Two Worlds of Christendom: Medieval Europe








The Byzantine East




After Rome fell, Ostrogothic chieftains had considerable control of local areas. Theodoric was born in Pannonia and in an attempt to make reconciliation with barbarians, was given a title of patrician by Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Zeno. He was sent to destroy the forces of Odoacer, who brought down the Roman Emperor Romulus Augustalus, and killed Odoacer with his own hand in Ravenna.




Built Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, elevating it to a "2nd Rome." Put forth the Code of Civil Law. He supported the Blues in the chariot races.




An exotic dancer, Theodora wooed Justinian and became, like a naughty Cinderella, elevated to royalty. She married her prince, and became Empress of Byzantium, exerting a significant influence on the age.




Byzantine general who was tasked with winning back the lost western territories of the Roman Empire from the barbarian kingdoms that stood on its rump carcass.




A latter day Belisarius, Heraclius had the task of keeping the empire protected from outside forces, first the Sassanian Persians, and then the Arab Muslims.




Byzantine Emperor who inspired a riot of iconoclasm, whereby all the paintings and other images were taken to village greens and smashed and burned. A century later, Leo's succerssors abandoned the policy.





Apostle of the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius visited Bulgaria, Moravia, Bohemia and Russia, bringing Christianity's message to those peoples as missionaries. They also taught writing and culture, which is why the Russians write in the "cyrillic" alphabet today. It has definite Greek influences if you look closely.




The Bulgarians were considered barbarians by the Byzantines, like the Visigoths of the east. Emperor Basil II fought them back. By this time the Theme System was in full effect, military districts with names like Macedonia, Thessalia, Nikapolis, Peloponnesus and Hellas in Greece, Thema Aegeana Pelagu for the islands, Thema Thracia surrounded Constantinople, while in Anatolia there was Thema Bythnia, Armeniacon, Chaldia, Mesopotamia, Lydia, Phyrgia, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Antiochia at the south. Kherson (Chosernos), on the border with Khazaria, was a theme on Crimea.







***Battle of Dara***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Persians

Time: 530

Place: Dara, Armenia

Action: With Rome sacked, the eastern half based at Constantinople became the Byzantine Empire, and was now on its own. Their most potent opponent was the Persians expanding west into Mesopotamia. Outnumbered by 20,000 soldiers, the Byzantines hired Hun mercenaries but were still at a 2:1 disadvantage. They alighted under rising star Belisarius, who exchanged long distance arrow barrages with the Persians before the Persians rushed in with effective lance work. Now the Huns shot at the Persian cavalry and the Byzantine cavalry struck, sending the Persians into flight. Belisarius prudently restrained his men from pursuing them into Persian territory.

Casualties: Persians: 8k

Consequence: This began 100 years of tiresome border skirmishes between the Byzantines and Persians, over territory of little value. They wore each other down though, enough to make Byzantine conquest of the barbarian kingdoms impossible, and enough to give the Arab armies of the 7th century a great boost.


***Battle of Tricamarum***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Vandals

Time: 533

Place: Carthage

Action: Emperor Justinian sent Belisarius with 92 warships and 500 transports holding 30,000 soldiers (including hired Hun archers) to take back Italia from the barbarians. They moved against Carthage in Africa, now the Vandal stronghold. King Gelimer marched from Numidia to the west with 50,000 and the Huns did nothing. But the cavalry moved quickly against them when they saw the Vandals on the battlefield, and then the Huns moved when they saw victory was possible. The joint assault was successful and Gelimer surrendered.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The first phase of Belisarius’ Reconquista of Italia was won.


***Siege of Rome***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Ostrogoths

Time: 537

Place: Rome

Action: Belisarius moved across the Mediterranean to Sicily, for a conquest of the peninsula the way the Allies would in WWII. He took Naples and marched on Rome successfully, but during his occupation the Ostrogoths staged a counteroffensive siege that would last a year. Every Gothic attempt to breach the walls failed, while archers peppered them. They also had trouble preventing reinforcements and provisions from reaching Belisarius, who sent raids out of the city gate and into the countryside to punish them before they finally called off the siege.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Belisarius was celebrated as the man who won back the Eternal City, but could he hold it? The Ostrogoths would prove otherwise.


***Battle of Taginae***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Ostrogoths

Time: 552

Place: Umbria, Italy

Action: Ostrogoth chief Totila had spent a decade taking Italia back from the Byzantines, and Belisarius was away on the Persian frontier. Justinian sent Narses down the peninsula to hold Rome, but the Goths blocked him in the Apennines. Their cavalry inflicted big losses before being peppered to bits by Byzantine archers and thrown back in confusion when an arrow killed Totila.  

Casualties: Ostrogoths: 6k

Consequence: After a few more battles, Narses had regained most of Italia for 30 years, until the Lombards took much of it back in the 580s as Byzantium was forced to look east again to Persia.


***Battle of Nineveh***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Persians

Time: 627

Place: Mosul, Iraq

Action: The Byzantines were desperate. They needed a win. They were battered already, as Chosroes II had already taken from them Egypt, Syria, Armenia and Anatolia, little by little, so Emperor Heraclius decided to muster all his forces and lead them himself in the old fashioned way. They followed Alexander’s route into Anatolia and won battles as he did, and then made for Mesopotamia, encountering the main Persian army at the ruined city of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital destroyed 1,000 years earlier. After 11 hours of straight fighting, something glorious happened. Heraclius came face to face with the Persian commander and severed his head with a single sweep of his sword, Highlander style. The Persians fled to Ctesiphon and the Byzantines chased them, but did not besiege the city. Instead, they let Chosroes get overthrown in a coup and declared their lost territories restored.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: This surprise high point reconstituted the Levant and Anatolia to Byzantium, but a new force would appear in the south, Islam, which would take them all away.


