The Worlds of Christendom: Contraction, Expansion, and Division

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The Worlds of Christendom: Contraction, Expansion,

and Division



  • To examine European society after the breakup of the Roman Empire

  • To compare the diverse legacies of Rome in Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire

  • To explore medieval European expansion

  • To present the backwardness of medieval Europe relative to other civilizations, and the steps by which it caught up


  1. Opening Vignette

    1. Over the past 30 years millions have converted to the Christian faith in East and South Asia.

      1. similar process in non-Muslim regions of Africa

      2. 60 percent of Christians today live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America

    2. In 500s and 600s, Christianity also had flourishing communities across large regions of Afro-Eurasia.

      1. but over next 1000 years African and Asian communities largely vanished, declined, or were marginalized

      2. Christianity became a largely European phenomenon

    3. By 1300 C.E. Christianity provided common ground for third-wave societies in western Eurasia.

      1. but Christendom was deeply divided: Byzantine Empire and West

      2. Byzantium continued the traditions of the Greco-Roman world until conquered in 1453 C.E.

        1. Eastern Orthodoxy evolved within this third-wave civilization

      3. Roman imperial order disintegrated in the West

      4. Roman Catholic Church of the West established independence from political authorities; Eastern Orthodox Church did not


      1. Western Europe emerged, at an increasing pace after 1000, as a dynamic third-wave civilization

      2. Western Europe was a hybrid civilization: classical, Germanic, Celtic

    1. The story of global Christendom in the era of third-wave civilizations is one of contractions and expansions.

      1. sharp contractions in Asia and Africa

      2. expansion in Western Europe and Russia

      3. Christian Byzantium contracted and ultimately disappeared

      4. Western Europe contracted but later expanded
  1. Christian Contraction in Asia and Africa

    1. Islam’s spread was a driving force in the contraction of Christianity.

    2. Asian Christianity

      1. within a century or so of Muhammad’s death, Christianity almost disappeared from Arabia

      2. Islamic forces seized Jerusalem and its holy sites

      3. in Syria and Persia many Christians converted voluntarily

        1. those that didn’t were granted the right to practice their religion for payment of a special tax

        2. experiences of individual communities varied

      4. Nestorian Christians or the Church of the East survived but shrank in size in Syria,

Iraq, and Persia

        1. Nestorians had some success in Tang China, before ultimately withering

        2. brief revival under Mongols

    1. African Christianity

      1. coastal North African Christians largely converted to Islam

      2. in Egypt Coptic Church survived

        1. tolerated by Muslim rulers

        2. until the Crusades and Mongol threat when repressed

        3. most rural Coptic Christians convert, survived in urban areas and remote monasteries

      3. Christianity taking shape in fifth and sixth centuries in the kingdoms of Nubia

        1. thrived for a time, but largely disappeared by 1500 C.E.

      4. Ethiopian Christianity an exception

        1. rulers of Axum adopted Christianity in the fourth century

        2. geography protected from surrounding Muslim world

        3. developed distinctive traditions in isolation
  1. Byzantine Christendom: Building on the Roman Past

    1. The Byzantine Empire has no clear starting point.

      1. continuation of the Roman Empire

      2. some scholars date its beginning to 330

C.E., with founding of Constantinople

      1. western empire collapsed in fifth century; eastern half survived another 1,000 years

      2. eastern empire contained ancient civilizations: Egypt, Greece, Syria, and Anatolia

      3. Byzantine advantages over western empire

        1. wealthier and more urbanized

        2. more defensible capital (Constantinople)

        3. shorter frontier

        4. access to the Black Sea; command of eastern Mediterranean

        5. stronger army, navy, and merchant marine

        6. continuation of late Roman infrastructure

        7. conscious effort to preserve Roman ways

    1. The Byzantine State

      1. Arab/Islamic expansion reduced size of Byzantine state

      2. politics centralized around emperor in Constantinople

      3. territory shrank after 1085, as western Europeans and Turks attacked

        1. fell in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks

    1. The Byzantine Church and Christian Divergence

      1. the Church was closely tied to the state: caesaropapism

        1. Byzantine emperor was head of both the state and the Church

        2. emperor appointed the patriarch, sometimes made doctrinal decisions, called church councils

