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Representative Peoples in the Roman Empire
Among the peoples who settled in what had been the Roman Empire were the
Vandals in Gaul and Spain, the Franks in Gaul, and the Angles and Saxons in
The English words vandal and vandalism are derived from the Vandals, a
Germanic group that invaded western Europe in the 400s CE. They had originated in the area south of the Baltic Sea and moved west beginning in the 300s
gated by William the Conquer
The Middle Ages
The term Middle Ages refers to European culture and was coined to denote
the time between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the
Renaissance. While other cultures may have had their own middle ages, they do
not coincide with this era in European history.
The term Middle Ages itself is a historical term and a result of some prejudice
by Renaissance and later historians, who also called the period the Dark Ages.
The early Middle Ages, roughly from the fall of Rome to around 1100 CE, were
grim times for most of Europe; lawlessness was common and invasion was a
recurrent event. The one exception was the period around the reign of
Charlemagne (774–814 CE). Beginning around 1050 CE, however, a civilization
took form that saw such achievements as the beginnings of the growth of trade
and towns, the rule of law, the Crusades, the flourishing of courtly love, chivalry,
Gothic cathedrals, and more.
The official end of the Roman Empire in the West is considered to have come
in 476 CE, when Odoacer, a German war leader, deposed the last Roman emperor. But the changes in the West had begun long before. The authority of Rome and
Roman law had gradually been eroded along the frontier. What was left of the
government structure of the Roman Empire in the provinces soon disintegrated.
The Germanic groups who had moved into the empire had neither codified legal
History and Geography: World
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Page 112
II. Europe in the Middle Ages
systems nor organized government on a large scale. They did not live in cities and
did not participate in complex trading networks. They were nomadic herders and
farmers who lived in small communities and were governed by local chiefs or
kings who based their rule on custom and tradition. None of the nomadic peoples had written languages.
In the years after the end of the Roman Empire and the ascendancy of the
Germanic peoples, the trading networks of the old empire broke down. Education
and the arts suffered from lack of interest. People retreated to their landholdings
and looked to local warlords to secure law and order. In this absence of governmental organization, two institutions emerged as central to the establishment of
order—the Church and feudalism.
C. Developments in the History of the
Christian Church
Teaching Idea
Before discussing the spread of
Christianity in the medieval period, you
may wish to review with students the
early history of the religion and its
spectacular growth during the time of
the Roman Empire. Christianity grew
out of Judaism. At the time of the death
of Jesus, there were only a handful of
Christians. The apostles, especially
St. Paul, helped spread the religion
throughout the Mediterranean.
Christianity continued to grow steadily,
despite occasional persecution.
However, it remained a minority religion (most Romans were polytheists
who worshipped many gods) until the
conversion of the emperor Constantine
in 312. After the emperor converted,
Christianity rapidly became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Growing Power of the Pope
During the early Middle Ages, the church that later became known as the
Roman Catholic Church was the single largest and most important organization
in western Europe. The Church provided stability in the face of political
upheavals and economic hardships. This stability was evident both in its organization and in its message: life on Earth might be brutally hard, but it was the
means to a joyful life in heaven. Christians during the early Middle Ages looked
at life on Earth as a time of testing and preparation for life after death. In general, although not everyone in the early Middle Ages was religious, many people
were. And even those who were not especially religious in their personal beliefs
may have appreciated the order and structure that Christianity brought to everyday life.
Because of the central position of the Church in the West, the pope, the head
of the Church in the West, grew from a local Roman authority to become a powerful secular as well as religious figure by the end of the 11th century. As the
Christian church grew during the time of the Roman Empire, it developed a structure and a hierarchy. At the local level was the parish, a congregation of worshippers in a local community who were looked after by a priest. Many parishes made
up a diocese overseen by a bishop. Several dioceses were then combined into a
province overseen by an archbishop. At the top of the Church was the pope, also
known as the Bishop of Rome.
Over the years, power slowly transferred from bishops as a group to the pope
as an individual. By the 11th century, in part through the doctrine of Petrine
supremacy (St. Peter is considered the first pope), popes claimed the authority of
God on Earth; that is, what they said and did reflected God’s will. Based on this
concept, popes sometimes extended their authority to claim papal supremacy
over secular rulers. Wielding political influence and the threat of excommunication—withholding the sacraments from an individual—various popes enforced
and enlarged the power of the Church.
A new level of papal power was achieved during the reign of Pope Innocent
III from 1198 to 1216 CE. Innocent III set standards for regular worship among
lay Christians; he approved new religious orders; and he built up the role of the
papacy as the main forum for diplomacy among European political leaders, such
that leaders often felt compelled to follow his decisions.
Grade 4 Handbook