Medieval history roughly spans the era from 400-1500 AD in Europe. Though it is most commonly divided into the Early, High and the Late Middle Ages, there are many controversies about the exact starting and ending of this epoch.
Until the Renaissance, European history was generally categorized into six eras in conformity with the Biblical six days of creation. In the early Renaissance period, historians marked two historical epochs of the Ancient and Dark Ages.
In the beginning of the 15th Century, the ‘three period view’ of history came up. Historians concluded that there was a transitional period between the Dark and the Modern era. This, they termed as the Middle Ages.
The division of medieval history into Early, High and Late periods became more common after World War I, spearheaded by the writings of Henri Pirenne and Johan Huizinga.
Early Middle Ages
The beginning of this era started with the decline of the Roman Empire by “barbarian” invasions. The Vandals, Huns, Bulgars, Avars and Magyars and some Germanic and Slavic groups, invaded Roman life and culture. This marked the decline of the Western Roman Empire in the end of the 5th Century.
This was also the time when the Roman supremacy over England declined and led to the rise of great British ruler King Arthur. However, the glory of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire continued to flourish, centered around the city of Constantinople.
This was a time of not only socio-political upheavals, but also marked by great cultural changes. In the field of art and culture, Celtic and Germanic forms merged with Christian elements. Despite the incursions, the Church continued to survive as a unifying institution.
Then occurred some landmark events: the rise of the Franks and that of Islam in the East. The Franks or the Merovingians became the first powerful rulers of the West after Rome. In fact, they were seminal in curbing Islamic incursions under their famous ruler Charles Martel.
Then came the illustrious times of Charlemagne. In the 800s, he united France, western Germany and northern Italy under one empire. During his reign and that of his son Louis the Pious, the Frankish-ruled Holy Roman Empire reached new heights of revival.
High Middle Ages
A more stable Western Europe in the year 1000 marked the beginning of this medieval period. The barbarian raids had ended with the only exception of Mongol raids. Christianity gave rise to a new united European civilization. It was a time of economic, cultural and philosophical restoration of Western Europe.
The Hanseatic League and other such commercial institutions were formed at this time, as were the first universities that led to growth in literacy. As the continent united, the leading rulers of the times called upon the Western European people for a collective war against Islam. This led to the Crusades.
Late Middle Ages
This was again a time of great unrest. The Little Ice Age, the Great Famine and the Black Death (the outset of plague that wiped out a huge population) marred it.
Politically it saw the decline of feudal power and rise of nation-states centered around England, France and the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the nationalized unification conflicts such as the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, the Battle of Manzikert etc. continued.
In the religious arena, Christendom saw great discord in the Western Schism that lasted from 1378-1418 and the formation of the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 that led to rise of the two schools of Catholicism and Protestantism.
Medieval history was ending and the continent was now all set to take on the Early Modern Period.