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High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries
(c. 1000–1299). The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the
Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500.
The key historical trend of the High Middle Ages was the rapidly increasing population of Europe,
which brought about great social and political change from the preceding era. By 1250 the robust
population increase greatly benefited the European economy, reaching levels it would not see again
in some areas until the 19th century. This trend was checked in the Late Middle Ages by a series of
calamities, notably the Black Death but also including numerous wars and economic stagnation.
From about the year 780 onwards, Europe saw the last of the barbarian invasions and became more
socially and politically organized. The Carolingian Renaissance led to scientific and philosophical
revival of Europe. The first universities were established in Bologna, Salerno, Paris and Modena. The
Vikings had settled in the British Isles, France and elsewhere, whilst Norse Christian kingdoms were
developing in their Scandinavian homelands. The Magyars had ceased their expansion in the 10th
century, and by the year 1000, a Christian Kingdom of Hungary was recognized in central Europe,
forming alliances with regional powers. With the brief exception of the Mongol invasions in the 13th
century, major nomadic incursions ceased.
In the 11th century, populations north of the Alps began to settle new lands, some of which had
reverted to wilderness after the end of the Roman Empire. In what is known as the "great
clearances", vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated. At the same time
settlements moved beyond the traditional boundaries of the Frankish Empire to new frontiers in
Europe, beyond the Elbe River, tripling the size of Germany in the process. The Catholic Church,
reaching the peak of its political power at this time, called armies from across Europe to a series of
Crusades against the Seljuk Turks, who occupied the Holy Land, thereby founding the Crusader States
in the Levant. Other wars led to the Northern Crusades, while Christian kingdoms conquered the
Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, and the Normans colonized southern Italy, all part of the major
population increase and resettlement pattern of the era.
The High Middle Ages produced many different forms of intellectual, spiritual and artistic works. This
age saw the rise of ethnocentrism, which evolved later into modern civic nationalisms in most of
Europe, the ascent of the great Italian city-states, and the rise and fall of the Muslim civilization of AlAndalus. The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle led Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers of the
period to develop the philosophy of Scholasticism. In architecture, many of the most notable Gothic
cathedrals were built or completed during this era.
The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages, beginning at the start of the 14th century, marked the end of this
In England, the Norman Conquest of 1066 resulted in a kingdom ruled by a Francophone nobility. The
Normans invaded Ireland by force in 1169 and soon established themselves throughout most of the
country, although their stronghold was the southeast. Likewise, Scotland and Wales were subdued to
vassalage at about the same time, though Scotland later asserted its independence. The Exchequer
was founded in the 12th century under King Henry I, and the first parliaments were convened. In
1215, after the loss of Normandy, King John signed the Magna Carta into law, which limited the
power of English monarchs.
From the mid-tenth to the mid-11th centuries, the Scandinavian kingdoms were unified and
Christianized, resulting in an end of Viking raids, and greater involvement in European politics. King
Cnut of Denmark ruled over both England and Norway. After Cnut's death in 1035, England and
Norway were lost, and with the defeat of Valdemar II in 1227, Danish predominance in the region
came to an end. Meanwhile, Norway extended its Atlantic possessions, ranging from Greenland to
the Isle of Man, while Sweden, under Birger Jarl, built up a power-base in the Baltic Sea. However, the
Norwegian influence started to decline already in the same period, marked by the Treaty of Perth of
1266. Also, civil wars raged in Norway between 1130 and 1240.
By the time of the High Middle Ages, the Carolingian Empire had been divided and replaced by
separate successor kingdoms called France and Germany, although not with their modern
boundaries. Germany was under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, which reached its high-water
mark of unity and political power.
In the High Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Hungary (founded in 1000), became one of the most
powerful medieval states in central Europe and Western Europe. King Saint Stephen I of Hungary
introduced Christianity to the region; he was remembered by the contemporary chroniclers as a very
religious monarch, with wide knowledge in Latin grammar, strict with his own people but kind to the
foreigners. He eradicated the remnants of the tribal organization in the Kingdom and forced the
people to sedentarize and adopt the Christian religion, ethics, way of life and founded the Hungarian
medieval state, organizing it politically in counties using the Germanic system as a model.
The following monarchs usually kept a close relationship with Rome like Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary,
and a tolerant attitude with the pagans that escaped to the Kingdom searching for sanctuary (for
example Cumans in the 13th century), which eventually created certain discomfort for some Popes.
With entering in Personal union with the Kingdom of Croatia and annexation of other small states,
Hungary became a small empire that extended its control over the Balkans and all the Carpathian
region. The Hungarian royal house was the one that gave the most saints to the Catholic Church
during medieval times.
During the High Middle Ages Poland emerged as a kingdom. It decided to bond itself with the Grand
Duchy of Lithuania, confirmed by the Union of Krewo and later treaties, leading to a personal union in
Much of the Iberian peninsula had been occupied by the Moors after 711, although the
northernmost portion was divided between several Christian states. In the 11th century, and again in
the thirteenth, the Christian kingdoms of the north gradually drove the Muslims from central and
most of southern Iberia.
In Italy, independent city states grew affluent on eastern maritime trade. These were in particular the
thalassocracies of Pisa, Amalfi, Genoa and Venice.
The High Middle Ages saw the height and decline of the Slavic state of Kievan Rus' and emergence of
Cumania. Later, the Mongol invasion in the 13th century had great impact on the east of Europe, as
many countries of that region were invaded, pillaged, conquered and/or vassalized.
During the first half of this period (c.1025-1185) the Byzantine Empire dominated the Balkans south
of the Danube, and under the Comnenian emperors there was a revival of prosperity and
urbanisation; however, their domination of the region came to an end with a successful Bulgarian
rebellion in 1185, and henceforth the region was divided between the Byzantines in Greece, including
some parts of Macedonia and Thrace, the Bulgarians in Moesia and most of Thrace and Macedonia
and the Serbs to the northwest. The Eastern and Western churches had formally split in the 11th
century, and despite occasional periods of co-operation during the 12th century, in 1204 the Fourth
Crusade used treachery to capture Constantinople. This severely damaged the Byzantines, and their
power was ultimately usurped by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The power of the Latin
Empire, however, was short lived after the Crusader army was routed by the Bulgarian Emperor
Kaloyan in the battle of Adrianople (1205).