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The Middle Ages

During the decline of the Roman Empire, the migrations of a strong, rude people began to
change the life of Europe. They were the German barbarians, or Teutonic tribes, who swept
across the Rhine and the Danube into the empire. There they accepted Christianity. The union
of barbarian vigor and religious spirit carried Europe to the threshold of modern times. That
span from the ancient era to the modern is called the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages cover about 1,000 years--from about AD 500 to about AD 1500. The change
from ancient ways to medieval customs came so gradually, however, that it is difficult to tell
exactly when the Middle Ages began. Some historians say that the Middle Ages began in AD
476, when the barbarian Odoacer overthrew the emperor Romulus Augustulus, ending the
Western Roman Empire. Other historians give the year 410, when Alaric, king of the Visigoths,
sacked Rome. Still others say about AD 500 or even later. It is equally hard to determine exactly
when the Middle Ages ended, for decisive events leading to the modern age took place at
different times. Historians say variously that the Middle Ages ended with the fall of
Constantinople, in 1453; with the discovery of America, in 1492; or with the beginning of the
Reformation, in 1517.
A New Empire In The West
The Early Middle Ages, 500-1000
The first dominant kingdom to emerge from the decentralization of the early Middle Ages was
that of the Germanic tribe of the Franks. From 714 to 814, the Carolingian House of the Franks
brought stability and progress to northern Europe. A large portion of the West enjoyed military
and political security as well as religious unity.
This accomplishment was not to last, however. The Frankish empire did not endure, partly
because it lacked the strong economic bases that has supported the Romans. By the ninth
century, Muslim conquests and commercial activity successfully competed with the Franks;
inland trade declined sharply and urban life almost disappeared in the north. In addition, the
empire had no strong administrative machinery to compensate for the weak rulers who followed
the dominating leadership of the emperor Charlemagne; the empire disintegrated amid civil
wars and invasions.
The impressive achievements of the Carolingians towards building a unifying governmental
system were not able to counteract the decentralization of political, military, and economic
activity in most of western Europe. A system of government sometimes referred to as feudalism
attempted to provide stability and to serve as an effective political substitute for a powerful,
effective central government. Economic life centered on a concern for subsistence and security,
which could only be provided by the acceptance of local and rural customs and practices
designed to ensure the necessities of life through resisting change and fostering self-sufficiency.

The church continued its efforts to convert and standardize the belief of its members, and in so
doing attempted to provide spiritual security in a troubled and insecure world.

A New Empire In The West

In the merging of Roman and Germanic cultures and institutions, the Franks played an
especially significant role. The kingdom of the Franks was not only the most enduring of the
Germanic states established in the West, but it became, with the active support of the church,
the center of the new Europe that attempted to assume the place of the western Roman Empire.
The Kingdom of the Franks Under Clovis
Before the Germanic invasions of the fourth century, the Franks lived along the east bank of the
Rhine, close to the North Sea. Late in the fourth century the Franks began a slow movement
south and west across the Rhine into Gaul. By 481 they occupied the northern part of Gaul as
far as the old Roman city of Paris; in that year Clovis I of the Merovingian House became ruler
of one of the small Frankish kingdoms. By the time of his death in 511, Clovis had united the
Franks into a single kingdom that stretched south to the Pyrenees.
Clovis achieved his aims by the crafty manipulation of marriage alliances, treachery,
assassination, and the use of religion. Clovis first allied himself with other kings of the small
Frankish states to dispose of Syagrius, the last Roman general in Gaul. He then turned against
his own allies and subdued them.
According to the sixth century Gallo-Roman bishop and historian Gregory of Tours, whose
History of the Franks is the most detailed account of any of the early Germanic peoples, Clovis
was converted to Christianity in 496 as a result of a battle against the Alemanni, a pagan
Germanic tribe whose name became the French word for Germany, Allemagne. On the verge of
being defeated, Clovis called on the Christian god for help:
O Christ ... if you accord me the victory ... I will believe
in you and be baptized in your name. I have called on my gods,
but I have found from experience that they are far from my aid ...
it is you whom I believe to be able to defeat my enemies. ^1
[Footnote 1: Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks II, 30; quoted in Eleanor Duckett, The Gateway to the
Middle Ages (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938), p. 231.]

Clovis won the battle and was baptized together with his whole army. He became the only
mainstream Christian ruler in the West, for the other Germanic tribes were either pagan or Arian
The conversion of the Franks to Christianity is considered a decisive event in European history.
Ultimately it led to an alliance of the Franks and the papacy, and immediately it assured Clovis
the loyalty of the Gallo-Roman bishops, the leaders of the native Christian population of Gaul.
This was a political advantage not open to the Arian Visigothic and Burgundian kings.
With the help of the native population of Gaul, Clovis was able to expand his control in the name
of Christian orthodoxy.
In 507 Clovis attacked the Visigoths, who ruled Gaul south of the Loire River and all of Spain.
The Visigothic king was killed, and his people abandoned most of their Gallic territory. Clovis
died four years later at the age of forty-five; his conquests formed the core of what would
eventually become the French nation.

[See Kingdom Of Clovis I]

Decline of the Merovingians

Clovis' sons and grandsons conquered the Burgundian kingdom and extended Frankish control
to the Mediterranean and further into Germany. After a century, however, the Merovingian
House began to decay from inner weaknesses. The Germanic practice of treating the kingdom
as personal property and dividing it among all the king's sons resulted in constant and bitter civil
wars. Potential heirs plotted murders, intrigue, and treachery. Merovingian kings proved
themselves incompetent and ineffectual as rulers. Soon the Frankish state broke up into three
separate kingdoms; in each, power was concentrated in the hands of the chief official of the
royal household, the mayor of the palace, a powerful noble in whose interest it was to keep the
king weak and ineffectual. The Merovingian rulers were mere puppets, the rois faineants ("donothing kings").

A Dark Age
By the middle of the seventh century the Frankish state had lost many of the essential
characteristics of its Roman predecessor. The Roman system of administration and taxation had
completely collapsed. The dukes and counts who represented the Merovingian king received no
salary and usually acted on their own initiative in commanding fighting men and presiding over
the courts in their districts. International commerce had ceased except for a small trade in luxury
items carried on by adventurous Greek, Syrian, and Jewish traders. The old Roman cities
served mainly to house the local bishop and his staff. The absence of a vibrant middle class
meant that society was composed of the nobility, a fusion through intermarriage of aristocratic
Gallo-Roman and German families who owned and exercised authority over large estates, and
the lower class coloni, who were bound to the land. These serfs included large numbers of
formerly free German farmers. Only about 10 percent of the peasant population of Gaul
maintained a free status.
Coinciding with the Merovingian decay, new waves of invaders threatened every part of Europe.
A great movement of Slavic people from the area that is now Russia had begun in about A.D.
500. The Slavs fanned out from this point, filling the areas left by the Germanic tribes when they
pushed south into the Roman Empire. By 650 the western Slavs had reached the Elbe River,
across which they raided German territory. More danger threatened western Europe from the
south; in the late seventh century the Muslims prepared to invade Spain from North Africa.

Charles Martel and the Rise of the Carolingians

The Frankish kingdom revived when Charles Martel became mayor of the palace in 714. His
father, one of the greatest Frankish landowners, had eliminated all rival mayors. Although
Charles ruled a united Frankish kingdom in all but name, the Merovingian kings were kept as
figureheads at the court.
Charles is best remembered for his victory over a Muslim invasion of Frankish territory, which
earned him the surname Martel, "The Hammer." In 711 an army of Muslims from North Africa
had invaded Spain, and by 718 the weak kingdom of the Visigoths had collapsed. With most of
the peninsula under their control, the Muslims began making raids across the Pyrenees. In 732
Charles Martel met them near Tours, deep within the Frankish kingdom. Muslim losses were
heavy, and during the night they retreated to Spain.
A major military reform coincided with the Battle of Tours. For some time before this conflict, the
effectiveness of mounted soldiers had been growing, aided by the introduction of the stirrup,
which allowed mounted warriors to keep a firm seat while wielding their weapons. To counteract
the effectiveness of the quick-striking Muslim cavalry, Charles recruited a force of professional

mounted soldiers whom he rewarded with sufficient land to enable each of them to maintain a
family, equipment, and war horses.

Pepin the Short

Charles Martel's son, Pepin the Short, who ruled from 741 to 768, was a worthy successor to
his father. To legalize the power already being exercised by the mayors of the palace, Pepin
requested and received from the pope a decision that whoever exercised the actual power in
the kingdom should be the legal ruler. In 751 Pepin was elected king by the Franks; the last
Merovingian was quietly sent to a secluded monastery. In 754 the pope reaffirmed the election
of Pepin by crossing the Alps and personally anointing the new king in the Old Testament
manner, as the Chosen of the Lord.
Behind the pope's action lay his need for a powerful protector. In 751 the Lombards had
conquered the Exarchate of Ravenna, the center of Byzantine government in Italy, were
demanding tribute from the pope, and threatened to besiege Rome. Following Pepin's
coronation, the pope secured the new ruler's promise of armed intervention in Italy and his
pledge to give the papacy the Exarchate of Ravenna, once it was conquered. In 756 a Frankish
army forced the Lombard king to relinquish his conquests, and Pepin officially gave Ravenna to
the pope. Known as the "Donation of Pepin," the gift made the pope a temporal ruler over the
Papal States, a strip of territory that extended diagonally across northern Italy.
The alliance between the Franks and the papacy affected the course of politics and religion for
centuries. It accelerated the separation of the Roman from the Greek Christian church by
providing the papacy with a dependable western ally in place of the Byzantines, previously its
only protector against the Lombards; it created the Papal States, which played a major role in
Italian politics until the late nineteenth century; and, by the use of the ritual of anointment, it
carried on a tradition that kingship in the West was to be affirmed by approval of church officials.

Charlemagne's Accomplishments
Under Pepin's son, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), who ruled from 768 to 814, the Frankish
state and the Carolingian House reached the summit of their power. Charlemagne's biographer,
Einhard, described the king as a natural leadertall, physically strong, and a great horseman who
always led the charge at the hunt. Although he was primarily a successful warrior-king, leading
his armies on yearly campaigns, Charlemagne also tried to provide an effective administration
for his kingdom. In addition, he had great appreciation for learning and attempted to further the
arts in his court.
Taking advantage of feuds among the Muslims in Spain, Charlemagne sought to extend his
kingdom southward. In 778 he crossed the Pyrenees and met with some success. As the
Frankish army headed back north, it was met by the Christian Basques, who attacked the
Franks from the rear. In this skirmish the Frankish leader, a count named Roland, was killed.
The memory of his heroism was later recorded in the great medieval epic, the Chanson de
Roland (Song of Roland). On later expeditions the Franks drove the Muslims back to the Ebro
River and estalished a frontier area known as the Spanish March, or Mark, centered near
Barcelona. French immigrants moved into the area, later called
Catalonia, giving it a character culturally distinguishable from the rest of Spain.
Charlemagne conquered the Bavarians and the Saxons, the last of the independent Germanic
tribes. It took thirty-two campaigns to subdue the Saxons, who lived between the Rhine and
Elbe rivers. Charlemagne divided Saxony into bishoprics, built monasteries, and instituted
severe laws against paganism. Eating meat during the penitential period of Lent, cremating the
dead (an old pagan practice), and pretending to be baptized were offenses punishable by death.

Like his father before him, Charlemagne was concerned with Italian politics. The Lombards
resented the attempts of the papacy to expand civil control in northern Italy. At the request of the
pope, Charlemagne attacked the Lombards in 774, defeated them and proclaimed himself their
king. While in Italy, he reaffirmed his father's alliance with the church through the Donation of
The empire's eastern frontier was continually threatened by the Avars, Asiatic nomads related to
the Huns, and the Slavs. In six campaigns Charlemagne almost eliminated the Avars and then
set up his own military province in the valley of the Danube to guard against any future
plundering by eastern nomads. Called the East Mark, this territory later was named Austria.

Charlemagne's Coronation in Rome

One of the most important events in Charlemagne's reign took place on Christmas Day, 800. In
the previous year the Roman nobility had ousted the pope, charging him with corruption.
Charlemagne came to Rome and restored the pope to his office. Then, at the Christmas service
while Charlemagne knelt before the altar at St. Peter's, the pope placed a crown on his head
amid the cries of the assembled congregation: "To Charles Augustus crowned of God, great and
pacific Emperor of the Romans, long life and victory!"
This ceremony demonstrated that the memory of the Roman Empire still survived as a
meaningful tradition in Europe and that there was a strong desire to reestablish a political unity.
In fact, Charlemagne had named his capital at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) "New Rome" and was
about to take the title of emperor in an attempt to revive the idea of the Roman Empire in the
West. By seizing the initiative and crowning Charlemagne, the pope attempted to assume a
position of superiority as a maker of emperors.

Charlemagne's Administration
The extent of Charlemagne's empire was impressive. His territories included all of the western
area of the old Roman Empire except Africa, Britain, southern Italy, and southern Spain. Seven
defensive provinces, or marks, protected the empire against hostile neighbors.
The Carolingian territories were divided into some three hundred administrative divisions, each
under a count (graf) or, in the marks along the border, a margrave (markgraf). In addition, there
were local military officials, the dukes. In an effort to solve the problem of supervising the local
officials, a problem that plagued all Germanic rulers, Charlemagne issued an ordinance creating
the missi dominici, the king's envoys. Pairs of these itinerant officials, usually a bishop and a lay
noble, traveled throughout the realm to check on the local administration. To make the missi
immune to bribes, they were chosen from men of high rank, were frequently transferred from
one region to another, and no two of them were teamed for more than one year.
[See Charlemagne's Empire]
The Carolingian Renaissance
Charlemagne also promoted a revival of learning and the arts. His efforts in this area were
destined to be far more lasting than his attempt to revive the Roman Empire in the West, and
they have prompted historians to speak of this period as one of cultural rebirth. In 789
Charlemagne decreed that every monastery must have a school for the education of boys in
"singing, arithmetic, and grammar." As he stated in a letter to the abbot of Fulda, Charlemagne
was greatly concerned over the illiteracy of the clergy:

Since in these years there were often sent to us from divers monasteries letters in which ...
owing to neglect of learning, the untutored tongue could not express [itself] without faultiness.

Whence it came that we began to fear lest, as skill in writing was less, wisdom to understand
the Sacred Scriptures might be far less than it ought rightly to be. ^2
[Footnote 2: Quoted in M. L. W. Laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900 (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1931), pp. 196-197.]

At his capital of Aix-la-Chapelle, the emperor also sponsored a palace school for the education
of the royal household and the stimulation of learning throughout the realm. Alcuin, the AngloSaxon scholar in charge of the school, began the difficult task of reviving learning by writing
textbooks on grammar, spelling, rhetoric, and logic. "Ye lads," Alcuin exhorted his students,
"whose age is fitted for reading, learn! The years go by like running water. Waste not the
teachable days in idleness!" ^3
[Footnote 3: M. L. W. Laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, p. 390.]

The reform of handwriting and the preservation of classical manuscripts were significant
achievements of the Carolingian revival. Copyists labored in monasteries to preserve the
classics of pagan and Christian thought with the result that the oldest manuscripts of most of the
Latin classics that have come down to us date from the age of Charlemagne. The almost
illegible script of the Merovingian period was replaced by a more readable style of writing,
known as Carolingian minuscule - "little letters," in contrast to the capitals used by the Romans.
Carolingian miniscule became the foundation for the typefaces still used in present-day printing,
including that used in this textbook.
At Aix-la-Chapelle Charlemagne also strove to recapture something of the magnificence of
ancient Rome by building a stone palace church modeled after a sixth-century church in
Ravenna. Its mosaics were probably the work of Byzantine artisans, and its marble columns
were taken from ancient buildings in Rome and Ravenna.
Charlemagne's Legacy
Charlemagne must be considered one of the most significant figures of European history. He
extended Christian civilization in Europe, set up barriers to prevent invasions of the Slavs and
Avars, and created a new Europe whose center was in the north rather than on the
Mediterranean and a state in which law and order was again enforced after three centuries of
disintegration. His patronage of learning began a cultural revival that later generations would
build upon, producing a European civilization distinct from the Byzantine to the east and the
Muslim to the south.
Charlemagne's empire was not long-lived, however, for its territories were too vast and its
nobility too divisive to be held together after the dominating personality of its creator had passed
from the scene. Charlemagne had no standing army; his foot soldiers were essentially the old
Germanic war band summoned to fight by its war leader, and his mounted warriors served him,
as they had Charles Martel, in return for grants of land. Charlemagne did not have a
bureaucratic administrative machine comparable to that of Roman times.
The Frankish economy was agricultural and localized, and there was no system of taxation
adequate to maintain an effective and permanent administration. Under Charlemagne's weak
successors the empire collapsed in the confusion of civil wars and devastating new invasions.
Progress toward a centralized and effective monarchy in Europe ended with Charlemagne's

The Division of the Empire

Before his death in 814, Charlemagne himself, ignoring the pope, placed the imperial crown on
the head of his only surviving son, Louis the Pious, a well-meaning man who was loved by the
clergy, ignored by the nobility, and resented by his own family. Louis, in accord with Frankish
custom, divided the kingdom among his sons, and bitter rivalry and warfare broke out among
the brothers and their father.

Louis the Pious died in 840, and strife continued among his three surviving sons. Lothair, the
oldest, was opposed by his two younger brothers - Louis the German and Charles the Bald. In
842 the two younger brothers joined forces by swearing the Strasbourg Oaths. The text of these
oaths is significant in that one part was in an early form of French, the other in German. The first
could be understood by Charles' followers, who lived mainly west of the Rhine; the other by
Louis' followers, who lived east of the Rhine. These oaths are evidence that the Carolingian
empire was splitting into two linguistic and cultural sections - East Frankland, the forerunner of
modern Germany, and West Frankland, or France.
In 843 the three brothers met at Verdun, where they agreed to split the Carolingian lands three
ways. Charles the Bald obtained the western part of the empire and Louis the German the
eastern; Lothair, who retained the title of emperor, obtained an elongated middle kingdom,
which stretched a thousand miles from the North Sea to central Italy.
The Treaty of Verdun is important because it began the shaping of modern France and
Germany by giving politcal recognition to the cultural and linguistic division shown in the
Strasbourg Oaths. Lothair's middle kingdom soon collapsed into three major parts, Lorraine in
the north, Burgundy, and Italy in the south. Lorraine included Latin and German cultures, and
although it was divided in 870 between Charles and Louis, the area was disputed for centuries.
Lorraine became one of the battlegrounds of Europe.
The rival Carolingian houses produced no strong leaders worthy of being called "Hammer"
(Martel) or "Great"; instead, we find kings with such revealing names as Charles the Fat,
Charles the Simple, Louis the Child, and Louis the Sluggard. The last of the East Frankish
Carolingians died in 911. In West Frankland the nobles, ignoring the eighteen-year-old
Carolingian prince, chose Odo, the count of Paris, as king in 888.
[See Empire Partition: Partition of Chatlemagne's Empire 843.]

The New Invasions

During the ninth and tenth centuries the remnants of Charlemagne's empire were also battered
by new waves of invaders. Scandinavians attacked from the north, Muslims from the south, and
a new wave of Asiatic nomads, the Magyars, conducted a series of destructive raids on central
Europe and northern Italy. Christian Europe had to fight for its life against these aggressive and
warlike newcomers, who did far more damage to life and property than the Germanic invaders
of the fifth century.
From bases in North Africa, Muslim adventurers in full command of the sea plundered the
coasts of Italy and France. In 827 they began the conquest of Byzantine Sicily and southern
Italy. From forts erected in southern France they penetrated far inland to attack the caravans of
merchants in the Alpine passes. What trade still existed between Byzantium and western
Europe, except for that undertaken by Venice and one or two other Italian towns, was now
almost totally cut off, and the Mediterranean Sea became a virtual Muslim lake.
The most widespread and destructive raids came from Scandinavia. During the ninth and tenth
centuries Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians collectively known as Vikings - began to move
south from their remote forests and fiords. The reason for this expansion is not clear, but some
historians cite overpopulation and a surplus of young men as causes. Other scholars view these
raiders as defeated war bands expelled from their homeland by the gradual emergence of
strong royal power. Still others see a clue in the fact that the Vikings had developed seaworthy
ships capable of carrying a hundred men and powered by long oars or by sail when the wind
was favorable. Viking sailors also had developed expert sailing techniques; without benefit of
the compass, they were able to navigate by means of the stars at night and the sun during the
[See Viking Ship: Oseberge ship, from the early Viking period. Courtesy
Norwegian Information Service]

The range of Viking expansion was impressive. The Vikings explored as far as North America to
the west, the Caspian Sea to the east, and the Mediterranean to the south. Few areas seemed
immune from their raids, which filled civilized Europeans with a fear that was reflected in a new
prayer in the litany of the church: "From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord deliver us."
Three main routes of Viking expansion can be identified. The outer path, which was followed
principally by the Norwegians, swung westward to Ireland and the coast of Scotland. Between
800 and 850 Ireland was ravaged severely. Many monasteries, the centers of the flourishing
Irish Celtic culture, were destroyed. By 875 the Norwegians were beginning to occupy remote
Iceland, and it was here rather than in their homeland that the magnificent Norse sagas were
preserved, little affected by either classical or Christian influences. During the tenth century the
Icelandic Norsemen ventured on to Greenland and, later, to North America.
Another route, the eastern line, was followed chiefly by the Swedes, who went down the rivers
of Russia as merchants and soldiers of fortune and, as was described in chapter 7, founded the
nucleus of a Russian state.
The Danes took the middle passage, raiding Britain and the shores of Germany, France, and
Spain. By the 870s they had occupied most of Britain north of the Thames. Also in the middle of
the ninth century their raids increased upon the Continent, where their long boats sailed up the
Rhine, Scheldt, Seine, and Loire rivers. In particular the Danes devastated northwest France,
destroying dozens of abbeys and towns. Unable to fight off the Viking attacks, the weak
Carolingian king Charles the Simple arranged a treaty with Rollo, a Norse chieftain, in 911. This
agreement created a Viking buffer state, later called Normandy, and recognized Rollo as duke
and vassal of the French king. Like Viking settlers elsewhere, these Northmen, or Normans,
soon adopted Christian civilization. By the eleventh century, Normandy was a powerful duchy,
and the Viking spirit of the Normans contributed in producing the most vigorous crusaders,
conquerors, and administrators in Europe.

Europe in 900
Europe's response to the invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries was not uniform. By 900, the
Viking occupation of England initiated a strong national reaction, which soon led to the creation
of a united British kingdom. Similarly, Germany in 919 reacted to the Magyar threat by installing
the first of a new and able line of kings who went on to become the most powerful European
monarchs since Charlemagne.
The Viking attacks on France accelerated the trend toward political fragmentation that began
under the Merovingians but was temporarily halted by the strong personal leadership provided
by the Carolingians. When Charlemange's weak successors were unable to cope with constant
Viking assaults, and the government could not hold together its vast territory without either a
bureaucracy or a dominating king, the result was that small independent landowners
surrendered both their lands and their personal freedoms to the many counts, dukes, and other
local lords in return for protection and security. The decline of trade further strengthened the
position of the landed nobility, whose large estates, or manors, tended to become economically
self-sufficient. In addition, the nobility became increasingly dependent on military service
rendered by a professional force of heavily armed mounted knights, many of whom still lived in
the house of their noble retainers in return for their military service.
In response to all these elements - the disintegration of central power, the need for protection,
the decrease in the number of freemen, the rise of a largely independent landed aristocracy,
and the increased reliance on the mounted knight - patterns of society took shape

Political Organization In The Early Middle Ages

The centralization of the Carolingian state was not long a source of political stability in western
Europe in the early Middle Ages. In those areas where the Carolingian Empire had little impact,
and even in the regions which were at some time controlled by Carolingian rulers, personal
safety and security were the primary concerns for most individuals. In circumstances that make
strong central government impossible, individual security must be guaranteed by other means usually through local custom and practice.
Historians have used the term feudalism to apply generally to these individual patterns of
decentralized government. The diversity of political structure in the early Middle Ages was great,
and varied from region to region. We must be aware that in using the term to describe medieval
political structures, we are attempting a simplification of an extremely diversified and complex
set of local practices.

Feudalism can be described as a type of government in which political power is exercised
locally by private individuals rather than through the bureaucracy of a centralized state. It is
seen as a transitional stage which may follow the collapse of a unified political system. The term
has been used to describe political practices in various areas and times in world history - in
ancient Egypt and in twelfth-century Japan, for example - but the most famous of all feudal
patterns emerged in France following the collapse of Charlemagne's empire.
In general, medieval political institutions involved three basic elements: (1) a personal element,
called lordship or vassalage, by which one nobleman, the vassal, became the loyal follower of a
stronger nobleman, the lord or suzerain; (2) a property element, called the fief (usually land),
which the vassal received from his lord in order to enable him to fulfill the obligations of
vassalage; and (3) a governmental element, meaning the private exercise of governmental
functions over vassals and fiefs. The roots of these three elements run back to late Roman and
early Germanic times.
By the fifth century the Roman emperor was no longer able to protect his subjects, and citizens
had to depend on the patronage system, by which a Roman noble organized a group of less
powerful men as a personal bodyguard and in return looked after their wants and interests. A
similar arrangement existed among the Germans - the war band or comitatus, described by
Tacitus. Vassalage, the personal element in feudalism, arose from the combination of the use of
patronage and the comitatus.
The origin of the property element, the fief, also derives from Roman practices. In the late
Roman Empire the owners of great estates (latifundia) added steadily to their already extensive
holdings. Unable to manage their large tracts directly, the nobles granted the temporary use of
portions to other people in exchange for dues and services. Such land was called a beneficium,
or benefice (literally, "a benefit"). As an example, in late Merovingian times, when mounted
warriors rather than old-style foot soldiers were needed to deal effectively with Muslim raiders
from Spain, Charles Martel granted numerous benefices to compensate his followers for the
added expense of maintaining horses. During the civil wars and foreign invasions of late
Carolingian times, the competition among Charlemagne's successors for the available supply of
mounted knights led not only to the wholesale granting of benefices but also to making the
benefice hereditary. On the death of the vassal, the benefice passed to an heir instead of
reverting to the king. Hereditary benefices were commonly called fiefs.

The third basic element, the exercise of governmental power by private individuals, also had
antecedents in late Roman times. As the imperial government weakened, the powerful Roman
landowners organized their own private armies to police their estates and fend off governmental
agents, particularly tax collectors. The emperors also favored certain estates with grants of
immunity from imperial authority, a practice the Germanic kings often followed and that became
the rule with Charlemagne's successors in their competitive efforts to fill their armies with
mounted fief-holding vassals. And where immunity from the king's authority was not freely
granted, it was often usurped. With the combining of these three elements, a definable,
although highly complex and variable, governmental pattern emerged in the West by the end of
the ninth century.

The Theoretical Feudal Hierarchy

In theory, feudalism was a vast hierarchy. At the top stood the king, and all the land in his
kingdom belonged to him. He kept large areas for his personal use (royal or crown lands) and,
in return for the military service of a specified number of mounted knights, invested the highest
nobles - such as dukes and counts (in Britain, earls) - with the remainder. Those nobles holding
lands directly from the king were called tenants-in-chief. They, in turn, in order to obtain the
services of the required number of mounted warriors (including themselves) owed to the king,
parceled out large portions of their fiefs to lesser nobles. This process, called subinfeudation,
was continued until the lowest in the scale of vassals was reached - the single knight whose fief
was just sufficient to support one mounted warrior.
Subinfeudation became a problem when a conflict of loyalties arose. Since the Count of
Champagne, for example, was vassal to nine different lords, on whose side would he fight
should two of his lords go to war against one another? This dilemma was partially solved by the
custom of liege homage. When a vassal received his first fief, he pledged liege or prior homage
to that lord. This obligation was to have top priority over services that he might later pledge to
other lords.
Except for the knight with a single fief, a nobleman was usually both a vassal and a lord. Even a
king might be a vassal; John of Britain was vassal to King Philip of France for certain French
lands, yet he in no way thought himself inferior to Philip.
By maintaining a king at the head of the theoretical feudal hierarchy, custom kept the traces of
monarchy intact. Although many feudal kings were little more than figureheads who might be
less powerful than their own vassals, the institution of the monarchy was retained out of

Relation of Lord and Vassal: The Contract

Basic to political order was the personal bond between lord and vassal. In the ceremony known
as the act of homage, the vassal knelt before his lord, or suzerain, and promised to be his
"man." In the oath of fealty that followed, the vassal swore on the Bible or some other sacred
object that he would remain true to his lord. Next, in the ritual of investiture, a lance, glove, or
even a clump of dirt was handed the vassal to signify his jurisdiction (not ownership) over the

The contract entered into by lord and vassal was usually considered sacred and binding upon
both parties. Breaking this tie of mutual obligations was considered a serious offense, because
the agreement was the basis of feudalism and hence of early medieval society. The lord on his
part was usually obliged to give his vassal protection and justice. The vassal's primary duty was
military service. In some instances, he was expected to devote forty days' service each year to
the lord without payment. In addition, a vassal could be obliged to assist the lord in rendering
justice in the lord's court. At certain times, such as when he was captured and had to be
ransomed, the lord also had the right to demand money payments, called aids.
Unusual aids, such as defraying the expense of going on a crusade, might not be levied without
the vassal's consent. The lord also had certain rights, called incidents, regarding the
administration of the fief. These included wardship (the right to administer the fief during the
minority of a vassal's heir) and forfeiture of the fief if a vassal failed to honor his obligations.
The final authority in this era was force, and the general atmosphere of the time was one of
violence. Defiant vassals frequently made war upon their lords. But warfare was also considered
the normal occupation of the nobility, for success offered glory and rich rewards. If successful,
warfare enlarged a noble's territory; and, if they produced nothing else, forays and raids kept
one active. To die in battle was the only honorable end for a spirited gentleman; to die in bed
was a "cow's death."

The Church and Feudalism

The inclusion of the church in the sytem became a political reality. The unsettled conditions
caused by the Viking and Magyar invasions forced church officials to enter into close relations
with the only power able to offer them protection - the barons in France and the kings in
Germany. Bishops and abbots thus became vassals, receiving fiefs for which they were
obligated to provide the usual feudal services. The papacy fared even worse; during much of
the tenth and early eleventh centuries the papacy became a political prize sought after by local
Roman nobles.
In time, the church sought to improve the behavior of the warrior nobility. In addition to
attempting to add Christian virtues to chivalry, the code of knightly conduct, (see ch. 10), the
church sought to impose limitations on warfare. In the eleventh century bishops called the
attention of the knights to the Peace of God and Truce of God. The Peace of God banned from
the sacraments all persons who pillaged sacred places or refused to spare noncombatants. The
Truce of God established "closed seasons" on fighting: from sunset on Wednesday to sunrise
on Monday and certain longer periods, such as Lent. These regulations were generally ignored.

Class Structure
Medieval society essentially consisted of three classes: nobles, peasants, and clergy. Each of
these groups had its own role. The nobles were primarily fighters, belonging to an honored
society distinct from the freemen and serfs who made up the peasantry. In an age of physical
violence, society obviously would accord first place to the man with the sword rather than to the
man with the hoe. Members of the clergy came from both the noble and peasant classes.

Although most higher churchmen were sons of nobles and held land as vassals under local
custom, the clergy formed a class that was considered separate from the nobility and peasantry.

The Church In The Early Middle Ages

As Europe gradually emerged from the destruction of the Roman Empire, the church became
one of the mainstays of civilization. During the pontificate of Gregory I the Great (590-604), the
medieval papacy began to assert its authority. Gregory's achievement was to go beyond the
claim of papal primacy in the church by beginning to establish the temporal power of the
Gregory the Great and the Early Medieval Papacy, 600-1000
A Roman aristocrat by birth, Gregory witnessed and commented on the devastation of Rome as
the city changed hands three times during Justinian's long struggle to retake Italy from the
Ruins on ruins .... Where is the senate? Where the people?
All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed ....
And we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are
menaced by scourges and innumerable trials. ^5

[Footnote 5: Quoted in R. H. C. Davis, A History of Medieval Europe: From

Constantine to Saint Louis (London: Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1957), p.
Concluding that the world was coming to an end, Gregory withdrew from it to become a
Benedictine monk. In 579 the pope convinced him to undertake a fruitless mission seeking
Byzantine aid against the Lombards, who had invaded Italy a few years before. After Gregory
was elected pope in 590, he assumed the task of protecting Rome and its surrounding territory
from the Lombard threat. Thus Gregory was the first pope to act as temporal ruler of a part of
what later became the Papal States.
Gregory the Great also laid the foundation for the elaborate papal machinery of church
government. He took the first step toward papal control of the church outside of Italy by sending
a mission of Benedictine monks to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The pattern of church
government Gregory established in England - bishops supervised by archbishops, and
archbishops by the pope - became standard in the church.
The task of establishing papal control of the church and extending the pope's temporal authority
was continued by Gregory's successors. In the eighth century, English missionaries transferred
to Germany and France the pattern of papal government they had known in England; and the

Donation of Pepin, by creating the Papal States, greatly increased the pope's temporal power.
The papacy's spiritual and temporal power was restrained, however, with the onset of feudalism.
Beginning in the late ninth century, the church, including the papacy, fell more and more under
the control of secular lords and kings.

Missionary Activities of the Church

The early Middle Ages was a period of widespread missionary activity. By spreading Christianity,
missionaries aided in the fusion of Germanic and classical cultures. Monasteries served as
havens for those seeking a contemplative life, as repositories of learning for scholars, and often
as progressive farming centers. The zeal with which the monks approached their faith often
extended beyond the monastic walls.
One of the earliest Christian missionaries to the Germans was Ulfilas (c. 311-383), who spent
forty years among the Visigoths and translated most of the Bible into Gothic. Ulfilas and other
early missionaries were followers of Arius, and so the Arian form of Christianity was adopted by
all the Germanic tribes in the empire except the Franks and Anglo-Saxons. As we saw earlier,
the Franks' adoption of Roman Catholicism produced an important alliance between Frankish
rulers and the papacy.
Another great missionary, Patrick, was born in England about 389 and later fled to Ireland to
escape the Anglo-Saxon invaders. As a result of his missionary activities in Ireland, monasteries
were founded and Christianity became the dominant religion. In the late sixth and seventh
centuries a large number of monks from the Irish monasteries went to Scotland, northern
England, the kingdom of the Franks, and even to Italy. The Irish monks eagerly pursued
scholarship, and their monasteries became storehouses for priceless manuscripts.
When Gregory the Great became pope, the papacy joined forces with monasticism to take an
active role in the missionary movement. Gregory sent a Benedictine mission to England in 596.
Starting in Kent, where an archbishopric was founded at Canterbury ("Kent town"), Roman
Christianity spread through England, and finally even the Irish church founded by St.

Patrick acknowledged the primacy of Rome.

The English church, in turn, played an important part in the expansion of Roman-controlled
Christianity on the Continent. Boniface, the greatest missionary from England in the eighth
century, spent thirty-five years among the Germanic tribes. Known as "the Apostle to the
Germans," he established several important monasteries, bishoprics, and an archbishopric at
Mainz before he turned to the task of reforming the church in France. There he revitalized the
monasteries, organized a system of local parishes to bring Christianity to the countryside, and
probably was instrumental in forming the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingian
house. Roman Catholic missionaries also worked among the Scandinavians and the western

The Preservation of Knowledge

One of the great contributions of the monasteries was the preservation of the learning of the
classical world and that of the church. Learning did not entirely die out in western Europe, of
course. Seeing that the ability to read Greek was quickly disappearing, the sixth-century Roman
scholar Boethius, an administrator under the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, determined to
preserve Greek learning by translating all of Plato and Aristotle into Latin. Only Aristotle's
treatises on logic were translated, and these remained the sole works of that philosopher
available in the West until the twelfth century. Unjustly accused of treachery by Theodoric,
Boethius was thrown into prison, where he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while awaiting
execution. This little work later became a medieval textbook on philosophy.
Cassiodorus, a contemporary of Boethius who had also served Theodoric, devoted most of his
life to the collection and preservation of classical knowledge. By encouraging the monks to copy
valuable manuscripts, he was instrumental in making the monasteries centers of learning.
Following his example, many monasteries established scriptoria, departments concerned
exclusively with copying manuscripts.
During the early Middle Ages most education took place in the monasteries. In the late sixth and
seventh centuries, when the effects of the barbarian invasions were still being felt on the
Continent, Irish monasteries provided a safe haven for learning. There men studied Greek and
Latin, copied and preserved manuscripts, and in illuminating them produced masterpieces of
art. The Book of Kells is a surviving example of their skill.
An outstanding scholar of the early Middle Ages, the Venerable Bede (d. 735), followed the Irish
tradition of learning in a northern English monastery. Bede described himself as "ever taking
delight in learning, teaching, and writing." His many writings, which included textbooks and
commentaries on the Scriptures, summed up most knowledge available in his age.
Through Alcuin later in the century, Bede's learning influenced the Carolingian Renaissance.
Bede's best work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with its many original
documents and vivid character sketches, is our chief source for early British history. d profited
from certain monopolies. He operated the only grain mill, oven for baking bread, and wine and
cider press on the manor, and he collected a toll each time these services were needed.

