Medieval Civilisations (476-1500)


This is just a short entry page to my site covering medieval or “middle ages” civilisations, starting with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (ca. 480) and ending with the Early Renaissance (through to ca. 1453, but some source suggest using 1450 or even 1479, and yet others prefer the idea of a proto-Renaissance period 1280-1400) and ending the “middle ages” just before the “age of discovery” (ca. 1482-1524).

In any case the “middle ages” certainly includes:

- Byzantium (ca. 330-1453)

- Merovingian (ca. 457-752) and Carolingian (676-1122) Europe

- The Crusades (ca. 1095-1291)

- Romanesque art (ca. 1000-1250)

- Gothic (ca. 1178-1533)

- and at least in part (Early) Renaissance (ca. 1265-1401).

However I must point out my site has a focus on major art and architecture movements, and including antiques such as furniture, pottery, etc. As such important historical periods in terms of political, military or social impact are not necessarily covered, e.g. the Carolingian Empire (800-888) had a major impact on early middle age history (treaties, land boundaries and maps, coins, military strategy and technology, etc.), but its art and architecture can be considered as being part of a pre-Romanesque period (ca. 465-1181).

Just as a reminder this period encompasses the following:

Early Middle Ages (5th C to 10th C)

The sacking of Rome by the Goths (376 AD), Visigoths (410) and later by the Vandals (455), precipitating the “fall” of the Western Roman Empire

The continued power of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire, 330-1453)

Saint Augustine (354-430) was influential in the development of western Christianity and western philosophy

The Hunnic Empire (390-469) and Attila

The appearance of the Franks (357) and Clovis (ca. 466-511), Wessex (ca. 500), and the Lombards (568-774) invade northern Italy pushing the local population towards the Venetian lagoons (they become the founders of Venice)

Tikal emerged as one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya (ca. 500)

The construction of Hagia Sophia (532-537), including a fully developed form of pendentive dome construction (replacing the squinch in ca. 450)

Corpus Juris Civilis, of the “Body of Civil Law” was a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence ordered by Justinian I (529-534) 

The birth of Muhammed (ca. 570)

Ravenna sees the building of the Arian Baptistry (ca. 526), the Archbishop’s Chapel (ca. 495), the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (ca. 505), the Mausoleum of Theodoric (ca. 520), the Basilica of San Vitale (527-548), and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (ca. 549)

Daxing (大兴城), later to be called Chang’an, was to become the new capital of Emperor Wen of Sui (582), and along with Constantinople and Baghdad one the worlds largest cities

Hōryū-ji, or the Buddhist “Temple of the Flourishing Law”, is considered one of the oldest wooden buildings existing today (founded 607)

During the Sui Dynasty the “Grand Canal” was started (581-618), eventually becoming the longest canal or artificial river in the world

The Four Gates Pagoda (ca. 611) and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda were built (ca. 652)

The unification of China, with the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and then the Tang Dynasty (618-917)

Saint Hripsimé, one of Europe’s oldest surviving churches (finished 618)

Arab armies take Jerusalem (638), Alexandria (643), invade Spain (711)

Mecca becomes the holy city of Islam (630)

First known reference to windmills, in use in Persia (644)

The first Chinese paper money is issued (650)

The Vikings develop fast, narrow longships (ca. 650)

Woodblock printing appears in China (ca- 650-670)

Yi Xing developedl celestial globe with clockwork escapement mechanism (683-727)

The creation of the Republic of Venice (697-1797)

Porcelain appears in China (ca. 700)

al-Masjid al-Aqṣā, or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and located in Jerusalem (begun 707)

Aachen Cathedral started (786)

The Carolingian Empire (800-888) and the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) with the crowning of Charlemagne (800)

The Vikings attack Britain (793) and Paris (885-886), they settle in Normandy (911), and visit the Americas (ca. 1001)

The Great Mosque of Córdoba “Mezquita” (784-987)

