In European history, the Middle Ages or Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: Antiquity, Medieval period, and Modern period. The Medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages.
Depopulation, deurbanisation, invasion, and movement of peoples, which had begun in Late Antiquity, continued in the Early Middle Ages. The barbarian invaders, including various Germanic peoples, formed new kingdoms in what remained of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century, North Africa and the Middle East—once part of the Eastern Roman Empire—came under the rule of the Caliphate, an Islamic empire, after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with Antiquity was not complete. The still-sizeable Byzantine Empire survived in the east and remained a major power. The empire's law code, the Code of Justinian, was rediscovered in Northern Italy in 1070 and became widely admired later in the Middle Ages. In the West, most kingdoms incorporated the few extant Roman institutions. Monasteries were founded as campaigns to Christianise pagan Europe continued. The Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, briefly established the Carolingian Empire during the later 8th and early 9th century. It covered much of Western Europe, but later succumbed to the pressures of internal civil wars combined with external invasions—Vikings from the north, Magyars from the east, and Saracens from the south.
During the High Middle Ages, which began after 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and the Medieval Warm Period climate change allowed crop yields to increase. Manorialism, the organisation of peasants into villages that owed rent and labour services to the nobles, and feudalism, the political structure whereby knights and lower-status nobles owed military service to their overlords in return for the right to rent from lands and manors, were two of the ways society was organised in the High Middle Ages. The Crusades, first preached in 1095, were military attempts by Western European Christians to regain control of the Holy Land from the Muslims. Kings became the heads of centralised nation states, reducing crime and violence but making the ideal of a unified Christendom more distant. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism, a philosophy that emphasised joining faith to reason, and by the founding of universities. The theology of Thomas Aquinas, the paintings of Giotto, the poetry of Dante and Chaucer, the travels of Marco Polo, and the architecture of Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres are among the outstanding achievements toward the end of this period, and into the Late Middle Ages.
The Late Middle Ages was marked by difficulties and calamities including famine, plague, and war, which significantly diminished the population of Europe; between 1347 and 1350, the Black Death killed about a third of Europeans. Controversy, heresy, and schism within the Church paralleled the interstate conflict, civil strife, and peasant revolts that occurred in the kingdoms. Cultural and technological developments transformed European society, concluding the Late Middle Ages and beginning the early modern period.
==Etymology and periodisation==
The Middle Ages is one of the three major periods in the most enduring scheme for analysing European history: classical civilisation, or Antiquity; the Middle Ages; and the Modern Period.〔Power ''Central Middle Ages'' p. 304〕
Medieval writers divided history into periods such as the "Six Ages" or the "Four Empires", and considered their time to be the last before the end of the world.〔Mommsen "Petrarch's Conception of the 'Dark Ages'" ''Speculum'' pp. 236–237〕 When referring to their own times, they spoke of them as being "modern".〔Singman ''Daily Life'' p. x〕 In the 1330s, the humanist and poet Petrarch referred to pre-Christian times as ''antiqua'' (or "ancient") and to the Christian period as ''nova'' (or "new").〔Knox "(History of the Idea of the Renaissance )"〕 Leonardo Bruni was the first historian to use tripartite periodisation in his ''History of the Florentine People'' (1442).〔Bruni ''History of the Florentine people'' p. xvii〕 Bruni and later historians argued that Italy had recovered since Petrarch's time, and therefore added a third period to Petrarch's two. The "Middle Ages" first appears in Latin in 1469 as ''media tempestas'' or "middle season".〔Miglio "Curial Humanism" ''Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism'' p. 112〕 In early usage, there were many variants, including ''medium aevum'', or "middle age", first recorded in 1604,〔Albrow ''Global Age'' p. 205〕 and ''media saecula'', or "middle ages", first recorded in 1625.〔 The alternative term "medieval" (or occasionally "mediaeval") derives from ''medium aevum''.〔Flexner (ed.) ''Random House Dictionary'' p. 1194〕 Tripartite periodisation became standard after the German historian Christoph Cellarius (1638–1707) divided history into three periods: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.〔Murray "Should the Middle Ages Be Abolished?" ''Essays in Medieval Studies'' p. 4〕
The most commonly given starting point for the Middle Ages is 476,〔"(Middle Ages )" Dictionary.com〕 first used by Bruni.〔 For Europe as a whole, 1500 is often considered to be the end of the Middle Ages,〔See the titles of Watts ''Making of Polities Europe 1300–1500'' or Epstein ''Economic History of Later Medieval Europe 1000–1500'' or the end date used in Holmes (ed.) ''Oxford History of Medieval Europe''〕 but there is no universally agreed upon end date. Depending on the context, events such as Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas in 1492, the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, or the Protestant Reformation in 1517 are sometimes used.〔 English historians often use the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 to mark the end of the period.〔See the title of Saul ''Companion to Medieval England 1066–1485''〕 For Spain, dates commonly used are the death of King Ferdinand II in 1516, the death of Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1504, or the conquest of Granada in 1492.〔Kamen ''Spain 1469–1714'' p. 29〕 Historians from Romance-speaking countries tend to divide the Middle Ages into two parts: an earlier "High" and later "Low" period. English-speaking historians, following their German counterparts, generally subdivide the Middle Ages into three intervals: "Early", "High", and "Late".〔 In the 19th century, the entire Middle Ages were often referred to as the "Dark Ages",〔Mommsen "Petrarch's Conception of the 'Dark Ages'" ''Speculum'' p. 226〕 but with the adoption of these subdivisions, use of this term was restricted to the Early Middle Ages, at least among historians.〔
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