The Life of the Peasants

On the manors of the Middle Ages the margin between starvation and survival was narrow, and
the life of the peasant was not easy. Famines were common; warfare was a consant threat;
grasshoppers, locusts, caterpillars, and rats repeatedly destroyed the crops. Men and women
alike had to toil long hours in the fields. A medieval poem vividly describes the life of a peasant

I saw a poor man o'er the plough bending ...

All befouled with mud, as he the plough followed ....
His wife walked by him with a long goad, ...

Barefoot on the bare ice, so that the blood followed.

And at the field's end lay a little bowl,
And therein lay a little child wrapped in rags,
And twain of two years old upon another side;
And all of them sang a song that sorrow was to hear,
They cried all a cry, a sorrowful note,
And the poor man sighed sore, and said
"Children, be still." ^4

[Footnote 4: Quoted in E. M. Hulme, History of the British People (New York:

Century Co., 1929), pp. 121-122.]

The difficulties of peasant life were reflected in the home, a cottage with mud walls, clay floor,
and thatched roof. The fire burned on a flat heartstone in the middle of the floor; and unless the
peasant was rich enough to afford a chimney, the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof.
The windows had no glass and were stuffed with straw in the winter. Furnishings were meager,
consisting usually of a table, a kneading trough for dough, a cupboard, and a bed, often either a
heap of straw or a box filled with straw, which served the entire family. Pigs and chickens
wandered about the cottage continually, while the stable was frequently under the same roof,
next to the family quarters.
The peasants, despite their hard, monotonous life, enjoyed a few pleasures. Wrestling was
exceedingly popular, as were cockfighting, a crude type of football, and fighting with quarterstaves, in which the contestants stood an excellent chance of getting their heads bashed in.
Around the porch of the parish church the peasants often congregated to dance and sing on the
numerous holy days. The church preached in vain against "ballads and dancings and evil and
wanton songs and such-like lures of the Devil." The peasants refused to give up these
amusements, a small enough compensation for the constant exploitation they suffered.

During the period known as the early Middle Ages (500-1000), the focus of European civilization
shifted from the Mediterranean to France. The conversion of Clovis to Christianity and the
subsequent Frankish alliance with the papacy united the most energetic of the Germanic tribes
with the greatest existing force for civilization in western Europe - the Christian church. The
foundation of the new Europe was completed by Charlemagne, but his empire depended too
heavily on the forceful personality of its founder and did not survive his less dynamic

successors. After the Carolingian collapse, new political and economic patterns evolved to meet
the turbulent conditions of the time.
The decentralized political systems and customs of government during the early Middle Ages
are sometimes generally referred to as feudalism. This term is helpful in describing a theoretical
pattern of government, although in reality local diversity and custom were more the rule.
Blending of Germanic and Roman practices to suit regional needs resulted in a great variety of
political patterns.
Manorialism is the term sometimes employed to generalize the condition of life for the vast
majority of commoners in the early Middle Ages. On the manors, serfs grew the food for all
segments of medieval society and performed the exhausting labor required. They were
politically restricted, bound to their estates, and very rarely in a position to control their own
Throughout the period, the church attempted to serve the spiritual needs of the populace, in
addition to strengthening its position as an institution of power and influence. The church also
spread its influence through missionary activity across the Continent and into England and
Monasteries served not only as centers from which missionary activity spread, but also as
repositories for the preservation of the learning of the classical world and the church itself.

The Making Of Modern Britain

Medieval Politics, Economics, Religion, And Learning

Between 1000 and 1300, drastic political, economic, and social change occurred in Europe. Not
only did trade revive, cities grow, and a new bourgeois social class emerge, but in several
regions kings enforced their power at the expense of the nobility, and strong centralized
government was realized in several regions of Europe.
The growth of trade and commerce to national and international scale is one of the impressive
achievements of the High Middle Ages. The revitalization of trade and commerce, coupled with
a revival of urban life, helped foster the growth of the bourgeoisie, or middle class.
Political and economic change, of course, had a direct impact on the culture of the High Middle
Ages. In these years, the Church reached the apex of its power, and religion played a crucial
role in the development and definition of medieval intellectual life.

The Making Of Modern Britain

After the Romans withdrew from England in the fifth century, Germanic tribes known as AngloSaxons invaded the island and divided it among more than a dozen hostile tribal kingdoms.
Gradually, rivalries among the kingdoms diminshed, and the overlordship of the island was held
in turn by the different rulers. In the ninth century the kingdom of Wessex held the dominant
position. Its king, Alfred the Great (871-899), was confronted with the task of turning back a new
wave of invaders, the Danes, who overran all the other English kingdoms. Alfred defeated the
Danes and forced them into a treaty whereby they settled in what came to be called the
Danelaw and accepted Christianity.
In addition to being a successful warrior, Alfred the Great made notable contributions to the
creation of a stronger nation. He reorganized the militia of freemen (fyrd) so that some were
always ready for battle while the rest tilled the soil, and the ships he built to repel future Viking
attacks won for him the title of founder of the English navy.
Following the example of Charlemagne, Alfred also advanced the intellectual life of his country,
inviting scholars from the Continent to the palace school he founded. He also encouraged
monks to keep an account of current affairs, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which continued to be
written for hundreds of years after his reign.
Alfred's successors were able rulers who conquered the Danelaw, the northern portion of the
island previously conquered by the Danes, and created a unified English monarchy. Danes and
Saxons intermarried, and soon most differences between two peoples disappeared. After 975,
however, the power of the central government lagged, and with it the ability to keep order at
home and repel outside attacks. The weakness of the kingdom is well illustrated in the reign of
Ethelred the Unready (978-1016), who constantly struggled to keep a firm hand on the great
nobles and who was forced to cope with a new attack by the Danes.
Following Ethelred's reign, the Anglo-Saxons were again overrun by the Danes, and King
Canute of Denmark ruled England as well as Norway. Canute proved to be a wise and civilized
king and was well liked by his Anglo-Saxon subjects because he respected their rights and
customs. Canute's empire fell apart after his death in 1035, and in 1042 the English crown was
secured by Ethelred's son, Edward the Confessor. Although famous for his devotion to religion,
Edward was a weak ruler who had little control over the powerful earls who had usurped most of
the king's authority in their regions. This decline in government was reversed after the Normans
conquered the island in 1066.

William The Conqueror And The Norman Conquest

Norman influence in England really began in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Edward had
spent most of his early life in Normandy, and as king of England he showed a strong proNorman bias. When Edward died without heir in 1066, the Witan - the council of the kingdom selected Harold Godwinson, a powerful English earl, as the new ruler. Immediately William,
duke of Normandy, claimed the English throne, basing his demand on a flimsy hereditary right
and on the assertion that Edward had promised him the crown.
An outstanding statesman and soldier, William as duke of Normandy had subdued the rebellious
nobles and established an effective centralized feudal state. William effectively controlled his
vassals, and his feudal army of a thousand knights made him the most powerful ruler west of
Germany. His centralized authority in Normandy contrasted sharply with the situation in
England, where the powerful earls were continually challenging the king.

William and his army of five thousand men crossed the English Channel to enforce the Norman
claim to the English throne. On October 14, 1066, William's mounted knights broke through the
English infantry at Hastings. Resistance ceased when Harold was slain. The defeat ended
Anglo-Saxon rule and brought a new pattern of government that would make England the
strongest state in Europe.
William introduced the Norman system of feudalism into England. As owner of all England by
right of conquest, William retained some land as his royal domain and granted the remainder as
fiefs to royal vassals called tenants-in-chief, among whom were bishops and abbots. In return
for their fiefs, the tenants-in-chief provided William with a number of knights to serve in the royal
army. To furnish the required service, the great vassals most of whom were French-speaking
Normans - granted parts of the fiefs among their own vassals. But from all the landholders in
England, regardless of whether they were his immediate vassals, William exacted homage and
an oath that they would "be faithful to him against all other men." Both the tenants-in-chief
holding fiefs directly from the king and the lesser tenants holding fiefs as vassals of the tenantsin-chief swore this loyalty, which meant that a disgruntled noble could not call out his own
vassals against the king, because every person owed his first allegiance to William.
The Domesday Survey, which was originally a survey for payments of money to buy off the
Danes from Anglo-Saxon territory, was retained by William and turned into an efficient source of
royal revenue. Because William, as all medieval kings, constantly needed money, he ordered an
accurate census of the property and property holders in his realm as a basis for collecting all the
feudal aids and incidents owed to him.
In line with his policy of controlling all aspects of the government, William revamped the old
Anglo-Saxon Witan, which had elected and advised the kings. The new Norman ruler changed
its title to the Great Council also called curia regis, the king's council or court - and converted
it into a body composed of his tenants-in-chief. The Great Council met at least three times a
year as a court of justice for the great barons and as an advisory body in important matters. At
other times a small permanent council of barons advised the king.
William also dominated the English church. He appointed bishops and abbots and required
them to provide military service for their lands. Although he permitted the church to retain its
courts he denied them the right to appeal cases to the pope without his consent. Nor could the
decrees of popes and church councils circulate in England without royal approval.
William II, who succeeded his father in 1087, was an ineffective king who inspired several
baronial revolts before being shot in the back - accidently, it was said - while hunting.
Succeeding him was his brother, Henry I (1110-1135), a more able monarch who easily put
down the only baronial revolt that challenged him.
While the Great Council, made up of the chief nobles, occasionally met to advise the king, the
small permanent council of barons grew in importance. From it appeared specialized organs of
government. The exchequer, or court of accounts, supervised the collection of royal revenue,
greatly increased with the revival of a money economy. Notable was scutage or "shield money,"
a fee the king encouraged his vassals to pay in lieu of personal military service.
The well-trained "barons of the exchequer" also sat as a special court to try cases involving
revenue. Henry I's achievements in strengthening the monarchy were obviated by the nineteen
years of chaos that followed his death. Ignoring their promise to recognize Henry's only
surviving child, Matilda, wife of Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou in France, many barons
supported Henry's weak nephew Stephen.

During the resulting civil war the nobility became practically independent of the crown and,
secure in their strong castles, freely pillaged the land.

Henry II
Anarchy ceased with the accession of Matilda's son, Henry II (1154-1189), the founder of the
Plantagenet, or Angevin, House in England. As a result of his inheritance (Normandy and Anjou)
and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine,
the richest heiress in France, Henry's possessions stretched from Scotland to
the Pyrenees. Henry's great military skill and restless energy were important
assets to his reign. He quickly recaptured the rights and lands of his
grandfather Henry I and began rebuilding the power of the monarchy in England.

Henry's chief contribution to the development of the English monarchy was

to increase the jurisdiction of the royal courts at the expense of the feudal
courts. This produced three major results: a permanent system of circuit
courts presided over by itinerant justices, the jury system, and a body of law
common to all England.

Itinerant justices on regular circuits were sent out once each year to
enforce the "King's Peace." To make this system of royal criminal justice more
effective, Henry employed the method of inquest used by William the Conqueror
in the Domesday Survey. In each shire a body of important men were sworn
(jure) to report to the sheriff all crimes committed since the last session of
the circuit court. Thus originated the modern grand jury that presents
information for an indictment.

Henry's courts also used the jury system to settle private lawsuits.

Instead of deciding such civil cases by means of oath-helpers or lengthy trial

by ordeal, the circuit judges handed down quick decisions based upon evidence
sworn to by a jury of men selected because they were acquainted with the facts
of the case. This more efficient system caused litigants to flock to the royal
courts, a procedure facilitated by the sale of "writs," which ordered a
sheriff to bring the case to a royal court.

Henry's judicial reforms promoted the growth of the common law - one of
the most important factors in welding the English people into a nation. The
decisions of the royal justices became the basis for future decisions made in
the king's courts, superseded the many diverse systems of local justice in the
shires, and became the law common to all English people.

[See Dominions Of Henry II]

Thomas A Becket, Victim Of Church-State Rivalry

Although Henry strengthened the royal courts at the expense of the

baronial courts, he was not so successful against another rival - the church
courts. When he appointed Thomas a Becket archbishop of Canterbury, the king
assumed that his close friend and former chancellor could easily be persuaded
to cooperate, but Becket proved to be stubbornly independent and upheld the
authority of the church courts over Henry's.

In 1164 Henry stipulated that clergyman found guilty by a church court of

committing crimes, such as murder and grand larceny, were to be unfrocked and
tried by a royal court, where punishments were more severe. Henry's idea was
to prevent the abuses resulting from "benefit of clergy," the principle that
the church alone had legal jurisdiction over its clergy. Becket refused to
yield, claiming that clergymen would suffer unjust "double punishment" for a
crime by being both unfrocked by the church and punished by the state.

When Becket received no support from the English clergy, he fled to

France and appealed to the pope for aid. After a few years the pope resolved
the quarrel, and the archbishop returned to England. Becket's first act,
however was to excommunicate the bishops who, in his absence, had supported
the designation of Henry's oldest son as heir to the throne. When this news
reached Henry, in a fit of passion he roared: "What a pack of fools and
cowards I have nourished in my house, that not one of them will avenge me of
this turbulent priest." ^1 Responding to this tirade, four knights went to
Canterbury and murdered Becket before the high altar of the cathedral.

[Footnote 1: Quoted in W. S. Churchill, The Birth of Britain, vol. 1 of A

History of English-Speaking Peoples (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1965), p.

Popular outrage over this murder destroyed Henry's chances of reducing

the power of the church courts. Becket became a national hero and, after
miracles were reported to have occurred at his tomb, was canonized a saint.

The Successors Of Henry II

Henry's promising beginning was marred by the mistakes of his successors.

Having no taste for routine tasks of government, Richard the Lion-Hearted
(1189-1199) spent only five months of his ten-year reign in Britain, which he
regarded as a source of money for his overseas adventures. Richard wasted his
country's wealth in winning a great reputation as a crusader and in fighting
the king of France. The royal bureaucracy worked so well, however, that
Richard's absence made little difference.

Richard's successor, his brother John (1199-1216), was an inept ruler who
lacked both his brother's chivalrous qualities and his father's genius. John's
cruelty and unscrupulousness cost him the support of his barons at the time he
needed them most in his struggles with the two ablest men of the age, Philip
II of France and Pope Innocent III. As feudal overlord for John's possessions
in France, Philip found an occasion to declare John an unfaithful vassal and
therefore his fiefs forfeit. John put up only feeble resistance, and after
losing more than half his possessions in France he became involved in a
struggle with Innocent III in which he was forced to make complete surrender.
In the meantime, John had completely alienated the British barons, who
rebelled and in 1215 forced John to affix his seal to Magna Carta, which bound
the king to observe all feudal rights and privileges. Although in later
centuries, people looked back on Magna Carta as one of the most important
documents in the story of political freedom, to the English of the time, Magna
Carta did not appear to introduce any new constitutional principles. It was an

agreement between barons and the king, the aristocracy and the monarchy.

The importance of Magna Carta does not lie in its original purpose but
rather in the subsequent use made of it. Two great principles were potential
in the charter: The law is above the king; and the king can be compelled by
force to obey the law of the land. This concept of the rule of law and the
limited power of the crown was to play an important role in the development of
English history.

The Origins Of Parliament

The French-speaking Normans commonly used the word Parlement (from

parler, "to speak") for the Great Council. Anglicized as Parliament, the term
was used interchangeably with Great Council and curia regis. Modern
historians, however, generally apply the term to the Great Council only after
1265, when its membership was radically enlarged.

The first meeting of Parliament, the enlarged Great Council, took place
in the midst of a baronial rebellion against Henry III (1216-1272), the son of
King John. In an effort to gain the widest possible popular support, Simon de
Montfort, the leader of the rebellion, summoned not only the barons but also
two knights from every shire and two burghers from every borough to the Great
Council in 1265.

Parliament first became truly influential during the reign of Henry III's

son, Edward I (1272-1307), one of England's most outstanding monarchs.

Beginning with the "Model Parliament" of 1295, Edward followed the pattern set
by Simon de Montfort in summoning representatives of shires and towns to
meetings of the Great Council. In calling parliaments, Edward had no idea of
making any concession to popular government.

Early in the fourteenth century the representatives of the knights and

the burghers, called the "Commons," adopted the practice of meeting separately
from the lords spiritual and temporal. Thus arose the division of Parliament
into what came to be called the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Parliament, particularly the Commons, soon discovered its power as the

major source of revenue for the king. It gradually became the custom for
Parliament to exercise this "power of the purse" by withholding its financial
grants until the king had redressed grievances, made known by petitions.
Parliament also presented petitions to the king with the request that they be
recognized as statutes, as the laws drawn up by the king and his council and
confirmed in Parliament were called. Gradually the right to initiate
legislation through petition was obtained. Again, Parliament's "power of the
purse" carried the day.

Widening The Boundaries Of The Realm

Edward I was the first English king who was determined to be master of
the whole island of Britain - Wales, Scotland, and England. In 1284, after a

five-year struggle, English law and administration were imposed on Wales. As a

concession to the Welsh, Edward gave his oldest son the title of Prince of

A dispute over the succession to the Scottish throne in the 1290s gave
Edward his opportunity to intervene in the land to the north. After calling
upon Edward to settle the dispute, the Scots accepted him as their overlord.
Then Edward unwisely demanded that the Scots furnish him with troops to fight
in England's wars. Under the courageous William Wallace, rebellion quickly
flared up. After winning several victories against the English, Wallace was
defeated and hanged as a traitor. But Scottish nationalism was not defeated.
In 1307 Edward once again invaded Scotland, but he fell ill and died before
his dreams of conquest could be realized. Edward II (1307-1327) attempted to
humble the Scots, but at the battle of Bannockburn (1314) the Scots, led by
Robert Bruce, won their independence. The two peoples remained bitter enemies,
with the Scots often joining the French in their wars against the English. Not
until 1603 were the two kingdoms united under a common monarch.

The Beginnings Of The French Nation

As we saw in chapter 9, the later Carolingian rulers were generally weak

and unable to defend the realm from Viking incursions. This task fell to the
local counts and dukes, who built castles to protect the countryside and
exercised the powers of the king in their territories. In France by the
beginning of the tenth century there were more than thirty great feudal

princes who were nominally vassals of the king but who gave him little or no
support. When the last Carolingian, Louis the Sluggard, died in 987, the
nobles elected as his successor Hugh Capet, count of Paris.

The "kingdom" that Hugh Capet (987-996) theoretically ruled was roughly
comparable to, but smaller than, modern France. The territory Hugh actually
controlled was a small feudal county extending from Paris to Orleans. It was
almost encircled by rivers. The royal domain was surrounded by many
independent duchies and counties, such as Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, and
Champagne, which were fiercely independent.

[See Feudal France: Feudal France about 1000.]

The Early Capetians

Starting with little power and limited territory under their direct rule,
the Capetian monarchs gradually extended their control over the great nobles
who resisted centralization. France was literally made by its kings, for
ultimately the royal domain, in which the king's word was law, came to
coincide with the boundaries of the entire realm.

In the late tenth and eleventh centuries, however, there was little
evidence that the Capetian kings would accomplish much of anything. They were
weaker than many of their own vassals; compared to them, they had little
historical impact. One of their vassals, the duke of Normandy, seized the

throne of England; another, the count of Flanders, became a leader of the

First Crusade and ruler of the kingdom of Jerusalem; another vassal became the
founder of the kingdom of Portugal.

The major accomplishment of the first four Capetian kings was their
success in keeping the French crown within their own family. The nobles who
elected Hugh Capet had no thought of giving the Capetian family a monopoly on
the royal office. But the Capetian kings, with the support of the church,
which nurtured the tradition of monarchy as a sacred office, cleverly arranged
for the election and coronation of their heirs. Before the king died, the
young prince was crowned by the church and became "associated" with his father
in his rule. For 300 years the House of Capet never lacked a male heir, and by
the end of the twelfth century the hereditary principle had become so
ingrained that French kings no longer took the precaution of crowning their
sons during their own lifetime.

The advent of the fifth Capetian king, Louis VI (1108-1137), also known
as Louis the Fat, marked the end of Capetian weakness. Louis' pacification of
the royal domain, the Ile de France, paralleled on a smaller scale the work of
William the Conqueror in England. With the support of the church (which
supplied him with able advisers), Louis determined to crush the lawless barons
who were defying royal authority in the Ile de France. Castles of the defiant
vassals were captured and in many cases torn down. Louis made his word law in
the Ile de France, established a solid base from which royal power could be
extended, and increased the prestige of the monarchy so much that the great

duke of Aquitaine deigned to marry his daughter Eleanor to Louis' son.

Unfortunately, Eleanor's behavior so scandalized Louis' pious son ("I thought
I married a king," Eleanor once exclaimed, "but instead I am the wife of a
monk") that he had the marriage annulled, and Aquitaine passed to Eleanor's
second husband, Henry II of England.

The Growth Of The French Monarchy

The first great expansion of the royal domain was the work of the next
Capetian, Philip II Augustus (1180-1223), during whose reign the French king
for the first time became more powerful than any of his vassals and France
replaced Germany as the strongest monarchy in continental Europe. Philip's
great ambition was to take from the English Plantagenets the vast territory
they held in France. Philip made little headway against Henry II, except to
make Henry's life miserable by encouraging his faithless sons, Richard the
Lion-Hearted and John, to revolt. Philip took Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and
Touraine from John, thereby tripling the size of the French royal domain

Philip also greatly strengthened the royal administrative system by

devising new agencies for centralized government and tapping new sources of
revenue, including a money payment from his vassals in lieu of military
service. Salaried officials, called bailiffs, performed duties similar to
those carried out in England by itinerant justices and sheriffs. A corps of
loyal officials, like the bailiffs recruited not from the feudal nobility but
from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, was collected around the king. As in

England, special administrative departments were created: the parlement, a

supreme court of justice (not to be confused with the British Parliament,
which became primarily a legislative body); the chamber of accounts, or royal
treasury; and the royal or privy council, a group of advisers who assisted the
king in the conduct of the daily business of the state.

In this phase of consolidation of royal power, the papacy, which was

struggling with the German emperors, usually allied itself with the French
monarchy. As in England and Germany, however, the kings sometimes collided
with the popes. Philip II defied Innocent III by having French bishops annul
his marriage; but when the pope imposed an interdict on France, Philip backed
down, and his wife again became his queen.

On the other hand, the church inadvertently helped expand the royal
domain. In southern France, particularly in Toulouse, the Albigensian sect
flourished. Determined to stamp out this heresy, Innocent III in 1208 called
the Albigensian Crusade. Philip, faced with the hatred of King John and the
German emperor, did not take part, but he allowed his vassals to do so. After
Philip's death, his son Louis VIII (1223-1226) led a new crusade to
exterminate the remnants of Albigensian resistance. Later in the century
Toulouse reverted to the French crown when its count died without heir. The
royal domain now stretched from the coast of the English Channel to the shores
of the Mediterranean Sea.

After the brief reign of Louis VIII, France came under the rule of Louis

IX (1226-1270), better known today as St. Louis. In contrast to the cunning

opportunism of his grandfather, Louis' ideal was to rule justly, and he made
some sacrifices to that end. For example, special officials were created to
check on the bailiffs, who were forbidden to encroach on the feudal rights of
the nobility. On the other hand, Louis believed himself responsible only to
God, who had put him on the throne to lead his people out of a life of sin.
Accordingly, he was the first French king to issue edicts for the whole
kingdom without the prior consent of his council of great vassals. He also
ordered an end to trial by battle and the time-honored feudal right of private
warfare. Certain matters, such as treason and crimes on the highways, were
declared to be the exclusive jurisdiction of the royal courts. Furthermore,
Louis insisted on the right of appeal from the feudal courts of his vassals to
the high royal court of parlement at Paris. Just, sympathetic, and
peace-loving, Louis IX convinced his subjects that the monarchy was the most
important agency for assuring their happiness and well-being.

[See French Domain: The Growth of French Royal domain.]

Apex Of Capetian Rule Under Philip IV

The reign of Philip IV, the Fair (1285-1314), climaxed three centuries of
Capetian rule. The opposite of his saintly grandfather, Philip was a man of
craft, violence, and deceit. He took advantage of the growing anti-Semitism
that had appeared in Europe with the Crusades to expel the Jews from France
and confiscate their possessions. (Philip's English contemporary, Edward I,

had done the same.) Heavily in debt to the Knights Templars, who had turned to
banking after the Crusades, Philip had the order suppressed on trumped-up
charges of heresy.

Philip's need for money also brought him into conflict with the last
great medieval pope. Pope Boniface VIII refused to allow Philip to tax the
French clergy and made sweeping claims to supremacy over secular powers. But
such leaders as Philip IV would not tolerate interference with their
authority, no matter what the source. The result of this controversy was the
humiliation of Boniface, a blow from which the influence of the medieval
papacy never recovered.

In domestic affairs the real importance of Philip's reign lay in the

king's ability to increase the power and improve the organization of the royal
government. Philip's astute civil servants, recruited mainly from the middle
class, concentrated their efforts on exalting the power of the monarch.
Trained in Roman law and inspired by its maxim that "whatever pleases the
prince has the force of law," they sought to make the power of the monarch

As did Edward I in England, Philip enlarged his feudal council to include

representatives of the third "estate" or class - the townspeople. This
Estates-General of nobles, clergy, and burghers was used as a means of
obtaining popular support for Philip's policies, including the announcement of
new taxes. Significantly, Philip did not seek to ask the Estates-General's

consent for his tax measures, and thus it did not acquire the "power of the
purse" that characterized the English Parliament.

The Christian Reconquista In Spain

The unification of Spain was by a different route than that of either

France or England. The customary rivalry between the feudal aristocracy and
the royal authority was complicated by another significant element - a
religious crusade. National unification required the ejection of the Muslims,
with their foreign religion and culture. Unity also called for the
consolidation of several distinct Christian states.

During the long struggle to drive the Muslims from Spain, a mounting
patriotism blended with a fanatical religious spirit. As early as the ninth
century northern Spain became caught up in a religious zeal centering around
Santiago de Compostela, reputed to be the burial site of the apostle St.
James. His bones were enshrined in a great cathedral visited by thousands of
pilgrims. Banners were consecrated there, and the battle cry of the Christian
soldiers became "Santiago" (a contraction of Sante Iago, St. James' name in

Another symbol of national awakening was an eleventh-century soldier of

fortune, El Cid (Arabic for "lord"). His exploits against the Muslims thrilled
Europe, and he became the hero of the great Spanish epic, Poema de Mio Cid. In
the epic El Cid appears as a perfect Christian knight, although in reality he

was an adventurer seemingly more interested in booty and power than in


In 1212, at Las Navas de Tolosa, the Christians achieved a decisive

victory over the Muslims. A few years later they captured first Cordova, whose
great mosque was reconsecrated as a cathedral, and then Seville. The conquest
of Seville effectively doubled the territory of the Spanish kingdom. By the
end of the thirteenth century, when the reconquest halted, until the latter
part of the fifteenth century, Moorish political control was confined to
Granada. The Christian victors allowed their new Muslim subjects to enjoy
their own religion and traditions. Muslim traders and artisans were protected
because of their economic value, and Muslim cultureart in particularwas often
adapted by the Christians.

Government In Germany And Italy

When the Carolingian kingdom of the East Franks proved incapable of

coping with the attacks of Magyar horsemen in the late ninth and early tenth
centuries, the task was taken over by the tribal leaders (or dukes) of the
Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians, and Franconians. These dukes - along with the
duke of Lorraine - usurped the royal power and crown lands in their duchies
and also took control over the church.

When the last Carolingian, Louis the Child, died in 911, the dukes
elected the weakest among them, Conrad of Franconia, to be their king. The new

monarch ruled just eight years and was incapable of meeting the menace of the
Magyar raids. On his deathbed he recommended that the most powerful of the
dukes, Henry the Fowler, duke of Saxony, be chosen as his successor. Henry,
who ruled as Henry I (919-936), was the first of the illustrious Saxon
Dynasty, which ruled until 1024 and under which Germany became the most
powerful state in western Europe. Henry exercised little authority outside of
his own duchy, and his kingdom was hardly more than a confederation of
independent duchies. Against Germany's border enemies, he was more successful.
He pushed back the Danes and established the Dane Mark as a protective buffer.
He also made inroads against the Slavs to the east, and further to the
southeast, in Bohemia, forced the Slavic Czech to recognize his overlordship.

Otto The Great And The German Empire

Realizing that the great hindrance to German unity was the opposition of
the dukes, Henry's son and heir, Otto I, the Great (936-973), initiated a
policy of gaining control of the unruly duchies by setting up his own
relatives and favorites as their rulers. As an extra precaution he appointed
as supervising officials counts who were directly responsible to the king.

Through an alliance with the church, Otto constructed a German monarchy.

The king protected the bishops and abbots and granted them a free hand over
their vast estates; in return the church leaders furnished the king with the
officials, income, and troops that he lacked. Otto appointed bishops and
abbots, and since their offices were not hereditary, he could be sure that

their first obedience was to the king. This alliance of crown and church was a
natural one at the time. At his coronation at Aachen, Otto had insisted on
being anointed rex et sacerdos ("king and priest").

Otto also put an end to the Magyar invasions, thereby enhancing his claim
that the king, and not the dukes, was the true defender of the German people.
In 955 Otto crushed the Magyars at Lechfeld, near Augsburg. The surviving
Magyars settled in Hungary, and by the year 1000 they had accepted

Otto the Great wanted to establish a German Empire, modeled after the
Roman and Carolingian examples. The conquest and incorporation of Italy into
that empire was one of Otto's primary objectives. In 951 he crossed the Alps
and proclaimed himself king of Italy.

On his second expedition to Italy in 962, Otto was crowned emperor by the
pope, whose Papal States were threatened by an Italian duke. No doubt Otto
thought of himself as the successor of the imperial Caesars and Charlemagne;
and, in fact, his empire later became known as the Holy Roman Empire. But Otto
also needed the imperial title to legitimize his claim to Lombardy, Burgundy,
and Lorraine, which had belonged to the middle kingdom of Lothair, the last
man to hold the imperial title. Otto's coronation brought Italy and Germany,
pope and emperor, into a forced and unnatural union.

The adverse effects of the German pursuit of empire in Italy are apparent

in the reign of Otto III (983-1002), who promoted his grandiose scheme for
"the renewal of the Roman Empire." Ignoring Germany, the real source of his
power, he made Rome his capital, built a palace there, and styled himself
"emperor of the Romans." As the "servant of Jesus Christ," another of his
titles, Otto installed non-Italian popes in Rome and conceived of the papacy
as a partner in ruling an empire of Germans, Italians, and Slavs. But
notwithstanding Otto's love for Italy, the fickle Roman populace revolted and
forced him to flee the city. He died a year later while preparing to beseige

Despite the distractions in Italy, the Saxon rulers were the most
powerful in Europe. They had permanently halted Magyar pillaging and, by
utilizing the German church as an ally, had limited tendencies toward
feudalism in their homeland. They had also fostered economic progress. German
eastward expansion had begun, and the Alpine passes had been freed of Muslim
raiders and made safe for the Italian merchants.

[See Germany About 1000]

The Salian Emperors

The Saxon kings were succeeded by a new royal line, the Salian House,
which ruled from 1024 to 1125 and whose members tried to establish a
centralized monarchy. To the dismay of many nobles, a body of lowborn royal
officials was recruited; and the power of the dukes was weakened further when

the crown won the allegiance of the lesser nobles.

The reign of Henry IV (1056-1106) was a watershed in German history. The

monarchy reached the height of its power, but it also experienced a major
reverse. For a century the Ottonian system, by which the king had governed his
kingdom through the clergy, whom he appointed, had functioned smoothly. Under
Henry IV, however, the revival of a powerful papacy led to a bitter conflict,
centering on the king's right to appoint church officials who were also his
most loyal supporters. This disagreement between state and church culminated
in Henry himself suffering the humiliation of begging the pope's forgiveness
by dressing as a penitent and standing in the snow at Canossa, the papal
winter residence. This conflict, known as the Investiture Controversy,
resulted in the loss of the monarchy's major sources of strength: the loyalty
of the German church, now transferred to the papacy; the support of the great
nobles, now openly rebellious and insistent on their "inborn rights"; and the
chief material base of royal power, the king's lands, which were diminished by
grants to nobles who would stay loyal only if such concessions were made.

The real victors in the Investiture Controversy were the German nobles,
many of whom allied themselves with the papacy and continued to defy the
monarchy long after the reign of Henry IV. From the time of Henry's death in
1106 until the accession of Frederick Barbarossa in 1152, the Welfs of Bavaria
and the Hohenstaufens of Swabia, along with the other noble factions, fought
over the throne, which they made elective rather than hereditary.

Italy, The Hohenstaufen Emperors, And The Papacy

Italy was even less unified than Germany. Jealous of one another and of
their independence, the properous city-states in northern Italy joined the
struggle between the German emperors and the papacy. A brilliant civilization
also flourished on the island of Sicily. The kingdom of Naples and Sicily,
under the able rule of Roger II (1130-1154), was one of the strongest and
wealthiest states in Europe. Intellectuals from all over the East and Europe
traveled to Roger's court, which ranked next to Spain's in Arabic scholarship.
Life and culture in the Sicilian kingdom, which included Norman, Byzantine,
Italian, and Arabic elements, was diverse and colorful.

The second Hohenstaufen emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa ("Red-beard"),

who reigned from 1152 to 1190, realistically accepted the fact that during the
preceding half century Germany had become thoroughly decentralized; his goal
was to give himself the supreme power by forcing the great nobles to
acknowledge his overlordship. Using force when necessary, he was largely
successful, and Germany became a centralized feudal monarchy.

To maintain his hold over Germany Frederick needed the resources of Italy
- particularly the income from taxes levied on wealthy north Italian cities,
which, encouraged by the papacy, joined together in the Lombard League to
resist him. Frederick spent about twenty-five years fighting intermittently in
Italy, but the final result was failure; the opposition from the popes and the
Lombard League was too strong. Frederick did score a diplomatic triumph,

however, by marrying his son to the heiress of the throne of Naples and

Frederick Barbarossa's grandson, Frederick II (1194-1250), was able to

meet the pope's challenge to the threat of Hohenstaufen encirclement. Orphaned
at an early age, Frederick was brought up as the ward of Innocent III, the
most powerful medieval pope. With the pope's support, Frederick was elected
emperor in 1215, one year before Innocent's death.

The papacy and the north Italian cities successfully defied Frederick II
throughout his reign, and in the end he experienced the same failure as had
Frederick Barbarossa. Frederick also clashed with the papacy in another
sphere. Embarking on a crusade at the pope's insistence, he fell ill and
turned back. For this, he was promptly excommunicated. When Frederick resumed
the crusade a few months later, he was again excommunicated, this time for
crusading while excommunicated. When Frederick acquired Jerusalem by
negotiation and agreed to allow Muslims to worship freely in the city, the
pope excommunicated him a third time, describing the emperor as "this scorpion
spewing poison from the sting of its tail."

Frederick sacrificed Germany in his efforts to unite all Italy under his
rule. He transferred crown lands and royal rights to the German princes in
order to keep them quiet and to win their support for his Italian wars. Born
in Sicily, he remained devoted to the southern part of his empire. He shaped
his kingdom in Sicily into a vibrant state. Administered by paid officials who

were trained at the University of Naples, which he founded for that purpose,
his kingdom was the most centralized and bureaucratic in Europe. Economically,
too, it was far in advance of other states; Frederick minted a uniform
currency and abolished interior tolls and tariffs, and his powerful fleet
promoted and protected commerce.

As long as he lived, this brilliant monarch held his empire together, but
it quickly collapsed after his death in 1250. In Germany his son ruled
ineffectively for four years before dying, and soon afterward Frederick's
descendants in Sicily were killed when the count of Anjou, brother of St.
Louis of France, was invited by the pope to annihilate what remained of what
he called the "viper breed of the Hohenstaufen."

The victory of the papacy over the Hohenstaufen was more apparent than
real, for its struggle against the emperors lost it much of its prestige.
Popes had used spiritual means to achieve earthly ambitionsby preaching a
crusade against Frederick II and his descendants, for example. More and more,
popes acted as though they were Italian princes, playing the game of diplomacy
amid shifting rivalries.

The Holy Roman Empire never again achieved the brilliance it had enjoyed
during the reign of Frederick Barbarossa. Later emperors usually did not try
to interfere in Italian affairs, and they ceased going to Rome to receive the
imperial crown from the pope. In German affairs the emperors no longer even
attempted to assert their authority over the increasingly powerful nobles.

After the fall of the Hohenstaufens, Germany lapsed more and more into the
political disunity and ineffectual elective monarchy that remained
characteristic of its history until the late nineteenth century.

