of the Feudal World
The Middle Ages or medieval
time is believed to have started with the fall of the
Roman Empire in 476 and to have lasted about 1,000 years
until about 1450. The beginning of the Middle Ages is
called the Dark Ages because the great civilizations
of Rome and Greece had been conquered.
The end of the Middle Ages in about
1450 led to the beginning of the Renaissance. The principal
features of the Renaissance were that learning became
important, the lords and the church were both becoming
powerful forces for change, the art world was flourishing
with innovations like the development of perspective
in painting and there was great advancement
The barbarians were prevalent in most
of the European nations of the Middle Ages. Magyars,
Mongols and Vikings invaded or raided, but the barbarian
invasions were really the transition from the classical
to the medieval worlds. The barbarians were not all
primitive, nor were they barbarian. The term basically
means foreigner. Greeks thought foreigners spoke unintelligibly
like barking dogs (bar-bar-bar) — hence the term
It should be noted that other parts
of the world were thriving in this era. North Africa,
the Middle East, China, India and other parts of the
world were experiencing great changes.
Life was very hard in the Middle Ages. Very few people
could read or write. The people thought that fate ruled
their existence; therefore, there was little hope for
improving their condition.
During the years of the Roman Empire,
the poor people were protected by the soldiers of the
emperor. When the empire fell, there were no laws protecting
them, so they turned to the lords to keep the peace
and to act on their behalf. This willingness to be ruled
by the lords led to the beginnings of feudalism.
Some peasants were free, but most became serfs
to the lord. This meant that they were required to stay
with the land and pay very high rent to the lord. The
only hope that most people had was their belief that
Christianity would make their lives better or at least
that life in heaven would be better than life on earth.
Under the feudal system, everyone but the king had a
ruling lord above him to whom he owed loyalty and service
in exchange for land and protection. The king awarded
land grants, called fiefs, to the nobles and sometimes
to the church in return for the use of their soldiers
or their influence on the citizens to protect the land.
For safety and for defense, peasants
in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a
central lord or master. Most people lived on a manor,
which consisted of the castle, church, village and surrounding
farmland. These manors were isolated, with occasional
visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades,
or soldiers from other fiefdoms.
Family life was governed by the place one held in society.
The nobles had the highest status. They possessed the
most wealth and land. The clergy could be rich or poor,
depending on their title and how much influence they
had over the people. For more information about nobles,
knights, clergy, tradesmen and peasants, go to www.WesternReservePublicMedia.org/middleages.
Monks taught boys from wealthy noble families how to
read and write Latin. This was important because both
the Bible and the church services used the language.
Some boys from wealthy families were tutored privately.
Students began learning with the seven liberal arts:
Latin grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry,
astronomy and music. Girls were not taught to read
or to write.
Children of the poor spent their time
working the fields and caring for the home. They learned
what they needed to know to survive in society.
In the Middle Ages, there were people whose lives were
governed by their lords. They generally were peasants
who were known as serfs. Serfs generally lived in communities
that were ruled by the local nobles. They could not
leave the manor or even marry without the lord’s
permission. Serfs did all of the work on the manor farm.
They worked in the fields, cared for the animals, built
and cared for the buildings, and made the clothing and
everything else that required manual labor. Everyone
worked: men, women and children. Serfs generally had
a small plot of land that was their own. They could
use this land to grow crops and sell them. They could
buy their own freedom and become free men, but this
was a difficult task and most often not accomplished.
There were also servants who worked in the manor doing
the cooking, cleaning, laundering and other household
jobs. Serfs also tended the horses.
Medical knowledge was very limited; therefore, health
care was generally dominated by myths, folklore and
superstition. People believed that bad odors caused
disease and that some illnesses were the result of “sins
of the soul.” Sometimes the church stated that
illnesses were punishments from God and that those who
were ill were so because they were sinners. The use
of leeches for “blood-letting” was also
a common practice. Some believed that the moon and stars,
as well as their astrology sign, caused some diseases.
Music and art were important in the Middle Ages. Much
of this was influenced by the church. People sang with
and without instruments. Nobles played games such as
chess, checkers and dice. Peasants played more outdoor
sports such as hockey, stickball and soccer.
Towns or manors often had festivals
that included jesters, who were like clowns in a circus.
Tournaments matched knights in jousts and fights. Sports
(with few rules) also were played.