Europe in Medieval Times

The Medieval Period refers to the period which succeeded the Ancient Period and came before the Modern Period. The term ‘Middle Ages’ was coined by Europeans in the 17th century because they saw it as a long and dark period of interruption between the Classical Period of Ancient Greek and Roman Civilisations and their own Modern Age.

However, the Medieval Period was not necessarily a dark period or an interruption. For the Islamic world, it was a period when a civilisation flowered and reached the height of its glory. In India, the Medieval Period was an age of synthesis. It saw a fusion of old and new political, economic and social systems.

Even in Europe, the picture does not appear as gloomy as it is sometimes thought. In the early part of the Medieval Period the level of material and cultural accomplishment was somewhat low. However, during the later part the Europeans greatly improved their standard of living. They also developed new institutions of learning and new modes of thought and reached very high standards in literature and art. In fact, the new ideas that emerged during this time not only transformed Europe but also had a deep impact on the rest of the world in the times to come.

Decline of the Roman Empire

Roman Empire had come to be divided into Western and Eastern territories. The Western provinces had their capital in Rome while the Eastern provinces had their capital in Constantinople.

The Roman Emperor Constantine had set up the new capital of the Eastern territories in the ancient Greek city of Byzantine in 330 AD. It came to be known as Constantinople after his name. The Roman Empire continued to exist in the east for almost a thousand years after it had collapsed in the west. It was known as the Eastern Roman or the Byzantine Empire.

This Eastern Civilisation of Greek speaking people reached very high standards of economic and cultural life at a time when Western Europe was in a relatively backward condition.

The Roman Empire in the west came to an end following attacks by various Germanic tribes like the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths and Franks. After overthrowing the Roman Emperor in the West in 476 AD, these invaders established separate successor states.

The new Germanic rulers did not completely replace the earlier systems with their own. In fact, Roman and Germanic societies came into close contact and merged with each other. As a result of this and the prevailing political and economic conditions, a new type of society was born in Europe, with institutions and systems that were quite different from either Roman or Germanic ones.

The most important institution of this new society was Feudalism. It completely transformed the existing social, political and economic organisations.