The Crusades
The most dramatic expression of Europe on the offensive in the High
Middle Ages was the Crusades. For hundreds of years peaceful pilgrims had been
traveling from Europe to worship at the birthplace of Christ. By the tenth
century bishops were organizing mass pilgrimages to the Holy Land; the largest
of these, which set out from Germany in 1065, included about seven thousand
During the eleventh century, however, Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land
became especially concerned and aggravated when the Seljuk Turks, who were new
and fanatical converts to Islam, took over Jerusalem from the more tolerant
Abbasid Muslims. Byzantine forces desperately tried to bar the Seljuks, but at
the battle of Manzikert (1071) the eastern emperor was captured and his army
scattered. Within a few years Asia Minor, the chief source of Byzantine
revenue and troops, was lost, and the emperor was writing to western princes
and to the pope seeking mercenaries with which to regain lost territories. In
addition, tales of alleged Turkish mistreatement of Christian pilgrims
circulated throughout Europe, and though there is evidence that these stories
were propaganda, they inflamed Christian public opinion.
In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade to regain the Holy
Land. Preaching at the Council of Clermont in that year, he exhorted
Christians to take up the cross and strive for a cause that promised not
merely spiritual rewards but material gain as well. At the end of his
impassioned oration the crowd shouted "God wills it" - the expression the
crusaders later used in battle.
Although the pope saw in the crusade an outlet for the restlesss energy
of quarreling nobels - their warring fervor would be channeled for the glory
of God - the primary impetus behind the crusade was probably religious. It was
viewed as a holy war, and following Pope Urban's appeal, there was a real and
spontaneous outpouring of religious enthusiasm. The word crusade itself is
derived from "taking the cross," after the example of Christ.
The Results Of The Crusades
From the end of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth, there
were seven major crusades, as well as various small expenditions that from
time to time, warred against the Muslins in the Near East, whom the crusaders
called Saracens. The First Crusade, composed of feudal nobles from France,
parts of Germany, and Norman Italy, proceeded overland to Constantiople.
Having expected the help of European mercenaries agains the Seljuks, the
emperor Alexius Comnenus was taken aback when confronted by an unruly horde of

what Pope Urban himself had called "aforetime robbers." He hastily directed
the crusaders out of Constantinople to fight the Turks. The First Crusade was
the most successful of the seven; with not more than 5000 knights and
infantry, it overcame the resistance of the Turks, who were no longer united.
Above all, it captured Jerusalem, the Holy City. The First Crusade conquered a
narrow strip of land stretching from Antioch to Jerusalem and created the
Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (distinct from the city itself), over which
Crusaders and Muslims continued to battle until the region finally was retaken
by the Muslims in 1291.
When the kingdom of Jerusalem became endangered, St. Bernard of Clairvaux
induced the kings of France and Germany to lead the Second Crusade in 1147. It
never reached Jerusalem, having turned aside to attack Damascus where its
forces were routed.
The fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to the Muslims, reinvigorated under the
leadership of Saladin, the Kurdish sultan of Egypt and Syria, provoked the
Third Crusade in 1189. Its leaders were three of the most famous medieval
kings - Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Richard the Lion-Hearted of England,
and Philip Augustus of France. Frederick was drowned in Asia Minor; and, after
many quarrels with Richard, Philip returned home. Saladin and Richard remained
the protagonists, but finally agreed to a three year truce and free access to
Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was a disaster from a religious
perspective. No kings answered Pope Innocent II call, and the knights who did
were unable to pay the Venetians the agreed-upon transport charges. The
Venetians persuaded the crusaders to pay off the sum by capturing the
Christian town of Zara on the Adriatic coast, which had long proved
troublesome to Venetian trading interests. Then, in order to absorb all
Byzantine commerce, the Venetians pressured the crusaders into attacking
Constantinople. After conquering and sacking the greatest city in Europe, the
crusaders set up the Latin empire of Constantinople and forgot about
recovering the Holy Land.
The thirteenth century saw other crusades. The youngsters of the
ill-fated Children's Crusade in 1212 fully expected the waters of the
Mediterranean to part and make a path to the Holy Land, which they would take
without fighting, but thousands of them were sold into slavery by Marseilles
merchants. The Fifth Crusade in 1219 failed in its attack on Egypt, the center
of Muslim power in the Near East. The unique Sixth Crusade in 1228 was
organized and led by the excommunicated enemy of the pope, the emperor
Frederick II, who by skillfull diplomacy succeeded in acquiring Jerusalem,
Bethlehem, and Nazareth from the sultan of Egypt without striking a blow. This
arrangement ended in 1244 with the Muslim reconquest of the Holy City. The
loss inspired the saintly Louis IX of France to organize the Seventh Crusade
in 1248, but despite his zeal it ended in a fiasco when Louis was captured in
Egypt and forced to pay an enormous ransom. This was the last major attempt to
regain Jerusalem, and the era of the crusades ended in 1291 when Acre, the
last stronghold of the Christians in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims.
[See Latin Empire 1214 AD]

The Crusader States

Altogether four crusader principalities, with the kingdom of Jerusalem
dominant, had been established along the eastern Mediterranean coast. By the
time Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187, however, only isolated pockets of
Christians remained surrounded by hostile Muslims. The crusader states were
able to survive only by reason of frequent transfusions of strength from
Europe in the form of supplies and manpower.
The crusader states were defended by three semi-monastic military orders:
the Templars, or Knights of the Temple, so called because their first
headquarters was on the site of the old Temple of Jerusalem; the Hospitalers,
or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who were founded originally to care for
the sick and wounded; and the Teutonic Knights, exclusively a German order.
Combining monasticism and militarism, these orders had as their aims the
protection of all pilgrims and perpetual war against the Muslims.
The Crusades Evaluated
Even though the crusades failed to achieve their specific objective
permanently, they cannot be written off as mere adventures. On the contrary,
their influence extended over a much wider geographical field than just the
Holy Land. Much of the crusading fervor carried over to the fight against the
Muslims in Spain and the Slavs in eastern Europe. Politically the crusades
weakened the Byzantine Empire and accelerated its fall (see ch. 7). Although
the early crusades strengthened the moral leadership of the papacy in Europe,
the bad luck of the later crusades, together with the preaching of crusades
against Christian heretics and political opponents, weakened both the
crusading ideal and respect for the papacy.
Contact with the East widened the scope of the Europeans, ended their
isolation, and exposed them to an admirable civilization. Although it is easy
to exaggerate the economic effects of the crusades, they did influence the
reopening of the eastern Mediterranean to Western commerce, which itself had
an effect on the rise of cities and the emergence of a money economy in the

The Rise Of Trade And Towns

Although scholars have long debated the extent of trade and urban life
during the early Middle Ages, there is general agreement that increased trade
activity was evident before the crusades. With the ending of Viking and Magyar
attacks in the tenth century, a northern trading area developed, which

extended from the British Isles to the Baltic Sea.

The center of this northern trade system was the county of Flanders. By
1050 Flemish artisans were producing a surplus of woolen cloth of such fine
quality that it was in great demand. Baltic furs, honey and forest products,
and British tin and raw wool were exchanged for Flemish cloth. From the south
by way of Italy came oriental luxury goods - silks, sugar, and spices.

Trade Routes And Trade Fairs

A catalyst of the medieval commercial revolution was the opening of the

Mediterranean trading area. In the eleventh century, Normans and Italians
broke the Muslim hold on the eastern Mediterranean, and the First Crusade
revived trade with the Near East. Arab vessels brought luxury goods from the
East to ports on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. From there they were shipped by
caravan to Alexandria, Acre, and Joppa, and from those ports the merchants of
Venice, Genoa, and Pisa transported the goods to Italy on their way to the
markets of Europe. Other trade routes from Asia came overland, passing through
Baghdad and Damascus and on to ports, such as Tyre and Sidon, in the crusader
states. The easiest route north from the Mediterranean was by Marseilles and
up the Rhone valley.

Early in the fourteenth century two more major trade lanes developed
within Europe. An all-sea route connected the Mediterranean with northern
Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar. The old overland route from northern Italy

through the Alpine passes to central Europe was also developed. From Venice
and other northern Italian cities, trade flowed through such passes as the
Brenner, sharply reducing the business of the Rhone valley route and the
famous fairs of Champagne.

Along the main European trade routes, astute lords set up fairs, where
merchants and goods from Italy and northern Europe met. During the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries the fairs of Champagne in France functioned as the major
clearing house for this international trade.

Fairs were important and elaborate events held either seasonally or

annually in specified areas of each European country. The feudal law of the
region was set aside during a fair, and in its place was substituted a new
commerical code called the "law merchant." Special courts, with merchants
acting as judges, settled all disputes. In England such courts were called
"pie-powder courts," from the French pied poudre, meaning "dusty foot." Fairs
also greatly stimulated the revival of a money economy and early forms of
banking and credit.

Factors In The Rise Of Towns

The resurgence of trade in Europe was a prime cause of the revival of

towns; the towns arose because of trade, but they also stimulated trade by
providing greater markets and by producing goods for the merchants to sell.

In this revival, geography played a significant role. Rivers, important

to the evolution of ancient civilizations, were also important in the
development of medieval towns. They were natural highways on which articles of
commerce could be easily transported.

Another factor contributing to the rise of towns was population growth.

In Britian, for example, the population more than tripled between 1066 and
1350. The reasons for this rapid increase in population are varied. The ending
of bloody foreign invasions and, in some areas, the stabilization of feudal
society were contributing factors. More important was an increase in food
production brought about by the cultivation of wastelands, clearing of
forests, and draining of marshes.

Merchant And Craft Guilds

In each town the merchants and artisans organized themselves into guilds,
which were useful not only for business but also for social and political
purposes. There were two kinds of guilds: merchant and craft.

The merchant guild ensured a monopoly of trade within a given locality.

All alien merchants were supervised closely and made to pay tolls. Disputes
among merchants were settled at the guild court according to its own legal
code. The guilds also tried to make sure that the customers were not cheated:
they checked weights and measures and insisted upon a standard quality for
goods. To allow only a legitimate profit, the guild fixed a "just price,"

which was fair to both producer and customer.

The guild's functions stretched beyond business and politics into

charitable and social activities. A guildsman who fell into poverty received
aid from the guild. The guild also provided financial assistance for the
burial expense of its members and looked after their dependents. Members
attended social meetings in the guildhall and periodically held processions in
honor of their patron saints.

With the increase of commerce in the towns, artisans began to organize as

early as the eleventh century. Craftsmen in each of the medieval trades weaving, cobbling, tanning, and so on - joined forces. The result was the
craft guild, which differed from the merchant guild in that membership was
limited to artisans in one particular craft.

The general aims of the craft guilds were the same as those of the
merchant guilds - the creation of a monopoly and the enforcement of a set of
trade rules. Each guild had a monopoly of a certain article in a particular
town, and every effort was made to prevent competition between members of the
same guild. The guild restricted the number of its members, regulated the
quantity and quality of the goods produced, and set prices. It also enforced
regulations to protect the consumer from bad workmanship and inferior

The craft guild also differed from the merchant guild in its recognition

of three distinct classes of workers - apprentices, journeymen, and master

craftsmen. The apprentice was a youth who lived at the master's house and was
taught the trade thoroughly. Although the apprentice received no wages, all
his physical needs were supplied. Apprenticeship commonly lasted seven years.
When the apprentice's schooling was finished, the youth became a journeyman.
He was then eligible to receive wages and to be hired by a master. At about
age twenty-three, the journeyman sought admission into the guild as a master.
To be accepted he had to prove his ability. Some crafts demanded the making of
a "master piece" - for example, a pair of shoes that the master shoemakers
would find acceptable in every way.

Acquiring Urban Freedom

The guilds played an important role in local government. Both artisans

and merchants, even though freemen, were subject to the feudal lord or bishop
on whose domain the city stood. The citizens of the towns resented the fact
that their overlord collected tolls and dues as though they were serfs. The
townsmen demanded the privileges of governing themselvesof making their own
laws, administering their own justice, levying their own taxes, and issuing
their own coinage. Naturally the overlord resented the impertinent upstarts
who demanded self-government. But the towns won their independence in various

One way was to become a commune, a self-governing town. The merchant

guilds took the lead in acquiring charters of self-government for the towns.

Often a charter had to be won by revolt; in other circumstances it could be

purchased, for a feudal lord was always in need of money. By 1200 the Lombard
towns of northern Italy, as well as many French and Flemish towns, had become
self-governing communes.

Where royal authority was strong, a town could be favored as

"privileged." In a charter granted to the town by the monarch, the inhabitants
won extensive financial and legal powers. The town was given management of its
own finances and paid its taxes in a lump sum to the king. It was also
generally given the right to elect its own officials. The king was usually
glad to grant such a charter, for it weakened the power of the nobles and won
for the monarch the support of the townspeople.

Founding new towns was still another way in which feudal restrictions
were broken down. Shrewd lords and kings, who recognized the economic value of
having towns in their territories, founded carefully planned centers with
well-designed streets and open squares. As a means of obtaining inhabitants,
they offered many inducements in the form of personal privileges and tax

Interacting with the growth of towns was the decline of serfdom. Many
serfs escaped from the manors and made their way to the towns. After living a
year and a day in the town, a serf was considered a freeman.

The Bourgeoisie

The triumph of the townspeople in their struggle for greater

self-government meant that a new class evolved in Europe - a powerful,
independent, and self-assured group, whose interest in trade was to
revolutionize social, economic, and political history. The members of this
class were called burghers and came to be called bourgeoisie. Kings came to
rely more and more on them in combating the power of the feudal lords, and
their economic interest gave rise to an early capitalism. Also associated with
the rise of towns and the bourgeoisie were the decline of serfdom and the
manorial system and the advent of modern society.

A medieval townsman's rank was based on money and goods rather than birth
and land. At the top of the social scale were the princes of trade, the great
merchants and banking families, bearing such names as Medici, Fugger, and
Coeur. Then came the moderately wealthy merchants and below them the artisans
and small shopkeepers. On the lowest level were the unskilled laborers, whose
miserable lot and discontent were destined to continue through the rest of the
Middle Ages.

The Church In The Early Middle Ages

As Europe gradually emerged from the destruction of the Roman Empire, the
church became one of the mainstays of civilization. During the pontificate of
Gregory I the Great (590-604), the medieval papacy began to assert its

authority. Gregory's achievement was to go beyond the claim of papal primacy

in the church by beginning to establish the temporal power of the papacy.

Gregory the Great and the Early Medieval Papacy, 600-1000

A Roman aristocrat by birth, Gregory witnessed and commented on the

devastation of Rome as the city changed hands three times during Justinian's
long struggle to retake Italy from the Ostrogoths:

Ruins on ruins .... Where is the senate? Where the people?

All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed ....
And we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are
menaced by scourges and innumerable trials. ^5

[Footnote 5: Quoted in R. H. C. Davis, A History of Medieval Europe: From

Constantine to Saint Louis (London: Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1957), p.

Concluding that the world was coming to an end, Gregory withdrew from it to
become a Benedictine monk. In 579 the pope convinced him to undertake a
fruitless mission seeking Byzantine aid against the Lombards, who had invaded
Italy a few years before. After Gregory was elected pope in 590, he assumed
the task of protecting Rome and its surrounding territory from the Lombard
threat. Thus Gregory was the first pope to act as temporal ruler of a part of
what later became the Papal States.

Gregory the Great also laid the foundation for the elaborate papal
machinery of church government. He took the first step toward papal control of
the church outside of Italy by sending a mission of Benedictine monks to
convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The pattern of church government Gregory
established in England - bishops supervised by archbishops, and archbishops by
the pope - became standard in the church.

The task of establishing papal control of the church and extending the
pope's temporal authority was continued by Gregory's successors. In the eighth
century, English missionaries transferred to Germany and France the pattern of
papal government they had known in England; and the Donation of Pepin, by
creating the Papal States, greatly increased the pope's temporal power. The
papacy's spiritual and temporal power was restrained, however, with the onset
of feudalism. Beginning in the late ninth century, the church, including the
papacy, fell more and more under the control of secular lords and kings.

Missionary Activities of the Church

The early Middle Ages was a period of widespread missionary activity. By

spreading Christianity, missionaries aided in the fusion of Germanic and
classical cultures. Monasteries served as havens for those seeking a
contemplative life, as repositories of learning for scholars, and often as
progressive farming centers. The zeal with which the monks approached their
faith often extended beyond the monastic walls.

One of the earliest Christian missionaries to the Germans was Ulfilas (c.
311-383), who spent forty years among the Visigoths and translated most of the
Bible into Gothic. Ulfilas and other early missionaries were followers of
Arius, and so the Arian form of Christianity was adopted by all the Germanic
tribes in the empire except the Franks and Anglo-Saxons. As we saw earlier,
the Franks' adoption of Roman Catholicism produced an important alliance
between Frankish rulers and the papacy.

Another great missionary, Patrick, was born in England about 389 and
later fled to Ireland to escape the Anglo-Saxon invaders. As a result of his
missionary activities in Ireland, monasteries were founded and Christianity
became the dominant religion. In the late sixth and seventh centuries a large
number of monks from the Irish monasteries went to Scotland, northern England,
the kingdom of the Franks, and even to Italy. The Irish monks eagerly pursued
scholarship, and their monasteries became storehouses for priceless

When Gregory the Great became pope, the papacy joined forces with
monasticism to take an active role in the missionary movement. Gregory sent a
Benedictine mission to England in 596. Starting in Kent, where an
archbishopric was founded at Canterbury ("Kent town"), Roman Christianity
spread through England, and finally even the Irish church founded by St.
Patrick acknowledged the primacy of Rome.

The English church, in turn, played an important part in the expansion of

Roman-controlled Christianity on the Continent. Boniface, the greatest
missionary from England in the eighth century, spent thirty-five years among
the Germanic tribes. Known as "the Apostle to the Germans," he established
several important monasteries, bishoprics, and an archbishopric at Mainz
before he turned to the task of reforming the church in France. There he
revitalized the monasteries, organized a system of local parishes to bring
Christianity to the countryside, and probably was instrumental in forming the
alliance beween the papacy and the Carolingian house. Roman Catholic
missionaries also worked among the Scandinavians and the western Slavs.

The Preservation of Knowledge

One of the great contributions of the monasteries was the preservation of

the learning of the classical world and that of the church. Learning did not
entirely die out in western Europe, of course. Seeing that the ability to read
Greek was quickly disappearing, the sixth-century Roman scholar Boethius, an
administrator under the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, determined to preserve
Greek learning by translating all of Plato and Aristotle into Latin. Only
Aristotle's treatises on logic were translated, and these remained the sole
works of that philosopher available in the West until the twelfth century.
Unjustly accused of treachery by Theodoric, Boethius was thrown into prison,
where he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while awaiting execution. This
little work later became a medieval textbook on philosophy.

Cassiodorus, a contemporary of Boethius who had also served Theodoric,

devoted most of his life to the collection and preservation of classical
knowledge. By encouraging the monks to copy valuable manuscripts, he was
instrumental in making the monasteries centers of learning. Following his
example, many monasteries established scriptoria, departments concerned
exclusively with copying manuscripts.

During the early Middle Ages most education took place in the
monasteries. In the late sixth and seventh centuries, when the effects of the
barbarian invasions were still being felt on the Continent, Irish monasteries
provided a safe haven for learning. There men studied Greek and Latin, copied
and preserved manuscripts, and in illuminating them produced masterpieces of
art. The Book of Kells is a surviving example of their skill.

An outstanding scholar of the early Middle Ages, the Venerable Bede (d.
735), followed the Irish tradition of learning in a northern English
monastery. Bede described himself as "ever taking delight in learning,
teaching, and writing." His many writings, which included textbooks and
commentaries on the Scriptures, summed up most knowledge available in his age.
Through Alcuin later in the century, Bede's learning influenced the
Carolingian Renaissance. Bede's best work, the Ecclesiastical History of the
English People, with its many original documents and vivid character sketches,
is our chief source for early British history.

d profited from certain

monopolies. He operated the only grain mill, oven for baking bread, and wine
and cider press on the manor, and he collected a toll each time these services
were needed.

The Life of the Peasants

On the manors of the Middle Ages the margin between starvation and
survival was narrow, and the life of the peasant was not easy. Famines were
common; warfare was a consant threat; grasshoppers, locusts, caterpillars, and
rats repeatedly destroyed the crops. Men and women alike had to toil long
hours in the fields. A medieval poem vividly describes the life of a peasant

I saw a poor man o'er the plough bending ...

All befouled with mud, as he the plough
followed ....
His wife walked by him with a long goad, ...
Barefoot on the bare ice, so that the blood
And at the field's end lay a little bowl,
And therein lay a little child wrapped in rags,
And twain of two years old upon another side;
And all of them sang a song that sorrow was
to hear,
They cried all a cry, a sorrowful note,

And the poor man sighed sore, and said

"Children, be still." ^4

[Footnote 4: Quoted in E. M. Hulme, History of the British People (New York:

Century Co., 1929), pp. 121-122.]

The difficulties of peasant life were reflected in the home, a cottage

with mud walls, clay floor, and thatched roof. The fire burned on a flat
heartstone in the middle of the floor; and unless the peasant was rich enough
to afford a chimney, the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. The windows
had no glass and were stuffed with straw in the winter. Furnishings were
meager, consisting usually of a table, a kneading trough for dough, a
cupboard, and a bed, often either a heap of straw or a box filled with straw,
which served the entire family. Pigs and chickens wandered about the cottage
continually, while the stable was frequently under the same roof, next to the
family quarters.

The peasants, despite their hard, monotonous life, enjoyed a few

pleasures. Wrestling was exceedingly popular, as were cockfighting, a crude
type of football, and fighting with quarter-staves, in which the contestants
stood an excellent chance of getting their heads bashed in. Around the porch
of the parish church the peasants often congregated to dance and sing on the
numerous holy days. The church preached in vain against "ballads and dancings
and evil and wanton songs and such-like lures of the Devil." The peasants
refused to give up these amusements, a small enough compensation for the

constant exploitation they suffered.

The Church In The High Middle Ages

When the German king Otto the Great revived the Roman Empire in the West
in 962, his act reemphasized the concept of the dual leadership of pope and
emperor. Otto claimed to be the successor of Augustus, Constantine, and
Charlemagne, although his actual power was confined to Germany and Italy. At
first the papacy looked to the German king for protection against the unruly
Italian nobles who for a century had been making a political prize of the
papacy. From the church's viewpoint, however, this arrangement had its
drawbacks, for the German kings continued to interfere in ecclesiastical
affairs and even in the election of popes.

During the eleventh century controversy arose between church and state
over the problem of lay investiture. Theoretically, on assuming office a
bishop or abbot was subject to two investitures; his spiritual authority was
bestowed by a church official, and his feudal or civil authority by a layman a feudal lord or a king. In actual fact, however, feudal lords and kings came
to control both the appointment and the installation of church officials. As
noted earlier, this practice was most pronounced in Germany, where control of
the church was the foundation of the king's power. The German church was in
essence a state church.

Gregory VII And The Investiture Struggle

The most ambitious advocate of church reform was Pope Gregory VII
(1073-1085), who claimed unprecedented power for the papacy. Gregory held as
his ideal the creation of a Christian commonwealth under papal control. In the
Dictatus Papae ("Dictate of the Pope") Gregory claimed:

That the Roman pontiff alone is rightly called universal.

That he alone has the power to depose and reinstate bishops.
That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
That all princes shall kiss the foot of the pope alone.
That he has the power to depose emperors.
That he can be judged by no one.
That no one can be regarded as catholic who does not agree with
the Roman church.
That he has the power to absolve subjects from their oath of
fealty to wicked rulers. ^2

[Footnote 2: Pope Gregory VII Dictatus papae, quoted in M. W. Baldwin,

Christianity Through the Thirteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1970),
pp. 182-183.]

In 1075 Gregory VII formally prohibited lay investiture and threatened to

excommunicate any layman who performed it and any ecclesiastic who submitted
to it. This drastic act virtually declared war against Europe's rulers, since
lay investiture had been employed since the emperor Constantine's time. The

climax to the struggle occurred in Gregory's clash with the German emperor
Henry IV. Henry was accused of simony and lay investiture in appointing his
own choice to the archbishopric of Milan and was summoned to Rome to explain
his conduct. Henry's answer was to convene in 1076 a synod of German bishops,
which declared Gregory a "false monk" and unfit to occupy the office of pope.
In retaliation, Gregory excommunicated Henry and deposed him, absolving his
subjects from their oaths of allegiance.

At last, driven by a revolt among the German nobles to make peace with
the pope, Henry appeared before Gregory in January 1077 at Canossa, a castle
in the Apennines. Dressed as a penitent, the emperor is said to have stood
barefoot in the snow for three days and begged forgiveness until, in Gregory's
words: "We loosed the chain of the anathema and at length received him into
the favor of communion and into the lap of the Holy Mother Church." ^3

[Footnote 3: Quoted in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, vol. 1

(Boston: Ginn and Co., 1904), p. 283]

This dramatic humiliation of the emperor did not resolve the quarrel, nor
do contemporary accounts attach much significance to the incidentpublic
penance was not uncommon in those days, even for kings. After the episode at
Canossa, Henry returned to Germany and crushed his opponents; in the short
term the whole incident cost Gregory the support of the German nobility. Yet
the pope had made progress toward freeing the church from lay interference and
increasing the power and prestige of the papacy.

The problem of lay investiture was settled in 1122 by the compromise

known as the Concordat of Worms. By the terms of this agreement, the church
maintained the right to elect the holder of an ecclesiastical office, but only
in the presence of the king or his representative. The candidate, such as a
bishop, was invested by the king with the scepter, the symbol of his
administrative jurisdiction, after which he performed the act of homage and
swore allegiance as the king's vassal. Only after this ceremony had taken
place was the candidate consecrated by the archbishop, who invested him with
his spiritual functions, as symbolized by the ring and pastoral staff. Since
the kings of England and France had earlier accepted this compromise, the
problem of lay investiture ended.

The Papacy's Zenith: Innocent III

Under Innocent III (1198-1216), a new type of administrator-pope, papal

power reached its zenith. Unlike Gregory VII and other earlier reform popes,
who were monks, Innocent and other great popes of the late twelfth and
thirteenth centuries were lawyers, trained in the newly revived and enlarged
church, or canon law. Innocent was like Gregory VII, however, in holding an
exalted view of his office:

The Lord Jesus Christ has set up one ruler over all
things as His universal vicar, and as all things in
heaven, earth and hell bow the knee to Christ, so should

all obey Christ's vicar, that there be one flock and one
shepherd. ^4

[Footnote 4: Quoted in Margaret Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church,

590-1000 (London: Metheun Co. Ltd., reprinted with corrections, 1972), p.

So successful was Innocent III in asserting his temporal and spiritual

supremacy that many states formally acknowledged vassalage to the pope. In the
case of King John of England, a struggle developed over the election of the
archbishop of Canterbury, and Innocent placed England under interdict for five
years and excommunicated John. Under attack from his barons, John capitulated
to Innocent by becoming his vassal, receiving England back as a fief, and
paying him an annual monetary tribute. Innocent forced Philip Augustus of
France to comply with the church's moral code by taking back as his queen the
woman he had divorced with the consent of the French bishops. As for the Holy
Roman Empire, Innocent intervened in a civil war between rival candidates for
the throne, supporting first one, then the other. In the end Innocent secured
the election of his ward, the young Hohenstaufen heir Frederick II, who
promised to respect papal rights and to go on a crusade.

Church Administration

The universality and power of the church rested not only upon a
systematized, uniform creed but also upon the most highly organized

administrative system in the West. At the head was the pope, or bishop of Rome
(see ch. 5). He was assisted by the Curia, the papal council or court, which
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries developed an intricate adminstrative
system. Judicial and secretarial problems were handled by the papal Chancery,
financial matters by the Camera, and disciplinary questions by the
Penitentiary. Special emissaries called legates, whose powers were superior to
those of the local churchmen, carried the pope's orders throughout Europe.

The church was ahead of secular states in developing a system of courts

and a body of law. Church or canon law was based on the Scriptures, the
writings of the church Fathers, and the decrees of church councils and popes.
In the twelfth century the church issued its official body of canon law, which
guided the church courts in judging perjury, blasphemy, sorcery, usury (the
medieval church denounced the taking of interest), and heresy. Heresey was the
most horrible of all crimes in medieval eyes. A murder was a crime against
society, but the heretic's disbelief in the teaching of Christ or His church
was considered a crime against God.

The papacy's chief weapons in support of its authority were spiritual

penalties. The most powerful of these was excommunication, by which people
became anathema, "set apart" from the church and all the faithful. A person
who was excommunicant could not act as judge, juror, notary, witness, or
attorney. That person could not be a guardian, an executor, or a party to any
contracts. When one died as an excommunicant, one received no Christian
burial; and if by chance he or she was buried in consecrated ground, the body

was dug up and thrown away. An excommunicant who entered a church during Mass
was to be expelled, or the Mass discontinued. After the reading of a sentence
of excommunication, a bell was rung as for a funeral, a book closed, and a
candle extinguished, to symbolize the spiritual death of the guilty person.

Interdict, which has been termed "an ecclesiastical lockout," was also a
powerful instrument. Whereas excommunication was directed against individuals,
interdict suspended all public worship and withheld all sacraments other than
Baptism and Extreme Unction in the realm of a disobedient ruler. Pope Innocent
III successfully applied or threatened the interdict eighty-five times against
disobedient kings and princes.

From the reign of Innocent III until the end of the thirteenth century,
the church radiated power and splendor. It possessed perhaps a third of the
land in Europe, and all secular rulers and church prelates acknowledged the
power of Christ's vicar, the pope. Innocent III and his successors could and
did "judge all and be judged by no one."

Yet while the church's wealth enabled it to perform educational and

charitable functions that the states were too poor and weak to provide, this
wealth also encouraged abuses and worldliness among the clergy. Cracks were
appearing in the foundation even while the medieval religious structure
received its final embellishments. Weaknesses were evident in the lessening of
religious zeal in the later crusades, in the need for renewed internal reform,
and in the growth of heresy.

Monastic Reform

A religious revival, often called the medieval reformation, began in the

tenth century and reached full force in the twelfth and thirteenth. The first
far-reaching manifestation of the revival was the reformed Benedictine order
of monks at Cluny, founded in 910. From the original monastery in Burgundy
radiated a powerful impulse for the reform of the feudalized church. The
Cluniac program began as a movement for monastic reform, but in time it
influenced the enforcement of clerical celibacy and the abolition of simony,
the purchase and sale of church offices. The ultimate goal of the Cluniac
reformers was to free the entire church from secular control and subject it to
papal authority. Some three hundred Cluniac houses were freed from lay
control, and in 1059 an attempt was made to rid the papacy itself of secular
interference by the creation of the College of Cardinals, which henceforth
elected the pope.

The medieval reformation gained momentum late in the eleventh century

with a second wave of monastic reform brought on by the failure of the Cluniac
reform to end all the abuses associated with the monastic life. Among the new
orders were the severely ascetic Carthusians and the very popular Cistercians.

The Cistercian movement received its greatest impetus from the zealous
efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153). The order's abbeys were
situated in solitary places, and their strict discipline emphasized fasts and

vigils, manual labor, and a vegetarian diet. Their churches contained neither
stained glass nor statues, and the puritanical Bernard denounced the
beautification of churches in general.

The Cistercian order had founded 343 abbeys in western Europe by the time
of Bernard's death in 1153 and more than double that number by the end of the
century. Yet in one important sense these austere new monastic orders were
failures. Being exclusively agricultural and dwelling apart from society,
these orders were unsuited to cope with religious discontent in the towns and
the consequent increase of heresy.


Heresy, the deliberate belief in doctrines officially condemned by the

church, flourished particularly in the towns, where an increasing
consciousness of sin and a demand for greater piety went largely unheeded by
old-style churchmen. This fertile ground produced many heresies, among which
the Albigensian and Waldensian were major ones.

Harking back to an early Christian heresy, the Cathari ("Pure") or

Albigensians - so called because Albi in southern France was an important
center - went to extremes in regarding the world as the battleground for the
opposing forces of good and evil. The Albigensians denounced many activities
of the state and the individual, even condemning marriage for perpetuating the
human species in this sinful world. The Albigensians went on to denounce even

the church as an institution, since it too was a part of the earth and thereby
inherently evil.

The Waldensians derived their name from Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons
who gave his wealth to charity and founded a lay order, the Poor Men of Lyons,
to serve the needs of the people. He had parts of the New Testament translated
into French, held that laymen could preach the Gospel, and denied the
effectiveness of the sacraments unless administered by worthy priests.

For ten years, Innocent III tried to reconvert these heretical groups.
Failing, in 1208 he instigated a crusade against the prosperous and cultured
French region of Toulouse, where the Albigensian heresy was widespread. The
crusade began with horrible slaughter to the cry of "Kill them all, God will
know his own." Soon the original religious motive was lost in a selfish rush
to seize the wealth of the accused. In time the Albigensian heresy was
destroyed, along with the flourishing culture of southern France, and the
Waldensians were scattered. Until the rise of Protestantism, the church was
generally successful in its efforts to crush heresy.

The Inquisition

In 1233 a special papal court called the Inquisition was established to

cope with the rising tide of heresy and to bring about religious conformity.
Those accused were tried in secret without the aid of legal counsel. Those who
confessed and renounced heresy were "reconciled" with the church on

performance of penance. Those who did not voluntarily confess could be

tortured. If this failed, the prisoners could be declared heretics and turned
over to the secular authorities, usually to be burned at the stake.

A rationalization for torture was that the soul was considered

incomparably more important than the body, so therefore it was believed that
torturing a suspected heretic was justifiable if confession could save the
soul from the greater torments of hell. The use of torture, secret testimony,
and the denial of legal counsel prevailed in all courts that followed Roman
legal procedure. But some of the church's courts of inquisition, and in
particular the Spanish courts, abused their authority and became almost
fanatical in their prosecution of suspected heretics.

The Franciscans And Dominicans

As a more positive response to the spread of heresy and the conditions

that caused it, Innocent III approved the founding of the Franciscan and
Dominican orders of friars ("brothers"). Instead of living an isolated
existence in a remote monastery, the friars moved among the people,
ministering to their needs, preaching the Gospel, and teaching in the schools.

The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi (1182?-1226), who

rejected riches and spread the gospel of poverty and Christian simplicity.
Love of one's fellow human beings and all God's creatures, even "brother
worm," were basic in the Rule of St. Francis, which was inspired by Jesus'


The second order of friars was founded by St. Dominic (1170-1221), a

well-educated Spaniard who had fought the Albigensians in southern France.
There he decided that to combat the strength and zeal of it opponents, the
church should have champions who could preach the Gospel with the dedication
of the Apostles. Dominic's order of friar-preachers dedicated themselves to
preaching as a means of maintaining the doctrines of the church and of
converting heretics.

The enthusiasm and sincerity of the friars in their early years made a
profound impact on an age that had grown increasingly critical of the
worldliness of the church. But after they took charge of the Inquisition,
became professors in the universities, and served the papacy in other ways,
the friars lost much of their original simplicity and freshness. Yet their
message and zeal had done much to provide the church with moral and
intellectual leadership at a time when such leadership was badly needed.

The Intellectual Synthesis Of The High Middle Ages

In addition to the general level of education, interest in intellectual

matters declined rapidly in the period following the fall of the Roman Empire
and the establishment of the early Germanic kingdoms. And even among the
intellectual community that did survive, a controversy raged over the value of
studying subjects not directly pertinent to the saving of souls for the

church. So dim had the light of learning become by the end of the eighth
century that Charlemagne found it necessary to order the monasteries to revive
their schools and resume instruction in the rudiments of "singing, arithmetic,
and grammar."

Despite the fate of his political achievements, Charlemagne's modest

educational revival survived his death. At least partly as a result of this
stimulus, western Europe by the late eleventh century was on the threshold of
one of the most productive and energetic periods of the history of Western


Living "religiously in a studious manner" characterizes the scholars of

the High Middle Ages. With few exceptions, medieval people did not think of
truth as something to be discovered by themselves; rather, they saw it as
already existing in the authoritative Christian and pagan writings of
antiquity. Spurred by a new zest for employing reason (through the use of
logic or dialectic), medieval scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
succeeded in understanding and reexpressing those elements in the Christian
and pagan heritage that seemed significant to them. Since this task was
carried out largely in the schools, these scholars are known as schoolmen, or
scholastics, and the intellectual synthesis they produced is called

Each scholar formed his own judgments and earnestly sought to convince
others. This led to much debate, often uncritical but always exuberant, on a
wide range of subjects. Most famous was the argument over universals known as
the nominalist-realist controversy. This philosophical controversy centered on
the question of whether universal ideas - beauty, truth, and justice for
example - had a reality other than existing in people's minds as abstract
notions. The realists held that these universal ideas did have a reality, but
the nominalists believed that the universal ideas were nothing more than names
(nomina) used to identify abstract concepts. The debates and arguments between
nominalists and realists found receptive audiences in medieval universities
and in the writings of philosophers and theologians.

The Contribution Of Abelard

The extreme views of nominalists and realists, along with other examples
of the sterile use of logic ("whether the pig is led to the market by the rope
or by the driver"), outraged the brilliant young student Peter Abelard
(1079-1142), later a popular teacher at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in

Abelard's great contribution to medieval thought was an approach called

conceptualism his common-sense solution to the nominalist-realist controversy.
Abelard held that universals, while existing only in the mind as thoughts or
concepts, are nevertheless valid (real) since they are the product of
observing the similar qualities that exist in a particular class of things.

Thus, by observing many chairs and sitting in them, we arrive at the universal
concept "chair."

In addition to redefining the purpose of scholastic thought, Abelard

perfected the scholastic method. Like others before him, Abelard emphasized
the importance of understanding. However, Abelard's predecessors had begun
with faith; Abelard started with doubt. We must learn to doubt, he insisted,
for doubting leads us to inquire, and inquiry leads us to the truth.

In a very influential work, Sic et Non (Yes and No), Abelard

demonstrated his method. Listing 158 propositions on theology and ethics, he
appended to each a number of statements pro and con taken from the
authoritative writings of the church. Abelard did not reconcile these apparent
contradictions, but he urged his students to do so by rational interpretation.
Abelard's successors used his methods to absorb and interpret the pagan as
well as the Christian heritage of the past. The resulting scholarly
compilations, which bear such apt titles as concordantia (concordance),
speculum (mirror), and summa (total), constitute a crowning
achievement of the medieval intellectual synthesis.

