Middle Ages

Orfeas Katsoulis | Apr 11, 2024

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The Middle Ages, Medieval or Middle Ages is the historical period of Western civilization between the 5th and 15th centuries. Conventionally, its beginning is placed in the year 476 with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and its end in 1492 with the discovery of America, or in 1453 with the fall of the Byzantine Empire, a date that has the singularity of coinciding with the invention of the printing press -publication of the Gutenberg Bible- and with the end of the Hundred Years' War.

Today, historians of the period prefer to qualify this break between Antiquity and the Middle Ages in such a way that between the third and eighth centuries we usually speak of Late Antiquity, which would have been a major transition period in all areas: economically, for the replacement of the slave mode of production by the feudal mode of production; socially, for the disappearance of the concept of Roman citizenship and the definition of the medieval estates; politically, for the decomposition of the centralized structures of the Roman Empire, which gave way to a dispersion of power; and ideologically and culturally, for the absorption and replacement of classical culture by the theocentric Christian or Islamic cultures (each in its own space).

It is usually divided into two great periods: Early or High Middle Ages (and Late Middle Ages (xi-xv centuries), which in turn can be divided into a period of plenitude, the Full Middle Ages (xi-xiii centuries), and the last two centuries that witnessed the crisis of the xiv century.

Although there are some examples of previous use, the concept of the Middle Ages was born as the second age of the traditional division of historical time due to Christopher Cellarius (Historia Medii Aevi a temporibus Constantini Magni ad Constaninopolim a Turcis captam deducta, Jena, 1688) who considered it an intermediate time, with hardly any value in itself, between the Ancient Age identified with the art and culture of the Greco-Roman civilization of Classical Antiquity and the cultural renewal of the Modern Age - in which he places himself - that begins with the Renaissance and Humanism. The popularization of this scheme has perpetuated an erroneous preconception: that of considering the Middle Ages as a dark period, plunged in intellectual and cultural regression, and a secular social and economic lethargy (which in turn is associated with feudalism in its most obscurantist features, as defined by the revolutionaries who fought against the Ancien Régime). It would be a period dominated by isolation, ignorance, theocracy, superstition and millenarian fear fed by endemic insecurity, violence and the brutality of constant wars and invasions and apocalyptic epidemics.

However, in this long period of a thousand years there were all kinds of events and processes very different from each other, differentiated temporally and geographically, responding both to mutual influences with other civilizations and spaces as well as to internal dynamics. Many of them had a great projection into the future, among others those that laid the foundations for the development of the later European expansion, and the development of the social agents that developed a predominantly rural-based society, but which witnessed the birth of an incipient urban life and a bourgeoisie that would eventually develop capitalism. Far from being an immobile epoch, the Middle Ages, which had begun with migrations of entire peoples, and continued with great repopulating processes (Repoblación in the Iberian Peninsula, Ostsiedlung in Eastern Europe) saw how in its last centuries the ancient roads (many of them decayed Roman roads) were repaired and modernized with graceful bridges, and filled with all kinds of travelers (warriors, pilgrims, merchants, students, goliards, etc.) embodying the metaphor of the "traveler" (warriors, pilgrims, merchants, students, goliards, etc.). ) embodying the spiritual metaphor of life as a journey (homo viator).

New political forms also emerged in the Middle Ages, ranging from the Islamic caliphate to the universal powers of Latin Christendom (Pontificate and Empire) or the Byzantine Empire and the Slavic kingdoms integrated into Eastern Christendom (and on a smaller scale, all types of city states, from the small German episcopal cities to republics that maintained maritime empires such as Venice; leaving in the middle of the scale the one that had the greatest future projection: the feudal monarchies, which transformed into authoritarian monarchies prefigure the modern state.

In fact, all the concepts associated with what has come to be called modernity appear in the Middle Ages, in their intellectual aspects with the same crisis of scholasticism. None of them would be understandable without feudalism itself, whether this is understood as a mode of production (based on the social relations of production around the land of the fief) or as a political system (based on personal power relations around the institution of vassalage), according to the different historiographical interpretations.

The clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam, manifested in the rupture of the unity of the Mediterranean (a fundamental milestone of the period, according to Henri Pirenne, in his classic Muhammad and Charlemagne), the Spanish Reconquest and the Crusades, also had its share of fertile cultural exchange (Toledo School of Translators, Salernitana Medical School) that broadened the intellectual horizons of Europe, until then limited to the remains of classical culture saved by early medieval monasticism and adapted to Christianity.

This same Western Europe produced an impressive succession of artistic styles (pre-Romanesque, Romanesque and Gothic), which in the border areas also interbred with Islamic art (Mudejar, Andalusian art, Arab-Norman art) or with Byzantine art.

Medieval science did not respond to a modern methodology, but neither did that of the classical authors, who dealt with nature from their own perspective; and in both ages without connection with the world of techniques, which was relegated to the manual work of artisans and peasants, responsible for a slow but constant progress in tools and productive processes. The differentiation between vile and mechanical trades and liberal professions linked to intellectual study coexisted with a theoretical spiritual valorization of work in the environment of Benedictine monasteries, a matter that did not go beyond being a pious exercise, surpassed by the much more transcendent valuation of poverty, determined by the economic and social structure and which was expressed in medieval economic thought.

Medievalism is both the quality or character of medieval, as well as the interest in the medieval period and subjects and their study; and medievalist the specialist in these matters. The discrediting of the Middle Ages was a constant during the Modern Age, in which Humanism, Renaissance, Rationalism, Classicism and Enlightenment assert themselves as reactions against it, or rather against what they understand it to mean, or against the features of their own present that they try to disqualify as medieval survivals. Nevertheless, since the end of the 16th century, interesting compilations of medieval documentary sources have been produced in search of a critical method for historical science. Romanticism and Nationalism in the 19th century revalued the Middle Ages as part of their aesthetic program and as an anti-academic reaction (Romantic poetry and drama, historical novels, musical nationalism, opera), as well as the only possibility of finding a historical basis for the emerging nations (history painting, historicist architecture, especially neo-Gothic - the restorative and recreating work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc - and neo-Mudejar). Romantic abuses of the medieval setting (exoticism), produced already in the mid-nineteenth century the reaction of realism. Another type of abuses are those that give rise to an abundant pseudo-historical literature that reaches the present, and that has found the formula for media success by intermingling esoteric themes taken from more or less obscure parts of the Middle Ages (Vatican Secret Archives, Templars, Rosicrucians, Masons and the Holy Grail itself). Some of them were linked to Nazism, such as the German Otto Rahn. On the other hand, there is an abundance of other types of artistic fiction productions of various quality and orientation inspired by the Middle Ages (literature, cinema, comics). Other medievalist movements have also developed in the 20th century: a serious historiographical medievalism, centered on methodological renewal (fundamentally by the incorporation of the economic and social perspective contributed by historical materialism and the Annales School) and a popular medievalism (medieval spectacles, more or less genuine, as an updating of the past in which the community identifies itself, what has come to be called historical memory).

The great migrations of the time of the invasions paradoxically meant a closure of contact between the West and the rest of the world. Very few Europeans of the medieval millennium (both those of Latin Christendom and those of Eastern Christendom) knew that, apart from the Islamic civilization, which acted as a bridge but also as an obstacle between Europe and the rest of the Old World, other civilizations were developing. Even a vast Christian kingdom like that of Ethiopia, when isolated, became in the cultural imagination the mythical kingdom of Prester John, barely distinguishable from the Atlantic islands of St. Brandan and the rest of the wonders drawn in bestiaries and the scarce, rudimentary and imaginative maps. The markedly autonomous development of China, the most developed civilization of the time (although turned inward and self-absorbed in its dynastic cycles: Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming), and the scarcity of contacts with it (the voyage of Marco Polo, or the much more important expedition of Zheng He), which stand out precisely because of their unusualness and lack of continuity, do not allow us to call the 5th to 15th centuries of its history as medieval history, although sometimes it is done, even in specialized publications, more or less improperly.

The history of Japan (which during this period was forming as a civilization, adapting Chinese influences to the indigenous culture and expanding from the southern to the northern islands), despite its greater remoteness and isolation, is paradoxically more often associated with the term medieval; although such a denomination is limited by historiography, significantly, to a medieval period between 1000 and 1868, to suit the so-called Japanese feudalism prior to the Meiji era (see also shogunate, han and Japanese castle). ...

The history of India and black Africa from the 7th century onwards had a greater or lesser Muslim influence, but followed very different dynamics (Delhi Sultanate, Bahmani Sultanate, Vijayanagara Empire -in India-, Mali Empire, Songhay Empire -in black Africa-). There was even an important Saharan intervention in the western Mediterranean world: the Almoravid Empire.

Even more clearly, the history of America (which was going through its classical and post-classical periods) did not have any kind of contact with the Old World, beyond the arrival of the so-called Viking colonization in America, which was limited to a reduced and ephemeral presence in Greenland and the enigmatic Vinland, or the possible later expeditions of Basque whalers in similar areas of the North Atlantic, although this fact has to be understood in the context of the great development of navigation in the last centuries of the Late Middle Ages, already on the way to the Age of Discoveries.

What did occur, and can be considered a constant of the medieval period, was the periodic repetition of occasional Central Asian interference in Europe and the Near East in the form of invasions by Central Asian peoples, notably the Turks (Köktürks, Khazars, Ottomans) and the Mongols (unified by Genghis Khan), whose Golden Horde was present in Eastern Europe and shaped the personality of the Christian states that were created, sometimes vassal and sometimes resistant, in the Russian and Ukrainian steppes. Even on a rare occasion, the early diplomacy of the late medieval European kingdoms saw the possibility of using the latter as a counterweight to the former: the frustrated embassy of Ruy González de Clavijo to the court of Tamerlane in Samarkand, in the context of the Mongol siege of Damascus, a very delicate moment (1401-1406) in which Ibn Khaldun also intervened as a diplomat. The Mongols had already sacked Baghdad in a raid in 1258.

Although several dates have been proposed for the beginning of the Middle Ages, of which the most widespread is the year 476, the truth is that we cannot place the beginning in such an exact way, since the Middle Ages were not born, but "became" as a result of a long and slow process that extended over five centuries and caused enormous changes at all levels in a very profound way that will even have repercussions up to the present day. We can consider that this process began with the crisis of the third century, linked to the problems of reproduction inherent in the slave mode of production, which required a continuous imperial expansion that no longer occurred after the establishment of the Roman limit. Possibly climatic factors also converged for the succession of bad harvests and epidemics; and in a much more evident way the first Germanic invasions and peasant uprisings (bagaudas), in a period in which many brief and tragic imperial mandates succeeded one another. Since Caracalla, Roman citizenship was extended to all free men of the Empire, a sign that such a condition, once so coveted, had ceased to be attractive. The Lower Empire took on an increasingly medieval aspect from the beginning of the 4th century with the reforms of Diocletian: blurring of the differences between slaves, increasingly rare, and colonists, free peasants, but subject to ever greater conditions of servitude, who lose the freedom to change domicile, always having to work the same land; compulsory inheritance of public offices - previously disputed in disputed elections - and craft trades, subject to collegiality - the predecessor of the guilds - all to avoid tax evasion and the depopulation of the cities, whose role as a center of consumption and trade and of articulation of the rural areas is becoming less and less important. At least, the reforms managed to maintain the Roman institutional edifice, although not without intensifying ruralization and aristocratization (clear steps towards feudalism), especially in the West, which became detached from the East with the partition of the Empire. Another decisive change was the establishment of Christianity as the new official religion by the Edict of Thessalonica of Theodosius I the Great (380) preceded by the Edict of Milan (313) with which Constantine I the Great rewarded the hitherto subversives for their providential help in the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), along with other alleged more temporary cessions whose fraudulent claim (Constantine's pseudo-donation) was a constant of the Papal States throughout the Middle Ages, even after the evidence of its refutation by the humanist Lorenzo Valla (1440).

No single event - despite the abundance and concatenation of catastrophic events - determined by itself the end of the Ancient Age and the beginning of the Middle Ages: neither the successive sackings of Rome (by the Goths of Alaric I in 410, by the Vandals in 455, by Ricimero's own imperial troops in 472, by the Ostrogoths in 546), nor the dreadful irruption of Attila's Huns (450-452, with the battle of the Catalonian Fields and the strange interview with Pope Leo I the Great), nor the overthrow of Romulus Augustulus (these events were considered by his contemporaries as the beginning of a new epoch. The culmination at the end of the 5th century of a series of long-lasting processes, including severe economic dislocation, invasions and the settlement of Germanic peoples in the Roman Empire, changed the face of Europe. For the next 300 years, Western Europe maintained a period of cultural unity, unusual for this continent, built on the complex and elaborate culture of the Roman Empire, which was never completely lost, and the settlement of Christianity. The classical Greco-Roman heritage was never forgotten, and the Latin language, undergoing transformation (Medieval Latin), continued to be the language of culture throughout Western Europe, even beyond the Middle Ages. Roman law and multiple institutions continued to live on, adapting in one way or another. What took place during this broad period of transition (which can be considered to have culminated by the year 800, with the coronation of Charlemagne) was a sort of fusion with the contributions of other civilizations and social formations, especially the Germanic and Christian religions. In the following centuries, still in the High Middle Ages, other contributions would be added, especially Islam.

The German-Roman kingdoms (5th to 8th centuries)

The text refers specifically to Hispania and its provinces, and the barbarians cited are specifically the Suevi, Vandals and Alans, who in 406 had crossed the border of the Rhine (unusually frozen) at Mainz and around 409 had reached the Iberian Peninsula; but the image is equivalent in other times and places that the same author narrates, from the period between 379 and 468.

