Medieval period is a long-lasting era of feudalism. In Europe it lasted for 12 years, in many Asian countries — even longer. But elements of Medieval feudalism have not disappeared completely and still remain in certain countries. In every country feudalism became a symbol of peasant’s submission to landowners. During the Early Medieval Era in Europe there was gradually formed civilization, which influenced further world development. Feudalism converted land (the main field of human activity) into monopolized property which included state and private one. Feudalism is considered to be a progress in human development. Peasants were interested in the growing labour-productivity. Manufacture and new classes of Bourgeoisie began to appear gradually. During the Medieval period ancient tribes converted into nationalities. It leads to changes in society and further formation of modern nations. Feudal society is characterized by class struggle between exploiting and exploitable people. It was the main reason of rebellions. Though common people were always defeated, they managed to get over feudalism with the help of bourgeoisie. On the whole the feudal period in Europe is known for its political fragmentation.
There are several periods in history of Medieval era. Each of them contains certain changes in economical, social and political spheres. Many countries became feudal without passing through primitive communal system. Others passed through all stages of development.
- formation of feudal social classes (landowners and dependent peasants)
- peak of feudalism (fragmentation among state authorities)
- centralization of state power; prosperity of city culture; appearance of humanism as new ideology; reformation of catholic church
- sharpening of feudal antagonism (contradictions); formation of capitalism
Many phenomena in the life of modern nations and states came from Medieval era — formation of bourgeois society, development of national cultures, revolutionary struggle of oppressed classes, struggle for free-thinking. The research in the sphere of Medieval history helps to understand present situation in society and to predict perspectives for future development.
Spreading of Christianity in the Early Medieval period lead to appearance of cathedrals, monasteries and convents. Earliest institutions of this kind were formed due to state investitures.
Meroving Realm. All the epoch of 6-7 centuries is usually called the period of Great migration of nations. Actually at that time lots of people left their motherlands, where they’d been living for hundreds of years, and went to conquer new lands. European map changed beyond recognition. Numerous invasions wiped Roman Empire off the map. It was replaced by German realms. Rome and the whole antic world were destroyed. In this way Europe entered Medieval Era. This period is famous for dreadful bloody battles. Famous FRANC tribes, who are considered to be skillful in military affairs, participated in many of them. Enemies were particularly afraid of francs’ battle- and pole-axes, which were used with unbelievable strength and great accuracy. At first francs lived along the lower reach of Rein near Gallian frontier. All francs used to cut their hair and beards, unlike other tribes. Only members of Royal family were allowed to have long hair. In the end of the 5th century all franc tribes were united under the command of Hlodwig (Meroving by origin). Acting with slyness and cruelty, he managed to remove all other franc leaders and began to rule alone. He gained respect among his people due to amazing luck in battles — he managed to defeat Roman governor in the year of 468 and to create his own realm. Royal dynasty of Hlodwig is known as the dynasty of Merovings in honor of Hlodwig’s legendary ancestor. Merovings ruled their realm till the middle of the 8th century.
Franc realm adopted Roman monetary system, according to which the basic coin was called golden solid. Treasury was usually enriched at the expense of military loot. Later in addition to golden coins appeared silver ones.
Way of Hlodwig from an ordinary leader to the King was not so easy as it may seem to be. He met with resistance of his people and tried to cope with it. Realizing that Roman church could be an irreplaceable ally, Hlodwig was first among other barbarian leaders to adopt Christianity per Roman sample. He gave up paganism and was christened together with his fighting squads. Later all francs followed his example. Many francs were not satisfied with Hlodwig’s decision, but were just afraid of him. Instead, Romans were very pleased. Historians doubt that Hlodwig knew much about Christian doctrine, but his action occurred to be very wise. From that time on Francs and Romans began mix into one nation — they were no longer separated by religion and francs began to join many spheres of Roman culture. But Hlodwig suspected another privilege of new religion as well. Christianity says that any power comes from God. Consequently it means that it also concerns Hlodwig and his heirs. In that way adoption of Christian religion strengthened Hlodwig’s power, raising him above his people.
Either Hlodwig or some of his descendants ordered to write down ancient laws of francs. To put it more precisely they were more customs than laws actually. Nobody was allowed to make up new laws. They could only follow ancient traditions. At that time people thought the only right rules were those of ancient origin. Any innovations can only do harm. Elderly people imparted their knowledge to children and grandchildren. But nevertheless people somehow changed ancient order usually when they were not satisfied with certain tradition.