Abelard is remembered as a great lover as well as a great scholara rather

uncommon combination. His ill-starred romance with his pupil, the learned and
beautiful Helose, niece of the canon of Notre Dame, cut short his promising
career as a teacher. The two lovers were married in secret but Helose's uncle,
falsely believing that Abelard planned to abandon Helose, hired thugs who

attacked and castrated the scholar. Both Abelard and Helose then sought refuge
in the churchhe as a monk and she as the abbess of a convent.

The New Material And The Task Of Reconciliation

In the twelfth century Western scholars flocked to Spain and Sicily and
there translated Muslim editions of ancient writings. As a result of these
translations a host of new ideas, particularly in science and philosophy, were
introduced to Western scholars. Western knowledge was expanded to include not
only Arabic learning but also such important classical works as Euclid's
Geometry, Ptolemy's Almagest, Hippocrates' and Galen's treatises
in medicine, and all of Aristotle's extant writing except the Poetics
and the Rhetoric.

Because of the emphasis on authority and the all-pervasive influence of

the church, the medieval atmosphere was not conductive to free scientific
investigation. Those who studied science were churchmen, and their findings
were supposed to illuminate rather than contradict the dogmas of the

When Greek and Arabic works were translated in the twelfth century, the
West inherited a magnificent legacy of mathematical and scientific knowledge.
Algebra, trigonometry, and Euclid's Geometry became available, and Arabic
numerals and the symbol for zero made possible the decimal system of
computation. Physics was based on Aristotle's theory of four elements (water,

earth, air, and fire) and on his theories of dynamics - doctrines that took
centuries to disprove. Some fourteenth-century nominalists were the first to
challenge Aristotle's theory, later conclusively disproven by Galileo, that a
heavy object falls faster than a light one. Chemistry was based on
Aristotelian concepts, mixed with magic and alchemy. Like the Muslim
alchemist, the European counterpart tried in vain to transmute base metals
into gold and silver and to obtain a magic elixir that would prolong life; in
both cases the attempts did much to advance true findings in the field of

Two notable exceptions to the medieval rule of subservience to authority

were the emperor Frederick II and the English Franciscan Roger Bacon.
Frederick had a genuine scientific interest in animals and was famed for his
large traveling menagerie, which included elephants, camels, panthers, lions,
leopards, and a giraffe. He also wrote a remarkable treatise, The Art of
Falconry, which is still considered largely accurate in it observations of the
life and habits of various kinds of hunting birds. At his Sicilian court
Frederick gathered about him many distinguished Greek, Muslim, and Latin
scholars, and he wrote to others in distant lands seeking their views on such
problems as why objects appear bent when partly covered by water. He indulged
in many experiments; one was a test to determine what language children would
speak if raised in absolute silence. The experiment was a failure, because all
the children died.

Roger Bacon (1214-1292) also employed the inductive scientific method, he

coined the term "experimental science" and boldly criticized the deductive
syllogistic reasoning used by scholastic thinkers. Bacon never doubted the
authority of the Bible or the church - his interest lay only in natural
science - yet his superiors considered him dangerous because of his criticism
of scholastic thought.

By the thirteenth century learned Muslim commentaries on the medical

works of Galen and Hippocrates and on Aristotle's biology were available in
the West. This knowledge, coupled with new discoveries and improved
techniques, made medieval doctors more than just barbers who engaged in
bloodletting. Yet the overall state of medical knowledge and practice was, by
our standards at least, still primitive.

As his works became known, Aristotle became "the philosopher" to medical

students, and his authority was generally accepted as second only to that of
the Scriptures. But because the church's teachings were considered infallible,
Aristotle's ideas, as well as those of other great thinkers of antiquity, had
to be reconciled with religious dogma. Using logical approaches, the
scholastic thinkers of the thirteenth century succeeded in this task of

Scholasticism reached its zenith with Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274). In his

Summa Theologica, this brilliant Italian Dominican dealt exhaustively
with the great problems of theology, philosophy, politics, and economics.
Thomas' major concern was to reconcile Aristotle and church dogmain other

words, the truths of natural reason and the truths of faith. There can be no
real contradiction, he argued, since all truth comes from God. In case of an
unresolved contradiction, however, faith won out, because of the possibility
of human error in reasoning.

The Decline Of Scholasticism

Having reached its zenith, scholasticism declined rapidly. The assumption

that faith and reason were compatible was vigorously denied by two Franciscan
thinkers, Duns Scotus (d. 1308) and William of Occam (d. c.1349), who
elaborated on Aquinas' belief that certain religious doctrines are beyond
discovery by the use of reason. They argued that if the human intellect could
not understand divinely revealed truth, it could hope to comprehend only the
natural world and should not intrude upon the sphere of divine truth.

After the thirteenth century, scholasticism increasingly became

criticized, for its adherents were obsessed with theological subtleties,
discouraged independent thought, and in general lost touch with reality. But
it should be remembered that the scholastics sought to compile and then to
interpret the vast body of Christian and pagan knowledge left to them by an
earlier civilization. In terms of their needs and objectives - an intelligible
and complete synthesis of faith, logic, and science - the scholastics were
extremely successful.

Origin Of Universities

The rebirth of learning in the twelfth century, with especially its

revival of classical learning, its unprecedented number of students flocking
to the schools, and its development of professional studies in law, medicine,
and theology, led to the rise of organized centers of learning - the
universities, which soon eclipsed monastic and cathedral schools. Originally
the word university meant a group of persons possessing a common purpose. In
this case it referred to a guild of learners, both teachers and students,
similar to the craft guilds with their masters and apprentices. In the
thirteenth century the universities had no campuses and little property or
money, and the masters taught in hired rooms or religious houses. If the
university was dissatisfied with its treatment by the townspeople, it could
migrate elsewhere. The earliest universities - Bologna, Paris, and Oxford were not officially founded or created, but in time the popes and kings
granted them and other universities charters of self-government. The charters
gave legal status to the universities and rights to the students, such as
freedom from the jurisdiction of town officials.

Two of the most famous medieval universities were at Bologna in northern

Italy and at Paris. The former owed its growth to the fame of Irnerius (d.
1130), who taught civil law. Because of his influence, Bologna acquired a
reputation as the leading center for the study of law. The students soon
organized a guild for protection against the townspeople, who were demanding
exorbitant sums for food and lodging. Because the guild went on to control the
professors, Bologna became a student paradise. In the earliest statutes we

read that a professor requiring leave of absence even for one day first had to
obtain permission from his students. He had to begin his lecture with the bell
and end within one minute of the next bell. The material in the text had to be
covered systematically, with all difficult passages fully explained. The
powerful position of the students at Bologna developed as a result of the
predominance of older students studying for the doctorate in law.

At the university in Paris conditions developed differently. This

university, which had grown out of the cathedral school of Notre Dame,
specialized in liberal arts and theology and became the most influential
intellectual center in medieval Europe. Its administration was far different
from Bologna's. The chancellor of Notre Dame, the bishop's officer who
exercised authority over the cathedral school, refused to allow the students
or the masters to obtain control of the burgeoning university. Charters issued
by the French king in 1200 and by the pope in 1231 freed the university from
the bishop's authority by making it an autonomous body controlled by the
masters. Oxford, the oldest university in England, was founded in the early
twelfth century by scholars who were attracted to the town by the favorable
reception from the nearby court, and the large number of religious houses
established there. After numerous conflicts local residents and students, the
university became the beneficiary of the king's support, and Oxford's security
was assured.


The period from 1000 to 1300, called the High Middle Ages, witnessed
significant changes and high levels of advancement from a wide variety of
perspectives. In England, William the Conqueror secured a unified kingdom in
1066, and successive English kings managed to keep their competitors under
control and build up the machinery of royal administration. In France, the
movement toward the consolidation of royal power emanated from the minuscule
Ile de France. Each of the many counties and duchies that constituted feudal
France had to be subordinated and brought within the framework of royal
authority. It took the French kings three centuries to accomplish what William
the Conqueror had done in one generation. The German kings dissipated their
energies by seeking the prize of empire over the Alps in Italy and Sicily.
Nation-making in Spain was unique, since it acquired the religious fervor of a
crusade. In the mid-eleventh century the Christian Spanish states began the
Reconquista in earnest, but not until the end of the fifteenth century
would the task be completed.

Economically, Europe was transformed by new forces: increased food

production and population, revitalized trade, new towns, expansion of
industry, and a money economy. A new society began to take shape - the
bourgeoisie emerged, and serfdom declined.

During the High Middle Ages, the church developed the first unified
system of law and administration in medieval Europe and intimately affected
the life of every person. It gave people a sense of security against the
dangers on earth and those beyond. Within the church, thinkers wrestled with

philosophical issues, such as the realist-nominalist controversy. In the

thirteenth century, such famous scholars as St. Thomas Aquinas made impressive
attempts to reconcile faith and reason, church authority and classical
thought; and universities were established.

Dancing Mania Of The Middle Ages


The black death, which originated in Central China about 1333, appeared
on the Mediterranean littoral in 1347, ravaged the island of Cyprus, made the
circuit of the Mediterranean countries, spread throughout Europe northward as
far as Iceland, and in 1357 appeared in Russia, where it seems to have been
checked by the barrier of the Caucasus.
Scarce had its effects subsided, and the graves of its 25,000,000 victims
were hardly closed, when it was followed by an epidemic of the dance of St.
John, or St. Vitus, which like a demoniacal plague appeared in Germany in
1347, and spread over the whole empire and throughout the neighboring
countries. The dance was characterized by wild leaping, furious screaming,
and foaming at the mouth, which gave to the individuals affected all the
appearance of insanity.
The epidemic was not confined to particular localities, but was
propagated by the sight of the sufferers, and for over two centuries excited
the astonishment of contemporaries. The Netherlands and France were equally
affected; in Italy the disease became known as tarantism, it being supposed to
proceed from the bite of the tarantula, a venomous spider. Like the St.

Vitus' dance in Germany, tarantism spread by sympathy, increasing in severity

as it took a wider range; the chief cure was music, which seemed to furnish
magical means for exorcising the malady of the patients.
The epidemic subsided in Central Europe in the seventeenth century, but
diseases approximating to the original dancing mania have occurred at various
periods in many parts of Europe, Africa, and the United States. Nathaniel
Pearce, an eye-witness, who resided nine years in Abyssinia early in the
nineteenth century, gives a graphic account of a similar epidemic there,
called tigretier, from the Tigre district, in which it was most prevalent. In
France, from 1727 to 1790, an epidemic prevailed among the Convulsionnaires,
who received relief from brethren in the faith known as Secourists, very much
after the rough methods administered to the St. John's dancers and to the
tarantati. About the same period nervous epidemics of a similar character,
largely propagated by sympathy, were very prevalent in the Shetland Islands
and in various parts of Scotland, but were for the most part eradicated by
cold-water immersion.
An epidemic of chorea sancti Viti, recorded by Felix Robertson of
Tennessee (Philadelphia, 1805), found vent in an unparalleled blaze of
enthusiastic religion, which spread with lightning-like rapidity in almost
every part of Tennessee and Kentucky, and in various parts of Virginia, in
1800, being distinguished by uncontrollable and infectious muscular
contractions, gesticulations, crying, laughing, shouting, and singing. To
similar epidemics are attributed the uncontrollable acts which, till late in
the nineteenth century, were a feature of North American camp meetings for
divine service in the open air, and which exhibited the same form of mental
disturbance as did the St. Vitus' dance in mediaeval Europe.
So early as the year 1374, assemblages of men and women were seen at
Aix-la-Chapelle who had come out of Germany, and who, united by one common
delusion, exhibited to the public both in the streets and in the churches the
following strange spectacle. They formed circles hand in hand, and, appearing
to have lost all control over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of
the bystanders, for hours together in wild delirium, until at length they fell
to the ground in a state of exhaustion. They then complained of extreme
oppression, and groaned as if in the agonies of death, until they were swathed
in cloths bound tightly round their waists, upon which they again recovered,
and remained free from complaint until the next attack. This practice of
swathing was resorted to an account of the tympany which followed these
spasmodic ravings, but the bystanders frequently relieved patients in a less
artificial manner, by thumping and trampling upon the parts affected. While
dancing they neither saw nor heard, being insensible to external impressions
through the senses, but were haunted by visions, their fancies conjuring up
spirits whose names they shrieked out; and some of them afterward asserted
that they felt as if they had been immersed in a stream of blood, which
obliged them to leap so high. Others, during the paroxysm, saw the heavens
open and the Savior enthroned with the Virgin Mary, according as the religious
notions of the age were strangely and variously reflected in their
Where the disease was completely developed, the attack commenced with
epileptic convulsions. Those affected fell to the ground senseless, panting

and laboring for breath. They foamed at the mouth, and suddenly springing up
began their dance amid strange contortions. Yet the malady doubtless made its
appearance very variously, and was modified by temporary or local
circumstances, whereof non-medical contemporaries but imperfectly noted the
essential particulars, accustomed as they were to confound their observation
of natural events with their notions of the world of spirits.
It was but a few months ere this demoniacal disease had spread from
Aix-la-Chapelle, where it appeared in July, over the neighboring Netherlands.
In Liege, Utrecht, Tongres, and many other towns of Belgium the dancers
appeared with garlands in their hair, and their waists girt with cloths, that
they might, as soon as the paroxysm was over, receive immediate relief on the
attack of the tympany. This bandage was, by the insertion of a stick, easily
twisted tight. Many, however, obtained more relief from kicks and blows,
which they found numbers of persons ready to administer; for, wherever the
dancers appeared, the people assembled in crowds to gratify their curiosity
with the frightful spectacle. At length the increasing number of the affected
excited no less anxiety than the attention that was paid to them. In towns and
villages they took possession of the religious houses; processions were
everywhere instituted on their account and masses were said and hymns were
sung, while the disease itself, of the demoniacal origin of which no one
entertained the least doubt, excited everywhere astonishment and horror. In
Liege the priests had recourse to exorcisms, and endeavored, by every means in
their power, to allay an evil which threatened so much danger to themselves;
for the possessed, assembling in multitudes, frequently poured forth
imprecations against them and menaced their destruction. They intimidated the
people also to such a degree that there was an express ordinance issued that
no one should make any but square-toed shoes, because these fanatics had
manifested a morbid dislike to the pointed shoes which had come into fashion
immediately after the "great mortality," in 1350. They were still more
irritated at the sight of red colors, the influence of which on the disordered
nerves might lead us to imagine an extraordinary accordance between this
spasmodic malady and the condition of infuriated animals; but in the St.
John's dancers this excitement was probably connected with apparitions
consequent upon their convulsions. There were likewise some of them who were
unable to endure the sight of persons weeping. The clergy seemed to become
daily more and more confirmed in their belief that those who were affected
were a kind of sectarians, and on this account they hastened their exorcisms
as much as possible, in order that the evil might not spread among the higher
classes, for hitherto scarcely any but the poor had been attacked, and the few
people of respectability among the laity and clergy who were to be found among
them were persons whose natural frivolity was unable to withstand the
excitement of novelty, even though it proceeded from a demoniacal influence.
Some of the affected had indeed themselves declared, when under the influence
of priestly forms of exorcism, that, if the demons had been allowed only a few
weeks more time, they would have entered the bodies of the nobility and
princes, and through these have destroyed the clergy. Assertions of this
sort, which those possessed uttered while in a state which may be compared
with that of magnetic sleep, obtained general belief, and passed from mouth to
mouth with wonderful additions. The priesthood were, on this account, so much
the more zealous in their endeavors to anticipate every dangerous excitement
of the people, as if the existing order of things could have been seriously
threatened by such incoherent ravings. Their exertions were effectual, for

exorcism was a powerful remedy in the fourteenth century; or it might perhaps

be that this wild infatuation terminated in consequence of the exhaustion
which naturally ensued from it; at all events, in the course of ten or eleven
months the St. John's dancers were no longer to be found in any of the cities
of Belgium. The evil, however, was too deeply rooted to give way altogether
to such feeble attacks.
A few months after this dancing malady had made its appearance at
Aix-la-Chapelle, it broke out at Cologne, where the number of those possessed
amounted to more than five hundred, and about the same time at Metz, the
streets of which place are said to have been filled with eleven hundred
dancers. Peasants left their ploughs, mechanics their workshops, housewives
their domestic duties, to join the wild revels, and this rich commercial city
became the scene of the most ruinous disorder. Secret desires were excited,
and but too often found opportunities for wild enjoyment; and numerous
beggars, stimulated by vice and misery, availed themselves of this new
complaint to gain a temporary livelihood. Girls and boys quitted their
parents, and servants their masters, to amuse themselves at the dances of
those possessed, and greedily imbibed the poison of mental infection. Gangs
of idle vagabonds, who understood how to imitate to the life the gestures and
convulsions of those really affected, roved from place to place seeking
maintenance and adventures, and thus, wherever they went, spreading this
disgusting spasmodic disease like a plague; for in maladies of this kind the
susceptible are infected as easily by the appearance as by the reality. At
last it was found necessary to drive away these mischievous guests, who were
equally inaccessible to the exorcisms of the priests and the remedies of the
physicians. It was not, however, until after four months that the Rhenish
cities were able to suppress these impostors, which had so alarmingly
increased the original evil. In the mean time, when once called into
existence, the plague crept on, and found abundant food in the tone of thought
which prevailed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and even, though in
a minor degree, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth, causing a permanent
disorder of the mind, and exhibiting, in those cities to whose inhabitants it
was a novelty, scenes as strange as they were detestable.
Strasburg was visited by the dancing plague, or St. Vitus' dance, ^1 in
the year 1418, and the same infatuation existed among the people there as in
the towns of Belgium and the Lower Rhine. Many who were seized at the sight
of those affected, excited attention at first by their confused and absurb
behavior, and then by their constantly following the swarms of dancers. These
were seen day and night passing through the streets, accompanied by musicians
playing on bagpipes, and by innumerable spectators attracted by curiosity, to
which were added anxious parents and relations, who came to look after those
among the misguided multitude who belonged to their respective families.
Imposture and profligacy played their part in this city also, but the morbid
delusion itself seems to have predominated. On this account religion could
only bring provisional aid, and therefore the town council benevolently took
an interest in the afflicted. They divided them into separate parties, to
each of which they appointed responsible superintendents to protect them from
harm and perhaps also to restrain their turbulence. They were thus conducted
on foot and in carriages to the chapels of St. Vitus, near Zabern and
Rotestein, where priests were in attendance to work upon their misguided minds
by masses and other religious ceremonies. After divine worship was completed,

they were led in solemn procession to the altar, where they made some small
offering of alms, and where it is probable that many were, through the
influence of devotion and the sanctity of the place, cured of this lamentable
aberration. It is worthy of observation, at all events, that the dancing
mania did not recommence at the altars of the saint, and that from him alone
assistance was implored, and through his miraculous interposition a cure was
expected, which was beyond the reach of human skill. The personal history of
St. Vitus is by no means unimportant in this matter. He was a Sicilian youth,
who, together with Modestus and Crescentia, suffered martyrdom at the time of
the persecution of the Christians, under Diocletian, in the year 303. The
legends respecting him are obscure, and he would certainly have been passed
over without notice among the innumerable apocryphal martyrs of the first
centuries, had not the transfer of his body to St. Denis, and thence, in the
year 836, to Corvey, raised him to a higher rank. From this time forth, it
may be supposed that many miracles were manifested at his new sepulchre, which
were of essential service in confirming the Roman faith among the Germans, and
St. Vitus was soon ranked among the fourteen saintly helpers (Nothhelfer or
Apotheker). His altars were multiplied, and the people had recourse to them in
all kinds of distresses, and revered him as a powerful intercessor. As the
worship of these saints was, however, at that time stripped of all historical
connections, which were purposely obliterated by the priesthood, a legend was
invented at the beginning of the fifteenth century, or perhaps even so early
as the fourteenth, that St. Vitus had, just before he bent his neck to the
sword, prayed to God that he might protect from the dancing mania all those
who should solemnize the day of his commemoration, and fast upon its eve, and
that thereupon a voice from heaven was heard, saying, "Vitus, thy prayer is
accepted." Thus St. Vitus became the patron saint of those afflicted with the
dancing plague, as St. Martin of Tours was at one time the succorer of persons
in smallpox.
[Footnote 1: "Chorus Sancti Viti, or St. Vitus' dance; the lascivious dance,
Paracelsus calls it, because they that are taken with it can do nothing but
dance till they be dead or cured. It is so called for that the parties so
troubled were wont to go to St. Vitus for help; and, after they had danced
there awhile, they were certainly freed. 'Tis strange to hear how long they
will dance, and in what manner, over stools, forms, and tables. One in red
clothes they cannot abide. Musick above all things they love; and therefore
magistrates in Germany will hire musicians to play to them, and some lusty,
sturdy companions to dance with them. This disease hath been very common in
Germany, as appears by those relations of Schenkius, and Paracelsus in his
book of madness, who brags how many several persons he hath cured of it. Felix
Platerus (de Mentis Alienat. cap. 3) reports of a woman in Basel whom he saw,
that danced a whole month together. The Arabians call it a kind of palsie.
Bodine, in his fifth book, speaks of this infirmity; Monavius, in his last
epistle to Scoltizius, and in another to Dudithus, where you may read more of
it." - Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.]
The connection which John the Baptist had with the dancing mania of the
fourteenth century was of a totally different character. He was originally
far from being a protecting saint to those who were attacked, or one who would
be likely to give them relief from a malady considered as the work of the
devil. On the contrary, the manner in which he was worshipped afforded an
important and very evident cause for its development. From the remotest

period, perhaps even so far back as the fourth century, St. John's Day was
solemnized with all sorts of strange and rude customs, of which the originally
mystical meaning was variously disfigured among different nations by
super-added relics of heathenism. Thus the Germans transferred to the
festival of St. John's Day an ancient heathen usage, the kindling of the
Nodfyr, which was forbidden them by St. Boniface, and the belief subsists even
to the present day that people and animals that have leaped through these
flames, or their smoke, are protected for a whole year from fevers and other
diseases, as if by a kind of baptism by fire. Bacchanalian dances, which have
originated in similar causes among all the rude nations of the earth, and the
wild extravagancies of a heated imagination, were the constant accompaniments
of this half-heathen, half-Christian festival. At the period of which we are
treating, however, the Germans were not the only people who gave way to the
ebullitions of fanaticism in keeping the festival of St. John the Baptist.
Similar customs were also to be found among the nations of Southern Europe and
of Asia, ^1 and it is more than probable that the Greeks transferred to the
festival of John the Baptist, who is also held in high esteem among the
Mahometans, a part of their Bacchanalian mysteries, an absurdity of a kind
which it but too frequently met with in human affairs. How far a remembrance
of the history of St. John's death may have had an influence on this occasion
we would leave learned theologians to decide. It is of importance here to add
only that in Abyssinia, a country entirely separated from Europe, where
Christianity has maintained itself in its primeval simplicity against
Mahometanism, John is to this day worshipped as protecting saint of those who
are attacked with the dancing malady. In these fragments of the dominion of
mysticism and superstition, historical connection is not to be found.
[Footnote 1: The Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus in Syria states that, at the
festival of St. John, large fires were annually kindled in several towns,
through which men, women, and children jumped; and that young children were
carried through by their mothers. He considered this custom as an ancient
Asiatic ceremony of purification, similar to that recorded of Ahaz, in II
Kings, xvi. 3. Zonaras, Balsamon, and Photius speak of the St. John's fires
in Constantinople, and the first looks upon them as the remains of an old
Grecian custom. Even in modern times fires are still lighted on St. John's
Day in Brittany and other remote parts of Continental Europe, through the
smoke of which the cattle are driven in the belief that they will thus be
protected from contagious and other diseases, and in these practices
protective fumigation originated. That such different nations should have had
the same idea of fixing the purification by fire on St. John's Day is a
remarkable coincidence, which perhaps can be accounted for only by its analogy
to baptism.]
When we observe, however, that the first dancers in Aix-la Chapelle
appeared in July with St. John's name in their mouths, the conjecture is
probable that the wild revels of St. John's Day, A.D. 1374, gave rise to this
mental plague, which thenceforth has visited so many thousands with incurable
aberration of mind and disgusting distortions of body.
This is rendered so much the more probable because some months previously
the districts in the neighborhood of the Rhine and the Maine had met with
great disasters. So early as February both these rivers had overflowed their
banks to a great extent; the walls of the town of Cologne, on the side next

the Rhine, had fallen down, and a great many villages had been reduced to the
utmost distress. To this was added the miserable condition of Western and
Southern Germany. Neither law nor edict could suppress the incessant feuds of
the barons, and in Franconia especially the ancient times of club law appeared
to be revived. Security of property there was none; arbitrary will everywhere
prevailed; corruption of morals and rude power rarely met with even a feeble
opposition; whence it arose that the cruel, but lucrative, persecutions of the
Jews were in many places still practised, through the whole of this century,
with their wonted ferocity. Thus, throughout the western parts of Germany, and
especially in the districts bordering on the Rhine, there was a wretched and
oppressed populace; and if we take into consideration that among their
numerous bands many wandered about whose consciences were tormented with the
recollection of the crimes which they had committed during the prevalence of
the black plague, we shall comprehend how their despair sought relief in the
intoxication of an artificial delirium. There is hence good ground for
supposing that the frantic celebration of the festival of St. John, A.D. 1374,
only served to bring to a crisis a malady which had been long impending; and
if we would further inquire how a hitherto harmless usage, which like many
others had but served to keep up superstition, could degenerate into so
serious a disease, we must take into account the unusual excitement of men's
minds and the consequences of wretchedness and want. The bowels, which in
many were debilitated by hunger and bad food, were precisely the parts which
in most cases were attacked with excruciating pain, and the tympanitic state
of the intestines points out to the intelligent physician an origin of the
disorder which is well worth consideration.
The dancing mania of the year 1374 was, in fact, no new disease, but a
phenomenon well known in the Middle Ages, of which many wondrous stories were
traditionally current among the people. In the year 1237, upward of a hundred
children were said to have been suddenly seized with this disease at Erfurt,
and to have proceeded dancing and jumping along the road to Arnstadt. When
they arrived at that place they fell exhausted to the ground, and, according
to an account of an old chronicle, many of them, after they were taken home by
their parents, died, and the rest remained affected to the end of their lives
with the permanent tremor. Another occurrence was related to have taken place
on the Mosel bridge at Utrecht, on June 17, 1278, when two hundred fanatics
began to dance, and would not desist until a priest passed who was carrying
the host to a person that was sick, upon which, as if in punishment of their
crime, the bridge gave way, and they were all drowned. A similar event also
occurred, so early as the year 1027, near the convent church of Kolbig, not
far from Bernburg. According to an oft-repeated tradition, eighteen peasant,
some of whose names are still preserved, are said to have disturbed divine
service on Christmas Eve by dancing and brawling in the church-yard, whereupon
the priest, Ruprecht, inflicted a curse upon them, that they should dance and
scream for a whole year without ceasing. This curse is stated to have been
completely fulfilled, so that the unfortunate sufferers at length sank knee
deep into the earth, and remained the whole time without nourishment, until
they were finally released by the intercession of two pious bishops. It is
said that upon this they fell into a deep sleep, which lasted three days, and
that four of them died; the rest continuing to suffer all their lives from a
trembling of their limbs. ^1 It is not worth while to separate what may have
been true and what the addition of crafty priests in this strangely distorted
story. It is sufficient that it was believed, and related with astonishment

and horror, throughout the Middle Ages, so that, when there was any exciting
cause for this delirious raving, and wild rage for dancing, it failed not to
produce its effects upon menose thoughts were given up to a belief in wonders
and apparitions.
[Footnote 1: Beckmann makes many other observations on this well-known
circumstance. The priest named is the same who is still known in the nursery
tales of children as the Knecht Ruprecht.]
This disposition of mind, altogether so peculiar to the Middle Ages, and
which, happily for mankind, has yielded to an improved state of civilization
and the diffusion of popular instruction, accounts for the origin and long
duration of this extraordinary mental disorder. The good sense of the people
recoiled with horror and aversion from this heavy plague, which, whenever
malevolent persons wished to curse their bitterest enemies and adversaries,
was long after used as a malediction. ^1 The indignation also that was felt by
the people at large against the immorality of the age was proved by their
ascribing this frightful affliction to the inefficacy of baptism by unchaste
priests, as if innocent children were doomed to atone, in after years, for
this desecration of the sacrament administered by unholy hands. We have
already mentioned what perils the priests in the Netherlands incurred from
this belief. They now, indeed, endeavored to hasten their reconciliation with
the irritated and at that time very degenerate people by exorcisms, which,
with some, procured them greater respect than ever, because they thus visibly
restored thousands of those who were affected. In general, however, there
prevailed a want of confidence in their efficacy, and then the sacred rites
had as little power in arresting the progress of this deeply rooted malady as
the prayers and holy services subsequently had at the altars of the greatly
revered martyr St. Vitus. We may, therefore, ascribe it to accident merely,
and to a certain aversion to this demoniacal disease, which seemed to lie
beyond the reach of human skill, that we meet with but few and imperfect
notices of the St. Vitus' dance in the second half of the fifteenth century.
The highly colored descriptions of the sixteenth century contradict the notion
that this mental plague had in any degree diminished in its severity, and not
a single fact is to be found which supports the opinion that any one of the
essential symptoms of the disease, not even excepting the tympany, had
disappeared, or that the disorder itself had become milder in its attacks. The
physicians never, as it seems, throughout the whole of the fifteenth century,
undertook the treatment of the dancing mania, which, according to the
prevailing notions, appertained exclusively to the servants of the Church.
Against demoniacal disorders they had no remedies, and though some at first
did promulgate the opinion that the malady had its origin in natural
circumstances, such as a hot temperament, and other causes named in the
phraseology of the schools, yet these opinions werethe less examined, as it
did not appear worth while to divide with a jealous priesthood the care of a
host of fanatical vagabonds and beggars.
[Footnote 1: Dass dir Sanct Veitstanz ankomme ("May you be seized with St.
Vitus' dance").]
It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the St.
Vitus' dance was made the subject of medical research, and stripped of its
unhallowed character as a work of demons. This was effected by Paracelsus,

that mighty, but as yet scarcely comprehended, reformer of medicine, whose aim
it was to withdraw diseases from the pale of miraculous interpositions and
saintly influences, and explain their causes upon principles deduced from his
knowledge of the human frame. "We will not, however, admit that the saints
have power to inflict diseases, and that these ought to be named after them,
although many there are who in their theology lay great stress on this
supposition, ascribing them rather to God than to nature, which is but idle
talk. We dislike such nonsensical gossip as is not supported by symptoms, but
only by faith, a thing which is not human, whereon the gods themselves set no
Such were the words which Paracelsus addressed to his contemporaries, who
were as yet incapable of appreciating doctrines of this sort; for the belief
in enchantment still remained everywhere unshaken, and faith in the world of
spirits still held men's minds in so close a bondage that thousands were,
according to their own conviction, given up as a prey to the devil; while, at
the command of religion as well as of law, countless piles were lighted, by
the flames of which human society was to be purified.
Paracelsus divides the St. Vitus' dance into three kinds: First, that
which arises from imagination (Vitista, chorea imaginativa, aestimativa), by
which the original dancing plague is to be understood; secondly, that which
arises from sensual desires, depending on the will (chorea lasciva); thirdly,
that which arises from corporeal causes (chorea naturalis, coacta), which,
according to a strange notion of his own, he explained by maintaining that in
certain vessels which are susceptible of an internal pruriency, and thence
produce laughter, the blood is set in commotion, in consequence of an
alteration in the vital spirits, whereby involuntary fits of intoxicating joy,
and a propensity to dance, are occasioned. To this notion he was, no doubt,
led from having observed a milder form of St. Vitus' dance, not uncommon in
his time, which was accompanied by involuntary laughter, and which bore a
resemblance to the hysterical laughter of the moderns, except that it was
characterized by more pleasurable sensations, and by an extravagant propensity
to dance. There was no howling, screaming, and jumping, as in the severe
form; neither was the disposition to dance by any means insuperable. Patients
thus affected, although they had not a complete control over their
understandings, yet were sufficiently self-possessed, during the attack, to
obey the directions which they received. There were even some among them who
did not dance at all, but only felt an involuntary impulse to allay the
internal sense of disquietude, which is the usual forerunner of an attack of
this kind, by laughter, and quick walking carried to the extent of producing
fatigue. This disorder, so different from the original type, evidently
approximates to the modern chorea, or rather is in perfect accordance with it,
even to the less essential symptom of laughter. A mitigation in the form of
the dancing mania had thus clearly taken place at the commencement of the
sixteenth century.
On the communication of the St. Vitus' dance by sympathy, Paracelsus, in
his peculiar language, expresses himself with great spirit, and shows a
profound knowledge of the nature of sensual impressions, which find their way
to the heart - the seat of joys and emotions - which overpower the opposition
of reason; and while "all other qualities and natures" are subdued,
incessantly impel the patient, in consequence of his original compliance, and

his all-conquering imagination, to imitate what he has seen. On his treatment

of the disease we cannot bestow any great praise, but must be content with the
remark that it was in conformity with the notions of the age in which he
lived. For the first kind, which often originated in passionate excitement,
he had a mental remedy, the efficacy of which is not to be despised, if we
estimate its value in connection with the prevalent opinions of those times.
The patient was to make an image of himself in wax or resin, and by an effort
of thought to concentrate all his blasphemies and sins in it. "Without the
intervention of any other person, to set his whole mind and thoughts
concerning these oaths in the image;" and when he had succeeded in this, he
was to burn the image, so that not a particle of it should remain. ^1 In all
this there was no mention made of St. Vitus, or any of the other mediatory
saints, which is accounted for by the circumstance, that, at this time, an
open rebellion against the Romish Church had begun, and the worship of saints
was by many rejected as idolatrous. For the second kind of St. Vitus' dance,
Paracelsus recommended harsh treatment and strict fasting. He directed that
the patients should be deprived of their liberty, placed in solitary
confinement, and made to sit in an uncomfortable place, until their misery
brought them to their senses and to a feeling of penitence. He then permitted
them gradually to return to their accustomed habits. Severe corporal
chastisement was not omitted; but, on the other hand, angry resistance on the
part of the patient was to be sedulously avoided, on the ground that it might
increase his malady, or even destroy him; moreover, where it seemed proper,
Paracelsus allayed the excitement of the nerves by immersion in cold water.
On the treatment of the third kind we shall not here enlarge. It was to be
effected by all sorts of wonderful remedies, composed of the quintessences;
and it would require, to render it intelligible, a more extended exposition of
peculiar principles than suits our present purpose.
[Footnote 1: "This proceeding was, however, no invention of his, but an
imitation of a usual mode of enchantment by means of wax figures (peri
cunculas). The witches made a wax image of the person who was to be
bewitched; and in order to torment him, they stuck it full of pins, or melted
it before the fire. The books on magic, of the Middle Ages, are full of such
things; though the reader who may wish to obtain information on this subject
need not go so far back. Only eighty years since, the learned and celebrated
Storch, of the school of Stahl, published a treatise on witchcraft, worthy of
the fourteenth century." - Treatise on the Diseases of Children.]
About this time the St. Vitus' dance began to decline, so that milder
forms of it appeared more frequently, while the severer cases became more
rare; and even in these, some of the important symptoms gradually disappeared.
Paracelsus makes no mention of the tympanites as taking place after the
attacks, although it may occasionally have occurred; and Schenck von
Graffenberg, a celebrated physician of the latter half of the sixteenth
century, speaks of this disease as having been frequent only in the time of
his forefathers.

