Humanities in the Early, High And Late Middle Ages

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Before delving into the topic of humanities, it is essential to establish their definition as the study of human beings, encompassing their culture and self-expression. The purpose of this discussion is to examine how humanities portray changing perspectives on nature and humanity throughout history. Currently, there is a lack of awareness among many individuals regarding past historical experiences. Nonetheless, the contributions made by previous generations in various fields continue to significantly influence our everyday existence.

By studying different disciplines within the humanities, we can gain insight into the past and future of humanity. By delving deeper into these subjects, we can progress further and enhance the future by using lessons from the past. The Early Middle Ages (500-1000 C.E.) were characterized by instability and heavily influenced by Christianity. Western Europe faced attacks from Germanic tribes while Eastern Europe battled against the Arabs.

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Fiero (2002) affirms that the fusion of Germanic tribal people and practices with those of classical Rome and Western Christianity shaped medieval life’s basic economic, social, and cultural patterns (p.69). The website German Culture states that during the Merovingian Dynasty (482-751 C.E.), under Clovis’s rule, the Franks began adopting Christianity following Clovis’s baptism, which marked the beginning of the alliance between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church (Medieval Germany -, n.d.). The reign of Charlemagne witnessed a peak in Christianity. After being crowned emperor of the Romans in 800 by Pope Leo III, Charlemagne brought education and enlightenment to his people (Fiero, 2002, p.74-75).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website details Charlemagne’s achievements, which include the establishment of schools, the recruitment of scholar Alcuin of York to his court, and the encouragement of artists to revive Greco-Roman traditions. Charlemagne also commissions opulent manuscript books, copies of sacred and classical texts, and sets a trend that his successors imitate. Some Carolingian books boast covers adorned with gemstones, purple-dyed pages, text scribed with gold and silver inks, and miniature illustrations executed in a lively, self-assured style. Additionally, the court workshops produce bronze figures, ivory carvings, and precious treasure objects adorned with precious metals, gemstones, and ancient cameos. (Central Europe, 2000-2005)

Following Charlemagne’s demise, Western Europe once again found itself fragmented. Fiero (2002) contends that Charlemagne’s three grandsons partitioned the Empire, which led to the separation of French and German-speaking regions (p.76). This period also witnessed the emergence of a novel social hierarchy similar to that of ancient Rome, comprising plebians, patricians, and military personnel. As stated by Fiero (2002), feudalism entailed the provision of land in exchange for military duty.

According to Fiero (2002), a vassal had to provide his lord with a specific number of fighting days per year (usually forty) in exchange for the grant of land (p.76). These men, known as knights, showed honor and courage during the holy wars. They lived by the code of chivalry, which, as defined by Fiero (2002), meant being courageous in battle, loyal to their lord and fellow warriors, and reverent towards women (p. 77). The knights and ladies represented the elite class in the feudal society, while most of the population were serfs. Christian influence heavily influenced art and literature during this time. For example, the Lindisfarne gospels were created by an artist monk in Northumbria during the early eighth century (Lindisfarne Gospels, n.d.).

Another remarkable instance of Christian art from this era is the Book of Kells. Snell (n.d.) mentions that the Book of Kells is an exceptionally beautiful manuscript that includes the Four Gospels. It was most likely created in a monastery located on the Isle of Iona, Scotland, as a tribute to Saint Columba in the early 8th century (Snell, n.d.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases other artistic discoveries, such as the Plaque with Saint John the Evangelist and Three Holy Women at the Holy Sepulcher.

According to Fiero (2002), the epic poems of the Early Middle Ages reflect Germanic traditions, which include personal valor and heroism linked to a culture of war. Beowulf, The Song of the Nibelungen, and the Song of Roland, considered the three most renowned, were orally transmitted for several centuries before being written down between the tenth and thirteenth centuries (p.71).

Despite a brief period of revival, the Early Middle Ages did not reach the same level of glory as the Roman Empire. The empire boasted impressive architecture, art, and literature that instilled a feeling of achievement. However, the Early Middle Ages represent humanity’s ongoing endeavor to cultivate love and construct an improved world.

The High Middle Ages, occurring from 1000 C.E. to 1300 C.E., are positioned between the Dark Ages (also known as the Early Middle Ages) and the Late Middle Ages. Within this time frame, notable progress was achieved in agriculture. This includes the invention of iron horseshoes and windmills, as well as the adoption of a three-field system. The three-field system involved cultivating crops in two fields while allowing the third field to regenerate after excessive planting. Consequently, crops thrived and grew more robust, leading to higher yields during harvest season.

During the High Middle Ages, towns, trades, and manufacturing began to flourish due to the revival of long-distance trade. Guilds played a crucial role in regulating manufacturing industries, establishing standards, and safeguarding their members. Additionally, the growth of towns was fueled by the trade of local perishable goods within close proximity.

During the High Middle Ages, universities started to emerge after 1000 C.E. due to an increasing demand for education. This demand arose because educated individuals became crucial in administrative roles. The universities focused on teaching the seven liberal arts that were derived from the classical Greco-Roman system. These arts encompass grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.

