The Flavor of the Middle Ages: Inferiority and Vitality
Western Europe changed rapidly during the Post-Classical period, but it remained commercially and culturally backward compared to Islam and the Byzantine Empire. But its development ushered in new political and cultural forms.
Stages of Postclassical Development
Medieval European development unfolded in two subperiods up to about 1300. Between the 6th and 10th centuries, chaotic conditions prevailed, despite gains made by the church and Charlemagne’s brief empire. Then, improvements in trade and agriculture brought new strength and diversity. Feudal monarchy developed as a stronger political form. During this period, western Europe also developed expansionist tendencies, particularly in the Crusades.
Western Culture in the Post-Classical Era
Christian culture formed the clearest unifying element in western Europe during the Post-Classical centuries, although it changed as European society matured. Theologians and artists developed distinctive expressions, although there were other philosophical and artistic currents as Europe’s cultural creativity increased.
Changing Economic and Social Forms in the Post-Classical Centuries
With the revival of trade and agriculture, commercial ties spread through most of Western Europe. Urban merchants gained unusual power, but early capitalism was disputed by the different economic values of the guilds.
The Decline of the Medieval Synthesis
Amid problems of overpopulation and disease, post-classical Western civilization declined after 1300. The decline was evident in feudalism and the church.
Conclusion: The Post-Classical West and its Heritage – A Balance Sheet
The term “Middle Ages” suggests a backward period in Western history between the glories of Greece, Rome, and the Renaissance. This view neglects the fact that the area had never been integrated into a regional civilization and was building institutions and culture for the first time. It was backward in some aspects and did not participate in world contacts as the equal of the great Asian societies. The Middle Ages was a formative force of its own.
What characteristics define medieval west European civilization?