Monday, June 21, 2021

Medieval Times: The Middle Ages by Marie Roesser

The medieval period, coming between the massive timespan known as "ancient history" and the current era of "modern time" is a relatively brief period in the long scheme of things, but a very important one in western history.

In what used to called "the western world," the beginning point of the Middle Ages is generally set on one epic event, the fall of the western Roman Empire in 476, when Germanic "barbarians" (in Latin terminology) under Odoacer overthrew the rule of the Rome, which had militarily imposed their law, religion, and social system over a large part of Europe. The centuries immediately following that immense change are loosely termed the "Dark Ages," an indefinite period in which there was both great change and movement of populations.

But in Marie Roesser's The Middle Ages (Look at World History) (Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2020), by 768 Charlemagne had organized Celtic Franks into a large kingdom over which he eventually was crowned by the other great power of medieval times, Pope Leo III, head of the Roman Catholic Church, as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But it was a short-lived union. When Charlemagne died in 814 C.E., his "empire" quickly broke into a group of small, warring kingdoms, ruled under a system governed by barons and lords, in which large landowners controlled the people by physical rule enforced by their knights and warriors. Feudal farms taxed their laborers, or serfs, and the lords, along with the ecclesiastical hierarchy of bishops and priests and priors, provided what legal system there was. Church and feudal law was The Law, and as agriculture improved over the centuries, kings and bishops became richer, building vast cathedrals, abbeys, castles, manors, and centers of trade between regions and kingdoms.

Author Roesser features short informative chapters on feudalism, the Roman Catholic Church, The Crusades, which increased contact and trade with the east, the Hundred Years' War between England and the Frankish kingdom, and the various epidemics of the Black Death, all of which changed the shape of medieval society and governance.

In the 1100s, farming advances meant more food. People moved into towns and cities. More people became merchants. Trade routes connected people to new products, ideas, and ways of life. In the 1200s, people formed guilds and councils to protect their interests, and "common people" had more control over their lives than they did under feudalism..

When and how did the Middle Ages end? Author Roesser posits several points in time--Johannes Gutenberg's invention of movable type printing ca. 1440, the fall of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in 1453, the discovery of new continents to the west by Columbus in 1492, and the Protestant Reformation in 1517 which ended the absolute rule of the Catholic Church. In English history, the 1485 defeat and death of Richard III, the last Plantagenet and the last English king to die in battle, brought Tudor rule and the beginning of the British Empire under Elizabeth I.

In truth, the Middle Ages had no one day or year to mark the beginning or ending of this transitional period. Big events are only markers in the timeline of history, and many changes were being effected during that time. To help young students grasp the extent and significance of the era, there is a full appendix, with timeline, glossary, bibliography, list of websites, and an index to tie all the information together. As an easy introduction or review of an important period, this brief volume is a valuable factual asset for young middle-grade students who are curious about how human life changed through time.



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