The Germanic peoples from Northern and Eastern Europe were at a stage of economic, social and cultural development obviously inferior to that of the Roman Empire, which they themselves perceived admiringly. They were in turn perceived with a mixture of contempt, fear and hope (retrospectively embodied in the influential poem Waiting for the Barbarians by Constantine Cavafis), and were even attributed a justiciary role (albeit involuntary) from a providentialist point of view by Roman Christian authors (Orosius, Salvianus of Marseilles and St. Augustine of Hippo). The denomination barbarians (βάρβαρος) comes from the onomatopoeia bar-bar with which the Greeks mocked non-Hellenic foreigners, and which the Romans - barbarians themselves, although Hellenized - used from their own perspective. The term "barbarian invasions" was rejected by German historians of the 19th century, at a time when the term barbarism designated for the nascent social sciences a stage of cultural development inferior to civilization and superior to savagery. They preferred to coin a new term: Völkerwanderung ("Migration of Peoples"), less violent than invasions, as it suggested the complete displacement of a people with its institutions and culture, and even more general than Germanic invasions, as it included Huns, Slavs and others.

The Germans, who had peculiar political institutions, in particular the assembly of free warriors (thing) and the figure of the king, were influenced by the institutional traditions of the Empire and the Greco-Roman civilization, as well as by Christianity (and they adapted to the circumstances of their settlement in the new territories, especially to the alternative between imposing themselves as a ruling minority over a majority of the local population or merging with it.

The new Germanic kingdoms shaped the personality of Western Europe during the Middle Ages, evolved into feudal monarchies and authoritarian monarchies, and eventually gave rise to the nation-states that were built around them. Socially, in some of these countries (Spain or France), Germanic origin (Gothic or Frankish) became a trait of honor or caste pride held by the nobility as a distinction over the population as a whole.

The Roman Empire had gone through external invasions and terrible civil wars in the past, but by the end of the 4th century the situation was apparently under control. It was only a short time since Theodosius had again succeeded in unifying under a single center both halves of the Empire (392) and in establishing a new state religion, Nicene Christianity (Edict of Thessalonica -380), with the consequent persecution of traditional pagan cults and Christian heterodoxies. The Christian clergy, converted into a hierarchy of power, ideologically justified an Imperium Romanum Christianum (Christian Roman Empire) and the Theodosian dynasty as it had already begun to do with the Constantinian one since the Edict of Milan (313).

The desire for political prominence of the richest and most influential Roman senators and of the western provinces had been channeled. In addition, the dynasty had been able to channel agreements with the powerful military aristocracy, in which Germanic nobles were enrolled and went to the service of the Empire at the head of soldiers united by ties of loyalty to them. When he died in 395, Theodosius entrusted the government of the West and the protection of his young heir Honorius to the general Stilicho, the firstborn of a noble Vandal officer who had married Flavia Serena, Theodosius' own niece. But when Valentinian III, grandson of Theodosius, was assassinated in 455, a good part of the descendants of those western nobles (nobilissimus, clarissimus) who had trusted so much in the destinies of the Empire seemed to distrust it, especially when in the course of two decades they had come to realize that the imperial government confined in Ravenna was increasingly prey to the exclusive interests and intrigues of a small group of high officers of the Italic army. Many of these were of Germanic origin and increasingly relied on the forces of their armed retinues of conventional soldiers and on the family pacts and alliances they might have with other Germanic chiefs installed on imperial soil along with their own peoples, who were increasingly developing an autonomous policy. The need to adapt to the new situation was evidenced by the fate of Gala Placidia, an imperial princess held hostage by the plunderers of Rome (or by that of Honoria, daughter of the former (in second marriage to Emperor Constantius III) who chose to offer herself as a wife to Attila himself, confronting her own brother Valentinian.

Needing to maintain a position of social and economic predominance in their regions of origin, having reduced their patrimonies to provincial dimensions, and aspiring to a political prominence proper to their lineage and culture, the honestiores (the most honest or honored, those with honor), representatives of the western late Roman aristocracies would have ended up accepting the advantages of admitting the legitimacy of the government of these Germanic kings, already highly Romanized, settled in their provinces. After all, these, at the head of their soldiers, could offer them much greater security than the army of the emperors of Ravenna. Moreover, the provisioning of these troops was considerably less costly than that of the imperial troops, since they were largely based on armed retinues dependent on the Germanic nobility and fed from the provincial patrimony, which had long since been appropriated by the latter. Less burdensome both for the provincial aristocrats and also for the groups of humiliores (the humblest, the lowered in land -humus-) who were grouped hierarchically around these aristocrats, and who, in short, were the ones who had been bearing the brunt of the harsh late Roman taxation. The new monarchies, weaker and more decentralized than the old imperial power, were also more willing to share power with the provincial aristocracies, especially when the power of these monarchs was very limited in the very heart of their people by a nobility based on their armed retinues, from their not too distant origin in the assemblies of free warriors, of which they were still primun inter pares.

But this metamorphosis of the Roman West into Romano-Germanic had not been the consequence of an inevitability clearly evidenced from the beginning; on the contrary, the road had been hard, zigzagging, with trials of other solutions, and with moments in which it seemed that everything could return to the way it had been before. This was the case throughout the 5th century, and in some regions also in the 6th century as a consequence, among other things, of the so-called Recuperatio Imperii or Reconquista of Justinian.

The barbarian invasions since the 3rd century had demonstrated the permeability of the Roman boundary in Europe, fixed at the Rhine and the Danube. The division of the Empire into East and West, and the greater strength of the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, determined that it was only in the western half where the settlement of these peoples and their political institutionalization as kingdoms took place.

It was the Visigoths, first as the Kingdom of Toulouse and then as the Kingdom of Toledo, who were the first to carry out this institutionalization, taking advantage of their federated status, by obtaining a foedus with the Empire, which entrusted them with the pacification of the provinces of Gaul and Hispania, whose control had been lost in practice after the invasions of 410 by the Suevi, Vandals and Alans. Of the three, only the Suevi achieved the definitive settlement in one area: the Kingdom of Braga, while the Vandals settled in North Africa and the islands of the Western Mediterranean, but were eliminated the following century by the Byzantines during the great territorial expansion of Justinian I (campaigns of the generals Belisarius, from 533 to 544, and Narses, until 554). Simultaneously the Ostrogoths managed to settle in Italy by expelling the Heruli, who had in turn expelled the last emperor of the West from Rome. The Ostrogothic Kingdom also disappeared in the face of the Byzantine pressure of Justinian I.

A second group of Germanic peoples settled in Western Europe in the 6th century, including the Frankish Kingdom of Clovis I and his Merovingian successors, who displaced the Visigoths from Gaul, forcing them to move their capital from Toulouse to Toledo. They also defeated the Burgundians and Alamans, absorbing their kingdoms. Somewhat later the Lombards established themselves in Italy (568-9), but were defeated at the end of the 8th century by the same Franks, who reinstated the Empire with Charlemagne (year 800).

The Angles, Saxons and Jutes settled in Britain, creating a series of rival kingdoms that were unified by the Danes (a Nordic people) into what would eventually become the kingdom of England.

The Germanic monarchy was originally a strictly temporary institution, closely linked to the personal prestige of the king, who was no more than a primus inter pares (first among equals), elected by the assembly of free warriors (elective monarchy), usually for a specific military expedition or for a specific mission. The migrations to which the Germanic peoples were subjected from the 3rd to the 5th century (wedged between the pressure of the Huns to the east and the resistance of the Roman limes to the south and west) strengthened the figure of the king, while coming into increasing contact with Roman political institutions, which were accustomed to the idea of a much more centralized political power concentrated in the person of the Roman Emperor. The monarchy was linked to the persons of the kings for life, and the tendency was to become hereditary monarchy, since the kings (as the Roman emperors had done) sought to ensure the election of their successor, most of the time still alive and associating them to the throne. That the candidate should be the first-born male was not a necessity, but it ended up being imposed as an obvious consequence, which was also imitated by the other warrior families, enriched by the possession of lands and converted into noble lineages that were related to the ancient Roman nobility, in a process that can be called feudalization. Over time, the monarchy became patrimonialized, even allowing the division of the kingdom among the king's sons.

Respect for the figure of the king was reinforced by the sacralization of his inauguration (anointing with the sacred oils by the religious authorities and the use of distinctive elements such as orb, scepter and crown, in the course of an elaborate ceremony: the coronation) and the addition of religious functions (presidency of national councils, such as the Councils of Toledo) and thaumaturgical (royal touch of the kings of France for the cure of scrofula). The problem arose when the time came to justify the deposition of a king and his replacement by another who was not his natural successor. The last Merovingians did not rule by themselves, but through the offices of their court, among which the palace steward was the most important. Only after the victory against the Muslim invaders in the battle of Poitiers was the steward Charles Martel justified in arguing that the legitimacy of his office gave him sufficient merit to found his own dynasty: the Carolingian. On other occasions more imaginative solutions were resorted to (such as forcing the tonsure - ecclesiastical haircut - of the Visigothic king Wamba to incapacitate him).

The problems of coexistence between the Germanic minorities and the local majorities (Hispano-Roman, Gallo-Roman, etc.) were solved more effectively by the kingdoms with more projection in time (Visigoths and Franks) through fusion, allowing mixed marriages, unifying legislation and carrying out the conversion to Catholicism as opposed to the original religion, which in many cases was no longer the traditional Germanic paganism, but the Arian Christianity acquired in its passage through the Eastern Empire.

Some characteristics of the Germanic institutions were preserved: one of them was the predominance of customary law over the written law of Roman law. Nevertheless, the Germanic kingdoms produced some legislative codifications, with greater or lesser influence of Roman law or Germanic traditions, written in Latin from the 5th century onwards (Theodoric laws, Theodoric's edict, Euric's Code, Alaric's Breviary). The first code written in the Germanic language was that of King Ethelbert of Kent, the first of the Anglo-Saxons to convert to Christianity (beginning of the 6th century). The Visigothic Liber Iudicorum (Recesvinto, 654) and the Frankish Salic Law (Clovis, 507-511) maintained a very prolonged validity due to their consideration as sources of law in the medieval monarchies and the Ancien Régime.

The spread of Christianity among the barbarians, the establishment of episcopal authority in the cities and of monasticism in rural areas (especially since the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia -monastery of Montecassino, 529-), constituted a powerful force for the fusion of cultures and helped to ensure that many features of classical civilization, such as Roman law and Latin, survived in the western half of the Empire, and even expanded in Central and Northern Europe. The Franks converted to Catholicism during the reign of Clovis I (496 or 499) and thereafter spread Christianity among the Germanic peoples on the other side of the Rhine. The Suevi, who had become Arian Christians under Remismund (459-469), were converted to Catholicism under Theodomyrus (559-570) by the preaching of St. Martin of Dumio. In this process they were ahead of the Visigoths themselves, who had been previously Christianized in the East in the Arian version (in the 4th century), and maintained for a century and a half the religious difference with the Hispanic-Roman Catholics even with internal struggles within the Gothic ruling class, as demonstrated by the rebellion and death of St. Hermenegild (581-585), son of King Leovigild). The conversion to Catholicism of Recaredo (589) marked the beginning of the fusion of both societies, and of the royal protection of the Catholic clergy, visualized in the Councils of Toledo (presided over by the king himself). The following years saw a true Visigothic renaissance with figures of the influence of St. Isidore of Seville (and his brothers Leandro, Fulgencio and Florentina, the four saints of Cartagena), Braulio of Zaragoza or Ildefonso of Toledo, of great repercussion in the rest of Europe and in the future Christian kingdoms of the Reconquest (see Christianity in Spain, monastery in Spain, Hispanic monastery and Hispanic liturgy). The Ostrogoths, on the other hand, did not have enough time to carry out the same evolution in Italy. Nevertheless, the degree of coexistence with the papacy and the Catholic intellectuals showed that the Ostrogothic kings elevated them to the most trusted positions (Boethius and Cassiodorus, both magister officiorum with Theodoric the Great), but also the vulnerability of their situation (the former was executed -523- and the latter was removed by the Byzantines -538-). Their successors in the dominion of Italy, the also Arian Lombards, also did not get to experience the integration with the Catholic population submitted, and their internal divisions made that the conversion to Catholicism of the king Agilulfo (603) did not get to have greater consequences.

Christianity was brought to Ireland by St. Patrick at the beginning of the 5th century and from there it spread to Scotland, from where a century later it returned through the north to an England abandoned by the Briton Christians to the pagan Picts and Scots (coming from the north of Great Britain) and also to the Germanic pagans coming from the continent (Angles, Saxons and Jutes). At the end of the 6th century, under Pope Gregory the Great, Rome also sent missionaries to England from the south, so that within a century England became Christian again.

In turn, the Britons had begun an emigration by sea towards the peninsula of Brittany, even reaching as far away as the Cantabrian coast between Galicia and Asturias, where they founded the diocese of Britonia. This Christian tradition was distinguished by the use of the Celtic or Scottish tonsure, which shaved the front part of the hair instead of the crown.