Castle Life
The International History Project

Date: 2001
Supported by the brawn and taxes of the peasants, the feudal baron and his wife would seem to
have had a comfortable life. In many ways they did, despite the lack of creature comforts and
Around the 12th century, palisaded, fortified manorial dwellings began to give way to stone
castles. Some of these, with their great outer walls and courtyard buildings, covered perhaps 15
acres and were built for defensive warfare
Even in summer, dampness clung to the stone rooms, and the lord and his retinue spent as
much time as possible outdoors. At dawn the watchman atop the donjon blew a blast on his
bugle to awaken the castle. After a scanty breakfast of bread and wine or beer, the nobles
attended mass in the castle chapel.
The lord then took up his business. He might first hear the report of an estate manager. If a
discontented or ill-treated serf had fled, doubtless the lord would order retainers to bring him
back--for serfs were bound to the lord unless they could evade him for a year and a day. The
lord would also hear the petty offenses of peasants and fine the culprits or perhaps sentence
them to a day in the pillory. Serious deeds, like poaching or murder, were legal matters for the
local court or royal "circuit" court.
The lady of the castle had many duties as chatelaine. She inspected the work of her large staff
of servants. She saw that her spinners, weavers, and embroiderers furnished clothes for the
castle and rich vestments for the clergy. She and her ladies also helped to train the pages, wellborn boys who came to live in the castle at the age of 7. For seven years pages were schooled
in religion, music, dancing, riding, hunting, and some reading, writing, and arithmetic. At 14 they
became squires.
The lord directed the training of squires. They spent seven years learning the practices of
chivalry and, above all, of warfare. At the age of 21, if worthy, they received the accolade of
knighthood. (For the ceremony of knighthood see Knighthood.)
Sometime between 9 AM and noon, a trumpet summoned the lord's household to the great hall
for dinner. They gustily ate quantities of soup, game, birds, mutton, pork, some beef, and often
venison or boar slain in the hunt. In winter the ill-preserved meat smacked fierily of East Indian
spices, bought at enormous cost to hide the rank taste. Great, flat pieces of bread called
trenchers served as plates and, after the meal, were flung to the dogs around the table or given
to the poor. Huge pies, or pasties, filled with several kinds of fowl or fish, were relished. Metal or
wood cups or leather "jacks" held cider, beer, or wine. Coffee and tea were not used in Europe
until after the Middle Ages. Minstrels or jongleurs entertained at dinner.
Hunting, games, and tournaments delighted nobles. Even the ladies and their pages rode afield
to loose falcons at game birds. Indoors, in front of the great open fire, there were chess,
checkers, and backgammon. A troubadour would often chant and sing storied deeds of
Charlemagne, Count Roland, or Arthur and his Table Round .
Dearest to the warrior heart of the feudal lord was the tournament, an extravagant contest of
arms. Visiting knights and nobles set up their pavilions near the lists, or field of contest. Over
each tent a banner fluttered to show the rank of a contestant--here a count, there a marquis or a
baron (see Titles of Nobility). The shield of each armor-clad warrior was emblazoned to identify
the bearer. The first day of the tourney was usually devoted to single combats, in which pairs of

knights rode full tilt at each other with 10-foot (3-meter) lances. The tourney's climax was the
melee, when companies of knights battled in perilous mimic warfare. A tournament cost a lord a
fortune for hospitality and rich prizes given to the victors by the "queen of the tourney."
Tournaments had a grim value as practice for feudal warfare. Some battle or raid erupted almost
daily, since medieval nobles settled their quarrels simply by attacking. If a lord coveted land, his
couriers called his vassals to make a foray. The peasants, in quilted battle coats, trudged along
to fight on foot with their pikes and poleaxes. Despite the innumerable outbreaks, casualties
were surprisingly few, as long, exhausting battles were rare. Warring lords usually just burned
the fields and villages of their enemies. After a skirmish, the defending lord and his vassals
usually fled to the safety of the castle. The castle could withstand many a stubborn siege.
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Cultural Expression During The Middle Ages
During the entire Middle Ages Latin served as an international means of
communication. This common tongue provided much of the cohesion of the Middle
Ages, for virtually all the crucial communications of the church, governments,
and schools were in Latin. But any misconception that the Middle Ages were
simply "other-worldly" is shattered by glancing at the Latin poetry written
during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by students. Known as Goliardic
verse because its authors claimed to be disciples of Goliath, their euphemism
for the devil, it unhesitatingly proclaimed the pleasures of the good life.

Let us live like gods above!

Worthy is this sentiment,
See, the hunting nets of love
Wait for those on loving bent
To our vows let us attend!
That is what the custom says.
Let us to the streets descend,
To the maidens' choruses.
Time we're wasting speedily

While to books confined,

Tender youth suggests that we
Be to fun inclined. ^3

[Footnote 3: "Adieu to Studies" in Vagabond Verse, trans. Edwin H. Zeydel

(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1966), p. 157.]

Vernacular Literature

A rising tide of literature in the vernacular, or common, tongues began

to appear by the twelfth century, with the epic as the earliest form. The
greatest of the French epics, or chansons de geste ("songs of great deeds"),
is the late eleventh century Song of Roland, which recounts the heroic deeds
and death of Count Roland in the Pyrenees while defending the rear of
Charlemagne's army. The great Spanish epic, the Poema del Mio Cid is a product
of the twelfth century. These stirring epic poems, with their accounts of
prowess in battle, mirror the warrior virtues of early chivalry.

Dante Alighieri

The vernacular was also used by two of the greatest writers of the period
- Dante and Chaucer. Combining a profound religious sense with a knowledge of
scholastic thought and the Latin classics, the Italian Dante Alighieri
(1265-1321) produced one of the world's greatest and most skillfully written
narrative poems. The Divine Comedy, which Dante said described his "full

experience," is an allegory of medieval man (Dante) moving from bestial

earthiness (hell) through conversion (purgatory) to the sublime spirituality
of union with God (paradise). Dante describes how

Midway this way of life we're bound upon,

I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone. ^4

[Footnote 4: L'Inferno, Canto I, lines 1-3, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers, Dante,

The Divine Comedy, I: Hell (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1949), p. 71.]

Dante then accepts the offer of Virgil, symbol of pagan learning to be

his "master, leader, and lord" to guide him through hell and purgatory. But
Beatrice, the lady whom he had once loved from afar and who is now the symbol
of divine love, guides him through paradise. At last Dante stands before God,
and words fail him as he finds peace in the presence of the highest form of

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,

but already I could feel my being turned instinct and intellect balanced equally... ^5

[Footnote 5: Dante Alighieri, The Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-144,

trans. John Ciardi (New York: Mentor Books, 1961), p. 365.]

The Wit Of Chaucer

In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400), one of the

greatest figures in medieval literature, reveals a cross section of
contemporary English life, customs, and thought. The twenty-nine pilgrims who
assembled in April 1387 at an inn before journeying to the shrine of St.
Thomas a Becket at Canterbury were a motley group. The "truly perfect, gentle
knight," just returned from warring against the "heathen in Turkey," was
accompanied by his son, a young squire who loved so much by night that "he
slept no more than does a nightingale." The clergy was represented by the coy
prioress who "would weep if she but saw a mouse caught in a trap," ^6 the
rotund monk who loved to eat fat swan and ride good horses, the friar who knew
the best taverns and all the barmaids in town, and the poor parish priest who
was a credit to his faith.

[Footnote 6: Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, trans. J. U. Nicolson (New

York: Crown Publishers, 1936), pp. 3-5.]

Chaucer's fame rests securely upon his keen interest in human nature and
his skill as a storyteller. The Midland dialect he used was the linguistic
base for the language of future English literature, just as Dante's use of the
Tuscan dialect fixed the Italian tongue.

Artistic Correlation

The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Divine Comedy of Dante
represent 40.07the best intellectual expressions of the medieval spirit.
Similarly, the Gothic cathedral is the ultimate artistic expression of the
age. Each of these masterpieces represents a different aspect of the attempt
to organize everything into an overall pattern that would glorify God.

The order and form of scholastic thought find their counterparts in the
structure and style of the Gothic edifices. A scholastic treatise was
systematically arranged in logical parts; the cathedral was similarly
articulated in space. The main sections, the nave, transept, and apse, were
individually distinctive yet integrated into a coherent structure.

Cathedral Architecture

In the eleventh century a tremendous architectural revival occurred,

marked by the recovery of the art of building in stone rather than in wood, as
was common during the early Middle Ages. At a much later date the name
Romanesque came to be applied to this new style, because, like early Christian
architecture, it was based largely on Roman models. Although details of
structure and ornamentation differed with locality, the round arch was a
standard Romanesque feature. Both barrel and cross vaults were used,
particularly in northern Europe, where the need to build fireproof churches
made it impractical to follow the common Italian practice of using flat wooden
roofs. While there was often one long barrel vault over the nave (the part of
a church between the aisles, where the congregation assembles), the aisles

were divided into square areas or bays with a cross vault over each bay. Thick
outside walls and huge interior piers were necessary to support the heavy
stone barrel and cross vaults. Because the walls would be weakened by large
window apertures, the clerestory (the uppermost portion of the nave walls)
windows were small or nonexistent. Thus the northern Romanesque interior was
dark and gloomy, the exterior massive and monumental.

No clear distinction exists between Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

There was a gradual evolutionary process, which reached its culmination in the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The architects of the Gothic cathedral
developed ribbed-groin vaults with pointed rather than round arches. This
invention enabled them to solve the technical problem of cross-vaulting the
nave, which, being wider than the aisles, could not easily be divided into
square bays covered by Romanesque cross vaults. The light ribbed-groin vaults,
whose sides were of different length to fit the rectangular bays of the nave,
replaced the heavy barrel vault, and the roof of the nave could be raised to
permit the use of large clerestory windows. The thrust of the vaults over both
the nave and the aisles was concentrated on a few strong structural supports.
Part of the weight was carried down to the ground by columns within the
building, and part by flying buttresses at points along the walls. With such
vaulting and flying buttresses, the weight of the roof was largely shifted off
the walls. Large stained-glass windows were set into the walls between the
buttresses. The dark, somber interior of the Romanesque churches gave way to
the jeweled light of the Gothic interiors.

Sculpture And Painting

Most Romanesque and Gothic sculpture served an architectural function by

being carved into the total composition of a church. To use sculpture to the
best architectural advantage, the artist often distorted the subject to
achieve a particular effect. Like sculpture, medieval 45.7painting in the form
of stained-glass windows was integral part of architecture. Composed of small
pieces of colored glass held together in a pattern by metal strips, which both
braced the glass and emphasized the design, stained glass was an art whose
excellence has not been duplicated in modern times. By adding various minerals
to Molten glass, thirteenth-century craftsmen achieved brilliant hues. Details
such as hair were painted on the glass. The object, however, was not realism
but the evoking of a mood to - shine with the radiance of heaven itself.

Secular Architecture

What the cathedral was to religious life, the castle was to everyday
living. Both were havens and both were built to endure. The new weapons and
techniques of siege warfare, which the Crusaders brought back with them,
necessitated more massive castles. By the thirteenth century castle building
in Europe reached a high point of development. The towers were rounded, and
bastions stood at strategic points along the walls. The castle as a whole was
planned in such a skillful manner that if one section was taken by attackers,
it could be sealed off from the remaining fortifications. Whole towns were
fortified in the same way, with walls, watchtowers, moats, and drawbridges.

Toward the end of the Middle Ages there was less of a need for fortified
towns and castles. At the same time the wealth accruing from the revived trade
and increased industry encouraged the development of secular Gothic
architecture. Town and guild halls, the residences of the rich, and the
chateaux of the nobility all borrowed the delicate Gothic style from the

The Dynamic Culture of the Middle Ages

The European High Middle Ages, which lasted from about 1050 to 1300, evoke for many people
romantic images of knights in shining armor, magnificent castles, and glorious cathedrals. And
to many people, the word medieval (Latin medium aevum; "middle age") wrongly suggests a
cultural intermission between the classical period of the Greek and Roman civilizations and the
Renaissance. On the contrary, the High Middle Ages was a dynamic period that shaped
European identity and development, stimulated in part by Europes interactions with other
cultures in Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Many of the basic social and political patterns and
institutions later associated with European history were formed during this era. Clear political
boundaries and cultural identities emerged in the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, eastern
Europe, Iberia, and Scandinavia. Between 1000 and 1300, a chain reaction of developments in
economy, society, and political life contributed to new trends in religion, scholarship, literature,
and other artstrends that shaped European culture to the present day.
Economic Expansion and the Emergence of Towns
Territorial expansion, innovations in agriculture, and the development of cities and trade brought
rapid economic change to medieval Europe. Changes in the availability and consumption of
material goods and in population distribution radically altered European social relations and
political organization. These changes created new, more independent classes. These classes
competed against and balanced each other so that no one group gained absolute power.
Migration and expansion of frontiers stretched the boundaries of European countries in the
Mediterranean, eastern Europe, and Iberia. Much of this migration and expansion was led by
warrior groups. One such warrior group was the Viking-descended Normans in France, who
went to Sicily. Another was the Teutonic Knights, who moved German peasants eastward into
Slavic territories. The Crusaders, warriors from throughout Europe, answered Pope Urban IIs
call in 1095 to rescue the Holy Land from the Muslim Turks. In the 11th-century Christian
reconquest of Iberia, known as the "Reconquista," the northern kingdoms of Aragn, Castile,
and Len expanded Christendom southward. This expansion took over the territories of the
former Muslim caliphate of Crdoba, with its multicultural population of Muslims, Jews, and

The clearing of land and new techniques in agriculture led to higher food production, a rise in
population, and greater economic freedom. Agricultural tools, such as the heavy plow, along
with new methods for harnessing animal power, such as the horse collar, enabled farmers to
work the rich, dense soil of northern Europe using less labor. The three-field system replaced
two-field crop rotation, allowing farmers to cultivate two-thirds, instead of half, of their land at
once, while leaving one-third to rest and build nutrients. In the 12th century, energy-producing
devices such as the windmill and tidal mill for grinding grain also increased productivity.
Consequently, Europeans began eating better; they lived longer and grew in number. An
improved diet with iron-rich legumes increased womens life span and helped them survive
childbearing. Europe's population almost doubled between 1000 and 1350; in some regions, it
tripled. Surplus food and population meant that more people could devote their energies to new
crafts and trade instead of to subsistence agriculture.
This increase in productivity from the 11th through the 14th centuries led to urbanization, or the
growth of market towns and cities. Townspeople bought foodstuffs and raw supplies from rural
areas, and sold crafts made by local artisans as well as items imported from other regions.
Towns and townspeople became independent of the landholding aristocracy and were able to
regulate their own businesses through charters granted by kings. Coins became a convenient
medium of exchange, and a money-based economy, complete with banking, investing, and
lending activities, emerged. European merchants and investors formed competing trade
networks. The merchants of the older Italian city-states, such as Genoa, Venice, and Pisa,
brought luxury goods from the east and from North African ports in exchange for Europe's raw
materials. In the 12th and 13th centuries, a group of northern German towns formed the
Hanseatic League. The league monopolized the trade routes that transported raw goods, such
as timber, furs, and metals, along the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and major rivers. In doing so, they
linked Germany, England, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and eastern European countries.
Although the majority of Europeans still lived in rural areas, towns increasingly dominated the
Social Diversity
The economic changes brought about by increased trade and the emergence of cities created
new tensions in medieval society. These tensions permeated the boundaries of class, gender,
ethnicity, and religion. The interaction between rural and urban classes led to the establishment
of new political organizations and laws designed to balance the needs of competing classes.
As towns emerged, new social classessuch as merchants and artisansdisrupted the
established social patterns of medieval society. According to the traditional view, three orders
worked together in the rural community: the warrior aristocracy, or people who fight; the
peasantry, or people who work; and the clergy, or people who pray. These traditional
communities were organized in a hierarchy and bound together like a family, with the noble
acting as a father figure over his household and the village inhabitants. Townspeople, who
earned their living through crafts or commerce, broke from these rural obligations and familial
ties, so they created new social networks through associations called guilds. Merchant guilds
protected the town's interests by regulating trade with outsiders and providing benefits for
members. Craft guilds organized by tanners, butchers, and weavers set wage and price controls
and established rules for apprenticeship and membership. To some religious writers, the urban
freedoms of the newly chartered towns seemed to undermine the traditional hierarchical order of
society. Others thought merchants were worldly and materialistic because they did no work of
their own but rather profited from others' labor by buying and selling goods. Contrary to this
opinion, guilds spread their wealth by giving alms to the poor and building churches to visibly
demonstrate their members collective piety.

The choices made by women in the patriarchal society of High Medieval Europe illustrate the
new and increased variety of social classes. Women's roles usually were defined in relation to
men, with marriage and childbearing as womens main social and political functions.
Nevertheless, women were active and influential throughout society. Royal and aristocratic
women wielded authority at court and managed complex households, as Blanche of Castile did
when she reigned as France's regent for her son, King Louis IX. Townswomen operated brewing
and weaving businesses and even briefly formed their own guilds. Peasant women engaged in
intensive manual labor, producing food and sustaining their households. Some women left such
circumstances to become household servants in the manor or in towns, where their rights were
minimal. Religious women chose to exchange the material life of marriage and family for a
spiritual and intellectual life in a cloister. While women could not become priests, they did
influence society as visionaries, spiritual advisors, and writers. One such influential woman was
Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, Germany (1098 to 1179) who frequently spoke out on the religious,
political, and social issues of her day.
In both the hierarchical and communal order of the Middle Ages, everyone had a place and
knew it. Ones identity was linked to kinship, class, and faith; ignoring these boundaries
threatened the order of society. In response to the perceived threat of non-Christian peoples,
such as Jews, Muslims, Gypsies, and religious heretics, discriminatory laws placed those
groups on the margins of society. Anti-Semitism, or the hatred of Jews, sometimes inspired
Christian mobs to murder Jews as "Christ killers,"as when the Crusaders passed through
Germany in 1096. However, despite the discrimination and fear that oftentimes restricted their
businesses and social contacts, Jewish communities maintained a strong internal network
through family, synogogue, and contacts with Jews across and outside Europe. In fact, Jews
played an integral role in medieval society by influencing medieval scholarship.
Political Centralization and the Development of Government by Consent
In the midst of the economic growth and social turmoil, the High Middle Ages witnessed the
stabilization of Europes political boundaries and the growth of centralized governments
throughout the continent. Building on the economic strength of towns and trade, the individual
rulers of Europe developed competent bureaucracies to govern their domains, as is evident in
the increased use of written legal documents. The power of these new rulers was limited,
however, by pressure from competing social groups and political organizations, such as the
aristocracy, townspeople, and the church.
In the 11th through 13th centuries, the growing communities in Europe developed stable political
identities, usually under a central ruler. Royal control expanded in Angevin England, Capetian
France, and Germany under the Holy Roman Emperors. Meanwhile, newly unified Christian
kingdoms emerged in Iberia, with the kingdoms of Lon and Castile and Portugal; in
Scandinavia, with Denmark, Norway, and Sweden; and in eastern Europe, with the Magyarruled Kingdom of Hungary, the Piast dynasty in Poland, and Kievan Russia. The Slavic peoples
of eastern Europe were influenced by both western Europe and the Byzantine Empire. For
example, Russia's Slavic population converted to Byzantine, or Eastern Orthodox, Christianity
under the Kievan dynasty founded by Scandinavians in the 10th century. They formed a strong
Slavic Christian culture that survived even the Mongol conquest of the 13th century.
Medieval rulers did not have absolute power; rather their competence lay in developing strategic
relationships with the aristocracy, the towns, and the church. Even while kings were centralizing
their power, new representative assemblies in medieval England's Parliament and France's
Estates General laid down the roots of government by consent of the people. For example,
England's Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135, created an efficient government auditing

system in the Exchequer, the body that managed the receipt and expenditure of revenue. His
grandson Henry II, who reigned from 1154 to 1189, contributed to the development of common
law that united the kingdom. But King John, who reigned from 1199 to 1216, was forced by his
barons to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, a precursor to constitutional monarchy in England.
Often conflicts between these competing sources of authority gave rise to new political theories
and laws. In the 11th-century Investiture Controversy, for example, popes and secular rulers
debated the right to invest, or appoint, bishops. As European religious leaders developed more
systematic authority over their churches, reformers sought to free local churches from the
control of lay aristocrats and kings. However, Europe's kings were accustomed to appointing
their own archbishops and bishops, as these men, who were usually from aristocratic families,
served as royal administrators. When Gregory VII, pope from 1073 to 1085, challenged the
German Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV's appointment of a bishop, he sparked a long conflict
over the relationship of church and state. Subsequent popes, such as the dynamic Innocent III,
pope from 1198 to 1216, used the same bureaucratic mechanisms that secular rulers used to
develop legal theories freeing the church from secular influence. Although ultimately
unsuccessful, the arguments made on both sides of the debate helped define the boundaries of
political authority for both church autonomy and secular government.
Religion and Scholarship
Creative tensions in medieval society and politics led to new ideas, such as those exchanged in
the debates over faith and reason in the new universities. They also led to the rise of new
religious orders and forms of spirituality. New ideas emerged in popular religion during the
struggle between orthodox Christianity and numerous heresies. The influence of Jewish and
Muslim scholarship, the rise of an educated class of career scholars, and the growth of an urban
reading public also contributed to this cultural and intellectual ferment in Europe.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, universities arose in the major European cities. These
universities met the demand for education in the seven liberal artsgrammar, rhetoric, logic,
astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, and musiceducation that became a significant path to career
advancement. Universities specializing in the higher disciplineslaw at Bologna, medicine at
Salerno, and theology and philosophy at Parisbecame centers for intellectual debate. The
12th-century philosophical school known as Scholasticism developed new systems of logic
based on Europeans rediscovery of Aristotle from Islamic and Jewish sources. Scholars
debated how humans can know truthwhether knowledge of truth occurs through faith, through
human reason and investigation, or through some combination of both means. Although none of
these scholars denied Christian truth as it was revealed in the Bible, some, such as Anselm of
Canterbury, placed faith before reason. Others, such as Peter Abelard, put reason first. The
great 13th-century Dominican philosopher Thomas Aquinas produced a brilliant synthesis of
faith and reason, while a group of philosophers called nominalists questioned whether human
language could accurately describe reality. These inquiries into the nature of knowledge
contributed to scientific inquiry, evident in the experimental theories of English scientist and
philosopher Roger Bacon (1214?-1294).
Meanwhile, many people sought a more spiritual, holistic experience of the world than what was
offered through the intellect or through ordinary church rituals. Visionaries and reformers
created new orders such as the Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans. Saint Francis of
Assisi rejected the urban materialism of his parents and local church. He established a
mendicant, or beggar, lifestyle for the followers of his church-approved orderFranciscan friars
for men and the Poor Clares for women. Many religious thinkers in the 1200s were influenced
by the earlier philosophy of Christian Neoplatonism, a synthesis of Platos ideals and Christian

mysticism. Under that influence, they rejected the Aristotelian focus on rationalizing religion and
believed God's divine revelation could best be understood through experience. The Cistercian
Bernard of Clairvaux, who died in 1153, feared that Abelard's scholastic logic would deaden true
spiritual understanding. Later, Bonaventure, a Franciscan who lived from 1221 to 1274,
developed a mystical philosophy guiding Christians toward contemplation of the ideal realm of
Popular religion also reflected this social and religious ferment. Most people in medieval Europe
were Christian by baptism at birth and participated in church rituals throughout their lives. They
did penance for sins, attended Mass, and went on pilgrimages to holy sites containing relics of
saints. In the cities, lay people began seeking a more intense religious experience to
counterbalance the materialism of their urban lives. Many were drawn into new religious
movements, not all of which were approved by the church. This led to conflict between churchtaught orthodox teachings and practices and heresy, beliefs and practices that were condemned
as false by the church and considered a danger to Christendom. Like the religious orders,
heresies such as the Cathars (also known as the Albigensians), the Waldensians, and the
Spiritual Franciscans emphasized spiritual life; however, they also criticized the church's
materialism and challenged its authority. For instance, the Cathars rejected the body as evil and
saw no need for priests. Church leaders condemned them as heretics, while secular rulers, bent
on suppressing local rebellions against their authority, carried out a military crusade to destroy
their strongholds in southern France. The church, whose doctrine and order were threatened by
these groups, appointed preachers such as the Dominicans to teach correct doctrine and also
commissioned inquisitors to detect heretics and recommend them for punishment.
Literature and the Arts
Growth in urban society, intellectual innovations, and the tension between spirituality and order
in the church all contributed to the development of new creative styles in literature, the visual
arts, architecture, and music. Trade and the money-based economy of Europe supported this
creativity, as was evident in the importation of styles and materials from abroad, in aristocratic
patronage of the arts, and in the craft and merchant guilds contributions for the construction of
monumental churches in their towns.
Literacy increased in medieval Europe, especially among the urban lay populations, who had
more time to read. While most books were written in Latin, which was considered the dominant
language of learning, more books were being produced in regional languages, such as English,
French, and German. From this vernacular literature, new styles and genres evolved. At the
courts, troubadours wrote and performed lyric poetry celebrating the love between knights and
ladies. Epic tales of warrior heroism, such as Beowulf, gave way to romances celebrating
courtly love and knightly chivalry, exemplified in Arthurian books such as The Quest of the Holy
Grail and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The popular fabliaux, or animal fables, often
emphasized the virtues and cleverness of working people over those traits of the higher classes.
ChaucersCanterbury Tales poked fun at all societal classes. Religious bookssermons,
biographies of saints, and stories of miraclesprovided enlightening literature for pious readers,
increasingly women. Books were handwritten manuscripts, laboriously copied by scribes using
quill or reed pens to write on animal skin parchment. Expensive manuscripts were decorated
with illustrations painted in gold and brilliant colors full page portraits of Christ and other saints
or intricately drawn vines, plants, and fantastic beasts intertwined down the margins.
Stylistic changes also occurred in visual arts, such as painting, sculpture, metalwork, stained
glass, and architecture, and in performing arts, such as music and drama. Supported by
religious and secular patrons and influenced by Islamic and Byzantine civilizations, an artistic

renaissance developed the Romanesque style in the 11th and 12th centuries. Romanesque
architecture featured solid, imposing cathedrals with rounded arches and fantastic stone
carvings. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Gothic style introduced new engineering
innovations and emphasized greater emotional expression. The pointed arches, vaulted ribs,
and flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals, such as Notre Dame in Paris, allowed engineers to
build higher and lighter walls, while stained glass windows gave the interior a sense of heavenly
illumination. On the exterior of Gothic cathedrals, tall, slender statues of beautifully calm saints
portrayed an idealized humanity. During this period, music and notation, like Gothic architecture,
developed in complexity. The single line melodies of monophonic Gregorian chant, instrumental
dance pieces, and troubadour ballads evolved into more complex polyphonic music weaving
together multiple parts. Music was an integral part of emotional expression in medieval life.
Performances included the secular, from courtly lyrics and lively dances to drinking songs in
taverns, and the religious, from sung portions of the Mass to mystery plays that reenacted
biblical stories. Much of the art of this period is still admired today.
The Middle Ages were marked by the diversification and growth of economy and society and by
the subsequent social tension and political and religious conflict. These developments also led
to creative new approaches in artistic expression, legal theory, and philosophy. The dynamic,
lively culture that emerged from medieval European economy, society, politics, religion,
scholarship, and the arts brought Europeans onto a world stage.
Influence of Christianity
The International History Project
Date: 2001
During the reign of Clovis, Christianity began to lift Europe from the Dark Ages. The first step
was the conversion of Clovis in 496. Many barbarians had become Christians earlier, but most
of them held the Arian doctrine, condemned as heresy by the Roman Catholic church.
When Clovis became a Roman Catholic, his Franks began to receive the support of the bishop
of Rome--that is, the pope. This opened to the Franks the residue of Roman culture sustained
by the church. Its monks, living in retreats called monasteries, had preserved a knowledge of
Roman arts, crafts, and industries. They now began to spread this learning.
Christianity's influence widened when the great Charlemagne became king of the Franks in 768
and brought the Lombards and heathen Saxons under his sway. In 800 the pope proclaimed
him ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne vigorously sought to provide his people with
education. He founded schools in monasteries and churches for the poor as well as for the
As Charlemagne's empire passed to weak descendants, Europe was terrorized by new
invasions. Sea-going Vikings swept down on England and the west coast of Europe and darted
up rivers to raid inland. Hungarians drove from the east into Germany, France, and Italy. Moors
from Africa and Spain slashed into southern Europe.
The inept kings of the broken Holy Roman Empire could not provide defense. They turned to the
powerful lords of the realm, sometimes granting land for aid. Many lords built fortified dwellings,

or castles. Peasants built their villages of huts near the castles and served the lords in return for
protection. They farmed the lords' lands, worked in their households, and fought in their forces.
A lord became a suzerain when he accepted the service of a lesser lord, or vassal. The suzerain
gave the vassal a fief, or tract of land. In return the vassal "did homage" to the suzerain--that is,
he pledged loyalty to the suzerain and promised to supply him with warriors.
As peasants exchanged their work--and vassals, their service--for protection, they gave up their
independence. Even the most powerful suzerains were vassals of greater overlords, such as
kings or bishops.
This way of life, typical of the Middle Ages, is called feudalism. The word comes
fromfeudum, which in medieval Latin meant "possession" or "property."
The International History Project
Date: 2001
Most Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and members of other religions are ordinary citizens. They
raise families, work, play, and are otherwise involved in their societies. In most major religions
there are also numerous individuals who devote themselves full-time to the quest for salvation-however that term may be defined. The term used to describe such individuals is monks, and
their way of life is called monasticism. Both of these words are derived from a Greek term that
means "living alone." The definition was once accurate in referring to early Christian hermits, but
today it is misleading because many monks--and their female counterparts, nuns--live in
communities. Many are deeply involved in the world around them as teachers, social workers,
missionaries, nurses, or in other vocations.
Monks must be distinguished from the clergy. Priests, pastors, and rabbis are full-time
professionals who are trained to work in society. They have what is called a religious vocation.
But the direction their work takes is quite different from the highly individualized style of life
undertaken by monks.
In Christianity the distinction between clergy and monks is not sharply defined. Many monks are
clergymen. Roman Catholicism, for example, has two types of clergy--regular and secular. The
regular are those who follow a rule (regula in Latin)--they are members of a monastic order. The
secular are priests who belong to no order. Many monastic orders have members called
brothers who are not priests and who do not perform such priestly functions as conducting
mass. They share the life and discipline of the order with ordained monks and serve in such
capacities as teaching and farming.
In Hinduism the distinction between monks and priests is more sharply drawn. Only males born
into the Brahmin caste are entitled to perform priestly rituals. The privilege is given to all boys
born in the highest caste. Monks, by contrast, may perform no priestly functions. Therefore, if a
member of the Brahmin caste becomes a monk, he forfeits his right to act as a priest.
Nature of Monasticism
Because the practice of monasticism varies among the world's religions, a precise definition is
difficult. Loosely speaking, monasticism refers to individuals who try to practice religious works

that are more rigorous and beyond those required by the doctrines of their religion. The works
are those that ordinary believers cannot do, for lack of time or inclination.
A more appropriate word for early Christian monasticism, as well as for that practiced by
Eastern religions today, is asceticism. It means self-denial, and it is rooted in a negative attitude
toward the world. In Christianity the ascetics looked upon the world as a source of temptation
and sin. By secluding themselves from it, monks hoped to avoid harmful contacts and to
concentrate their energies upon salvation alone.
Monasticism never established itself permanently in Judaism. There were, from the 2nd century
BC onward, some groups that opposed the Temple worship at Jerusalem. They also were
adamantly against the compromises that Jewish leaders made with the Roman authorities.
These groups were separatist, nonconformist, and rebellious. There was little basis in the
Hebrew Bible, however, for asceticism. That collection of books depicts the world as essentially
good because it is God's creation. Christianity's scriptures take the same position and therefore
give little direct support for a life of asceticism.
There have been strong disagreements within Christianity about the merits of monasticism.
Some Protestant groups deny its validity altogether. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
denominations, however, have maintained strong monastic traditions dating back many
centuries. The Anglican Communion also has a number of monastic orders.
Some Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Jainism, are primarily monastic. The rules for
all believers are derived from the monastic rules, but the vows taken by monks are far more
numerous and more intensive than those required of lay members.
Personal goals. Some monks separate themselves from the world and its concerns as much as
possible. They may join communities, or they may live in solitude in one place or wander around
as mendicants (beggars). In either case they pursue highly individual goals. They seek to get rid
of all imperfections and to reach a state of spiritual perfection. They feel that isolation from the
world and its temptations aids in their quest. In Eastern religions the world and the individual
ego must both be subordinated to a search for the real self. The body with its weakness for
temptation and the mind clogged by ignorance are also hindrances. The means used to
circumvent both the world and the ego is meditation. A Buddhist, Jaina, or Hindu monk attempts
to break the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (called reincarnation) to escape to another kind of
existence altogether.
Along with meditation, many monks use mortification as a tool to reach perfection. Mortification
literally means "making dead." For monasticism it refers to certain practices that de-emphasize
the physical and emphasize the spiritual. Among them are fasting and punishing the body in
various painful ways. Sometimes meditation is accompanied by physical exercise. Practices
such as these have remained common in Central and East Asia, but they have diminished in
Christianity since the end of the Middle Ages.
Social purposes. Not all monks pursue salvation by separation from the world. Some, such as
the Franciscans, have combined service to the poor with their individual meditation and study. In
the 20th century Mother Teresa founded an order to serve the poverty-stricken millions of India
The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, founded in the 11th century and known as
the Knights Hospitalers, was probably the first order to establish genuine medical and hospital
services. Members of the Teutonic Knights, founded in 1189, also trained in hospital services. In

Tibet the Khamba organized themselves into a military police force for the protection of the
higher clergy.
Monasticism has played a vital role in the creation, preservation, and transmission of culture.
This was especially true of the Christian orders in the Middle Ages. Often the only literate
members of society were the monks. It was they who made and transmitted written copies of
the Bible and other ancient works from generation to generation. They organized some of the
first libraries. Often they conducted scientific and other research to benefit the surrounding
communities. They were expert farmers who were able to pass on the benefits of their expertise
to peasants on the large manors.
Types of Monasticism
The two basic kinds of monasticism are eremitic (a hermit life-style) and cenobitic (a communal
life-style). Both types have variations, and they are found in most major religions.
Eremitic. The hermits are religious recluses. In the early centuries of Christianity there lived in
the Egyptian desert a number of solitaries whose desire was to escape all the evils of the world.
They were called eremites, a Greek word meaning "dwellers in the desert." Other religions,
notably Jainism and Hinduism, also have had hermit monks. Common to all true hermits is a
persistence in living alone and following a strict discipline of meditation and self-mortification.
As the number of Egyptian hermits increased during the 3rd and 4th centuries, they began to
gather in small, unregulated groups. These were not communities in the strict sense because
each hermit followed his own discipline. There was no communal dining, meditation, or work.
Buddhist monks and nuns lived in similar loose associations before permanent communities
were established.
Cenobitic. True monastic communities have sets of rules. There are disciplines--including
prayer, worship, study, work, and service--that are obligatory for all members. The first
community of monks living under one roof and following the same routine was founded in Egypt
by the Christian ascetic Pachomius. It was started in about 320 at Tabenna, an island in the Nile
River. Pachomius is said to have built nine monasteries for men and two for women.
These monasteries were probably the models for those established by the Greek theologian St.
Basil the Great in the 4th century. It was he who set forth the first monastic rule, which became
the basis for all later Eastern Orthodox monastic institutions. Basil laid down the principle that
the monk must not live for himself alone but must do good for his fellow man. To give his monks
the opportunity to put the rule into practice, he established hospitals, hospices, and orphanages
near the monasteries. He also provided schools for the education of boys, whether or not they
were training to become monks. Basil also taught that work is of greater value than selfmortification and punishment. The best-known monastery in the tradition of Basil is Mount Athos
in Greece.
What Basil's rule was for the Eastern church, that of St. Benedict became for Roman
Catholicism during the Middle Ages. Benedict of Nursia formulated a rule calling for poverty,
chastity, obedience, and stability. His rule also indicated that individual monks were not to own
property. It was, rather, to be held by the order and administered by appointed trustees.
Benedict exalted work as necessary for the well-being of the individual. He viewed the religious
life as essentially social, not personal.

