Books and Resources

A Short History of the Middle Ages, 6th edition.

Author: Barbara H. Rosenwein

Time Period: C.500-C.1500

About The Book

In this newest edition of A Short History of the Middle Ages, Barbara H. Rosenwein offers a panoramic view of the medieval world from Iceland to China and from Sweden to West Africa. Yet the book never loses sight of the main contours of the period (c.300 to c.1500) or of the fate of the heirs of the Roman Empire. Its lively and informative narrative covers the major events, political and religious movements, people, saints and sinners, economic and cultural changes, ideals, fears, and fantasies of the period in Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world.

A comprehensive new map program, updated for the global approach of this edition, offers a way to visualize the era’s enormous political, economic, and religious changes. Line drawings make clear archaeological finds and architectural structures. Key questions about the text, plates, maps, and other       features (with possible answers), as well as important technical terms and definitions, are available online for students to review and study and for teachers to use, modify, and supplement.

About The Author

Barbara H. Rosenwein is Professor in the Department of History at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of several books, including Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (2006) and Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe (1999)


Geneologies and Figures


  • Short-Answer Questions

    The third century was a critical period in Roman history. Military emergencies at the borders led to reforms that brought new prominence to the provinces of the Roman Empire. This “provincialization” included

    • Expanding the army and militarizing the government. New recruits were enlisted from Germanic and other barbarian groups of warriors, who were settled within the Empire.
    • Choosing commanders from the ranks of the army rather than from the senatorial aristocracy, as had previously been the case. Some of them later became emperors. The greater part of the army and most of the new imperial capitals were situated in the provinces.
    • Moving the wealth and labor of the Empire toward the provinces in order to feed and supply the army.
    • Losing Rome’s status as an administrative and military center.
    • Losing the cultural hegemony of the center. Local artistic styles began to flourish.

    The Roman Empire was too large to be ruled by one man in one place. During the “crisis of the third century,” the frontiers of the Empire were attacked by barbarians from the north and Persians from the east. Additionally, political instability and an epidemic contributed greatly to the crisis. Diocletian, a provincial from Dalmatia (today Croatia), brought the crisis under control by dividing the Empire into four parts for administrative purposes, with four rulers sharing supreme power simultaneously. The Tetrarchy, as this form of government was called, brought political stability for a while and put a halt to the border wars.

    Most of the Roman Empire was situated outside of the boundaries of modern Europe. It included North Africa, Asia Minor, and large parts of the Middle East. Correspondingly, much of modern Europe was never a part of the Roman Empire.

    The imperial office in the West had largely lost its power and meaning. The power was in the hands of military commanders. For Odoacer, it was sufficient to send the imperial insignia to Constantinople and to make himself king of Italy. Romulus Augustulus did not threaten his power and could therefore simply be sent into retirement.

    In the Roman world “barbarians” were “the others,” those who did not speak Latin or Greek. While the term implied cultural inferiority, it did not imply that barbarians were cruel, violent, or savage people as it does today.

    In 313, the Christian religion received official recognition in the so-called Edict of Milan, which legalized all the religions in the Empire. Christians profited most from the Edict because they also regained their property. In 325 Emperor Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical (universal) Church council. That council determined the major doctrines of Christianity. At the end of the century, under Emperor Theodosius I, the Nicaean form of Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, and other public and private cults were outlawed.

    Under the impetus of Saint Paul (d.c.67) Christianity was preached to non-Jews throughout the Empire and beyond.

    Christianity was and is a monotheistic religion (that is, it had and has one God). God saves humankind and awards people eternal life in heaven or condemns them to eternal damnation. Although an outgrowth of Judaism, Christianity alone accepted Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and the savior of humanity.

    Paganism was not an exclusive religion; new gods, cults, rites, and festivals could easily be incorporated into it. All aspects of life (politics, the city space, the calendar, the house, the family, the dead, the battlefield) had their own religious rituals. Local cults were welcome. By contrast, Christianity did not accept any non-Christian religious practice (including the cult of the divine emperor). It had a single ritual (the Mass) that was celebrated by all Christians. It was supposed to have a single doctrine. Even so, various competing interpretations of the divine messages competed, the most important being the ideas of the so-called “heretics” (see the next question).

    • The Manichees. They were dualists, believing in two cosmic principles, one godly, spiritual, and light; the other evil, material, and dark.
    • They believed that the material world was evil and not created by God. They denied Christ’s human nature, considering him fully divine.
    • The Donatists (in North Africa). They refused to re-admit Christians who had denied their Christian beliefs during the period of persecution.
    • The Arians. They did not believe that Christ was fully equal to God the Father. He was created and therefore subordinate to the Father.
    • The Pelagians. Supporters of Pelagius believed that Christians could achieve salvation out of their own goodness and free will. They did not think human beings were fully dependent on God’s grace to gain heaven.

    The Church Fathers were highly influential churchmen in the early Church (third to sixth centuries) who taught the faithful the tenets of Christian orthodoxy. Famous among them were Athanasius and Augustine, who led battles over the doctrines of the Church and singled out for condemnation the first heresies – Arianism, Donatism, Manichaeism, and Pelagianism. Their writings shaped Christianity for centuries to come. Jerome and Gregory the Great are also counted among the Church Fathers.

    Inspired by the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410, Augustine’s City of God denied the importance of Rome. The book defined two cities. We are born into the “City of Man” (such as Rome) where we live, get old, and die. This “City of Man” is prone to famine, war, and other catastrophes (such as the one that hit Rome). The “City of God” is the opposite – a place of eternal happiness. All institutions of society – churches, schools, governments – are in the “City of Man.” Imperfect as they are, these institutions allow us to attain the second city, the “City of God,” even now (by faith). In Augustine’s words, “if anyone accepts the present life in such a spirit that he uses it with the end in view of [the City of God], … such a man may without absurdity be called happy, even now.”

    The presence of Roman coins and glassware in barbarian settlements suggests that there were extensive trade connections and that barbarian life was influenced by Roman culture. Barbarian people raided and plundered, but they also received tributes and acted as federates to protect Roman borders. Some barbarian groups became regular parts of the Roman army. Barbarian people settled within the boundaries of the Roman Empire or entered the Roman Empire as refugees. Some barbarians served at the royal court, became members of the imperial family or served as Roman military commanders. Barbarians adopted Latin as their administrative language and Christianity, a Roman religion. In general, the cliché that the barbarians aimed to destroy the Roman Empire is not correct.

    They suggest that the Germanic peoples were long used to a settled existence before any entered the Roman Empire. The settlement near Wijster was inhabited between c.150 and c.400, thus providing evidence that, contrary to earlier historical hypotheses, the people living there were not constantly “on the move.” Findings of Roman coins and artifacts show that there were trade connections between Romans and Germanic people and that they were influenced by Roman culture.

    In 378 the Roman army lost the battle of Adrianople against the Visigoths, and Emperor Valens was killed on the field. The defeat meant more than the death of an emperor; it badly weakened the Roman army. The Visigoths needed food and a place to settle; the emperors needed soldiers to fortify their borders. They negotiated treaties that were supposed to make the Visigoths federates who receive payment and reward for their service. But the Visigoths considered this insufficient, and under their leader Alaric (d.410) they set out to both avenge their wrongs and find land. One consequence was the sack of Rome in 410. This was a traumatic event for the Romans, symbolizing their weakness in the face of new groups beginning to assert their dominance within the Empire.

    It was advantageous because in this way there was no religious rift between the Roman population of Gaul and the Frankish settlers and their king. The conversion eased the assimilation of Romans and barbarians in Gaul.

    Starting in the fifth century, as barbarians were taking over Roman institutions, they issued laws to establish their own rules. Their law codes drew greatly on their own customs, but they also borrowed from Roman imperial precedents and were written in Latin rather than any barbarian language. The result was a combination of Roman legal traditions and barbarian tribal customs.

    Emperor Justinian tried to renew the Roman Empire’s former glory by fighting the Persians, by reconquering North Africa and Italy and even some of Spain, by issuing law codes (e.g., the Codex Justinianus), and by commissioning splendid buildings (e.g., Hagia Sophia). His successes were only temporary. The war against the Persians was indecisive. The wars against the Vandals in North Africa and against the Ostrogoths in Italy seemed to give him victory, and the south of Spain was brought under Roman rule. But these triumphs did not bring back Rome’s former glory: although the territories in North Africa remained under Eastern Roman rule for about a century, the Lombards soon conquered most of Italy.


    The new barbarian kingdoms completely reshaped the West. The Germanic groups that replaced Roman rule were themselves disunited; by c.500 they had taken over the western half of the Roman Empire. Map 1.6 shows a mosaic of barbarian kingdoms in the West. However, most of the Eastern Roman Empire remained intact, and by c.600 – as shown in Map 1.8 – it had regained much of the Mediterranean world, especially along the North African coast.

    Between the years 235 and 284, more than twenty men – mostly from the provinces – claimed the title of Roman emperor. Some of them led “breakaway empires,” symptomatic of increasing decentralization, disaffection with Rome, and the power of the provincial army legions. Rome itself was too far from the fields of war. Thus, Emperor Maximian (r.286–305) turned Milan into a new capital. Soon other favored cities – Trier, Sardica, Nicomedia, Constantinople (formerly Byzantium), and much later Ravenna – joined Milan in overshadowing Rome.

    The invasion of a branch of the Huns into the Black Sea region was the main reason the Visigoths sought refuge within the borders of the Roman Empire. Both migrations were, thus, directly connected.

    At the end of the third century, the Eastern Roman Empire had the greatest concentrations of Christians, and many of its cities had churches and even bishops. From its birthplace in Palestine, the Christian religion spread north toward Anatolia (modern Turkey) and south to Egypt. Christians also brought their religion westward, but by comparison with the East, that half of the Empire had smaller and more scattered concentrations of Christian communities. The exceptions – the more popular western centers of Christianity – were the North African area around Carthage, the southern tip of Spain, and the region around Rome.

    By 600 Roman cemeteries had become centers of settlement due to the prestige of the honored saints buried there. In the cemetery outside the city of Tours, a new church was built over the relics of Saint Martin. It served as a magnet for Christians, who came to venerate Martin’s relics. The baptistery near the church was constructed to baptize the infants of pilgrims and others who came to the tomb of Saint Martin hoping for a miracle.


    Classical Roman art was characterized by light and shadow, a sense of atmosphere – of earth, sea, sky, air, light – and a feeling of movement, even in the midst of calm. Figures – always suggesting weight and three-dimensionality – interacted with one another, caring nothing about the viewer. In Plate 1.1 the Nereid and seahorse move through a watery habitat. Plate 1.2 offers the illusion of space, air, and light even though it is painted on the flat surface of a wall. In Plate 1.3, the artist has created a sense of inhabited space by experimenting with different levels of “relief.” The people and creatures in these works of art are absorbed in their own activities, mindless of the viewer. In Plate 1.3, it is clear that the sculptor wanted to suggest people with weight and three-dimensionality, their clothing delineating the contours of their bodies.

    The artists of the Roman provinces were not very interested in classical notions of beauty. They valued decorative elements, hierarchy, and direct communication with the viewer. This may be seen in the stylized body of Venus in Plate 1.4 and the stiff, frontal figures on the tombstone in Plate 1.5. Plate 1.6 shows the influence of Roman provincial art in the heart of the Empire. The stylized figures stare out at the viewer, communicating majesty and power.

    Plate 1.1 represents the classical naturalistic style, trying to convey the idea of movement of the waves and the individuality of the Nereid whose form may have been based on a living model. Saturn on Plate 1.5 and his priests have no individuality. Nature is replaced by geometrical patterns.

    Lampadius and his officials are placed above the event itself. He alone is seated (on a cushion), and he holds a staff as symbol of his power. Larger than the two officials who stand next to him, he is clearly more important than they. Thus, in this fourth-century representation of a commander, art translates power into height and transmutes authority into symbols such as the staff.

    Both reveal the importance of the relics of the saints. In the case of the Orant Fresco (Plate 1.8), the relics were in a tomb “guarded” by the image of the saint himself. In the case of the Reliquary of Theuderic (Plate 1.10), the relics were enclosed in a box adorned with costly stones. In both cases, patrons of the relics – and of the fresco and the reliquary – hoped for saintly intercession on behalf of their souls in heaven.

    The sarcophagus depicts Christ sitting on a throne handing over a scroll to the Apostle Paul (usually depicted as a balding man). The figures interact and are more naturalistic than the figures on the Diptych of the Lampadii. But the images of authority are similar: Christ as king and lawgiver is here imagined as a heavenly version of a Roman emperor.

    Justinian replaced a church that had been destroyed in riots against him with the most magnificent church building in his empire.

    The warm colors of the apse mosaics – especially greens and golds – emphasize the rich abundance of the offerings brought to the altar by Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, a theme mirrored by the intersecting cornucopias that frame the image of Christ and his companions in heaven.


    clergy and laity
    Reveal Answer

    Clergy refers to the men ordained for religious services (e.g., priests and bishops). Priests were supervised by their bishop, who was himself assisted by priests, deacons, and lesser servitors. Some bishops – those of Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, Jerusalem, and Rome (who was later called the “pope”) – were more important than others. Laity (from the Greek laikos, meaning “of the people”) refers to the entirety of non-ordained people. Monks held a special position. Initially only few of them were ordained priests so technically they were not clergy. But because they dedicated their entire life to religion they were not quite laity either.

    Reveal Answer

    Ethnogenesis refers to the process by which barbarian peoples gained and changed their identities as they joined with or broke away from other groups. Thus, ethnogenesis is opposed to a “biological” view of peoples; it sees “ethnicity” as a practice, as the active adoption of ethnic styles, myths, and habits that may change over time.

    Reveal Answer

    Eucharist in the Catholic Church refers to the consecrated bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Christ during the Mass.

    Plague of Justinian
    Reveal Answer

    The first recorded pandemic caused by the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis. The plague first broke out in 541 and continued to attack for the next 200 years.

    Reveal Answer

    An object related to a saint, usually a body part. A relic might also be an object a saint used, owned, or just touched. It was believed that the power of God, transmitted to his saints, lived on in relics. Saints thus were present in their relics. Relics played a crucial role in the cult of saints.

    Roman federates
    Reveal Answer

    The Roman federates were populations linked to Rome by a treaty of alliance. By the end of the fourth century, barbarian tribes fought as “federates” for Roman emperors (and imperial pretenders) under their own chiefs.

    Roman province
    Reveal Answer

    Regions that the Romans conquered, except for Italy itself, were turned into Roman provinces. Provinces were administrative units, each ruled by a governor. Some modern nations (such as Arabia, Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Spain, Syria) and even two continents (Africa, Asia) derive their names from Roman provinces.

    Reveal Answer

    God’s special holy people. In the early Church, saints had mainly been martyrs, who died for their faith. After the persecutions ended, saints were individuals who imitated martyrdom and became role models due to their strict asceticism (fasting, praying, sleep deprivation, sexual abstinence). They were seen as miracle workers and intercessors between God and ordinary Christians. The saints’ power lived on in their relics. Both women and men were venerated as saints.

    The Theodosian Code was a collection of imperial laws (“constitutions”) and court rulings. It was published in 438 under the rule of Theodosius II. The Justinian Code or Codex Justinianus (published in 529, revised in 534), was an expansion of The Theodosian Code. Barbarian law codes were modelled after The Theodosian Code.


    The apse mosaics appear in the apse at the right side of the plan, flanked by the mosaics depicting Justinian and Theodora. Like most churches the apse faced east.