The survival in Ireland of a Christian community isolated from Europe by the pagan barrier of the Anglo-Saxons led to an evolution different from continental Christianity, which has been called Celtic Christianity. They retained much of the ancient Latin tradition, which they were in a position to share with continental Europe as soon as the invading wave had temporarily subsided. After their extension to England in the 6th century, the Irish founded monasteries in France, in Switzerland (Saint Gall), and even in Italy in the 7th century, the names of Columba and Columbanus being particularly noteworthy. The British Isles were for about three centuries the nursery of important names for culture: the historian Bede the Venerable, the missionary Boniface of Germany, the educator Alcuin of York, or the theologian John Scotus Erigena, among others. Such influence goes as far as the attribution of legends such as that of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, a Breton who would have made an extraordinary journey between Britain and Rome to end up martyred in Cologne.

For its part, the spread of Christianity among the Bulgarians and most of the Slavic peoples (Serbs, Moravians and the peoples of Crimea and Ukrainian and Russian steppes -Vladimir I of Kiev, year 988-) was much later, and at the expense of the Byzantine Empire, with what was done with the Orthodox creed (while the evangelization of other peoples of Eastern Europe (the rest of the Slavs -Polish, Slovenes and Croatians-, Balts and Hungarians -Saint Stephen I of Hungary, around the year 988-) and the Nordic peoples (Scandinavian Vikings, around the year 1000), Slovenes and Croatians-, Baltic and Hungarians -Saint Stephen I of Hungary, around the year 1000-) and of the Nordic peoples (Scandinavian Vikings) was done by Latin Christianity starting from Central Europe, in an even later period (allowing (especially the conversion of Hungary) the first pilgrimages by land to the Holy Land.

The Khazars were a Turkic people from Central Asia (where the empire of the Köktürks had been formed since the 6th century) which in its western part had given rise to an important state that dominated the Caucasus and the Russian and Ukrainian steppes as far as the Crimea in the 7th century. Their ruling class was mostly converted to Judaism, a religious peculiarity that made them an exceptional neighbor between the Islamic caliphate of Damascus and the Christian empire of Byzantium.

The Byzantine Empire (4th to 15th centuries)

The division between East and West was, in addition to a political strategy (initially of Diocletian -286- and made definitive with Theodosius I -395-), a recognition of the essential difference between the two halves of the Empire. The East, in itself very diverse (Balkan peninsula, Mezzogiorno, Anatolia, Caucasus, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Mesopotamian border with the Persians), was the more urbanized part, with a more dynamic and commercial economy, as opposed to a West on the way to feudalization, ruralized, with urban life in decline, slave labor increasingly scarce and the aristocracy increasingly alienated from the structures of imperial power and secluded in their luxurious self-sufficient villae, cultivated by settlers in a regime similar to serfdom. The lingua franca in the East was Greek, as opposed to the Latin of the West. In the establishment of the Christian hierarchy, the East had all the patriarchates of the Pentarchy except that of Rome (Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople, to which Jerusalem was added after the Council of Chalcedon in 451); even the Roman primacy (papal see of St. Peter) was a disputed fact because the Byzantine State operated according to Caesaropapism (begun by Constantine I and founded theologically by Eusebius of Caesarea).

The survival of Byzantium did not depend on the fate of the West, while the opposite did: in fact, the Eastern emperors chose to sacrifice Rome - which was no longer even the Western capital - when they saw fit, abandoning it to its fate or even displacing the Germanic peoples (Heruls, Ostrogoths and Lombards) to it, which precipitated its fall. However, the Eternal City, which had a symbolic value, was reconquered and included in the short-lived Exarchate of Ravenna.

Justinian I consolidated the Danube frontier and, from 532, achieved a balance on the border with Sassanid Persia, which allowed him to shift Byzantine efforts towards the Mediterranean, rebuilding the unity of Mare Nostrum: In 533, an expedition of General Belisarius annihilated the Vandals (battles of Ad Decimum and Tricameron) incorporating the province of Africa and the islands of the Western Mediterranean (Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands). In 535 Mundus occupied Dalmatia and Belisarius Sicily. Narses eliminated the Ostrogoths from Italy in 554-555. Ravenna returned to be an imperial city, where the lavish mosaics of San Vitale will be preserved. Liberius only succeeded in displacing the Visigoths from the southeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the province of Baetica.

In Constantinople, two ambitious and prestigious programs were initiated in order to establish imperial authority: one of legislative compilation: the Corpus iuris civilis, directed by Tribonian (promulgated between 529 and 534), and the other constructive: the church of Hagia Sophia, by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus (built between 532 and 537). A symbol of classical civilization was closed: the Academy of Athens (529). Another, the chariot races continued to be a popular amusement that aroused passions. In fact, they were used politically, with the color of each team expressing religious divergences (an early example of popular mobilizations using political colors). The revolt of Nika (534) almost provoked the flight of the emperor, which was avoided by the empress Theodora with her famous phrase the purple is a glorious shroud.

The seventh and eighth centuries represented for Byzantium a dark age similar to that of the West, which also included a strong ruralization and feudalization in the social and economic spheres and a loss of prestige and effective control of the central power. To the internal causes was added the renewal of the war with the Persians, not decisive but particularly exhausting, followed by the Muslim invasion, which deprived the Empire of the richest provinces: Egypt and Syria. However, in the Byzantine case, the decline in intellectual and artistic production also responded to the particular effects of the iconoclastic quarrel, which was not a simple theological debate between iconoclasts and iconodules, but an internal confrontation unleashed by the patriarchate of Constantinople, supported by Emperor Leo III, who sought to put an end to the concentration of power and political and religious influence of the powerful monasteries and their territorial supporters (one can imagine its importance by seeing how Mount Athos, founded more than a century later in 963, has survived to the present day).

The recovery of imperial authority and the greater stability of the following centuries also brought with it a process of Hellenization, that is, the recovery of the Greek identity as opposed to the official Roman entity of the institutions, something more possible then, given the geographical limitation and homogenization produced by the loss of the provinces, and which allowed for a militarized and more easily manageable territorial organization: the themes (themata) with the ascription to the land of the military established in them, which produced forms similar to Western feudalism.

The period between 867 and 1056, under the Macedonian dynasty, is known as the Macedonian Renaissance, in which Byzantium once again became a Mediterranean power and projected itself towards the Slavic peoples of the Balkans and towards the north of the Black Sea. Basil II Bulgarocthon who occupied the throne in the period 976-1025 brought the Empire to its maximum territorial extension since the Muslim invasion, occupying part of Syria, Crimea and the Balkans up to the Danube. The evangelization of Cyril and Methodius will obtain a Byzantine sphere of influence in Eastern Europe that culturally and religiously will have a great future projection through the diffusion of the Cyrillic alphabet (adaptation of the Greek alphabet for the representation of the Slavic phonemes, which is still used today); as well as that of Orthodox Christianity (predominant from Serbia to Russia).

However, the second half of the 11th century witnessed a new Islamic challenge, this time led by the Seljuk Turks and the intervention of the Papacy and Western Europeans, through the military intervention of the Crusades, the commercial activity of the Italian merchants (Genoese, Amalfitans, Pisans and especially Venetians) and the theological polemics of the so-called Eastern Schism or Great East-West Schism, Amalfitans, Pisans and above all Venetians) and the theological polemics of the so-called Eastern Schism or Great Schism of East and West, with which the theoretical Christian aid proved as negative or more so for the Eastern Empire than the Muslim threat. The process of feudalization was accentuated when the Comnenus emperors were forced to make territorial cessions (called pronoia) to the aristocracy and to members of their own families.

The expansion of Islam (from the 7th century)

In the 7th century, after the preaching of Muhammad and the conquests of the first caliphs (both political and religious leaders, in a religion -Islamism- that does not recognize distinctions between laymen and clerics), the unification of Arabia and the conquest of the Persian Empire and a good part of the Byzantine Empire had taken place. In the 8th century the Iberian Peninsula, India and Central Asia were reached (battle of Talas -751- an Islamic victory over China after which there was no deepening of that Empire, but which allowed greater contact with its civilization, taking advantage of the knowledge of the prisoners). In the west, Muslim expansion was halted after the battle of Poitiers (732) against the Franks and the mythical battle of Covadonga against the Asturians (722). The presence of the Muslims as an alternative rival civilization settled in the southern half of the Mediterranean basin, whose maritime traffic they came to control, forced the closing in itself of Western Europe for several centuries, and for some historians it meant the true beginning of the Middle Ages.

From the 8th century there was a slower spread of Islamic civilization to places as far afield as Indonesia and the African continent, and from the 14th century to Anatolia and the Balkans. Relations with India were also very close during the rest of the Middle Ages (although the imposition of the Mughal empire did not occur until the 16th century), while the Indian Ocean became almost an Arabian Mare Nostrum, where the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor (one of the tales of The Thousand and One Nights from the time of Harun al-Rashid) were set. The commercial traffic of the maritime and caravan routes linked the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean through the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf and the desert caravans. This so-called spice route (foreshadowed by the incense route in the Ancient Ages) was essential for the arrival of remnants of Far Eastern science and culture to the West. To the north, the Silk Road served the same function, crossing the deserts and mountain ranges of Turkestan. Chess, Indo-Arabic numeration and the concept of zero, as well as some literary works (Calila and Dimna) were among the Hindu and Persian contributions. Paper, engraving and gunpowder were among the Chinese. The role of the Arabs, and of the Persians, Syrians, Egyptians and Arabized Spaniards (not only Islamic, as there were many who kept their Christian or Jewish religion -not so much the Zoroastrian-) was far from being mere transmission, as testified by the influence of the reinterpretation of classical philosophy that reached Western Europe through Arabic texts from Latin translations since the 12th century, and the spread of crops and agricultural techniques throughout the Mediterranean region. At a time when they were practically absent from the European economy, commercial practices and monetary circulation in the Islamic world stood out, encouraged by the exploitation of gold mines as far away as sub-Saharan Africa, together with other types of activities, such as the slave trade.

The initial unity of the Islamic world, which had already been questioned in the religious aspect with the separation of Sunnis and Shiites, was also broken in the political aspect with the replacement of the Umayyads by the Abbasids at the head of the caliphate in 749, who also replaced Damascus with Baghdad as their capital. Abderraman I, the last surviving Umayyad, managed to found an independent emirate in Cordoba for al-Andalus (Arabic name for the Iberian peninsula), which his descendant Abderraman III converted into an alternative caliphate in 929. Shortly before, in 909, the Fatimids had done the same in Egypt. From the 11th century onwards very important changes took place: the challenge to Arab hegemony as the dominant ethnic group within Islam by the Islamized Turks, who came to control different areas of the Middle East (the irruption of the Latin Christians in three key points of the Mediterranean (Christian kingdoms of the Reconquest in al-Andalus, Normans in southern Italy and Crusaders in Syria and Palestine); and that of the Mongols from central Asia.

Carolingian Empire (8th and 9th centuries)

By the 8th century, the European political situation had stabilized. In the East, the Byzantine Empire was once again strong, thanks to a series of competent emperors. In the West, some kingdoms ensured relative stability to various regions: Northumbria to England, the Visigothic Kingdom to Spain, the Lombard Kingdom to Italy and the Frankish Kingdom to Gaul and Germany. In reality, the Frankish Kingdom was a composite of three kingdoms: Austrasia, Neustria and Aquitaine.

The Carolingian Empire arose from the foundations created by Charlemagne's predecessors from the beginning of the 8th century (Charles Martel and Pipin the Short). The projection of its borders across a large part of Western Europe allowed Charles the aspiration to rebuild the extension of the ancient Western Roman Empire, being the first political entity of the Middle Ages that was in a position to become a continental power. Aachen was chosen as the capital, in a central situation and sufficiently distant from Italy, which, despite being freed from the domination of the Longobards and the theoretical Byzantine claims, retained a great autonomy that reached temporal sovereignty with the cession of some incipient Papal States (the Patrimonium Petri or Patrimony of St. Peter, which included Rome and a good part of central Italy). As a result of the close ties between the pontificate and the Carolingian dynasty, which legitimized and defended each other for three generations, Pope Leo III recognized the imperial pretensions of Charlemagne with a coronation in strange circumstances, on Christmas Day of the year 800.

Marks were created to fix the borders against external enemies (Arabs in the Hispanic Mark, Saxons in the Saxon Mark, Bretons in the Breton Mark, Lombards -until their defeat- in the Lombard Mark and Avars in the Avar Mark; later one was also created for the Hungarians: the Friuli Mark). The interior territory was organized into counties and duchies (union of several counties or marks). The officials who ran them (counts, marquises and dukes) were supervised by temporary inspectors (the missi dominici -envoys of the lord-), and care was taken to ensure that they were not inherited in order to prevent them from being patrimonialized in one family (which, in time, could not be avoided). The appropriation of lands, together with the charges, was intended above all for the maintenance of the costly heavy cavalry and the new battle horses (destreros, introduced from Asia in the 7th century, which were used in a completely different way to the old cavalry, with stirrups, gaudy saddles and which could hold armor). This process was at the origin of the birth of the fiefs that had to be ceded to each military man according to his rank, up to the basic unit: the knight who was lord over a territory, kept for his maintenance a manorial reserve and left the manors for his serfs, who were obliged to cultivate the reserve with free labor in exchange for military protection and the maintenance of order and justice, which were the functions of the lord. Logically, the fiefs at different levels underwent the same patrimonial transformation as marks and counties, establishing a pyramidal network of loyalties that is the origin of feudal vassalage.

Charlemagne negotiated on an equal footing with other great powers of the time, such as the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Cordoba, and the Abbasid Caliphate. Although he himself, as an adult, could not write (which was common at the time, when only a few clerics could), Charlemagne pursued a policy of cultural prestige and a remarkable artistic program. He intended to surround himself with a court of wise men and to initiate an educational program based on the trivium and the quadrivium, for which he sent for the intellectuals of his time to his dominions, promoting, with the collaboration of Alcuin of York, the so-called Carolingian Renaissance. As part of this educational endeavor, he ordered his nobles to learn to write, which he himself tried to do, although he never succeeded in doing so with fluency.