Some orders are semimonastic. Notable among these in Christianity are the Franciscans and
Dominicans, both founded early in the 13th century. Members of these orders, while having
monasteries as a home base, go out into society as teachers, preachers, and missionaries.
Members are called friars, meaning brothers, and they are dependent on offerings from the
people for their food and other needs.
A number of Hindu orders also have mendicants who alternate between a communal existence
and a public life of teaching or preaching. The Hindu orders are much more loosely organized
than either Christian or Buddhist counterparts.
Status of Women
In all monastic traditions, as in most religions generally, women have always occupied a status
inferior to men. Roman Catholicism has consistently refused to grant equal status to nuns
because they cannot be ordained as priests. Buddha was originally reluctant to allow women
into his order. He eventually relented after some of his disciples had succeeded in establishing
In the early days of Christianity, women who vowed to give their lives to service to God lived in
their homes. Later they lived in communal houses called parthenones, from the Greek word for
"virgin." The implication, of course, was that such women would never marry. The word nun is
derived from this Greek term by way of the French nonne. During the Middle Ages there were
many communities of nuns throughout Europe. Their organizations were, with few exceptions,
similar to those of monks.
Eastern Religions
Monasticism among Christians originated around the 4th century in Egypt and the Middle East.
It had come into existence much earlier in the older religions of India, and from there it spread to
Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, and Japan.
Hinduism. Monasticism in India owes its origins to Buddhism. Although Buddhism did not
survive as a religion in India, it left behind the tradition of the monastic order, orsangha, which
was readily absorbed by Hinduism.
The most influential founder of Hindu monasticism was Sankara, a philosopher and theologian
in the 8th century. The main currents of modern Indian thought are derived from his doctrines.
His order, Dasanami, set the monastic standards for all of Hindu India. It is the strictest of the
orders and accepts as members only Brahmins, the highest Indian caste. Monks in this tradition
have one chief obligation--meditation. All other tasks such as group incantation of liturgy,
teaching, or participation in monastic assemblies are secondary to meditation. The monk has no
social obligations, though he may initiate others into the secrets of meditation.
There are about 90 monastic Hindu orders. Not all are as inflexible in their standards for
membership or in their rules as Dasanami. The followers of Ramanuja, an 11th-century
theologian, are high-caste Hindus but not necessarily of the Brahmin caste. They emphasize
ritual worship of a personal deity, and it is possible for the monks to marry. Other orders do not
discriminate on the basis of caste.
Jainism. The founders of Jainism gave instruction only to those who were, or intended to
become, monks. Founded in the 6th century BC, the religion split into two sects, the
Svetambara and the Digambara, around the 6th century AD. Monks and nuns of the

Svetambara wear simple white robes and a piece of white cloth to cover the mouth. The cloth
prevents the accidental inhaling of microbes or insects. When they are out in public they carry
brooms and sweep the ground in front of them as they walk to clear away insects and other
living things that would be hurt or killed if they were stepped on.
Both of these unusual practices stem from the Jaina doctrine of ahimsa, or reverence for life.
The Digambara traditionally went around naked until Muslim law forced them to adopt a white
robe in the 15th century. The Digambara do not accept women into their order. Monks of both
orders are mendicants, and they stress poverty and detachment from the world.
Buddhism. Over the centuries Buddhism has split into several schools and sects. Monastic
practice, therefore, varies widely throughout the Far East. While celibacy has been a normal
requirement of the Buddhist clergy (all of whom are monks), many of the clergy in pre-20th
century Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Japan married. While meditation is fundamental for all
Buddhist monks, many are also heavily involved in society as teachers. Some have been
politically active as well. During the Indochina wars, many Buddhist monks protested
government policy in South Vietnam.
Sikhism. The order within Sikhism that approximates Hindu standards of monasticism is called
the Udasis. The order originated with the followers of Sri Chand, son of the founder of Sikhism.
The Udasis require asceticism and celibacy of their members. The other Sikh order, the Khalsa,
is not strictly monastic. It was founded as a military brotherhood late in the 17th century, when
Sikhs were being persecuted by Muslims. Now the dominant Sikh order, it admits both men and
women. Initiates agree to wear uncut hair (and beards for men), a comb, short trousers, a steel
bracelet, and a double-edge dagger. They also avoid tobacco and liquor.
Western Religions
Of the three major world religions, only Christianity developed a strong and enduring monastic
tradition. Modern Judaism has no monastic orders, though the devotional efforts of some
Orthodox rabbis bear striking similarities to the austere lives of some monks. There were
semimonastic communities in ancient Judaism around the 1st century BC, but these were
always marginal to the main emphasis of Temple worship in Jerusalem. Eventually the
communities ceased to exist.
Islam. Neither Muhammad, the founder of Islam, nor the Koran, its scriptures, gave any
encouragement to monastic ideals. Orders of mystics, called Sufis, did nevertheless emerge in
non-Arabic Islam. The Naqshbandiyah, for example, was founded in Turkestan in the 14th
century. Today the fraternity can be found in India, China, the Central Asian republics, and
Malaysia. The order was always nonconformist, but it influenced the devotional life of Islam
during the 18th and 19th centuries. Use of drugs such as hashish, coupled with its antilegalist
views, gave the order some appeal at the popular level.
Another group of mystics, the Sanusiyah, was founded in 1837. In modern history the head of
this order was the king of Libya from 1951 until 1969, when the country became a socialist
state. The Sanusiyah has been a reformist brotherhood, trying to take Islam back to the simple
faith and life of earlier centuries. Members of the order also worked as missionaries among the
Bedouins of North Africa.
Christianity. The Rule of St. Benedict dominated monastic life in Western, or Roman Catholic,
Europe during the Middle Ages. The influence of Benedictine monasticism became evident in
the conversion of the barbarians, the development of agriculture, the cultivation of learning, and

the teaching of crafts. Among the crafts in which monks worked were painting, wood carving,
metalwork, carpentry, weaving, winemaking, tailoring, leather tanning, and clockmaking. English
Benedictines were the greatest clockmakers of the 14th century.
Nearly all the great orders of the Middle Ages were founded on the Benedictine plan. The most
notable of these were the Carthusians, so called from the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse
near Grenoble, France. The order was founded by St. Bruno in 1084. The Cistercians, or White
Monks, were founded by St. Robert of Molesmes in 1098. The Premonstratensians, or White
Canons, were founded by St. Norbert in 1120. They were named after Premontre, France.
The monasteries established by these orders were all self-contained communities and were
divided into abbeys and priories, with the abbey church as the main feature. Around the church
were the other buildings, which formed the monastic compound. The monastery's cloister was
an enclosed space surrounding all four sides of a rectangular court known as the garth. The four
walls of the cloister were roofed. Within it the monks worked at such appointed duties as the
copying of manuscripts.
Another building, the refectory, or dining hall, was located at some distance from the church.
Near it was a kitchen. The dormitory was normally located near the cloister. Near the dormitory
was located an infirmary for the care of the sick and aged. In a nearby garden, or herbarium,
herbs used in making medicines were cultivated. In addition to these buildings there were other
structures set apart for various kinds of work. Monasteries usually had carpenter shops, book
binderies, forges, mills, bakeries, and barns. A guesthouse was a necessary part of every
establishment as well, and near the gate there was invariably a shelter for travelers.
All members of a monastery were under the authority of an abbott (from the ancient
Aramaic abba, meaning "father"). He was assisted by a prior and a sub-prior. There were
several officials known as obedientaries: a lead singer, chief librarian, bursar, and individuals in
charge of the kitchen, bakery, infirmary, and other operations. The novice-master was in charge
of those studying to become monks or nuns.
In Eastern Orthodox Christianity monasticism took a different course. It remained essentially a
movement devoted to meditation and prayer. There was no development of separate orders
pursuing special missionary or educational goals. These tasks were often undertaken, however,
by individual monks. Russia and other Slavic lands to the north of the Byzantine Empire were
colonized and Christianized by monks who acted as pioneers of civilization and as missionaries.
History Of Monetary Systems

Chapter IV: Gothic Moneys


Del Mar, Alexander

Chapter IV: Gothic Moneys

Chapter Contents

Proofs that the earlier sagas were altered in the mediaeval ages - Among
these is their frequent mention of baug-money: an institution which did not
survive the contact of Norsemen and Romans - Progressive order of Norse moneys
- Fish, vadmal, and baug moneys - The baug traced from the Tartary to Gotland,
Saxony and Britain - Gold baugs acquired a sacerdotal character - This was
probably immediately after Norse and Roman Contact Subsequent relinquishment
of baug-money and the adoption of coins - Proof that Caesar encountered Norse
tribes in Britain, derived from his mention of baugs - This view corroborated
by archaeology and philology - Subsequent Norse coinage system of stycas,
scats, and oras - Important historical conclusions derived from this study.

Gothic Moneys

It needs but a cursory examination of the earlier sagas to be satisfied

that they have been grossly mutilated. They jumble together events hundreds
of years apart; they mingle details which belong to communities as yet
ignorant of Roman customs with the affairs of communities well acquainted with
them; they resurrect the Turkish or Scythian forefathers of the Norsemen, and
set them down in the midst of mediaeval Christian saints; they omit all
mention of Rome or Roman affairs, or the Roman religion, or the causes of
difference between the Norsemen and the Empire; they eschew dates, ignore the
calendar, and commit the pagan festival to oblivion. The silly explanation
which has been offered to us of this disorder is that the sagas were popular
songs, ^1 which were repeated by word of mouth for centuries before they were

committed to writing, and that this custom produced the confusion, omissions,
anachronisms, and other defects which now characterize them. There might have
been a time when such an explanation was sufficient, but the class of people
who offer them forget that the world grows and that knowledge is cumulative.
We now know that language without a written literature to fix its terms and
meanings is too ephemeral to last for centuries, indeed, that a few
generations mark the utmost time during which it will remain unaltered. It
was reliance upon this principle that led to the distrust of Macpherson's
forged "Ossian," and that compels us to regard as mutilations the Eddas as
produced by Saemund Sigfusson and Snorri Sturlason. ^1

[Footnote 1: Tacitus ("Germania," iii.) mentions the folk-songs of the

Northern tribes.]

[Footnote 1: The historian of Iceland (A. D. 1056-1133) and his

foster-grandson (A. D. 1178-1241).]

In the present connection the liability of unwritten language to rapid

mutation proves one of two things - either that the earlier sagas are
mediaeval fabrications in Latin, translated into the mediaeval Norse and
re-translated into the vernacular, which is precisely the case with
Macpherson's spurious "Ossian;" or else they are mutilations of early Gothic
or runic originals. Their repleteness of historical materials and local
coloring belonging to the earlier centuries of our era, leads at once to the
conclusion last named. ^2 It is this local coloring which marks the

distinction between a mutilation and a forgery out of the whole cloth.

Macpherson had no historical dates before him, therefore he was forced to
forge his entire work; Sigfusson found plenty of history in the old written
sagas, so he merely mutilated them, and, with the sobriquet of "The Learned,"
achieved that immortality which is ever the reward of virtue and fidelity. If
any further proof than that afforded by the nature of language itself were
needed to corroborate these views, it will be found in the frequent mention of
anachronical moneys in the sagas. An example of this sort will be quoted in
the present treatise from the Egil Saga; others will appear as the argument

[Footnote 2: Charlemagne made a collection of these sagas, but these are now
"lost" (Note to Murphy's Tac. "Germ.," iii., probably from Eginhard).]

The evolution of Norse monetary systems, whether in Iestia, Saxony,

Scandinavia, Frakkland, Britain, Russia or Iceland, usually proceeded in the
following manner: - First, fish and vadmal (cloth) money; second, baug, or
ring-money; third, imitations of pagan Roman coined money; fourth, Norse pagan
coinage system (partly derived from the Roman system) of stycas, scats, and
oras; fifth, intrusion of Moslem coinage system of dinars, maravedis and
dirhems; sixth, replacement of the last by Christian Roman coinage system of
L. s. d. This progression did not occur simultaneously in the various
countries named, because the Goths used coined money in Britain before they
employed fish-money in Iceland; it was the usual order of progression in each
country or petty kingdom by itself. From the period of their original

settlement in Britain down to that of their contact with the Brigantes, the
Norsemen used no coined money; indeed, they had little or no commerce, and
lived chiefly by hunting, fishing and plundering. After each raid upon the
enemy the plunder was "carried to the pole" and there divided. It is evident,
from numerous analogous examples in the sagas, that in case of dispute the
rival claimants fought it out at once, and the survivor took the lot. This is
a custom, not of trading communities, but of predatory bands.

The first money of the Norsemen in Britain was probably fish, as was the
case in Norway ^1 and in Iceland down to the close of the last century. Sild,
hring, or herring, is still used to mean money, ^2 and the scad or scat
(corrupted to scot), a fish of the same genus, has the same meaning in North
Britain. ^1 There are suggestions of fish-money in the expressions
"Rome-scat," "scot-free," "scot-and-lot," etc. Following fish, the money of
the Norsemen in Britain was vadmal, a homespun cloth, measured by the arm's
length; still later they used baugs, or ring-money. It was not until after
all this that they began to strike coins.

[Footnote 1: Frostathing Laws, xvi., 2.]

[Footnote 2: Poole, "Anglo-Saxon Coins," i., 7.]

[Footnote 1: According to Mr. T. Baron Russell's "Current Americanisms"

(London. 1893) "scads" is still used for "current coin" in some parts of the
United States.]

Baugs were anciently that money of Scythia, northern China and northern
India of which a reminiscence still survives in the baugle or bangle. ^2 At a
remote period baug-money was introduced from Scythia into Egypt.
Representations of it appear upon the stone monuments of Thebes. As for
dates, Egyptian chronology has been so ruined in the various attempts made to
fit it successively into the mythologies of Assyria, Greece and Rome, that no
reliance can be placed upon it. The baugs engraved at Thebes are round rings,
which are represented as being placed in the scales to be weighed. No
peculiarity of form and no stamp-marks distinguish them in the sculptures facts that, coupled with the weighing, led the author in a previous work to
doubt that they were money. Since that time "dozens of rings (stamped), with
the names of Khuen-Aten and his family, and molds for casting rings" have been
found in the ruins of Tel-el-Amarna. ^3 It cannot now be doubted that such
rings were money, and we may also feel tolerably confident that they formed
the principal circulating medium of Egypt during the time of the Hucsos or
Scythian kings. From Egypt baug-money made its way down the eastern coast of
Africa, where the early Portuguese and Spanish navigators found it, the latter
giving to the rings the name of manillas or manacles. They were used in
Darfoor (latitude 12 Degree north, longitude 26 Degree east) so late as 1850,
for Mr. Curzon saw several chests full of gold baugs from that country at
Assouan in 1854. They are still used on the West coast, from whence the
present author had one of copper, shaped like the letter C, that is to say,
with the two ends of the ring left apart. ^1 Another line of baugs is
traceable from Scythia to Gotland, where they are mentioned in sagas, which,
although in their present form belonging to an era subsequent to the

employment of baugs for money, are evidently mutilated versions of more

ancient texts. ^2 Egil having been paid two chests of silver as indemnity for
his brother, "recites a song of praise," in which he alludes to the indemnity
as "gul-baug," or gold rings, meaning money. ^3

[Footnote 2: The pinched bullet-money of Cochin China also appears to be a

modification of the baug.]

[Footnote 3: Address of Dr. Flinders Petrie, before the Oriental Congress,

London, September 6th, 1892. Khuen is evidently the Tartar "kung," or king.
Ridgway mentions the baugs of Mycenae found by Dr. Schliemann, while Madden
alludes to the baugs of Syria, mentioned in the Bible.]

[Footnote 1: "History of Money," 133. Baugs, or ring-money, are mentioned by

Pliny ("Nat. History," xxiii., I).]

[Footnote 2: Baugs appear to have been also used by the tribes of the Baltic
coasts after the Goths conquered or assimilated with them, for the term was
employed by the Salic Franks, and is still employed in French to mean rings.]

[Footnote 3: Egil Saga. The Dutch still give the name of "gulden" to certain
silver coins.]

The suspected mutilations of the sagas are corroborated by the known

mutilations of the laws: "If a hauld wounds a man, he is liable to pay 6

baugar to the king, each worth 12 oras; if an arborin-madr wounds a man, he

has to pay 3 baugar, and a leysingi (freedman) 2, a leudrman 12, a jarl 24, a
kning 48, 12 oras being in each baug, and the fine shall be paid to those to
whom it is due by law. All this is valued in silver." ^4 The text of this law
proves that it assumed its present form at three different dates. The first
belongs to the barbarous period, when the indemnity was fixed in Gothic baugs;
the second to the Roman period, when the baugs were valued in heretical oras,
or Roman sicilici; and the third to the period when the oras were valued in
Christian silver pennies. The original baug appears to have weighed about as
much as three sovereigns of the present day.

[Footnote 4: Frostathing Laws, iv., 53; Du Chaillu, i., 549.]

A C-shaped figure, like that of the African baug above mentioned, is

twice repeated on a stone slab from the Kivikgrave, near Cimbrisham, a
monument assigned by archaeologists to a very remote period. Whether it
represents the baug or not cannot at present be determined, ^1 but there is
some reason to think it does, from the fact that gold baugs seem to have been
clothed with a sacerdotal character. For example, Egil fastened a gold baug
on each arm of the dead Thoroff before he buried him, ^2 and a gold baug was
paid for his bride. ^3 Bagi was also the Parthian name for divine or sacred;
it appears on all the coins of the Arsacidae. ^4 The originals of the
Frostathing laws may have descended from the period before the Goths revolted
from Roman control.

[Footnote 1: Fig. 28, in Du Chaillu, 88.]

[Footnote 2: Du Chaillu, ii., 476.]

[Footnote 3: Frostathing Laws, vi., 4; Du Chaillu, ii., 16.]

[Footnote 4: Geo. Rawlinson, "Seventh Monarchy," p. 66.]

Specimens of Gothic baug-money are still extant. Gold, silver and iron
baugs will be found in the collections of Bergen, Christiania, Newcastle, York
and other centers of Norse antiquities. There are Gothic gold baugs (about
one inch in diameter) and copper and iron baugs in the London and Paris
collections. During the last century "a vast quantity of small iron
ring-money was exhumed in the west of Cornwall, and one of these was deposited
by Mr. Moyle in the Pembroke collection." ^5 After the era of baugs the Goths
used coins. Says Du Chaillu: "A barbaric imitation in gold of a Roman
imperial coin was found with a skeleton at Aarlesden in Odense, amt Fyen," a
district and island about 86 miles from Copenhagen. ^1 A barbaric imitation of
Byzantine coin of the fifth century was found in Mallgard, Gotland. ^2 A
barbaric gold coin, falsely stamped with the image of Louis le Debonnaire, was
found in Domberg, Zealand, and is now in the Paris collection.

[Footnote 5: Walter Moyle's works, i., 259.]

[Footnote 1: Du Chaillu, i., 262.]

[Footnote 2: Du Chaillu, i., 275.]

When, several centuries before our era, the Celts came into contact with
the Greeks, whether in Spain, Gaul or Britain, they began to strike Celtish
coins in imitation of Greek originals. In like manner, after the Goths came
into contact with the Romans, or rather after they had learnt to abhor the
religion of the Romans and despise their arms, whether in Moesia, Saxony,
Zealand or Britain, they began to strike Gothic coins in imitation of Roman
originals. Such imitations are found in the uninscribed stycas, scats and
oras of early Britain - a fact which is deduced as well from the Latin name of
the ora as the general type and composition of all the pieces.

When Goth and Roman first met in Britain was when the ring-money was
still used by the former - a period clearly established by the following
passage from the principal work ascribed to Julius Caesar. Speaking generally
of the tribes whom he encountered in Britain (B. C. 55), Caesar says: "Utuntur
aut aere, aut nummo aureo, aut annulis ferreis, ad certum pondus examinatis
pro nummo" - "They used either bronze (money) or gold money, or iron rings of
a certain (determined) weight for money." The bronze metal, Caesar adds, was
imported. ^1 It is evident that this ring-money was not used at the time by
the Celtic or Gaelic tribes of Britain, because these tribes used coined
money, which, as a measure of value, is more precise and convenient than
baugs. The Celts also came from Gaul and Belgium, where coined money was
already in use. Their productions and commerce were too varied for the

employment of so rude a measure of value as baugs. Caesar says their numbers

were countless, their buildings exceedingly numerous, their wealth great in
cattle and cultivated lands, and their industry diversified, including not
only pasturage and agriculture, but also mining for tin and iron. ^2 Baugs had
not been used by the Celtic tribes for nearly three centuries, that is to say,
not since they had learnt the superiority of coins from the Greeks. On the
other hand, their use among the Norsemen at this time or, perhaps, even a
later period is proved by the sagas, ^3 and the conclusion that the ring-money
found in Britain by Caesar belonged to the Norse tribes in the remoter parts
of the island, and indicated their presence there, seems to be well sustained.
^4 When added to the evidences of archaeology, customs and language, adduced
by Wright, Stilling-fleet, Pinkerton, Du Chaillu, Hawkins, Evans and other
writers on the subject, ^1 the body of proof that the Norse settlement of
Britain antedates its Roman settlement becomes difficult to overthrow.

[Footnote 1: "De Bell. Gall.," v., 12. Several readings of this important
passage are given in Henry's "Hist. Brit.," ii., 238. The reading in the text
is from a Ms of the tenth century. Mr. Hawkins discovered that this passage
had been materially corrupted in later copies (Hawkins, "Silver Coins," p. 8,
and Ch. Knight, "Hist. England," i., 15, citing remarks on ancient coins in
"Moneta Historica Brit.," p. 102).]

[Footnote 2: Even after Caesar had ravaged their lands, the Belgians were able
to send him supplies of corn to Gaul ("De Bell. Gall.," v., 19, 20).]

[Footnote 3: The pagan Norse kings who ruled in Ireland used baug-money until
they were driven out of that country in the twelfth century. This is what Sir
John Lubbock, in his article on Money in the "Nineteenth Century," loosely
called the "ring-money of the ancient Celts."]

[Footnote 4: Caesar (v., 9 and 11) alludes to the civil wars which preceded
his arrival in Britain, and which since the Celts were all of one religion
(the Druidical), we may reasonably surmise were occasioned by the
encroachments of the heretical Norsemen.]

[Footnote 1: Doom-rings and numerous other Norse antiquities have been found
in Britain.]

The Norse-British coinage system consisted of stycas, scats and oras. The
styca was a small bronze coin, struck from the composition derived probably
from the melting down of bronzes, and containing about 70 per cent of copper
and 20 of zinc, the remainder consisting of tin, silver, lead and a minute
proportion of gold. The extant stycas are confined by numismatists to
Northumberland, but a coin of similar description, and used as a divider for
the scat, must have been employed in Kent and elsewhere. The scat was an
electrum coin, struck from the composition resulting from the melting down of
gold and silver jewelry. The ora was a coin of pure or nearly pure gold.
Originally containing about 30 grains of gold, it fell successively to 22 1/2,
20, 16 and even 13 grains. The electrum scats weighed about the same as the
oras. The early oras are known among modern numismatists as gold scats.

Sometimes the scats were stamped with the svastica, or with runes - a
peculiarity that does not appear upon any coins issued by the southern kings
of the heptarchical period. Eight stycas went to the scat, and eight scats to
the ora. Owing to the composite nature of the scats, the ratio between gold
and silver is indeterminable. Judging from the numerical relations between
scats and oras, the ratio was intended to be 8 for 1. The coin ora must not
de confused with the weight ora, which was afterwards the eighth of the mark
weight; nor must the money of account, called the mark (of which more anon),
be confused with the weight mark.

There is a remarkable similarity between the Gothic coinage system and

that of ancient Japan. There, too, coins were made respectively of gold,
electrum, and bronze; the gold and the electrum coins were of the same weight,
and the relative value of these even-weighted coins indicated that of the
metals which composed them. ^1 On the other hand, the Norse-British systems
were distinctly non-German. Styca and scat are Norse terms, and were not used
in Germany; mark is also a Norse term, and, according to Agricola, it was
employed by the Goths many centuries before it was known in Germany. The runic
letters and svastica are both Gothic and pagan. The Germans did not strike
gold coins. The ratio of 8 for 1 is Gothic; that of Germany followed the
Roman law, and down to the thirteenth century was either 12 for 1 or some mean
between this and the Gothic ratio. Finally, the independent issues of gold
and electrum coins were essentially Gothic, because the Goths, down to the
eighth, ninth, or tenth centuries, were pagans, and refused to acknowledge the
pope; whilst the Germans from the date when their country was made a province
of the Empire, had invariably bowed to its ecclesiastical authority.

[Footnote 1: The Japanese system is fully described in "Money and

Civilization," chap. xx. The reader must, however, not argue too much from
this resemblance. In the ruder societary life of the Anglo-Saxons exchanges
were comparatively few and simple, and the monetary system was of minor
importance; in the refinement of modern Japanese life, it affected the
foundations of equity and civil order.]

The Anglo-Saxon coins were not issued by any central authority, but by
each local chieftain independently of the others. For this reason the
valuation of the coins, and of the metals of which they were made, probably
greatly varied. More important than all, the whole number of coins was
uncertain and subject to the vicissitudes of war. A successful attack upon
the Romans, who, down to the sixth or seventh century, still held many of the
walled towns of Britain, might in a single day have doubled the entire
circulation of a given kingdom; whilst a repulse, followed by Roman pursuit
and reprisals, might as suddenly have reduced the circulation to a moiety.

The reader will bear in mind that the ora described above was the
original Gothic ora, afterwards called the gold shilling (gull skilling), not
what the ora became in later ages. As time went on it continually fell in
weight; the ratio of silver to gold changed from 8 for 1, to 6 1/2 and 7 1/2
for 1, then to 10 for 1, then to 12 for 1; the number of scats - or, as they
were afterwards called, pennies - to the ora, changed from 8 to 5, then to 4,
then to 20, 12, 20 and 16. ^1 In one instance there were 15 minutae to the

ora. "Ora, vernacula aura, Danis ore, fuit olim genus monetae, valens, 15
minuta." ^2 These may have been, not copper coins, but silver half-pence. ^3
It would be tedious to explain the endless combinations to which the changes
in the three terms - viz., weight, ratio and value - gave rise. Eventually
the ora became a money of account, and as the ora weight was one-eighth of the
mark weight, so the ora of account was valued at one-eighth of the mark of
account, which, during the Norman and Plantagenet eras, consisted of five gold
maravedis, each weighing two-thirds of the Roman solidus. This mode of fixing
the value of the ora gave rise to new and still more perplexing numismatic
problems, all of which, however, are readily solved by the guides herein
offered. For example, in the time of William I. there were still some actual
gold oras extant, or mentioned in unexpired leases. These were valued in
Domesday Book at 20 pennies, because their namesake, the ora of account, was
in England one-eighth of the mark of account, and the mark of account was
two-thirds of the libra of account. As the latter then consisted (in England)
of 240 actual silver pennies, so the mark was valued at 160 pence, and the
gold ora was valued at 20 pence.

[Footnote 1: Domesday Book; Ruding, i., 315. The relation of four scats to
the ora was enacted prior to the middle of the tenth century ("Judicia
Civitatis Londoniae;" Ruding, i., 309).]

[Footnote 2: Dolmerus, in Du Fresne, in Fleetwood, p. 27.]

[Footnote 3: The minuta of the Netherlands was the Ies, or Es (Budelius).]

If this mode of calculation, which was employed in England after the

Norman conquest, be applied to the ancient Gothic system, in which the gold
ora was of the same weight and value as one-fourth of the gold solidus or
mancus, it would follow that the mark of account consisted of two mancusses
instead of five maravedis. Thus, if an ora is 20 pence and a mark is 160
pence, then there are eight oras to the mark. If there were four oras to the
mancus, there were consequently two mancusses to the mark. The fallacy of
this mode of calculation, which some numismatists have used, arises from the
employment of the ora in two senses - firstly, as a money of account, which it
was in the eleventh century; and, secondly, as an actual gold coin, which it
was probably from the second to the seventh or eighth century.

The Peasant's Life

The International History Project
Date: 2001
About nine tenths of the people were peasants--farmers or village laborers. Only a few of these
were freemen--peasants who were not bound to a lord and who paid only a fixed rent for their
land. The vast majority were serfs and villeins. Theoretically, the villeins had wider legal rights
than the serfs and fewer duties to the lords. There was little real difference, however.
A peasant village housed perhaps ten to 60 families. Each family lived in a dark, dank hut made
of wood or wicker daubed with mud and thatched with straw or rushes. Layers of straw or reeds
covered the floor, fouled by the pigs, chickens, and other animals housed with the family. The
one bed was a pile of dried leaves or straw. All slept in their rough garb, with skins of animals for
cover. A cooking fire of peat or wood burned drearily day and night in a clearing on the dirt floor.
The smoke seeped out through a hole in the roof or the open half of a two-piece door. The only
furniture was a plank table on trestles, a few stools, perhaps a chest, and probably a loom for
the women to make their own cloth. Every hut had a vegetable patch.
All the peasants worked to support their lord. They gave about half their time to work in his
fields, cut timber, haul water, spin and weave, repair his buildings, and wait upon his household.
In war, the men had to fight at his side. Besides labor, peasants had to pay taxes to their lord in
money or produce. They had to give a tithe to the church--every tenth egg, sheaf of wheat,
lamb, chicken, and all other animals.
Famines were frequent. Plagues depleted the livestock. Frosts, floods, and droughts destroyed
the crops. Bursts of warfare ravaged the countryside as the lords burned each other's fields and

The peasants' lot was hard, but most historians consider it little worse than that of peasants
today. Because of the many holidays, or holy days, in the Middle Ages, peasants actually
labored only about 260 days a year. They spent their holidays in church festivals, watching
wandering troups of jongleurs, journeying to mystery or miracle plays, or engaging in wrestling,
bowling, cockfights, apple bobs, or dancing.
The Rise of Towns
The International History Project
Date: 2001

A second great factor in the passing of the Middle Ages was the rise of new towns. The Roman
Empire had encouraged the building of towns, but the German barbarians refused to live in
confinement. When they swept through the empire they settled on the land and, later, built
manors, castles, and villages. As each baronial stronghold was self-sufficient, there was little
need for trade except for the few articles carried by traveling merchants. Without trade, most old
Roman towns dwindled or even died. They lost their right to self-government and became the
property of the barons. The town dwellers did almost no manufacturing. They lived by tilling the
land. In the 11th century, however, the Crusades began to stimulate the revival of commerce.
Traveling merchants established headquarters in places of safety, such as by the walls of a
castle or monastery. Places accessible to main roads or rivers grew rapidly.
Wherever merchants settled, laborers and artisans came. Carpenters and blacksmiths made
chests and casks for the merchants' goods, and carts to transport them. Shipbuilders turned out
trading vessels. Butchers, bakers, and brewers came to supply food for the workers, and tailors
and shoemakers came to supply clothes. Others came to make the wares of trade.
By the 13th century Europe was dotted with towns. Few had as many as 10,000 people. The
towns were introducing a new kind of life into medieval Europe, however, for the townspeople
now lived by the exchange of goods and services. They were no longer self-sufficient like the
small groups of peasants on the manors were; they had to develop a lifestyle based on the idea
of exchange. This organization laid the foundations for modern economic and social living.
As the cities grew rich they sought the right to govern themselves. The first to free themselves
from the power of feudal lords were in Italy--Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Florence, and others. Towns
in France were next to gain power, then towns along the Rhine Valley and on the Baltic coast,
where cities of the Hanseatic League grew to enormous wealth and strength. Some of the towns
bought their freedom from the nobles and the church; others fought bitter battles to win it. A few
were given it.
In the towns the houses were packed together because every town had to be a fortress, with
stout, high walls and a moat or river to protect it from hostile nobles, pirates, and robber bands.
The smaller the walled enclosure, the easier it was to defend. The only open places were the
market square in the town center, the cathedral, and the few gardens of the rich. Main streets
led like spokes of a wheel from the market to the few gates in the walls. Building room was so
cramped that the houses were built in several narrow stories, the upper floors jutting over the
alleylike streets.
Few streets were paved. In wet weather people floundered almost knee-deep in mud. The street
was the only sewer. It sloped to the center, and refuse and chamber waste were flung into it.
Pigs rooted in the odorous filth.
Wells, springs, and rivers were the only water supply. They were unprotected and untreated, so
that plagues were frequent.
Houses were uncomfortable. Most of them had a mere framework of heavy timbers. The wall
spaces were filled with woven reeds daubed with clay or plaster. Rushes or straw usually lined
the floors. Fireplaces had chimneys, and the peril of sparks on the thatched roofs was one of
the worst hazards of town living. The house of the average citizen served multiple functions as

his dwelling, factory, and shop. Goods were made and sold on the ground floor. The owner and
his family lived on the floor above. The upper stories of the house were storage rooms and
sleeping lofts for the workmen.
At night the medieval city was dark and dangerous. There were no street lights. People who
ventured out at night took along one or two workmen with lanterns and weapons as a protection
against robbers. In some cities cables were strung across streets to hinder fleeing criminals.
Few working citizens, however, went out at night. The workday began at sunrise and ended at
sunset. At 8 or 9 PM the cathedral bell tolled the curfew. This was the signal to cover all fires with ashes
to lessen the peril of houses catching fire in the night.

The Byzantine Empire

Donald MacGillivray Nicol: Koras Professor Emeritus of Byzantine and Modern Greek History,
Language, and Literature, King's College, University of London. Director, Gennadius Library,
American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 198992. Author of The Last Centuries of
Byzantium and others.
The most brilliant of medieval civilizations was the Eastern Roman Empire. The Roman Empire
was divided in AD 395 into two parts. The Western half, ruled from Rome, fell to the tribal
Germanic peoples in the 5th century. The Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted
for more than 1,000 years. Until the mid-11th century, when it began to decline in power, the
Byzantine Empire was one of the leading civilizations in the world.

In 324 Constantine, the first Christian emperor, became sole ruler of the Roman Empire. He set
up his Eastern headquarters at the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium in 330. The city,
renamed Constantinople after its founder, was also known as the "new Rome." It became the
capital of the Byzantines after the Roman Empire was formally divided.
Constantinople was located on the European shore of the Bosporus, midway between the
Aegean and Black seas, in what is now the country of Turkey. The city brought together people
from the lands of Europe and Asia. In 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the Byzantine
Empire, Constantinople became the capital of the new Ottoman Empire. (The city's name was
changed to Istanbul in 1930.)

The city of Byzantium grew from an ancient Greek colony founded on the European side of the
Bosporus. In AD 330 the Roman emperor Constantine I, in an attempt to strengthen the empire,
re-founded Byzantium as Constantinople, the "New Rome" and capital of the eastern half of the
empire. At his death in 395 Emperor Theodosius I divided the empire between his two sons, and
it was never reunited. Theodosius also made Christianity the sole religion of the empire, and
Constantinople assumed preeminence over other Christian centers in the East as Rome did in
the West. The fall of Rome to the Ostrogoths in 476 marked the end of the western half of the
Roman Empire. The eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its
The eastern realm differed from the western in many respects. It was heir to the Hellenistic
civilization, a blending of Greek and Middle Eastern elements dating back to the conquests of
Alexander the Great. It was more commercial, more urban, and richer than the West, and its
emperors, who in the Hellenistic tradition combined political and religious functions, had firmer
control over all classes of society. They were also more skillful in fending off invaders, through
both warfare and diplomacy. With these advantages, the Byzantine emperors, who still
considered themselves Romans, long nourished the dream of subduing the barbarian kingdoms
of the West and reuniting the empire.
The greatest of these emperors was Justinian I (reigned 527-565), who with his able wife
Theodora prepared for the re-conquest by defeating the Persians on the eastern frontier and
extirpating various heresies that had alienated the Roman Catholic church. He sponsored a
compilation and re-codification of Roman law and built the magnificent Hagia Sophia cathedral.
Justinian's re-conquests of North Africa and Italy were short-lived. The later years of his reign
were marred by renewed war with the Persians and incursions by Bulgar and Slavic tribes,
which created severe shortages of manpower and revenue. The weakened empire, preoccupied
with internal problems, grew less and less concerned with the West. Although its rulers
continued to style themselves "Roman" long after the death of Justinian, the term "Byzantine"
more accurately describes the very different medieval empire.
Perhaps the most significant cultural feature of the Byzantine Empire was the type of
Christianity developed there. More mystical and more liturgical than Roman Christianity, it was
also less unified because of age-old ethnic hostilities in the region, the survival of various
heresies among the clergy in Syria, Egypt, and other provinces, and the early use of the
demotic (vernacular) languages in religious services. This disunity partly caused the sweeping
success of the Arab invasions that began after Muhammad's death in 632. Within 10 years Syria
and Palestine, Egypt and North Africa were under Muslim Arab control. Religious disunity
continued to weaken the empire throughout the Iconoclastic Controversy (a dispute over the use
of religious images, or icons) of the 8th and early 9th centuries, which left the Eastern Orthodox
church split into factions and further alienated from Rome. A formal schism between Eastern
and Western churches was mutually agreed to in 1054. By that time the Eastern Orthodox
church had been revitalized by successful missions among the Russians, Bulgars, and Slavs,
some of them directed by the monks Cyril and Methodius, whose invention of Slavonic
alphabets (still called Cyrillic) made possible the translation of the Bible and the spread of
literacy along with Christianity in Slavic lands.
Although the empire had lost much territory to the Arabs and to the independent kingdoms
established in the Balkan Peninsula, its remnants were strengthened by a number of
institutional reforms. A new administrative unit, the theme, was introduced along with a system
of military land grants and hereditary service that ensured an adequate supply of soldiers. It also
laid the foundation for the emergence of great landed families who in later centuries would wage
dynastic struggles for the imperial throne. The Byzantine economy was actually strengthened by
the loss of territory, as the shrinking empire allowed greater freedom to merchants and

agricultural labor.
All of these developments led to a golden age marked by a literary renaissance and brief
resurgence of military and naval power under the Macedonian dynasty, whose founder, a
peasant adventurer named Basil, murdered his way to the throne in 867. The Macedonian
emperors supervised the Hellenization of the Code of Justinian, into which they wrote the
principle of imperial absolutism tempered only by the spiritual authority of the church. They also
reversed for a time the military defeats of their predecessors and reconquered large areas from
the Arabs and Bulgars.
No matter how centralized their administration or how absolute their power on paper, the
emperors were unable to stop the feudalization of the empire and the concentration of land and
wealth in a few great families. The rivalry between rural and urban aristocracies led each faction
to nominate its own imperial candidates. While they were engaged in civil disputes, new
enemies, the Normans and the Seljuq Turks, increased their power around the eastern
In the late 11th century, Emperor Alexius I reluctantly sought help from the outside. He appealed
to Venice, to whom he gave the first of the commercial concessions that helped make it a great
maritime power, and to the pope, who in turn appealed to the feudal rulers of the West, many of
them, ironically, Normans. These doubtful allies rapidly turned the ensuing Crusades into a
series of plundering expeditions not only against the Turks but also against the heart of the
Byzantine Empire. The Fourth Crusade resulted in the fall of Constantinople to Venetians and
crusaders in 1204 and the establishment of a line of Latin emperors. The empire was
recaptured by Byzantine exiles in 1261, but under the final Palaeologus dynasty it was little
more than a large city-state besieged from all sides. In the 14th century the Ottoman Turks
replaced the Seljuqs as the major enemy in the east. Almost the entire Balkan Peninsula fell to
them, but their siege of Constantinople, begun in 1395, was prolonged by the city's nearimpregnable strategic position and by Turkish factionalism. It ended in 1453, when the last
emperor, also named Constantine, died fighting on the walls and the Turks took the city. The
final stronghold of Greek power, Trapezus (modern Trabzon, Turkey), fell to the Turks in 1461.
The very name Byzantine illustrates the misconceptions to which the empire's history has often
been subject, for its inhabitants would hardly have considered the term appropriate to
themselves or to their state. Theirs was, in their view, none other than the Roman Empire,
founded shortly before the beginning of the Christian Era by God's grace to unify his people in
preparation for the coming of his Son. Proud of that Christian and Roman heritage, convinced
that their earthly empire so nearly resembled the heavenly pattern that it could never change,
they called themselves Romaioi, or Romans. Modern historians agree with them only in part.
The term East Rome accurately described the political unit embracing the Eastern provinces of
the old Roman Empire until 476, while there were yet two emperors. The same term may even
be used until the last half of the 6th century, as long as men continued to act and think
according to patterns not unlike those prevailing in an earlier Roman Empire. During these
same centuries, nonetheless, there were changes so profound in their cumulative effect that
after the 7th century state and society in the East differed markedly from their earlier forms. In
an effort to recognize that distinction, historians traditionally have described the medieval
empire as "Byzantine."
The latter term is derived from the name Byzantium, borne by a colony of ancient Greek
foundation on the European side of the Bosporus, midway between the Mediterranean and the
Black Sea; the city was, by virtue of its location, a natural transit point between Europe and Asia
Minor (Anatolia). Re-founded as the "new Rome" by the emperor Constantine in 330, it was
endowed by him with the name Constantinople, the city of Constantine. The derivation from
Byzantium is suggestive in that it emphasizes a central aspect of Byzantine civilization: the

degree to which the empire's administrative and intellectual life found a focus at Constantinople
from 330 to 1453, the year of the city's last and unsuccessful defense under the 11th (or 12th)
Constantine. The circumstances of the last defense are suggestive, too, for in 1453 the ancient,
medieval, and modern worlds seemed briefly to meet. The last Constantine fell in defense of the
new Rome built by the first Constantine. Walls that had held firm in the early Middle Ages
against German, Hun, Avar, Slav, and Arab were breached finally by modern artillery, in the
mysteries of which European technicians had instructed the most successful of the Central
Asian invaders: the Ottoman Turks.
The fortunes of the empire thus were intimately entwined with those of peoples whose
achievements and failures constitute the medieval history of both Europe and Asia. Nor did
hostility always characterize the relations between Byzantines and those whom they considered
"barbarian." Even though the Byzantine intellectual firmly believed that civilization ended with
the boundaries of his world, he opened it to the barbarian, provided that the latter (with his kin)
would accept Baptism and render loyalty to the emperor. Thanks to the settlements that resulted
from such policies, many a name, seemingly Greek, disguises another of different origin: Slavic,
perhaps, or Turkish. Barbarian illiteracy, in consequence, obscures the early generations of
more than one family destined to rise to prominence in the empire's military or civil service.
Byzantium was a melting-pot society, characterized during its earlier centuries by a degree of
social mobility that belies the stereotype, often applied to it, of an immobile, caste-ridden
A source of strength in the early Middle Ages, Byzantium's central geographical position served
it ill after the 10th century. The conquests of that age presented new problems of organization
and assimilation, and these the emperors had to confront at precisely the time when older
questions of economic and social policy pressed for answers in a new and acute form.
Satisfactory solutions were never found. Bitter ethnic and religious hostility marked the history of
the empire's later centuries, weakening Byzantium in the face of new enemies descending upon
it from east and west. The empire finally collapsed when its administrative structures could no
longer support the burden of leadership thrust upon it by military conquests.