So-called “Salic truth”, a summary of ancient customs and norms, made by order of Hlodwig became the most outstanding example of ancient law in Europe. The name of the document comes from the name of franc tribe — Salic francs. The reason for creation of such a summary was Hlodwig’s desire to be a chief judge himself. In case something in “Salic truth” is not clear, people are recommended to consult the King. But he could explain the law according to his own interests. Moreover it was King who decided whether some law should be included into “Salic truth” or not. This document shows the strengthening of the King’s power. He presses towards becoming a true sovereign.
After the death of Hlodwig each of his four sons inherited some part of the realm. Conflicts, following this division, lead to decadence of Meroving state.
Karoling Empire. In the 8th century collapse in Franc realm not only paused but quite the contrary united again. Francs restored their power over former territories and even moved forward joining Italy, major part of Germany and Northern Spain. But how could they manage to do that? Turning point in the history of Franc state is change of Royal dynasty. Meroving Kings were replaced by KAROLINGS, who belonged to a noble dynasty of Eastern francs. They gained the highest administrative position of MAJORDOMES. It meant the position of superior person, who runs the economy of the palace. Later he was given rights to manage Royal property (land and treasury) in the whole country. The King’s power became dependant on Majordome’s wealth and authority. Representatives of Meroving dynasties still considered themselves Kings even though they could no longer influence life in their realm. Contemporaries disdainfully called them “lazy kings”. Long-haired “lazy kings” were deprived of nearly all power and nobody paid attention to them anymore.
Authority of Karolings abruptly strengthened during the rein of majordome Karl Martell. He gained respect among people, appointing them higher positions. As a result his army was reinforced with more people. Karl gained lasting power and ascendancy in many lands. His son Pipin the Short continued his father’s policy and made another step on the way to strengthening the power of his family. He officially declared himself the King of francs, while the last Meroving king became a monarch. The whole territory from La-Manche to the coast of the Mediterranean belonged to Pipin the Short. But the peak of development was achieved during the rein of his son Karl the Great, who managed to conquer major part of Western Europe and Emperor with the help of the Pope.
The history of Karoling rein shows that reunion development of the Franc state happened owing to the representatives of new dynasty. Their reforms were of great importance.
Karl the Great is usually depicted as a powerful monarch, enlightener, founder of Christian state, who united numerous European nations. Under the will of Pipin the Short, the state was divided between Karl and his younger brother Karloman. Brothers’ quarrel nearly lead to war, but unexpected death of Karloman gave Karl an opportunity to unite all lands under his rein. Karl organized military campaigns nearly every year. The longest and the most painful were lead in the East.
The most famous campaigns were lead against Spanish moors. On the way back Karl was attacked by duke Lopus (Gascon) but evaded death owing to his commander Roland. Roland hampered the attackers till late night and in this way gave Karl an opportunity to escape. Poland perished together with his troop. Next year Karl destroyed Gascon duchy and executed duke Lopus. All this was vividly described in “Story of Roland” — one of the most prominent samples of medieval epos. Roland became a symbol of military valor.
Under the arrangement of Karl the Great all ancient regulations concerning orders in social and military service were improved and systematized. These regulations precisely defined people and their duties in military affairs. In the time of Karl new military equipment such as long shields, big bows, breast armor, helmets and mails were introduced. The number of soldiers in cavalry was increased and became nearly equal to infantry. All people were obliged to support armies with certain quantity of bread, provisions, horses and beasts of burden.
Karl’s vast activity in the field of education was dedicated to Christian upbringing. From his youth up Karl respected enlightenment, even though he remained illiterate for long time. He created a decree, according to which all children of free people ought to be educated. But this couldn’t be fulfilled at that time.
In private life Karl remained German King: he wore national clothes — shirt, trousers and a coat. Only in Rome he dressed in the clothes of Roman patrician as a token of respect to the Pope. According to the same German custom, he had several wives; one of them was considered the head one, though it contradicted with Christian laws. Out of his three legal sons — Karl, Pipin and Ludovik — only the youngest won lived longer that his father. It is also said that love to his daughters was so great, that he didn’t want them to get married.
Karl the Great was a really remarkable ruler and governor. His main merit is that he used political achievements of forerunners to full extent. An important element is also certain connection between Karl’s Empire and the formation of three great European states — France, Germany and Italy.
On the whole Early Medieval period is characterized by prosperity in different spheres of human’s life which lead to further developments and formation of civilization.
CARRIE, a full-text electronic library, created at the University of Kansas World Wide Web Virtual Library: History www.iue.it/VL/history/index.html – 53k
Manual for school-pupils “History of Medieval Ages” — Moscow, 2001.
Popo de Bolier “Medieval France” — Moscow, 2000.
Sinova I. “History of Medieval Era” — publishing house Litera, 2002
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