Cathedrals started in Lyon (799), Reims (816) and Nantes (897)

Gunpowder probably appears in China (9th C) and fireworks (10th C), but first description as a weapon dates from ca. 1040

Strip-farming, otherwise called “open field system”, emerges as a way to share land and develop communal crops, and crop rotation or the “three-field system” is developed by the Franks (ca. 850)

Earliest known printed book (China, 868), and movable type in China (1088)

United England with Alfred the Great (871)

Collapse of the Mayan Empire (ca. 900)

The building of site Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire (802-1431), including 72 major temples (ca. 900-1200)

A Chinese engineer, Chiao Wei-yo, develops the two-level pound lock for canals (ca. 950)

High Middle Ages (1001-1300)

Black Letter”, otherwise known as Gothic script, become fashionable (ca. 1050)

Astronomers in China and Japan observe the explosion of a supernova which today we call the Crab Nebula (1054)

Liàodí Tǎ, or the Liaodi Pagoda, is the tallest brick pagoda in the world (completed 1055)

Duomo of Pisa started (1063)

William the Conqueror invades England (1066)

The beginning of Papal power (ca. 1067) and the start of the First Crusade (1099)

Castles (motte-and-bailey) started (1068) in Warwick, Nottingham, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cambridge and York

Building and re-building of Canterbury Cathedral (1070), York Minister (1070), Lincoln Cathedral (1072), St Albans Cathedral (1077), Colchester Castle (1078), the White Tower in the Tower of London (ca. 1078), Winchester Cathedral (1079), Durham Cathedral (1093), Norwich Cathedral (1096)

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (1075)

The Bayeux Tapestry was completed (1077), and includes Halley’s comet observed in 1066

The Domesday Book (1087), the great survey of England and Wales

Construction of the temple Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world (ca. 1113-1150)

Mariner’s “wet” compass appears in China (1119)

Florence Baptistry completed (1128), although the first reference dates from ca. 1050

Capella Palatina with its mosaics built for the Norman kings (started 1132)

The Second Crusade (1147-1149)

Illuminated manuscripts published, e.g. Melisende Psalter (ca. 1135), the Parc Abbey Bible (1148), the Hunterian Psalter (1170)

The rebuilding of Notre Dame de Paris started (1163)

The first known mystery play, the Mystery of Adam, is played outside a church in France (ca. 1170)

Work starts on the Tower of Pisa (1173)

Work starts on Wells Cathedral, on Dover Castle, and on London Bridge, the first stone bridge to be built across a tidal waterway (1176)

Giunta Pisano, first artist to have his name on an extant work (ca. 1180-1250) 

The Third Crusade (1189-1192)

The appearance of the first shōgun in Japan (1192-1913)

The longbow appears (ca. 1200)

The Chinese develop the sternpost rudder (ca. 1200)

Rebuilding of Chartres Cathedral (1194) and Bourges Cathedral (1195) starts, as does the building of Rouen Cathedral (1202)

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) and the sack of Constantinople (1204)

Genghis Kahn become leader of the Mongol Empire (1206)

The Reconquista (1212-1492)

The Magna Carta was issued (1215) limiting the power of the king, and a revised version (1225) enters law

Salisbury Cathedral (1220) started

Nicola Pisano, whom some consider the farther of modern sculpture (ca. 1220-1284)

Burgos Cathedral (1221) and Toledo Cathedral (1227) started

Codex Gigas, the largest extant medieval manuscript (completed 1229)

Building of the Alhambra starts (1238)

Cimabue, one of the first great Italian painters (1240-1302)

Rebuilding of Westminster Abbey starts (ca. 1245)

Building of Cologne Cathedral starts (1248)

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi completed (1253)

Giotto, first of the great Italian Renaissance painters and architects (1267-1337)

First mention of a lens, followed by the invention of spectacles (1268)

Building Vienna Cathedral starts (1270’s)

The Ninth Crusade (1271-1272)