      2. Orthodox Christianity deeply influenced all of Byzantine life

        1. legitimated imperial rule

        2. provided cultural identity

        3. pervasiveness of churches, icons

        4. even common people engaged in theological disputes

      3. Eastern Orthodoxy increasingly defined itself in opposition to Latin Christianity

        1. Latin Christianity was centered on the pope, Rome

        2. growing rift between the two parts of Christendom

        3. sense of religious difference reflected East/West political difference

        4. with rise of Islam, Constantinople and Rome remained as sole hubs of Christendom

        5. important East/West cultural differences (language, philosophy, theology, church practice)

        6. schism in 1054, with mutual excommunication

        7. Crusades (from 1095 on) worsened the situation

        8. during Fourth Crusade, Westerners sacked Constantinople (1204) and ruled Byzantium for next 50 years

    2. Byzantium and the World

      1. Byzantium had a foot in both Europe and Asia, interacted intensively with neighbors

      2. continuation of long Roman fight with Persian Empire

        1. weakened both states, left them open to Islamic conquests

        2. Persia was conquered by Islam; Byzantium lost territory

      3. Byzantium was a central player in long- distance Eurasian trade

        1. Byzantine gold coins (bezants) were a major Mediterranean currency for over 500 years

        2. Byzantine crafts (jewelry, textiles, purple dyes, silk) were in high demand

      4. important cultural influence of Byzantium

        1. transmitted ancient Greek learning to Islamic world and West

        2. transmission of Orthodox Christianity to Balkans and Russia

    3. The Conversion of Russia

      1. most important conversion was that of Prince Vladimir of Kiev

      2. Orthodoxy transformed state of Rus; became central to Russian identity

      3. Moscow finally declared itself to be the “third Rome,” assuming role of protector of Christianity after fall of Constantinople
  1. Western Christendom: Rebuilding in the Wake of Roman Collapse

    1. Western Europe was on the margins of world history for most of the third-wave millennium.

      1. it was far removed from the growing world trade routes

      2. European geography made political unity difficult

      3. coastlines and river systems facilitated internal exchange

      4. moderate climate enabled population growth

    2. Political Life in Western Europe

      1. traditional date for fall of western Roman Empire is 476 C.E.

      2. with Roman collapse:

        1. large-scale centralized rule vanished

        2. Europe’s population fell by 25 percent because of war and disease

        3. contraction of land under cultivation

        4. great diminution of urban life

        5. long-distance trade outside of Italy shriveled up

        6. great decline in literacy

        1. Germanic peoples emerged as the dominant peoples in West

        2. shift in center of gravity from Mediterranean to north and west

      1. survival of much of classical and Roman heritage

        1. Germanic peoples who established new kingdoms had been substantially Romanized already

        2. high prestige of things Roman

        3. Germanic rulers adopted Roman-style written law

      2. several Germanic kingdoms tried to recreate Roman-style unity

        1. Charlemagne (r. 768–814) acted “imperial”

        2. revival of Roman Empire on Christmas Day 800 (coronation of Charlemagne); soon fragmented

        3. another revival of Roman Empire with imperial coronation of Otto I of Saxony (r. 936–973)

    1. Society and the Church

      1. within these new kingdoms:

        1. highly fragmented, decentralized society

        2. great local variation

        3. landowning warrior elite exercised power

      2. social hierarchies

        1. lesser lords and knights became vassals of kings or great lords

        2. serfdom displaced slavery

      3. Catholic Church was a major element of stability

        1. hierarchy modeled on that of the Roman Empire

        2. became very rich

        3. conversion of Europe’s non-Christians

        4. most of Europe was Christian (with pagan elements) by 1100

      4. Church and ruling class usually reinforced each other

        1. also an element of competition as rival centers of power

        2. right to appoint bishops and the pope was controversial (the investiture conflict)