***Battle of Yarmuk***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Arabs

Time: 636

Place: Sea of Galilee, Palestine

Action: Having formed an Islamic State in Arabia, Arabs now undertook the Jihad, Holy War, and erupted from the peninsula, attacking the Byzantine Empire. They took Damascus but then Heraclius rallied the Byzantines and they took it back. Now, at the Yarmuk River under the Sea of Galilee, however a dust storm arose behind the Arab line, which blinded the Byzantines. They were slaughtered.

Casualties: 70,000 Byzantines, unknown Arabs

Consequence: Two years later Jerusalem was taken by the Arabs as well, and would be held for nearly 500 years until the Crusaders arrived in 1099.


***Siege of Constantinople #1***

Sides: Arabs vs. Byzantines

Time: 678

Place: Constantinople

Action: The Arab attack laid siege to the Byzantine capital, but the walls held.

Casualties: unknown.

Consequence: This was the first of five unsuccessful sieges by Islamic forces. Only the last, in 1453, would be successful. But one would prove to be enough.


***Conquest of Hispania***

Sides: Arabs vs. Visigothic Spain

Time: 711

Place: Spain

Action: Islamic forces conquered all of North Africa, from Alexandria to Fez, all the former Roman provinces of Aegypt, Africa (Libya), Numidia (Tunisia), and Mauritania (Morocco) by 710. Muslim commander Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed Gibraltar with an army of 1,700 Berbers, Moors and Arabs. They did battle with Visigothic King Roderic, defeating him at Guadelete in 712. More Muslims appeared, on the order of 15,000, and many Christians in Spain ran for the hills, because they believed the Muslims were raiding and not staying, but they were mistaken. When Roderic was killed, the Visigoths went into disarray. Catalonian towns surrendered, and the Arabs had free run over the land except in the north. Umayyad troops took Pamplona, and while Visigoth Count Theudimer tried to rally the Christian forces, they could not stop the advance.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Spain became Al-Andalus under the Umayyad Caliphs. Spain would be ruled by Muslims for the next 500 years, until the time of Ferdinand and Isabella.


***Siege of Constantinople #2***

Sides: Arabs vs. Byzantines

Time: 717

Place: Constantinople

Action: The Arabs returned after 40 years to try their hand again at the Byzantine capital. 80,000 soldiers and 1,800 wars galleys attacked the city amphibiously. Emperor Leo III ordered the Byzantine navy against the Arab ships, and they unleashed “Greek Fire,” essentially flamethrower cartridges with a mix of napalm inside. It worked; the Arabs could not penetrate the Bosporus by sea, and this was key because the city was fed with grain provisions from around the Black Sea. Nor were the walls penetrated by land, and the Arabs withdrew, having been reduced to eating their donkeys and camels, and catching diseases.

Casualties: Arabs 160k, Byzantines unknown

Consequence: The second siege failed disastrously for the Arabs, who would not return. Later it would be others who would besiege the walls- the Bulgars, Russians and finally the Turks.


***Battle of Covaduga***

Sides: Muslims vs. Visigoths

Time: 718

Place: Asturias, Spain

Action: With the Visigothic leaders dead, only the northern province of Asturias refused to submit to Islamic rule. Pelagius, the local chieftain, maintained there Christian Spanish kingdom, the Kingdom of Asturias, which would later become the core of the Kingdom of Castile. At Covaduga his forces met the Moors, and while his victory may be considered minor by Arab standards, it became legend as the only successful repulse of the powerful Islamic force.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The victory of Covaduga has taken on a religious status, as the first step in the Spanish Reconquista, which took another 700 years to complete.


***Battle of Pliska***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Bulgars

Time: 811

Place: Shumen, Bulgaria

Action: Having been peppered by the Slavs for quite some time, the Byzantines moved against the Bulgar Khan Krum north of Constantinople. Emperor Nicephorus led the attack and took the Bulgar capital Pliska, but this fortune would soon be dashed when the Byzantines were moving through a mountain pass and were ambushed by the reconstituted Bulgars on their home turf. Nicephorus was decapitated and his skull was cleaned, and used by Khan Krum as a drinking vessel.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Byzantines interacted with the Bulgarians positively in the cultural sphere, when, 40 years after the battle, Cyril and Methodius brought Christian liturgy and writing to them. They had previously learned the Bulgarian language and then moved on to Great Moravia. The Russians would get all this as well, hence use of the ‘Cyrillic’ alphabet.


***Siege of Palermo***

Sides: Muslims vs. Byzantines

Time: 831

Place: Sicily

Action: After 150 years of Byzantine rule on Sicily, Arab raiders attacked the island. They terrorized the population and burned the cities, and 70 ships and 10k men took Palermo. It became the seat of a new emirate.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Sicily became a jumping off point for attacks on Italy until 1071 when the Normans took the island.