    Essay Questions

    Your answer might include the following criteria:

    • Economy (standards of living, taxation, inflation, trade connections, concentration of wealth)
    • Demographics (life expectancy, birth rate, pandemics, population loss, ruralization)
    • Social structures (decline of traditional elites, disappearance of a middle class, rise of new elites, but also merging of Roman and barbarian elite classes)
    • Political institutions (e.g., barbarian courts modelled after the imperial court)
    • Culture (new artistic styles, but also adaptation and continuity of traditional styles)
    • Language (adaptation of Latin in post-Roman kingdoms)
    • Law (creation of barbarian law codes modelled after Roman law)
    • Religion (barbarian people adopt a Roman religion; Church structure remains intact under barbarian rule)

    Your answer might include the following points:

    • Monks lived a life of daily martyrdom, giving up their wealth, family ties, and sensual pleasures. These were lifestyles thought to imitate Christ and be pleasing to God.
    • Early monks were not quite laity (since they made religious vows) and not quite clergy (since they were only rarely ordained).
    • Some monks lived solitary lives, while others lived in communities. Some communities were of men only, some of women, some of both (in separate quarters).
    • Monks lived in obedience to a “rule” that gave them a stable and orderly way of life. Benedict of Nursia wrote the most famous of the monastic rules sometime between 530 and 560. With its adoption, much later, by the Carolingian kings of the ninth century, the Benedictine Rule became the monastic norm in the West. It divided the day into discrete periods of prayer, reading, and labor.
    • Monks were seen as models of virtue, and their prayers were thought to reach God’s ear.
    • In the course of the fifth and the sixth centuries, monasteries became important corporate landowners and obtained considerable wealth.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    In the seventh century, the Byzantine Empire faced an onslaught of outsiders: Sasanid Persians, Slavs, Avars, Bulgars, and Arab Muslims. By 700, Byzantium had lost all its rich territories in North Africa, Spain, and in the Balkan peninsula. It held on tenuously to bits and pieces of Italy and Greece. But in the main it had become a medium-sized state, in the same location but about two-thirds the size of Turkey today.

    The empire of Darius and Xerxes extended from Libya to the Indus River. King Chosroes (r.590–628) dreamed of recreating those past glories. He tried to conquer the Byzantine Empire, but after some initial success, he was pushed back, and by 630 (a bit after his time), all territories taken by the Persians were back in Byzantine hands.

    The long war between Byzantium and the Sasanid kings weakened both armies, exhausted their revenues, and left the cities reconquered by the Byzantine Empire destroyed. Both empires could offer little resistance to the Arab expansion, which was inspired by the Islamic notion of jihad (striving [on behalf of God]).

    The dispute began in 726, when Emperor Leo III the Isaurian denounced sacred portraits publicly, saying that they inspired the wrong kind of devotion. In 754, sacred images were banned outright. Although the ban on icons lasted until 787 and was revived, in modified form, between 815 and 843, in the end iconoclasm was an utter failure because it banned a meaningful form of Christian worship.

    Islam, like Christianity (and Judaism), is monotheistic. There is one God and Muhammad is his Prophet. The holy book of Islam is the word of God as recited to Muhammad and written down as the Qur’an. The holy book of Christianity is the Old and New Testament. While Islam recognizes Jesus, he is deemed a prophet, not the Son of God. Christianity early on defined the Godhead as consisting of three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The God of Islam is one and only one. Islam has no priests, no mediators between God and the individual believer.

    The zakat, a tax to be used for supporting the poor; Ramadan, a month of fasting; the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca to be made at least once in a lifetime; the salat, formal worship several times a day at fixed times; the shahadah, the profession of faith: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His prophet.”

    Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had a series of religious experiences including the recitation of the world of God that became the Qur’an. As a political and religious leader, he set the pattern for the caliphs. In Arabia, Islam succeeded through a combination of force, conviction, and negotiation. Once many of the tribes of Arabia were united, they became a formidable military force, able to wage jihad against the decaying realms of the Persians and (to a lesser degree) the Byzantines.

    Much of the Roman city was abandoned in the sixth century, possibly because of an earthquake. The old city was turned into a cemetery, but there was continuity in habitation and a new settlement arose to the west of the former Roman city. It was populated by Berbers (Imazighen; sing. Amazigh) and also some Christians who continued living there when Volubilis came under Islamic rule. Under the Abbasids at the end of the eighth century, Volubilis may have regained some of the urban character that it had lost in the sixth century.

    The discord originated in a disagreement about who should be caliph when Uthman became caliph. Although the husband of two of Muhammad’s daughters, he was resented because his family, the Umayyads, was not among Muhammad’s original followers. Uthman was opposed by Ali, the husband of Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah. Uthman belonged to the Umayyad clan, which had once persecuted Muhammad. When both contenders were killed, the Umayyads consolidated their power and kept the caliphate until 750. Their adherents became known as Sunni Muslims. The adherents of Ali became the Shi‘ites.

    In the North they would find remnants of the Roman road system, wooden farmsteads and royal estates. They would encounter emporia such as Quentovic and Dorestad but also old, largely depopulated Roman cities that functioned mainly as religious centers (housing a bishop and sometimes containing numerous churches). Villages were populated by people of varying status: freemen and -women, tenants, and slaves, all more or less dominated by powerful lords. The south was more urbanized. Travelers would find walled cities still functioning as economic and political centers, sometimes retaining their Roman theaters and bathhouses. In the south, villages were generally populated by free peasant landholders.

    The Merovingians established themselves as rulers of Francia at the end of the fifth century. Part of their secret of success was biological good fortune – they all had sons. But their political and military instincts also contributed to their success. By forging alliances with aristocratic families (both lay and ecclesiastical), they extended their power and gained wealth. That alliance was based in the first place on their adoption of the Christian religion – see Chapter 1.

    Much of post-Roman Britain remained largely Christian after the Anglo-Saxon conquests before Augustine arrived, but (both in the British Isles and Ireland) the Church was decentralized, local, and relatively non-hierarchical. Augustine brought the Roman Catholic brand of Christianity to England. He set up a Church with close ties to the pope and with a clear hierarchy. Under his direction England was divided into territorial units (dioceses) headed by bishops who were supervised by the archbishop of Canterbury. Augustine himself was the first who held this title. The Rome-centered Church clashed with the local forms of Christianity. The date on which Easter ought to be celebrated was particularly disputed. The conflict was resolved in favor of the Roman date at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

    All of Spain came under Visigothic control during the sixth century. King Reccared (r.586–601) converted from Arianism to Catholicism. This event cemented the ties between the monarch and the Hispano-Roman population, which included the great landowners and leading bishops. Church councils were more frequent in Spain than elsewhere in Europe. Roman culture and classical learning were especially highly regarded in this part of the post-Roman world.

    The Visigothic kings were anointed, giving them religious significance (like an Old Testament king). They, alone of the Western successors of Rome, collected the Roman land tax. They established a royal capital. Their chief weakness lay in their inability to establish a stable dynasty. Royal succession very often provoked rebellions by rival noble families. The civil war that broke out after the death of King Witiza in 711 eventually made the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula possible.

    The Quinisext council was convened by Justinian II in 691/692 to draw up rules of discipline for both the clergy and laity. The fact that the pope refused to attend and later would not agree to the council’s canons shows the growing rift between the Eastern and Western Churches.

    The popes were initially hardly more than the bishops of Rome under the sway of the Byzantine rulers. Pope Gregory the Great made the popes the greatest landowners in Italy, established an ecclesiastical bureaucracy, and initiated a missionary effort that brought the English Church under Roman Catholic auspices. In the course of the seventh century, the popes freed themselves from the control of Byzantium and became de-facto rulers over central Italy. Feeling threatened by the Lombards, they allied themselves with the Frankish rulers across the Alps.


    The Byzantine Empire shrank as a result of the arrival of various outsiders such as the Persians, Bulgars, Slavs, Avars, and Arab Muslims. Most of the conquests of Justinian – with the exception of some parts of Italy – were quickly overturned.

      • Expansion to 632: The region around Medina and Mecca was conquered by Muhammad himself.
      • Expansion to 661: Persia, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Libya were taken by Muhammad’s direct successors, the early caliphs.
      • Expansion to 750: The Umayyads were responsible for further expansion eastward toward the Indus River and westward to North
      • Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

    By 700, the political distinctions between the three Frankish kingdoms of Neustria, Austrasia, and Burgundy were melting, and Francia (as we may call it) was becoming one kingdom. After c.715 Spain was ruled by the Muslims, who had overcome the Visigoths. Italy was still divided between the pope, the Byzantines, and the Lombards. To Rome’s east and south were the duchies of Benevento and Spoleto, now virtually independent from the Lombard kings. To the north, the British Isles were home to a plethora of tiny kingdoms, about three-quarters of which were native (“Celtic”) and the last quarter Germanic (“English”).

    About half of Italy remained under Byzantine control, most importantly the regions around Rome and Ravenna in central Italy, though they were threatened by the Lombard Kingdom in the north and the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento in the south.
    Byzantium also held Sardinia, Sicily, and Calabria.


    In this mosaic, a holy figure (presumably a saint) and the inscription identifying it were removed and replaced by a gold cross. Replacements such as this one were made during the first phase of the iconoclastic period (754–787), when sacred images were banned.

    Its precocity calls into question the traditional dating of Muhammad’s revelations as well as when and how they were organized into an official text. Tradition attributes that organization to Caliph Uthman (r.644–656), who had an authorized text prepared by a committee and issued c.650. The fragment in Plate 2.2 (and other similar finds) suggests an earlier date for and even variant compilations of the Qur’an.

    This mosaic demonstrates how effortlessly Byzantine motifs were absorbed – yet also transformed – in their new Islamic context. Cityscapes, architecture, and floral motifs drawn from Romano-Byzantine traditions were combined to depict an idealized world created by the triumph of Islam. The building in the center has distinctively Roman features. But in another way, the mosaicists rejected those traditions, imposing a different – an Islamic – ideal: they depicted no human being or animal whatsoever. Only a few decades later, in the period of iconoclasm, Byzantium developed a similar attitude regarding human figures.

    The tribes settling in England, like other barbarian (and, indeed, Celtic) tribes, had artistic traditions particularly well suited to adorning surfaces. Belt buckles, helmet nose-pieces, brooches, and other sorts of jewelry of the rich were embellished with decorative patterns, often made up of animal forms. An example is the “face” of this helmet formed by the nose piece, eyebrows, and mustache. At the same time, those very features form a bird, with its garnet-lined wings doubling as the brows.

    The book contains the text of the Gospels (the four canonical accounts of the life and death of Christ in the New Testament) in Latin, in a version probably coming from Italy. The evangelist symbols were probably an import from Italy as well, but they were decorated with Celtic scrolls and spirals as well as late-Roman interlace patterns. Prefacing the text with a portrait of the author dates back to the classical period. The eagle’s plumage recalls bejeweled metalware such as that of the reliquary of Theuderic (plate 1.10).

    The influence of both classical Roman and “barbarian” or at least “provincial” artistic sensibilities in Lombard Italy is clear in these two monuments from eighth-century Cividale del Friuli. Both involve religious themes. The altar of King Ratchis (Plate 2.8) is made of slabs of marble carved in very low relief. The sculptors, here depicting the theme of the Three Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child, drew on provincial traditions. They were little interested in the volume and weight of ordinary human bodies. Nevertheless, considering that most Lombard art was purely decorative, the very fact of carving figures on the altar may be seen as a real concession to classical Roman traditions. The Tempietto carvings, which depict a procession of saints, are far more classical. Yet even here, the artists’ interest in design and decoration is clear: the robes of the saints fall into folds created by incised lines, and above and below them are decorative borders with flowers that recall the “daisy-wheels” of the Altar of Ratchis, and their robes.


    Amizigh (pl: Imazighen)
    Reveal Answer

    Indigenous and therefore preferable terms for the names “Berber/Berbers.”

    Byzantine strategoi
    Reveal Answer

    The armies of the Empire, which had formerly been posted as frontier guards, were reorganized and set up as large regional defensive units within the Empire. Called themes, they were led by strategoi (generals).

    Reveal Answer

    Probably originally derived from “khalifat Allah,” meaning “deputy of God,” the title of caliph later came to mean “deputy of the Apostle of God, Muhammad.” Caliphs were the religious and political leaders of the Muslims. Initially they were chosen from Muhammad’s inner circle.

    emporium (pl. emporia).
    Reveal Answer

    An emporium is a commercial center equipped mainly with the buildings and other institutions that foster trade.

    Greek fire
    Reveal Answer

    A much-feared Byzantine weapon, Greek fire was probably a mixture of crude oil and resin. Once heated and projected via a tube over the water, it burned and engulfed enemy ships with its flames.

    Reveal Answer

    The word refers to the journey of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. It became the year 1 of the Islamic calendar and corresponds roughly to 622 ce. (The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar cycle and thus does not line up neatly with the Gregorian calendar generally accepted.

    Reveal Answer

    An icon is an image of the divine, usually painted on wood. Iconoclasm (literally meaning icon-breaking) refers to the anti-icon movement instituted by the emperors at Byzantium. Emperor Leo III launched the first iconoclastic period (726–787).

    mayor of the palace
    Reveal Answer

    The official with the highest position at the Merovingian court was designated mayor of the palace. He controlled access to the king and brokered deals with aristocratic factions. Eventually the mayors of palace became the de-facto rulers of the Frankish Kingdoms.

    Reveal Answer

    From the Latin word oblatio meaning “offering,” oblation – by which parents gave their young children to monasteries – was a common practice in the medieval West. Oblation was widely accepted and even considered essential for the spiritual well-being of both children and their families.

    Reveal Answer

    Penitentials were handbooks of sins and assigned penances, usually fasting on bread and water for a certain length of time. They were used both in monasteries and by priests for pastoral care.

    Reveal Answer

    The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, understood as the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. It consists of 114 chapters (suras). Its texts are historical and prophetical, legal and moral. It may have been compiled around 650, possibly even earlier.

    scratch plow
    Reveal Answer

    Unlike the heavy moldboard plow, the scratch plow was light, suitable for making narrow furrows in sandy soils. Because the heavy plow was hard to turn, the fields it produced tended to be long and rectangular in shape. The scratch plow was more agile: it was used to cut the soil in one direction and then at right angles to that, producing a square field.


    It shows how political and economic transformations manifest themselves “on the ground,” telling a story not only about population growth, acculturation, and identity (such as the Roman appearance of the city or Roman villas in the periphery of the Empire), but also about religious transformation, natural disasters, depopulation of and shifts from the city center, and ruralization.

    The advantage of Figure 2.1 is that it shows exactly what remains via certain conventions (e.g., lines and squares to show walls and structures, respectively). The disadvantage is that it takes training to understand and visualize the figure fully. By contrast, Figure 2.2 brings the site “to life.” The advantage is that it is easily understood. The disadvantage is that it represents an interpretation of findings that other archaeologists and scholars might disagree with if they had for that site (Yeavering) the sort of plan they have for Figure 2.1 (Volubilis).


    Genealogies of rulers show how they are related, when they ruled, and how a family or dynasty ruled continuously for a period of time. The genealogies here only give the years of rule but not the birth year of a ruler (which was quite often unknown) – so we don’t know how old these people were when they came to power nor when they died. A genealogy says nothing about the real power of a ruler. The genealogy of the Merovingian kings, for example, might give the impression that Clovis I and Childeric III had equal power, which is far from the truth. Clovis unified the Frankish Kingdoms by force and vastly expanded his realm; Childeric III was so subordinate to his palace mayor that he was eventually deposed by his own official. Moreover, the genealogies here list only male children (and not all of those) and do not indicate the power of wives and mothers.

    Essay Questions

    Your answer might include these points:

      • Italy was politically divided: the Lombard kings controlled the north, the papacy dominated central Italy, and the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento ruled in the south. In addition, the Byzantines held parts of central and southern Italy.
      • The Lombard kings controlled extensive estates, and they made use of the Roman institutions that survived in Italy. They made the cities their administrative bases, assigning dukes to rule from them and setting up one, Pavia, as their capital.
      • The peninsula was also divided religiously: many Lombards were Arian, the native Romans were Catholic, and the Byzantines were, after 726, bound to honor iconoclasm.

    Your answer might include these points:

      • The pope had secular power as the bishop of Rome and exceptional religious power as the bishop of Saint Peter’s see.
      • However, he was still merely one of many bishops in the Roman Empire and therefore subordinate to the Byzantine emperor.
      • Meanwhile, he was literally “in the middle” between two Lombard realms – the Kingdom of Lombardy and the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.
      • As religious disagreements with Byzantium frayed ties, the pope was obliged to look for a new secular protector beyond the borders of Italy. The Carolingian king took that role.

    Although Roman long-distance trading had disappeared, European society maintained its wealth through alternative economic practices. Among these were the following:

      • Money was still minted, but in silver rather than gold; this allowed for small-scale commercial activity, which became an important part of the European economy.
      • The North Sea region was linked to Europe, Scandinavia, and the Muslim world. Emporia on the borders of the Carolingian kingdom served as economic centers for this three-way traffic.
      • In many regions, a gift economy kept goods circulating.

