edition (FSGA); The historical sources of the German Middle Ages provide an overview of the sources . Important sources include a. in addition to the history and constitutions and other files sources. Of particular importance are furthermore the Regesten (for the Roman-German Empire, the Regesta Imperii ).

An excellent bibliography can be found here (created by the History Department of the University of Bonn) , the Opac of the Regesta Imperii ( RI-Opac ) is particularly suitable for literature searches . Otherwise, reference is made to the information in the Lexicon of the Middle Ages , the relevant volumes in the Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte series (Vol. 4–9) and the Encyclopedia of German History or the bibliographies of the works listed below.

Reference works and overview works

Epoch-specific representations

Early middle ages

  • Hans-Werner Goetz : Europe in the early Middle Ages. 500–1050 (= Handbook of the History of Europe 2). Ulmer, Stuttgart 2003.
  • Arnold Angenendt : The early Middle Ages. Western Christianity from 400 to 900. 3rd edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 2001.
  • Mischa Meier : History of the Great Migration. Europe, Asia and Africa from the 3rd to the 8th centuries. CH Beck, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3406739590 .
  • Franz Neiske: Europe in the early Middle Ages 500-1050. A history of culture and mentality. Primus, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 978-3-89678-540-4 .
  • Chris Wickham : The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. Penguin, London 2009.
  • Roger Collins : Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 . 3rd revised edition. Palgrave, Basingstoke, et al. a. 2010.
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: Beyond Rome and Charlemagne. Aspects of global interdependence in late antiquity, 300-800 AD. Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2018.

High Middle Ages

  • Hermann Jakobs : Church Reform and High Middle Ages 1046–1215 . 4th edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 1999.
  • Michael Borgolte: Europe is discovering its diversity. 1050–1250 (= Handbook of the History of Europe 3). Ulmer, Stuttgart 2002.
  • Peter Dinzelbacher : Europe in the High Middle Ages 1050–1250. A history of culture and mentality. Primus, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 978-3-89678-474-2 .
  • Wilfried Hartmann : The Investiture Controversy . 3rd revised and expanded edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 2007.
  • Thomas Asbridge: The Crusades . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2010.

Late Middle Ages

  • Ulf Dirlmeier , Gerhard Fouquet , Bernd Fuhrmann: Europe in the late Middle Ages 1215-1378 . Oldenbourg, Munich 2003.
  • Johannes Grabmayer: Europe in the late Middle Ages 1250–1500. A history of culture and mentality. Primus, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 978-3-89678-475-9 .
  • Michael North : Europe is expanding. 1250–1500 (= Handbook of the History of Europe 4). Ulmer, Stuttgart 2007.
  • John Watts: The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300–1500 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2009.
  • Bernd Schneidmüller : Borderline Experience and Monarchical Order: Europe 1200–1500. C. H. Beck, Munich 2011.

Introductions and individual subject areas

Web links

Commons : Middle Ages  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Middle Ages  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. See critically z. B. František Graus : Living Past. Tradition in the Middle Ages and in the ideas of the Middle Ages . Cologne / Vienna 1975.
  2. See for example Hans-Werner Goetz: Moderne Mediävistik. Status and perspectives of medieval research. Darmstadt 1999; Hans-Werner Goetz, Jörg Jarnut (Ed.): Medieval Studies in the 21st Century. Munich 2003.
  3. Brief overview, among others, from Martina Hartmann : Studying medieval history . Konstanz 2004, p. 42 ff.
  4. See Jacques Le Goff: Pour un long Moyen Age . In: Europe 61 (1983), pp. 19-24.
  5. ^ Edward Peters, Michael Frassetto: History of Europe - The Middle Ages . In: Encyclopædia Britannica .com, accessed February 28, 2018.
  6. At this time and the associated research problems, see above all Mischa Meier : History of the migration of people. Europe, Asia and Africa from the 3rd to the 8th centuries. Munich 2019.
  7. a b Peter Thorau: The Crusades. 4th edition. Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-50838-7 , p. 43.
  8. See introductory Ulf Dirlmeier, Gerhard Fouquet, Bernd Fuhrmann: Europa im Spätmittelalter 1215-1378 . Munich 2003, p. 153ff. See also Bernd Schneidmüller: Consensus - Territorialization - Self-interest. How to deal with late medieval history. In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien 39, 2005, pp. 225–246.
  9. a b c Leo Trepp : The Jews. People, history, religion. Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-499-60618-6 , p. 66 ff.
  10. Erich Fromm : The Jewish law. On the sociology of Diaspora Judaism, dissertation from 1922. The situation of the Jews before emancipation, 1999, ISBN 3-453-09896-X , p. 99 f.
  11. ^ A b Fritz Backhaus: The host desecration processes of Sternberg (1492) and Berlin (1510) and the expulsion of the Jews from. In: Yearbook for Brandenburg State History. 39, pp. 7-26 (1988).
  12. a b c Markus J. Wenninger : There is no need for Jews anymore, causes and backgrounds of their expulsion from the German imperial cities in the 15th century. Graz 1981, ISBN 3-205-07152-2 . (= Supplement to the archive for cultural history 14)
  13. ^ Regine Pernoud: Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths . Ignatius Press, 2000
  14. See Hermann Kulke , Dietmar Rothermund : History of India. From the Indus culture to today. 2nd special edition Munich 2010, p. 139ff.
  15. Cf. Hermann Kulke: Is there an Indian Middle Ages? In: Saeculum 33 (1982), pp. 221-239.
  16. Cf. Jacques Gernet : The Chinese World. Frankfurt 1997, p. 148ff .; Kai Vogelsang : History of China. 3rd reviewed and updated edition, Stuttgart 2013, pp. 171ff. (which, however, already counts the late Han period to the Middle Ages).
  17. ^ François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar: The golden rhinoceros. Africa in the Middle Ages. Beck, Munich 2017.
  18. ^ Bryan Keene (Ed.) Toward a Global Middle Ages: Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2019, p. 73.
  19. Historical sources of the German Middle Ages (Bavarian Academy of Sciences) .