***Battle of Kleidion***

Sides: Byzantines vs. Bulgars

Time: 1014

Place: Salonika, Greece

Action: Under an aggressive leader Samuel, the Bulgarians pressed south against Byzantine territory for 30 years, taking Macedonia and northern Greece. Emperor Basil II battled back, regaining the territories, and then vengeance became the dominant factor. The Bulgars built palisades and earthworks to protect themselves, and when Basil came through the mountain pass of Kleidion, the Bulgars stormed from behind the defenses. But this was a trap within a trap, for Basil had an advanced force move to the other side previously, and they sandwiched the Bulgars in the pass, and two of every three men was captured. Basil took vengeance by dividing them into groups of 100, and blinding 99 of them in each group, leaving one with sight to lead them back to Bulgaria. Samuel died of shock after seeing his mutilated army return.

Casualties: 14,000 blinded.

Consequence: In 1019 Byzantium conquered Bulgaria.





In this mosaic, Founder of Constantinople Constantine presents his model of the forthcoming city. Like Alexandria

 before, Constantinople was made to be a monumental city, and was the primate city in Europe from 500-1000.


Largest cities in 800:

1) Constantinople (250,000)

2) Cordoba (160,000)

3) Rome (50,000)

4) Seville (35,000)

5) Naples (30,000)



What is left of the Walls of Constantinople, which held for 1,000 years against many seiges




The Hippodrome (hip=horse) of Constantinople was where the chariot races were held, as in

the Circus Maximus in Rome. In inspired others like this to be built in other towns.

Will Raymond James Stadium and Tropicana Field look like this in 1,500 years?




Sketch of the Hippodrome 400 years ago / a race




The site of the old Hippodrome today, now a park, with only the two of the obelisks

remaining to testify to the competition between the demes: Whites, Reds, Greens, and Blues.

 During the Nika Riots in 532, the Greens and Blues battled in the streets, for political and sport

reasons. Justinian was about to flee but Theodora refused and Belisarius was ordered to put down

the riot- 30,000 people were killed, many by the state military. On battered and broken ground rose Hagia Sophia.




In 532 Justinian aimed to build in Constantinople the greatest building in the world.

He could do that because according to caesaropapism, he was head of both church and state.

Hagia Sophia's multiple-domes wrapped around a great central dome let in brilliant light, so as to make

it seem on certain days that the whole thing was floating, levitating twords heaven




Hagia Sophia functioned as a church for 900 years, until the conquest of Byzantium by Turks,

who turned it into a Mosque. Looking at the interior today, one can see the Christian art painted over

and Arabic symbols for Allahu Akbar (God is Great) hanging from the ceiling




This painting from a century ago shows a different view of the arches and domes

Justinian's other accomplishment: The Code of Civil Law, based on Roman XXII Tables




When the Byzantines pushed west to reconquer Italy, their base was at Ravenna.

Here they built the church of St. Vitale, in the Orthodox style, in 546




Angels in Heaven from inside Ravenna, and another mosiac with Justinian's beloved Theodora




The Byzantines controlled Eastern Europe south of the Danube, Anatolia, Palestine,

and Egypt to the Libyan desert. The most important cities in the empire were

Constantinople, Adrianopole, Salonika, Trebizond, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem and Alexandria.

They sponsored the building of St. Catherine's Monestary, at the foot of Mt. Sinai (550)- it is still there today




To fight the Islamic conquest of Byzantium in the 10th century, "Greek Fire" was developed

for Byzantine navy vessels- essentially a flamethrower when ships were made of wood





He was a historian.




Orthodox church father. The thing about Orthodoxy was that the emperor was both supreme head of state and church, so there was no separation between the two.




They left on many missions, first to the Abbasid Caliphate to discuss the Trinity and make peace, unsuccessfully, then to the Khazar Kaganate to stop the spread of Judaism there. They failed in that too, when the Kagan (king) ordered all his subjects to convert to Judaism, interestingly enough. Then they succeeded on a mission to the Slavs. They stopped in Bulgaria and Great Moravia, teaching the liturgy and translating the Bible into Old Church Slavonic. They taught the cyrillic alphabet, used in Bulgaria and Russia today.







Here at Chersonesus on Crimea near Sevastopol, Cyril and Methodius discussed relations with

the Kagan of the Jewish Khazar Empire, which was spreading into Byzantine territory.




They went to the Bulgarian capital of Preslav Vhod, shown here,

then to Great Moravia and other places



Parade in Russia honoring Cyril and Methodius




L: Most medieval art in painting was 2 dimensionial and had Christian themes.

This is the Annunciation (when an angel told Mary that she was "with child" by a divine hand)

R: The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, as an infant




L: Most famous of all Russian icons, Our Lady of Vladimir

 R: Russian Icon of Jesus with a Bible





L: Madonna with child, Byzantine icon damaged in a battle in Poland in the 1400s against Hussite raiders

R: Modern uncovering of Byzantine images painted over in Hagia Sophia- Jesus mosiac




L: The Crucifixion icon

R: Icon of the Transfiguration





L: The icon of the death of Mary. She is being welcomed into heaven by Jesus

R: Original Santa Claus: icon of St. Nicholas, who gave to children




Angels and saints- L: Michael the Archangel battling the forces of evil

R: St. George fighting the dragon (a serpent, symbol of Satan)

n.b.: the English would later make the cross of St. George their flag





Iconoclasm: "image breaking" - is really opposition to images of inanimate representation

that can or have been worshipped in place of thoughts - Leo III Isaurian forbad icons in the 8th century


7 instances to know

1) Muslim iconoclasm - 6th century on

2) Byzantine iconoclasm - 8th century

3) Protestant iconoclasm - 16th century on

4) Easter Island - 18th century

5) French Revolutionary - 18th century

6) Communist societies - 20th century

7) Serbia-Kosovo today



 II: The Carolingian West 


First king of the Franks, Clovis converted to Christianity and laid the foundation of the French kingdom.