    2. Accelerating Change in the West

      1. a series of invasions in 700–1000 hindered European development

        1. Muslims, Magyars, Vikings

        2. largely ended by 1000

      2. weather improved with warming trend that started after 750

      3. High Middle Ages: time of clear growth and expansion

        1. European population in 1000 was about 35 million; about 80 million in 1340

        2. opening of new land for cultivation

      4. growth of long-distance trade, from two major centers

        1. northern Europe

        2. northern Italian towns

        3. great trading fairs (especially in Champagne area of France) enabled exchange between northern and southern merchants

      5. European town and city populations rose

        1. Venice by 1400 had around 150,000 people

        2. still smaller than great cities elsewhere in the world

        3. new specializations, organized into guilds

      6. growth of territorial states with better- organized governments

        1. kings consolidated their authority in eleventh–thirteenth centuries

        2. appearance of professional administrators

        3. some areas did not develop territorial kingdoms (Italian city-states, small German principalities)

      7. new opportunities for women

        1. a number of urban professions were open to women

        2. widows of great merchants could continue husbands’ business

        1. opportunities declined by the fifteenth century

        2. religious life: nuns, Beguines, anchoresses (e.g., Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich)

        3. but opportunities for religious women were also curtailed

      1. new ideas about masculinity: from warrior to “provider”

    1. Europe Outward Bound: The Crusading Tradition

      1. medieval expansion of Christendom after 1000

        1. occurred at the same time that Byzantium declined

        2. clearance of land, especially on eastern fringe of Europe

        3. Scandinavian colonies in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland

        4. Europe had direct, though limited, contact with East and South Asia by thirteenth–fourteenth centuries

      2. Crusade movement began in 1095

        1. wars at God’s command, authorized by the pope, for which participants received an indulgence (release from penalty for confessed sins)

        2. amazingly popular; were religious wars at their core

      3. most famous Crusades aimed to regain Jerusalem and holy places

        1. many waves of Crusaders to the Near East

        2. creation of four small Christian states (last fell in 1291)

        3. showed Europe’s growing organizational ability

      4. Iberian Peninsula Crusade

      5. Baltic Crusade

      6. attacks on Byzantine Empire and Russia

      7. Crusades had little lasting political or religious impact in the Middle East

      8. Crusades had a significant impact on Europe

        1. conquest of Spain, Sicily, Baltic region

        2. Crusaders weakened Byzantium

        3. popes strengthened their position for a time

        4. tens of thousands of Europeans made contact with the Islamic world

        5. Europeans developed taste for luxury goods of the East

        6. Muslim scholarship and Greek learning flowed into Europe

        7. hardened cultural barriers between peoples
  1. The West in Comparative Perspective

    1. Catching Up

      1. the hybrid civilization of Western Europe was less developed than Byzantium,

China, India, or the Islamic world

        1. Muslims regarded Europeans as barbarians

        2. Europeans recognized their own backwardness

      1. Europeans were happy to exchange with/borrow from more advanced civilizations to the east

        1. European economies reconnected with the Eurasian trading system

        2. Europeans welcomed scientific, philosophical, and mathematical concepts from Arabs, classical Greeks, and India

        3. the most significant borrowing was from China

      2. Europe was a developing civilization like others of the era

      3. by 1500, Europe had caught up with China and the Islamic world; surpassed them in some areas

      4. 500–1300 was a period of great innovation

        1. agriculture

        2. new reliance on nonanimal sources of energy

        3. technological borrowing for warfare, with further development

        4. Europe developed a passion for technology

    1. Pluralism in Politics

      1. Europe crystallized into a system of competing states

      2. political pluralism shaped Western European civilization

        1. led to frequent wars and militarization

        2. stimulated technological development

      3. states still were able to communicate economically and intellectually

      4. rulers were generally weaker than those to the east

        1. royal-noble-ecclesiastical power struggle allowed urban merchants to win great independence