    For the post-Roman kingdoms of the West:

      • In the Merovingian realm, a new culture of domestic piety developed as a result of the Irish monastic and missionary influence. In addition, the aristocratic world integrated with that of the Church. Monasteries, as centers of devotion, played a large role in this deepened piety

    For Byzantium:

      • New religiosity emerged within rural households, where the Bible, psalms, hagiography (lives of the saints), and devotional works became the focus of pious attention.
      • Iconoclasm, which was especially popular in the army and at the imperial court, is also evidence of new and fervent religiosity.

    For the Arab world:

      • The multiple gods at Mecca gave way, under the leadership of Muhammad, to Islam, with its radical monotheism. The ummah was the community of believers, and the Qur’an the holy book of Islam.

    Your answer might include

    • The conquest of the Arabic peninsula and subsequently large parts of the Persian and Roman empires began as a religious movement, placing the conquered regions under Islamic rule. This is why we can talk about the Arabic or Islamic world. The majority of the conquered population, however, remained Christian or other (in the case of Imazighen). Using the terms Umayyad and Abbasid caliphate may be more correct but it should not imply that both dynasties succeeded in establishing a centralized rule. On a local level, these caliphates had little impact aside from the requirement to pay taxes. Due to its size, the Islamic world tended to be divided into various principalities more or less strongly tied to the caliphs. Each designation has, thus, both advantages and disadvantages. Determining which designation to use depends on whether we want to emphasize religion, ethnicity, politics, or dynasties.

    Your list might include, among others

      • Continents: Africa, Asia
      • Modern nations: Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Spain, Scotland
      • Regions: Alemannia, Andalucía (Vandals), Burgundy, Lombardy, Saxony, Swabia, Thuringia
      • This shows that many modern nations are accidental results of Roman political decisions, the outcomes of military conflicts and the volatility of barbarian migration. It also means that many modern nations were formed by appropriating the history of the late and post-Roman world.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    The iconoclast conflict came to an end. The Byzantine Empire implemented an effective taxation system. Military reforms – especially the creation of the tagmata (see Terms below) – led to military successes. The Plague of Justinian ended, and the Empire expanded its influence by spreading Orthodox Christianity.

    Byzantium and the Frankish Kingdoms competed with each other in extending their sphere of influence into East Central Europe. Converting to Roman Catholicism and establishing a Church hierarchy oriented towards the West brought new states under Frankish influence (as was the case for Moravia), while converting to Orthodox Christianity (as did Bulgaria, Serbia, and Rus’) tied them to Byzantium.

    Similarities included the increase in book production, the reform of script (Caroline and Byzantine minuscule), the resurgence of Classical Greek and Latin, the role of palace schools, the renewed interest in the works of the Church Fathers, a resurgence of monasticism, the imitation of classical styles in art and written works, and the revival of monumental architecture.

    In Moravia, the Christianization process began with Duke Ratislav (r.846–870). Chafing under the Franks, he called on Byzantium for missionaries. In 863 the Byzantine priests Constantine (later called Cyril) and Methodius, equipped with translations of the Gospels and liturgical texts, started to convert Moravia. In the end, however, Moravia rejected Byzantine influence and opted instead for the Roman form of Christianity. In Bulgaria, however, Khan Boris (r.852–889) converted to Byzantine Christianity. Even so, he asserted his independence from Byzantium.

    The Abbasids ousted the Umayyad caliphs in 750. They set up an army in Khurasan (today eastern Iran) and invaded Iraq without resistance. They legitimated their takeover with claims to the caliphate, and they ensured their power with militant supporters, wealth, and a powerful propaganda machine. In 750 al-Saffah became the first Abbasid caliph, and under his successor, al-Mansur, Baghdad became the Abbasid capital in 762.

    Baghdad was a trade hub between the East and the West. The Abbasids also established trade connections with sub-Saharan Africa, trading textiles, ceramics, glass, armor, and other manufactured goods for gold, food, ivory, animal skins, and enslaved human beings. As a result of this trade, Abbasid arts and crafts flourished. The upper and middle classes filled their homes with splendid furnishings. Some of the general wealth went to support poets and scholars. Treatises on hadith (see Terms below) proliferated at this time, as did critical study of the Qur’an.

    The rise of Idris I and Abd al-Rahman shows that the Abbasids could not keep control over the western part of their Empire. There, local leaders became rulers. Idris, for example, allied himself with the local Berber population and took control of all of northern Morocco. But, Idris’s family, too, was unable to keep control over the region. This is an example of how the fragmentation of the Abbasid realm was mirrored at the local level. Abd al-Rahman I’s conquest of al-Andalus and the establishment of the Emirate of Córdoba was more successful. The rulers of al-Andalus were the last holdouts of Umayyad power against the Abbasids.

    Volubilis/Walila became the headquarters of the Shi‘ite prince Idris I who gained control of northern Morocco. He built his own domestic complex and established a new settlement to the southwest of the old Roman wall. When Idris’s son moved the capital of his kingdom to Fez, Volubilis/Walila lost is importance, though it continued to be inhabited.

    The Carolingians became the de-facto rulers of the Frankish Kingdoms (still nominally ruled by the Merovingians) by monopolizing the office of the mayor of the palace. They accumulated wealth and power through a series of military successes and allied with the popes, who supported their kingships and eventually awarded Charlemagne the title of emperor. The Carolingians profited from a general economic upturn, the institutions of Roman culture and political life that remained in Francia, and their willingness to experiment with new institutions (such as the missi dominici).

    Both were missionaries who worked in areas that were already largely Christianized. Their objective was to replace regional and largely independent Church structures by a hierarchy that was firmly oriented towards Rome and the popes. Both were also concerned with establishing one uniform Christian doctrine.

    The papacy, alienated from Byzantium, looked to the Carolingians for protection. After Pippin took the throne in 751, Pope Stephen II (752–757) traveled to Francia. He anointed Pippin, blessed him, and begged him to send an army against the encircling Lombards. The so-called Donation of Pippin (756) forced the Lombards to give up important central Italian cities to the pope. It cemented the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingians and acknowledged the fact that the pope, not Byzantium, was the ruler of central Italy.

    The backbone of the Carolingian economy was land. It was organized into great estates known as “villae” (manors). The richest landowners were churches, monasteries, kings, and aristocrats. The most enterprising landlords instituted a three-field rather than a two-field cultivation system. That meant that two-thirds of the land (rather than one-half) was sown with crops each year. Land was worked by peasant families, some legally free, some unfree, each settled on its own holding (called a colonica or a mansus), usually including a house, a garden, small bits of several fields, and so on. The peasants farmed the land and paid yearly dues to their lord.

    In addition to the land economy, the Carolingians benefited from trade, some of it long-distance and siphoned through emporia on the borders of Francia. They also prospered from war, which yielded booty. The treasure that they plundered from the Avars was enormous.

    Women at court fostered learning, scholarship, and book production. Abbesses, who headed up monasteries for women, often helped turn their communities into centers of learning. Noblewomen like Dhuoda were well educated.

    All of these economies largely depended on agricultural production. But the Byzantine economy profited as well from territorial expansion, the Islamic from urban centers and long-distance trade, and the Carolingian from expansion, plunder, a “gift economy,” and emporia on the frontiers of their empire.

    In their role as mayors of the palace, the Carolingians were already the de-facto rulers of the Frankish Kingdoms. In 751, when they knew they had sufficient support from the elites – the bishops and nobles, they simply assumed the title of king for themselves. The last Merovingian king did not form a threat to Carolingian rule, so he was simply forced to retire to a monastery.

    By contrast, the takeover of the Abbasids was the result of a violent uprising that led to the extinction of the entire Umayyad dynasty except for Abd al-Rahman, who established the Emirate of Córdoba. The Abbasids moved their power base from Syria to Iraq and built Baghdad as the capital of their empire. This shift to the east had cultural as well as political significance; the Umayyads took Byzantium as their model; the Abbasids looked to Eastern tradition.

    Women at court fostered learning, scholarship, and book production. Abbesses, who headed up monasteries for women, often helped turn their communities into centers of learning. Noblewomen like Dhuoda were well educated.

    All of these economies largely depended on agricultural production. But the Byzantine economy profited as well from territorial expansion, the Islamic from urban centers and long-distance trade, and the Carolingian from expansion, plunder, a “gift economy,” and emporia on the frontiers of their empire.

    In their role as mayors of the palace, the Carolingians were already the de-facto rulers of the Frankish Kingdoms. In 751, when they knew they had sufficient support from the elites – the bishops and nobles, they simply assumed the title of king for themselves. The last Merovingian king did not form a threat to Carolingian rule, so he was simply forced to retire to a monastery.

    By contrast, the takeover of the Abbasids was the result of a violent uprising that led to the extinction of the entire Umayyad dynasty except for Abd al-Rahman, who established the Emirate of Córdoba. The Abbasids moved their power base from Syria to Iraq and built Baghdad as the capital of their empire. This shift to the east had cultural as well as political significance; the Umayyads took Byzantium as their model; the Abbasids looked to Eastern tradition.


    The Byzantines conquered and recovered territories on their eastern front, in Anatolia. Where they conquered, they set up themes. Mesopotamia was the first of these, created by Emperor Leo VI in a region formerly a no-man’s-land between the Islamic and Byzantine worlds. But the Byzantines lost territories to their west, in the Balkans, a region that presented an alluring prize for both the Byzantines and their main rivals, the Bulgars.

    In the middle of the eighth century, the Abbasids became the new ruling dynasty in the East. However, Abd al-Rahman, an Umayyad prince who escaped the Abbasids, fled to the Iberian Peninsula, defeated the Muslim governor at Córdoba, and proclaimed himself “emir” in 756. Hence, the westernmost part of the Islamic world did not come under Abbasid rule. The Berbers (Imazighen) took over Morocco, and other groups came to rule Ifriqiya (today the coastal regions of Libya and Tunisia).

    In 774, Charlemagne invaded the Lombard Kingdom, defeated the last Lombard king, and annexed northern Italy to the Frankish realm as the Kingdom of Italy.

    The division mandated in the Treaty of Verdun most closely matches the configuration of Western Europe today. The West Frankish Kingdom became the core of France, the East Frankish became the core of Germany, and the Middle Kingdom became the Benelux countries (Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg) and Italy.


    The Macedonian Renaissance of ninth- and tenth-century Byzantium found its models in both the hierarchical style that was so important during the pre-iconoclastic period (see Plate 1.12) and the natural, plastic style of classical art and its revivals. Plate 3.1 exemplifies the former style, Plate 3.2 the latter.

    The bowl demonstrates the fine ceramics used by the wealthy; the cenotaph was made by highly skilled craftspeople using fine materials; the mosque – massive and partially gilded – was built by a wealthy ruler and designed to impress worshippers. These examples suggest that the Islamic economy could support both luxury goods and massive building enterprises. In fact, we know from other evidence that the Mediterranean region and Baghdad (the Abbasid capital) were crisscrossed by flourishing trade networks. These supported a well-to-do population open to various styles and artistic traditions.

    The pyxis recalls Byzantine textile and Sasanid carpet designs but gives them its own form by reproducing the patterns in high relief – an artform inspired by classical antiquity. The material, ivory, comes West Africa. The inscription is Arabic but the figures do not conform to the strict Islamic prohibition on images.

    Carolingian manuscript illuminations were inspired by a vast repertory of models: from the British Isles, from late-antique Italy, and from Byzantium. Plate 3.7 shows the influence of naturalistic classical styles, such as that of the Nereid at Pompeii (see Plate 1.1). The opening page of Saint John’s Gospel in Plate 3.8 owes much to the decorative, abstract style of the British Isles (see Plate 2.7, for instance). Carolingian artists were inspired by other traditions as well. Consider the light, impressionistic style of the Roman Empire in its heyday – the busy, almost dancing figures in the Harbor Scene in Plate 1.2. These too were mirrored – and refracted – in the Carolingian Empire, as we may see in the Utrecht Psalter (Plate 3.9), commissioned by Archbishop Ebbo of Reims and executed at a Carolingian monastery.


    adab literature
    Reveal Answer

    Adab literature refers to the refined and learned prose and poetry that were encouraged at the courts of Islamic rulers in the ninth and tenth centuries.

    Reveal Answer

    Anointment is the ritual application of sacred oil. Churchmen anointed kings in a rite reminiscent of ceremonies recounted in the Old Testament. Anointment gave kings a quasi-clerical status, indicating that they ruled by grace of God. It also proclaimed that these kings were the successors of those in the Old-Testament.

    Reveal Answer

    The ban, or bannum, referred to the king’s right to command and punish. It described his authority when he mustered his subjects for war, prohibited crimes, and issued fines for disobedience.

    Reveal Answer

    The Carolingians issued laws in the form of “capitularies,” i.e., summaries of decisions made at assemblies held with the chief men of the realm.

    Caroline minuscule
    Reveal Answer

    Caroline minuscule was a new script promoted by the Carolingian rulers as part of their reform efforts. The fact that it was simple and easy to read improved communication within the Carolingian world. Modern lower-case letters are inspired by Caroline minuscule.

    Reveal Answer

    The word means “commander.” In 756, the Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I proclaimed himself “emir” of al-Andalus. His dynasty governed al-Andalus for two and a half centuries.

    Reveal Answer

    Hadith are oral traditions about the teachings of the Prophet that were written down and collected in the Abbasid period.

    missi dominici
    Reveal Answer

    Literally, these Latin words mean “those sent out by the lord king.” In an attempt to discourage corruption, the Carolingian kings appointed these officials to oversee the counts (who served as regional governors) on the king’s behalf. The missi traveled throughout the Empire in pairs, one a noble layman, the other a bishop or other high ecclesiastic, to review the work of the counts.

    Reveal Answer

    Mozarabs means “would-be Arabs”; it is what the Christians who lived in al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) were called by Christians elsewhere.

    Old Church Slavonic
    Reveal Answer

    Old Church Slavonic is the name of a language created by the Byzantine missionaries Constantine-Cyril and Methodius. To spread Christianity among the Moravians, they devised an alphabet (the “Glagolitic” alphabet) that used Greek letters to represent the sounds of one Slavic dialect.

    Reveal Answer

    The lords of large estates in the Carolingian period, whether churchmen, monasteries, aristocrats, or royal officials, had their scribes draw up polyptyques to keep track of their peasants and the labor or other obligations that each peasant family owed.

    tagmata (sing. tagma)
    Reveal Answer

    A Greek word, it refers to the Byzantine mobile troops that were created in the second half of the eighth century. Not tied to any theme, these troops were largely composed of cavalry. At first deployed largely around Constantinople, the tagmata were eventually used in frontier battles. They helped Byzantium to expand in the ninth and tenth centuries.

    Reveal Answer

    These were small regional military units first created in the eighth century by Byzantine emperors anxious to organize the army into small local units. The recruits for each theme were drawn from the locality (also called a theme) in which they were stationed, and nearby communities were charged for their support. They were still led by strategoi, whose power was, however, more limited.

    three-field system
    Reveal Answer

    A system of grain and legume cultivation in which a third of the land was left fallow (uncultivated) in the course of a year. It meant an improvement in yield over the two-field system, in which half of the land was left fallow for regeneration.


    This plan is of a ninth-century mosque built in Cairo, but it could reasonably describe most mosques of the period. Square in shape, it features an open courtyard with a fountain (for ritual washing before entering the sanctuary). The most important point in the sanctuary is the mihrab, which pierces the wall that faces Mecca. The minaret is the tower from which the call to prayer is made.


    Caliphs were not necessarily succeeded by their sons. Rather, the caliphate remained within the same extended family, e.g., the title might go from brother to brother or even from cousin to cousin.

    Louis the Pious, his wife Judith, and his sons Lothar, Pippin I, Louis the German, and Charles the Bald were all involved. Louis the Pious had made arrangements for the division of his empire between his first three sons, but when he married his second wife, Judith, and had a fourth son, this (and the death of Pippin I) caused major problems with the earlier arrangements. The brothers engaged in a family feud that soon became a civil war. The war ended with the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

    Essay Questions

    Francia: Merovingian King Clovis (r.481/482–511) brought all the Frankish Kingdoms under his control. He adopted Catholic Christianity, which aligned him with the Gallo-Roman population. His dynasty ruled officially until 751, when the Carolingians deposed the last Merovingian king. Of all post-Roman kingdoms, the Frankish Kingdom was the most stable and successful, incorporating the Burgundian Kingdom and (under Charlemagne) the Lombard Kingdom of Italy.

