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The Foundation of Christian
Society in Western Europe
By Basil Kuriappuram, Jack
Sheehan and Troy Mauriello
Part One
Search for Political Order
Foundation for Development of
European Society
• After the disruption of invasions and
depopulation, the people of western
Europe restored order.
• Began a process of economic recovery,
did not large cities or generate a
powerful economy.
• Built an institutional framework that
enabled the Christian church to provide
religious leadership.
Germanic Successor States
• In 476 C.E Germanic General Odoacer deposed
the last of Roman Emperors.
• By the late 5th Century a series of Germanic
Kingdoms were successor states and put in
place of the Roman empire
• Visigoths – Spain
• Otrogoths – Italy – Until Justinian's
resassertment in the 530s’
• Lombards – Italy - after departure of
Justinian's forces
• Angles and Saxons established kingdoms in
The Franks
• Influenced the political, social and
cultural development of western Europe
• Constructed society based on the
agricultural resources of Europe
Clovis (481-511)
• Under Clovis the Franks became a military
and political power in western Europe.
• In 486 Clovis led his forces on a campaign
to wipe out the last of Roman authority
• Organized campaigns against peoples
whose states bordered the Franks
• Transformed the Franks into the most
powerful and dynamic states in western
Reason for Rapid Rise
• Originally most invaders were polytheists,
but as the settled around the Roman
Empire, many converted to Christianity.
(accepted Arian Christianity which was
popular at the time)
• As a result the Franks gained the
allegiance of the pope and the western
Christian church, thus strengthening them.
After Clovis…
• Franks lost much authority after Clovis’
• His successors ruled until the early 8th
• Frankish Kings were displaced by
aristocratic Carolingians
Carolingian Empire
• Takes name from founder, Charles Martel
(known as Charles the Hammer for military
• In 732 at Battle of Tours Charles Martel
turned back a Muslim army that had ventured
from Spain
• Victory persuaded rulers of Spain it was not
worth it to further venture into western
• Never was king but served as deputy for the
last of Clovis’ descendants
• In 751 his son Charlemagne claimed his thrown
• Ruled from 768-814
• High point of Frankish society
• Temporarily reestablished centralized rule
(like King Harsha)
• Barely literate, but very intelligent (could speak Latin,
understood Greek, and conversed with other educated
• Maintained relations with the Byzantine Empire and
Abbasid Caliphate
• By the time of his death, he had extended rule to
northeastern Spain, Bavaria, and Italy
• Capital – Aachen
• Spent most time traveling to maintain authority
Missi Dominici
• Charlemagne's’ Counts often had other
• To bring them under control
Charlemagne instituted officials known
as missi dominici (envoys of the ruler)
who traveled every year to all local
jurisdictions and reviewed the local
Charlemagne the Emperor?
• Charlemagne hesitated to call himself
emperor because it would challenge the
authority of the Byzantine Emperors
• Finally accepted the title in the year
• Attended religious services on
Christmas Day in Italy, and there was
crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III
Main Reasons for Decline and
Fall of Carolingian Empire
• Internal disunity
• Constant invasions
Louis the Pious
• Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious reigned
from 814-840
• He kept the empire together, but lacked
the strong will and military skills of his
father, and lost control of his counts
• After his death, his three sons often
argued the inheritance of the empire, and
in 843 they split the empire into three
• Three groups of Invaders, Muslims,
Magyars, and Vikings
• Muslims- came from south, raided towns,
villages, churches, etc, in Mediterranean
• Magyars- came from east, expert
horseman, raided settlements in Germany,
Italy, and southern France
• Vikings – came from north, began mounting
raids in northern France
Norse Expansion
• Began around 800 due to population
pressure in Scandinavian lands, and as
resistance to Christian missions to abolish
pagan gods
• Developed set of shipbuilding and
seafaring skills that allowed them to travel
safely and reliably through the ocean
• Established settlements in Shetland
Islands, Faeroes, Iceland and Greenland.
• Most used seafaring skills for commercial
opportunity or to seek land to cultivate
The Vikings
• Used maritime skills for raiding and
• Used shallow boats that could cross
heavy seas but also navigate rivers
• Coordinated movements and timed
attacks based on tides
Regional Authorities in Western
Carolingian Empire did not have a navy, thus no protection to vulnerable
sites in the Empire and became chief casualty of the invasions
Thus, in the 9th century western Europe made an initiative to increase
regional and local authorities
Different areas responded to the situation in different ways
England – King Alfred (reigned 871-899) made an effort to unite the
Saxons and Angles into one large order, and also built a navy to
challenge the Vikings.
Germany – local lords took matters into their own hands, In 955 Otto I
of Saxony defeated a large Magyar army near Augsburg, ending the
Magyar threat. Lead his armies into Italy to help protect the papacy,
and in 962 the pope proclaimed him emperor.
