The Medieval Period, also known as the Middle Ages, was the period that extended from around 400 to 1500 AD. In Western history it was the era that occurred between classical antiquity and the modern period, and was a time of great turbulence and tremendous change – not just in the West but across many other parts of the world.
Many momentous events occurred during this time – extended periods of warfare, climate change, disease and social upheaval, all of which launched the world into the modern era.
Some of the more notable events included:
The Viking Invasions Begin
In 793 the Vikings, pagan people from Scandinavia, landed at Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England. They destroyed the local abbey, killed many of the resident monks and carried off the church treasures.
Invasions of parts of other parts of England and Europe followed over the next two centuries with the dreaded “Norsemen” becoming greatly feared across the area.
Medieval Warm Period
From 950 to 1250 unusually warm temperatures settled across the North Atlantic region, allowing expanded trade and settlement to take place. It was associated with rising prosperity across much of northern Europe with increased agriculture and crop diversity emerging. The Vikings were able to establish farms in parts of Greenland, providing much needed arable land to support their population.
The Battle of Hastings
On October 14 1066 the invading Norman forces of William the Conqueror defeated the English army commanded by King Harold II after a brutal battle at Hastings that lasted across the day. Harold, the last Anglo Saxon King of England, was killed by an arrow and his forces were slaughtered and scattered. William then marched on London, forcing a surrender and he was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, 8 in all that extended from 1096 to 1270. They were invasions by European Christian forces initially launched by Pope Urban II in an effort to gain Christian control over the Holy Land, Jerusalem in particular that was in Muslim hands at the time.
After nearly 200 years of intermittent and brutal fighting, with fortunes fluctuating back and forth between the two sides, the Crusading movement collapsed, achieving few of
its original aims and creating a legacy of bitterness that has lasted down to the present day.
The Inquisition Begins
In 1184 the Roman Catholic Church established an ecclesiastical tribunal called the Mediaeval Inquisition, a church court charged with identifying any individuals or organizations engaging in apostasy or heresy, as defined by the church. It was concentrated across France and Italy at first with the inquisitors authorized to use torture to extract confessions from suspected heretics.
Those found guilty were handed over to the civil authorities for punishment – including the option of execution.
The Hundred Years War
The Hundred Years War was a series of battles between 1337 and 1453 between the invading armies of England, and the defenders of France. It was essentially a war for the control of France and became one of the major conflicts of the Middle Ages. After a long period of see sawing fortunes, the war ended in victory for France, with England losing many of its continental land holdings.
The Black Death
Between 1346 and 1353 one of the worst outbreaks of pestilence in history – responsible for the deaths of more than 100 million people – rampaged across much of Europe and England. This was the dreaded bubonic plague, transmitted from fleas carried by rats. This event created tremendous social panic and religious tension that persisted across the next three centuries.
Image: Reconstruction of an early medieval peasant village in Bavaria within the Baernau-Tachov historic site. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.