King of England, at least part of it, possibly, because Arthur may be legendary. As a story of Camelot and the Round Table, however, Arthur plays center stage as a mighty influence on English thoughts about fairness, justice and law. Real or not, Arthur is among us.




This Frankish knight led the resistance to the Islamic invasion of France in 732 at the Battle of Tours.















MEDIEVAL THOUGHT                 PHILOSPHY SHORTIES VI                          NAME ____________________

St. Augustine of Hippo saw the Roman world crumbling around him. In 415, barbarians were everywhere; they even burned his town and its church down. He wrote a book, Civitas Dei, in which he comforted people by reminding them reality consists of two ‘worlds,’ not one- the heavenly City of God, and the earthly City of Man. While the Earthly City may be in ruins, the Heavenly City is eternal. Still, a convert to Christianity, he wondered why if God was all-powerful and good, then why is there evil in the world? Evil, he reasoned, was not created by God because evil is not a thing, per se, so much as a deficiency or absence of good. The evil of a thief is that he lacks honesty, just as the evil of being blind is that a person lacks sight. Still, why would God create a universe in which horrible things happen to people and by people? The answer was because God wanted us to be free, and so he gave us freedom of will (freewill). Having freewill means being able to choose, and sometimes that means choosing between good and evil. God left open the possibility that people might choose evil, and so there is a struggle between our rationality and morality on one side, and temptation and vice on the other. Rationality is the ability to evaluate choices through the process of reasoning, thing is we have to grow up mentally enough to be rational. Having the possibility of not being good, furthermore, gives us a greater appreciation of goodness, as we act in the image of God, who is not the maker of evils- we are. Q: Would you choose to have freewill or for your actions to be predetermined?

Boethius was a Roman philosopher who lived in 525, at a time when the Ostrogoths ruled Italy. He studied Aristotle and became chief advisor to Theodoric, the Ostrogoth king. He wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while in prison awaiting execution for treason. He wondered if God lives in an eternal present, meaning he knows the future as well as present and past, he knows what we are going to do before we do it. If this is true and he is ever-present and knows everything, how can it be said we have freewill? Boethius got to thinking: “If I have freewill, it means I am free to go to the theater, or stay home and do homework.” That’s my freewill. But at the very same time, if I say “I am going to the theater tonight,” that statement is not true or false, at least not in the same way as “I went to the theater yesterday,” which is either true or false. We live in the flow of time, but God, by contrast, knows what to us as past, present and future in the same way we know the present, and we are so much more regulated by time that we cannot overcome it, but God transcends time. Q: If you believe humans have souls that continue after the body dies, do you think a human soul will transcend time too in heaven?

Avicenna, speaking of souls, was Persian but wrote in Arabic and lived in Bukhara, one of the Silk Road towns in Turkic Central Asia. In 1030, after a lifetime studying Greek philosophy, a funny thought struck him: “If I were blindfolded and suspended in air, touching nothing and having no sense of touch at all, I would not know I had a body. I would, however, know I had a ‘self, that ‘myself’ exists, and that means there is part of me that is not of the body. That is my soul- a human soul is distinct from the body.” Avicenna called this the Flying Man Experiment. He knew Aristotle argued otherwise, saying body and soul are one unit (monism), but he disagreed and said, like Plato, they were two (dualism). Q: If your soul (assuming you have one or believe you do) could be trans-morphed into an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?

St. Anslem in 1077, who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury, always knew Christians had faith in the existence of God. But he wanted to prove it using rational argument too, with logic. He imagines himself discussing the following: Anselm: “Do you agree that if God existed he would be the greatest thing that there could be, that than which nothing greater can be thought?” Fool: Yes. Anselm: And do you agree that ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ exists in your mind?” Fool: Yes, in my mind- but not in reality. Anselm: But would you agree that something that exists in reality as well as in the mind is greater than something that exists in the mind alone?” Fool: Yes, I suppose so- an ice cream in my hand is better than one that’s just in my imagination. Anselm: “So if ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ exists only in the mind, it is less great than if it existed also in reality?” Fool: That’s true. The being that really exists would be greater. Anselm: “So now you are saying that there is something greater than ‘that than which nothing greater exists’?” Fool: That doesn’t even make sense. Anselm: “Exactly. And the only way around this contradiction is to admit that God (that than which nothing greater exists), does exist- both in thought and reality.” Q: Do you agree with Anselm’s ontological argument?

Averroes in 1186 lived in Al-Andalus as a qadi (Islamic judge). He read Aristotle and applied his philosophy to Islam. If Muslims accept that the Quran is true, but parts of it are demonstrably false, the text must be a poetic truth and must be interpreted using philosophical reasoning. This he argued meant philosophy and Islam are not incompatible. He argued humans do not have immortal souls, but humanity is immortal through a shared intellect, which may last forever, but you and I will perish when our bodies die. Q: Do you think most Muslims viewed Averroes with admiration or with suspicion? Why?