        2. perhaps paved the way for capitalism

        3. development of representative institutions (parliaments)

    2. Reason and Faith

      1. distinctive intellectual tension between faith and reason developed

      2. intellectual life flourished in the centuries after 1000

        1. creation of universities from earlier cathedral schools

        2. scholars had some intellectual freedom at universities

      3. in the universities, some scholars began to emphasize the ability of human reason to understand divine mysteries

        1. also applied reason to law, medicine, and world of nature

        2. development of “natural philosophy” (scientific study of nature)

      4. search for classical Greek texts (especially Aristotle)

        1. were found in Byzantium and the Islamic world

        2. twelfth–thirteenth centuries: access to ancient Greek and Arab scholarship

      5. deep impact of Aristotle

        1. his writings were the basis of university education

        2. dominated Western European thought between 1200 and 1700

      6. no similar development occurred in the Byzantine Empire

        1. focus of education was the humanities

        2. suspicion of classical Greek thought

      7. Islamic world had deep interaction with classical Greek thought

        1. massive amount of translation in ninth–tenth centuries

        2. encouraged a flowering of Arab scholarship between 800 and 1200

        3. caused a debate among Muslim thinkers on faith and reason

        4. Islamic world eventually turned against natural philosophy
  1. Reflections: Remembering and Forgetting: Continuity and Surprise in the Worlds of Christendom

    1. Many features of medieval Christendom have extended into the modern era.

      1. crusading motivated Spanish and Portuguese explorers

      2. merchants’ freedom and eagerness to borrow technologies helped lead to capitalism and industrialization

      3. endemic military conflict found terrible expression in twentieth century

      4. ongoing “faith and reason” controversy

      5. Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic division of Christianity remains

      6. universities were a medieval creation

      7. as was the concept of a separation between religious and political authority

    2. But knowing outcome of story can be a disadvantage for historians.

      1. historical actors do not possess such knowledge

      2. few in 500 C.E. would have predicted that Europe would be the primary center of Christianity

      3. or that Christian communities in Africa and Asia would wither away

      4. or that Western Europe would overtake Byzantium

      5. or Europe’s rising importance after 1500



Following are answer guidelines for the Big Picture Questions, Seeking the Main Point Question, Margin Review Questions, Portrait Question, and Documents and Visual Sources Feature Questions that appear in the textbook chapter. For your convenience, the questions and answer guidelines are also available in the Computerized Test Bank.

Big Picture Questions

  1. What accounts for the different historical trajectories of the Byzantine and West European expressions of Christendom?

  • The survival of a powerful imperial state in the Byzantine Empire resulted in greater state control over the Orthodox Church.

  • Cultural differences also played a role. For instance, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Greek became the language of religious practice instead of the Latin used in the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, more so than in the West, Byzantine thinkers sought to formulate Christian doctrine in terms of Greek philosophical concepts.

  • The Eastern Orthodox faith expanded into Eastern Europe when the Byzantine Empire was at its height, but it was driven from other regions, particularly in North Africa and the Near East, by the expansion of Islam. After 1000, the Roman Catholic tradition became the more expansive of the two expressions, as its influence spread into Islamic Spain, non-Christian northern Europe, and Orthodox Eastern Europe.

  1. How did Byzantium and Western Europe interact with each other and with the larger world of the third-wave era?

  • Byzantium and Western Europe interacted frequently; for instance, in the 500s C.E., the Byzantine emperor Justinian succeeded in conquering parts of Western Europe in his effort to reconstitute the Roman Empire.

  • The two societies were both Christian, which led to frequent interactions, disputes, and ultimately a schism between the two confessions.

  • The revival of Western Europe after 1000 C.E. brought it into a closer trade relationship with Byzantium.

  • The crusading movement in Western Europe inspired hundreds of thousands of Western

Europeans to travel to the eastern Mediterranean and even led to the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 C.E.

