The period in western European history from the decline of the Roman Empire
until about a.d. 1500 is called the Middle Ages, or the medieval period.
During this time, the power of Rome shifted to the Byzantine Empire. Germanic
peoples, once thought to be barbarians, spread their influence across Europe.
Their great king, Charlemagne, created an enlightened empire that included
much of western Europe. Feudalism became a way of life. The influence of
the Catholic Church waxed and waned as popes engaged in power struggles
with the worlds leaders. A new religion, Islam, was born, leaving
its mark on the political structure of Europe and the Middle East.
The true history, however, is best understood through the lives of the
peoplestories of heroism, courage, intellectual achievement, religious
struggles, and personal sacrifice. From the grandest ruler to the poorest
peasant, these individuals left their marks, not only on their own times,
but on the lives of those who followed. Their legacies are found even
today in territorial boundaries, languages, architecture, literature,
religion, government,and law. Many of their tales are still told in contemporary
movies, television, and novels.
The cast of characters in the Middle Ages includes emperors and knights,
Viking raiders and Arab philosophers, pious men and powerful women, barons
and peasants. These men and women lived in a time when violence was an
accepted means of winning an argument and an honorable death was viewed
by some as the greatest good one could achieve. Their individual stories
help us to understand the times in which they lived.
The Middle Ages introduces the reader
to a cast of memorable characters. They range from leaders such as Constantine,
Attila, Theodora, Charlemagne, and Englands King John to religious
and intellectual figures such as St. Benedict, St. Thomas Aquinas, Muhammad,
Joan of Arc, and Avicenna. The daily lives of the people offer a look
at what it was like to live in this dynamic, and often tragic, period
of history. The Middle Ages strives to
present a balanced, yet intriguing look at this often romanticized era.