Moses Maimonides in 1190 thought we anthropomorphize God too much- give him human traits when he is far beyond us. Do not take the Torah (Old Testament) as literal truth and think God is even a corporeal thing. Maimonides used negative theology to argue what God is by arguing what he is not. First of all he has no attributes. He is not good or powerful. This is because an attribute is either accidental or essential. If you are sitting, have long brown hair and a long nose, those are accidental attributes. You would still be “you” essentially if you were standing, had red hair and a small nose. Being human, a rational moral animal, is what you are essentially. God has no such accidental attributes. What about essence? Essential attributes define, but Maimonides argued God is undefinable. Ergo, God has no attributes at all. We can say “God is a creator,” because this states what God does, rather than a thing that God is. We cannot say what he is. Q: Do you agree?

Thomas Aquinas in 1291 wondered if the universe had always existed, or if it had been created at a certain point in time. He combined classical philosophy and Christianity into scholasticism, the idea that Christians have a duty to study nature with science and observation because God is happy when they do, because they are studying his great Creation. Aquinas read Aristotle, who argued the universe always existed, was eternal, and had always been changing and moving. Movement and change do not come from nowhere, and there was never a time without motion. Thus, there is no First Cause, like Plato thought and as Christians would also hold to be true 400 years later, as they read in Genesis 1:1 that God created the universe from nothing. Aristotle was simply wrong, based on their faith in the Bible. But could Aquinas prove it by applying reason? He knew Aristotle said the infinite is what has no limit, like an infinity of numbers has no limit because there is always the possibility of adding “1” to each new highest number. But he said actual infinity is impossible. However, Aquinas recalled that Christians believe human souls are immortal, and live on when the body dies. So there may be an actual infinity of souls. In the battle of Aristotle vs. the Bible, both win. The world did have a beginning, but God created it in such a way that it existed eternally. God could have made the universe without humans, and then made them.





Medieval Europe was disconnected for 300 years until Charlemagne

built the Carolingian Empire in the west, to match the Byzantines in the east



As the barbarians ranged over the land, Christians

clung to outposts like this, off the coast of Ireland




Here are their huts, look for the cross in white on the left one

 Compared to the homes of the Romans, with their interior gardens and

spacious rooms, we see how the Dark Ages saw a decline in standard of living




The Baptistry of St. Jean at Poitiers in France is a crude construction but comes from a time when, for 300 years,

you could count the number of stone buildings built in Europe on one hand. It dates from the 600s and

would have been there as an eyewitness when Charles Martel fought back the Moors.




By the 800s stone buildings were being made again, like this at Iona in Scotland




Coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. In this act, the Holy Roman Empire

was born. It would last throughout the centuries to modern times, becoming what we now call Germany




Aachen Cathedral- coronation place for 30 German kings




Charlemagne's tomb and shrine, in Aachen Cathedral, he was given this eulegy:

"Charlemagne was able to offer the cultureless and, I might say, almost completely unenlightened territory of the realm

which God had entrusted to him, a new enthusiasm for all human knowledge. In its earlier state of barbarousness,

his kingdom had been hardly touched at all by any such zeal, but now it opened its eyes to God's illumination."




The city hall of Aachen, also known as Charlemagne's palace




Illuminated Manuscripts (books) and Metalworks

Dark Age people prized gold and other precious metals and things because they had no other stable thing in life




The most precious things were books. The cover of this one is studded with jewels

 They were called Illuminated Manuscripts Illuminated because it seemed light was

coming from them, and manuscripts because they were all one of a kind





The books of the middle ages were more detailed in their decoration than any in history




Over 1000 years old, the Cross of Lothar is one of the most prized objects still with us

from the distant  past. The front (left) is studded with jewels and has a ivory and amber profile of

Augustus, the back has a simple stenciling of the crucifixion




Relations with the Middle East: Muslims and Christians dealt with each other violently during the Middle Ages,

but here is a peaceful expedition by diplomats sent by Charlemagne to the Abbasid court of Harun al-Rashid

who gave Charlemagne a present- an elephant- and to this day the Arab word for European is Frang (Frank)

and the Chinese word, because the Arabs diffused it to them, is Furangi, and the Thai word is Farang.




Recall that Charlemagne's grandfather Charles Martel fought at Tours




Important Church Officials


Founder of Western monasticism, Benedict's Rule guided the faithful. It extolled the virtues of simplicity, authorizing monks and nuns to give up worldly things, and work on behalf of Christ. Live celibate lives, live communally, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to sing, pray, study, work and eat. It became the forum in which great spirits could join together.




Gregory the Great faced down the pagan Germanic Lombards. He saved Rome and the church, and reformed music into plainsong, or Gregorian Chant, whereby he established the path of modern music in the classical tradition. Regarding power, when bishops acted as though they were supreme within their own dioceses, Gregory made them remember papal authority. He emphasized the sacrament of penance, which helped people confess their sins to the parish priest, so atonement would be possible.




Apostle to the Germans, Boniface brought Christianity and Roman learning to Central Europe






ALCIUN - 800s



Crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor, in an attempt to bring back the majestic name of Rome to the West, and also to keep his blessing as pope as a requirement for any legitimate king to have to rule.



ST. VACLAV - 900s

Good King Wenceslas from the Christmas carol.




Apostle of the Poles, Wojciech (Adalbert) helped show the superiority of Christian morality to the Poles.




The monestary at Monte Cassino, Central Italy. It was established by St. Benedict as a model for others.

It was rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII, a battle after which Allied soldiers fought their way through to Rome.


