Il Medioevo (o Medio Evo): The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages (or Middle Ages) is one of the four historical ages (ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary) into which the history of Europe is conventionally divided in modern historiography. The Middle Ages consists of a period of about a thousand years, roughly from the 5th century to the late 15th century.

Traditionally, the Middle Ages begins with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) and ends with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (October 12, 1492) or the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks (May 29 1453) and the end of the Hundred Years War, events that sanction the beginning of the Modern Age. The Middle Ages are then usually divided into High and Low Middle Ages (in Anglo-Saxon countries it is often used to also distinguish a full Middle Ages, a concept not usually used in Italy).[2]

Some phenomena typical of the first centuries, such as demographic collapse, deurbanization, the decline of centralized power, invasions and mass migrations of tribes, had already begun in late antiquity. As a result of the barbarian invasions of the fifth century, especially those of the various Germanic peoples, new kingdoms were formed in the territories that had been part of the Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman Empire, on the other hand, survived for the duration of the Middle Ages, and is generally referred to today by the expression “Byzantine Empire”; in the 7th century, however, the Eastern Empire lost North Africa and the Middle East, which passed under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, an Islamic dynasty.

Although there had been substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with classical antiquity was not complete: the Byzantine Empire considered itself the direct successor of Ancient Rome and Roman law was still the fundamental legislative basis, ordered in the Corpus Iuris Civilis; in the West, then, most of the new kingdoms used the still existing Roman institutions. The myth of ancient Rome always remained alive, as shown by the foundation in the 9th century of the Carolingian Empire by the Franks, which included a large part of Western Europe and which, even in its name, referred to the ideals of universality typical of the Roman Empire.

After 1000, the Low Middle Ages are conventionally started. During this period, Europe’s population increased significantly, thanks to technological and agricultural innovations that allowed commerce to flourish; crops increased, also favored by the so-called medieval warm period.

From the point of view of social, political and economic organization, typical phenomena of the Middle Ages were feudalism (developing in different forms based on the context and historical period), the court system, the everywhere diffusion of castles (following the X century ) and the birth of the social rank of knights. This period also saw the formal division of the Christian churches into Catholic and Orthodox, with the Great Schism of 1054. The Crusades, which began in 1095, were military attempts by Western European Christians to retake control of the Holy Land from the Muslims and they also contributed to the expansion of Latin Christendom into the Baltic region and the Iberian Peninsula.

Later the term “crusade” was defined by historians as all the struggles against the heresies supported by the Catholic Church of Rome. In the late Middle Ages, the process that led to the formation of centralized nation states began. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism, a philosophy which emphasized the union of faith and reason. In these years the first universities began to be born, the first was Bologna followed by Paris. Among the most significant phenomena of medieval culture, we recall the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the paintings of Giotto, the poetry of Dante and Chaucer, the travels of Marco Polo, the great cathedrals, Romanesque art, Gothic art .

Population growth suffered a serious setback between 1347 and 1350, due to the Black Death, which killed about a third of Europeans. The heresies and schism of the West within the Catholic Church paralleled the interstate strife, civil strife and peasant revolts occurring in the kingdoms. Cultural and technological developments transformed European society, ending the late Middle Ages and initiating the early modern period.

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