    British Isles: The Germanic newcomers to Britain assimilated with the population already there, adhering to various forms of paganism and Christianity. That diversity ended with the arrival of missionaries from Rome at the end of the sixth century, and the whole of England adopted the Roman Catholic form of Christianity in the course of the seventh century. Its highly developed religious culture led Charlemagne to invite Alcuin, one of the most learned men of his day, to his court.

    Iberian Peninsula: The Visigothic Kingdom in Spain retained many Roman traditions but remained Arian until 589. Strife and civil war opened the way to the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula between 711 and 715, and the kingdom gave way to al-Andalus. A thin ribbon of regions to the north of the Iberian Peninsula retained their Christian identity.

    Italy: After the fall of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, the region there not held by Byzantium came under Lombard rule, with Pavia as its capital. The Lombards gradually converted from Arianism to Catholicism in the course of the seventh century. At the end of the eighth century, with the blessing of the pope, the Lombard Kingdom was conquered by Charlemagne and brought under Frankish rule.

    The three sibling heirs identified in your textbook are the Islamic Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Post-Roman barbarian kingdoms, especially the Frankish Kingdom. One could argue that the Catholic Church as a whole was yet another heir of the Roman Empire.


      • Considered itself the Roman Empire ruled by Roman emperors with the capital city at Constantinople rather than Rome.
      • Continued issuing laws in the Roman tradition (e.g., the Codex Justinianus).
      • Retained the Roman taxation system, allowing it to deploy professional armies (albeit organized differently from the Roman army).
      • Retained a Christian orientation, though the iconoclast controversy introduced a new element.

    The Islamic world:

      • Preserved classical, especially Greek, learning and philosophy, translated into Arabic.
      • Preserved remnants of the Roman taxation system.
      • Maintained a bureaucracy based on Roman models.
      • Tolerated Christians.
      • Made use of Roman architectural models and imported Byzantine artists and artisans (e.g., for the Great Mosque of Damascus).
      • Took advantage of a wide network of trade that included the Mediterranean, India, and China.
      • Minted coins based on Roman models.
      • Fostered urban centers.

    The barbarian kingdoms:

      • Adopted Christianity (initially Arian Christianity).
      • Continued the Roman Church structure of dioceses and bishops.
      • Recognized Rome as the center of Christianity and of its bishop (the pope) as leader of the Christian Church.
      • Adopted the Latin language in official documents and written works. England was the exception.
      • Modelled their courts on their impression of the Roman and Byzantine courts. When Charlemagne went to Rome in 800 he took the title “great and peaceful emperor who governs the Roman Empire.”
      • Continued some cross-Mediterranean trade.
      • Modeled their law codes on Roman law.

    One might be tempted to call al-Andalus Islamic because Muslims conquered it in the eighth century. Nevertheless, there are reasons to call al-Andalus “a society in the middle.” Some of these are as follows:

      • Most of the original inhabitants of the peninsula were Christians (though some were Jews). These people were not forced to convert. Around the year 900, only about 25 per cent of the population was Muslim.
      • While the rest of the Islamic world came under Abbasid rule, al-Andalus was ruled by the Umayyads. Hence, al-Andalus was politically separate from the rest of the Abbasid Islamic world.
      • The standing army of al-Andalus consisted largely of non-Arabs.
      • Geographically speaking, al-Andalus was a border-region at the edge of the Islamic world, with Christian kingdoms on the northern frontier and Abbasid realms to the east.
      • Culturally speaking, al-Andalus was a mixture of ethnicities and religions, visible in its arts, architecture, and literature. Its emirs sponsored scientific activities and literature of their own.

    Advantages of the imperial coronation for Charlemagne included

      • Gaining the imperial title and thus presenting himself as the heir of the Roman imperial tradition.
      • Presenting a challenge to the Byzantine Empire.
      • Securing spiritual legitimization and support of both God and his servant on earth, the pope.

    Disadvantages for Charlemagne:

      • In the future, the Frankish rulers would always have to confront the precedent of the first coronation, in which the pope “bestowed” the imperial title.
      • The title aroused resentment at Byzantium.

    Advantages of the imperial coronation for the pope include

      • Enjoying the role of “emperor-maker.”
      • The assurance of Carolingian protection through Rome’s alliance with the Franks.

    Disadvantages for the pope:

      • Further alienation from the Byzantine Empire.
      • Sole dependence upon Frankish military support.

    Your answer might include the following considerations:

      • The Byzantine Macedonian Renaissance was fostered by the emperors and their family members. The art of this renaissance drew on both classical models (weighty, rounded, interacting figures) and more recent styles emphasizing transcendence, hierarchy, and decorative elements. Scholars revived classical literature (e.g., Homer) while continuing to read more recent works (e.g., by the Church Fathers).
      • The Islamic Renaissance, most brilliant at Baghdad but also widespread throughout the wealthy Abbasid world, fostered adab literature, scientific writings, law treatises, and collections of hadith.
      • The Carolingian Renaissance was supported by the Carolingians, wealthy aristocrats, and monasteries. It emphasized copying manuscripts for use in churches and by churchmen, creating a form of musical notation, and writing original works of literature such as Dhuoda’s Handbook for Her Son.

    In general, then, all three emphasized literature. They all were supported by the wealthy and powerful. All fostered the revival of classical texts – Greek literature in the case of the Byzantines, Greek scientific works in the Islamic world, Latin literature, especially of the Church Fathers, in the case of the West. But in the Islamic world the renaissance included very practical writings for a thriving economy.

    Some possible responses include

      • Carolingian identity was very much dependent on Christian identity. Charlemagne (and his father, Pippin) allied himself with the pope, who eventually crowned him emperor. Carolingian kings were anointed, like bishops and priests, and they therefore had (it was believed) the support of God. The chief unifying tool in the Carolingian Empire was Christianity: monks, bishops, and abbots served as key figures in governing the Empire.
      • Byzantium’s identity was also largely tied to Christianity. Politics intermingled with religion, as may be seen from the clashes over iconoclasm. Byzantium committed itself to Orthodox Christianity via missionaries, who brought large regions under its influence. Yet religion wasn’t the only source of Byzantine identity. The classical Roman past was very important as well.
      • The caliphs were spiritual leaders, and religion was central to their authority. The language of the Qur’an was the common language of the Islamic world, and it colored thinking about numerous topics. Nevertheless, scholars, mathematicians, and poets complicated the identity of the Islamic world, as did the Christians and Jews there who adhered to their own traditions.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    The dynatoi took advantage of the general prosperity of the tenth century to gain new wealth. They gathered an entourage of military men and held positions in government. The Dalasseni family is a good example of these wealthy provincial landowners, whose power threatened to decentralize the Empire. But the emperors were not dethroned, and Emperor Basil II triumphed over the families that challenged his reign to emerge even stronger than before.

    Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. Unable to procreate and thus less potent than other men, exotic because they were both male and yet not quite, they were chosen to occupy some of the highest government offices – financial, administrative, and military. A good example is John the Orphanotrophos.

    Toward the middle of the eleventh century, the Jews of Constantinople were expelled and resettled in a walled quarter in Pera, on the northern bank of the Golden Horn (see Map 4.1). Other Byzantine cities did not expel Jews but nevertheless forbade them from mixing with Christians. Jews lost their status as “Roman citizens.” Legally, they became serfs and their religion was condemned as a heresy.

    Although by the mid-tenth century many Rus had become Christian, the official conversion of the whole people took place under Vladimir in 988. It is likely that he chose the Byzantine form of Christianity because of the prestige of the Empire under Basil II.

    The possibilities were Judaism (practiced by the Khazars), Islam (practiced by the Volga Bulgars), Catholic Christianity (practiced by West Europeans), and Orthodox Christianity (practiced by the Byzantines). The Rus probably chose the Byzantine religion because Byzantium was the closest major power and because it commanded great wealth and enormous prestige.

    The Abbasid caliphate was weakened by lack of revenue. Landowners, governors, and military leaders refused to pay taxes. In those circumstances, the caliphs had to rely on the rich farmland in modern-day Iraq that was farmed by the Zanj, black slaves from sub-Saharan East Africa. During 869 to 883 the Zanj revolted. Although the rebellion was eventually crushed, the caliphate did not recover. The Abbasid line survived, but the caliphs lost all political power.

    In 910 the Fatimids became the rulers of what is today Tunisia and Libya by allying themselves with the Berbers (Imazighen). They took advantage of the decline of Abbasid power and, within a half-century (even as they largely abandoned the Maghreb) they had moved eastwards to rule over Egypt, southern Syria, and the western edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Their empire was wealthy and cosmopolitan, with a flourishing textile industry and far-flung commercial relations. The Fatimids achieved the height of their power before the mid-eleventh century.

    The Fatimids were Shi‘ites, taking their name from Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, the wife of Ali. Their leader claimed not only to be the true imam, descendant of Ali, but also the Mahdi, the “divinely guided” messiah, come to bring justice on earth. Because of this, the Fatimids were proclaimed “caliphs” by their followers – the true “successors” of the Prophet.

    Islamic rulers often resorted to granting their commanders iqta – lands and villages – from which the iqta-holder was expected to gather revenues and pay their troops. This meant that even minor commanders could act as local governors, tax-collectors, and military leaders. In the West, vassals received fiefs for a similar purpose. The difference was that vassals were generally tied to one region, as were the men who fought for them. By contrast, the troops under Islamic local commanders were not connected to any particular place and were easily wooed by rivals. These troops were often composed of foreigners and former slaves (Mamluks).

    Arabic was the shared language of trade, communication, and scholarship in the Islamic world. Commerce, bureaucracy, and their religion (based on the Qur’an) encouraged merchants, government officials, and religious scholars to draw up documents and work out religious laws. The fragmentation of Abbasid power led to the creation of multiple courts where rulers patronized scholars and artists and supported translations into Arabic of Greek and Persian literature as well as philosophical and scientific works. Written on paper, books were cheap and popular even among the less wealthy, most of whom had gone at least to elementary school to learn listening, reciting, reading, and writing.

    Vikings settled in Greenland, Iceland, Labrador, Scotland, Ireland, the northeastern part of the British Isles, Normandy, North Africa, Sothern Italy, Sicily and, in the other direction, around Novgorod and Kiev.

    The Viking invasions inspired English unification under the leadership of King Alfred of Wessex (r.871–899), who reorganized the army, set up strongholds (burhs), and levied a new tax (later called the Danegeld). As the Vikings settled and the invasions came to an end, Alfred and his successors gradually gained control over a united England.

    The Peace of God was a movement spearheaded in 989 by some bishops in southern France and joined by the authorized armed attacks on those who stole ecclesiastical property, those who pillaged, and those who oppressed monks, nuns, and clerics. The Truce of God, created in the course of the eleventh century, prohibited warfare on certain days of the year.

    After the end of Carolingian rule, Germany might have split up in five powerful duchies. However, due to quarrels among themselves and the threat of outside invaders, the dukes who ruled those duchies decided to elect a king. The first Ottonian king was Henry I (r.919–936), duke of Saxony. He set up fortifications and reorganized his army, defeating the Hungarians in 933. In 955, his son Otto I (r.936–973) defeated the Hungarians once and for all at the battle of Lechfield. In 951, he became king of Italy, and in 962 he was crowned emperor in Rome. After that, Ottonian power was secure.

    Bishops and archbishops were the backbone of Ottonian rule. Ottonian rulers appointed them and played a key role in their installment ceremony (known as investiture). Establishing new bishoprics was an important part of Ottonian frontier policy. Bishops could be lords and vassals and could act as military leaders or rulers of cities. Their courts were important artistic and intellectual centers. Bishops were members of the high nobility and essentially played the same political role as worldly magnates, yet their offices could not be inherited, so the kings retained control of episcopal sees after the bishops died.

    Cities were important for the activities of nobles, churchmen, peasants, merchants, and craftspeople. This is truest of all in Italy. There, wealthy and influential families established fortifications within the city walls, and from this secure position, lay and religious nobles dominated the city and its surrounding rural area (the contado). Peasants came to the city to bring rents to urban landlords and to sell their goods at city markets, where their clients included nobles, middle-class shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants. Merchants established their headquarters in cities and craftspeople worked in city shops.

    The Carolingians were displaced by the Capetian dynasty in 987. They held important estates in the region of Paris, the so-called Ile-de-France.

    The Ottonians were strong militarily (as they demonstrated at Lechfeld). They were economically strong, with their estates, access to silver mines, and close ties with Italy. The power of the French kings was more limited. In France, military conflicts were among local counts or other lords, while the king’s might extended only to the region around Paris. During much of the tenth century the Capetians competed with the Carolingians for the throne. Only with the election of Hugh Capet (r.987–996) was the dynastic conflict settled. Although the Capetians had considerably less power than the Ottonian kings, they had the prestige of their office. Anointed with holy oil, they represented the idea of unity and God-given rule inherited from Charlemagne. Most of the counts and dukes – at least those in the north of France – swore homage and fealty to the king, a gesture, however weak, of personal support. Unlike the German kings, the French could rely on vassalage to bind the great men of the realm to them. This would prove decisive in the long run.

    The new states were Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary. By the first half of the eleventh century, all three were Christian. In many ways they formed “an interconnected bloc” as their ruling houses intermarried with one another and with the great families of the German Empire to their west.


    The city’s major buildings were the great palace, the hippodrome, and many churches and monasteries, especially Hagia Sophia. Constantinople’s geographical position and its city walls were crucial for the defense of the city. Despite Byzantium’s various military failures, its capital city was conquered only twice in its history: during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks.

    By 1025 the Byzantine Empire once again touched the Danube and Euphrates Rivers. It included Armenia and the Levant, the Dalmatian coast (along the Adriatic), former lands of the Croats and Serbs, and Bulgaria. All these were border regions, linking Byzantium to the Slavic north and Islamic east, while at the same time buffering it from attacks.

    By c.1000 the Islamic world was no longer led by the Abbasids. Regional powers overshadowed the power of the caliphs. The most significant rulers of the new local entities were the Samanids, Buyids, Hamdanids, Fatimids, and Zirids. Of these, the Fatimids were the most important. The new fragmentation was due more to the resilience of local powers and regional affiliations than to the geographical extent of the Abbasid caliphate.

    In Europe, the Vikings mainly attacked coastal areas and regions close to rivers. They were expert boatmen, but they had to rely on seas and waterways. On the ocean they could travel as much as five hundred miles between ports.

    Compared to the impact of the Hungarian raids, which affected most of continental Europe, the scope of Muslim raids was rather limited and affected mainly Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Provence, and the Balearic Islands (near al-Andalus).

    Germany dominates the map. Its reach was due to the Ottonians, especially Otto I, who defeated rival family members, rebellious dukes, and Slavic and Hungarian armies soon after coming to the throne in 936. Through astute marriage alliances and appointments, and by annexing the Kingdom of Italy, Germany became the major territorial entity and an empire as well when Otto was crowned emperor in 962.


    John the Orphanotrophos sits on the throne in the Imperial Palace. He rules in the name of his brother, Emperor Michael IV, and here sends a political adversary into exile. The depiction illustrates how eunuchs might gain considerable political power in the Byzantine Empire.

    This tenth-century Norwegian silver hoard proves that there were lively connections between Viking and Islamic traders, because it contains a large number of Islamic coins. It also contains jewelry and hacksilver, both forms of wealth. Hoards such as this suggest that Scandinavian life was beset by danger, for that is when people generally bury coins and other valuables. Of course they hope to unearth the treasure once stability is restored. Whoever buried this hoard, however, never had a chance to repossess it.

    The letter was accidentally preserved in the Fustat geniza (see Terms below). The letter suggests the vast networks involved in commerce in the Islamic world as well as their perils – in this case piracy and enslavement. It also reveals some of the social conventions of the day and the important roles of collective action and charity within the Jewish community.

    Despite the fact that Muhammad had prohibited ostentatious burials, the cemetery contains sophisticated mudbrick tombs and mausolea showing the wealth and prosperity of the Fatimid Empire in the eleventh century.

    The ship was used for a ceremonial burial. Found in a grave mound, its hull contained the skeletons of two women. Additionally, archeologists have found fine artifacts, food (fruits, berries, and walnuts), birds and other animals. The ship was decorated with wooden carvings that show the intricacy and finesse of Viking craftmanship.