   Popular Christianity: The 7 Sacraments

(And 7 Virtues and 7 Vices)


luxura (lust)

Lust, or lechery, is an intense desire. Lust could be exemplified by the intense desire for money, food, fame, power, or sex. In Dante's Purgatorio, a penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. In Dante's Inferno, unforgiven souls of the sin of lust are blown about in a restless whirlwind- symbolic of their own lack of self-control to their lustful passions in earthly life.



Abstaining from base conduct and acting with manners according to one's station in life; the practice of courtly love instead of carnal lust. Cleanliness through good health and hygiene, and maintained by refraining from intoxicants. Treating the body as the temple God gave for your soul to inhabit while on earth. Being honest with oneself and others. Embracing of moral goodness and achieving a purity of thought through education and betterment. The ability to refrain from being distracted and influenced by hostility, temptation or corruption. Sounds pretty nice doesn't it?



gula (gluttony)

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. In medieval Christianity, it was considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from others who may need it more than you. Because of these scripts, gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness.



Restraint, temperance, justice. Constant mindfulness of others and one's surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, moderation and deferred gratification. Prudence to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time. Proper moderation between self-interest, versus public-interest, and against the rights and needs of others.

avaritia (avarice/greed)

also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." In Dante's Purgatory, the penitents were bound and laid face down on the ground for having concentrated too much on earthly thoughts.



Generosity, charity, self-sacrifice; the term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving. In Christian theology, charity—or love (agäpé) -- is the greatest of the three theological virtues. Love, in the sense of an unlimited loving kindness towards all others, is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. Such love is self-sacrificial. Confusion can arise from the multiple meanings of the English word "love". The love that is "caritas" is distinguished by its origin – being divinely infused into the soul – and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. This love is necessary for salvation, and with it no one can be lost.



acedia (sloth/discouragement)

can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.




Okay so American Gothic may be a bit too late for this, but the sentiment is the same. A zealous and careful steadfastness in one's actions and work; decisive work ethics, constancy in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one's time; monitoring one's own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one's convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).


ira (wrath)

also known as "rage", may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath may persist long after the person who did another a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide.



Forbearance and endurance through moderation. Enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. Resolving conflicts and injustice peacefully, as opposed to resorting to violence. Accepting the grace to forgive;to show mercy to sinners. Creating a sense of peaceful stability and community rather than suffering, hostility, and antagonism.


invidia (envy)

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is characterized by an insatiable desire. Envy is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone's traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it.



Charity, compassion and friendship for its own sake. Empathy and trust without prejudice or resentment. Unselfish love and voluntary kindness without bias or spite. Having positive outlooks and cheerful demeanor; to inspire kindness in others.


superbia (pride)

hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbour".




Modest behavior, selflessness, and the giving of respect. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. It is a spirit of self-examination; a hermeneutic of suspicion toward yourself and charity toward people you disagree with. The courage of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved. Reverence for those who have wisdom and those who selflessly teach in love. Giving credit where credit is due; not unfairly glorifying one's own self. Being faithful to promises, no matter how big or small they may be. Refraining from despair and the ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation.



7 Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion), Penance, Matrimony/Holy Orders, Last Rites






***Battle of Vouville***

Sides: Franks vs. Visigoths

Time: 507

Place: Poitiers, France

Action: In this battle, the Frankish chieftain Clovis put a capstone on his career of being the first Frankish ruler to extend his territory to significant size. He had defeated chieftains like Syagrius in the northwest Gaul, and the Alamanni. He converted to Christianity and moved across the Loire river into a Visigothic kingdom which practiced Arianism, and met Alaric II on the battlefield, slaying him and vanquishing the opposition. He next moved on Toulouse, the Visigothic stronghold, and took that as well.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Clovis is considered the first King of the Franks.


***Battle of Tours***

Sides: Franks vs. Muslims

Time: 732

Place: Tours, France

Action: The Islamic armies were seemingly invincible. Abd ar-Rahman was governor of the Caliphate in Spain, since it had been conquered 20 years earlier by Arab armies. Now he moved through the Pyrenees and into the Aquitaine. The local duke fled north to Austrasia, and was followed in haste to the Christian shrine of St. Martin at Tours. The governor of Austrasia, however, was Charles Martel. He decided to meet the 50,000 strong Islamic force outside the town and engage it. In the clash, the Christians formed a compact unit fighting hand-to-hand, wielding swords and spears against the Arab cavalry. The Franks summoned an extra burst of energy and one killed the Arab commander. The Muslims were on the run.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: This battle is seen as one of the most pivotal in all history, by Harvard Professor Edward Creasy, because had the Muslims won, no other force would likely have stopped them from converting the Franks to Islam. Charles Martel got the nickname The Hammer of God, and France became champion of Christendom.


***Battles of Saxony***

Sides: Franks vs. Saxons

Time: 772

Place: Saxony and Westphalia, Germany

Action: In expanding the Carolingian Empire east, Charlemagne, grandson of Charles Martel and the greatest power of the Dark Ages, moved against the Saxon Germans. Widukind put forth a strong defense, but the Franks were the better, and Widukind became baptized into Christianity. Charlemagne now trusted him and honored him with a title in the feudal way.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Germans adopt Christianity, and Charlemagne defeats the Lombards in Northern Italy, the Slavs and Avars. He set up good supply lines to keep his men provisioned, and set up permanent garrisons on the frontiers underneath him.


