Early Middle Ages

In European history, the period from 400s AD until 900s AD was known as the Early Middle Ages.  The Early Middle Ages Period followed the fall of the Roman Empire.  After the Early Middle Ages came the Middle Medieval period, or what was known as the High Middle Ages.  The High Middle Ages lasted from 1001 AD until 1300 AD. 

Cultural trends in the Middle Ages included decreases in population and trade.  Population was especially on the decline in more urban areas.  Immigration increased during the Middle Ages.  The Early Middle Ages has been nicknamed “The Dark Ages.”  This is because there was a lack of cultural and literary output during this period in time.  This is especially true for most of Western Europe.  Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, culture, did not suffer at this time, however.

Charlemagne was an important leader in the Early Middle Ages.  His Carolingian Empire had a great effect on future European governments as well as social structure.  Europe also returned to the feudal system during this time.  This introduced the plow and the three field planting system.  Northern Europe was adversely affected by the Viking expansion, though Barbarian migration seemed to come to a plateau throughout the rest of Europe.

The Migration Period- 400 AD-700 AD

There were many different invasions throughout Western Europe in the Early Middle Ages.  The earliest of these included the Goths and the Vandals.  Some invaders purpose was solely for war and pillaging, and they hated the ways of the Romans.  Other invaders had had long relationships with the Romans and had long since been Romanized.  The population of the Roman Empire consisted of Catholics.  These peoples did not have experiences dealing with money, writing or large cities. 

During the Migration Period, many early settled populations remained either only partially uprooted or stayed completely intact.  People in Italy, Spain and France continued speaking Latin, while people in England (or what is now considered England), disappeared during the migrations.  The new population made many changes to what was a long established society.  These changes included patterns of property ownership, law, religion and culture.

There was a breakdown in trade and exported goods due to the fact that it was now unsafe to travel even over short distances.  This caused the economy and social and cultural life to begin to take a nose dive as well.  Economies began to become more localized.  Industries that depended on trade to survive, such as pottery manufacturing, disappeared completely in some areas.  Educational and military structure also broke down, causing illiteracy to skyrocket.

Between 400 AD and 600 AD there was a twenty percent decline in population, and in the 700s AD, trade volume reached one of its lowest levels in history.  This is supported by the low number of shipwrecks during the time period.  The agricultural system broke down as well, as there was a period of rapid cooling during the time.  Crop yields were very low.  Plantation owners also had a hard time keeping their slaves from running away during this time period.

In circa 581 AD smallpox began to affect Western Europe.  One of the first accounts of smallpox was when Bishop Gregory of Tours gave a firsthand account that describes what are now recognized as the telltale signs of smallpox.  Later, other illnesses began to spread throughout Europe, some killing off large numbers of the population.  Many of the acute details of illnesses are lost, however. 

This is probably due to the low number of survivors of illness in the Early Middle Ages.  Estimates say that the Plague of Justinian was responsible for as many as one hundred million deaths around the world.  It is possible that the Plague of Justinian accounted for a population loss of between fifty and sixty percent between 541 AD and 700 AD.  There were no major epidemics in Europe until the Bubonic Plague in 1300s AD.

The Resurgence of the Latin West- 700 AD- 850 AD

Agricultural circumstances vastly improved in Europe after the eighth century.  This continued through the 1100s AD.  Conditions throughout Western Europe soared because of this.  The political, economic and social state of affairs also continued to develop across Europe.  The newly established kingdoms thrived. 

These included the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain and Portugal, and the Franks and Burgundians in Gaul and Western Germany.  These new kingdoms remained Christian kingdoms.  The Visigoth and Lombard conquerors were converted to Christianity.  The Ostrogoth and Vandals were conquered.  Under Clovis I, the Franks converted from paganism to Catholicism.

A new mold for society was made based on the culture of the conquerors and the newcomers.  This new mold was based on the war loyalties of the new immigrants, remains of classical culture, and Christian influences.  Feudalism also influenced culture.  Slavery mostly disappeared during this time.  Eenglish Anglo-Saxons also began to convert from heathenism to Christianity circa 600 AD with the arrival of the Christian missionaries.

The Viking Age- 793 AD-1066 AD

The Viking Age lasted from the late eighth century through the late eleventh century in Britain and Scandinavia.  This period followed the Germanic Iron Age.  In this time, Scandinavian warriors and traders, also known as Vikings, explored, pillaged, and raided Europe, north-eastern North America, parts of Asia and northern Africa.

Scandinavian traders had more means of water travel (open water and better equipped ships) than most Europeans.  This fueled them with the desire to explore new territories and develop trading relationships with other lands.  Important trading posts during the Viking Age include both existing and ancient cities and territories, such as Birka, Dublin, Bordeaux, York, Aarhus, Truso, and Vineta.

Viking raids were sometimes separate with regular trade missions, but sometimes the two were one in the same.  Vikings not only explored Europe using water routes, but they also ignited in various conflicts and wars with their neighbors or other Christian communities.  They sometimes enslaved the villages they raided, which eventually led to the foundation of the feudal system.

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