Chapter 9 Christian Societies Emerge in Europe, 300–1200

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Christian Societies Emerge in Europe, 300–1200


After studying this chapter students should be able to:

10. Understand the political and economic development of Western Europe during the medieval period and undertake a critical analysis of the term feudalism.

20. Explain the development and the significance of Roman Catholic dogma, the hierarchical system of the Roman church, and the monastic movement.

30. Compare medieval Western society, politics, culture, and religion with those of the Byzantine Empire.

40. Understand the respective roles of the Varangians, Vladimir I, and the Byzantine Empire in the rise of the Kievan state.

50. Discuss the possible causes of the European recovery of 1000–1200.

60. Explain the causes of the Crusades and discuss their consequences in Europe and the Middle East.


I0. The Byzantine Empire, 300–1200

A0. An Empire Beleaguered

10. While the unity of political and religious power prevented the Byzantine Empire from breaking up, the Byzantines did face serious foreign threats.

20. The Muslim Arabs took the wealthy provinces of Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia from the Byzantine Empire and converted their people to Islam. These losses permanently reduced the power of the Byzantine Empire.

30. On the religious and political fronts, the Byzantine Empire experienced declining relations with the popes and princes of Western Europe and the formal schism between the Latin and Orthodox churches in 1054.

B0. Society and Urban Life

10. The Byzantine Empire experienced a decline of urbanism similar to that seen in the west, but it was not as severe. One result was the loss of the middle class, so that Byzantine society was characterized by a tremendous gap between the wealth of the aristocrats and the poverty of the peasants.

20. In the Byzantine period, the family became more rigid; women were confined to their houses and wore veils if they went out. However, Byzantine women ruled alongside their husbands between 1028 and 1056, and women did not take refuge in nunneries.

30. The Byzantine emperors intervened in the economy by setting prices, controlling the provision of grain to the capital, and monopolizing trade on certain goods. As a result, Constantinople was well supplied, but the cities and rural areas of the rest of the empire lagged behind in terms of wealth and technology.

40. Gradually, Western Europeans began to view the Byzantine Empire as a crumbling power. For their part, Byzantines thought that westerners were uncouth barbarians.

C0. Cultural Achievements

10. Byzantine architects influenced the design of churches and monasteries and Byzantine religious art influenced painting in western Europe into the thirteenth century.

20. In the ninth century, the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius preached to the Slavs of Moravia and taught their followers to write in the Cyrillic script.

II0. Early Medieval Europe, 300–1000

A0. A Time of Insecurity

10. Western Europe continued to suffer invasions because Muslim Arabs and Berbers took the Iberian Peninsula and pushed into France.

20. In the eighth century, the Carolingians united various Frankish kingdoms into a larger empire. At its height, under Charlemagne, the empire included Gaul and parts of Germany and Italy. The empire was subdivided by Charlemagne’s grandsons and was never united again.

30. Vikings attacked England, France, and Spain in the late eighth and ninth centuries. Vikings also settled Iceland and Normandy, from which the Norman William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066.

B0. A Self-Sufficient Economy

10. The fall of the Roman Empire was accompanied by an economic transformation that included de-urbanization and a decline in trade. Without the domination of Rome and its great tradition, regional elites became more self-sufficient and local small traditions flourished.

20. The medieval diet in the north was based on beer, lard or butter, and bread. In the south, the staples were wheat, wine, and olive oil.

30. Self-sufficient farming estates called manors were the primary centers of agricultural production. Manors grew from the need for self-sufficiency and self-defense.

40. The lord of a manor had almost unlimited power over his agricultural workers—the serfs. The conditions of agricultural workers varied because the tradition of a free peasantry survived in some areas.

C0. Early Medieval Society in the West

10. During the early medieval period, a class of nobles emerged and developed into mounted knights. Landholding and military service became almost inseparable. The complex network of relationships between landholding and the obligation to provide military service to a lord is often referred to as feudalism.

20. The need for military security led to new military technology, including the stirrup, bigger horses, and the armor and weapons of the knight. This equipment was expensive, and knights therefore needed land to support themselves.

30. Kings and nobles granted land (a fief) to a man in return for a promise to supply military service. By the tenth century, these fiefs had become hereditary.

40. Kings were weak because they depended on their vassals—who might very well hold fiefs from and be obliged to more than one lord. Vassals held most of a king’s realm, and most of the vassals granted substantial parts of land to their vassals.

