The Middle Ages – an era full of darkness, the fall into an abyss full of violence, insecurity and fanatic religions? According to popular believes these are the main attributes of the medieval times. But is this image correct?
No, it is not. I want to give you a short text about the most important factors, because this field of study is still new. I am sure that a lot of research still needs to be done here.
Lets begin with a short trip to late Antiquity. The defense of the western Roman provinces is organized by German rulers for a more than one generation, especially by the Franks. Their leaders are part of the local elite for a long time. After the Romans had drawn back their troops completely, these rulers had taken full control of this areas. The Roman nobility either left the provinces or tried to work together with the new leaders. Many structures were destroyed, especially the infrastructure. The old Roman way of life was adjusted to the new conditions. The old knowledge was not forgotten, though. In Cologne, the old Colonia Agrippina, the old Roman building were used by the Franks. The local craftsmen continued their work. It is known that Charlemagne used the old Roman baths during his visits. The hinterland of the towns did not change much, either. The local church saved a lot of the old documents and copied them. Even ex- and import still existed, some of the roads and havens were still in use. With the time passing even new buildings were erected.
However, in the countryside the situation was different. A lot of remote farms could not receive goods from the towns anymore, because many roads became unusable or too dangerous. Most of the ancient aqueducts did not remain functional very long. A lot of local warlords existed, even the Franish king was their superior. Nevertheless there were a lot of raids of enemy tribes or of raiders. It became important to create strong structures on a local basis. The feudalism is one development which roots can be dated back to this period. The traveling court of the early kings shows how much even a king had to adapt to this system, even if under Charlemagne the will to create some kind of capital became obvious.
Art in the Middle Ages was on a very high level. The artworks that still exist today are very impressive and professionally made. New techniques were developed and we can think of the Middle Ages as a way more coulourful era than it is thought of today.
The weapons and strategies were also further developed. In late Antiquity German tribes had already defeated Roman armies in open field battle. Good examples for that are the victories of the Goths. German tribes had been formidable riders in all times and these technique was developed further and further. Armoury, swords, shields, everything was being improved and soon on another level. That is also true for the erection of castles. In the 9th century it became clear, that the techniques of forification used in Roman forts could not protect medieval defenders against the raids of the Normans on the Rhine. Old techniques were not forgotten. Even water pipes and heated rooms existed, they were found in old castles.
Christianity and especially the church meant another development, too. In the old legal frameworl of German tribes you had to pay a certain amount of money if you had killed someone. Only the deed itself was judged, not the intention and the bad moral behind it. This changed now. The wish alone to kill someone was declared a sin. The soul of the one who killed another person would be damaged. The deed itself was now condemend as something unmoral and evil.
As we can see the Middle Ages were not the Dark Ages. Important developments in many fields were made. In many aspects the medieval era was further developed than Antiquity and was the point of origin for Renaissance. The Middle Ages were an important era within the process of the development of mankind.