Charlemagne died in 814, his son Ludovico Pio took power. His sons: Charles the Bald (western France), Louis the Germanic (eastern France) and Lotarius I (first-born and heir to the imperial title), fought militarily disputing the different territories of the empire, which, beyond the aristocratic alliances, manifested different personalities, interpretable from a protonational perspective (different languages: towards the south and west the Romance languages were imposed, which began to differentiate themselves from Vulgar Latin, towards the north and east the Germanic languages, as testified by the previous Oaths of Strasbourg; customs, traditions and institutions of their own -Roman towards the south, Germanic towards the north-). This situation did not end even in 843 after the Treaty of Verdun, since the subsequent division of Lotario's kingdom among his sons (Lotaringia, the central strip from the Low Countries to Italy, passing through the region of the Rhine, Burgundy and Provence) led their uncles (Charles and Louis), to another division (the Treaty of Mersen of 870) which simplified the borders (leaving only Italy and Provence in the hands of his nephew Emperor Louis II the Younger - whose position did not imply any primacy other than honorary), but did not lead to a greater concentration of power in the hands of these monarchs, weak and in the hands of the territorial nobility. In some regions, the pact was no more than an entelechy, since the North Sea coast was occupied by the Vikings. Even in the theoretically controlled areas, subsequent inheritances and infighting between successive Carolingian kings and emperors subdivided and reunified the territories almost randomly.

The division, coupled with the institutional process of decentralization inherent in the feudal system, in the absence of strong central powers, and the pre-existing weakening of social and economic structures, meant that the next wave of barbarian invasions, especially by Hungarians and Vikings, plunged Western Europe back into the chaos of a new dark age.

The feudal system

The failure of Charlemagne's centralizing political project led, in the absence of this counterweight, to the formation of a political, economic and social system that historians have agreed to call feudalism, although in reality the name was born as a pejorative to designate the Ancien Régime by its enlightened critics. The French Revolution solemnly suppressed "all feudal rights" on the night of August 4, 1789 and "definitively the feudal regime" with the decree of August 11.

The generalization of the term allows many historians to apply it to the social formations of the entire Western European territory, whether or not they belonged to the Carolingian Empire. Those in favor of a restricted use, arguing the need not to confuse concepts such as fief, villae, tenure, or lordship, limit it both in space (France, West Germany and Northern Italy) and in time: a "first feudalism" or "Carolingian feudalism" from the 8th century to the year 1000 and a "classical feudalism" from the year 1000 to 1240, in turn divided into two periods, the first, until 1160 (the most decentralized, in which each castle lord could be considered independent, and the process called incastellamento takes place); and the second, that of the "feudal monarchy"). There were even "imported feudalisms": Norman England from 1066 and the Eastern Latin states created during the Crusades (12th and 13th centuries).

Others prefer to speak of "regime" or "feudal system", to differentiate it subtly from strict feudalism, or of feudal synthesis, to mark the fact that features of classical antiquity survive in it mixed with Germanic contributions, involving both institutions and productive elements, and signified the specificity of Western European feudalism as a social economic formation as opposed to other feudal ones, with transcendental consequences in the future historical evolution. There are more difficulties in the use of the term when we move further away: Eastern Europe underwent a process of "feudalization" from the end of the Middle Ages, just when in many areas of Western Europe peasants freed themselves from the legal forms of serfdom, so that we usually speak of Polish or Russian feudalism. The Ancien Régime in Europe, medieval Islam or the Byzantine Empire were urban and commercial societies, with a variable degree of political centralization, although the exploitation of the countryside was carried out with social relations of production very similar to medieval feudalism. Historians who apply the methodology of historical materialism (Marx defined the feudal mode of production as the intermediate stage between slavery and capitalism) do not hesitate to speak of "feudal economy" to refer to it, although they also recognize the need not to apply the term to any preindustrial social formation other than slavery, since throughout history and geography there have been other modes of production also envisaged in Marxist modeling, such as the primitive mode of production of little evolved, homogeneous societies with little social division - such as those of the Germanic peoples themselves prior to the invasions - and the Asian mode of production or hydraulic despotism - Pharaonic Egypt, the kingdoms of India or the Chinese Empire - characterized by the taxation of peasant villages to a highly centralized state. In even more distant places, the term feudalism has come to be used to describe an era. This is the case of Japan and the so-called Japanese feudalism, given the undeniable similarities and parallels that the European feudal nobility and their world has with the samurai and theirs. It has also been applied to the historical situation of the intermediate periods of Egyptian history, in which, following a millenary cyclical rhythm, the central power declines and life in the cities, military anarchy breaks the unity of the lands of the Nile, and the temples and local lords who manage to control a space of power rule there independently over the peasants obliged to work.

Two institutions were key to feudalism: on the one hand vassalage as a legal-political relationship between lord and vassal, a synalagmatic contract (that is, between equals, with requirements on both sides) between lords and vassals (both free men, both warriors, both nobles), consisting of the exchange of mutual support and loyalty (endowment of offices, honors and lands - the fief - by the lord to the vassal and commitment of auxilium et consilium - military aid or support and advice or political support -), which if not fulfilled or broken by either party gave rise to felony, and whose hierarchy was complicated in a pyramidal form (and on the other hand the fief as an economic unit and social relations of production, between the lord of the fief and his serfs, not an egalitarian contract, but a violent imposition ideologically justified as a do ut des of protection in exchange for work and submission.

Therefore, the reality that is enunciated as feudo-vasallatic relations is really a term that includes two types of social relations of a completely different nature, although the terms that designate them were used at the time (and continue to be used) in an equivocal manner and with great terminological confusion between them:

Vassalage was a pact between two members of the nobility of different ranks. The lower-ranking knight became the vassal (vassus) of the more powerful nobleman, who became his lord (dominus) by means of homage and investiture, in a ritualized ceremony that took place in the keep of the lord's castle. The homage (homage) -from the vassal to the lord- consisted of prostration or humiliation -usually kneeling-, the osculum (kiss), the immixtio manum -the hands of the vassal, joined in a praying position, were received between those of the lord-, and some phrase that acknowledged having become his man. After the homage, the investiture -from the lord to the vassal- took place, which represented the delivery of a fief (depending on the category of vassal and lord, it could be a county, a duchy, a mark, a castle, a town, or a simple salary; or even a monastery if the vassalage was ecclesiastical) through a symbol of the territory or the food that the lord owed the vassal -a bit of land, grass or grain- and the espaldarazo, in which the vassal received a sword (and a few blows with it on the shoulders), or a staff if it was religious.

The entrustment, commendation or patronage (patrocinium, commendatio, although it was common to use the term commendatio for the act of homage or even for the whole institution of vassalage) were theoretical pacts between the peasants and the feudal lord, which could also be ritualized in a ceremony or - more rarely - give rise to a document. The lord welcomed the peasants into his fief, which was organized in a manorial reserve that the serfs were obliged to work (sernas or corveas) and in all the small family farms (mansos) that were attributed to the peasants so that they could subsist. The lord's obligation was to protect them if they were attacked, and to maintain order and justice in the fief. In exchange, the peasant became his serf and passed to the double jurisdiction of the feudal lord: in the terms used in the Iberian Peninsula in the late Middle Ages, the territorial lordship, which obliged the peasant to pay rents to the nobleman for the use of the land; and the jurisdictional lordship, which turned the feudal lord into ruler and judge of the territory in which the peasant lived, for which he obtained feudal rents of very different origin (taxes, fines, monopolies, etc.). The distinction between property and jurisdiction was not clear in feudalism, since in fact the very concept of property was confusing, and jurisdiction, granted by the king as a grant, put the lord in a position to obtain his rents. There were no jurisdictional lordships in which all the plots of land belonged to the lord as property, being very generalized different forms of alodio in the peasants. In later moments of depopulation and re-feudalization, such as the crisis of the 17th century, some nobles tried to have a manor considered completely depopulated of peasants in order to free themselves from all kinds of restrictions and convert it into a rounded preserve that could be reconverted for another use, such as cattle raising.

Along with the fief, the vassal receives the serfs that are in it, not as slave property, but not in a regime of freedom either; since their servile condition prevents them from leaving it and obliges them to work. The obligations of the lord of the fief include the maintenance of order, that is, civil and criminal jurisdiction (mere and mixed empire in the juridical terminology reintroduced with Roman Law in the late Middle Ages), which gave even greater opportunities to obtain the productive surplus that the peasants could obtain after the obligations of work -corveas or sernas in the seigniorial reserve- or the payment of rent -in kind or in money, of very scarce circulation in the High Middle Ages, but more generalized in the last medieval centuries, as the economy became more dynamic-. The exploitation of forests and hunting, roads and bridges, mills, taverns and stores were usually left as manorial monopolies. All this meant more opportunities to obtain more feudal rent, including traditional rights, such as the ius prime noctis, or the right of the bereaved, which became a tax on marriages, a good example of how feudal rent is extracted from the surplus in an extra-economic way (in this case in the demonstration that a peasant community grows and prospers).

Over time, following the tendency marked since the Lower Roman Empire, which was consolidated in the classic feudal period and which survived throughout the Ancien Régime, a society organized in a stratified manner was formed, in the so-called estates or ordines (orders): nobility, clergy and common people (or third estate): bellatores, oratores and laboratores, the men who war, those who pray and those who work, according to the vocabulary of the time. The first two are privileged, that is to say, they are not subject to the common law, but to their own privileges (for example, they have different penalties for the same crime, and their form of execution is different) and they cannot work (they are forbidden to work in vile and mechanical trades), since this is the condition of non-privileged. In medieval times, the feudal orders were not closed and blocked estates, but maintained a permeability that allowed in extraordinary cases the social ascent due to merit (for example, the demonstration of exceptional courage), which were so rare that they were not experienced as a threat, This did happen after the great social upheavals of the final centuries of the late Middle Ages, when the privileged were forced to institutionalize their position by trying to close off access to their estates to the non-privileged (in which they were not completely effective either). The comparison with the caste society of India, in which warriors, priests, merchants, peasants and outcasts belonged to different castes understood as disconnected lineages whose mixing was forbidden, would be completely inappropriate.

The functions of the feudal orders were ideologically fixed by political Augustinism (Civitate Dei -426-), in search of a society that, although as earthly could not but be corrupt and imperfect, could aspire to be at least a shadow of the image of a perfect "City of God" of Platonic roots in which everyone would have a role in its protection, salvation and maintenance. This idea was reformulated and shaped throughout the Middle Ages, successively by authors such as Isidore of Seville (630), the school of Auxerre (Haimon of Auxerre -865- in the Burgundian abbey where Ericus of Auxerre and his disciple Remigius of Auxerre worked, who followed the tradition of Scotus Eriugena), Boethius (and used in legislative texts such as the so-called Compilación de Huesca de los Fueros de Aragón (Jaime I), and the Siete Partidas (Alfonso X el Sabio, 1265).

The bellatores or warriors were the nobility, whose function was the physical protection, the defense of all against aggressions and injustices. It was organized pyramidally from the emperor, passing through the kings and descending without solution of continuity to the last squire, although according to their rank, power and wealth can be classified into two distinct parts: high nobility (marquises, counts and dukes) whose fiefs have the size of regions and provinces (although most of the time not in territorial continuity, but distributed and diffuse, full of enclaves and exclaves); and the lower nobility or knights (barons, infanzones), whose fiefs are the size of small counties (on a municipal or less than municipal scale), or directly do not possess territorial fiefs, living in the castles of more important lords, or in cities or towns in which they do not exercise jurisdiction (although they can exercise their regiment, that is, participate in their municipal government in representation of the noble state). At the end of the Middle Ages and in the Modern Age, when the nobility no longer exercised its military function, as was the case of the Spanish hidalgos, who claimed their estates' privileges to avoid paying taxes and to obtain some social advantage, boasting of executorship or coat of arms and manor, but who, not having sufficient feudal income to maintain the noble way of life, ran the risk of losing their status by contracting an unequal marriage or earning their living by working:

and the lineage and nobility so grown, by how many ways and means his great highness is lost in this life! Some, for little worth, by how low and dejected they have them; others, for not having,

In addition to religious legitimization, through secular culture and art (the epic of the cantares de gesta and the lyric of courtly love of the Provençal troubadours), the ideological legitimization of the way of life, the social function and the values of the nobility was socially disseminated.

The orators or clerics were the clergy, whose function was to facilitate the spiritual salvation of immortal souls: some formed a powerful elite called high clergy, (abbots, bishops), and others more humble, the low clergy (village priests or lay brothers of a monastery). The extension and organization of Benedictine monasticism through the Order of Cluny, closely linked to the organization of the centralized and hierarchical episcopal network, with its apex in the Pope of Rome, established the double feudal pyramid of the secular clergy, destined to the administration of the sacraments (and the regular clergy, separated from the world and subjected to a monastic rule (usually the Benedictine rule). The three monastic vows of the regular clergy: poverty, obedience and chastity; as well as the ecclesiastical celibacy that was imposed on the secular clergy, functioned as an effective mechanism of linking the two privileged estates: the second sons of the nobility entered the clergy, where they were maintained without hardship thanks to the numerous foundations, donations, dowries and testamentary mandates; but they did not dispute the inheritances of their brothers, who could keep the family patrimony concentrated. The lands of the Church remained as dead hands, whose function was to guarantee the masses and prayers planned by the donors, so that the children prayed for the souls of their parents. The whole system guaranteed the maintenance of the social prestige of the privileged, attending Mass in prominent places while they lived and buried in the main places of churches and cathedrals when they died. There was no lack of confrontations: the evidence of simony and nicolaism (appointments to ecclesiastical offices interfered with by the civil authorities or their pure sale and purchase) and the use of the main religious threat to temporal power, equivalent to a civil death: excommunication. The Pope even attributed to himself the authority to exempt the vassal from the fidelity due to his lord and to claim it for himself, which was used on several occasions for the foundation of kingdoms that became vassals of the Pope (for example, the independence that Afonso Henriques obtained for the county that became the kingdom of Portugal against the kingdom of Leon).