In the High Middle Ages, there was significant growth in the church during the 11th century. This growth primarily focused on improving the administrative system of the papacy and addressing misconduct within the clergy. During the 12th century, a group called The Inquisition arose, led by bishops who followed orders from the pope. The Inquisition conducted trials for Catholics who renounced their faith. Unfortunately, these individuals were not provided with legal representation and were subjected to torture in order to extract confessions and reveal accomplices. Consequently, those found guilty faced severe punishments, often resulting in death.

During the High Middle Ages, heretics were subjected to harsh punishment by being burned alive. In order to ensure their safety, the church would deliver these guilty individuals to secular authorities. The 13th century witnessed the papacy’s rise in power over subordinate churches and an increase in educated clerics overseeing dioceses. This period also marked the occurrence of the Holy Crusades, a series of eight campaigns from 1095 C.E. to 1291 C.E., with the goal of reclaiming Jerusalem from Muslim control.

Unlike the Greeks, who believed in multiple gods, the High Middle Ages adopted a monotheistic belief in one god and were greatly influenced by Christianity. Both the Greeks and the High Middle Ages faced numerous battles in the Eastern Empire – the former against Persians and the latter against Muslims during the crusades. Additionally, just as Romans imitated Greek styles, the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance copied those of the High Middle Ages.

The Late Middle Ages, which occurred from the 13th to the 15th centuries (1300-1500 CE), followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the Modern Era. This time period witnessed diverse events and humanistic endeavors. However, despite three centuries of gradual economic stability and prosperity, a series of disasters caused by humans and nature reversed this progress. The culture during this era seemed to be on the verge of complete collapse. Nevertheless, political and intellectual advancements occurred during this time that directly paved the way for the Renaissance. One notable event was the hundred-year war (1337-1453) between England and France, fought over control of the French throne and resulting in significant destruction primarily due to introduction of gunpowder and heavy artillery.

The papal “Schism-Division or separation; specifically (Eccl.), permanent division or separation in the Christian church; breach of unity among people of the same religious faith; the offense of seeking to produce division in a church without justifiable cause.” (Brainy Dictionary 2005) also contributed to the intrigue and quarreling over the papacy. This reached its peak in 1409 when three competing popes were elected. Consequently, the church’s respectability further diminished, as it had already become deeply involved in secular politics. In particular, the French king’s manipulation of the church, including moving the papacy into French territory during the Babylonian Captivity of (1309-1377), directly contributed to the instability of the papacy and the decline in the Church’s political autonomy.

The Black Death originated from the eastern part of the Black Sea and reached Europe from 1347-50. Europeans were already weakened by malnutrition, making the impact of the plague even more devastating. This deadly disease recurred sporadically for the next century, causing a staggering 2/3 decline in Europe’s population from 1300-1450. Additionally, in 1453, the fall of the Byzantine Empire occurred when the Islamic Turks successfully captured Constantinople. This event not only undermined the efforts of the Crusades 200 years earlier but also placed the Turks in a position to directly threaten Western Christendom by launching attacks on its southwestern borders.

Despite the belief that the culture of this era was on the verge of collapse, political and intellectual progress occurred during this time, ultimately giving rise to the Renaissance. Originating in Italy and later expanding throughout Europe in the 1500s, it was a period marked by questioning established notions about God, humanity, and society. Additionally, it involved the reintegration of classical Greek and Roman intellectual traditions into Western thought.

Both printing and critical historical scholarship emerged in the West. As the new nation-states gained strength, the church’s influence declined and vernacular literary movements arose in different countries to challenge the dominance of church Latin. The Late Middle Ages were marked by historical mishaps, but they were followed by the Renaissance period, which is considered a silver lining.


Throughout the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages, significant ideas were implemented by people in each period. Christianity played a crucial role, serving as the foundation for everything while also leading to downfall in certain cases. Survival challenges varied for individuals in each Age, with the Late Middle Ages being heavily impacted by the plague. Cultural and political advancements were prevalent in every aspect of life, all contributing to the eventual onset of the Renaissance. The study of human history serves multiple purposes, primarily to prevent the repetition of past mistakes. Gloria K. Fiero effectively depicts the world’s extensive history and the multitude of events that occurred.


  1. Central Europe (including Germany), 500-1000 A.D. (2000-2005). Retrieved July 30, 2005, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site:
  2. Duffy, S.L. (n.d.), Europe 1000-1300: the high middle ages. Retrieved July 27, 2005, from
  3. Fiero, G. K. (2002). The Humanistic Tradition (Fourth ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. Lindisfarne Gospels. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2005, from British Library: Online Gallery European Manuscripts Web site:
  4. Medieval Germany – The Merovingian Dynasty, ca. 500-751. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2005, from German Culture Web site:
  5. Snell, M. (n.d.). The Book of Kells: Splendid Medieval Manuscript. Retrieved July 28, 2005, from
  6. The Brainy Dictionary (2005). Definition of Schism. Retrieved July 27, 2005 from

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Humanities in the Early, High And Late Middle Ages. (2019, Mar 18). Retrieved from

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