France – development of decentralized order, each Count withdrew
allegiance from the central government, and ruled their own territories.
Counts collected taxes, organized armed forces, built castles, and
provided justice.
Part Two
Early Medieval Society
Obligations of Lords and Vassals
• Grant of land (fief)
• Resources
• Oath of Fealty
• Loyalty
• Obedience
• Respect
• Counsel
• Military service
• Beginning in mid 7th century, rulers recognized categories
of individuals who were neither fully slave nor fully free,
known as Serfs
• Usually had to work certain lands, and had to pass those
rights to their children, as long as they observed their
obligations to their land lords.
• Obligations include labor services and a rent of some kind
• Males usually worked three days in the fields and provided
planting and harvesting services
• Women usually churned butter, made cheese, brewed beer,
spun thread, wove cloth, or sowed clothes
• Serfs had rare opportunity to move to other lands
• Manors were large estates consisting of
fields, meadows, forests, agricultural
tools, domestic animals, and sometimes
lakes or rivers.
• The lord of the manor was a political or
military figure.
• His deputies and himself would provided
government, administration, police
services, and justice for the manor.
Economy of Medieval Europe
• Invasions disrupted the European
economy, and the economic activity was
slower than in other areas of the world.
• Economic centers shifted from the
Mediterranean to the north, especially
• Tools did not travel well, as small
wooden plows would break on the harder
northern surface.
Heavy Plow
The heavy plow was introduced in the 8th
Often hitched to horses and oxen (as seen
here), the plow increased agricultural
Horse Collar
The horse collar, with the heavier plow was
introduced to allow faster horses to pull the
heavy plow.
Rural Society
• A surplus of agricultural in Medieval
Europe was large enough to support
manors and those in them, but was not
sufficient enough to support large
• Few towns
• Towns were mainly economic hubs for
the areas around them, instead of the
vibrant centers they used to be.
Mediterranean Trade
• Trade did not disappear in medieval Europe
• Maritime trade flourished in the Mediterranean
• Christian merchants from Italy and Spain traded across
boundaries with the Muslims of Sicily, Spain, and north
• By 1000 C.E food crops from the Islamic world were also
in Europe. (wheat, rice, spinach, artichokes, eggplant,
lemons, limes, oranges and melons)
• Norse seafarers caused trade to flourish in the North and
Baltic Seas
• Norse merchants arrived at ports from Russia to Ireland
carrying various products from various areas of the world
European Population
200 C.E – 36 Million
400 C.E - 31 Million
600 C.E – 26 Million
Gradually recovered after 600
800 C.E – 29 Million
900 C.E – 32 Million
1000 C.E – 36 Million
Part Three
Formation of Christian Europe
Franks and the Church
• Beginning with Clovis’s conversion, the Franks won the
support of the church
• The Church provided them with educated and literate
individuals who could provide political services
• The Franks viewed themselves as protectors of the
papacy, and Charlemagne mounted a campaign to destroy
the Lombards who had threatened the church
• Charlemagne created a school at his capital Aachen, where
he had the most prominent scholars make copies of the
Bible and Latin literature, and taught Christian doctrine.
• Charlemagne ordered monastaries to provide eduation and
build schools
Spread of Christianity
• Charlemagne would sometimes spread
Christianity by military force
• Between 772-804 he waged a war against the
Saxons(pagan people inhabiting northern
• Along with his political goals he insisted they
convert to the Roman Christian faith, in which the
Saxons violently resisted
• In the end Charlemagne won, and the Saxons
acknowledged and replaced their pagan
traditions with Christian traditions
Pope Gregory I (590-604)
• In late 6th century, the Lombards had a hold on the Italian
peninsula troubling Rome and the Roman Church
• Pope Gregory mobilized local resources and organized
Rome’s defense, allowing it to survive.
• He also reasserted papal primacy which says the Pope is
the ultimate authority in the church.
• Strongly emphasized the penance sacrament. ( Confession
of sins)
• Gregory made Roman Christianity look appealing and had
people converted in western Europe.
• He aimed an effort at the ruler of England, and by the 7th
century he established a foothold in England.
St. Benedict
• St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) strengthened the
Monasticism movement
• provided discipline and a sense of purpose for the
• In 529, created a set of regulations known as Benedict’s
Rule for the community he founded at Monte Casino near
• Required monks to live communal, celibate, lives under the
direction of the abbot.
• Poverty, chastity, and obedience are important virtues
• The sister of St. Benedict, St. Scholastica (482-543)
adapted her brothers guide into one for women in convents
Monasticism and Society
• Provided order on the countryside
• In France and Germany, Abbots would
dispatch teams to clear forests, and
prepare land for cultivation
• Monasteries served as inns for travelers
• Served as orphanages
• Provided medical treatment
• Set up schools
• Served as a source of literate, educated
and talented people