The laboratores, or workers, were the common people, whose function was the maintenance of the bodies, the ideologically lowest and humblest function -humiliores were those close to the humus, the earth, while their superiors were honestiores, those who could maintain honor or honor-. Necessarily the most numerous, and the vast majority of them dedicated to agricultural tasks, given the very low productivity and agricultural yield, typical of the pre-industrial era and the very low technical level (hence the identification in Castilian of laborator with labrador). In general, they were subject to the other estates. The common people were mostly peasants, serfs of the feudal lords or free peasants (villains), and craftsmen, who were scarce and lived either in the villages (those with less specialization, who used to share the agricultural tasks), or in the villages (those with less specialization, who used to share the agricultural tasks): blacksmiths, saddlers, potters, tailors) or in the few and small towns (those of greater specialization and of products of less pressing need or in demand from the upper classes: jewelers, goldsmiths, potters, coopers, weavers, dyers). The self-sufficiency of the fiefs and monasteries limited their market and capacity to grow. The building trades (stonemasonry, masonry, carpentry) and the profession of master builder or architect are a notable exception: forced by the nature of their work to travel to the place where the building is constructed, they became a nomadic guild that moved along European roads communicating technical or ornamental novelties transformed into trade secrets, which is at the origin of their distant and mythical link with the secret society of Freemasonry, which from its origin considered them as the primitive Masons.

The areas without intermediate dependence on noble or ecclesiastical lords were called realengo and tended to prosper more, or at least they used to consider it a misfortune to become dependent on a lord, to the point that sometimes they managed to avoid it with payments to the king, or the repopulation of border or depopulated areas was encouraged (as happened in the Asturian-Leonese kingdom with the depopulated Meseta del Duero) where mixed figures could appear, such as the villain knight (who could maintain at least one war horse with his own farm and arm and defend himself) or the behetrías, who chose their own lord and could change from one to another if it suited them, or with the offer of a fuero or carta puebla that granted a town its own collective lordship. The initial privileges were not enough to prevent most of them from falling into feudalization over time.

The three feudal orders were not yet closed estates in the Middle Ages: they were the basic consequence of the social structure that had been slowly but inexorably created with the transition from slavery to feudalism since the crisis of the third century (ruralization and formation of latifundia and villae, Diocletian's reforms, decomposition of the Roman Empire, the invasions, the establishment of the Germanic kingdoms, institutions of the Carolingian Empire, decomposition of the latter and a new wave of invasions). The feudal lords were a continuation of the clientelistic lines of the Carolingian counts, and some can be traced back to the Roman landowners or the Germanic retinues, while the peasantry came from the former slaves or colonists, or from free peasants who were forced to entrust themselves, sometimes receiving a part of their own former lands in the form of a manor "granted" by the lord. The peasant inherited his servile condition and his subjection to the land, and rarely had the opportunity to rise in level except by his escape to a city or by an even more extraordinary event: his ennoblement by an outstanding deed of arms or service to the king, which under normal conditions were completely forbidden to him. The same can be said of the artisan or the merchant (who in some cases could accumulate fortune, but not alter his humble origin). The nobleman was generally so by inheritance, although occasionally someone could ennoble himself as a soldier of fortune, after a victorious career of arms (as was the case, for example, of Roberto Guiscardo). The clergy, on the other hand, was recruited by co-optation, with different access according to social origin: assured for the second rankers of the noble houses and restricted to the lower levels of the lower clergy for those of the common people; but in particular or outstanding cases, the ascent in the ecclesiastical hierarchy was open to intellectual merit. All this gave the feudal system an extraordinary stability, where there was "a place for every man, and every man in his place", as well as an extraordinary flexibility, because it allowed political and economic power to atomize throughout Europe, from Spain to Poland.

The year one thousand

The legendary year one thousand, the end of the first millennium, which is conventionally used for the passage from the High to the Low Middle Ages, is in fact only a round figure for the computation of the Christian era, which was not universally used: the Muslims used their own Islamic lunar calendar beginning at the Hegira (in some parts of Christendom local eras were used (such as the Hispanic era, which counts from 38 B.C.). But certainly, millenarianism and end-time forecasts were present; even the pope himself during the turn of the millennium Sylvester II, the Frenchman Gerbert of Aurillac, interested in all kinds of knowledge, gained an esoteric reputation. Astrology could always find extraordinary celestial phenomena on which to rest its prestige (such as eclipses), but certainly other events of the time were among the most spectacular in history: Halley's comet, which approaches the Earth periodically every eight decades, reached its peak brightness on the visit of 837, bid farewell to the first millennium in 989, and arrived in time for the battle of Hastings in 1066; much more visible still, the supernovae SN 1006 and SN 1054, which are given the number of the year in which they were recorded, were more fully reported in Chinese, Arabic and even Indo-American sources than in the few European ones (although the one in 1054 coincided with the battle of Atapuerca).

The whole of the tenth century, rather for the real conditions than for the imaginary ones, can be considered part of a dark, pessimistic, insecure period presided by fear of all kinds of dangers, real and imaginary, natural and supernatural: fear of the sea, fear of the forest, fear of witches and demons and everything that, without falling within the Christian supernatural, was relegated to the inexplicable and to the concept of the marvelous, attributed to beings of dubious or perhaps possible existence (dragons, goblins, fairies, unicorns). There was nothing unique about this fact: a thousand years later, the 20th century gave birth to comparable fears: of the nuclear holocaust, of climate change, of communism (the witch-hunt with which McCarthyism was identified), of freedom (Fear of Freedom is the basis of fascism in Erich Fromm's interpretation), a comparison that has been highlighted by historians and interpreted by sociologists (Ulrich Beck's Risk Society).

At the historical juncture of the year 1000, the strongest political structures of the previous period were proving to be very weak: Islam broke up into caliphates (Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba), which by the year 1000 were proving incapable of containing the Christian kingdoms, especially the Kingdom of Leon in the Iberian Peninsula (final failure of Almanzor) and the Byzantine Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Byzantine expansion also affected the Bulgarian Empire, which was destroyed. The French, Polish and Hungarian national particularisms draw protonational borders which, curiously, are very similar to those of the year 2000. On the other hand, the Carolingian Empire had dissolved into ungovernable feudal principalities, which the Ottoids intended to include in a second Restauratio Imperii (Otto I, in 962), this time on Germanic bases.

The persistence of fear and the role of laughter

Fears and insecurity did not end with the year one thousand, nor did we have to wait for the terrible black plague and the scourging of the fourteenth century to find them again. Even in the medieval optimum of the expansive thirteenth century it was most common to find texts like Dante's, or like the following:

This hymn of unknown author, attributed to many different people (Pope Gregory -who could be Gregory the Great, to whom the Gregorian chant is also attributed, or another of that name-, to the founder of the Cistercian Order Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, to the Dominican monks Umbertus and Frangipani and to the Franciscan Thomas of Celano) and incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass:

But this other, coming from a totally opposite environment, also participates in the same pessimistic conception of the world, collected in a collection of goliard poems (monks and students of disorderly life).

The supernatural was present in everyone's daily life as a constant reminder of the brevity of life and the imminence of death, whose radical egalitarianism was applied, in counterpoint to the inequality of conditions, as a social cohesive, as was the promise of eternal life. The imagination was excited by the most morbid images of what would happen at the final judgment, the torments of hell and of the merits that the saints had obtained with their ascetic life and their martyrdoms (which well administered by the Church could save the temporal pains of purgatory). This did not only operate on the frightened unlettered who only had the gospel in stone of the churches; most of the educated readers gave all credence to the gruesome scenes that filled the martyrologies and to the unlikely stories of the Golden Legend of Jacopo da Voragine.

Fear was inherent in the permanent structural violence of feudalism, which, although channeled by socially acceptable mechanisms and establishing a theoretically perfect estamental order, was a permanent reminder of the possibility of subversion of the order, periodically renewed with wars, invasions and internal uprisings. In particular, the satires against the rustic were manifestations of the mixture of contempt and distrust with which clerics and nobles viewed the serf, reduced to a deformed, ignorant and violent monster, capable of the greatest atrocities, especially when grouped together.

But at the same time, it was maintained, as an essential part of the ideological edifice (it was the justification of the papal election) that the voice of the people was the voice of God (Vox populi, vox Dei). The medieval spirit had to assume the contradiction of promoting public manifestations of piety and devotion and at the same time allowing generous concessions to sin. The carnivals and other grotesque parodies (the feast of the donkey or the charivari) allowed all kinds of licenses, even blasphemy and mockery of the sacred, inverting the hierarchies (kings were elected from the silly bishops or bishops of the feast) making triumph everything that the rest of the year was forbidden, was considered ugly, unpleasant or scary, as a healthy reaction to the daily terror of the afterlife and a guarantee that, once the excesses of the feast were over, people would docilely return to work and obedience. Seriousness and sadness were the prerogatives of those who practiced a sacred optimism (we must suffer because eternal life awaits us), while laughter was the medicine of those who lived a miserable and difficult life with pessimism. Faced with the greater rigorism of primitive Christianity, medieval theologians speculated on whether Christ was laughing or not (while some church fathers defended the right to a holy joy), which justified ecclesiastical comic texts, such as the Coena Cypriani and the Joca monachorum.

The period of European history from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries is called the Fullness of the Middle Ages. That Full Middle Ages or Fullness of the Middle Ages would end in the crisis of the XIVth or crisis of the Middle Ages, in which "decadent" processes can be appreciated, and it is usual to qualify it as twilight or autumn. Nevertheless, the last medieval centuries are full of dynamic facts and processes, with enormous repercussions and projections in the future, although logically they are the facts and processes that can be understood as "new", that prefigure the new times of modernity. At the same time, the facts, processes, social agents, institutions and values characterized as medieval have clearly entered into decadence; they survive, and will survive for centuries, largely thanks to their institutionalization (for example, the closing of the privileged estates or the adoption of the entailed estate), which is a symptom of the fact that it is then, and not before, that it was considered necessary to defend them so much.

The justification for this denomination is the exceptional economic, demographic, social and cultural development of Europe that took place in that period, coinciding with a very favorable climate (there has been talk of the "medieval optimum") that allowed the cultivation of vines in England. There has also been talk, particularly for the 12th century, of the 12th century revolution or the 12th century renaissance.

The symbolic year one thousand (whose millenarian terrors are an often exaggerated historiographical myth) means nothing by itself, but from then on the Dark Ages of the invasions of the High Middle Ages are over: Hungarians and Normans are already settled and integrated into Latin Christendom. Europe in the early Middle Ages was also expansive in the military field: the crusades in the Near East, the Angevin domination of Sicily and the advance of the Christian kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula (the Caliphate of Cordoba disappeared) threatened to reduce the Islamic space to the southern shores of the Mediterranean basin and the interior of Asia.

The feudal mode of production developed without, for the time being, encountering any limits to its extension (as would happen with the crisis of the 14th century). The feudal income was distributed by the lords outside the countryside, where it originated: the cities and the bourgeoisie grew with the increase in demand for handicraft products and long-distance trade, the birth and development of fairs, land and sea trade routes and institutions such as the Hansa. Central and Northern Europe entered the heart of Western civilization. The Byzantine Empire was maintained between Islam and the Crusaders, extending its cultural influence to the Balkans and the Russian steppes, where it resisted the Mongol thrust.

Romanesque and early Gothic art are protected by religious orders and secular clergy. Cluny and the Cistercian order fill Europe with monasteries. The road to Santiago links the Iberian Peninsula with Europe. Universities were born (Bologna, Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge, Salamanca, Coimbra). Scholasticism reaches its peak with Thomas Aquinas, after being influenced by translations from Arabic (Averroism). The rediscovery of Roman law (Bártolo de Sassoferrato, Baldo degli Ubaldi) begins to influence the kings who see themselves as emperors in their kingdom.

Conflicts grow along with society: heresies, peasant and urban revolts, the savage repression of all of them and the no less savage feudal wars are constant.

