The Middle Ages

Intro to the Middle Ages Lecture Notes


Did Rome really Fall? When and how did the Ancient world transition to Medieval Christendom?


Late Antiquity:

The Fall of Rome? Some specific dates: 476, or 455, or 410. Modern historians have come to believe that all such ideas are fundamentally misleading because they over-simplify what the Roman Empire was, and they overlook social and economic developments in favor of strictly political developments.


 Realistic approach: The Transition from the ancient world to the medieval world.


       To Consider:

    The history of the Roman Empire

    Arabs, Germans and the Slavs


    Economic forces

    When did central Roman authority decline and disappear from this region or that one?


1.    The Transition:


1st turning point:  The 200s: Crisis of the Third Century the Empire that was re-constituted by Diocletian and Constantine was significantly different from the original. The fifty years covered by these two emperors created the Late Empire.


Changes made:

    The army was largely Germanic.

    Imperial authority was now split between military functions and civil functions, the two chains of command uniting only in the person of the Emperor himself.

    The imperial office itself was now split between an eastern and a western ruler.

    The capital had moved from Rome to Constantinople. Workers were bound by heredity to their trade or to the land itself.

    Christianity had replaced paganism as the official religion of the state.


2nd Turning Point: the 500s. The great century of loss and devastation.


During this century:

    Arianism was almost completely conquered by Catholicism in the West, bringing about religious unity.

     Justinian, the devastation of Italy and the ruin of the city of Rome itself (conquered five times during a thirty-year span and losing most of its population).

    Clovis founded the Kingdom of the Franks in Gaul.

    The Avars and the Slavs both invaded the eastern Empire.

    Terrible earthquakes, Persian invasions, and the Black Death ravaged the wealthiest provinces and cities of the East.

    The Lombards conquered northern Italy.

    Latin all but died out in the eastern Empire, while Greek faded to a memory in the West.



3rd Turning Point: Islamic conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries


    When the Arabs conquered Egypt, the Near East, North Africa, and Spain, they completed the transformation of the ancient world to the medieval world.

    Contacts between East and West became sporadic.

    The ancient world was centered on the Mediterranean; the medieval world was centered on Europe.



Final Thought:

    Throughout this period, and well beyond, there was something called the "Roman Empire". Its capital was in Constantinople, but it regarded itself as Roman.

    By 800, there was a Roman Emperor again in the West.

    In both cases, the political entity and the culture it ruled bore little resemblance to the Roman civilization of Augustus or Trajan, but the point is that no one thought for a moment that the Roman Empire had vanished, since it not only continued to exist but was in fact still the single most powerful state in Europe or the Near East.

Final Note:

    At the beginning of the above outline (around 285), the Greco-Roman culture of the Mediterranean world was still dominant.

    By the end (around 700), that world had changed in so many respects that we are clearly in a new civilization.



Why is it problematic to Thinking in terms of "the fall of the Roman Empire"? Considering what you have learned today, determine a more historically accurate depiction. You must justify your portrayal with evidence from the lecture.

Example: Rome didn't so much fall as it slowly unraveled. Give 3 specific example to support.