The empire to 867

The Roman and Christian background
Unity and diversity in the late Roman Empire
The Roman Empire, the ancestor of the Byzantine, remarkably blended unity and diversity, the
former being by far the better known since its constituents were the predominant features of
Roman civilization. The common Latin language, the coinage, the "international" army of the
Roman legions, the urban network, the law, and the Greco-Roman heritage of civic culture
loomed largest among those bonds that Augustus and his successors hoped would bring unity
and peace to a Mediterranean world exhausted by centuries of civil war. To strengthen these
sinews of imperial civilization, the emperors hoped that a lively and spontaneous trade might
develop among the several provinces. At the pinnacle of this world stood the emperor himself,
the man of wisdom who would shelter the state from whatever mishaps fortune had darkly
hidden. The emperor alone could provide this protection since, as the embodiment of all the
virtues, he possessed in perfection those qualities displayed only imperfectly by his individual
The Roman formula of combating fortune with reason and therewith assuring unity throughout
the Mediterranean world worked surprisingly well in view of the pressures for disunity that time
was to multiply. Conquest had brought regions of diverse background under Roman rule. The
Eastern provinces were ancient and populous centers of that urban life that for millennia had

defined the character of Mediterranean civilization. The Western provinces had only lately
entered upon their own course of urban development under the not always tender ministrations
of their Roman masters.
Each of the aspects of unity enumerated above had its other side. Not everyone understood or
spoke Latin. Paralleling and sometimes influencing Roman law were local customs and
practices, understandably tenacious by reason of their antiquity. Pagan temples, Jewish
synagogues, and Christian baptisteries attest to the range of organized religions with which the
official forms of the Roman state, including those of emperor worship, could not always
peacefully coexist. And far from unifying the Roman world, economic growth often created selfsufficient units in the several regions, provinces, or great estates.
Given the obstacles against which the masters of the Roman state struggled, it is altogether
remarkable that Roman patriotism was ever more than an empty formula, that cultivated
gentlemen from the Pillars of Hercules to the Black Sea were aware that they had "something"
in common. This "something" might be defined as the Greco-Roman civic tradition in the widest
sense of its institutional, intellectual, and emotional implications. Grateful for the conditions of
peace that fostered it, men of wealth and culture dedicated their time and resources to glorifying
that tradition through adornment of the cities that exemplified it and through education of the
young who they hoped might perpetuate it.
Upon this world the barbarians descended after about AD 150. To protect the frontier against
them, warrior emperors devoted whatever energies they could spare from the constant struggle
to reassert control over provinces where local regimes emerged. In view of the ensuing warfare,
the widespread incidence of disease, and the rapid turnover among the occupants of the
imperial throne, it would be easy to assume that little was left of either the traditional fabric of
Greco-Roman society or the bureaucratic structure designed to support it.
Neither assumption is accurate. Devastation was haphazard, and some regions suffered while
others did not. In fact, the economy and society of the empire as a whole during that period was
more diverse than it had ever been. Impelled by necessity or lured by profit, people moved from
province to province. Social disorder opened avenues to eminence and wealth that the more
stable order of an earlier age had closed to the talented and the ambitious. For personal and
dynastic reasons, emperors favored certain towns and provinces at the expense of others, and
the erratic course of succession to the throne, coupled with a resulting constant change among
the top administrative officials, largely deprived economic and social policies of recognizable
The reforms of Diocletian and Constantine
The definition of consistent policy in imperial affairs was the achievement of two great soldieremperors, Diocletian (ruled 284-305) and Constantine I (sole emperor 324-337), who together
ended a century of anarchy and re-founded the Roman state. There are many similarities
between them, not the least being the range of problems to which they addressed themselves:
both had learned from the 3rd-century anarchy that one man alone and unaided could not hope
to control the multiform Roman world and protect its frontiers; as soldiers, both considered
reform of the army a prime necessity in an age that demanded the utmost mobility in striking
power; both found the old Rome and Italy an unsatisfactory military base for the bulk of the
imperial forces. Deeply influenced by the soldier's penchant for hierarchy, system, and order, a
taste that they shared with many of their contemporaries as well as the emperors who preceded
them, they were appalled by the lack of system and the disorder characteristic of the economy
and the society in which they lived. Both, in consequence, were eager to refine and regularize
certain desperate expedients that had been adopted by their rough military predecessors to

conduct the affairs of the Roman state. Whatever their personal religious convictions, both,
finally, believed that imperial affairs would not prosper unless the emperor's subjects worshiped
the right gods in the right way.
The means they adopted to achieve these ends differ so profoundly that one, Diocletian, looks
to the past and ends the history of Rome; the other, Constantine, looks to the future and founds
the history of Byzantium. Thus, in the matter of succession to the imperial office, Diocletian
adopted precedents he could have found in the practices of the 2nd century AD. He associated
with himself a co-emperor, or Augustus. Each Augustus then adopted a young colleague, or
Caesar, to share in the rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner. This rule of four, or
tetrarchy, failed of its purpose, and Constantine replaced it with the dynastic principle of
hereditary succession, a procedure generally followed in subsequent centuries. To divide
administrative responsibilities, Constantine replaced the single praetorian prefect, who had
traditionally exercised both military and civil functions in close proximity to the emperor, with
regional prefects established in the provinces and enjoying civil authority alone. In the course of
the 4th century, four great "regional prefectures" emerged from these Constantinian beginnings,
and the practice of separating civil from military authority persisted until the 7th century.
Contrasts in other areas of imperial policy are equally striking. Diocletian persecuted Christians
and sought to revive the ancestral religion. Constantine, a convert to the new faith, raised it to
the status of a "permitted religion." Diocletian established his headquarters at Nicomedia, a city
that never rose above the status of a provincial centre during the Middle Ages, while
Constantinople, the city of Constantine's foundation, flourished mightily. Diocletian sought to
bring order into the economy by controlling wages and prices and by initiating a currency reform
based upon a new gold piece, the aureus, struck at the rate of 60 to the pound of gold. The
controls failed and the aureus vanished, to be succeeded by Constantine's gold solidus. The
latter piece, struck at the lighter weight of 72 to the gold pound, remained the standard for
centuries. For whatever reason, in summary, Constantine's policies proved extraordinarily
fruitful. Some of them--notably hereditary succession, the recognition of Christianity, the
currency reform, and the foundation of the capital--determined in a lasting way the several
aspects of Byzantine civilization with which they are associated.
Yet it would be a mistake to consider Constantine a revolutionary or to overlook those areas in
which, rather than innovating, he followed precedent. Earlier emperors had sought to constrain
groups of men to perform certain tasks that were deemed vital to the survival of the state but
that proved un-remunerative or repellent to those forced to assume the burden. Such tasks
included the tillage of the soil, which was the work of the peasant, or colonus; the transport of
cheap bulky goods to the metropolitan centers of Rome or Constantinople, which was the work
of the shipmaster, or navicularius; and services rendered by the curiales, members of the
municipal senate charged with the assessment and collection of local taxes. Constantine's laws
in many instances extended or even rendered hereditary these enforced responsibilities, thus
laying the foundations for the system of collegia, or hereditary state guilds, that was to be so
noteworthy a feature of late-Roman social life. Of particular importance, he required the colonus
(peasant) to remain in the locality to which the tax lists ascribed him.

The 5th century: persistence of Greco-Roman civilization in the East

Whether innovative or traditional, Constantine's measures determined the thrust and direction of
imperial policy throughout the 4th century and into the 5th. The state of the empire in 395 may,
in fact, be described in terms of the outcome of Constantine's work. The dynastic principle was
established so firmly that the emperor who died in that year, Theodosius I, could bequeath the
imperial office jointly to his sons, both of whom were young and incompetent: Arcadius in the
East and Honorius in the West. Never again would one man rule over the full extent of the

empire in both its halves. Constantinople had probably grown to a population of between
200,000 and 500,000; in the 5th century the emperors sought to restrain rather than promote its
growth. After 391 Christianity was far more than one among many religions: from that year
onward, imperial decree prohibited all forms of pagan cult, and the temples were closed.
Imperial pressure was often manifest at the church councils of the 4th century, with the emperor
assuming a role he was destined to fill again during the 5th century in defining and suppressing
Economic and social policies
The empire's economy had prospered in a spotty fashion. Certain provinces, or parts of
provinces such as northern Italy, flourished commercially as well as agriculturally.
Constantinople, in particular, influenced urban growth and the exploitation of agricultural
frontiers. Balkan towns along the roads leading to the great city prospered, while others not so
favored languished and even disappeared. Untilled land in the hilly regions of northern Syria fell
under the plow to supply foodstuffs for the masses of Constantinople. As the 4th century
progressed, not only did Constantine's solidus remain indeed solid gold, but evidence drawn
from a wide range of sources suggests that gold in any form was far more abundant than it had
been for at least two centuries. It may be that new sources of supply for the precious metal had
been discovered: these perhaps were in spoils plundered from pagan temples; or perhaps were
from mines newly exploited in western Africa and newly available to the lands of the empire,
thanks to the appearance of camel-driving nomads who transported the gold across the Sahara
to the Mediterranean coastline of North Africa.
The extreme social mobility noted in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries seems less
characteristic of the second half of the latter century. Certainly the emperors continued their
efforts to bind men collectively to their socially necessary tasks, but the repetition of laws tying
the colonus to his estate, the navicularius to his ship, and the curialis to his municipal senate
suggests that these edicts had little effect. Indeed, it would be a mistake to conclude from such
legislation that Roman society was universally and uniformly organized in castes determined in
response to imperial orders. There was always a distinction between what an emperor wanted
and what he could obtain, and, as the foregoing survey has suggested, there were distinctions
among the provinces as well.
Even before the end of the first quarter of the 5th century, these provincial differences were
visible; and, in no small degree, they help to explain the survival of imperial government and
Greco-Roman civilization in the East while both eventually perished in the West. Throughout the
Eastern provinces, population levels seem to have remained higher, and the emperors in
Constantinople never had to search (at least until the 6th century) for men to fill the ranks of
their armies. As might be expected in those eastern lands in which urban civilization was several
centuries old, cities persisted and, with them, a merchant class and a monetary economy.
Eastern merchants, known in the sources as Syrians, assumed the carrying trade between East
and West, often establishing colonies in the beleaguered cities of the latter region.
Most important, the emperor in the East never lost access to, or control over, his sources of
manpower and money. An older and probably more wealthy senatorial class, or aristocracy, in
the West consolidated its great estates and assumed a form of protection or patronage over the
laboring rural classes, depriving the state of desperately needed military and financial services.
The senatorial class in the East seems to have been of more recent origin, its beginnings to be
found among those favorites or parvenus who had followed Constantine to his new capital. By
the early 5th century, their wealth seems to have been, individually, much less than the
resources at the disposal of their Western counterparts; their estates were far more scattered
and their rural dependents less numerous. They were thus less able to challenge the imperial

will and less able to interpose themselves between the state, on the one hand, and its potential
soldiers or taxpayers, on the other.

Relations with the barbarians

These differences between Eastern and Western social structures, together with certain
geographical features, account for the different reception found by the Germanic invaders of the
4th and 5th centuries in East and West. Although the Germanic people had eddied about the
Danube and Rhine frontiers of the empire since the 2nd century, their major inroads were made
only in the latter half of the 4th century, when the ferocious Huns drove the Ostrogoths and
Visigoths to seek refuge within the Danubian frontier of the empire. The initial interaction
between Roman and barbarian was far from amicable; the Romans seemed to have exploited
their unwelcome guests, and the Goths rose in anger, defeating an East Roman army at
Adrianople in 378 and killing the Eastern emperor in command. Emperor Theodosius (ruled
384-395) adopted a different policy, granting the Goths lands and according them the legal
status of allies, or foederati, who fought within the ranks of the Roman armies as autonomous
units under their own leaders.
Neither in West nor East did Theodosius' policy of accommodation and alliance prove popular.
The Goths, like most Germanic peoples with the exception of the Franks and the Lombards, had
been converted to Arian Christianity, which the Catholic, or Orthodox, Romans considered a
dangerous heresy. The warlike ways of the Germans found little favour with a senatorial
aristocracy essentially pacifist in its outlook, and the early 5th century is marked in both halves
of the empire by reactions against Germanic leaders in high office. At Constantinople in 400, for
example, the citizens rose against the senior officer of the imperial guard (magister militum),
Gainas, slaughtering him together with his Gothic followers. Although this particular revolt was,
in many respects, less productive of immediate results than similar episodes in the West, and
the Germanic leaders later reappeared in roles of command throughout the East, the latter
acted thenceforth as individuals without the support of those nearly autonomous groups of
soldiers that western barbarian commanders continued to enjoy.
Furthermore, the East made good use of its resources in gold, in native manpower, and in
diplomacy, while quickly learning how best to play off one enemy against another. In the reign of
Theodosius II (408-450), the Huns under their chieftain Attila received subsidies of gold that
both kept them in a state of uneasy peace with the Eastern Empire and may have proved
profitable to those merchants of Constantinople who traded with the barbarians. When Marcian
(ruled 450-457) refused to continue the subsidies, Attila was diverted from revenge by the
prospect of conquests in the West. He never returned to challenge the Eastern Empire, and,
with his death in 453, his Hunnic empire fell apart. Both Marcian and his successor, Leo I (ruled
457-474), had ruled under the tutelage of Flavius Ardaburius, Aspar; but Leo resolved to
challenge Aspar's pre-eminence and the influence of the Goths elsewhere in the empire by
favoring the warlike Isaurians and their chieftain, Tarasicodissa, whom he married to the
imperial princess, Ariadne. The Isaurian followers of Tarasicodissa, who was to survive a stormy
reign as the Emperor Zeno (474-491), were rough mountain folk from southern Anatolia and
culturally probably even more barbarous than the Goths or the other Germans. Yet, in that they
were the subjects of the Roman emperor in the East, they were undoubtedly Romans and
proved an effective instrument to counter the Gothic challenge at Constantinople. In the
prefecture of Illyricum, Zeno ended the menace of Theodoric the Amal by persuading him (488)
to venture with his Ostrogoths into Italy. The latter province lay in the hands of the German
chieftain Odoacer, who in 476 had deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor in
the West. Thus, by suggesting that Theodoric conquer Italy as his Ostrogothic kingdom, Zeno

maintained at least a nominal supremacy in that western land while ridding the Eastern Empire
of an unruly subordinate.
With Zeno's death and the accession of the Roman civil servant Anastasius I (ruled 491-518),
Isaurian occupation of the imperial office ended, but it was not until 498 that the forces of the
new emperor effectively took the measure of Isaurian resistance. After the victory of that year,
the loyal subject of the Eastern Roman emperor could breathe easily: Isaurians had been used
to beat Germans, but the wild mountain folk had, in their turn, failed to take permanent
possession of the imperial office. Imperial authority had maintained its integrity in the East while
the Western Empire had dissolved into a number of successor states: the Angles and Saxons
had invaded Britain as early as 410; the Visigoths had possessed portions of Spain since 417,
and the Vandals had entered Africa in 429; the Franks, under Clovis I, had begun their conquest
of central and southern Gaul in 481; and Theodoric was destined to rule in Italy until 526.
Religious controversy
If ethnic hostility within the empire was less a menace around the year 500 than it had often
been in the past, dissensions stemming from religious controversy seriously threatened imperial
unity, and the political history of the next century cannot be understood without some
examination of the so-called Monophysite heresy. It was the second great heresy in the Eastern
Empire, the first having been the dispute occasioned by the teachings of the Alexandrian
presbyter Arius, who, in an effort to maintain the uniqueness and majesty of God the Father, had
taught that he alone had existed from eternity, while God the Son had been created in time.
Thanks in part to imperial support, the Arian heresy had persisted throughout the 4th century
and was definitively condemned only in 381 with promulgation of the doctrine that Father and
Son were of one substance and thus coexistent.
If the Fathers of the 4th century quarreled over the relations between God the Father and God
the Son, those of the 5th century faced the problem of defining the relationship of the two
natures--the human and the divine--within God the Son, Christ Jesus. The theologians of
Alexandria generally held that the divine and human natures were united indistinguishably,
whereas those of Antioch taught that two natures coexisted separately in Christ, the latter being
"the chosen vessel of the Godhead . . . the man born of Mary." In the course of the 5th century,
these two contrasting theological positions became the subject of a struggle for supremacy
among the rival sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. Nestorius, patriarch of
Constantinople in 428, adopted the Antiochene formula, which, in his hands, came to stress the
human nature of Christ to the neglect of the divine. His opponents (first the Alexandrian
patriarch, Cyril, and later Cyril's followers, Dioscorus and Eutyches) in reaction emphasized the
single divine nature of Christ, the result of the Incarnation. Their belief in Monophysitism, or the
one nature of Christ as God the Son, became extraordinarily popular throughout the provinces
of Egypt and Syria. Rome, in the person of Pope Leo I, declared in contrast for Dyophysitism, a
creed teaching that two natures, perfect and perfectly distinct, existed in the single person of
Christ. At the Council of Chalcedon (451), the latter view triumphed thanks to the support of
Constantinople, which changed its position and condemned both Nestorianism, or the emphasis
on the human nature of Christ, and Monophysitism, or the belief in the single divine nature.
More important for the purposes of military and political history than the theological details of the
conflict was the impact Monophysitism produced on the several regions of the Mediterranean
world. Partly because it provided a formula to express resistance to Constantinople's imperial
rule, Monophysitism persisted in Egypt and Syria. Until these two provinces were lost to Islam in
the 7th century, each Eastern emperor had somehow to cope with their separatist tendencies as
expressed in the heresy. He had either to take arms against Monophysitism and attempt to
extirpate it by force, to formulate a creed that would somehow blend it with Dyophysitism, or

frankly to adopt the heresy as his own belief. None of these three alternatives proved
successful, and religious hostility was not the least of the disaffections that led Egypt and Syria
to yield, rather readily, to the Arab conqueror. If ever the East Roman emperor was to reassert
his authority in the West, he necessarily had to discover a formula that would satisfy Western
orthodoxy while not alienating Eastern Monophysitism.
The empire at the end of the 5th century
In the reign of Anastasius I (491-518), all these tendencies of the 5th century found their focus:
the sense of Romanitas, which demanded a Roman rather than an Isaurian or a German
emperor, the conflict between Orthodoxy and Monophysitism, and the persisting economic
prosperity of the Eastern Roman Empire. Acclaimed and elected as the Roman and Orthodox
emperor who would end both the hated hegemony of the Isaurians and the detested activity of
the Monophysite heretics, Anastasius succeeded in the first of these objectives while failing in
the second. While he defeated the Isaurians and transported many of them from their Anatolian
homeland into Thrace, he gradually came to support the Monophysite heresy despite the
professions of Orthodoxy he had made upon the occasion of his coronation. If his policies won
him followers in Egypt and Syria, they alienated his Orthodox subjects and led, finally, to
constant unrest and civil war.
Anastasius' economic policies were far more successful; if they did not provide the basis for the
noteworthy achievements of the 6th century in military affairs and the gentler arts of civilization,
they at least explain why the Eastern Empire prospered in those respects during the period in
question. An inflation of the copper currency, prevailing since the age of Constantine, finally
ended with welcome results for those members of the lower classes who conducted their
operations in the base metal. Responsibility for the collection of municipal taxes was taken from
the members of the local senate and assigned to agents of the praetorian prefect. Trade and
industry were probably stimulated by the termination of the chrysargyron, a tax in gold paid by
the urban classes. If, by way of compensating for the resulting loss to the state, the rural classes
had then to pay the land tax in money rather than kind, the mere fact that gold could be
presumed to be available in the countryside is a striking index of rural prosperity. In the East, the
economic resurgence of the 4th century had persisted, and it is not surprising that Anastasius
enriched the treasury to the extent of 320,000 pounds of gold during the course of his reign.
With such financial resources at their disposal, the Emperor's successors could reasonably
hope to reassert Roman authority among the western Germanic successor states, provided they
could accomplish two objectives: first, they must heal the religious discord among their subjects;
second, they must protect the eastern frontier against the threat of Sasanian Persia. Since there
was, in fact, to be concurrent warfare on both fronts during the 6th century, some knowledge of
the age-old rivalry between Rome and Persia is essential to an understanding of the problems
confronted by the greatest among Anastasius' successors, Justinian I (ruled 527-565), as he
undertook the conquest of the West.
In 224 the ancient Persian Empire had passed into the hands of a new dynasty, the Sasanians,
whose regime brought new life to the enfeebled state. Having assured firm control over the vast
lands already subject to them, the Sasanians took up anew the old struggle with Rome for
northern Mesopotamia and its fortress cities of Edessa and Nisibis, lying between the Tigris and
the Euphrates. In the course of the 4th century, new sources of hostility emerged as East Rome
became a Christian empire. Partly by reaction, Sasanian Persia strengthened the ecclesiastical
organization that served its Zoroastrian religion; intolerance and persecution became the order
of the day within Persia, and strife between the empires assumed something of the character of
religious warfare. Hostilities were exacerbated when Armenia, lying to the north between the two
realms, converted to Christianity and thus seemed to menace the religious integrity of Persia. If
small-scale warfare during the 4th and 5th centuries rarely erupted into major expeditions, the

threat to Rome nonetheless remained constant, demanding vigilance and the construction of
satisfactory fortifications. By 518, the balance might be said to have tipped in the favour of
Persia as it won away the cities of Theodosiopolis, Amida, and Nisibis.
The 6th century: from East Rome to Byzantium
The 6th century opened, in effect, with the death of Anastasius and the accession of the Balkan
soldier who replaced him, Justin I (ruled 518-527). During most of Justin's reign, actual power
lay in the hands of his nephew and successor, Justinian I. The following account of these more
than 40 years of Justinian's effective rule is based upon the works of Justinian's contemporary,
the historian Procopius. The latter wrote a laudatory account of the Emperor's military
achievements in his Polemon (Wars) and coupled it in his Anecdota (Secret History) with a
venomous threefold attack upon the Emperor's personal life, the character of the empress
Theodora, and the conduct of the empire's internal administration. Justinian's reign may be
divided into three periods: (1) an initial age of conquest and cultural achievement extending until
the decade of the 540s; (2) 10 years of crisis and near disaster during the 540s; and (3) the last
decade of the reign, in which mood, temper, and social realities more nearly resembled those to
be found under Justinian's successors than those prevailing throughout the first years of his
own reign.
After 550, it is possible to begin to speak of a medieval Byzantine, rather than an ancient East
Roman, empire. Of the four traumas that eventually transformed the one into the other--namely,
pestilence, warfare, social upheaval, and the Arab Muslim assault of the 630s--the first two were
features of Justinian's reign.
The years of achievement to 540
Justinian is but one example of the civilizing magic that Constantinople often worked upon the
heirs of those who ventured within its walls. Justin, the uncle, was a rude and illiterate soldier;
Justinian, the nephew, was a cultivated gentleman, adept at theology, a mighty builder of
churches, and a sponsor of the codification of Roman law. All these accomplishments are, in the
deepest sense of the word, civilian, and it is easy to forget that Justinian's empire was almost
constantly at war during his reign. The history of East Rome during that period illustrates, in
classical fashion, how the impact of war can transform ideas and institutions alike.
The reign opened with external warfare and internal strife. From Lazica to the Arabian Desert,
the Persian frontier blazed with action in a series of campaigns in which many of the generals
later destined for fame in the West first demonstrated their capacities. The strength of the East
Roman armies is revealed in the fact that, while containing Persian might, Justinian could
nonetheless dispatch troops to attack the Huns in the Crimea and to maintain the Danubian
frontier against a host of enemies. In 532 Justinian decided to abandon military operations in
favour of diplomacy. He negotiated, at the cost of considerable tribute, an "Endless Peace" with
the Persian king, Khosrow, which freed the Roman's hands for operations in another quarter of
the globe. Thus Justinian succeeded in attaining the first of the objectives needed for
reconquest in the West: peace in the East.
Even before his accession, Justinian had aided in the attainment of the second. Shortly after his
proclamation as emperor, Justin had summoned a council of bishops at Constantinople. The
council reversed the policies of Anastasius, accepted the orthodox formula of Chalcedon, and
called for negotiations with the pope. Justinian had personally participated in the ensuing
discussions, which restored communion between Rome and all the Eastern churches save
Egypt. No longer could a barbarian king hope to maintain the loyalties of his Catholic subjects
by persuading them that a Monophysite emperor ruled in the East.

In the same year of 532, Justinian survived a revolt in Constantinople, stemming from the Nika
riot, which initially threatened his life no less than his throne but, in the event, only strengthened
his position. To understand the course of events, it is essential to remember that
Constantinople, like other great East Roman cities, had often to depend upon its urban militia, or
demes, to defend its walls. Coinciding with divisions within the demes were factions organized
to support rival charioteers competing in the horse races: the Blues and the Greens. It was
originally thought that these two factions were divided by differing political and religious views
and that these views were aired to the Emperor during the races. More recent scholarship has
shown that the factions were seldom motivated by anything higher than partisan fanaticism for
their respective charioteers. The Nika riot--"Nika!" ("Conquer!" or "Win!") being the slogan
shouted during the races--of 532, however, was one of the rare occasions when the factions
voiced political opposition to the imperial government. Angered at the severity with which the
urban prefect had suppressed a riot, the Blues and Greens first united and freed their leaders
from prison; they insisted then that Justinian dismiss from the office two of his most unpopular
officials: John of Cappadocia and Tribonian. Even though the Emperor yielded to their demands,
the crowd was not appeased, converted its riot into a revolt, and proclaimed a nephew of
Anastasius as emperor. Justinian was saved only because the empress, Theodora, refused to
yield. Justinian's able general, Belisarius, sequestered the rebels in the Hippodrome and
slaughtered them to the number of 30,000. The leaders were executed, and their estates
passed, at least temporarily, into the Emperor's hands.
After 532 Justinian ruled more firmly than ever before. With the subsequent proclamation of the
"Endless Peace," he could hope to use his earlier won reputation as a champion of
Chalcedonian orthodoxy and appeal to those Western Romans who preferred the rule of a
Catholic Roman emperor to that of an Arian German kinglet. In these early years of the 530s,
Justinian could indeed pose as the pattern of a Roman and Christian emperor. Latin was his
language, and his knowledge of Roman history and antiquities was profound.
In 529 his officials had completed a major collection of the emperors' laws and decrees
promulgated since the reign of Hadrian. Called the Codex Constitutionum and partly founded
upon the 5th-century Theodosian Code, it comprised the first of four works compiled between
529 and 565 called the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), commonly known as the Code
of Justinian. This first collection of imperial edicts, however, pales before the Digesta completed
under Tribonian's direction in 533. In the latter work, order and system were found in (or forced
upon) the contradictory rulings of the great Roman jurists; to facilitate instruction in the schools
of law, a textbook, the Institutiones (533), was designed to accompany the Digesta. The fourth
book, the Novellae Constitutiones Post Codicem (commonly called the Novels), consists of
collections of Justinian's edicts promulgated between 534 and 565.
Meanwhile, architects and builders worked apace to complete the new Church of the Holy
Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, designed to replace an older church destroyed in the course of the Nika
revolt. In five years they had constructed the edifice, and it stands today as one of the major
monuments of architectural history.
In 533 the moment had clearly come to reassert Christian Roman authority in the West, and
Vandal North Africa seemed the most promising theatre of operations. Although a major
expedition mounted under Leo I had failed to win back the province, political conditions in the
Vandal monarchy had altered to the Eastern emperor's favour. When King Hilderich was
deposed and replaced, Justinian could rightfully protest this action taken against a monarch who
had ceased persecution of North African Catholics and had allied himself with Constantinople.
The Eastern merchants favoured military action in the West, but Justinian's generals were
reluctant; possibly for that reason, only a small force was dispatched under Belisarius. Success

came with surprising ease after two engagements, and in 534 Justinian set about organizing
this new addition to the provinces of the Roman Empire.
These were, in fact, years of major provincial reorganization, and not in North Africa alone. A
series of edicts dated in 535 and 536, clearly conceived as part of a master plan by the prefect
John of Cappadocia, altered administrative, judicial, and military structures in Thrace and Asia
Minor. In general, John sought to provide a simplified and economical administrative structure in
which overlapping jurisdictions were abolished, civil and military functions were sometimes
combined in violation of Constantinian principles, and a reduced number of officials were
provided with greater salaries to secure better personnel and to end the lure of bribery.
In the prefaces to his edicts, Justinian boasted of his reconstituted authority in North Africa,
hinted at greater conquests to come, and--in return for the benefits his decrees were to
provide--urged his subjects to pay their taxes promptly so that there might be "one harmony
between ruler and ruled." Quite clearly the Emperor was organizing the state for the most
strenuous military effort, and, later (possibly in 539), reforms were extended to Egypt, whence
the export of grain was absolutely essential for the support of expeditionary armies and
Developments during 534 and 535 in Ostrogothic Italy made it the most likely victim after the fall
of Vandal North Africa. When Theodoric died in 526, he was succeeded by a minor grandson for
whom Theodoric's daughter, Amalasuntha, acted as regent. Upon the boy's death, Amalasuntha
attempted to seize power in her own right and connived at the assassination of three of her chief
enemies. Her diplomatic relations with the Eastern emperor had always been marked by
cordiality and even dependency; thus, when Amalasuntha, in turn, met her death in a blood feud
mounted by the slain men's families, Justinian seized the opportunity to protest the murder.
In 535, as in 533, a small, tentative expedition sent to the West--in this instance, to Sicily--met
with easy success. At first the Goths negotiated; then they stiffened their resistance, deposed
their king, Theodahad, in favour of a stronger man, Witigis, and attempted to block Belisarius'
armies as they entered the Italian peninsula. There the progress of East Roman arms proved
slower, and victory did not come until 540 when Belisarius captured Ravenna, the last major
stronghold in the north, and, with it, King Witigis, a number of Gothic nobles, and the royal
All were dispatched to Constantinople, where Justinian was presumably thankful for the
termination of hostilities in the West. Throughout the 530s, Justinian's generals almost
constantly had to fight to preserve imperial authority in the new province of North Africa and in
the Balkans as well. In 539 a Gothic embassy reached Persia, and the information it provided
caused the king, Khosrow, to grow restive under the constraints of the "Endless Peace." During
the next year (the same year [540] that a Bulgar force raided Macedonia and reached the long
walls of Constantinople), Khosrow's armies reached even Antioch in the pursuit of booty and
blackmail. They returned unhurt, and 541 witnessed the Persian capture of a fortress in Lazica.
In Italy, meanwhile, the Goths chose a new king, Totila, under whose able leadership the military
situation in that land was soon to be transformed.
The crisis of mid-century
At last the menace of simultaneous war on two fronts threatened Justinian's plans. During the
550s, his armies were to prove equal to the challenge, but a major disaster prevented them from
so doing between 541 and about 548. The disaster was the bubonic plague of 541-543, the first
of those shocks, or traumas, mentioned earlier, that would eventually transform East Rome into
the medieval Byzantine Empire. The plague was first noted in Egypt, and from there it passed
through Syria and Asia Minor to Constantinople. By 543 it had reached Italy and Africa, and it
may also have attacked the Persian armies on campaign in that year. In East Asia the disease

has persisted into the 20th century, providing medical science with an opportunity to view its
causes and course. Transmitted to humans by fleas from infected rodents, the plague attacks
the glands and early manifests itself by swellings (buboes) in armpit and groin, whence the
name bubonic. To judge from Procopius' description of its symptoms at Constantinople in 542,
the disease then appeared in its more virulent pneumonic form, wherein the bacilli settle in the
lungs of the victims. The appearance of the pneumonic form was particularly ominous because
it may be transmitted directly from person to person, spreading the infection all the more readily
and producing exceptionally high mortality rates. Comparative studies, based upon statistics
derived from incidence of the same disease in late-medieval Europe, suggest that between onethird and one-half the population of Constantinople may well have died, while the lesser cities of
the empire and the countryside by no means remained immune.
The short-term impact of the plague may be seen in several forms of human activity during the
540s. Justinian's legislation of those years is understandably preoccupied with wills and
intestate succession. Labour was scarce, and workers demanded wages so high that Justinian
sought to control them by edict, as the monarchs of France and England were to do during the
plague of the 14th century. In military affairs, above all, the record of those years is one of
defeat, stagnation, and missed opportunities. Rather than effective Roman opposition, it was
Khosrow's own weariness of an unprofitable war that led him to sign a treaty of peace in 545,
accepting tribute from Justinian and preserving Persian conquests in Lazica. Huns, Sclaveni,
Antae, and Bulgars ravaged Thrace and Illyricum, meeting only slight opposition from Roman
armies. In Africa a garrison diminished by plague nervously faced the threat of Moorish invasion.
In Italy, Totila took the offensive, capturing southern Italy and Naples and even forcing his way
into Rome (546) despite Belisarius' efforts to relieve the siege. Desperately, Justinian's great
general called for reinforcements from the East; if ever they came, they were slow in arriving
and proved numerically less than adequate to the task confronting them.
The last years of Justinian I
After about 548, Roman fortunes improved, and, by the mid-550s, Justinian had won victories in
most theatres of operation, with the notable and ominous exception of the Balkans. A tour of the
frontiers might begin with the East. In 551 the fortress of Petra was recovered from the
Persians, but fighting continued in Lazica until a 50 years' peace, signed in 561, defined
relations between the two great empires. On balance, the advantage lay with Justinian.
Although Justinian agreed to continue payment of tribute in the amount of 30,000 solidi a year,
Khosrow, in return, abandoned his claims to Lazica and undertook not to persecute his Christian
The treaty also regulated trade between Rome and Persia, since rivalry between the two great
powers had always had its economic aspects, focused primarily upon the silk trade. Raw silk
reached Constantinople through Persian intermediaries, either by a land route leading from
China through Persia or by the agency of Persian merchants in the Indian Ocean. The need to
break this Persian monopoly had led Justinian to search for new routes and new peoples to
serve as intermediaries: in the south, the Ethiopian merchants of the kingdom of Aksum; in the
north, the peoples around the Crimea and in the Caucasian kingdom of Lazica, as well as the
Turks of the steppes beyond the Black Sea. Other valuable commodities were exchanged in the
Black Sea region, including textiles, jewelry, and wine from East Rome for the furs, leather, and
slaves offered by the barbarians; yet, silk remained the commodity of prime interest. It was
fortunate, then, that before 561, East Roman agents had smuggled silkworms from China into
Constantinople, establishing a silk industry that would liberate the empire from dependence on
Persia and become one of medieval Byzantium's most important economic operations.