The expansion of the feudal system

Far from being a stagnant social system (the closing of access to the estates is a process that occurs as a conservative reaction of the privileged, after the final crisis of the Middle Ages, already in the Ancien Régime), medieval feudalism showed enough flexibility to allow the development of two processes, which mutually fed each other favoring a rapid expansion. On the one hand, assigning a place to each person within the system allowed the expulsion of all those for whom there was no place, sending them as settlers and military adventurers to lands not won for Western Christendom, thus brutally expanding its boundaries. On the other hand, to ensure a certain order and social stability for the agrarian world after the end of the period of invasions; although wars - inherent to the feudal system - were far from over, the usual level of violence in periods of war tended to be controlled by the institutions themselves - code of honor, God's truce, sacred hosting - and in normal periods tended to be ritualized - challenges, duels, rifts, jousts, tournaments, honorable passage - although it did not disappear either in international relations or within the kingdoms, with cities that based their security and urban pax on their strong walls, their curfews and their expeditious justice, and insecure countryside in which lords of gallows and knives imposed their prerogatives and even abused them (feudal malefactors), not without encountering the anti-seignorial resistance of the serfs, sometimes mythologized (Robin Hood). Unlike the slave mode of production, the feudal mode of production made the producer - the peasant - responsible for increasing production: whether the harvest was good or bad, he had to pay the same rents. That is why the system alone encourages work and the incorporation of what experience shows to be good agricultural practices, including the incorporation of new techniques that improve the yield of the land. If the increase in production is permanent and not cyclical (a single good harvest due to climatic causes), the feudal lord will begin to receive stimuli, who will detect this increase in the surpluses whose extraction is the basis of his feudal income (greater use of the mill, greater circulation on the roads and bridges, greater consumption in stores and taverns; from all of which he collects taxes or will aspire to do so), and will even be encouraged to raise the rent. When what happens is that the peasants, pushed by the increase of their families, press the limits of the mansos by ploughing up previously uncultivated lands (wastelands, pastures, forests, draining wetlands), the lord will be able to impose new conditions, or even prevent it, because they are part of his reserve or his monopolistic uses (hunting, food for his horses).

This dynamic class struggle between serfs and lords dynamized the economy and made possible the beginning of a concentration of wealth accumulated from agricultural rents; but never in a way comparable to the accumulation of capital typical of capitalism, since it was not productive investment (as would have happened if the peasants had used the surplus), but hoarding in the hands of nobility and clergy. Ultimately, through construction programs (castles, monasteries, churches, cathedrals, palaces) and sumptuary spending on luxury goods - horses, sophisticated weapons, jewelry, works of art, fine fabrics, dyes, silks, tapestries, spices - this could not fail to stimulate rudimentary long-distance trade, monetary circulation and urban life; in short, the economic revival of Western Europe. Ironically, both processes would eventually undermine the foundations of feudalism, and lead to its destruction. However, one should not imagine that there was anything like the agricultural revolution prior to the industrial revolution: the fact that neither peasants nor lords could convert surplus into capital (some because they extracted it and others because their social position was incompatible with economic activities) made any innovation slow and costly, in addition to the fact that any innovation clashed with ideological prejudices and a strongly traditionalist mentality, both typical of pre-industrial society. Only in the course of centuries, and due to the trial and error of the good craftsmanship of anonymous blacksmiths and saddlers without any connection with scientific research, did the incorporation of scarce but decisive technical improvements take place, such as the collera (which made possible the efficient use of the power of draft horses, which began to replace oxen) or the moldboard plow (which replaced the Roman plow in the humid and heavy lands of northern Europe, but not in the dry and light lands of the south). The year and time fallow remained the most used cultivation method; crop rotation was unknown; manuring was an exceptional resource, given the scarcity of animals, whose manure was the only available fertilizer; irrigation was limited to some of the Mediterranean areas of Islamic culture; the use of iron in tools and farming implements was spared, given its unaffordable cost for the peasants; the technical level, in general, was precarious. The windmill was a technological transfer that, like so many others in other fields (gunpowder, paper, compass, engraving), came from Asia. Even with its limited scope, the set of innovations and changes was especially concentrated in a period that some historians have come to call the "Renaissance" of the twelfth century or the Revolution of the twelfth century, a time when economic and social dynamism, starting from the main engine, that is, the "Renaissance" of the twelfth century, was the main engine of the economic and social dynamism of the twelfth century.

Following the precedent of the Carolingian organization of palatine, cathedral and monastic schools (due to Alcuin of York -787-), rather than that of other similar institutions existing in the Islamic world, the first universities in Christian Europe were founded for the study of law, medicine and theology. The central part of the teaching involved the study of the preparatory arts (called liberal arts because they were mental or spiritual and freed from the manual labor of the crafts, considered vile and mechanical trades); these liberal arts were the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). Afterwards, the student came into contact with more specific studies. In addition to teaching centers, they were also the place of research and production of knowledge, and the focus of vigorous debates and polemics, which sometimes even required the interventions of civil and ecclesiastical power, despite the privileges with which they were endowed and which made them independent institutions, well endowed economically with a patrimonial base of land and buildings. The cultural transformation generated by the universities has been summarized in this way: In 1100, the school followed the teacher; in 1200, the teacher followed the school. The most prestigious ones received the name of Studium Generale, and their fame spread throughout Europe, requiring the presence of their teachers, or at least epistolary communication, which initiated a fruitful intellectual exchange facilitated by the common use of the cultured language, Latin.

Between 1200 and 1400, 52 universities were founded in Europe, 29 of them papal, the others imperial or royal. The first was possibly Bologna (specializing in law, 1088), followed by Oxford (before 1096), from which its rival Cambridge split (1209), Paris, from the mid-12th century (one of whose colleges was the Sorbonne, 1275), Salamanca (1218, preceded by the Estudi General de Palencia of 1208), Padua (1222), Naples (1224), Coimbra (1308, transferred from the Estudio General de Lisboa of 1290), Alcalá de Henares (1293, refounded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499), La Sapienza (Rome, 1303), Valladolid (1346), the Charles University (Prague, 1348), the Jagiellonian University (Krakow, 1363), Vienna (1365), Heidelberg (1386), Cologne (1368) and, at the end of the medieval period, Louvain (1425), Barcelona (1450), Basel (1460) and Uppsala (1477). In medicine, the Salernitan Medical School, with Arab roots, enjoyed great prestige, and in 1220 the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier began to compete with it.

Scholasticism was the dominant theological-philosophical current of medieval thought, after the patristics of Late Antiquity, and was based on the coordination of faith and reason, which in any case always implied the clear submission of reason to faith (Philosophia ancilla theologiae -philosophy is the slave of theology-). But it is also a method of intellectual work: all thought had to submit to the principle of authority (Magister dixit -the Master said it-), and teaching could be limited in principle to the repetition or glossing of ancient texts, and above all of the Bible, the main source of knowledge, since it represents divine Revelation; in spite of all this, scholasticism encouraged speculation and reasoning, since it meant submitting to a rigid logical framework and a schematic structure of discourse that had to be exposed to refutation and prepared defenses. From the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the twelfth century the debates centered on the question of universals, which opposed the realists led by William of Champeaux, the nominalists represented by Roscellin and the conceptualists (Peter Abelard). The 12th century saw the reception of texts of Aristotle previously unknown in the West, first indirectly through Jewish and Muslim philosophers, especially Avicenna and Averroes, but then directly translated from Greek into Latin by St. Albert the Great and by William of Moerbeke, secretary of St. Thomas Aquinas, the true summit of medieval thought and elevated to the rank of Doctor of the Church. The apogee of scholasticism coincided with the 13th century, when the universities were founded and the mendicant orders arose: Dominicans (who followed an Aristotelian tendency -the aforementioned-) and Franciscans (characterized by Platonism and the patristic tradition -Alexander of Hales or St. Bonaventure-). Both orders would monopolize the chairs and the life of the university colleges, and most of the theologians and philosophers of the time would come from them.

The 14th century represented the crisis of scholasticism through two British Franciscans: the doctor subtilis John Duns Scotus and William of Occam. Precedent of both would be the Oxford School (Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon) centered on the study of nature, defending the possibility of an experimental science supported by mathematics, against the dominant Thomism. The polemic of universals ended up favoring the nominalists, which left a space for philosophy beyond theology.

Respondeo dicendum quod Deum esse quinque viis probari potest. Prima autem et manifestior via est, quae sumitur ex parte motus. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliqua moveri in hoc mundo. Impossibile est ergo quod, secundum idem et eodem modo, aliquid sit movens et motum, vel quod moveat seipsum. Omne ergo quod movetur, oportet ab alio moveri. Si ergo id a quo quo movetur, moveatur, oportet et ipsum ab alio moveri et illud ab alio. Hic autem non est procedere in infinitum, quia sic non esset aliquod primum movens; et per consequens nec aliquod aliud movens, quia moventia secunda non movent nisi per hoc quod sunt mota a primo movente.

The bourgeoisie is the new social agent formed by the craftsmen and merchants that arise in the surroundings of the cities, either in the old Roman cities that had decayed, or in new nuclei created around castles or crossroads -the properly called burghs-. Many of these cities incorporated this name - Hamburg, Magdeburg, Freiburg, Strasbourg; in Spain Burgo de Osma or Burgos-.

The bourgeoisie was interested in pressuring the political powers (empire, papacy, the various monarchies, the local feudal nobility or ecclesiastical institutions - dioceses or monasteries - on which their cities depended) to facilitate the economic opening up of the enclosed spaces of the cities, The centralization of the administration of justice and equality of rules in broad territories that would allow them to develop their work, while guaranteeing that those who violated these rules would be punished with equal severity in the different territories.

Those cities that opened the doors to trade and to greater freedom of movement, saw the wealth and prosperity of their inhabitants and those of the lord increase, so that the model spread reluctantly but firmly. Alliances between lords were more common, not so much for war as to allow the economic development of their respective territories, and the king was the unifying element of these alliances.

The burghers can be considered free men insofar as they were partially outside the feudal system, which literally besieged them - the cities have been compared to islands in a feudal ocean - because they did not participate directly in feudal-vasaldic relations: they were neither feudal lords, nor peasants in servitude, nor churchmen. Subjection as a subject of political power was similar to a bond of vassalage, but rather as a collective lordship that made the city respond as a whole to the demands for military and political support of the king or ruler to whom it was linked, and in turn participate in the feudal exploitation of the surrounding countryside (alfoz in Spain).

The German expression Stadtluft macht frei "The airs of the city give freedom", or "set you free" (a paraphrase of the Gospel phrase "the truth will set you free"), indicated that those who could settle in the cities, sometimes literally fleeing from the bondage of serfdom, had a whole new world of opportunities to exploit. The escaped serf was considered free to return to his master if he managed to domicile himself in an urban corporation for a year and a day. they had a whole new world of opportunities to exploit, although not in a regime of freedom, understood in its contemporary form. Subjection to guild rules and urban laws could be harsher even than those of the countryside: the pax urbana meant rigidity in the application of justice, which kept the roads and entrance gates lined with the corpses of the executed and a severe curfew, with doors closing at nightfall and rounds of vigilance. It did grant the bourgeoisie the opportunity to exercise a parcel of power, including the use of arms in the urban militia (like the Castilian brotherhoods that unified into the Holy Brotherhood in the 15th century), which on many occasions were used against the feudal hosts, with the approval of the emerging authoritarian monarchies. In the earliest and most spectacular case were the Italian communes, which became de facto independent of the Holy Roman Empire after the battle of Legnano (1176).

Many new social institutions emerged in the burgs. The development of trade brought with it the development of the financial system and accounting. Craftsmen joined together in associations called guilds, leagues, guilds, guilds, guilds, or arts, depending on the geographical location. The internal functioning of the guild workshops implied an apprenticeship of several years for the apprentice under a master (the owner of the workshop), which implied the passage of the apprentice to the status of journeyman when he demonstrated knowledge of the trade, which implied his consideration as a salaried worker, a condition in itself alien to the feudal world that even moved to the countryside (at first in a marginal way) with the day laborers who did not have their own land or land granted by the lord. The association of workshops in the guilds functioned in a way completely contrary to the capitalist free market: they tried to avoid any possible competition by fixing prices, qualities, working hours and conditions, and even the streets where they could be located. The opening of new workshops and the passage from the rank of journeyman to that of master were very restricted, so that in practice, inheritance and inbred marriages within the guild were encouraged. The goal was the survival of all, not the success of the best.

More openness was shown by trade. The hawkers who went from village to village, and the few adventurers who dared to make longer journeys were the most common merchants of the early Middle Ages, before the year 1000. Within three centuries, by the beginning of the 14th century the Champagne and Medina fairs had created stable and more or less secure overland routes that (on the backs of mules or with carts in the best of cases) traversed Europe from north to south (in the Castilian case following the transhumant cattle trails of the Mesta, in the French case linking the Flemish and North-Italian emporia through the prosperous Burgundian and Rhenish regions, all dotted with cities). The Hansa or Hanseatic league in turn established sea routes of similar stability and security (with greater cargo capacity, in ships of innovative technology) linking the Baltic and the North Sea through the Scandinavian straits, connecting territories as far away as Russia and Flanders and river routes connecting all of northern Europe (rivers like the Rhine and the Vistula), allowing the development of cities like Hamburg, Lübeck and Danzing, and establishing trade consulates called kontor. In the Mediterranean they were called Consulate of the Sea: the first in Trani in 1063 and then Pisa, Messina, Cyprus, Constantinople, Venice, Montpellier, Valencia (1283), Mallorca (1343) and Barcelona (1347). When the Strait of Gibraltar was secured, both Europes could be connected by sea, with routes between Italian cities (especially Genoa), Marseilles, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Lisbon, the Cantabrian ports (Santander, Laredo, Bilbao), those of the French Atlantic and those of the Channel (English and Flemish, especially Bruges and Antwerp). The increasingly fluid contact of people from different nations (as they began to call the groupings of merchants of close geographical origin who understood each other in the same vulgar language, as occurred in the sections of the military orders) ended up producing that both institutions functioned in fact, as primitive international organizations.