  • In terms of the wider world, Byzantium and Western Europe were both part of the Eurasian long- distance trade network. Byzantium participated actively throughout the period, while Western Europe did so increasingly after 1000 C.E.

  • Both interacted with the Islamic world through military conflict, trade, and the exchange of ideas.

  • Both had a profound impact on Eastern Europe, especially through their promotion of rival versions of the Christian faith.

  1. In what respects was the civilization of the Latin West distinctive and unique, and in what ways was it broadly comparable to other third-wave civilizations?

  • The book argues strongly that the Latin West shares many of the same features of other third-wave civilizations, especially in its willingness to borrow and then modify and improve upon ideas, business practices, and technological innovations. Therefore, it is broadly comparable to other third-wave civilizations.

  • That said, the book also makes the point that the Western European experience had distinctive features, including a fragmented political structure, unusually independent towns, and an acceptance of the study of natural philosophy, which ultimately helped to define a distinctive Latin West.

  1. Looking Back: How does the evolution of the Christian world in the third-wave era compare with that of Tang and Song dynasty China and of the Islamic world?

  • The Western Catholic Christian world was less developed in comparison to Tang and Song dynasty China and the Islamic world in that the former had smaller cities, weaker political authorities, a more fragmented political structure, a less commercialized economy, and inferior technology. It also, possessed more privileged cities and a more favorable environment for merchants. By 1500, however, Western Europe had come a long way in catching up, though it depended more on borrowing than did its Chinese or Islamic counterparts.

  • The Orthodox Christian world was more similar to Tang and Song dynasty China and the Islamic world in that it possessed comparable cities, a powerful emperor, a unified government, a professional bureaucracy, a commercialized economy, and a technologically advanced society.

  • The Orthodox Christian world was similar to the Islamic caliphates in that both did not distinguish as clearly between religious and state authority as in Western Europe.

  • Western Catholic Christendom was a more militarized society than Tang and Song China.

Seeking the Main Point Question

Q. In what different ways did the history of Christianity unfold in various parts of the Afro- Eurasian world during the third-wave era?

  • Christianity contracted sharply in Asia and Africa.

  • It expanded in Western Europe and Russia.

  • Christian Byzantium flourished for a time, then gradually contracted and finally disappeared.

  • The West followed an opposite path, at first contracting as the Roman Empire collapsed and later expanding as a new and blended civilization took hold in Western Europe.

Margin Review Questions

Q. What variations in the experience of African and Asian Christian communities can you identify?

  • In much of Arabia, the Near East, and coastal North Africa the arrival of Islam led to widespread voluntary conversion of Christians to the Muslim faith.

  • For the most part the surviving communities in these regions were guaranteed the right to practice their religion with restrictions on some activities.

  • Christianity did spread into new regions, including China, Nubia, and Ethiopia. But only in Ethiopia did it ultimately survive and thrive.

  • In Egypt and Nubia Christians experienced increased oppression from the thirteenth century leading to a decline in the Egyptian Coptic church and the disappearance of the Nubian church.

Q. In what respects did Byzantium continue the patterns of the classical Roman Empire? In what ways did it diverge from those patterns?

  • Continuance can be seen in Byzantium’s roads, military structures, centralized administration, imperial court, laws, and Christian organization.

  • It can also be seen in Byzantium’s pursuit of the long-term Roman struggle with the Persian Empire.

  • Byzantium diverged through the development of a reformed administrative system that gave appointed generals civil authority in the empire’s provinces and allowed them to raise armies from the landowning peasants of the region. It also diverged through the new ideas encompassed in caesaropapism that defined the relationship between the state and the Church.

Q. How did Eastern Orthodox Christianity differ from Roman Catholicism?

  • Unlike Western Europe, where the Catholic Church maintained some degree of independence from political authorities, in Byzantium the emperor assumed something of the role of both “Caesar,” as head of state, and the pope, as head of the Church. Thus the Byzantine emperor appointed the patriarch of the Orthodox Church, sometimes made decisions about doctrine, called church councils into session, and generally treated the Church as a government department.