50. Kings and nobles had limited ability to administer and tax their realms. Their power was further limited by their inability to tax the vast landholdings of the Church. For most medieval people, the lord’s manor was the government.

60. Noble women were pawns in marriage politics. Women could own land, however, and non-noble women worked alongside the men.

III0. The Western Church

A0. Politics and the Church

10. The popes sought to combine their religious power with political power by forging alliances with kings and finally by choosing (in 962) to crown a German king as Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire was in fact no more than a loose coalition of German princes.

20. Even within the Holy Roman Empire, secular rulers argued that they should have the power to appoint bishops who held land in fief. Popes disagreed, which led to a conflict known as the investiture controversy. This issue was resolved through compromise in 1122. In England, conflict between secular power and the power of the church broke out when Henry II tried to bring the church under his control as part of a general effort to strengthen his power vis-à-vis the regional nobility.

30. Western Europe was heir to three legal traditions: Germanic feudal law, canon (church law), and Roman law. The presence of conflicting legal theories and legal jurisdictions was a significant characteristic of Western Europe.

B0. Monasticism

10. Christian monasticism developed in Egypt in the fourth century on the basis of previous religious practices such as celibacy, devotion to prayer, and isolation from society.

20. In Western Europe, Benedict of Nursia (480–547) organized monasteries and supplied them with a set of written rules that governed all aspects of ritual and of everyday life. Thousands of men and women left society to devote themselves to monastic life.

30. Monasteries served a number of functions. They were centers of literacy and learning and refuges for widows and other vulnerable women. They also functioned as inns and orphanages and managed their own estates of agricultural land.

40. It was difficult for the Catholic hierarchy to exercise oversight over the monasteries. In the eleventh century, a reform movement developed within the monastic establishment when the abbey of Cluny worked to improve the administration and discipline of monasteries.

IV0. Kievan Russia, 900–1200

A0. The Rise of the Kievan Empire

10. Russia includes territory from the Black and Caspian Seas in the south to the Baltic and White Seas in the north. The territory includes a series of ecological zones running from east to west and is crossed by several navigable rivers.

20. In its early history, Russia was inhabited by a number of peoples of different language and ethnic groups whose territory shifted from century to century. What emerged was a general pattern of Slavs in the east, Finns in the north, and Turkic tribes in the south.

30. Forest dwellers, steppe nomads, and farmers in the various ecological zones traded with each other. Long-distance caravan trade linked Russia to the Silk Road, while Varangians (relatives of Vikings) were active traders on the rivers, and the Khazar Turks built a trading kingdom at the mouth of the Volga.

40. The Rus were societies of western Slav farmers ruled by Varangian nobles. Their most important cities were Kiev and Novgorod, both centers of trade.

50. In 980, Vladimir I became Grand Prince of Kiev. He chose Orthodox Christianity as the religion of his state and imitated the culture of the Byzantine Empire, building churches, adopting the Cyrillic alphabet, and orienting his trade toward the Byzantines.

60. Internal political struggles and conflict with external foes led to a decline of Kievan Russia after 1100.

B0. Society and Culture

10. Kievan Russia had poor agricultural land, a short growing season, and primitive farming technology. Food production was low, and the political power of the Kievan state relied more on trade than it did on landholding.

20. The major cities of Kiev and Novgorod had populations of 30,000 to 50,000—much smaller than Constantinople or large Muslim cities. Kiev, Novgorod, and other much smaller urban areas were centers for craftspeople and artisans, whose social status was higher than that of peasants.

30. Christianity spread slowly in the Kievan state. Pagan customs and polygamy persisted until as late as the twelfth century. In the twelfth century, Christianity triumphed and the church became more powerful, with some clergy functioning as tax collectors for the state.

V0. Western Europe Revives, 1000–1200

A0. The Role of Technology

10. Western Europe’s population and agricultural production increased in the period from 1000–1200, feeding a resurgence of trade and enabling kings to strengthen their control. Historians attribute the revival to new technologies and to the appearance of self-governing cities.

20. Historians agree that technology played a significant role in European population growth from 1000–1200. Among the technological innovations associated with this population growth are the heavy moldboard plow, the horse collar, and the breast-strap harness.

30. Historians are not sure whether the horse collar and breast-strap harness were disseminated to Europe from Central Asia or from Tunisia and Libya, nor is it precisely clear when and why European farmers began using teams of horses rather than the slower and weaker oxen to plow the heavy soils of northern Europe.

