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Middle Ages

The Middle Ages refers to European civilization from the fall of Rome in 476 to the rise of more modern nations beginning in the 1500s.

During the Middle Ages, political power throughout Europe was decentralized, with many small states and little political unity.


What is feudalism?

In a feudal system, a ruler provides land (known as a fief) to a vassal. In turn, the vassal provides the ruler military service and loyalty. To farm the land, peasants known as serfs were used.


The concept of _____ governed the conduct of the nobility during the Middle Ages.


As Christian warriors, noble knights were to follow chivalry's code of virtuous conduct in religion, battle, social conduct, and romance.

Chivalrous examples, such as King Arthur, Tristan, and Parsifal, provided examples of how knights were to behave.


What duty did nobles owe to their sovereign in feudal societies during the Middle Ages?

Although given primary control over their fiefs, nobles owed military service to the ruler who'd given them the fiefs. Nobles provided an army of foot soldiers to their ruler, but they also served in a force of armored cavalry, known as knights.



In fedual societies, serfs were peasants who farmed noble fiefs. Although not technically slaves, serfs were not free and were bound to the land that they farmed.


Although the Middle Ages were dominated by decentralization and small states, one institution bound Central and Western Europe together politically and culturally. What was it?

The Christian faith, directed by the Catholic Church, was one of the few unifying forces in Central and Western Europe. The Church was a powerful political force, and the head of the Catholic Church (the Pope) exercised a great deal of temporal authority over the princes and kings of Europe through his spiritual authority.


What document, signed by King John in 1215, gave English nobles rights such as a trial by jury and due process under the law?

The Magna Carta extended rights to the English nobles and acted as a check on the power of the King. In the later 1200s, English nobles gained the right to form a Parliament, which would pass laws to govern England.


How did the European monarchs respond to a request for help by the Byzantine Empire in 1095?

In 1095, claiming the Seljuk Turks were desecrating the Holy Land, the Byzantine Empire requested assistance from Pope Urban II and the European monarchs.

At the Council of Clermont, the Pope organized a military effort (termed a "Crusade") to retake Jerusalem. By the summer of 1099, Jerusalem had been retaken and its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants slaughtered. In the First Crusade's wake, four Christian kingdoms were established in the Middle East.


What were the results of the Crusades?

The Crusades led to an increased interaction with the Muslim world and a significant worsening of the relationship between the two sides. There was, however, increased trade with Muslim merchants and an increase in European demand for the Asian goods to which Europeans had been exposed during the Crusades.


What caused the bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the mid-1300s?

Bubonic plague was a bacteria carried into Europe by fleas that lived on black rats. The Black Death, as the plague was called, killed at least a third of Europe's population.


Why did the Black Death spread so rapidly and kill so many Europeans?

European cities were ideal centers for the disease. They were filthy, with poor sanitation. Even the wealthy lived in cramped quarters and hygiene was unknown. Although rural populations suffered as well, the death toll in the cities was catastrophic.


What act caused the Hundred Years' War in 1337?

In addition to being the King of England, Edward III was the Duke of Normandy and, as such, was required to pay homage to Philip VI of France. Edward III refused to do so, and the French king confiscated Edward's lands in Aquitaine.


How did Edward III respond to Philip VI's confiscation of his lands in Aquitaine?

Edward III declared himself the legal king of France (a claim with some backing in dynastic law) and dispatched an army to France, starting the Hundred Years' War. Initially, the English were successful with victories at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415).

The Hundred Years' War is a term coined by historians to describe the conflict that raged off and on between France and England from 1337 to 1453. 


In 1429, the French defeated English forces laying siege to the town of Orleans. Who led the French forces?

Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl who claimed she spoke with God, led the French. The victory strengthened the French cause and proved the turning point in the Hundred Years' War.


How did Joan of Arc die?

Burgundy, an English ally located in the northeast of modern-day France, captured Joan and turned her over to the English, who burned her at the stake as a witch. After Joan's death, English fortunes plummeted, and they were steadily driven towards the English channel.


Historians date the end of the Hundred Years' War to 1453, although peace was not formally declared until 20 years later. Who won the war?

Victory in the Hundred Years' War belonged to the French, who conquered all of the English possessions in modern-day France except for Calais on the French coast.

Some 20 years later, the French defeated Burgundy's forces at the Battle of Nancy, and France emerged as a strong monarchical state with a centralized government.