***Battle of Roncesvalles***

Sides: Franks vs. Basques

Time: 778

Place: Pyrenees, northern Spain

Action: Having expanded and solidified the East, Charlemagne turned west towards the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Islamic forces rallied and blocked his way, a kind of counterattack for 60 years earlier. An ambush by the Basques had repercussions in literature, because one of the people they had slain was Roland, of Song of Roland fame, the first book in the French vernacular language, where we are introduced to medieval jousting and spear play.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: In 800 on Christmas Day, Charlemage was crowned by the pope Holy Roman Emperor.


***Raid of Lindisfarne***

Sides: Vikings vs. Anglo-Saxons

Time: 793

Place: Near Newcastle

Action: The Vikings came from the north to pillage the British Isles. Alcuin said of them, “It is 350 years that we and our forefathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared as we have now suffered from a pagan race.” He meant the Scandinavian warriors who shocked the land of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who were relatively insulated from outside attacks. Lindisfarne monastery was in their view right on the coast. They sacked it, killed some and kidnapped others. They took all the valuables and then left, returning repeatedly from the 830s on. 

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: After sailing up the Seine and Loire in the 9th century and raiding Paris and other settlements (King Charles the Bald bought them off with 7,000 pounds of silver), the Vikings began to winter in France and thought about staying instead of just plundering.


***Raid of Constantinople***

Sides: Vikings vs. Byzantines

Time: 860

Place: Constantinople

Action: Having sailed into Kievan Rus territory, the Rus were divided into tribes. After a time they asked the Vikings to stay on and be their rulers. The first Russian kings, therefore, were Vikings- Rurik the Varangian being the first. The Rus told their rulers of a great city to the south, and a raid was mounted. Without warning, a fleet of 200 Viking ships like the famous Oseberg ship holding 30 oarsmen, moved to the Bosporus pillaging every town and monetary before anchoring opposite Constantinople. Instead of attacking the walls, however, they just plundered the neighborhood and took off.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Vikings would return in the 9th and 10th centuries, and some would be hired by the Byzantine emperor as a personal bodyguard akin to the Secret Service that guards the US president or the Swiss Guard that protects the pope.


***Raid of Eddington***

Sides: Vikings vs. Anglo-Saxons

Time: 878

Place: Wessex, Southern Britain

Action: Having attacked England and taken Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, the Danish Vikings attacked the remaining Anglo-Saxon kingdom at Wessex. They went right for its ruler, Alfred, who had to flee with his guardsmen, and he set up an alternative base of operations. To the surprise of all, a large number of Angles and Saxons rallied to his standard, and he marched on the Vikings at Chippenham. Partway there at Eddington, the armies met. Alfred led his men to fight “fiercely with a compact shield wall against the entire enemy Viking army until it was destroyed with great slaughter.”

Casualties: 5,000 Vikings, 5,000 Anglo-Saxons

Consequence: Alfred became known as Alfred the Great and England was divided into an Anglo-Saxon area and an area under Viking Danelaw.


***Raid of Paris***

Sides: Vikings vs. Franks

Time: 886

Place: Paris

Action: Sailing up the River Seine in 700 ships, despite the Franks having built forts and bridges to block their way, the Vikings penetrated inland and reached Paris, which they laid siege to. Kenneth Clark said “to a family in a hut along the river, the prow of the Viking ship would have seemed as menacing to her civilization as the periscope of a nuclear submarine.” Count Odo and Bishop Gozelin of the Franks defended Paris, using stone-throwing catapults. The Vikings terrorized the neighborhood but did not break through the walls- as at Constantinople. Henri, Duke of Saxony arrived with a relief army that was turned back, and later Emperor of the Franks Charles III le Gros (Charles the Fat) brought a bigger army, which did not fight the Vikings but paid them to leave.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Charles pulled a political card, allowing the Vikings, as part of the buy off, pillage Burgundy (which refused to acknowledge his sovereignty). Now they would see how much they needed him!


***Battle of Lechfield***

Sides: Germans vs. Magyars

Time: 955

Place: Bavaria

Action: The Magyars (Hungarians) arrived from Central Asia and attacked the Carolingian territories. They made over 30 successful raids with light cavalry tactics. Finally, they laid siege to Augsburg but Otto I the Great, King of the Germans, led 10,000 to save the city. The Magyars faced the odds because of their greater mobility, and parried the German attack. When they moved into the German camp to plunder it, Otto turned his forces back on them with greater speed than the Magyars had anticipated. Now, they kept charging despite Magyar arrows, and pulverized them head on until they drove them from the field.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: There were no more Magyar raids, and this victory confirmed Otto’s supremacy. They settled on the plains of Pannonia, which became Hungary, and became a Christian nation in 1000.


***Raid of Maldon***

Sides: Vikings vs. Anglo-Saxons

Time: 991

Place: Essex

Action: After a century of quiet, during which Alfred the Great’s descendants steadily took Danelaw territory as their own, unifying the realm, the Vikings were back, this time under the future king of Norway, Olaf. Now coastal villages were pillaged again, including Maldon, which was defended by the Earl of Essex, Byrhtnoth, and his personal retainers. Olaf was disadvantaged by geography and asked for a bigger field on which to fight, and he was granted it. The Earl was speared in the battle and the retainers fought to the last man around his body.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The raids continued.


