Europe in the Early Middle Ages, 600–1000

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Europe in the Early Middle Ages, 600–1000

0Instructional Objectives

After reading and studying this chapter, students should be able to discuss the impact of the spread of Islam on European history in this era. They should be able to describe the Merovingian and Carolingian political systems and summarize how the Carolingians rose to power. They should be able to explain what the so-called Carolingian Renaissance was. Finally, students should be able to discuss the breakup of the Carolingian Empire, both internal causes (succession disputes, the growing power of local magnates) and external ones (invasions).

0Chapter Outline0

I0. The Spread of Islam

A0. The Arabs

10. In the seventh century, Arabia was inhabited by various tribes, most of them nomadic peoples.

20. Other Arabs lived in the southern valleys and coastal towns along the Red Sea, and in the northwestern region called “Hejaz.”

30. These diverse tribes had certain religious rules in common.

B0. The Prophet Muhammad

10. Muhammad began life as a merchant in the caravan trade.

20. Muhammad had a series of visions in which the angel Gabriel instructed him to preach. These visions were set down in the Qur’an. Other sayings and accounts of Muhammad were compiled in the hadith.

30. In 622 Muhammad and his followers were forced to move from Mecca to Medina, an event known as the hijra.

40. In 630 Muhammad returned to Mecca with a large army and by 632 he had unified most of the Arabian peninsula.

C0. The Teachings of Islam

10. Muhammad preached a straightforward, strictly monotheistic theology.

20. Believers are required to submit themselves to Allah.

30. Muhammad prescribed a strict code of moral behavior, centered on the Five Pillars of Islam.

40. Early Muslims believed that Jesus was a prophet, but not God.

D0. Expansion and Schism

10. In the century following Muhammad’s death, Syria, Egypt, and all of North Africa came under Muslim control.

20. The center of this empire was established in Damascus by the ruling Umayyad family.

30. A schism developed within Islam over the method of choosing the successors to Muhammad.

40. Two distinct Islamic groups emerged from this schism, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.

E0. Muslim Spain

10. In Europe, Muslim influence was felt most strongly in the Iberian Peninsula.

20. In the eighth century, Muslims established dominance over most of Spain.

30. Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted in Moorish Spain.

40. Muslim economic, intellectual, and cultural practices influenced European civilization.

F0. Science and Medicine

10. Arab scientific and medical achievements were transmitted to Europeans.

20. Muslim scholars reintroduced classical scholarship to the West.

G0. Muslim-Christian Relations

10. Mutual animosity restricted contact between Muslims and Christians.

20. Muslims and Christians had mixed views of each other’s culture.

30. Animosity between Muslims and Christians increasingly shaped events in Spain.

II0. The Frankish Kingdom 0

A0. The Merovingians0

10. Clovis divided his kingdom into four parts.

20. Lack of clear rules for succession meant numerous civil wars in Merovingian Gaul.

30. Queens exercised power because marriages made diplomatic alliances, because they often controlled the royal treasury, and because they served as guardians of princes who hadn’t reached legal adulthood.

B0. Merovingian Government

10. Comites, or counts ruled cities and collected taxes.

20. The dux (duke) controlled military forces in a specific region.

30. Scribes at the court kept records, while legal officials and treasury agents gave advice to the king.

40. The mayor of the palace was the most important secular official.

50. The king relied on the counts and bishops for information from throughout the kingdom.

60. Kings depended on revenue from royal estates.5

60. When kings were traveling, local officials had to support them.

70. Another source of revenue was conquest of new lands.

80. The land tax declined as more and more people became tax-exempt.

C0. The Rise of the Carolingians0

10. Members of the Carolingian family acquired power gradually as mayors of the palace and dukes. Marriage alliances and military successes also helped.

20. In the period 754–756, Pope Stephen II supported the Carolingian Pippin’s claim to be Frankish king in exchange for support against Arabs and Avars and against his enemies within Rome.

III0. The Empire of Charlemagne0

A0. Charlemagne’s Personal Qualities and Marriage Strategies

10. Charlemagne (r. 768–814) was crude and brutal, but extremely intelligent.

20. The security and continuation of his dynasty and the need for allies governed Charlemagne’s complicated marriage pattern.

B0. Territorial Expansion

10. Charlemagne continued the campaigns of conquest of earlier Carolingians, conquering northern France, northwestern Germany, northern Italy (Lombardy), and Bavaria.

C0. Government of the Carolingian Empire0

10. Charlemagne’s empire was not a modern state but a collection of peoples and tribes held together by personal oaths of faith and loyalty.

