In this lecture, we meet the Anglo-Saxons who were the combined groups of the Angles, the Saxons, and a few smaller groups, such as the Jutes. All of these groups were Germanic tribes who hailed from the northern parts of Europe, specifically modern-day Belgium, Netherlands, and northern Germany.
In this lecture, we explore early medieval Ireland. As we will see, Ireland was a much more diverse place in the medieval period that is today. Today, the island of Ireland is divided between two countries: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom). In the early middle ages, however, Ireland was divided between hundreds of different kingdoms with shifting alliances. The goal of this lecture is to give the listener a sense of the culture and peoples of early Ireland up to the arrival of the Vikings in the eighth century.
In the previous lecture, we looked at Charlemagne and the so-called Carolingian renaissance. I only briefly laid out Charlemagne’s life because I am producing a whole series of lectures on him. If you’d like to learn more about him, please listen to that lecture series. I am now turning away from Charlemagne here and looking at the later Carolingians, beginning with his son, Louis the Pious, up through the reign of his grandsons Charles the Fat and Charles the Simple with whom the Carolingian family’s control wanes and dies. While Charlemagne is certainly the most important Carolingian, we will see that it is, in fact, the later Carolingians that begin to roughly define the boundaries between modern-day European countries.
In the previous lecture, we met the Carolingian family. In this lecture, we are going to look closely at the most important member of this family, a man named Charlemagne. We are going to examine briefly his years of warfare, but our chief concern here is not Charlemagne the belligerent, but rather the Charlemagne who was heavily invested in cultivating learning and education. In this lecture, we ask what was the Carolingian renaissance and was it, in fact, a renaissance.
In a previous lecture, we looked at the Frankish World. We now return to that world by looking at a specific dynasty, or family, the Carolingians. We met briefly the Merovingian dynasty. The Carolingian family was the dynasty that overthrew the Merovingians and it was the family that some have called the architects of Europe, that is, they are largely responsible for the rough national boundaries in modern Europe. This lecture is the first of several on this family. Their importance cannot be overstated. We will see their rise in this lecture, their reforms in the next lecture, and their fall in the lecture after that. Throughout these three lectures, I ask simple but important question: why were the Carolingians so important?
In the previous lectures, we the rise of the so-called “barbarian kingdoms” across Europe and how they began to forge new political boundaries across Europe. We also saw how the Papacy grew as an institution in the early middle ages. In this lecture, I want to begin examining outside influences to this new dichotomy that existed across Western Europe after the so-called “fall of the Western Roman Empire.” We have already seen one such outside influence, that is the Gothic War with the Byzantine Empire’s failed invasion of Italy during the sixth century. In this lecture, we look at a new external influence, that of Islam brought to southwestern Europe via the Umayyad Invasions in the Iberian Peninsula, modern-day Spain and Portugal via the Straits of Gibraltar, in the early eighth century. This invasion is perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of Western Europe, despite the fact that it receives so little attention in most courses on Western Europe. It radically altered Europe politically, economically, socially, and religiously.
If you have heard my lectures on Rome or listened to my earlier lecture on the Gothic War, then you should be somewhat familiar with the Goths. The term “Goths” is a collective term to refer to many different people who, by the fifth century, largely coalesced into two distinct groups: the Visigoths who fled the Hunic invasions a century earlier and become heavily Romanized as foederati and the Ostrogoths who entered the Roman Empire a bit later. While the Ostrogoths would form a kingdom in Italy, the Visigoths would form a kingdom in modern-day Spain, or the Iberian Peninsula. In this lecture, we explore the Visigoths more closely during period of a Spanish history known as Visigothic Spain which lasts from roughly 400 up to 711. In this brief lecture, we will see the rise and fall of the Visigoths in the region. As I cannot do their history justice in a single lecture, I will be narrowing my discussion to the main themes of Visigothic history and the significant cultural elements of the Visigoths to explain their downfall in the early eighth century at the hands of the Umayyad invaders, whom we will meet in the next lecture.
In the previous few lectures, we have examined the Church and Christianity and the Lombards of Italy. In this lecture, I will be looking at the Franks. We will have several lectures that address the Franks which are, perhaps, the most important people north of the Alps as they define the boundaries roughly between the two modern-day countries of France and Germany. And they are the original rulers of these respective regions and conquer much of western Europe between 500 and 840. Because of the importance of the Franks and because we will meet them many times in future lectures, it is worthwhile to detail the Frankish world here.
In an earlier lecture, I discussed the Gothic War in which the Byzantine Empire invaded Italy to try and reconquer the Italian Peninsula, which had once been the heartland of the Roman Empire. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful. The result of this invasion was the destruction of Italy and the weakening of the political states and actors, most importantly, the Goths. This weakened political state left Italy exposed. In this lecture, we pick up with one group of people who will take advantage of that exposure, the Lombards who established a kingdom in northern Italy.