B0. Cities and the Rebirth of Trade

10. Independent, self-governing cities emerged first in Italy and Flanders. They relied on manufacturing and trade for their income, and they had legal independence so that their laws could favor manufacturing and trade.

20. In Italy, Venice emerged as a dominant sea power, trading in Muslim ports for spices and other goods. In Flanders, cities like Ghent imported wool from England and wove it into cloth for export.

30. The recovery of trade was accompanied by an increase in the use of high-value gold and silver coins, which had been rarely used in early medieval Europe. During the mid-twelfth century, Europeans began minting first silver and then gold coins.

VI0. The Crusades, 1095–1204

A0. The Roots of the Crusades

10. The Crusades were a series of Christian military campaigns against Muslims in the eastern Mediterranean between 1100 and 1200. Factors causing the Crusades included religious zeal, knights’ willingness to engage in church-sanctioned warfare, a desire for land on the part of younger sons of the European nobility, and an interest in trade.

20. The tradition of pilgrimages, Muslim control of Christian religious sites, and the Byzantine Empire’s requests for help against the Muslims combined to make the Holy Land the focus of the Crusades. In 1095, Pope Urban II initiated the First Crusade when he called upon the Europeans to stop fighting each other and fight the Muslims instead.

B0. The Impact of the Crusades

10. The Crusades had a limited impact on the Muslim world. More significant was that the Crusaders ended Europe’s intellectual isolation when Arabic and Greek manuscripts gave Europeans their first access to the work of the ancient Greek philosophers.

20. The Crusades had a significant impact on the lifestyle of European elites.

VII0. Conclusion

A0. Initially, the Byzantine Empire, following Roman political and legal heritage that had mostly faded in the west, enjoyed more economic prosperity and sophistication in the arts and culture than the west.

B0. Christianity became embedded in Byzantine society before it did in the western church.

C0. The Byzantine Empire did not witness the improved military techniques, new agricultural technologies, population growth, and trade of Western Europe, leading to its decline in prosperity and cultural innovation in comparison to the west.


10. How and why did the effects of Christianity on society and government differ in the west and in the Byzantine Empire?

20. How did differences in the environment affect the development of the civilizations of Western Europe and Russia?

30. Why should women have taken refuge in nunneries in the west but not in the Byzantine Empire?

40. How and why does the role of religion in the history of the medieval Christian west differ from (or resemble) the role of religion in the history of India?

50. Which do you think is more significant in the European recovery, technology or self-governing cities? What other factors might have contributed to the recovery?

60. Why were the Crusades more important for Europe than for the Muslim world?


10. The Manorial System


a0. Bennett, H. S. Life on the Medieval Manor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956.

b0. Coulton, George G. Life in the Middle Ages. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933.

20. The Technology of Knighthood


a0. Ashdown, Charles. Armour & Weapons in the Middle Ages. London: G.G. Harrap & Co., 1925.

b0. Kaeuper, Richard W. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

c0. Strickland, Matthew. War and Chivalry: The Conduct and Perception of War in England and Normandy, 1066–1217. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

30. The Crusades


a0. Amlouf, A. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

b0. Kedar, Benjamin Z. Crusade and Mission: European Approaches Toward the Muslims. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

c0. Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A Short History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

40. The Kievan State and the World


a0. Golb, Norman. Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982.

b0. Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia, 980–1584. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

c0. Pelenski, Jaroslaw. The Contest for the Legacy of Kievan Rus. Boulder: East European Monographs, 1998.

50. Explaining Europe’s Recovery


a0. Bautier, Robert-Henri. The Economic Development of Medieval Europe. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1971.

b0. Bishop, Morris. The Middle Ages. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968.

c0. Lopez, Robert S. The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950–1350. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971.


10. Compare the spread of Christianity in Western Europe to the spread of Islam.

20. Argue whether or not the Crusades contributed to Europe’s economic recovery.

30. Choose one social group or group of people in Christian Europe (knights, aristocrats, women, artisans, or serfs, for example) and research their social status and daily lives.

40. What were the most significant technological innovations of the medieval period?


The following Internet sites contain written and visual material appropriate for use with this chapter. A more extensive and continually updated list of Internet resources can be found on The Earth and Its Peoples web site. Refer to The Earth and Its Peoples web site section located at the beginning of this manual for information on how to locate the text homepage.

Images from World History: Carolingian Era

Castles, Abbeys, and Medieval Buildings

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Byzantine Galleries

Medieval Crusades

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