***Raid of Clontarf***

Sides: Vikings vs. Irish

Time: 1014

Place: Near Dublin

Action: As they helped the Rus establish Kiev, the Vikings helped the Irish Celts establish Dublin in the 9th century. Like in Russia, the Irish tribes competed for power against each other, and the Vikings were probably seen as both blessing and curse. One Irish chieftain, Brian Boru, claimed rule over all the country. But Mael Morda challenged that claim, and allied himself with the Vikings at their trading post. Brian also hired some (other) Vikings, and prepared to attack Dublin. Hearing about this raid, the Dublin Vikings moved on Brian at Clontarf and faced off against Brian’s army without Brian, because he was observing Good Friday. Amazingly, Brian’s Vikings led the way to victory against the Dubliners, and disemboweled them until they were no longer a threat, but also strangely, Brian was killed in his camp by retreating Vikings who went through it.

Casualties: 3,000 of Brian’s, 6,000 Dubliners

Consequence: The Vikings settled among the population and ceased being an independent force in Ireland.


***Battle of Ashington***

Sides: Danes vs. Anglo-Saxons

Time: 1016

Place: Essex

Action: Danish king Sven Forkbeard attacked England 25 years after Maldon, and he drove Aethelred II of England into exile, but then died. Aethelred returned to the throne but then died himself in a battle at against Sven’s son Canute the Great, who assumed control of his father’s army. Now Aethelred’s son Edmund Ironside led his father’s army against Canute in a final showdown at Ashington. There Edmund’s Mercian contingent fled the field, and this broke the battle line. Canute cut down large numbers of Edmund’s men, destroying much of the nobility of England, according to sources.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: A month later Edmund died, and Canute was sole ruler of all England.



Vikings and Russians (and Magyars)

Along with Islam, three invading forces against Christendom - until all three convert



Magyars are the Hungarians - they invaded Christendom in the 10th century but were

repulsed and they settled on the plains of Pannonia, where they live still today





Viking explorer who went to



Viking explorer who led an expedition, according to the saga, to Vinland, thought now to be the coast of North America





This is how Scandinavian stamps show Viking life- peaceful- note the ship in the background




This is Viking life in the popular imagination- always focused on combat- which perception is right? Probably both.




Nordic gods Odin (Wotan) and Freya (Frija), for whom Wednesday and Friday, respectively, are named




Odin discussing things with girls healing a horse- the theme of feminine intuition in healing runs through Norse mythology.

According to Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm, a master fairytale maker himself: "The gods share their power and influence

with goddesses, the heroes and priests with wise women."  Grimm notes that Saga and Odin "drink immortality out of golden cups,"

and that goddesses in Norse mythology were, like Greek goddesses and the muses, "schöpferins" (shapers of destiny).




Viking inscriptions- a rune stone and Loki god of fire




Vikings believed their gods were watching them, and that if they were brave-

if they died in battle- they would cross the Rainbow Bridge, to Valhalla




Did the Vikings discover America? This Viking longship was sailed and rowed across the Atlantic,

in 1893, from Europe to America. So yeah, they could do it.




Early Medieval Literature


Bishop Gregory of Tours


A History of the Franks

The early medieval history, 'In 10 Books', of how the Roman province of Gaul became the Kingdom of the Franks. After summarizing the history of the world from the creation through the flood and the rest of the Biblical account, Bishop Gregory recounts the modern events of the 6th Century. The world of the Nibelungenleid and Beowulf was one of widespread superstition- as well as Christian piety. The kingdom of the Devil was real- Hell was real and people were going there. And this makes the book lively, all in the words of a scholarly bishop in France, 1,500 years ago.

The Venerable Bede


A History of the English People

A journey into early Medieval England, not long after King Arthur's time, written by a pious monk named Bede who surivived a terrible plague and spent an astounding life of learning and reconcilliation in a Monestary. He had access to the rarest (many one of a kind) books in an abbey library, and distills all of them in his old age, in this book. It is a book of kings, priests, and medieval life in general. He earned much respect and the title 'The Venerable.' He invented our chronological notation (BC /AD). Mixed with Roman Britannia and the Anglo-Saxon invasions, are accounts of the holy relics and the miracles they produced.

Traditional Scandinavian / English



This is the oldest book in a 'modern' European language, as opposed to Greek and Latin. It is an epic poem full of the heroes and monsters of the feudal imagination. Its astounding beauty and artistic style have kept the book popular for over a thousand years. Beowulf battles against the offspring of Cain born in Hell and come to Earth 'Little Nicky style' as a demon- but unlike Little Nicky, is really out to destroy us. Though an epic poem, it reads like a short story more than a poem.

Traditional French


Song of Roland

The battle in this story took place in the late 700s when Saracens (Muslims) attacked Charlemagne's rearguard army of Christian French soldiers- under the command of Roland. Charlemagne would later take revenge on the attackers. While the events in the epic are true, the tone and character of this book (the first in the French language) make it one of the most valuable medieval source documents in the world. Early medieval chivalry, feudalism and courtship are depicted here as well as the keynote struggle of Christian vs. Muslim near the Pyranees Mountains between France and Spain. Here also we see the real Charlemagne, the most famous name of early Medieval times.

Traditional Spanish


El Cid

Epic Poem. This first book in Spanish language contains what today's readers would find to be the most rank stereotypes, but what for the Spain of 900 years ago, was perfectly normal. Conniving Muslims (who conquered Spain in the early 700s), moneylending Jews, foolish French administrators of Barcelona (a feudal holding of a French Count at the time) and gallant Spanish Christian knights. Its a story about justice and humor, glorious battle and ultimate victory for the side of right.



Next: Famous Churches



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