20. Carolingian power rested on the Frankish aristocracy.

30. Charlemagne’s advisers created a political ideology, arguing that a ruler held power from God but had to respect the law. This was largely based on Augustine’s theories of kingship.

D0. The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne

10. In 800, Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne emperor.

20. The importance of this event has been much debated.

E0. Decentralization and “Feudalism”

10. Charlemagne left his empire to his son, Louis the Pious (r. 814–840)

20. In 843, shortly after Louis’ death, his three sons divided the empire according to the terms of the Treaty of Verdun.

30. The division of the empire was accompanied by decentralization of power at the local level.

40. Lesser nobles became vassals of more powerful individuals in exchange for protection, position, and land.

50. The feudal system was based on personal ties of loyalty.

60. The use of the term “feudalism” is controversial.

70. Throughout western Europe, counts or earls held the most effective political power at the local level.

F0. Manorialism, Serfdom, and the Slave Trade

10. A village and its surrounding land were called a manor.

20. Residents of manors exchanged their labor for a lord’s protection.

30. Workers who were bound to a particular manor were called serfs.

40. Serfdom was not slavery, but the Carolingian trade in slaves was extensive.

50. Most slaves were sold to Muslims.

IV0. Early Medieval Culture and Society

A0. Scholarship and Religious Life in Northumbria0

10. The center of the Carolingian intellectual revival was the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, where Roman forms of Christianity mixed with Irish-Celtic forms.

20. Northumbrian monasteries produced scores of religious books.

30. In Gaul and Northumbria “double monasteries” developed in which abbesses (women) directed two separate but adjoining establishments, one of monks, the other of nuns.

40. The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, produced the earliest history of the English people. He also popularized the practice of dating events from the birth of Christ.

50. Although Bede spent his life in study, most monks did more active work in the fields or in administering the monasteries.

60. A Northumbrian monk wrote the English heroic epic Beowulf in the eighth century.

B0. The Carolingian Renaissance 0

10. Charlemagne patronized the synthesis of a new cultural tradition based on Christian sources and common to Gaul, Italy, the British Isles, and Spain.

20. Charlemagne directed church officials throughout his empire to educate monks and clergy into a better understanding of scripture and Christian writings.

30. At his court in Aachen Charlemagne assembled scholars from all over Europe, including his chief adviser on religious and educational matters, Alcuin (ca 735–804), a Northumbrian monk.

40. Through production of books and education scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance completed the Christianization of Europe.

C0. Health and Medical Care in the Early Middle Ages0

10. Most medical treatment was by prescription of drugs.

20. Poor diet, eye infections, and infected wounds were common.

30. Many women died in childbirth.

40. Folk medicine was all that was available to most people.
V0. Invasions and Migrations0

A0. Vikings in Western Europe

10. As the Carolingian Empire weakened, outside attacks hastened its collapse.

20. The Vikings or “Normans” (Northmen) came from Scandinavia, traveling by sea and along inland waterways. They raided throughout Europe and established control over Slavic kingdoms, much of the British Isles, today’s Normandy, and other areas.

B0. Slavs and Vikings in Eastern Europe

10. Vikings took control of river trade routes on the east European plain between the Baltic Sea and Byzantium.

20. They also collected tribute from local Slavic tribes.

30. Viking rulers assimilated Slavic culture, adopted the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium, and created a loose federation of Slavic tribes under a single ruling dynasty, based in Kiev.

40. After 1054 the Kievan federation disintegrated due to civil war between rival claimants to the title of Grand Prince.

50. Peasants in the Slavic territories remained personally free.

C0. Magyars and Muslims

10. From about 890, Magyar tribes (“Hungarians”) from Asia crossed the Danube and conquered northern Italy, Bavaria, and Saxony. Even the Rhineland and Burgundy paid them tribute.

20. Muslims also encroached on Europe anew. In the 600s and 700s Muslim invaders had aimed to conquer and colonize. In the 800s and 900s they sought plunder. They attacked Rome and even ports on the French coast of the Atlantic.

0Lecture Suggestions0

10. “The Battle of Tours (733): How Significant Was It?” Once thought to be one of the decisive battles of world history, the Battle of Tours has more recently been viewed as less significant. Why? Sources: L. White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962; see especially the first chapter, on the introduction of the stirrup into Western warfare); P. Contamine, War in the Middle Ages (1984); J. Beeler, Warfare in Feudal Society, 730–1200 (1971).