  • In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Greek became the language of religious practice instead of the Latin used in the Roman Catholic Church.

  • More so than in the West, Byzantine thinkers sought to formulate Christian doctrine in terms of Greek philosophical concepts.

  • The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches disagreed on a number of doctrinal issues, including the nature of the Trinity, the relative importance of faith and reason, and the veneration of icons.

  • Priests in Byzantium allowed their beards to grow long and were permitted to marry, while priests in the West shaved and, after 1050 or so, were supposed to remain celibate.

  • Orthodox ritual called for using bread leavened with yeast in the mass, but Catholics used unleavened bread.

  • Eastern Orthodox leaders sharply rejected the growing claims of Roman popes to be the sole and final authority for all Christians everywhere.

Q. In what ways was the Byzantine Empire linked to a wider world?

  • On a political and military level, Byzantium continued the long-term Roman struggle with the Persian Empire.

  • Economically, the Byzantine Empire was a central player in the long-distance trade of Eurasia, with commercial links to Western Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Islamic world, and China.

  • Culturally, Byzantium preserved much of ancient Greek learning and transmitted this classical heritage to both the Islamic world and the Christian West.

  • Byzantine religious culture spread widely among Slavic-speaking peoples in the Balkans and Russia.

Q. How did links to Byzantium transform the new civilization of Kievan Rus?

  • Kievan Rus borrowed Byzantium architectural styles, the Cyrillic alphabet, the extensive use of icons, a monastic tradition stressing prayer and service, and political ideals of imperial control of the Church.

Q. What replaced the Roman order in Western Europe?

  • Politically, the Roman imperial order collapsed, to be replaced by a series of regional kingdoms ruled by Germanic warlords.

  • But these states maintained some Roman features, including written Roman law and the use of fines and penalties to provide order and justice.

  • Some of the larger Germanic kingdoms, including the Carolingian Empire and the empire of Otto I of Saxony, also had aspirations to re-create something of the unity of the Roman Empire, although these kingdoms were short-lived and unsuccessful in reviving anything approaching Roman authority.

  • In the West, a social system developed that was based on reciprocal ties between greater and lesser lords among the warrior elites, which replaced the Roman social structure.

  • Roman slavery gave way to the practice of serfdom.

  • The Roman Catholic Church increased its influence over society.

Q. In what ways was European civilization changing after 1000?

  • The population grew rapidly.

  • New lands were opened for cultivation.

  • Long-distance trade was revived and expanded.

  • The population of towns grew and attracted new professional groupings that introduced a new

and more productive division of labor into European society.

  • Women found substantial new opportunities because of economic growth and urbanization, but by the fifteenth century, many of these opportunities were declining.

  • Territorial states grew in this period and established more effective institutions of government, commanding the loyalty or at least the obedience of their subjects.

  • The Roman Catholic Church expanded the area in which Roman Catholicism was practiced into Eastern Europe and Islamic Spain.

Q. What was the impact of the Crusades in world history?

  • They marked an expansion of the influence of Western Christendom at the same time that Eastern Christendom and Byzantium were declining.

  • They stimulated the demand for Asian luxury goods in Europe.

  • They also allowed Europeans to learn techniques for producing sugar on large plantations using slave labor, which had incalculable consequences in later centuries when Europeans transferred the plantation system to the Americas.

  • Muslim scholarship, together with the Greek learning that it incorporated, flowed into Europe.

  • The Crusades hardened cultural barriers between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Moreover, Christian anti-Semitism was exacerbated.

  • European empire building, especially in the Americas, continued the crusading notion that “God wills it.”

  • The Crusades have also on many occasions proved politically or ideologically significant when the worlds of Europe and Islam have collided over the past two centuries.

Q. Summing Up So Far: How did the historical development of the European West differ from that of Byzantium in the third-wave era?