In the previous lecture, we saw the rise of the early medieval Church. We saw the solidification and concentration of power under the Papacy of Gregory the Great. In this lecture, we are going to explore another Christian phenomenon, monasticism, which is the processes of experiencing the Christian faith as a monk, be it as a hermit or in a communal living space called a monastery. Throughout this lecture, I answer a fundamental question, what was monasticism and how did it develop? In addition to this, I also address how it functioned inside and outside of the Church.
In the previous lecture, we saw the Byzantine Empire try and regain its holdings in the West. These attempts, while initially successful, ultimately failed. With the Roman state largely gone in the West and the fractured nature of Europe with barbarian kingdoms, there really was one final authority in the West, the Church and this is the subject of this lecture. We will be looking at the Church from the death of Jesus up to the death of Pope Gregory the Great. This lecture will lay the foundations necessary for discussing the Church and its interactions with various kings in the future lectures as we explore Anglo-Saxon England, Ireland, and Merovingian Gaul.
In the previous lecture we looked the Barbarian Kingdoms that popped up across Europe in the fifth century. As we saw, these “barbarians” were heavily Romanized. In my final lecture on Rome, I explained why it is quite complicated to simply say that the Roman Empire fell with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in 476. One of the reasons, I said, was because the Roman Empire continued on in the East until it finally fell nearly 1,000 years later. In this lecture, we will meet one of the more significant Eastern Roman Emperors, a man named Justinian.
Welcome to the Middle Ages. If you are coming to these lectures having just finished my lectures on Rome, there will be some minor overlap here. If you have not listened to my lectures on Rome, I recommend listening to the last few so that you can begin these lectures with a running start.
In the coming lectures, we will be looking at Europe’s transition from the fifth to the fifteenth century. This lecture begins by looking at the so-called “barbarian” kingdoms after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman Emperor in the West formally recognized as Roman Emperor by the Roman state. This will lay the groundwork necessary for understanding the next lecture in which we explore the early sixth century invasions of western Europe by the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justinian.
In the last lecture, we saw the Goths rise up and overthrow the last Roman Emperor in the West. In this lecture, we ask a single, simple question. Did the Roman Empire in fact fall? The answer, as we shall see, is more complicated than it may seem.
In the last lecture, we got a sense of what Europe looked like as Rome expanded northward and westward. It was a diverse region with many different peoples, separated roughly into two groups: the Celtic and the “Germanic” tribes. In this lecture, I want to zoom in and examine, more closely a “Germanic” tribe called the Goths. The reason for this is because the Goths will largely be responsible for maintaining some of the institutions of the Roman Empire once it “falls” in the West.
In the last lecture, we met the Celts, a diverse people who inhabited Gaul, modern-day France, and Ireland primarily. In this lecture, we will examine another major group of people who are collectively referred to as “Germans” or “Germanic” tribes. Like the classification of the Celts as Celts, Germanic tribes are classified by culture and language. But also like the Celts, these people were quite diverse and resided in regions from Scandinavia to Bavaria and from eastern Europe to England. In this lecture, we will meet some of the more important Germanic peoples with whom the Romans came into contact.
In the past few lectures, we’ve seen the rise of Christianity and its acceptance in Rome. In this lecture, I want to look at another theme, the people whom Romans called “barbarians.” This will be the first of a few lectures that address this group of people. As we shall see, there were roughly two categories of the so-called barbarians: the Celtic Tribes and the Germanic tribes. In this lecture, we explore the former.
Before reading this chapter, STOP. Take a moment and think about what your perceptions are of the medieval Church. What came to mind? The Pope, corruption, scandal, power, controllers of Europe, manipulators of kings? These popular images of the medieval Church and the Papacy are not unfounded. But these images and notions are, for the most part, that of a Church developed. In the Early Middle Ages the Papacy was only a few hundred years old. Christianity was only made legal in the the early fourth century by Emperor Constantine and not made the official religion of the Roman Empire until 380 by Emperor Theodosius. What did the Church look like before this? How much power did it wield after? And how did it function after the "fall" of the Roman Empire in the West in the late fifth century? These questions shall frame this lecture.
In the previous lectures, we’ve seen the relatively good rule of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. In this lecture, we turn to the third century. Unfortunately for Rome, this is a period known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The reason is rather similar to the crisis we saw in 69 when there were four emperors in a single year, just stretched out over much of a century. The crisis was the result of economic, militaristic, and egoistical problems that emerged all at once. Power became divided and the manners of ascension became inconsistent and decentralized.