20. “Putting Humpty-Dumpty Back Together Again.” Charlemagne’s coronation in 800 seemed to many to be a return to the glorious days of the Roman Empire. Why was the image of Rome so strong? How did Charlemagne appear to be a neo-Caesar? Sources: R. Folz, The Coronation of Charlemagne: 25 December 800 (1974); G. Barraclough, The Crucible of Europe (1976); J. Boussard, The Civilization of Charlemagne (1968).

30. “Social Life in Frankish Society.” What was daily life like for the ordinary people during the time of Charlemagne? What games did they play? What was their relationship to the royalty and the nobility? What part did they play in warfare? Sources: C. Klapisch-Zuber, A History of Women vol. 2: Silences of the Middle Ages (1992); J. Tibbets-Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500–1000 (1998); P. Riche, Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne (1983); S. Wemple, Women in Frankish Society (1981).

40. “Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Moorish Spain.” What were relations like between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Moorish Spain? How were Christians and Jews treated by Muslim rulers? How did they view their own dependent status? Sources: T.F. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages (1979); O.R. Constable, ed., Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources (1997); H. Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal (1996); R. Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710–797 (1994).

00classroom 0Activities 0

I0. Classroom Discussion Suggestions

A0. How did the Frankish kings enhance their prestige and power? What role did the papacy play in the evolution of Frankish kingship?

B0. How was Charlemagne able to maintain such a vast empire?

C0. What were the real accomplishments of the Carolingian Renaissance?

D0. Were Charlemagne’s successors inept rulers, or was the empire simply too big and unwieldy to manage?

II0. Doing History0

A0. Give students an outline map of Western Europe and ask them to shade in the part covered by the Carolingian Empire at its greatest extent.

B0. Most students seem to be surprised when they hear about the Carolingian Renaissance, since they assume that the Renaissance comes at the end of the Middle Ages. Engage students in a discussion of the term renaissance and its implications. Sources: W. Ferguson’s The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation (1971); J. Boussard, The Civilization of Charlemagne (1968).

C0. “Charlemagne at Play.” Did Charlemagne ever take time out for leisure activities, or was the job of ruling his empire so great that he spent all of his time administering it? Have students read selections from the following primary sources in an attempt to better understand the day-to-day activities of this famous ruler. Sources: Einhard, Life of Charlemagne (1968); The Royal Frankish Annals; and Nithard’s Histories (Carolingian Chronicles) (Penguin edition).

III0. Cooperative Learning Activities0

A0. Assign each class member a particular role in feudal society. Arrange the various classes of society in teams: royal family, lord of the manor, knights (warriors), peasants, and clergy. Have each team learn about its particular social stratum and report to the rest of the students the contributions made by this social class to feudal society.

B0. A Day in the Life: Medieval Peasant Societies

Organize the class into teams. Assign each team a particular geographical area that was included in the Carolingian Empire. Each team should research a specific peasant society. What were the common folk doing at the time of Charlemagne’s coronation in a.d. 800? After teams have completed their research, have each team make a presentation to the class. After the presentations, have each student (or team) write a first-person narrative of a day in the life of a peasant in a particular peasant society.

C0. Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group the task of outlining the key features of the monotheistic theology of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Conduct a discussion about the most important similarities and differences of the three religions.

0Map Activity0

10. Using the map in the text for consultation, have students shade in the divisions of the Carolingian Empire (a.d. 843) on an outline map of Europe.

20. Using Map 8.1 (Map of the Islamic World, ca. 900) as a reference, answer the following questions:

a0. What explains the rapidity of Muslim expansion?

b0. How did Muslim rulers in the Middle East keep control of their far-flung empire?

c0. How did Muslim expansion shape regional trade patterns?