All this developed an incipient commercial capitalism (see also History of Capitalism) with the increase or emergence ex novo of the monetary economy, banking (credit, loans, insurance, bills of exchange), activities that always maintained moral misgivings (the sin of usury for all that meant undue profit, and which could only be incurred by Jews when they lent to others who were not of their religion, a trade forbidden to both Christians and Muslims). The emergence of rich bourgeois and poor urban plebs gave rise to a new type of social tensions, which produced urban revolts. As for ideological aspects, the expression of bourgeois nonconformity with their marginal place in feudal society is at the origin of heresies throughout the late Middle Ages (Cathars, Waldensians, Albigensians, Dulcinians, Hussites, Wycliffians). The attempts of the Church to respond to these demands of the urban world, as well as to control and, if necessary, repress them, led to the appearance of the mendicant orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) and the Inquisition. Sometimes, the impossibility of achieving control made them opt for extermination, as happened in Beziers in 1209, following the response of the papal legate Arnaud Amaury.

New political entities

In the early Middle Ages there was a great disparity in the scale at which political power was exercised: the universal powers (Pontificate and Empire) continued to claim primacy over the feudal monarchies, which in practice functioned as independent states. At the same time, much smaller entities in extension proved to be very dynamic in international relations (the Italian city-states and the free cities of the German Empire), and municipalism proved to be a force to be reckoned with in all the territories of Europe.

The rediscovery of the Justinian Digest (Digestum Vetus) allowed the autonomous study of Law (Pepo and Irnerius) and the emergence of the School of Glossators and the University of Bologna (1088). This event, which will allow the gradual rediscovery of Roman Law, will lead to the formation of the so-called Corpus Iuris Civilis and the possibility of proposing an Ius commune (Common Law), and justify the concentration of power and regulatory capacity in the imperial institution, or in the monarchs, each of whom will begin to consider himself as imperator in regno suo ("emperor in his kingdom", definitions of Bártolo de Sassoferrato and Baldo degli Ubaldi).

The difficult coexistence of Pontificate and Empire (regnum et sacerdocium) over the centuries gave rise to the quarrel of investitures between 1073 and 1122. Different ideological formulations (theory of the two swords, Plenitudo potestatis, Dictatus papae, condemnations of simony and Nicolaism) constituted an edifice erected over the centuries by which the pope sought to mark the supremacy of religious authority over civil power (what has come to be called political Augustinism), while the Emperor sought to assert the legitimacy of his office, which he claimed to derive from the ancient Roman Empire (Translatio imperii), as well as the material fact of his military capacity to impose his territorial power and even to protect religious life (both in institutional and dogmatic aspects), like his equivalent in the East. The accession of different dynasties to the imperial dignity weakened the power of the emperors, subject to a system of election that made them dependent on a delicate game of alliances between the dignitaries who attained the title of prince-elector, some lay (territorial princes, independent in practice) and others ecclesiastical (bishops of free cities). Nevertheless, periodically there were attempts to regain imperial power (Otto III and Henry II among the last Ottomids), sometimes leading to spectacular clashes (Henry IV, of the Salian dynasty, or Frederick I Barbarossa and Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty). The opposition between Guelphs and Ghibellines, each associated with one of the powers in contention (pope and emperor), presided over the political life of Germany and Italy from the 12th century until well into the late Middle Ages.

Both pretensions were far from becoming effective, exhausted in their own debate and surpassed by the greater political efficiency of the urban entities and kingdoms of the rest of Europe.

Parliamentarism appeared, a form of political representation that eventually became the precedent of the division of powers consubstantial to the democracy of the Contemporary Age. The primacy in time goes to the Icelandic Alþingi (but from the end of the 11th century a new institutional model was being developed, derived from the feudal obligation of consilium, which involved the three feudal orders, and was generalized throughout Western Europe: the Courts of León (1188), the English Parliament (1258) -previously the power relations between king and nobility had been regulated in the Magna Carta, 1215, or the Provisions of Oxford, 1258- and the French Estates General (1302).

The Gregorian Reformation and monastic reforms

Hildebrand of Tuscany, already from his position under the pontificates of Leo IX and Nicholas II, and later as Pope Gregory VII (thus covering the entire second half of the eleventh century), undertook a program of centralization of the Church, with the help of the Benedictines of Cluny, which spread throughout Western Europe involving the feudal monarchies (

The following monastic reforms, such as the Carthusian (St. Bruno) and especially the Cistercian (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) will mean further strengthening of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and its dispersed implantation throughout Europe as an impressive social and economic force linked to feudal structures, linked to noble families and royal dynasties and with a base of territorial and real estate wealth, to which was added the collection of the Church's own rights (tithes, first fruits, rights of stole, and other local charges, such as the vow of St. James in northwestern Spain).

The strengthening of papal power intensified political and ideological tensions with the Germanic Empire and the Eastern Church, which in this case would eventually lead to the Eastern Schism.

The Crusades brought as a consequence the creation of a special type of religious orders, which, in addition to submitting to a monastic rule (usually the Cistercian, including the theoretical fulfillment of the monastic vows) demanded from their members a military rather than an ascetic life: these were the military orders, founded after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 (Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights Templar -1104- and Hospitallers -1118-). They were also constituted in other geographical contexts (Spanish military orders and Teutonic knights).

Adaptation to the thriving urban life of the 12th and 13th centuries was the mission of a new cycle of foundations in the regular clergy: the mendicant orders, whose members were not monks but friars (Franciscans of St. Francis of Assisi and Dominicans of St. Dominic of Guzman, followed by others, such as the Augustinians); and new institutions: the Universities and the Inquisition.

From the eleventh and twelfth centuries onward, dogmatic and devotional innovations of great importance were introduced into Latin Christianity:

The imposition of the Roman rite against the previous multiplicity of liturgies (Hispanic rite, Bracarense rite, Ambrosian rite, etc.).

The imposition of priestly celibacy at the Lateran Council (1123).

The discovery of the role of purgatory as an intermediate stage of souls between heaven and hell, which will intensify the intermediary function of the Church through prayers and masses and the merits of the Communion of Saints administered by her.

The intensification of the role of the Virgin Mary, who became a co-redeemer with attributes investigated by Mariology and not yet dogmatized (Immaculate Conception, Assumption of the Virgin), with new devotions and prayers (Salve, adopted by Cluny in 1135; and Rosary, introduced by St. Dominic against the Albigensians), a fever of church foundations in her name, and with a very extensive artistic treatment. In the age of courtly love, devotion to the Virgin could hardly be distinguished, at least in form, from that which the knight felt for his lady.

Mariology was born in Late Antiquity with patristics, and the popular cult of the virgin was one of the key factors in the smooth transition from paganism to Christianity, which is usually interpreted as an adaptation of the patriarchal monotheism of Judaism to the matriarchal pantheon of the virgin-mother goddesses of the classical Mediterranean: Canaanite Astarte, Babylonian Ishtar, Greek Rhea and Gaia, Phrygian Cybele, Ephesian Artemis, Eleusinian Demeter, Egyptian Isis, etc. , although "there are two fundamental differences between the Christian cult of Mary and the pagan cults: the clear awareness of the absolute transcendence of God, which operates as a factor that eliminates any idolatrous tendency and the opposition on the part of Christianity to a divinization of life that endangers the absolutely free character of God's creative decision". The Christtokos-Theotokos controversy (Mary as "Mother of Christ" or "Mother of God"), and the extensive treatment of this in Byzantine art had characterized the Eastern Church. The prominence of the Virgin was largely offset by the misogyny of the treatment of other female figures, notably Eve, the Magdalene and St. Mary Egyptian. The renunciation of the body (the flesh the enemy of the soul) and of riches, which gives the opportunity for repentance and redemption (and entrusts its management to Mother Church) used to be the most outstanding aspect also in the lives of other saints and martyrs.

Finally, the institutionalization of the sacraments, especially penance and Easter communion, which are considered as annual procedures to be carried out by the faithful before their parish priest and confessor. The communal experience of the sacraments, especially those that signified vital changes (baptism, marriage, extreme unction), and the funeral rituals, strongly united local societies, both village and urban, especially when they faced the coexistence with other religious communities -Jews in all Europe and Muslims in Spain-.

The celebration of festivities on different days (Fridays for Muslims, Saturdays for Jews, Sundays for Christians), the different food taboos (pork, alcohol, slaughter rituals that obliged the separation of butchers) and the physical separation of communities - ghettos, aljamas or Jewish quarters and morerías - posed a situation that, even with religious tolerance, was far from equal treatment. The Jews fulfilled a social function of scapegoat that gave an outlet to social tensions at certain times, with the outbreak of pogroms (anti-Jewish revolts, which after massive conversions gave way to anti-conversion revolts) or with the expulsion policies (England -1290-, France -1394- and Spain -1492- and Portugal in 1496). The existence of religious minorities within Christianity, on the other hand, could not be accepted, since the political community was identified with unity in faith. Those defined as heretics were therefore persecuted by all means.

As for deviations in behavior that did not involve challenges of opinion but rather crimes or sins (identifiable concepts that were impossible to distinguish), their treatment was the object of civil jurisdiction (which applied the corresponding jurisdiction, the legislation of the kingdom or common law) and religious jurisdiction (which applied Canon Law in ordinary matters, or the inquisitorial procedure if necessary), whose coordination was sometimes complex, as was the case with deviations from sexual conduct considered correct (masturbation, homosexuality, incest, statutory rape, adultery, adultery and other matrimonial matters). In any case, the experience of sexuality and the nudity of the body had very different treatments in each time and place; and different expectations for each social level (it was considered that it was typical of the peasants an animal behavior, that is, natural, and it was intended that the nobles and clergymen had more will to control their instincts).

Also customs such as the baths (known from the Roman baths and reintroduced by the Arabs) and practices such as prostitution were the object of moral criticism and more or less permissive regulations, reaching in the case of the baths progressively to the prohibition (they were accused of being immoral and of producing the effeminacy of the warriors), and in the case of prostitution to confinement in certain neighborhoods, the obligation to wear certain garments and the detention of their activities on certain dates (Easter). The eradication of prostitution was not conceived as possible, given the inevitability of the sin, and its role as a lesser evil that prevented the irrepressible desire of men to go against the honor of maidens and respectable women. Historians generally agree that the period of the Middle Ages was a period of greater freedom of morals that did not have to wait for The Decameron (1348), and that in some issues, such as the female condition, it meant a real promotion, both in comparison with the High Middle Ages and the Modern Age; although the widespread myth that it was doubted whether women had souls is a philological error.

Geographical expansion of feudal Europe

Geographical expansion was carried out, or at least attempted to be carried out, in several directions, following not so much a purpose determined by nationalist conceptions that did not exist at the time, but the dynamics of the feudal houses. The Normans, Vikings settled in Normandy, gave rise to one of the most expansive feudal houses in Europe, which spread throughout France, England and Italy, linked to those of Anjou-Plantagenet and Aquitaine. The houses of Navarre and Castile (Jimene dynasty), France, Burgundy and Flanders (Capets, House of Burgundy -extended throughout the Iberian Peninsula-, Valois) and Austria (House of Habsburg) are other good examples, and all of them were linked by alliances, marital links and succession or territorial confrontations, consubstantial to the feudal-vasaldic relations and an expression of the violence inherent to feudalism. In the spatial context of Nordic and central-eastern Europe, the Danish House of Sweyn Estridsson, the Norwegian Bjälbo and the Swedish Sverker and Erik had a similar development; and later the Jogalia or Jagiellon Dynasty (Hungary, Bohemia, Poland and Lithuania).

In Spain, simultaneously with the dissolution of the Caliphate of Cordoba (in civil war since 1010 and extinguished in 1031), a power vacuum was created which the Christian-Hispanic feudal kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Navarre, Portugal and Aragon (dynastically merged with the county of Barcelona) tried to take advantage of, expanding against the Muslim Taifa kingdoms in the so-called Reconquest. In the British Isles, the kingdom of England repeatedly tried to invade Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with greater or lesser success.

In Northern Europe, once the Viking invasions were over, the riches plundered by the Vikings were used to acquire Western products and services, creating a prosperous commercial network in the Baltic Sea that attracted the Scandinavians to Western civilization, while their westward expansion into the Atlantic (Iceland and Greenland) did not go beyond the mythical Vinland (a failed settlement in North America, around the year 1000). The eastern Vikings (Varangians) founded numerous kingdoms in European Russia and reached as far as Constantinople. The western Vikings (Normans) settled in Normandy, England, Sicily and southern Italy, creating centralized and efficient kingdoms (Rolon, William the Conqueror and Roger I of Sicily). In the east, in 955, Otto the Great defeated the Hungarians in the battle of the Lech River and re-incorporated Hungary into the West, at the same time as he began the Germanization of Poland, until then pagan. Subsequently, from the time of Henry the Lion (12th century), the Germans made their way through the lands of the Vendos to the Baltic Sea in a process of colonization known as Ostsiedlung (later mythologized by the romantic name of Drang nach Osten, or the Eastward Bound, which served to justify the Nazi theory of German living space Lebensraum). But undoubtedly the most spectacular, though ultimately unsuccessful, expansion movement was the Crusades, where select members of the Western warrior nobility crossed the Mediterranean Sea and invaded the Middle East, creating short-lived kingdoms.

The Crusades were expeditions undertaken, in fulfillment of a solemn vow, to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim domination. The origin of the word goes back to the cross made of cloth and worn as an insignia on the outer clothing of those who took part in these initiatives, following the request of Pope Urban II and the preaching of Peter the Hermit. The successive crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries. They were motivated by the expansionist interests of the feudal nobility, the control of trade with Asia and the hegemonic desire of the papacy over the churches of the East.