The House of Habsburg (1273-1740)

Kublai Khan makes Beijing his capital (1274), and in 1279 it becomes the capital of China

Piazza del Campo in Siena is begun (1280)

Duomo of Florence (1296) and Basilica di Santa Croce (1296)

The Ottoman Empire (1299-1923)

Flying buttresses appear on Gothic cathedrals (ca. 1300)

Late Middle Ages (1301-1500)

Siena commissions a Maestà from Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308)

Construction starts on the Doge’s Palace (1309-1424)

The Aztec Kingdom (1325-1521)

Construction of Giotto’s Bell Tower in Florence (1334-1359)

The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)

Ponte Vecchio is built in Florence (1345)

The Black Death (1348-1350), it first appeared in China in 1346

The Gothic “perpendicular” style appears in England (ca. 1350)

Construction of the Court of the Lions and the Muqarnas dome in the Alhambra (1354)

Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle, the first great Flemish painter  (ca. 1375-1444)

Lorenzo Ghiberti, famous for his bronze doors (the “Gates of Paradise”) of the Baptistry (1378-1455)

With the development of clocks, the hour becomes a fixed period of time (ca. 1380)

The “Gate of China” in the wall of the city Nanjing is the most complex city gate ever constructed (completed 1386)

Donatello, one of the best known early Renaissance sculptors (1386-1466)

Jan van Eyck, possibly the greatest Flemish painter of the 15th C (1395-1441)

Fra Angelico, a leading early Renaissance painter (1395-1455)

Jacopo Bellini, founder of the Renaissance style in Venice (1396-1470)

Paolo Uccello, painter and mathematician best known for introducing perspective  (1397-1475)

Rogier van der Weyden, one of the great early Flemish painters (1399-1464)

International Gothic is the final style in the cycle, later to be replaced by Renaissance Classicism (ca. 1400)

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, possibly the best example of French Gothic (and International Gothic) manuscript illumination surviving today (commissioned ca. 1410)

The Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing are completed (1420)

Glazed windows start to appear in richer houses (ca. 1420)

The end of medieval art (1430), Brunelleschi encapsulates Renaissance architecture in the Pazzi chapel

Great Renaissance artists abound, e.g. Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), Andrea Mantegna (1431-1507), Andrea del Verrocchio (ca. 1435-1488), Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)

The Medici family (1434-1737), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence Cathedral is dedicated (1436)

The invention of the printing press (1439), the Gutenberg Bible (1456), the first book with printed illustrations (1461), Venice gets a printing press (1470), Caxton in London (1476), and the typefaces roman and italic are created in Venice (1495)

The matchlock becomes the standard form of musket (ca. 1450)

Albrecht Dürer, the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance (1471-1528)

Michelangelo, perhaps the most influential of all Renaissance artists (1475-1564)

Raphael, one of the great Renaissance masters (1483-1520)

Titian, leader of the Venetian school (1485-1576)

Building of the Kremlin starts (1487)

The New World is discovered (1492).

The middle ages is usually seen as a European period, and sources often treat only partially what happened in the Islamic regions in the Middle East or Africa, and usually ignore what was happening at the same time in Asia (China, Korea, Japan) and South America (Maya).

This whole Website is likely to be a “work in progress” for some time to come!

Here are a few pointers to interesting news items and resources:

News items:

Medieval people enjoyed dancing, but we know little of how they danced. It would appear that the Carole was a simple but popular dance for nearly 300 years. Basically it is a simple skipping type dance made by a ring of people around an object such as a  tree. It was often seen at weddings, and other important occasions. Naturally some people thought it to be the work of the Devil, and that the dancers were heading to everlasting damnation. Other dances included the Ronds and the Branles.

Michaelmas (the feast of Saint Micael the Archangel on the 29 September) was celebrated throughout medieval western Europe. Archangel Michael was the greatest Archangel and defeated Lucifer in the war in Heaven. Saint Michael was seen as the dragon-slayer, guardian of humanity, weigher of souls, and prince of the citizens of heaven.