    Plate 4.6 represents a battle of the biblical past (the Maccabean Revolt) recreated on the basis of the military experiences of the eleventh century. It depicts the armor and the weapons of the artist’s day, but the wild colors that he used and the elephants that he tried to depict were products of his imagination. Since the artist was a monk yet knew a lot about the battles of his day, it is clear that monasteries participated in the world of the warriors.

    The peasants are using a heavy moldboard plow suitable to turn wet, clayey soils. It was usually pulled by oxen but horses could be used as well.


    The Carolingian genealogy shows that the kingdom was divided among male sons. The genealogy of the caliphs and the English kings shows that brothers or even nephews could succeed each other as rulers. Daughters did not succeed to rulership but they were political assets to be married off to other rulers to create alliances.


    The Decretum by Burchard of Worms was a systematic collection of canon laws (acts of church councils and papal decrees). Burchard selected the most important canons and reconciled those that were contradictory. His book contained long sections on sins, especially sexual transgressions, and on appropriate forms of penance. It was widely influential.

    Reveal Answer

    A castellan held a castle – a stronghold. It gave him the power (with the help of his men, who manned the castle) to rule over the local population. Castles might be very primitive wooden fortifications, though some were more sturdy stone structures. A castellan might hold more than one castle, and he exercised the ban – the right to command and punish – over the territories dominated by his castles.

    Reveal Answer

    The contado was the rural area located outside – but nevertheless seen as an integral part of – Italian cities.

    Reveal Answer

    A fief (feodum in Latin) was an estate that was held by a vassal from a lord and generally was given out in return for military service.

    dynatoi (sing. dynatos)
    Reveal Answer

    The dynatoi – meaning “powerful men” – were a new (tenth-century) class of wealthy provincial landowners in the Byzantine Empire.

    Reveal Answer

    These words mean, respectively, “faithful ones,” “men,” and “vassals.” All were terms used for men (and sometimes women) of the upper, free classes. They generally referred to armed retainers who fought for a lord. Sometimes these subordinates held land from their lord, either as a reward for their military service or as an inheritance for which services were due. Lords depended on vassals to serve them, fight for them, show them deference, and support them. Typically an upper-class free man was lord of several vassals while he himself was the vassal of another lord.

    Reveal Answer

    A geniza was a repository originally used by Jews for sacred texts that contained the name of God and therefore could not be destroyed. Sometimes secular texts ended up in a geniza as well. Usually, the texts in a geniza were meant to be burned at some point. But the geniza of Fustat (Old Cairo) was an exception because it was never emptied and contained texts reaching back to the eleventh century. It is a treasure house of information about the society, economy, and concerns of the time.

    Reveal Answer

    Investiture was the ceremony of installing a new bishop or archbishop and handing over his symbols of power.

    moldboard plow
    Reveal Answer

    The moldboard plow was a heavy plow that came into wide use in the tenth century. It could turn wet, clayey soil more effectively than scratch plows. The moldboard plow, which was pulled by oxen and sometimes horses, led to better harvests and improved the standard of living for nearly everyone, especially when it was paired with the three-field system.

    Reveal Answer

    Mausolea are buildings used for burials. Each may hold more than one body. They were particularly popular in Shi‘ite cultures such as the Fatimid.

    These were the three social “orders” recognized by writers in the medieval West in the ninth to eleventh century. The oratores were those who prayed, the bellatores those who fought, and the laboratores those who worked. The oratores and bellatores were often bound in relations of vassalage (as lords, as vassals, or both); the laboratores were often of unfree status.

    Reveal Answer

    Primogeniture is a form of inheritance that privileges the oldest child. In the eleventh century, primogeniture favoring the oldest son became the practice in many elite families. However, in some regions other forms of inheritance prevailed, such as privileging the youngest son, distributing the inheritance equally among surviving sons, and allowing even daughters to inherit property.

    Reveal Answer

    In the tenth century, England was divided into districts that were called shires. Each shire had a sheriff, appointed by the king, to oversee its administration.

    Reveal Answer

    Taifas were the small principalities that developed in al-Andalus after the civil war that brought an end to central rule under the Umayyad rulers at Córdoba.

    Essay Questions

    You might note that private relationships were not equally important in all regions of Europe. Below are some examples.


      • Private relationships were clearly important in France, as regions came under the control of local leaders, who acted as the lords of free vassals and unfree peasants.
      • French kings had no consistent tax base and could not pay salaried officials. Instead, they depended on the personal loyalties of their vassals, to whom they gave fiefs.
      • The counts and dukes of France were (theoretically at least) vassals of the king.


      • Vassalage was not very important in Germany, though other forms of personal relations, such as those forged through marriage alliances and investiture ceremonies (see Terms above), were of great significance.
      • Although the dukes of Germany were not vassals of the king, not even theoretically, they did owe him loyalty for his disbursements of wealth, land, and offices.


      • Like Germany, while vassalage was not a pervasive institution in England, the idea of personal loyalty was important. The great landowners adhered to the king because they found it in their interest to do so.
      • Nevertheless, other institutions also regulated political life; consider, for example, Alfred’s law code, written for all of non-Viking England and his organization of England into shires.

    Your answer might include these points:

      • In France, the activities of the Vikings led to an acceleration of political fragmentation. As the French king was too weak to stave off attacks effectively, local lords took over regional defense. Afterwards they remained independent in power and authority.
      • In Germany and England, invasions had the opposite effect.
      • The Viking invasions in England made it possible for King Alfred of Wessex and his successors to consolidate their power over most of the other English kingdoms. Alfred organized and centralized defensive institutions, building burhs and creating a navy, and he issued a law code to apply to all the kingdoms.
      • In Germany, Viking, Slav, and Hungarian invasions turned military leaders into kings (consider Henry I), and kings into emperors (consider Otto I). In this sense, invasions served to decrease regional power struggles.
      • The Viking movements eastward led to the formation of Rus’.

    Your answer might include these points:

      • Although the history of Rus’ began before c.1000, the conversion of Vladimir (r.c.978–1015) to the Byzantine form of Christianity brought it into a wider cultural, religious, and political network.
      • Around 1000 the kings of Denmark and Norway converted to the Roman form of Christianity, thus allying their states with the western (not Byzantine) cultural, religious, and political network. They strengthened their hold over their kingdoms with the help of the Church.
      • In 990/991 Mieszko consolidated his rule by placing Poland under the protection of the Roman papacy. In 1000/1001 Stephen of Hungary was crowned king, turning to Christian and classical models of rulership to give strength and coherence to his fledgling state.
      • Thus, in general, the religious conversions of rulers that took place around 1000 went hand in hand with state-making.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    The Seljuk Turks were pastoralists and warriors from the Kazakh steppe – the extensive Eurasian grasslands of Kazakhstan. Moving west, they took over the eastern half of the Islamic world and moved into Byzantine Anatolia in the eleventh century. By the end of that century, they had formed two sultanates: the Great Seljuk sultanate (based in Iran), and the sultanate of Rum (in Anatolia). Because the Seljuks were Sunni Muslims, their extensive conquests ended the domination of the Shi‘ites that had emerged in the wake of Abbasid decline. Their conquest of Jerusalem (c.1075) and of Anatolia led indirectly to the First Crusade (1096), which was Pope Urban II’s response to the Byzantine emperor Alexis’s request for military aid against the Seljuks.

    Originally pastoralists from the Sahara Desert, these Berber tribesmen followed a strict form of Sunni orthodoxy. Fired with zeal on behalf of their religious beliefs and also seeking economic opportunity, they formed a federation known as the Murabitun (Almoravids) and began conquering the (largely Shi‘ite) regions to their north – the Maghreb. The foundation of their city at Marrakesh c.1070 marked the Almoravid’s transformation from pastoralists to state-builders. They began to conquer al-Andalus after 1086 and controlled it by c.1115.

    The Almoravids were initially not interested in conquering al-Andalus. But the Andalusian taifa rulers turned to them for support in their fight against the Christian armies that were encroaching on them from the north of Spain. Disagreeing with the taifa leaders’ “lax” form of Islam, the Almoravids began to conquer the peninsula on their own behalf.

    The Almoravids dominated the route from Sijilmasa to Awdaghust, which was not only a lucrative trade corridor for both the Almoravids and the Empire of Ghana but also a conduit for Islamization. The Almoravids were zealous Muslims, and they missionized West Africa.

    In the eleventh century the Pechenegs entered the Balkans, the Seljuk Turks took Anatolia, and the Normans made raids on Byzantine territory in southern Italy and the Balkans. While the Byzantines let the Normans take Bari, they managed to defeat them in the Balkans. Rather than fight the Pechenegs, the Byzantines welcomed them, administering baptism, conferring titles, and settling them in depopulated regions. In Anatolia they sometimes employed the Seljuk Turks to help them fight rival dynatoi. But they also opposed them militarily, and for that they called on the pope to help supply them with mercenaries. (The pope chose to misunderstand and called the First Crusade.)

    The Normans, some of whom had established themselves in southern Italy, began attacks on Muslim Sicily in 1060 and conquered it by 1093. Still more ambitiously, they attacked Byzantine territory as well. In 1130, the Norman King Roger II ruled over a realm known as the Kingdom of Sicily; it included the whole of Sicily and also southern Italy. (See Map 5.3.)

    Cluny was founded and endowed by an aristocratic family (which was common), but the founders then turned over its ownership to the Saints Peter and Paul and assigned the pope (as Peter’s successor) the role of Cluny’s protector. That move was meant to give the monastery freedom from all earthly powers in order to carry out in dazzling manner the role of “those who pray.” Through their prayers, interceding with God and the saints in heaven, the Cluniacs seemed to guarantee the salvation of all Christians. Cluny received gifts of land from rulers, bishops, landowners, and even serfs. The abbots of Cluny were called to reform other monasteries according to the Cluniac model. They regarded themselves reformers of both the cloister and the secular world. They believed in clerical celibacy and the moral reform of the laity.

    The second half of the eleventh century saw a strong economic upturn that lasted until the middle of the twelfth century. Land cultivation increased as peasants drained marshes and built dikes. The heavy moldboard plow and the three-field system improved harvests and created surpluses that stimulated trade and led to the establishment of markets. Aristocratic landowners consolidated their control over land by giving privileges to peasants who settled on inhospitable land but at the same time set up mills that the peasants were obliged to use. Demographic growth fueled the development of villages and cities, which gained stronger collective identities. Roads were improved and the use of rivers as a means of transportation increased. Urban centers arose, especially in Flanders and England, in the Rhineland and in northern Italy. Seafaring cities such as Venice, Genoa, and Pisa established trade routes across the Mediterranean Sea and made Europe part of a global economy.

    The Gregorian Reform fought nicolaitism (clerical marriage) and simony (buying Church offices). Celibate priests were considered purer than others and therefore more suitable for their office. Moreover, celibacy ensured that no sons of priests could claim Church property. What had previously been considered “gifts” for providing the sacraments or obtaining Church offices were, according to the Gregorians, attempts to purchase the Holy Sprit. Other objectives of the reform included fortifying the primacy and spiritual authority of the pope as head of the Christian Church and gaining control over the appointment of bishops. Their insistence on taking episcopal appointments away from the laity led to the Investiture Conflict.

    Urban’s call fired up the zeal and greed of many, but the pope meant to control the armies and authorized several. However, the so-called Peoples or Peasants Crusade were not authorized. Inspired by popular preachers, they took a land route to Jerusalem in order to kill or convert the Rhineland Jews (whom they considered a “wicked race,” much as the pope had termed the Muslims). Although the Rhineland Jews had formal protection from the local bishops at Metz, Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne, that did not prevent them from being massacred.

    The Gregorian Reform worsened the relations between the papacy and Byzantium, as new papal claims on power threatened the position of the patriarch in Constantinople. In 1054, papal legates excommunicated the patriarch, and he excommunicated them in turn. The conflict was never entirely resolved, and the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches remain separate to this day.

    The key issue in the Investiture Conflict was who – the pope or the German emperor – had the right to appoint and “invest” bishops. For centuries, kings – and then emperors – had exercised this right. The pope, who was a bishop himself and wanted to free the Church from worldly influences, disputed the emperor’s role in particular because the emperor claimed his customary rights over Church appointments in Italy. France was further from the Rome and therefore less worrisome to the popes.

    The conflict ended with the Concordat of Worms in 1122, a compromise that relied on a conceptual distinction between the two parts of investiture: the spiritual and the secular. In the first part of the ceremony the bishop-to-be was to receive from another churchman the spiritual symbols of his office: the ring and staff. In the second part, he was to be touched with a scepter by the emperor or his representative, signifying the secular lands and other possessions that went with his office. Bishops in Germany were elected “in the presence” of the emperor, thus under his influence. The pope played a similar role in Italy.

    The main objectives of the First Crusade were not, as the Byzantines hoped, to help Byzantium retake Anatolia from the Seljuks, but to make an armed pilgrimage under the leadership of the pope to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule. Calling men to arms and organizing military expeditions were usually the work of monarchs and other secular rulers. That the pope’s new role included this, along with his expanded bureaucracy and court system, suggests that the papacy had in effect turned into a monarchy.

    England had always been linked to the Continent. The Vikings who settled in its eastern half in the ninth century strengthened that connection, and later Cnut was king of both England and Denmark. Meanwhile, the Vikings conquered Normandy, receiving it as a duchy in 911 from the Frankish King Charles the Simple. So it should not be surprising that in 1066, Duke William of Normandy left the Continent for England to claim the crown of the childless King Edward the Confessor (r.1042–1066). Opposing his claim was Harold Godwineson, Edward’s brother-in-law, earl of Wessex, and crowned king of England the day after Edward’s death. Confronting William at Hastings, he lost the battle. William was crowned the first Norman king of England. (See Genealogy 5.4.)

    Norman rule over England was extremely efficient. When William of Normandy became king, he kept 20 per cent of English territory for himself, ensuring him a steady income. He gave the rest to a small number of his barons, family members, servants, and soldiers. They became the king’s vassals and owed him the military service of their own vassals. The king collected a land tax based on a survey of most of the land and serfs in his kingdom; it came to be known as Domesday Book. Through his possessions on the other side of the Channel, the king maintained political, cultural, and economic ties to the Continent, which fostered, for example, the trade between England (which exported wool) and Flanders (which used the wool for cloth production).

    Suger (1081–1151) was the abbot of Saint-Denis, a monastery just outside Paris, as well as the biographer of and propagandist for the king of France, Louis VI. Louis’s virtues were amplified and broadcast by Suger, a close associate of the king. When Louis set himself the task of consolidating his rule in the Ile-de-France, Suger portrayed the king as a righteous hero. According to Suger, the king was not just a lord who had vassals, he was also ruler of the French nobility, the peacekeeper of France, and the protector of the Christian faith there. His royal dignity was sacred.

    The Spanish kings established military, religious, and dynastic ties to the rest of Europe. Armies from France got involved in wars against Almoravid Spain. Alfonso VI of León and Castile sought papal recognition as the king of Spain, strengthening ties to the pope in Italy. The shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela attracted pilgrims from France, England, Germany, and Italy. Monks from Cluny reformed Spanish monasteries.

    Ironically, Portugal (the name came from Portucalia: land of ports) was the creation of Alfonso VI, king of Castile and León. Ruler of the county of Portugal as king of León, in 1095 he granted his rights there to his illegitimate daughter Teresa and her husband, Henry of Burgundy. They remained Alfonso’s vassals, but their son, Count Afonso Henriques, rejected the domination of León, took the title of prince of Portugal in 1129, and began to encroach on Islamic territory to his south. In 1139 he defeated the Almoravids and took the title of king of Portugal under the name of Afonso I, though Pope Alexander III (1159–1181) recognized Portugal as an independent kingdom only in 1179.

    From the Carolingian period on, monastic and cathedral schools trained young men for ecclesiastical careers. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries some cathedral schools in major cities gained prestige and boasted the best masters (teachers). These masters attracted students from near and far to pursue knowledge for its own sake and to be employed as administrators in both Church and State. Some students specialized in theology, medicine, and law. A few schools, initially those at Paris, Bologna, and Salerno, became the first universities, with special royal and papal privileges.

    These were the subjects taught in medieval schools and universities. The basic ones were grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (logic). The advanced arts were music (theory), geometry, arithmetic (number theory), and astronomy.