The balance of this expansion was spectacular, compared to the vulnerability of the previous dark period: after half a century of Carolingian institutions, by 843 (Treaty of Verdun), the territories that could be more or less closely identified with them (what could be called a Western Christian social formation) extended over France, western and southern Germany, southern Great Britain, the northern mountains of Spain and northern Italy. A century later, at the time of the battle of the Lech River (955), there was no region of Western Europe safe from the new waves of barbarian invaders, which seemed to be leading to a new crisis of civilization.

However, in the two centuries following the fateful year one thousand, the panorama had changed completely: by the time of the Battle of Navas de Tolosa (1212), all of Italy as far as Sicily, non-English Britain (Scotland and Wales), Scandinavia (which expanded across the North Atlantic to Greenland), much of Eastern Europe (Poland, Bohemia, Moravia and Hungary) had been incorporated into European civilization, the Slavic peoples of the Balkans and Russia remaining in the orbit of Eastern Christianity and institutionalizing their own kingdoms) and half of the Iberian Peninsula (in the course of the 13th century it would be all except the tributary Nasrid kingdom of Granada, being definitively marked the Christian predominance over the Strait of Gibraltar with the battle of Salado -1340-). Other peripheral territories (such as Lithuania or Ireland) were under increasing military pressure from the central kingdoms of Latin Christendom. Beyond the limits of Western Europe, the military incursions of Latin armies of very varied composition had placed in their hands places as far away as Constantinople and the duchies of Athens and Neopatria or Jerusalem and the Crusader States.

Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Iberian Peninsula

The Late Middle Ages is a term that sometimes causes confusion, as it comes from an etymological ambiguity between German and Spanish: low does not mean decadent, but recent; as opposed to the High Middle Ages, which means old (in German alt: old, ancient). Nevertheless, it is true that from some historiographic perspective the whole of the medieval period can be seen as the cycle of birth, development, rise and inevitable fall of a civilization, an interpretative model that Gibbon began for the Roman Empire (where the opposition between High Empire and Low Empire is more obvious) and that has been applied with greater or lesser success to other historical and artistic contexts.

The astronomical simile of sunset, which Johan Huizinga turns into autumn, is very often used in historiography, with an analogical value that rather than an economic or intellectual decline reflects a clear exhaustion of specifically medieval traits in the face of their modern substitutes.

The crisis of the 14th century

The end of the Middle Ages comes with the beginning of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, another secular period of transition between modes of production that will not end until the end of the Ancien Régime and the beginning of the Contemporary Age, so that both this last medieval period and the entire Modern Age play a similar role and cover a similar temporal extension (500 years) to what Late Antiquity meant for the beginning of the Middle Ages.

The law of diminishing returns began to show its effects as the dynamism of the peasants forced the clearing of marginal lands and the slow technical improvements could not follow at a similar pace. The climatic situation changed, putting an end to the so-called medieval optimum that allowed the colonization of Greenland and the cultivation of vines in England. Poor harvests led to famines that physically weakened populations, paving the way for the Black Death of 1348 to be a demographic catastrophe in Europe. The successive repetition of epidemics characterized a secular cycle.

Consequences of the crisis

The consequences were not negative for everyone. The survivors unexpectedly accumulated capital in the form of inheritances, which could in some cases be invested in commercial enterprises, or unexpectedly accumulated noble estates. The alterations in the market prices of products, subjected to unprecedented supply and demand tensions, changed the way of perceiving economic relations: wages (a concept, like that of monetary circulation, already dissolving the traditional economy) grew while feudal rents became insecure, forcing the lords to make difficult decisions. Alternatively, they first tended to be more sympathetic to their serfs, who were sometimes in a position to impose a new relationship, freed from serfdom; while in a second moment, especially after some failed and harshly repressed peasant rebellions, they imposed in some areas a new refeudalization, or changes in production strategy such as the shift from agriculture to livestock (expansion of the Mesta).

The wool business produced curious international and inter-industry alliances (cattle lords, wool merchants, cloth artisans) that gave rise to real commercial wars (in this sense it has been possible to interpret the changing alliances and internal divisions between England-France-Flanders during the Hundred Years' War, in which Castile was involved in its own civil war). Only the nobles with more capacity (demonstrated most of the time by the dispossession of nobles with less capacity) were able to become a great nobility or aristocracy of great noble houses, while the small nobility was impoverished, reduced to mere survival or to the search for new types of income in the growing administration of the monarchies, or to the traditional ones of the Church.

In the institutions of the clergy, a gulf is also opening up between the high clergy of bishops, canons and abbots and the priests of poor parishes; and the low clergy of friars or vagabond clergymen, of diffuse theological opinions, or else materialistic survivors in practice, goliards or students without office or benefit.

In the cities, the upper and lower bourgeoisie experienced a similar process of separation of fortunes, which made it impossible to maintain that an apprentice or even a journeyman or a poor workshop master had anything to do with a merchant enriched by the long-distance trade of the Hansa or the fairs of Champagne and Medina, or a doctor or a lawyer who had left the university to enter high society. The possibility (previously unheard of) that social status depends more on economic capacity (not necessarily always linked to land) than on family origin is opening up.

In contrast to the medieval world of the three orders, based on an agrarian economy and firmly linked to the possession of land, a world of cities based on a commercial economy emerges. The centers of power shifted towards the new burgs. These rebalances were reflected on the battlefields, as the feudal knights began to be surpassed by the development of military techniques such as the longbow, a weapon used by the English to sweep the French at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, or the pike, used by the Swiss mercenary infantry. It was at this time that the first professional armies appeared, composed of soldiers who were not bound by a vassalage pact with their lord but by pay. From the 13th century onwards, the first uses of gunpowder, a Chinese invention spread from India by the Arabs, are recorded in the West, but in a very discontinuous manner. Roger Bacon describes it in 1216) and there are accounts of the use of firearms in the Muslim defense of Seville (1248) and Niebla (1262, see The Cannon in the Middle Ages). Over time, the military profession becomes debased, devaluing the functions of the nobility with those of the cavalry and castles, which become obsolete. The increase of the costs and tactics of battles and sieges will bring as a consequence the increase of the power of the king against the aristocracy. Warfare came to depend not on the feudal armies, but on the increasing taxes paid by the unprivileged.

New ideas

The new religious ideas - better adapted to the lifestyle of the bourgeoisie than to that of the privileged - were already in the ferment of the heresies that had occurred previously, starting in the 12th century (Cathars, Waldensians), and which had found an effective response in the new mendicant religious orders, inserted in the urban environment; But in the last medieval centuries, Hussism or Wycliffism had a greater projection towards what would become the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The millenarianism of the flagellants coexisted with the mysticism of Thomas of Kempis and with the disorders and corruption of customs in the Church that culminated in the Western Schism. The spectacle of two (and even three) popes excommunicating each other (and emperors, kings and bishops, and with them all their priests and faithful), one in the so-called captivity of Avignon to which he was subjected by the king of France (fille ainée de l'Eglise, eldest daughter of the Church), another in Rome and a third elected by the Council of Pisa (1409) had a devastating impact on Western Christianity. The situation was not completely redirected even with the Council of Constance (1413), which, if the conciliarist theses had prospered, would have become a sort of supranational European parliament, quasi-sovereign and competent in all kinds of matters. Even the humble Peniscola became for some time the center of the Christian world -for the few followers of Pope Luna-.

Attempts to imprint greater rationality on Catholicism had already been present since the peak of the scholasticism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon; but now that scholasticism was facing its own crisis and internal questioning, with William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus. The theocentric mentality was slowly giving way to a new anthropocentric one, in a process that would culminate with the humanism of the 15th century in what can already be called the Modern Age. This change was not limited only to the intellectual elites: extravagant personalities, such as Joan of Arc, became popular heroes (with the counterpoint of other terrible ones, such as Gilles de Rais -Barba Azul-); the social mentality was moving away from fearful conformism to embrace other conceptions that implied a new way of facing the future and novelties:

The consciously sought anonymity in which generations have lived silently for centuries.

and which will continue to be the situation of the humble during the following centuries, gives way to the search for fame and personal glory, not only among the nobles, but in all social spheres: artisans begin to sign their products (from works of art to artisan brands), and it is less and less exceptional that any act of life leaves its documentary trace (parish books, mercantile registers, notaries, notarial protocols, legal acts).

The challenge to the economic, social, political and intellectual monopoly of the privileged slowly created new spaces of power for the benefit of the kings, as well as an increasingly larger place for the bourgeoisie. Although the majority of the population remained peasants, it is certain that the impulse and the novelties no longer came from the castle or the monastery, but from the Court and the city. In the meantime, courtly love (coming from Provence in the 11th century) and the chivalric ideal were revitalized and became an ideology justifying the noble way of life just when it was beginning to be in question, living a golden age, obviously decadent, located in the period of splendor of the Duchy of Burgundy, reflected by Johan Huizinga in his masterful The Autumn of the Middle Ages.

The end of the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula

While for the Eastern Mediterranean the end of the Middle Ages meant the unstoppable advance of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in the far west, the expansive Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, after a period of crisis and slowing of the secular advance towards the south, simplified the political map with the marriage union of the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile), simplified the political map with the marriage union of the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile), their agreements with Portugal (Treaty of Alcáçovas, which involved the sharing of influence over the Atlantic) and the conquest of Granada. Navarre, divided in a civil war between sides guided and intervened by French and Aragonese, would be annexed in its greater part to the growing Catholic Monarchy in 1512.


  1. Middle Ages
  2. Edad Media
  3. Aunque el primero que señaló la existencia de unidad en el periodo comprendido entre el siglo V y el XV fue el humanista Flavio Biondo, la gloria de haber utilizado antes que nadie el término Edad Media le corresponde al obispo de Alesia, Giovanni Andrea dei Bussi. En una carta suya del año 1469 se dice expresamente lo siguiente: «sed mediae tempestatis tum veteris, tum recentiores usque ad nostra tempora». Esa media tempestas era el esbozo de unos «tiempos medios», que servían de puente entre la gloriosa antigüedad clásica, a la que se mitificaba, y los nuevos tiempos, que habían vuelto sus ojos hacia aquel período de esplendor. Expresiones como medium aevum, media tempestas, media aetas, etc., aparecen en historiadores o filólogos desde comienzos del siglo XVI Así, por ejemplo, las utilizaron Joaquin de Wat, en 1501, o Juan de Heerwagen, en 1532. Más avanzado el siglo, en 1575, las encontramos en Marco Welser y Adriano Junius. El uso de dichas expresiones puede, asimismo, rastrearse en el transcurso del siglo XVII: Conisius, en 1601; Goldats, en 1604; Vossius, en 1662; etc. Du Cange, en su célebre Glosario, aparecido en 1678, habló de la «mediae et infimae latinitatis». Puede decirse que el término Edad Media había sido plenamente admitido, por más que su origen no fuera propiamente obra de los historiadores, sino de los filólogos. No obstante, en el mismo siglo XVII se produjeron algunas precisiones de gran transcendencia acerca de los «tiempos medios». En 1665, Jorge Horn, en una obra titulada Arca Noé, llamaba «medium aevum» al período comprendido entre los años 300 y 1500. Poco tiempo después, en 1688, apareció un libro que iba a desempeñar un papel destacado en la fijación del concepto de Edad Media. Se trata de la Historia medii aevi a temporibus Constantini Magni ad Constantinopolim a Turcis captam, del que era autor Cristóbal Keller, profesor de la universidad alemana de Halle. Fue Keller, cuyas precisiones cronológicas sobre el Medievo son bien significativas, el punto de partida de la difusión y generalización de la expresión Edad Media. Valdeón, op. cit., vol 11 pg. 11.
  4. Persona versada en el conocimiento de lo medieval.[10]​
  5. Véase todo lo referente a El código da Vinci.
  6. No así la de Alejandría, que sobrevivió incluso al asesinato de Hipatia (415). El museo de Alejandría y la biblioteca de Alejandría habían sufrido muchas vicisitudes, como incendios y terremotos, y el Serapeum fue mandado derribar por el patriarca Teófilo en 391, aunque sus fondos, saqueados y desperdigados, sobrevivieron hasta la invasión musulmana (634), en que el califa Omar protagonizó otra célebre ofensa: «Los libros de la biblioteca o bien contradicen al Corán, y entonces son peligrosos, o bien coinciden con el Corán, y entonces son redundantes», citado en Curiosidades de la ciencia de Leonardo Moledo[26]​
  7. 1,0 1,1 Power (2006), σελ. 304.
  8. 2,0 2,1 Mommsen (1942), σσ. 236–237.
  9. Singman (1999), σελ. x.
  10. 5,0 5,1 Bruni (2001), σελ. xvii.
  11. Miglio (2006), σελ. 112.
  12. ^ a b Ovidio Capitani, Storia medievale, Editoriale Jaca Book, 1992, p. p. 15 e sgg., ISBN 9788816430129. URL consultato il 25 febbraio 2021. Per la periodizzazione interna usata in Italia, si veda: età Medievale, in Dizionari Zanichelli. URL consultato l'8 gennaio 2021 (archiviato dall'url originale il 22 ottobre 2019).
  13. ^ Cfr. Hilaire Belloc, L'Europa e la fede, Rimini, Il Cerchio, 2003, p. 151 e seguenti; p. 165 e sgg., ISBN 88-8474-031-2.
  14. a b Power 2006 ↓, s. 304.
  15. a b Manteuffel 2012 ↓, s. 8–9.
  16. a b Mommsen 1942 ↓, s. 236–237.
  17. Singman 1999 ↓, s. x.

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