On the left we have Saint Michael in a page from “Lives of the Saints”, dated in the first-half of the 12th C, and presently held in Canterbury. You can see the large historiated initials, and the rubrics in red. On the right we have Saint Michael also on a page from a different “Lives of the Saints”, also from the same period and also held in Canterbury. Here the initials are supplemented with geometric or foliate decorations, and the occasional animal or hybrid creature.

This thesis looks at medieval land reclamation and the impact on society (over the period 800-1500). Quite a vast subject so I do not intend to try to cover all the points. The authors focus on the peat lands of Holland and the Po Valley plains. The Po Valley had been intensively exploited in Roman times but by the 5th or 6th C there was widespread reforestation and the re-establishment of marshes, making pig farming and hunting and fishing the only reliable economic activity. The peats lands of Holland had never really been exploited in the past.

In Holland favourable concessions were granted to those reclaiming the peatlands, along with freedoms to colonise for farmers and peasants, thus leading to a quite egalitarian society. The objective for land owners was to increase their territory and thus their tax base (noting also that aristocratic landownership in Holland was quite limited). In the Po Valley land reclamation was by coercion and repression. Large landowners and ecclesiastical institutions used reclamation to become signorial lordships. Initially they issued 29 year contracts allowing people to clear land and build drainage systems. And the colonists could be fined and lose their rights if the land was not tilled. Later the landowners became “feudal lords” and land reclamation became a way to extend urban control over rural communities. We should also not ignore the fact that land reclamation also caused major flood disasters in the Po Valley. In Holland water was better managed with the creation of local waterboards. However after 1500 the Dutch peatlands also became a target for wealthy urban interest groups (e.g. absentee owners), and the water management system often broke down. The situation in the Po Valley also meant that the “landless” rural communities started to move to the cities and stop maintaining the waterways. On top of all that the landlords moved to the production of meat and dairy for an elite urban market, reducing the supply of grain (thus creating famine in the poorest rural communities) and requiring fewer workers. The authors felt that the experience in Holland looked to have worked better.  

Related to one of the resources below (e.g. the Medieval Garden Enclosed) this article looks at the the vegetable garden of the common man, as opposed to those found in castles, mansions, monasteries, abbeys and hospitals. It would appear that there are almost no descriptions and pictures available. Occasionally vegetables are mentioned, but not the gardens. Some records show that cabbages, leeks and onions would have been grown, as well as sage and garlic. Orchards would have been owned by the rich, and it is not clear that apples, pears, plums and cherries would have been that accesible to the common man. In some countries farmers and fruit tree growers would have been guilds, and even gardeners were a guild. Some pictures show ornamental plants in the background, but not agricultural crops or vegetables (the best you get is some people harvesting some form of cereal crop).


In early 2017 I was informed about Medicine and Health in the Middle Ages a Webpage entitled , a Webpage pointing to a number of very useful resources. Topics covered range from Medieval Medicine, through Medieval Diseases and Humors, to the Black Death and Smallpox.

The site Elite Landscapes in Southeastern England looks at the overall role and impact of medieval castles and houses, namely Bodiam Castle (1385), Scotney Castle (1378-80), Ightham Mote (1320), and Knole House (1456-1486). 

Fordham University has a Medieval Sourcebook on topics such as the End of the Classical World, Byzantium, the Early German States, the Celtic World, the Medieval Church, etc.

The Medieval Garden Enclosed is a blog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Cloisters Museum & Gardens) and appears to cover medieval agriculture, plants, the calendar, the medieval garden (naturally) as well as plants used for food, beverages, fragrancies, and medicinal purposes. 

and here are some links to background video material:

Medieval Europe: Design of Castle

Medieval Warfare: Castles of War

Medieval Warfare: Castles of Fear

Secrets of Lost Empires: Medieval Siege