0Audiovisual Bibliography0

10. Christians, Jews, and Moslems in Medieval Spain. (Videodisc. Color. 33 min. Films for the Humanities and Sciences.)

20. Muslims in Spain. (30 min. Color. International Film Bureau.)

30. Islam. (30 min. Color. Films for the Humanities and Sciences.)

40. Middle East Diary. (CD-ROM. National School Products.)

50. Early Islamic Art (

06. Charlemagne: Holy Barbarian. (26 min. Color. Learning Corporation of America.)

70. Alfred the Great. (122 min. Color. Films, Inc.)

80. The Meaning of Feudalism. (11 min. Color. Coronet Films.)

90. The Vikings: Their Life and Conquests. (17 min. Color. Encyclopedia Britannica Films.)

100. The Story of the Carolingians. (Videodisc. Color. 52 min. Films for the Humanities and Sciences.)

110. Charlemagne: Unifier of Europe. (Videodisc. Color. 13 min. Britannica Videos.)

120. The Medieval Manor. (22 min. Color. Encyclopedia Britannica Films.)

130. Medieval Society: The Villagers. (11 min. Color. Coronet Films.)

140. The Lion in Winter. (131 min. Color. Films, Ltd.)

150. Time Traveler CD. (CD-ROM. Society for Visual Education, Inc.)

160. The Vatican: Fortress of Christianity. (Videodisc. Color. 29 min. Films for the Humanities and Sciences.)

170. Venice: Economic Power in the Middle Ages. (Videodisc. Color. 19 min. Britannica Videos.)

180. Carolingian Art (

190. York Archaeological Trust: Online Photographic Archive (

200. The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde: Images of the reconstruction of a Viking longboat (

0internet resources0

10. The Islamic World to 1600 (

02. Medieval Sources on Slavery (,,,,

30. Medieval Writing: Merovingian Script (

40. Plan of a Medieval Manor (

50. Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (

00001suggested reading

J. L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, 3d ed. (1998), is an informed and balanced work based on the best modern scholarship and original sources, as is the biography M. Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (1987). T. F. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages (1979) provides a good introduction, while O. R. Constable, ed., Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources (1997) presents an exciting collection of source material. H. Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus (1996), provides a good chronological narrative of developments in the Iberian Peninsula, while R. Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710–797 (1994), assesses the cultural impact of Arab rule, and D. J. Wasserstein, The Caliphate in the West: An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (1993), studies the major political institution. L. Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (1992), is a most important contribution and the starting point for all research on Islam and gender, while N. R. Keddie and B. Brown, eds., Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (1992), provides a variety of perspectives on women’s roles. R. Fletcher, The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation (2003), provides a highly readable introduction to the intricate and controversial relationships between Christianity and Islam down to the sixteenth century.

For the Merovingians, the best general treatment is I. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450751 (1994). See also P. Geary, Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World (1988), which argues that there were strong continuities from the Roman world. For the Carolingians, see R. McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms Under the Carolingians, 751987 (1983). R. McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (1989), will prove essential for many aspects of the Carolingian Renaissance, as will R. McKitterick, ed., The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe (1990), which includes essays on Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, Merovingian Gaul, Muslim Spain, and Byzantium. J. L. Nelson, Charles the Bald (1992), is broader in scope than the biographical title would imply, since it contains excellent material on the entire late Carolingian period. J. L. Nelson, The Frankish World, 750900 (1996), has useful articles on literacy, knighthood, and women.

A wonderful new biography of Charlemagne is A. Barbaro, Charlemagne: Father of a Continent (2004). P. Riche, Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, trans. J. McNamara (1978), is a detailed study of many facets of Carolingian society. P. Riche, Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: From the Sixth Through the Eighth Century, trans. J. J. Contreni (1976), provides a good treatment of intellectual activity. For agricultural and economic life, G. Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century (1978), relates economic behavior to other aspects of human experience in a thoroughly readable style. E. James, The Origins of France: From Clovis to the Capetians, 500–1000 (1982), is a solid introductory survey of early French history, with an emphasis on family relationships.

Those interested in women in early medieval society should begin with L. Bitel, Women in Early Medieval Europe, 400–1100 (2002). J. Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 5001100 (1998) provides insights into society through the lives of medieval women who became saints and S. F. Wemple, Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500900 (1981), is still a fundamental work.

For the Carolingian economy, see A. Verhulst, The Carolingian Economy (2002) and M. McCormick, Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce (2001); McCormick’s is a large magisterial work with valuable material on the Slavic, Byzantine, and Iberian worlds.

For feudalism and manorialism, see, S. Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reconsidered (1996), E. A. R. Brown, “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe,” American Historical Review 79 (1974): 1060–1088, F. L. Ganshof, Feudalism (1961), and J. R. Strayer, “Feudalism in Western Europe,” in Feudalism in History, ed. R. Coulborn (1956). M. Bloch, Feudal Society, trans. L. A. Manyon (1961), remains important.

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (1997), ed. P. Sawyer, provides a sound account of the Vikings by an international team of scholars. J. Brondsted, The Vikings (1960), is an excellently illustrated study of many facets of Viking culture. G. Jones, A History of the Vikings, rev. ed. (1984), provides a comprehensive survey of the Viking world based on the latest archaeological findings and numismatic evidence, while P. H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe, a.d. 7001100 (1983), relies heavily on the literary evidence. For the Slavs, see P.M. Barford, The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe (2001), and for the Magyars, see Pál Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary 895–1526 (2001).

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