    European students and masters agreed that logic was the key to solving the issues of their day. But they could not read the best works on logic, which had been written in Greek in the fourth century bce by Aristotle. By contrast, scholars in the Islamic world not only could read Aristotle’s works but also (in the course of the eleventh century) translated and commented on those works in Arabic. In the next century, Latin scholars went to Islamic or formerly Islamic cities to learn to read the Arabic texts and to create workable Latin translations of Aristotle’s works. In the thirteenth century Aristotle’s logic was considered authoritative by most masters working in European universities.

    Reacting against the new wealth of their age, both movements tried to find refuge from the bustling economy of Western Europe. Equally, they wanted to set themselves apart from the splendor and extravagance of monastic life as it was exemplified at Cluny. The new movements aimed at reinstating the values of poverty, simplicity, ascetic life, and withdrawal from the world that they believed characterized monastic life in its early centuries.

    Muslims continued to live in Sicily under Norman rule; Monophysites and Orthodox Christians lived in the Seljuk Empire of Rum; Islam was practiced with regional adaptations in Ghana.


    Seljuks, Pechenegs, and Normans invaded the Byzantine Empire. Seljuk Turks, who had converted to Sunni Islam, had the most significant impact on both the Byzantine and Islamic worlds. They took over Baghdad and settled in Anatolia. The Turkic Pechenegs entered the Balkans and were eventually assimilated into Byzantine political life. The Normans in Italy attacked the Balkans. They did not prevail, but they remained a potent threat to Byzantium.

    No, the Almoravids were at first not particularly interested in al-Andalus. But the Andalusian taifa rulers kept calling on them to help fight the Christian armies encroaching from the north of Spain. After 1086, the Almoravids began to conquer the peninsula on their own behalf.

    In Map 5.3 Normandy and England are all under one ruler; the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula have encroached much further on al-Andalus (now controlled by the Almoravids); and both Sicily and southern Italy have come under Norman rule.

    Economic development accounted for many of the transformations: a bridge was built over the Loire River, there were three markets, and a new wall was built around the old city. But religion also accounted for many changes. Already by c.1100, the tenth-century walls around the church of Saint-Martin were not large enough to contain the many buildings and markets there. The church had become the hub of a small town dense enough to boast eleven parish churches, merchant and artisan shops, private houses, and two markets.

    Apart from the northerly route in green representing the People’s or Peasants’ Crusade, the two most important official routes began in southern France (at Lyon and Vienne), the first (in red) skirting the east coast of the Adriatic, the other (in yellow) going through Italy (but avoiding most of the mountains there). The Norman Bohemond of Taranto (the blue arrow) met up with the other official armies at Thessalonica, and all eventually made their way to Constantinople. (By then many of the participants in the People’s Crusade had dispersed.)


    The strength and wealth of both Seljuk sultanates (the Great Seljuk sultanate and the Seljuk sultanate of Rum in Anatolia) were particularly visible in their architecture. Plates 5.1 and 5.2 show the Isfahan Mosque in Iran. First built in the tenth century, it received a major face-lift under Great Sultan Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, who focused his patronage on its courtyard, the heart of its many buildings (Plate 5.1). Competing for Nizam al-Mulk’s power, his rival Taj al-Mulk showed off his own importance by building another square-domed room, in his case directly to the north of the courtyard (Plate 5.2). The perfection of the north dome demonstrates the skill of Seljuk architects.

    This fragment was made of silk “home-grown” by worms living on the mulberry trees of southern Spain. The silk worms came to Spain through the trade connections of the Almoravid empire. Due to its fine workmanship, silk from Almería was sought after by the Spanish kings. This particular fragment of Almoravid silk was used to wrap the precious relics at the cathedral of Sigüenza despite the fact that it was decorated with Islamic inscriptions.

    This stele was found at a cemetery near what is today the archeological site of Gao Saney, Mali. The stone was quarried in Iberia, inscribed with a Qur’anic-inflected poem at Almería and then transported across to the Sahara to Mali. It bears witness to the long-distance commercial and cultural relations established by the Almoravid Empire.

    The plate is an expression of the self-confidence of the artisans working at Modena Cathedral who were intensely aware of the dignity of manual labor and the importance of their own craft. Their self-confidence manifested itself also in the fact that artisans and craftsmen organized themselves as guilds to set quality standards for their work and profession.

    In this image, the king is handing the bishop his pastoral staff, the symbol of the bishop’s spiritual duty as the shepherd of his flock. But the reformers objected to the notion that the king, a mere layman (as they thought) could confer spiritual powers. In the Concordat of Worms (1122), the formal settlement of the Investiture Conflict, the pope or his representative gained the right to perform this part of the investiture of a bishop.

    In the traditional narrative, Henry IV humiliates himself before Pope Gregory VII by standing outside the castle at Canossa as a penitent. In the illumination here, however, he kneels before Countess Matilda of Tuscany, whose castle it was. Matilda was a staunch supporter of the pope. Even so, the artist of this book, a biography of the countess, gives her (not the pope) the decisive role in the events of Canossa.

    Crac des Chevaliers was granted by Count Raymond II of Tripoli to the Hospitallers, one of the military orders responsible for the protection of the Crusader States. They turned it into a center of defense and administration, housing a large garrison.

    Celebrating the trade guilds, the cathedral at Modena reveled in carvings of both human figures and vegetation. The interior offers a pervasive impression of strength and refinement, its massive columns alternating with more delicate piers. The exterior hints at the interior, revealing the tripartite division of the nave and flanking central portal. (The rose window in the middle is a later addition.) Both the interior and exterior play with the tension between drawing the eye horizontally (emphasizing the massiveness of the structure) and skyward (emphasizing the lift of the soul to God).

    Modena Cathedral communicates both strength and refinement. It draws equally on classical traditions (with figures in the round) and ornamental patterns. The Cistercians who built Sénanque rejected splendor and ornamentation. The architecture is simple and unadorned, serene and luminous. Yet both the monastic church in Plate 5.9 and the cathedral at Modena are alike in projecting monumentality and solidity. The predominance of round arches in both is the feature that gave this architectural style its name: the arches reminded art historians of Roman aqueducts.


    Only the monks had access to the cloister that was the center of the monastic enclosure. The monks’ section of the monastery included a chapter house, a common room, and a warming room. The chapter house was the place where the monks discussed policy and made decisions. The common room allowed for social interaction, and the warming room was the only place in the monastery that could be heated. These rooms indicate the higher social status of monks: they were allowed to partake in the monastery’s decision making; they had leisure time and the luxury of warming themselves in winter. The lay brothers had a place to eat (the refectory), to sleep (the dormitory), and to recuperate from illness (the infirmary). Even though lay brothers had access to the church, only the monks had access to the altar, the liturgical center of the church.


    Reveal Answer

    A commune was the term for town and city self-government. Urban dwellers of all classes found communes to be in their mutual interest because they provided reliable coinage, laws to facilitate commerce, freedom from servile dues and services, and independence to buy and sell as the market dictated. City dwellers petitioned (or fought) the political powers that ruled them – bishops, kings, counts, castellans, dukes – for the right to have a commune. Collective movements for urban self-government were especially prevalent in Italy, France, and Germany.

    Decretum Gratiani
    Reveal Answer

    The Decretum was a collection of Church laws assembled by Gratian around 1140. Its original title was Harmony of Discordant Canons because it was an attempt to reconcile seemingly contradicting decrees of popes and acts of councils. It formed the basis of future Church law and became a major instrument for establishing the primacy of the popes.

    Domesday Book
    Reveal Answer

    The Domesday Book was a detailed survey of the land and landholders of England commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1068 in order to impose taxes on the English people in an efficient manner. It was the most extensive inventory of land, livestock, taxes, and people that had as yet been compiled anywhere in medieval Europe.

    Reveal Answer

    Guilds were professional organizations of merchants and artisans. They were social, religious, and economic associations. Craft guilds determined quality standards for their products, set work hours, materials and prices. Merchant guilds regulated business agreements and determined weights, measures, and prices. Their members (who were mostly male, except in a few professions) were guaranteed a place in the market. While urban walls protected the cities, guilds served as social and economic “walls” that protected their members, shaped a shared identity, and safeguarded their status.

    Reveal Answer

    Investiture was the ritual by which bishops and other clergymen were placed in office. In Germany and Italy, it was traditionally presided over by the emperor or his representative. Because it included elements that symbolized the handing over of both the spiritual Church office and the lands belonging to the Church, it became a point of conflict between the pope and the emperor during the Investiture Conflict.

    Reveal Answer

    A bit like the European fief, the iqta was a way for Islamic rulers to pay for military service by giving fighters the right to collect the revenues due from a particular piece of land (the iqta). Under the Seljuks its use was greatly expanded to pay not only army leaders (emirs), but also bureaucrats and favored members of the dynasty.

    Knights Templars and Hospitallers were monks (celibate men who lived together and followed a religious rule) and warriors (skilled knights) at the same time. Their task was to defend town garrisons of the Crusader States and transfer money from Europe to the Holy Land.

    Reveal Answer

    Madrasas were the schools of advanced scholarship in the Islamic world. Normally attached to mosques, the madrasas were attended by young men studying religion, law, and literature.

    nicolaitism and simony
    Reveal Answer

    Nicolaitism refers to clerical marriage and simony to buying Church offices. Both were considered abuses and were banned by eleventh-century Church reformers.

    Reveal Answer

    Meaning “reconquest,” the word refers to the Christian expansion at the expense of the Islamic territories of al-Andalus (Spain). From the eleventh century on, it was waged under the aegis of the papacy, which transformed the reconquista into a holy war.

    Reveal Answer

    Romanesque is the monumental architectural style favored in twelfth-century Europe. Built of stone, Romanesque churches are massive, weighty, and dignified. Most are enlivened by sculpture, wall paintings, or (at least) ornamental motifs.


    Many sultans ruled for quite a long time: Tughril for twenty-six years, Malikshah for twenty years, Muhammad Tapar for thirteen years, and so on. We may, cautiously, use this as an indicator of political stability. But to be certain, we would have to see if they reigned until they died, whether they died of natural causes, and whether their sultanates expanded or contracted during their reigns.

    The Comneni were able to establish a fairly stable dynasty that ruled for over a century, with marriage alliances playing a central role. The imperial office stayed in the family in part because of the role of women. Note, for example, that Agnes-Anna, who was first married to Alexius II, was the link to the next emperor, Andronicus, her second husband.

    Essay Questions

    Your answer might include these points:

      • The Europeans involved in the First Crusade fought in order to free the Holy Land from the Muslims, who were considered a “wicked race,” and to conquer it for themselves. The First Crusade resulted in the Christian occupation of the Levant and the creation of the Crusader States.
      • The reconquista under the leadership of Christian rulers in northern Spain was justified as a re-conquest rather than a conquest by claiming that the Iberian Peninsula had once been Christian (under the Visigoths) and that Christians had a holy mission to rule all of it. Unlike the First Crusade, which conquered land far from Europe, the reconquista was a Spanish endeavor, though joined by knights from elsewhere, especially France.
      • The crusade to the Rhineland began as part of the First Crusade but took an alternative path in order to attack the Jews, who were considered to be a “wicked race” closer to home than the Muslims. The Europeans who participated in this attack sought to purify the Rhineland of a pernicious people by killing them or forcing them to convert. They did not seek to conquer the region, but they did profit from the money and plunder of the Jews they attacked.

    Main goals of the reformers:

      • To purify the Church and free it from the world, Church reformers singled out and then swept away two clerical abuses: nicolaitism and simony.
      • To assert papal leadership, indeed supremacy, over the Church, Pope Leo IX (1049–1054) revolutionized the papacy. He had himself elected by the “clergy and people” to satisfy the demands of canon law. Unlike earlier popes, Leo often left Rome to preside over church councils and make the pope’s influence felt outside Italy, especially in France and Germany.
      • Papal supremacy was formulated along the following lines: as the successor to the special privileges of Saint Peter (the power to “bind and loose,” i.e., the power to impose penance and absolve from sins), the pope was the chief authority of the Roman Church, which he claimed was the “head and mother of all churches.”
      • Since Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) advocated papal primacy, he clashed directly with the king/emperor of Germany over Church leadership. This clash is called the Investiture Conflict.
      • To wield power over Church matters, the reformed papacy, now acting like a monarchy, began to wield new forms of power: calling for holy wars against the enemies of the Church and setting up revenue collecting and judicial bureaucracies.

    You might argue that the reformers did succeed:

      • The Church increased its power and authority by defying emperors, promulgating canon law, and lessening the influence of the emperor on the investiture of churchmen.

    You might also argue that the reformers did not succeed:

      • The Investiture Conflict ended in a compromise (the Concordat of Worms, 1122) and was therefore not a complete success for the pope. Moreover, the papacy didn’t really stop dealing with worldly matters (consider its call for a war later called the crusades). Meanwhile, secular rulers continued to have considerable say in the appointment of churchmen and considerable prestige as defenders of the faith.

    Your answer might include these points:

      • Commerce was sustained and invigorated by merchants and traders both local and long distance. The widespread use of money allowed villages to mesh with wider commercial networks as well – those of towns and cities. These urban centers were dispersed all over the map of Europe, but an especially dense network (you may trace it on Map 5.3) formed an arc that began on the two sides of the English Channel (with trade between England and Flanders), curved for a bit around the southern coast of the North Sea, and then plunged southward along the Rhine (taking in the cities of Cologne, Mainz, Worms, and Speyer). It picked up again in the northern half of Italy, taking in the Po River valley and extending down to the seafaring cities of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa – cities that were increasingly doing business in the Maghreb and at Constantinople and thus were linchpins in an increasingly hemisphere-wide circulation of goods.
      • Merchants invented new forms of collective enterprises to pool their resources and finance large undertakings. They underwrote cloth industries powered by water mills and deep-mining technologies that provided Europeans with hitherto untapped sources of metals. Forging techniques improved, and iron was for the first time regularly used for agricultural tools, plows, and weapons. Beer, a major source of nutrition in the north of Europe, moved from the domestic hearth and monastic estates to urban centers, where brewers gained special privileges to ply their trade.
      • City dwellers elaborated new instruments of commerce, self-regulating organizations (above all, guilds), and forms of self-government (often communes).

    Your answer might include these points:

      • New forms of learning included emphasis on the systematic study of the liberal arts – grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Of these arts, logic had pride of place in the new schools.
      • New schools and universities sprang up as advanced learning became institutionalized. Paris became the center for the study of theology; Bologna for the study of law (including canon law); Salerno and Montpellier for the study of medicine.
      • New forms of religious life focused on rejecting wealth and embracing poverty. The Carthusians and Cistercians reacted against the wealth of the black monks (e.g., the Cluniacs) and sought simplicity in their daily lives, their buildings, and their clothing.
      • Both the new scholarship and new forms of religious life were responding to the rise of a commercial economy. Money and excellent career opportunities drew some people to urban centers of learning, but others fled the money economy and sought the seclusion of a hermit’s life.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    The Almohads were a Berber group from the Maghreb (the western part of North Africa). They were similar to the Almoravids in espousing Sunni Islam, but they read the sacred texts differently and were more militant. In the course of the twelfth century they took over the Maghreb and then al-Andalus. But a comparison of their empire (Map 6.1) with that of the Almoravids (Map 5.2) shows that their sway did not extend so far south.

    Saladin was from a family of Kurdish warriors known as the Ayyubids. He and his uncle took control over Egypt, originally in the name of Nur al-Din, conqueror of Syria, and brought Egypt back to the Sunni fold. From Egypt, Saladin took over Syria and attacked the Crusader States. In 1187 he conquered Jerusalem at the battle of Hattin. The Ayyubid Empire of Saladin stretched from the eastern half of north Africa to northern Syria, took in most of the Crusader States, and extended a finger down to Medina, Mecca, and Aden.

    Chinggis united the various Mongol nomadic tribes into one super tribe under his rule, relying on his “companions (nökers)” rather than tribal leaders. He created a well- organized army and centralized bureaucratic institutions: a judiciary, a writing office that issued edicts in many languages, and an effective taxation system. He proclaimed Heaven’s mandate that Mongols should rule the world, and he shaped an empire reaching from China to the Caspian Sea. His successors extended it even further.

    The new theories link the origins of the plague pandemic to the Mongol expansion. The bacterium that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, seems to have been the product of a mutation that took place on or near the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau that allowed the disease to jump from rodents to human hosts. The first outbreak of plague may have been the result of Mongol attacks on the Xi Xia state or perhaps when they attacked the Qara Khitai Empire. Both took place in the early thirteenth century.