  • Western Europe collapsed politically in the fifth century never to come together again as a single political entity, whereas Byzantium survived as a single political entity until its conquest in 1453 C.E.

  • The Byzantine emperor exerted greater control over the Orthodox Church than political authorities in Western Europe did over the Catholic Church.

  • The Byzantine Empire maintained a prominent role in the long-distance trade networks of Eurasia throughout the period, whereas Western Europe’s role declined precipitously following the collapse of

the Roman Empire in the fifth century, only to reengage with those trade networks after 1000.

  • After 1000, Western Europe’s influence in the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe expanded, while the influence of the Byzantine Empire contracted (especially in the Mediterranean basin) after 600 C.E.

Q. In what ways did borrowing from abroad shape European civilization after 1000?

  • Borrowing from abroad played a critical role in establishing a significant tradition of technological innovation that allowed Europe by 1500 to catch up with, and in some areas perhaps to surpass, China and the Islamic world.

  • A more efficient horse collar, which probably originated in China or central Asia, contributed to European efforts to plow the heavy soils of northern Europe.

  • Gunpowder from China, combined with cannons developed in Western Europe, gave Europeans a military edge over other civilizations.

  • Improvements in shipbuilding and navigational techniques, including the magnetic compass and sternpost rudder from China and adaptations of the Arab lateen sail, enabled Europeans to build advanced ships for oceanic voyages.

Q. Why was Europe unable to achieve the kind of political unity that China experienced? What impact did this have on the subsequent history of Europe?

  • Geographic barriers, ethnic and linguistic diversity, and the shifting balances of power among Europe’s many states prevented the emergence of a single European empire like that of China. As a result, European nations engaged in many conflicts and Europe was unable to achieve domestic peace for many centuries.

Q. In what different ways did classical Greek philosophy and science have an impact in the West, in Byzantium, and in the Islamic world?

  • In the West after 1000 C.E., a belief in the ability of human reason to penetrate divine mysteries and to grasp the operation of the natural order took shape, and that in turn stimulated a renewed interest in Greek philosophy and science. During this period, European scholars obtained copies of Greek texts from both the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. At first this new confidence in human reason

was applied primarily to theology, but increasingly it was also applied to the scientific study of nature, known as “natural philosophy,” which ultimately became a foundation for the Scientific Revolution.

  • In the Byzantine Empire, scholars kept the classical tradition alive, but their primary interest lay in the humanities and theology rather than in the natural sciences or medicine. The Orthodox Church had serious reservations about classical Greek learning, sometimes persecuting scholars who were too enamored with the ancients. Those who studied Greek philosophy and science did so in a conservative spirit, concerned to preserve and transmit the classical heritage rather than using it as a springboard for creating new knowledge.

  • The Islamic world undertook a massive translation project in the ninth and tenth centuries that made many Greek texts available in Arabic. This contributed to a flowering of Arab scholarship, especially in the sciences and natural philosophy, between roughly 800 and 1200 C.E., but it also stimulated debate among Muslim thinkers about faith and reason. Unlike church authorities in Western Europe, learned opinion in the Islamic world did not come to regard natural philosophy as a wholly legitimate enterprise. Because of this, the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, while never completely disappearing, receded from Islamic scholarship after the thirteenth century, and natural philosophy did not become a central concern for Islamic higher education as it did in Western Europe.

Portrait Question

Q. In what ways did class, family, gender, and natural catastrophe shape Cecilia’s life?

  • In terms of class, being born into the peasantry rather than serfdom allowed her greater freedom, but living as a commoner rather than a noblewoman or nun ensured that she owed deference to social superiors.

  • Her large and prosperous family gave her important advantages, helping her to acquire property and providing her with support and protection.

  • Her decision not to marry gave her greater independence than most women.

  • Her gender meant that she could not hold office in her community, was paid about one-third less than men when she worked as an unskilled day laborer, and could not serve as an official ale taster.

