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Overview of the Middle Ages

The European Middle Ages (or Medieval Time) is roughly 1000 year span of time from the end of the Roman Empire (in the West) to the beginning of the Renaissance. This video gives as overview with maps and touches on the key events like the Great Schism, Crusades and Black Death.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Growing up we all have impressions of the Middle Ages, we read about knights in shining armor, castles with moats and towers, but when were the Middle Ages? The simple answer, the Middle Ages in Europe are the roughly 1000 years from the fall of the Roman Empire and to be particular the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire continues on for most of the Middle Ages, but it starts in roughly 476 and it continues on for 1000 years as we get into the 14th and 15th centuries. And it's really the time period that connects the world of Rome, Europe during antiquity and it connects it to the Europe that begins to emerge in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The Europe of the Age of Exploration, the Europe of the Renaissance. Now what we're going to do in this video is we're going to look at maps of the various time periods of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages are broadly divided into three major sections, the early Middle Ages, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to about the year 1000. The high Middle Ages, which was a high point for the Middle Ages in Europe which goes from about what the year 1000 to the year 1300, and then the late Middle Ages, which gets us to the 15th century and it's considered not that pleasant of a time to live in Europe. So let's just start with what Europe looked like right after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. So as you can see here, this map is referring to the time period between 476 when Odoacer takes over Rome and 493. And you can see the Eastern Roman Empire is still here but the Western Roman Empire is now fragmented amongst many Germanic kingdoms, you have the Visigoths, you have the Franks, you have the Kingdom of Odoacer. With the fall of Rome we are entering into the early Middle Ages. Now the Eastern Roman Empire which considers itself the Roman Empire its capital at Constantinople under Justinian has a little bit of a last horah and is able to recapture the Italian peninsula so it's able to recapture some of the territory that was formally part of the Western Roman Empire, some of the territory in North Africa that you don't see on this map. But for the most part Western Europe stays under the control of various Germanic kingdoms. So here we have fast forwarded to the year 814 which would be right around here on our timeline. And you can see a major event has occurred either on the map or on this timeline. You have Charlemagne king of the Franks crowned Holy Roman Emperor. On the map, you can see Charlemagne's empire right over here he has conquered Northern Italy, much of what we consider modern day France, much of what we consider modern day Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Charlemagne is really one of the defining figures of the Middle Ages and especially the early Middle Ages. As you can see, he's able to unify much of Western Europe. A lot of our ideas about kings and castles and knights begin to emerge around the time of Charlemagne. This notion of being a Holy Roman Emperor because he's able to provide protection to the Pope. The Pope says hey I'm going to say that you are continuing on the legacy of the Roman Empire. Now as we'll see and we cover in much more detail in other videos, the title of Holy Roman Emperor or Emperor of the Romans, does not continue on with Charlemagne's descendants, but when you get to 962, Otto who is a German king is crowned Holy Roman Emperor again and you continue to have Holy Roman Emperors all the way until 1806. Now another major feature of the early Middle Ages and you can see it on this map, is that Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries comes out of Arabia and is able to conquer much of the Middle East, Persia, North Africa, which you don't see on this map, and much of what we consider today to be modern day Spain and you can see it, do you see the Caliphate or Cordova right over here. You see the Abbassids here in the east who also controlled much of North Africa. Now let's fast forward to the high Middle Ages. So here we are in the year 1135 on our timeline that would be right about, let's see this is 1100, that would be 1150 1135 would put us right around here. And you could already see some interesting things on this map, the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne is now fragmented, the Western third is now the Kingdom of France, the Eastern 2/3 are still considered the Roman Germanic Empire or the Holy Roman Empire. And even though it looks fairly unified in this map, over different periods of time it's really a bunch of fragmented Germanic kingdoms nominally under this Holy Roman Empire sometimes it's a little bit more unified under a stronger Holy Roman Emperor. Now the other things that you see and we saw it on the last map is that the Byzantine Empire is continuing to lose territory and you can see the Muslim empires in this case it's the Seljuk Turks are able to take even more territory. Now one of the things that has happened by the time we look at this map and it's not clear by looking on the map is that you have in 1054 the Great Schism between the Latin Church centered at Rome and the Eastern Greeks Church centered at Constantinople and we have a whole series of videos on that and all of the factors that led to it. But as we get to the time of this map one of the things that the high Middle Ages is most known for, the Great Schism or the East-West Schism is one of the them, the Schism between what eventually becomes the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, but what the high Middle Ages are also known for are the Crusades. As already mentioned you see how the Seljuk Turks are able to take much of Anatolia, much of the peninsula from the Byzantine Empire. And the West decides to send what will eventually be called Crusaders to help regain land from the Muslims. And so that's where you see the Crusades beginning in 1096 at the very end of the 11th century. You can see the multiple crusades that occur over roughly the next 200 years. And the Crusaders were trying to reclaim land from the Muslims and especially the Holy Land, much of which is below the map where you can't quite see it over here. But it turns out that when they are able to reclaim some of that land they don't give it back to the Byzantines they set up what are known as Crusader Kingdoms and you can see some of them right over here in this bluish color. So once again you had this East-West Schism and the Crusades are further expanding the division between east and west. And that really becomes significant in 1204 when the Crusaders themselves sack Constantinople, take Constantinople from the Byzantines, so that's in some ways the point of no return. The Byzantines are eventually able to take Constantinople back but this is really the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire. Now even though the high Middle Ages are known for this tension between east and west The Great Schism, even though it's known for the Crusades, most of which were fairly unsuccessful despite being very very very bloody for the Crusaders, the high Middle Ages were considered a high point for the Middle Ages. Farming technology coupled with better weather actually significantly increased agricultural productivity at this time. But then roughly in the year 1300, historians consider ourselves moving into the late Middle Ages. So you can see here in this map by the late Middle Ages, Europe is starting to resemble the Europe that we know in later periods once we get into the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration. By this point, much of the Iberian Peninsula has been reclaimed from Muslim rule although you still have Muslim rule in Granada. Most of the Byzantine Empire has now been taken over by the Ottomans, save Constantinople, Constantinople eventually falls in 1453. This map right over here is roughly what Europe looked like in the 14th century. So this period right over here, Constantinople falls in 1453 ending the Byzantine Empire formally. And what the late Middle Ages is most known for is being not that pleasant of a time to live in Europe. In 1347, you have the Black Death, which by some estimates kills 50 million people in Europe, which is roughly 60% of the population at the time. It's also a time of famine, the weather cycles get worse and even before the Black Death you have a significant famine occurring in the 14th century. You can see right over here between 1337 and 1453 you have the Hundred Years' War between France and England which lasts over 100 years, once again not a pleasant time to live in especially Western Europe. But as we get into the end of the 15th and especially into the 16th century, historians consider that to be the end of the Middle Ages and we start getting into the Age of Exploration and the Renaissance which we will discuss in future videos.