    Henry’s rule reached far beyond England. He was duke of Normandy and (through his marriage to Eleanor) he claimed control over Aquitaine. He also ruled over half of the other counties in northern France (albeit formally as vassal of the king of France). He was lord of Ireland, and the princes of Wales and the kings of Scotland were his vassals.

    Henry took control of the entire legal system in England by imposing a common law. Itinerant justices appointed by him regularly visited each district (counties and hundreds) to inquire who was accused or suspected of being a robber, murderer, or thief. Representatives of the knights of the shire were to meet and give all pertinent names to the sheriff. Henry also required that all hearings about property ownership be authorized by a royal writ. The crown’s power was enhanced through its role as the enforcer of law and order in every district of England. It also gained considerable revenue through legal fees and fines. There were two limitations to the king’s judicial reach: he could not rule on petty crimes on the manors of great lords and his jurisdiction was challenged by the Church, which insisted that members of the clergy be under its own jurisdiction.

    Becket and Henry II clashed over the question whether the king should have ultimate jurisdiction over clerics. Becket agreed that clerics might be tried in royal courts, but demanded that his own church, the archbishopric of Canterbury, control its property. This escalated into a conflict about control over the entire English Church, its property, and its clergy. In 1170, after six years of smoldering conflict, Becket was murdered by the king’s henchmen. Thereafter, Becket was regarded as a martyr and became one of the most important saints of the English Church, while Henry II was forced to do public penance. In the end, both Church and royal courts expanded.

    In 1204 French King Philip II Augustus accused English King John of having defied his overlordship; he then confiscated John’s northern territories in France. In 1214 John attacked the French king with a coalition of allies to reconquer the lost territory. At the battle Bouvines, John was decisively defeated and the English lost their territories in northern France.

    The English barons were incensed that John had been defeated at Bouvines after years of unusual and high-handed practices to finance this disastrous war. Magna Carta was designed to prevent the same sort of extortion. It also declared the rights and privileges of all free men (a minority) in the realm, and it subordinated the power of the king to certain customs and written provisions.

    Philip initially ruled over the small territory of the Ile-de-France. At the end of his reign he held control over large parts of Flanders (through inheritance) and over Normandy (through conquest). The lords of Maine, Anjou, and Poitou and the nobility of Normandy, who had been vassals of the English king, now submitted to him. In addition to expanding his kingdom, Philip extended the power of French kings by developing administrative institutions to write and keep records of royal decrees, legal decisions, and tax collection. He created a civil service staffed by men educated in the city schools.

    First and foremost the papacy blocked the German kings. It claimed spiritual superiority over kings and used excommunication as a political tool, defended its own territory (the papal states), and tried to prevent the German kings from controlling southern Italy. Then, too, the rich northern Italian communes (crucial as sources of income for the kings) staunchly defended their independence as city states. Most of them allied with the popes in the Lombard League, which defeated Frederick Barbarossa at the battle of Legnano in 1176. Frederick tried to gain the Norman Kingdom of Sicily by marrying his son to its heiress, but the papacy felt stifled with a king to the north and south of it. Thus it excommunicated, deposed, and declared a crusade against the child of that Sicilian union, Frederick II.

    Frederick II (d.1250) tried to unite Sicily, Italy, and Germany under his rule. But to give himself a free hand to deal with the popes, Frederick effectively allowed the princes in his realms to turn their territories into independent states. After Frederick died, the pope called upon Charles of Anjou, brother of the king of France, to take over the Kingdom of Sicily in 1263. In response, Frederick’s granddaughter, Constance, who was married to the King of Aragon (Spain), took the title “Queen of Sicily.” In 1282, the Sicilians revolted against the Angevins in the uprising known as the “Sicilian Vespers.” After a bitter war that lasted until 1302, the Kingdom of Sicily was split: the island became a Spanish outpost, while its mainland portion (southern Italy) remained under Angevin control. Thus, after Frederick II died, the emperors lost all control over Italy and much power in Germany as well.

    The provisions of the Fourth Lateran Council included the requirement that every Christian confess and receive the Eucharist once a year. Priests had to live according to strict moral standards, be trained appropriately, and exercise pastoral care properly. The council defined Christian beliefs more narrowly, especially with regard to the Eucharist, which it insisted was transubstantiated during the Mass. It issued new laws against Jews, Muslims, and heretics. The council vastly extended the reach of the Church into everyone’s life.

    Technically neither Dominicans nor Franciscans were monks. To distinguish themselves they called themselves friars. There were lots of similarities between Franciscans and Dominicans: both embraced individual and collective poverty, both initially begged for their food. But the Dominicans started as a more “intellectual” order that received permission to preach and teach. Dominic was a priest and one of his (and his followers’) goals was converting heretics. Francis was a layman, and he and his followers received permission to preach about penance. Initially their main activity was works of charity. Eventually, Franciscans got involved in preaching against heretics as well, and members of both the Franciscan and the Dominican orders became important scholars and university teachers.

    Both shared many of the same ideals: rejection of wealth, preaching in the vernacular, and care for the sick and the poor. Both of their founders were laymen. But the Church reacted to them very differently. The papacy rejected Waldo’s bid to preach freely and his movement was denounced, excommunicated, and persecuted. Francis was supported by his local bishop and embraced by the pope. He and his followers received authorization to preach, set up convents, and turn themselves into a religious order. In a sense, the Waldensians paved the way for the Franciscans.

    Like nuns, the Beguines lived in a community and dedicated their lives to simplicity and prayer. Unlike nuns, Beguines were an integral part of town life, and they worked in various professions. They did not take vows of poverty and chastity and were therefore free to leave their communities to marry.

    The Cathars, who originated in Languedoc, were dissatisfied with the progress of Church reform and rejected the idea of the Church as a centralized organization. They denied that only priests were authorized to hear confession or to consecrate the Eucharist and rejected the idea that the clergy had more spiritual authority than virtuous lay people. The Church identified them as dualists who believe in a world torn between a good and an evil force (thus denying the almightiness of God) and accused them of reviving the ancient heresy of the Manichees.

    The First Crusade was understood as an “armed pilgrimage” to “free” the Holy Land from the Muslims and bring it under Christian rule. In the thirteenth century various military campaigns were legitimated as crusades, including the violent suppression of heresy in southern France in the Albigensian Crusades and the colonization and forced conversion of the Baltic people in the crusades to the northeast. The Fourth Crusade began as an expedition to the Holy Land, but it was deflected by Venice and ended with the conquest of Byzantium. Crusades against the Cathars (the Albigensian Crusade) and against Frederick II served mainly political goals.

    Italian communes developed efficient and highly controlling bureaucracies staffed by paid civil servants. They developed sophisticated taxation systems and created state loans, some forced. They told the peasants in the contado what to grow. Venice, which didn’t have a contado but was a sea power, embarked on state-run commercial enterprises using state ships.

    Lords outside of Italy hired agents to administer their estates, calculate their profits, draw up accounts, and make marketing decisions. They offered special privileges to peasants willing to do the backbreaking work of plowing marginal land, and they sponsored drainage projects, in this way increasing their estates.

    The term “courtly love” was coined with the assumption that the poet was a lowly courtier always of a lower rank than his courtly lady; his love was adulterous and impossible. Today critics tend to be more comfortable talking about fin’amor (refined or pure love), the expression used in medieval literature itself. (However, even this term was used by different poets with various meanings.) Love poetry did not always sing of adulterous love: it sang about marital love, sexual conquests, equal love between lovers, and love and desire as the source of virtue.

    Chansons de geste and medieval romances were long poems that recounted the great deeds of nobles and knights. Both praised chivalry. Chansons de geste, however, focused on wars and battles while medieval romances focused on relationships within the knightly world and on the importance of love. Many medieval romances were variations on the story of King Arthur and his knights.

    All universities were guilds, clerical institutions, and entirely male. All set the rules for students and masters. All taught the liberal arts. Nevertheless, they were not equivalent. The University of Paris specialized in the liberal arts and theology; Bologna specialized in law; Salerno and Montpellier were famed for their courses in medicine; and Oxford was known for its offerings in the liberal arts, theology, science, and mathematics.

    Gothic churches attempted to express universal and profound truths in stone. They might communicate the divine authority of royal power (as in the case of Saint-Denis) or reflect the pride of urban communities – of rich merchants, artisans, and bishops (as in the case of Chartres). Gothic art – stained-glass windows, statues, tympanums – conveyed theological ideas, biblical history, and pastoral messages. Characteristic elements of Gothic cathedrals include great height, emphasized by pointed arches and lancet windows; huge stained-glass windows that allow light filtered through color to enter the building; and external flying buttresses that take the weight of the vault off the walls, allowing for the vault to seem to float.

    The Assize of Clarendon (1166), drawn up under King Henry II, applied a common law regarding chief crimes – robbery, murder, and theft – throughout England. It established a system of roving justices to bring the prosecution of these crimes under royal control.


    Map 5.3 shows the situation c.1100. At that time England was tied to the Continent only by Normandy, whose duke had conquered England in 1066. By the end of the twelfth century, as may be seen in Map 6.4, the Angevin king Henry II had taken over the crown of England. Henry was count of Anjou, duke of Normandy, and overlord of about half the other counties of northern France. He was also duke of Aquitaine by his marriage to Eleanor, heiress of that vast southern French duchy. He had greater power than previous English kings in the British Isles as well. Thus Henry II’s realm stretched from Ireland to the Pyrenees. For his Continental possessions, he was vassal of the king of France.

    Map 6.3 shows the length and breadth of Chinggis Khan’s and his generals’ military campaigns. It also suggests the routes of the plague in the thirteenth century.

    The reconquista was the engine driving the expansion of Christian kingdoms deep into the southern territories of al-Andalus. By c.1275, only Granada was left of the Islamic kingdoms.

    After the Investiture Conflict (see Chapter 5), the power of the emperor over Italy had become purely symbolic. Frederick I Barbarossa was determined to revive it, coveting especially the rich cities of northern Italy, which he thought would provide him with both a compact power base and the revenues that he needed. But his sovereignty over the communes of northern Italy threatened the papal states, as Map 6.6 makes clear. By 1167, Pope Alexander III had joined most of the northern cities to form the Lombard League against the emperor. It proved to be a winning move when the League defeated the emperor at the decisive battle of Legnano in 1176.

    During the fourth crusade (1204), the capital city of Byzantium was conquered by the crusader army, which established a Latin Empire. Byzantium was temporarily divided into the Latin Empire of the crusaders and three Byzantine successor states: the Despotate of Epirus, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Empire of Trebizond.


    The mosque was built by the Almohads on the ruins of the Almoravid palace as an attempt to eradicate their memory. Dissatisfied with their first mosque there (built 1147), perhaps because they considered the qibla wall (the one facing Mecca) to be imprecisely oriented, they rebuilt it entirely c.1158 and added a square minaret, an unusual shape.

    Mongol armor was composed of small rectangular scales of leather and iron sewn together with leather throngs. Under their armor, Mongol fighters wore a heavy coat of sheepskin; their feet were protected by leather boots. Their armor was lighter and more flexible than the armor of Western knights, giving them an advantage on the battlefield.

    Plate 6.3 displays the two sides of the Great Seal of King John. The king sits in majesty on a throne holding a sword – symbol of his military might – and an orb, symbolizing his power. On the reverse, he is well equipped for battle and riding a fine horse. Both symbolize his military leadership. The irony is that John used this seal to issue Magna Carta, which in reality was a very low point in English monarchical and military power.

    Plate 6.4 is a photo of the interior of Chartres Cathedral, a Gothic church, while Plate 5.10 is a shot of the interior of Modena Cathedral, a Romanesque church. Gothic is soaring, with three levels articulated by columns and arcades. It is brighter than Romanesque because it has more and much larger windows. It features pointed arches and a pointed vault, while Romanesque favors round arches and a tunnel vault.

    The south portal of Chartres features angels and demons, personifications of virtues and vices, and images of saints. In the center is the Last Judgment, with a dramatic depiction of the damned going to Hell and the saved on their way to Heaven. The portal educates and intimidates; at the same time, as if spreading its wings out like arms, it invites the faithful to enter the church.

    This stained-glass window tells and interprets the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Its theological function is combined with an image of shoemakers, referring to the pride of urban guilds as sponsors of the cathedral. It is one of many windows that illuminates the space of the cathedral with light capable (as Suger believed) of transporting the worshipper from the “slime of earth” to the “purity of Heaven.”

    Both illustrate Gothic architecture, but Plate 6.4 shows a typical French cathedral, while Plate 6.7 shows the upper church of an Italian Gothic church. The Italian church emphasizes the walls, which are filled with frescoes. It balances the impression of soaring with its generous width. Both may be called Gothic because of their pointed arches and vaults and their large windows filled with stained glass.


    Albigensian Crusade
    Reveal Answer

    The Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) was named after the city of Albi, one of the centers of the Cathar (a.k.a. Albigensian) movement in southern France. It was initiated by the pope but later taken over by the Capetian kings. The crusade not only wiped out dissidents but also brought Languedoc under the control of the French kings.

    Reveal Answer

    The Angevins were a dynasty of English kings starting with Henry II. The name is derived from the fact that Henry also held the title of count of Anjou.

    Reveal Answer

    The Ayyubids were a Kurdish family of warriors descending from Ayyub, father of Saladin. Originally, they served the Zangids (Zangi and Nur al-Din) but eventually, under Saladin, they established their own empire by conquering almost all of the crusader states (including Jerusalem) and Egypt.

    chansons de geste
    Reveal Answer

    Long epic poems, the name literally means “songs of [heroic] deeds.” Warfare was the obvious theme, but, more profoundly, these poems explored aristocratic behaviors and moral dilemmas.

    Reveal Answer

    The word, deriving from the French cheval (“horse”), emphasized above all that the knight was a horseman, a warrior of the most prestigious sort. The chivalrous knightly hero was courteous even in battle. He cared about fair play and was ready to help those (especially ladies) in need. He fought for a higher cause than simply winning, often for the love of a lady, God, or his lord. This, at any rate, was the ideal.

    common law
    Reveal Answer

    Part of the legal reforms of English King Henry II, common law covered many major crimes and was applicable to all free men and women throughout England.

    Reveal Answer

    The Church used the term “dualists” for those accused of believing that the world was torn between two equally strong forces, one good and the other evil. Dualistic ideas flourished in late antiquity among the Manichees. The dissidents of thirteenth-century southern France did not call themselves dualists; they considered themselves good Christians. But churchmen, familiar with the writings of Fathers against the Manichees, found the category a useful descriptor; it allowed them to classify the dissidents as heretics and persecute them.

    Reveal Answer

    An eyre (derived from the Latin word iter, journey) was a regular local gathering in which itinerant royal judges met twelve representatives of the local gentry to receive information about cases of murder, robbery, and other high crimes and then to hold trials. Eyres were introduced in the Assize of Clarendon in order to impose common law for high crimes throughout England.

    Reveal Answer

    A form of architecture (the term itself comes from the sixteenth century) that became European-wide by the thirteenth century, though with many regional variants. By and large, Gothic architects tried to eliminate heavy walls by using buttresses outside of the church to hold up the weight of the vault so that the walls could be pierced with glass windows. These not only let in light but also told sacred stories through the use of stained glass. Pointed arches created the perception of soaring. Gothic was mainly an urban architecture, reflecting – in its grand size, jewel-like windows, and exterior sculptural programs – the aspirations, pride, and confidence of rich and powerful merchants, artisans, scholars, and bishops.

    Magna Carta
    Reveal Answer

    Magna Carta is a document demanded by rebellious English barons in 1215. Its clauses had the king cease ordering heavy and unaccustomed obligations and dues. The kings had made these requisitions to build up a war chest to recover his French lands, but all was squandered when he was defeated at the battle of Bouvines. Magna Carta forced the king to recognize and respect the traditional obligations and rights of the nobility and of all free men and women in general. According to Magna Carta, the king could not change these customs without consulting his barons. In short, it enunciated the principle that the king was not above the law and customs of his realm.

    Reveal Answer

    The Mamluks were originally unfree soldiers employed by Islamic rulers to bolster their armies. The most famous were the elite soldiers of the Ayyubid army, for they eventually (1260) established themselves as rulers of Egypt and Syria.

