The High Middle Ages

From Beowulf’s World to Dante and Chaucer’s
When people discuss “the
Dark Ages,” they typically
mean the Low Middle Ages.
(That means the crazy centuries just after the
fall of Rome in 455.)
However, the late medieval
world is quite strikingly
different from the earlier one.
800 CE = the time of the Charlemagne’s Empire, which
unifies France and Germany under his kingdom
1066 CE = the time of William the Conqueror’s
conquest of England
On the continent, this later
period is called The High
Middle Ages to contrast it
with the earlier Low Middle
In England, scholars may use the term “Anglo-Saxon
period” to refer to the Low Middle Ages and the term
“Middle English period” to refer to the High Middle
The Low Middle Ages is a time of Germanic tribes
sweeping across Europe, of Viking invasions, of
small tribal kingdoms fighting in war bands. It’s a
chaotic, lawless time.
Here, we have the mast of a Viking longboat. Note the dragon
imagery, O ye readers of Beowulf!
Roman architectural technology is lost. Many
early churches are simply crammed into ruins
of old Roman temples.
Temple of Clitumnus,a Christian church established
about the year 650 in northern Italy.
The architecture was in a style called
“Romanesque.” It had some superficial
Roman features, but short and squat.
The Tomb of King Theodoric, barbarian ruler over Italy, built before
526 C.E. Ravenna, Italy.
So how do we get from this . . . .
The Tomb of King Theodoric, barbarian ruler, built before 526 C.E. Located in
Ravenna, Italy.
…to this?
Cathedral, England,
c. 1200
…or Canterbury Cathedral?
Or this?
Choir at Canterbury
Cathedral. Note the
Roman arches
combined with gabled
ceilings. Note how tall
it is!
like this. . . .
First page of the Nowell
Codex (the Beowulf
manuscript) Cotton
Vitellius A.xv,
produced circa 800
To gold-encrusted
books like this?
Gold-illuminated lettering for
Psalm 1:1 “Beatus Vir,”from
Dagulf’s Psalter.
Created in the court school of
Emperor Charlemagne.
Östreichische National
Bibliothek, Vienna, Codex
1861, fol. 25 r, 9th century.
Or rubricated books like this one?
Illuminated initial “E” depicting the prophet Ezekiel, eating the bitter scroll from the
angel before his vision.
Or artistic talent like this monk’s?
Illumination for Psalm 23. From ninth-century Psalter, from Saint-Germain-
des-Prés. Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, Bibl. Fol. 23.
To texts that
combine all
these lovely
techniques in
a riot of

Unicorn Psalter, circa
1200 from France.
Note the detail in
the historiated
initial and the
babuins or
grotesques in the
We move from an age of
Anglo-Saxon war chiefs and
Viking pirates . . .
The “Sutton Hoo” helmet of an Anglo-Saxon cyning or thegn,
dating to early 600, found near Suffolk, England.
To the
glory of late
Statuary over Sarcophagus of King Henry IV and his wife, Joan of Navarre,
from Canterbury Cathedral’s crypt.
That is the
question for
Display armor from Belvoir Castle in England.
We start with these
Religion? (Paganism fades)
Tripartite Social Structure?
Technology? (moldboard plow,
better timber production)
Population Growth?
Carolingian Development?
Politics? (Tribal-->Feudal)
•Rise of The
•Cavalry and stirrups
•Lance Charge
•Crossbow leads to
Platemail armor
•Courtly Love--code of
polite behavior amidst
the court
•Chivalry--code of
behavior on the

Monastic Knowledge

•cathedral schools
•literate clergy
•bestiaries, botanical guides, astrology
charts, lapidaries, numerological
treatises, scriptural glossation
•Fourfold Interpretation
Fourfold Interpretation

•Literal level
•Allegorical level (especially types and
•Tropological level (moral lesson)
•Anagogical Level (eschatological