In the West, Justinian's successes were even more spectacular. By 550 the Moorish threat had
ended in North Africa. In 552 the armies of Justinian had intervened in a quarrel among the
Visigothic rulers of Spain, and the East Roman troops overstayed the invitation extended them,
seizing the opportunity to occupy on a more permanent basis certain towns in the southeastern
corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Most important of all, Italy was recovered. Early in the 550s,
Justinian assembled a vast army composed not only of Romans but also of barbarians,
including Lombards, Heruli, and Gepids, as well as Persian deserters. Command of this host
eventually was given to an unlikely but, as events were to prove, able commander: the eunuch
and chamberlain Narses. In two decisive battles (Busta Gallorum and Mons Lactarius), the East
Roman general defeated first Totila and then his successor, Teias. The Goths agreed to leave
Italy. Despite the continued resistance of certain Gothic garrisons, coupled with the intervention
of Franks and Alamanni, after 554 the land was essentially a province of the East Roman
In view of the wide mixture of peoples that descended upon it, the Balkans present a far more
complex situation, and the Romans used a wider variety of tactics to contain the barbarians.
After the Kutrigur Bulgar attack of 540, Justinian worked to extend a system of fortifications that
ran in three zones through the Balkans and as far south as the Pass of Thermopylae.
Fortresses, strongholds, and watchtowers were not, however, enough. The Slavs plundered
Thrace in 545 and returned in 548 to menace Dyrrhachium; in 550 the Sclaveni, a Slavic
people, reached a point about 40 miles (65 kilometres) from Constantinople. The major invasion
came in 559, when the Kutrigur Bulgars, accompanied by Sclaveni, crossed the Danube and
divided their force into three columns. One column reached Thermopylae; the second gained a
foothold on the Gallipoli Peninsula near Constantinople; and the third advanced as far as the
suburbs of Constantinople itself, which the aged Belisarius had to defend with an unlikely force
of civilians, demesmen, and a few veterans. Worried by Roman naval action on the Danube,
which seemed to menace the escape route home, the Kutrigurs broke off the attack, returned
north, and found themselves under attack from the Utigurs, a people whose support Justinian's
agents had earlier connived at and won by suitable bribes. The two peoples weakened each
other in warfare, of which the episode of 559 was not the first instance, and this was precisely
the result at which Byzantine diplomacy was aimed.
As long as the financial resources remained adequate, diplomacy proved the most satisfactory
weapon in an age when military manpower was a scarce and precious commodity. Justinian's
subordinates were to perfect it in their relationships with Balkan and south Russian peoples.
For, if the Central Asian lands constituted a great reservoir of people, whence a new menace
constantly emerged, the very proliferation of enemies meant that one might be used against
another through skillful combination of bribery, treaty, and perfidy. East Roman relations in the
late 6th century with the Avars, a Mongol people seeking refuge from the Turks, provide an
excellent example of this "defensive imperialism." The Avar ambassadors reached
Constantinople in 557, and, although they did not receive the lands they demanded, they were
loaded with precious gifts and allied by treaty with the empire. The Avars moved westward from
south Russia, subjugating Utigurs, Kutrigurs, and Slavic peoples to the profit of the empire. At
the end of Justinian's reign, they stood on the Danube, a nomadic people hungry for lands and
additional subsidies and by no means unskilled themselves in a sort of perfidious diplomacy that
would help them pursue their objectives.
No summary of the quiet, but ominous, last years of Justinian's reign would be complete without
some notice of the continuing attacks of bubonic plague and the impact they were to continue to
produce until the 8th century. As have other societies subjected to devastation from warfare or
disease, East Roman society might have compensated for its losses of the 540s had the
survivors married early and produced more children in the succeeding generations. Two
developments prevented recovery. Monasticism, with its demands for celibacy, grew apace in

the 6th century, and the plague returned sporadically to attack those infants who might have
replaced fallen members of the older generations.
The resulting shortage of manpower affected several aspects of a state and society that
perceptibly were losing their Roman character and assuming their Byzantine. The construction
of new churches, so noteworthy a feature of the earlier years, ceased as men did little more
than rebuild or add to existing structures. An increasing need for taxes, together with a
decreasing number of taxpayers, evoked stringent laws that forced members of a village tax
group to assume collective responsibility for vacant or unproductive lands. This, contemporary
sources avow, was a burden difficult to assume, in view of the shortage of agricultural workers
after the plague. Finally, the armies that won the victories described above in east and west
were largely victorious only because Justinian manned them as never before with barbarians:
Goths, Armenians, Heruli, Gepids, Saracens, and Persians--to name only the most prominent. It
was far from easy to maintain discipline among so motley an army; yet, once the unruly
barbarian accepted the quieter life of the garrison soldier, he tended to lose his fighting capacity
and prove, once the test came, of little value against the still warlike barbarian facing him
beyond the frontier. The army, in short, was a creation of war and kept its quality only by
participating in battlefield action, but further expansive warfare could hardly be undertaken by a
society chronically short of men and money.
In summary, the East Roman (or better, the Byzantine) state of the late 6th century seemed to
confront many of the same threats that had destroyed the Western Empire in the 5th century.
Barbarians pressed upon it from beyond the Balkan frontier, and peoples of barbarian origin
manned the armies defending it. Wealth accumulated during the 5th century had been
expended; and, to satisfy the basic economic and military needs of state and society, there were
too few native Romans. If the Byzantine Empire avoided the fate of West Rome, it did so only
because it was to combine valor and good luck with certain advantages of institutions, emotions,
and attitudes that the older empire had failed to enjoy. One advantage already described,
diplomatic skill, blends institutional and attitudinal change, for diplomacy would never have
succeeded had not the Byzantine statesmen been far more curious and knowing than
Justinian's 5th-century predecessor about the habits, customs, and movements of the barbarian
peoples. The Byzantine's attitude had changed in yet another way. He was willing to accept the
barbarian within his society provided that the latter, in his turn, accept orthodox Christianity and
the emperor's authority. Christianity was often, to be sure, a veneer that cracked in moments of
crisis, permitting a very old paganism to emerge, while loyalty to the emperor could be forsworn
and often was. Despite these shortcomings, the Christian faith and the ecclesiastical institutions
defined in the 6th century proved better instruments by far to unite men and stimulate their
morale than the pagan literary culture of the Greco-Roman world.
Christian culture of the Byzantine Empire
Justinian's legislation dealt with almost every aspect of the Christian life: entrance into it by
conversion and Baptism; administration of the sacraments that marked its several stages;
proper conduct of the laity to avoid the wrath God would surely visit upon a sinful people; finally,
the standards to be followed by those who lived the particularly holy life of the secular or
monastic clergy. Pagans were ordered to attend church and accept Baptism, while a purge
thinned their ranks in Constantinople, and masses of them were converted by missionaries in
Asia Minor. Only the orthodox wife might enjoy the privileges of her dowry; Jews and
Samaritans were denied, in addition to other civil disabilities, the privilege of testamentary
inheritance unless they converted. A woman who worked as an actress might better serve God
were she to forswear any oath she had taken, even though before God, to remain in that
immoral profession. Blasphemy and sacrilege were forbidden, lest famine, earthquake, and
pestilence punish the Christian society. Surely God would take vengeance upon Constantinople,
as he had upon Sodom and Gomorrah, should the homosexual persist in his "unnatural" ways.

Justinian regulated the size of churches and monasteries, forbade them to profit from the sale of
property, and complained of those priests and bishops who were unlearned in the forms of the
liturgy. His efforts to improve the quality of the secular clergy, or those who conducted the affairs
of the church in the world, were most opportune. The best possible men were needed, for, in
most East Roman cities during the 6th century, imperial and civic officials gradually resigned
many of their functions to the bishop, or patriarch. The latter collected taxes, dispensed justice,
provided charity, organized commerce, negotiated with barbarians, and even mustered the
soldiers. By the early 7th century, the typical Byzantine city, viewed from without, actually or
potentially resembled a fortress; viewed from within, it was essentially a religious community
under ecclesiastical leadership. Nor did Justinian neglect the monastic clergy, or those who had
removed themselves from the world. Drawing upon the regulations to be found in the writings of
the 4th-century Church Father St. Basil of Caesarea, as well as the acts of 4th- and 5th-century
church councils, he ordered the cenobitic (or collective) form of monastic life in a fashion so
minute that later codes, including the rule of St. Theodore the Studite in the 9th century, only
develop the Justinianic foundation.
Probably the least successful of Justinian's ecclesiastical policies were those adopted in an
attempt to reconcile Monophysites and orthodox Chalcedonians. After the success of
negotiations that had done so much to conciliate the West during the reign of Justin I, Justinian
attempted to win over the moderate Monophysites, separating them from the extremists. Of the
complicated series of events that ensued, only the results need be noted. In developing a creed
acceptable to the moderate Monophysites of the East, Justinian alienated the Chalcedonians of
the West and thus sacrificed his earlier gains in that quarter. The extreme Monophysites refused
to yield. Reacting against Justinian's persecutions, they strengthened their own ecclesiastical
organization, with the result that many of the fortress cities noted above, especially those of
Egypt and Syria, owed allegiance to Monophysite ecclesiastical leadership. To his successors,
then, Justinian bequeathed the same religious problem he had inherited from Anastasius.
If, in contrast, his regulation of the Christian life proved successful, it was largely because his
subjects themselves were ready to accept it. Traditional Greco-Roman culture was, to be sure,
surprisingly tenacious and even productive during the 6th century and was always to remain the
treasured possession of an intellectual elite in Byzantium; but the same century witnessed the
growth of a Christian culture to rival it. Magnificent hymns written by St. Romanos Melodos mark
the striking development of the liturgy during Justinian's reign, a development that was not
without its social implications. Whereas traditional pagan culture was literary and its pursuit or
enjoyment thereby limited to the leisured and wealthy, the Christian liturgical celebration and its
musical component were available to all, regardless of place or position. Biography, too,
became both markedly Christian and markedly popular. Throughout the countryside and the city,
holy men appeared in legend or in fact, exorcising demons, healing the sick, feeding the hungry,
and warding off the invader. Following the pattern used in the 4th century by Athanasius to write
the life of St. Anthony, hagiographers recorded the deeds of these extraordinary men, creating
in the saint's life a form of literature that began to flower in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The vitality and pervasiveness of popular Christian culture manifested themselves most strongly
in the veneration increasingly accorded the icon, an abstract and simplified image of Christ, the
Virgin, or the saints. Notable for the timeless quality that its setting suggested and for the power
expressed in the eyes of its subject, the icon seemingly violated the Second Commandment's
explicit injunction against the veneration of any religious images. Since many in the early
centuries of the church so believed, and in the 8th century the image breakers, or iconoclasts,
were to adopt similar views, hostility toward images was nearly as tenacious an aspect of
Christianity as it had been of Judaism before it.
The contrasting view--a willingness to accept images as a normal feature of Christian practice--

would not have prevailed had it not satisfied certain powerful needs as Christianity spread
among Gentiles long accustomed to representations of the divinity and among Hellenized Jews
who had themselves earlier broken with the Mosaic commandment. The convert all the more
readily accepted use of the image if he had brought into his Christianity, as many did, a heritage
of Neoplatonism. The latter school taught that, through contemplation of that which could be
seen (i.e., the image of Christ), the mind might rise to contemplation of that which could not be
seen (i.e., the essence of Christ). From a belief that the seen suggests the unseen, it is but a
short step to a belief that the seen contains the unseen and that the image deserves veneration
because divine power somehow resides in it.
Men of the 4th century were encouraged to take such a step, influenced as they were by the
analogous veneration that the Romans had long accorded the image of the emperor. Although
the first Christians rejected this practice of their pagan contemporaries and refused to adore the
image of a pagan emperor, their successors of the 4th century were less hesitant to render such
honour to the images of the Christian emperors following Constantine. Since the emperor was
God's vicegerent on Earth and his empire reflected the heavenly realm, the Christian must
venerate, to an equal or greater degree, Christ and his saints. Thus the Second Commandment
finally lost much of its force. Icons appeared in both private and public use during the last half of
the 6th century: as a channel of divinity for the individual and as a talisman to guarantee
success in battle. During the dark years following the end of Justinian I's reign, no other element
of popular Christian belief better stimulated that high morale without which the Byzantine Empire
would not have survived.
The successors of Justinian: 565-610
Byzantine Empire: The Byzantine Empire at the death of Justinian in AD 565.
Until Heraclius arrived to save the empire in 610, inconsistency and contradiction marked the
policies adopted by the emperors, a reflection of their inability to solve the problems Justinian
had bequeathed his successors. Justin II (565-578) haughtily refused to continue the payment
of tribute to Avar or Persian; he thereby preserved the resources of the treasury, which he
further increased by levying new taxes. Praiseworthy as his refusal to submit to blackmail may
seem, Justin's intransigence only increased the menace to the empire. His successor, Tiberius II
(578-582), removed the taxes and, choosing between his enemies, awarded subsidies to the
Avars while taking military action against the Persians. Although Tiberius' general, Maurice, led
an effective campaign on the eastern frontier, subsidies failed to restrain the Avars. They
captured the Balkan fortress of Sirmium in 582, while the Turks began inroads across the
Danube that would take them, within 50 years, into Macedonia, Thrace, and Greece.
The accession of Maurice in 582 inaugurated a reign of 20 years marked by success against
Persia, a reorganization of Byzantine government in the West, and the practice of economies
during his Balkan campaigns that, however unavoidable, would destroy him in 602. Byzantine
efforts against Sasanian Persia were rewarded in 591 by a fortunate accident. The lawful
claimant to the Persian throne, Khosrow II, appealed to Maurice for aid against the rebels who
had challenged his succession. In gratitude for this support, Khosrow abandoned the frontier
cities and the claims to Armenia, the two major sources of contention between Byzantium and
Persia. The terms of the treaty gave Byzantium access, in Armenia, to a land rich in the soldiers
it desperately needed and, equally important, an opportunity to concentrate on other frontiers
where the situation had worsened.
Confronted by a Visigothic resurgence in Spain and by the results of a Lombard invasion of Italy
(568), which was steadily confining Byzantine power to Ravenna, Venice, and Calabria-Sicily in
the south, Maurice developed a form of military government throughout the relatively secure
province of North Africa and in whatever regions were left in Italy. He abandoned the old

principle of separating civil from military powers, placing both in the hands of the generals, or
exarchs, located, respectively, at Carthage and Ravenna. Their provinces, or exarchates, were
subdivided into duchies composed of garrison centres that were manned not by professional
soldiers but by conscript local landholders. The exarchate system of military government seems
to have worked well: North Africa was generally quiet despite Moorish threats; and in 597 the
ailing Maurice had intended to install his second son as emperor throughout those western
possessions in which he had clearly not lost interest.
But the major thrust of his efforts during the last years of his reign was to be found in the
Balkans, where, by dint of constant campaigning, his armies had forced the Avars back across
the Danube by 602. In the course of these military operations, Maurice made two mistakes: the
first weakened him; the second destroyed him together with his dynasty. Rather than constantly
accompanying his armies in the field, as his 7th- and 8th-century successors were to do,
Maurice remained for the most part in Constantinople, losing an opportunity to engage the
personal loyalty of his troops. He could not count on their obedience when he issued
unwelcome commands from afar that decreased their pay in 588, ordered them to accept
uniforms and weapons in kind rather than in cash equivalents, and, in 602, required the soldiers
to establish winter quarters in enemy lands across the Danube, lest their requirements prove too
great a strain on the agricultural and financial resources of the empire's provinces south of the
river. Exasperated by this last demand, the soldiers rose in revolt, put a junior officer named
Phocas at their head, and marched on Constantinople. Again becoming politically active, the
Blues and Greens united against Maurice, and the aged emperor watched as his five sons were
slaughtered before he himself met a barbarous death.
The ensuing reign of Phocas (602-610) may be described as a disaster. Khosrow seized the
opportunity offered him by the murder of his benefactor, Maurice, to initiate a war of revenge
that led Persian armies into the Anatolian heartland. Subsidies again failed to restrain the
barbarians north of the Danube; after 602 the frontier crumbled, not to be restored save at the
cost of centuries of warfare. Lacking a legitimate title, holding his crown only by right of
conquest, Phocas found himself confronted by constant revolt and rebellion. To contemporaries,
the coincidence of pestilence, endemic warfare, and social upheaval seemed to herald the
coming of the Antichrist, the resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world.
But it was a human savior who appeared, albeit under divine auspices. Heraclius, son of the
Exarch of Africa, set sail from the western extremes of the empire, placing his fleet under the
protection of an icon of the Virgin against Phocas, stigmatized in the sources as the "corrupter
of virgins." In the course of his voyage along the northern shores of the Mediterranean,
Heraclius added to his forces and arrived at Constantinople in October 610 to be hailed as a
saviour. With the warm support of the Green faction, he quickly bested his enemy, decapitating
Phocas and, with him, those Phocas had advanced to high civil and military office. There were,
in consequence, few experienced counselors to aid Heraclius, for, among the men of
prominence under Phocas--and earlier under Maurice--few survived to greet the new emperor.
The 7th century: the Heraclians and the challenge of Islam
Heraclius and the origin of the themes
The most threatening problem Heraclius faced was the external menace of the Avars and the
Persians, and neither people abated its pressure during the first years of the new reign. The
Avars almost captured the Emperor in 617 during a conference outside the long walls protecting
the capital. The Persians penetrated Asia Minor and then turned to the south, capturing
Jerusalem and Alexandria (in Egypt). The great days of the Persian Achaemenid Empire
seemed to have come again, and there was little in the recent history of the Byzantine emperors
that would encourage Heraclius to place much faith in the future. He clearly could not hope to

survive unless he kept under arms the troops he had brought with him; yet, the fate of Maurice
demonstrated that this would be no easy task, given the empire's lack of financial and
agricultural resources.
Three sources of strength enabled Heraclius to turn defeat into victory. The first was the pattern
of military government as he and the nucleus of his army would have known it in the exarchates
of North Africa or Ravenna. As it had been in the West, so it now was in the East. Civil problems
were inseparable from the military: Heraclius could not hope to dispense justice, collect taxes,
protect the church, and assure the future to his dynasty unless military power reinforced his
orders. A system of military government, the exarchate, had accomplished these objectives so
well in the West that, in a moment of despair, Heraclius sought to return to the land of his
origins. In all likelihood, he applied similar principles of military rule to his possessions
throughout Asia Minor, granting his generals (strategoi) both civil and military authority over
those lands that they occupied with their "themes," as the army groups, or corps, were called in
the first years of the 7th century.
Second, during the social upheaval of the previous decade, the imperial treasury had doubtless
seized the estates of prominent individuals who had been executed either during Phocas' reign
of terror or after his death. In consequence, though the treasury lacked money, it nonetheless
possessed land in abundance, and Heraclius could easily have supported with grants of land
those cavalry soldiers whose expenses in horses and armament he could not hope to meet with
cash. If this hypothesis is correct, then, even before 622, themes, or army groups--including the
guards (Opsikioi), the Armenians (Armeniakoi), and the Easterners (Anatolikoi)--were given
lands and settled throughout Asia Minor in so permanent a fashion that, before the century was
out, the lands occupied by these themes were identified by the names of those who occupied
them. The Opsikioi were to be found in the Opsikion theme, the Armeniakoi in the Armeniakon,
and the Anatolikoi in the Anatolikon. The term theme ceased thereafter to identify an army group
and described instead the medieval Byzantine unit of local administration, the theme under the
authority of the themal commander, the general (strategos).
When Heraclius "went out into the lands of the themes" in 622, thereby undertaking a struggle
of seven years' duration against the Persians, he utilized the third of his sources of strength:
religion. The warfare that ensued was nothing less than a holy war: it was partly financed by the
treasure placed by the church at the disposal of the state; the Emperor's soldiers called upon
God to aid them as they charged into battle; and they took comfort in the miraculous image of
Christ that preceded them in their line of march. A brief summary of the campaign unfortunately
gives no idea of the difficulties Heraclius encountered as he liberated Asia Minor (622); fought in
Armenia with allies found among the Christian Caucasian peoples, the Lazi, the Abasgi, and the
Iberians (624); and struggled in far-distant Lazica while Constantinople withstood a combined
siege of Avars and Persians (626). An alliance with the Khazars, a Turkic people from north of
the Caucasus, proved of material assistance in those years and of lasting import in Byzantine
diplomacy. Heraclius finally destroyed the main Persian host at Nineveh in 627 and, after
occupying Dastagird in 628, savoured the full flavour of triumph when his enemy, Khosrow, was
deposed and murdered. The Byzantine emperor might well have believed that, if the earlier
success of the Persians signalized the resurrection of the Achaemenid Empire, his own
successes had realized the dreams of Caesar, Augustus, and Trajan.
Yet this was a war fought by medieval Byzantium and not by ancient Rome. Its spirit was
manifest in 630, when Heraclius triumphantly restored the True Cross to Jerusalem, whence the
Persians had stolen it, and--even more--when Constantinople resisted the Avar-Persian assault
of 626. During the attack, the patriarch Sergius maintained the morale of the valiant garrison by
proceeding about the walls, bearing the image of Christ to ward off fire, and by painting upon

the gates of the western walls images of the Virgin and child to ward off attacks launched by the
Avars--the "breed of darkness." The Avars withdrew when Byzantine ships defeated the canoes
manned by Slavs, upon whom the nomad Avars depended for their naval strength. The latter
never recovered from their defeat. As their empire crumbled, new peoples from the Black Sea to
the Balkans emerged to seize power: the Bulgars of Kuvrat, the Slavs under Samo, and the
Serbs and Croats whom Heraclius permitted to settle in the northwest Balkans once they had
accepted Christianity.
As for the Byzantine defenders of Constantinople, they celebrated their victory by singing
Romanos' great hymn "Akathistos," with choir and crowd alternating in the chant of the
"Alleluia." The hymn, still sung in a Lenten service, commemorates those days when
Constantinople survived as a fortress under ecclesiastical leadership, its defenders protected by
the icons and united by their liturgy. This they sang in Greek, as befitted a people whose culture
was now Greek and no longer Latin.

The successors of Heraclius: Islam and the Bulgars

In the same year that Heraclius went out into the themes, Muhammad made his withdrawal
(hijrah) from Mecca to Medina, where he established the ummah, or Muslim community. Upon
the Prophet's death in 632, the caliphs, or successors, channeled the energies of the Arab
Bedouin by launching them upon a purposive and organized plan of conquest. The results were
spectacular: a Byzantine army was defeated at the Battle of the Yarmuk River (636), thereby
opening Palestine and Syria to Arab Muslim control. Alexandria capitulated in 642, removing
forever the province of Egypt from Byzantine authority. The Arabs had, meanwhile, advanced
into Mesopotamia, capturing the royal city of Ctesiphon and, eventually, defeating an army
under command of the Persian king himself. So ended the long history of Persia under
Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sasanians; further conquests were shortly to initiate that region's
Islamic phase (see further Iran, history of: Iran from 640 to the present; Islamic world).
At least three aspects of the contemporary situation of Byzantium and Persia account for the
phenomenal ease with which the Arabs overcame their enemies: first, both empires, exhausted
by wars, had demobilized before 632; second, both had ceased to support those client states on
the frontiers of the Arabian Peninsula that had restrained the Bedouin of the desert for a century
past; third, and particularly in reference to Byzantium, religious controversy had weakened the
loyalties that Syrians and Egyptians rendered to Constantinople. Heraclius had sought in 638 to
placate Monophysite sentiment in these two provinces by promulgating the doctrine of
Monothelitism, holding that Christ, although of two natures, had but one will. Neither in the East
nor in the West did this compromise prove successful. The victorious Muslims granted religious
freedom to the Christian community in Alexandria, for example, and the Alexandrians quickly
recalled their exiled Monophysite patriarch to rule over them, subject only to the ultimate political
authority of the conquerors. In such a fashion the city persisted as a religious community under
an Arab Muslim domination more welcome and more tolerant than that of Byzantium.
The aging Heraclius was unequal to the task of containing this new menace, and it was left to
his successors--Constantine III (ruled February to May 641), Constans II (641-668), Constantine
IV (668-685), and Justinian II (685-695, 705-711)--to do so. This bare list of emperors obscures
the family conflicts that often imperiled the succession, but gradually the principle was
established that, even if brothers ruled as coemperors, the senior's authority would prevail.
Although strife between Blues and Greens persisted throughout the century, internal revolt failed
to imperil the dynasty until the reign of Justinian II. The latter was deposed and mutilated in 695.
With the aid of the Bulgars, he returned in 705 to reassume rule and wreak a vengeance so
terrible that his second deposition, and death, in 711 is surprising only in its delay of six years.
From 711 until 717 the fortunes of the empire foundered; in that year, Leo, strategos of the

Anatolikon theme, arrived as a second Heraclius to found a dynasty that would rescue the
empire from its new enemies, the Arab Muslims and the Bulgars.
Three features distinguish the military history of the years 641-717: first, an increasing use of
sea power on the part of the Arabs; second, a renewed threat in the Balkans occasioned by the
appearance of the Onogur Huns, known in contemporary sources as the Bulgars; third, a
persisting interest among the emperors in their western possessions, despite the gradual
attrition of Byzantine authority in the exarchates of Carthage and Ravenna. Thanks to the
control that the Arabs gradually asserted over the sea routes to Constantinople, they climaxed
their earlier assaults on Armenia and Asia Minor with a four years' siege of the great city itself
(674-678). Defeated in this last attempt by the use of Greek fire, a flammable liquid of uncertain
composition, the Arabs signed a 30 years' truce, according to which they agreed to pay tribute in
money, men, and horses. Lured by the unsettled conditions following Justinian's second
deposition, they renewed their assaults by land and sea, and in 717 the Arabs were again
besieging Constantinople.
On the Balkan frontier, meanwhile, the Bulgars assumed the role abdicated by the Avars after
626. A pagan people whom the Khazars had forced toward the Danube Delta in the latter part of
the 7th century, they eluded Constantine IV's attempts to defeat them in 681. By virtue of a
treaty signed in that year, as well as others dating from 705 and 716, the Bulgars were
recognized as an independent kingdom, occupying (to the humiliation of Byzantium) lands south
of the Danube into the Thracian plain. While the Bulgars had thus deprived the empire of control
in the north and central Balkans, the Byzantines could take comfort in the expeditions of 658
and 688/689 launched, respectively, by Constans II and Justinian II into Macedonia and in the
formation of the themes of Thrace (687) and Hellas (695); these moves were evidence that
Byzantine authority was beginning to prevail along the peninsular coastline and in certain parts
of Greece where Slavs had penetrated.
In the West, the situation was less reassuring. Monothelitism had evoked a hostile reception
among the churches of North Africa and Italy, and the resulting disaffection had encouraged the
exarchs of both Carthage (646) and Ravenna (652) to revolt. By the end of the century, Africa
had been largely lost to Muslim conquerors who would, in 711, seize the last outpost at Septem.
For the moment Sicily and the scattered Italian possessions remained secure. Constans
undertook operations against the Lombards, and he apparently intended to move his capital to
Sicily, before his assassination ended the career of the last Eastern emperor to venture into the
West. In summary, Leo III in 717 ruled over an empire humiliated by the presence of pagan
barbarians upon Balkan soil rightfully considered "Roman," threatened by an attack upon its
Anatolian heartland and its capital, and reduced, finally, in the West to Sicily and the remnants
of the Ravenna exarchate.
However dismal the military record, institutional and economic developments had permitted the
empire to survive and were to provide foundations for greater success in the centuries to come.
The themal system had taken root and, with it, probably the institution of soldiers' properties.
Military service was a hereditary occupation: the eldest son assumed the burden of service,
supported primarily by revenues from other members of the family who worked the land in the
villages. This last was a task easier to accomplish at the end of the 7th century thanks to the
colonies of Slavs and other peoples brought into the empire and settled in the rural areas by
Heraclius, Constantine IV, and Justinian II. In the 8th and 9th centuries, other emperors,
including Leo III, Constantine V, and Nicephorus I, were to continue the practice, thus ending
the population decline that had long eroded the ranks of Byzantine society. There are
unmistakable signs of agricultural expansion even before 800; and, at about that time, urban
life, which had never vanished in Asia Minor, began to flourish and expand in the Balkans. To

judge from the evidence of the Farmer's Law, dated in the 7th century, the technological base of
Byzantine society was more advanced than that of contemporary western Europe: iron tools
could be found in the villages; water mills dotted the landscape; and field-sown beans provided
a diet rich in protein. None of these advances was to characterize western European agriculture
until the 10th century. Byzantine agriculture enjoyed the further advantage of a highly developed
tradition of careful farming that persisted even in the darkest days, enabling the peasant to
make the most of the soil upon which he worked. The invasions had even provided a form of
stimulus to development: having lost first its Egyptian granary and, later, its North African and
Sicilian resources, the empire had to live essentially, although not totally, from whatever it could
produce in the lands remaining to it. The invasions had also, in all probability, broken up many a
large estate, and the small peasant holding seems to have been the "normal" form of rural
organization in this period. Although collective village organization persisted in the form of the
rural commune and, with it, certain collective agricultural practices, the state seems to have
made little or no attempt to bind the peasant to the soil upon which the tax registers had
inscribed him. While Byzantium remained a slave-owning society, the colonus of the later
Roman Empire had vanished, and a greater degree of freedom and mobility characterized
agricultural relationships during the 7th and 8th centuries.
So it was, too, in trade and commerce. After the loss of Egypt and North Africa, the grain fleets
manned by hereditary shipmasters disappeared; in their place there emerged the independent
merchant, of sufficient importance to call forth a code of customary law, the Rhodian Sea Law,
to regulate his practices. Military and religious hostilities failed to check him as he traded with
the Bulgars in Thrace and, through Cyprus, with the Arabs. Despite constant warfare, this was,
in short, a healthier society than the late Roman, and its chances of survival were further
increased when the sixth general council (680-681) condemned Monothelitism and
anathematized its adherents. With Egypt and Syria under Muslim rule, it was no longer
necessary to placate Eastern Monophysitism, and it seemed that doctrinal discord would no
longer separate Constantinople from the West. Events were to prove otherwise.
The age of Iconoclasm: 717-867
For more than a century after the accession of Leo III (717-741), a persisting theme in
Byzantine history may be found in the attempts made by the emperors, often with wide popular
support, to eliminate the veneration of icons, a practice that had earlier played a major part in
creating the morale essential to survival. The sentiment had grown in intensity during the 7th
century; the Quinisext Council (Council in Trullo) of 692 had decreed that Christ should be
represented in human form rather than, symbolically, as the lamb. The reigning emperor,
Justinian II, had taken the unprecedented step of placing the image of Christ on his coinage
while proclaiming himself the "slave of God." Evidence of a reaction against such iconodule (or
image venerating) doctrines and practices may be found early in the 8th century, but full-fledged
Iconoclasm (or destruction of the images) emerged as an imperial policy only when Leo III
issued his decrees of 730. Under his son, Constantine V (ruled 741-775), the iconoclastic
movement intensified, taking the form of violent persecution of the monastic clergy, the foremost
defenders of the iconodule position. The Council of Nicaea in 787 restored iconodule doctrine at
the instigation of the empress Irene, but military reversals led Leo V to resurrect in 815 the
iconoclastic policies associated with Constantine V, one of Byzantium's most successful
generals. Not until 843 were the icons definitively restored to their places of worship and icon
veneration solemnly proclaimed as Orthodox belief. Even this brief summary suggests that the
Emperor's fortunes on the battlefield were of no small moment in determining his attitude toward
the icons, those channels whence superhuman power descended to man. An account of the
age of Iconoclasm opens appropriately, then, with its military history.

The reigns of Leo III (the Isaurian) and Constantine V

Almost immediately upon Leo's accession, the empire's fortunes improved markedly. With the
aid of the Bulgars, he turned back the Muslim assault in 718 and, in the intervals of warfare
during the next 20 years, addressed himself to the task of reorganizing and consolidating the
themes in Asia Minor. Thanks to the assistance of the traditional allies, the Khazars, Leo's reign
concluded with a major victory, won again at the expense of the Arabs, at Acroenos (740). His
successor, Constantine, had first to fight his way to the throne, suppressing a revolt of the
Opsikion and Armeniakon themes launched by his brother-in-law Artavasdos. During the next
few years, internal disorder in the Muslim world played into Constantine's hands as the 'Abbasid
house fought to seize the caliphate from the Umayyads. With his enemy thus weakened,
Constantine won noteworthy victories in northern Syria, transferring the prisoners he had
captured there to Thrace in preparation for the wars against the Bulgars that were to occupy him
from 756 to 775. In no fewer than nine campaigns, he undermined Bulgar strength so
thoroughly that the northern enemy seemed permanently weakened, if not crushed. Even the
venom used by the iconodule chroniclers of Constantine's reign cannot disguise the enormous
popularity his victories won him.
In later centuries, the folk of Constantinople would stand by his tomb, seeking his aid against
whatever enemy imperiled the city's defenses.
Constantine's weak successors
His successors all but let slip the gains won by the great iconoclast. Constantine's son Leo IV
died prematurely in 780, leaving to succeed him his 10-year-old son, Constantine VI, under the
regency of the empress Irene. Not much can be said for Constantine, and Irene's policies as
regent and (after the deposition and blinding of her son at her orders) as sole ruler from 797 to
802 were all but disastrous. Her iconodule policies alienated many among the themal troops,
who were still loyal to the memory of the great warrior emperor, Constantine V. In an effort to
maintain her popularity among the monkish defenders of the icons and with the population of
Constantinople, she rebated taxes to which these groups were subject; she also reduced the
customs duties levied outside the port of Constantinople, at Abydos and Hieros. The
consequent loss to the treasury weighed all the more severely since victories won by the Arabs
in Asia Minor (781) and by the Bulgars (792) led both peoples to demand and receive tribute as
the price of peace. A revolt of the higher palace officials led to Irene's deposition in 802, and the
so-called Isaurian dynasty of Leo III ended with her death, in exile, on the isle of Lesbos.
In the face of the Bulgar menace, none of the following three emperors succeeded in founding a
dynasty. Nicephorus I (ruled 802-811), the able finance minister who succeeded Irene,
reimposed the taxes that the Empress had remitted and instituted other reforms that provide
some insight into the financial administration of the empire during the early 9th century. In the
tradition of Constantine V, Nicephorus strengthened the fortifications of Thrace by settling, in
that theme, colonists from Asia Minor.
Taking arms himself, he led his troops against the new and vigorous Bulgar khan, Krum, only to
meet defeat and death at the latter's hands. His successor, Michael I Rhangabe (811-813), fared
little better; internal dissensions broke up his army as it faced Krum near Adrianople, and the
resulting defeat cost Michael his throne. In only one respect does he occupy an important place
in the annals of the Byzantine Empire. The first emperor to bear a family name, Michael's use of
the patronymic, Rhangabe, bears witness to the emergence of the great families, whose
accumulation of landed properties would soon threaten the integrity of those smallholders upon
whom the empire depended for its taxes and its military service. The name Rhangabe seems to
be a Hellenized form of a Slav original (rokavu), and, if so, Michael's ethnic origin and that of his
successor, Leo V the Armenian (ruled 813-820), provide evidence enough of the degree to

which Byzantium in the 9th century had become not only a melting-pot society but, further, a
society in which even the highest office lay open to the man with the wits and stamina to seize
it. Leo fell victim to assassination, but before his death events beyond his control had improved
the empire's situation. Krum died suddenly in 814 as he was preparing an attack upon
Constantinople, and his son, Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire in order to
protect the western frontiers of his Bulgar empire against the pressures exerted by Frankish
expansion under Charlemagne and his successors. Since the death of the fifth caliph, Harun arRashid, had resulted in civil war in the Muslim world, hostilities from that quarter ceased. Leo
used the breathing space to reconstruct those Thracian cities that the Bulgars had earlier
destroyed. His work indicates the degree of gradual Byzantine penetration into the coastal
fringes of the Balkan Peninsula, as does the number of themes organized in that same region
during the early 9th century: those of Macedonia, Thessalonica, Dyrrhachium, Dalmatia, and the
The new emperor, Michael II, was indeed able to establish a dynasty--the Amorian, or
Phrygian--his son Theophilus (829-842) and his grandson Michael III (842-867) each occupying
the throne in turn, but none would have forecast so happy a future during Michael II's first years.
Thomas the Slavonian, Michael's former comrade in arms, gave himself out to be the
unfortunate Constantine VI and secured his coronation at the hands of the Patriarch of Antioch;
this was accomplished with the willing permission of the Muslim caliph under whose jurisdiction
Antioch lay. Thomas thereupon marched to Constantinople at the head of a motley force of
Caucasian peoples whose sole bonds were to be found in their devotion to iconodule doctrine
and their hatred of Michael's Iconoclasm. Assisted by Omortag and relying upon the defenses of
Constantinople, Michael defeated his enemy, but the episode suggests the tensions beneath the
surface of Byzantine society: the social malaise, the ethnic hostility, and the persisting discord
created by Iconoclasm. All these may explain the weakness displayed throughout Theophilus'
reign, when a Muslim army defeated the Emperor himself (838) as a prelude to the capture of
the fortress of Amorium in Asia Minor. It may also explain the concurrent decline of Byzantine
strength in the Mediterranean, manifest in the capture of Crete by the Arabs (826 or 827) and in
the initiation of attacks upon Sicily that finally secured the island for the world of Islam.
Iconoclasm certainly played its part in the further alienation of East from West, and a closer
examination of its doctrines will suggest why this may have been.