    Reveal Answer

    Scutage was a money payment in lieu of military service. It was much favored by the king of England, who used it to pay for mercenaries rather than rely on the knight’s customary service of only forty days. The barons and others who drew up Magna Carta protested John’s frequent collections of scutage, part of his efforts to finance wars against French King Philip II, who had confiscated John’s possessions in northern France.

    Reveal Answer

    Poets and musicians in the south of France. They sang (mainly about love) in Old Occitan, the vernacular of southern France, but they sang for patrons not only there but also in Spain and Italy. Similar entertainers worked in Germany. Some came from well-off families, some did not. Their songs were both complex and subtle – in music, rhyme, puns, and allusions.

    Yersinia pestis
    Reveal Answer

    Yersinia pestis is the bacterium that causes the plague. Carried by fleas accustomed to feeding on rodents, it was rampant on or near the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It seems that when the Mongols passed through that region in the early thirteenth century, they disturbed its normal habitat, and the fleas carrying it began to bite and therefore infect people. As Mongol warriors moved east- and westward, they carried the disease with them.


    Your answer might include: flying buttresses, massive portals, soaring pinnacles, rose windows.


    Although Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, was not allowed to inherit the throne herself, she could pass the right to her son.

    The Welfs and Staufen had been fighting each other for years. Frederick reconciled them because his mother was Welf and his father Staufen.

    Essay Questions

    Some points to consider:

      • The struggle between the papacy and Frederick I Barbarossa was theoretically over the status of the imperial crown and empire, and more practically over who controlled Italy. This was not the issue in the Investiture Conflict, which centered on control over churches and churchmen.
      • Related to the question of status was the quarrel over whether the imperial crown was a “fief” granted by the pope or the emperor’s by right. During the Investiture Conflict, Pope Gregory VII saw it as his right to depose the emperor, but he did not claim that the Empire was a papal fief. By contrast, when papal representatives met with Frederick I Barbarossa in 1157, they suggested that the imperial crown was “from the pope.” (Then again, the word they used, beneficium, was ambiguous; perhaps Pope Adrian IV, whose letter they were referring to, meant not fief but rather “benefit.”)
      • Frederick I Barbarossa declared the Empire a sacrum imperium – a holy empire – making a new claim about its sacredness that even Henry IV had not maintained during the Investiture Conflict.
      • Frederick held northern Italy until 1176. On that date, the Lombard League (an alliance of the papacy and northern Italian cities) defeated him at the battle of Legnano. During the Investiture Conflict, Italian cities were far less important allies of the papacy, which found its best support among the landed nobility, especially Matilda of Tuscany.
      • Thus, the theoretical and practical issues in the two imperial-papal conflicts were somewhat different. Yet both conflicts were about who exercised power in the Empire, over whom, and by what right.

    Some points to consider:

    In England

      • The king imposed royal justice through the expansion of the legal system, especially through itinerant courts. In addition, royal justice was made available for property disputes. This was the origin of “common law” in England.
      • The king’s officials recorded all fines for the exchequer; these records were kept in “rolls” (e.g., the Pipe Rolls).

    In France

      • The king integrated new territories (especially Normandy) under his administration.
      • The king had all royal decrees written down and kept in permanent repositories.
      • The king hired officers to oversee his estates, collect taxes, and sit as judges in local courts.
      • As a result, at the local level French royal power was felt, but the king’s justices did not administer “his” justice so much as local laws. There was no “common law” in France.

    In Germany

      • Frederick I Barbarossa had to rely on the personal loyalty of the German princes, whom he made his vassals. He had few salaried officials.
      • As a result, at the local level the emperor exercised direct power only where he had his own estates (e.g., Swabia).

    You might consider:

      • The Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) was launched by Pope Innocent III against heretics in southern France. Northern French princes invaded Languedoc, fought with and confiscated the land of the “heretical” local princes, and, in 1229, imposed the rule of the French king. The Albigensian Crusade marked the first time the pope offered warriors who were fighting an enemy within Christian Europe all the spiritual and temporal benefits of a crusade to the Holy Land.
      • The Northern Crusades were first preached by Saint Bernard in the twelfth century. Their purpose was to conquer the mainly pagan peoples living along the Baltic coast. They continued intermittently until the early fifteenth century. By the end of the thirteenth century, the Teutonic Knights had brought the lands from Prussia to Estonia under their sway. (See Map 6.7.) The Northern Crusades settled the Baltic region with a German-speaking population. They brought with them characteristic western institutions – cities, laws, guilds, universities, castles, manors, vassalage.
      • The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was originally called by Innocent III to re-establish the Christian presence in the Holy Land. It was diverted by the Venetians to attack Zara (today Zadar), one of the coastal cities that Venice disputed with Hungary. Then, taking up the cause of one claimant to the Byzantine throne, the crusaders turned their sights on Constantinople. After taking and plundering it, the crusaders created a Latin state in formerly Byzantine territory. Baldwin I of Flanders became emperor and established himself at Constantinople. The real winner was Venice; it won part of Constantinople, crucial territories along the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, Negroponte, and various islands in the Aegean Sea. With its purchase and conquest of Crete, Venice aimed to dominate the region’s trade. (See Map. 6.8.) (They continued to do so even after the Byzantines retook Constantinople in 1261.)
      • Fought in 1187, the battle of Hattin pitted the crusaders against Saladin. The Christian army was badly defeated, lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and saw the Crusader States reduced to a few port cities.
      • Fought in 1214, the battle of Bouvines pitted French King Philip II against the allies of English King John consisting of a broad coalition of German and Flemish armies led by Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick. The allies of King John were soundly defeated, and although the English king was not at the battle (but was the mastermind behind it), the defeat was a defining moment for him: he lost most of his lands on the Continent, and back in England he had to confront the barons – supported by many members of the gentry and the towns – who organized, rebelled, and called the king to account. At Runnymede, just south of London, in June 1215, John was forced to agree to the charter of baronial liberties called Magna Carta.
  • Short-Answer Questions

    Mayhem: sometimes the Mongols killed everyone in a city; they left a belt of destruction around the cities they conquered; they forced young men whom they captured into their army; and they relocated people to answer Mongol needs. Stability: they established a regular postal service across their entire empire; they were relatively pragmatic about religion (see question 2 below); and they promoted the regular exchange of goods within and outside of their empire.

    There were two official religions: Tibetan Buddhism in China and Islam elsewhere. The Mongols thus contributed to the expansion of Islam. However, the Mongol attitude towards religion seems to have been fairly pragmatic. Mongol rulers allowed religious diversity in their empire, and religious tolerance and assimilation were among the ways in which they stabilized their rule. Christians could set up church structures; orthodox priests were not required to enlist in the army. The Mongols were willing to leave their traditional shamanistic religion behind and adapt to the religions prevalent in their respective regions.

    The Mongols not only assimilated with the cultures they conquered but also set up trading routes and communication structures reaching from Europe to China. The Mongols patronized and attracted artists, poets, and scientists. They wanted – and could pay for – fine silks, fashionable clothing, musicians, porcelain tableware, and costly weapons. They facilitated the Eurasian communication that inspired merchants such as the Italian Polo brothers to trade with China, where Franciscan missionaries set up a Church, complete with bishops and archbishops.

    Who were the Ilkhanids?
    Reveal Answer

    The Ilkhanids were heirs of Chinggis Khan (see Genealogy 7.1 and locate him as the founder of the Ilkhanid Khans, whole ruled until 1335). They created a flourishing state that extended from the Byzantine Empire to the Oxus River. (See Map 7.1.) At the start of his reign, Ghazan Khan (r.1295–1304) broke with the Mongols of China (who had adopted Tibetan Buddhism) and converted to Islam, adhering to the religion of most of the people in his area of control.

    Mamluks were of unfree origin, but they were trained warriors, fully armed and expert horsemen. The Ayyubids employed them to help govern and serve in the army. Eventually they became rulers themselves; after defeating the Mongols, they created the Mamluk Sultanate, which was staunchly Sunnite. It lasted until 1517.

    The Empire of Mali was Islamic, which means that many pilgrims from Mali traveled to Mecca, passing through the Mamluk Sultanate. Mali had close diplomatic, economic, and cultural exchanges with the successor states of the Almohad Empire in the Maghreb. Through trade routes they were connected to the entire Islamic world, trading slaves and gold for manufactured luxury goods.

    Catalonia, Majorca, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice each set up their own individual networks to profit from the Mediterranean and Atlantic trade, fiercely competing with each other. The Hanse cities collaborated with one another, shaping a common marketplace in the Baltic Sea region. They shared the responsibility of clearing the sea of pirates and maintained peaceful relations.

    Both regions were centers of trade and manufacture, both of which exacerbated the chasms between rich and poor, the powerful and the weak. Aware of their collective power, the cities demanded self-government and the less well-off groups within them demanded a place in the power-structure.

    Representative institutions formalized the practice of giving rulers advice. Rulers found it to their advantage to consult with representatives of the most powerful groups in their realms, curry their favor, and gain the taxes that they needed to finance their wars.

    Magna Carta formalized the role of barons as royal advisors. Such an advisory organ, consisting of barons, professional administrators, and a papal legate, ruled in the name of Henry III when he was underage. When Henry came of age, he alienated every group in his kingdom, and the barons revolted in 1258. The leader of the barons, Simon de Montfort, called a parliament of nobles and churchmen to ratify his rule. In 1265 he summoned another parliament to which he added, for the first time ever, representatives of the towns – the “commons.” After Simon of Montfort’s downfall, Henry III’s son, Edward I, regularly summoned the parliament in order to finance wars.

    The new kingdoms in East Central Europe modeled themselves after Western European realms. With the initial exception of Lithuania, they adopted Catholic Christianity and established Western-style administrative, legal, and educational institutions. Their nobles gained power as landholders and castellans. They created constitutions resembling Magna Carta and representative bodies resembling Western parliaments.

    This early fourteenth-century conflict began with a dispute about whether the king could tax the clergy. Boniface backed down on this point, but after the king had a French bishop arrested for treason Boniface issued the bull Unam sanctam, claiming that secular rulers were subject to the pope. Philip called the representatives of the estates of his realm (clergy, nobles, and townspeople) to Paris – the first meeting of a French representative institution – to give him support. Then he sent his agents to arrest Boniface for heresy. Although that attempt failed, the pope died shortly afterwards. Boniface’s successors, forced from Rome by civil strife there, settled in Avignon, a city under the influence of the French kings. The popes remained there for nearly seventy years, but the flight from Rome was considered a scandal by many contemporaries.

    According to the doctrine of Purgatory, informally believed long before it was declared dogma in 1274, the living could shorten the torments of purgatory of the souls of the dead through Masses and prayers. Wealthy and powerful people often insisted that they and their families be buried within the walls of a church so that their tombs would remind the living to pray for them. Dante’s Divine Comedy depicted Purgatory in detail by drawing upon the implications of this doctrine.

    In general, the scholastics were university scholars who mastered the use of logic to summarize and reconcile all knowledge, both human and divine, and use it in the service of contemporary society: for pastoral care, instruction, and to help people overcome their sinfulness and pursue eternal salvation. Like Abelard and Peter Lombard, they developed their ideas by juxtaposing and reconciling contradictory positions, but, unlike those earlier scholastics, they had the benefit of Aristotelian logic (recently translated from the Greek via Arabic translations) as their main tool of analysis and exposition. But different scholastics emphasized different areas of study.

    Scholastics such as John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, and mystics like Meister Eckhart cast doubt on the idea that faith and reason could be reconciled by methods of logic or that God could be understood through reason. They concluded that truth may be reached only by divine illumination, which comes from God alone. Ockham flatly denied that reason and faith could be reconciled; he proposed that reason be used to understand human institutions and abstractions such as space, time, and motion. Meister Eckhart and other mystics saw mystical union with God – not intellectual understanding – as their ultimate goal.

    Writers, like scholastics, found harmonies between this world and the next: Dante’s Divine Comedy, for example, described the harmony between heaven and earth by telling of his own (imagined) personal journey from earth through Hell and Purgatory until he finally reached Paradise. Musicians found ways to bridge sacred and secular genres of music through the “motet,” which used the vernacular to sing of worldly matters and the Latin language to intone a word or phrase from Church liturgy, both blended together as one musical experience. Artists used fleshy, natural forms to evoke the divine.


    By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire had taken on the contours of a settled state. Though divided politically into four regions, each under the rule of different khans, the Empire was integrated economically. Merchants, traders, and missionaries were welcome to travel across the whole expanse, from Mecca to China.

    Islam was actively spread from North Africa to the regions of the south and from east to west (across the Red Sea). But the use of one color for “Islamic regions” is misleading because it suggests that everyone there shared the same religion (some Jews and Christians continued to live in those very regions) and that Islam did not itself come in many lively varieties.

    Cities were the hubs of trade networks, which were particularly dense along the coasts of the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. Three centers dominated trade: Genoa, Venice, and the cities of the Hanseatic League. Eventually, as sailing ships – far more efficient than any galley – were developed by the Genoese and others, the Atlantic passage replaced older overland and river routes between the Mediterranean and Europe’s north. Particularly dramatic developments were the Hanseatic League’s commercial unification of the Baltic region and the use of the Atlantic Ocean as a trade corridor from one European port to another.

    The Italian city of Piacenza bristled with fortified towers built by aristocrats right within the walls. Tours had buildings but no private towers. Piacenza’s centers of production were many; its craftspeople lived and worked in particular areas according to their trade. It made sense for the fishermen to live near the canal and for the textile workers (whose craft was particularly noxious) to live on or beyond the outer wall. By contrast, Tours had markets but few specialized neighborhoods. One major reason for the differences is the date: Tours was just beginning to urbanize c.1100, while Piacenza was beginning to do so even in the ninth century. Another major reason is location: France was mildly prosperous, but northern Italy was a very busy center of commercial activities of every sort. Furthermore, Italy held on to the urban traditions of the Roman Empire; the elites there were not tempted to build their strongholds in the countryside (as in France) but rather in the cities.

    Map 6.4 shows the broad reach of English King Henry II, who controlled more than half of France through inheritance, marriage, and conquest, albeit formally as vassal of the French king. Map 7.5 shows the situation after the kings of France had conquered or confiscated most of the land once under the control of English kings. By c.1300 only Gascony was still under English control.

    In the north, the Teutonic Knights (Germans) controlled much of the Baltic coast, while Lithuania (still not Christian) expanded mightily under Duke Gediminas as did Bulgaria in the south. Between these powerhouses were the weaker kingdoms of Hungary and Poland. Bohemia used to be under the thumb of the emperors in Germany, but by 1300 its rulers considered themselves independent kings.


    The picture shows a lord traveling with his retainers, one of whom wears a passport. The Mongol passport system allowed people to traverse the largest empire in the history of humanity. The Mongol Empire could function only on the basis of an efficient system of roads and relay stations where messengers, traders, and nobles could change horses. Supported by these stations, messengers could cover distances of more than 100 miles a day.

    The hall was decorated with geometric patterns. The ceiling, covered with interlocking exploding star-burst patterns made of bits of colored wood, represented the heavens. Bands of epigraphs quoted the Qur’an and other poetry. Other decorative bands offer abstract motifs. The reception hall as a whole conveyed the splendor and refinement of the Nasrid sultans as well as their association with divinity.

    The pectoral, made of gold, was one of many precious objects in the tomb of a young Malian. It tells us that gold was one foundation of Mali’s wealth and a major commodity in international trade. Connections with the rest of the world no doubt explains why the decoration of the pectoral was inspired by the same arabesque motifs that are found at the Alhambra, the Kutubiyya Mosque, and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Malians made pilgrimages to Mecca, using gold and gold dust to pay their way and to offer gifts and alms.

    Plate 7.4 comes from a manuscript of the Rochester Chronicle (England). It illustrates symbolically the expulsion of Jews from England and Aquitaine. The Jews who are beaten with a club are recognizable by their white badges, which are in the form of the tablets of Moses.

    Plate 7.5 shows a page of the Golden Bull (1356), which was for centuries considered the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire. Its main purpose was to make clear the procedure for the election of a new emperor and the ceremonies involved.

    The doctrine of transubstantiation is the core message of this chalice. Its decorations – medallions stamped with Christ’s head alternating with rosettes that represent the five wounds of Christ – graphically show the connection between the wine of the Eucharist and the blood that Christ shed on the cross..