  • She also suffered from the sexual double standard and may have chosen not to marry in order to keep control over her property.

  • She lost her parents during the famine years of 1315 to 1322 which dramatically changed her life.

  • She also profited from the famine buying land at favorable prices.

  • During the famine years she experienced tensions with her neighbors over scarce resources.


Byzantine Empire: Term used by modern historians to refer to the surviving eastern Roman Empire during the medieval centuries; named after the ancient Greek city Byzantium, on the site of which the Roman emperor Constantine founded a new capital, Constantinople, in 330 C.E. (pron. BIZ-an-teen)

caesaropapism: A political-religious system in which the secular ruler is also head of the religious establishment, as in the Byzantine Empire. (pron. SEEZ-ar-oh-PAPE-ism).

Cecilia Penifader: An illiterate peasant woman (1297–1344) from the English village of Brigstock, whose life provides a window into the conditions of ordinary rural people even if her life was more independent and prosperous than most.

Charlemagne: Ruler of the Carolingian Empire (r.

768–814) who staged an imperial revival in Western Europe. (pron. SHAHR-leh-mane) Constantinople: New capital for the eastern half of the Roman Empire, established by Emperor

Constantine in 330 C.E. on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium; Constantinople’s highly defensible and economically important
site helped assure the city’s cultural and strategic importance for many centuries. (pron. con-stan- tih-NO-pul)

Crusades: Modern term meaning “ventures of the cross,” used to describe the “holy wars” waged by Western Christendom from 1095 until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond; Crusades could only be declared by the pope and were marked by participants swearing a vow and receiving an indulgence in return.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Branch of Christianity that developed in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and gradually separated, mostly on matters of practice, from the branch of Christianity dominant in Western Europe; noted for the subordination of the Church to political authorities, a married clergy, the use of leavened bread in the Eucharist, and insistence on church councils as the ultimate authority in Christian belief and practice.

Ethiopian Christianity: Emerging in the fourth century with the conversion of the rulers of Axum, this Christian church proved more resilient than other early churches in Africa. Located in the mountainous highlands of modern Eritrea and Ethiopia, it was largely cut off from other parts of Christendom and developed traditions that made it distinctive from other Christian Churches.

Holy Roman Empire: Term invented in the twelfth century to describe the Germany-based empire founded by Otto I in 962 C.E.

Icons: Holy images venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Jesus Sutras: The product of Nestorian Christians living in China, these sutras articulate the Christian message using Buddhist and Daoist concepts.

Justinian: Byzantine emperor (r. 527–565 C.E.), noted for his short-lived reconquest of much of the former western Roman Empire and for his codification of Roman law.

Kievan Rus: State that emerged around the city of Kiev in the ninth century C.E.; a culturally diverse region that included Vikings as well as Finnic and Baltic peoples. The conversion of Vladimir, the grand prince of Kiev, to Orthodox Christianity in 988 had long-term implications for Russia. (pron. key-YEV-an ROOS)

Nubian Christianity: Emerging in the fifth and sixth centuries in the several kingdoms of Nubia to the south of Egypt, this Christian church thrived for six hundred years but had largely

disappeared by 1500 C.E. by which time most of the region’s population practiced Islam.

Prince Vladimir of Kiev: Grand prince of Kiev (r. 978–1015 C.E.) whose conversion to Orthodox Christianity led to the incorporation of Russia into the sphere of Eastern Orthodoxy. (pron. vlad-IH-mir)

Roman Catholic Church: Western European branch of Christianity that gradually defined itself as separate from Eastern Orthodoxy, with a major break in 1054 C.E.; “Roman Catholic” was not commonly used until after the Protestant Reformation, but the term is just because, by the eleventh century, Western Christendom defined itself in centralized terms, with the bishop of Rome (the pope) as the ultimate authority in matters of doctrine.

Western Christendom: Western European branch of Christianity that gradually defined itself as separate from Eastern Orthodoxy, with a major break in 1054 C.E. that has still not been healed.

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