How did the English kings meet the expense of the Hundred Years' War?

In England, the King had to ask Parliament for taxes to fund the conflict. Throughout the War, Parliament reserved to itself the power to debate taxes and required the King to continually request funds. Parliament's taxing power proved a check on any absolutist ambitions harbored by English monarchs.


How did the French kings meet the expense of the Hundred Years' War?

In France, the King convinced France's legislative assembly, the Estates General, to authorize the King to collect a tax on land (taille) and a tax on salt (the gabelle). The French nobility and clergy supported the taxes because they were exempt from the tax.

The tax revenue ensured that the French Kings were not beholden to the Estates General, and they quickly became absolute monarchs. As Louis XIV expressed it, "I am the State."


Who are generally considered the most powerful political figures in the late Medieval period?

Popes and the Catholic Church dominated Western and Central Europe during the late Medieval period. The Church had vast landholdings, extensive revenues, and significant moral power.

Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, once stood barefoot in the snow for three days until the Pope responded to his request to have his excommunication lifted.


Who authored the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia)?

The Divine Comedy was the work of Dante Alighieri of Rome, and was completed in 1321. In it, Dante described a journey to hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paridiso).

Rather than writing in Latin, Dante adopted the vernacular, writing in the common language of the day (Florentine Italian), an unusual practice at the time. Dante's work is considered one of the finest ever written, and has been an inspiration to countless authors.



Renaissance means rebirth. Beginning in Florence in about 1300 before spreading to Northern Europe, the Renaissance refers to the outgrowth of culture that marked a sharp break from the Medieval period.


What was the geopolitical makeup of Italy at the time of the Renaissance?

At the time of the Renaissance, Italy was a hodgepodge of small, independent states, usually centered around a single city, such as Florence, Rome, or Naples. A balance-of-power pattern emerged, as weaker states allied with stronger states to defend themselves against larger states.

That Italy was a collection of more than 15 countries is not odd, as most of the nation states of modern Europe were still fragmentary in 1400. 


What family ruled the Republic of Florence?

Although a titular republic, Florence was under the domination of the Medici family for decades. Cosimo de' Medici and his grandson Lorenzo "the Magnificent" de' Medici were both patrons of the arts.


Which city-state was Italy's strongest naval power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance?

Venice, built on small islands along the coast, was Italy's strongest naval power, and one of the world's great naval powers.

Venice was a republic with territory on both sides of the Adriatic Sea and a large trading network. In 1450, Venice's combined naval strength numbered some 4,500 ships.


Why were the Italian city-states able to fund the Renaissance?

Italy was in a geographically advantageous position, and her cities served as Western markets for Eastern goods and her merchants invented modern banking. 

Through contact with the Middle East and Asia, wealthy Italians became aware of Asian and Arabic technology, goods, and ideas. As a consequence, many of the leading Italians earned vast fortunes, which they used to commission art, buildings, and literature.


Renaissance Man

A Renaissance Man was considered the ideal man in Italy during the Renaissance. A true Renaissance Man would study until he could do all things well; painting, singing, gymnastics, horseback riding, hunting, and the like.

Knowledge was also a part of the Renaissance Man's makeup. A true Renaissance Man knew Latin and Greek, and had read the classic Greco-Roman works.



Humanism is a school of thought which places primary importance on the individual, rather than on God.

During the Italian Renaissance, humanists turned away from medieval scholarship and towards the classic Greek and Roman authors, such as Homer, Livy, and Cicero.


During the Renaissance, architecture blossomed in Italy. From what source did architects such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) draw their inspiration?

Brunelleschi, Alberti, and other Italian architects drew their inspiration from the Roman ruins that littered Italy. Arches, columns, capitals, and domes came into fashion once again, first in Florence and then throughout Italy.


What artistic development in the early Italian Renaissance allowed for the creation of more visually accurate paintings?

Florentine artists grasped the importance of linear perspective, which required making more distant objects smaller. Henceforth, painters would focus not on two-dimensional representations of objects, but on making their art appear three-dimensional.


How did humanism in the Northern Renaissance differ from Italian humanism?

While Italian humanism looked to classical Greco-Roman texts for inspiration, the Northern Renaissance was influenced by the writings of Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine. Historians call this reconciled version "Christian Humanism."