The Middle Ages


Table of Contents :


The beginnings

In the year 476 A.D. the Roman Empire came to an end and the next thousand years were called the Middle Ages.

Life in Europe during the Middle Ages was very hard. Only a few people could read and write. The only hope for people was their religion. Many people became Christians and hoped that life in heaven would be better than life on Earth.

The Middle Ages came to an end at the end of the 15th century. Many changes started to take place. The new age in European history was called the "Renaissance".


Tribes Invade Europe

To the north of the Roman Empire there were people who spoke a language that is like today's German. They were called the Germanic tribes.

In the 5th century these Germanic tribes overran the Roman Empire. The Eastern Goths came from Russia and the Ukraine. They conquered most of Italy, Greece and the western Balkans. The Franks took over today's France and the Saxons conquered the southern parts of England.

The Huns originally came from Central Asia. They overran the Chinese Empire at about 200 B.C. and the Chinese emperor had to build a great wall to keep them out. At about 400 A.D. Attila became the leader of the Huns. They came to Europe and forced other tribes to move westward.

The Huns destroyed everything that was in their way. They had no interest in the land they conquered - they only plundered and set fire to villages. When Attila died, the Huns didn't have a strong leader. In the following years, the Goths and other Germanic tribes defeated them.




The Rise of Islam


Islam started to become an important religion at the beginning of the 7th century. Mohammed was the main prophet of Islam. He founded and ruled the first Islamic state in the Middle East.

Between 700 and 1000 A.D. Islam spread to many parts of Northern Africa and even got as far as Spain in the west and India and China in the east.



The Franks and Charlemagne

The Franks were a Germanic tribe in western Europe that began to conquer other tribes. One of their greatest kings was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. When he was king, the Franks invaded Spain and central Europe. His goal was to bring together all the Germanic tribes into one Christian kingdom.

On Christmas Day 800, the pope crowned Charles the Great emperor of the "Holy Roman Empire“. Charlemagne wanted to continue the Roman Empire in central and western Europe.



The Vikings

The Vikings were fierce warriors that wanted to conquer Charlemagne's empire. They came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, countries that we now call Scandinavia.

The Vikings were sailors and they were good at building ships. A Viking ship could sail very fast and it could hold about 100 men. These ships were very strong and powerful and they were not very deep, so that they could also travel on rivers. The Vikings attacked lands near the sea without warning. They got out of their boats, overran villages and took as many things as they could carry with them. Then they quickly left and sailed to another place.

By the tenth century, the Vikings controlled parts of Great Britain, France and Russia and even sailed to Egypt. Other Vikings sailed west and discovered Ice-land and Greenland. One Viking sailor, Leif Ericson even got to North America. There, he founded a village in today's Newfoundland and called it "Vinland" because it was so warm that you could grow grapes there.


The Normans

One group of Vikings settled in Normandy, a part of north-western France. They spoke French and became Christians, but they still liked adventures.

William the Conqueror was a powerful Norman king who invaded Britain in 1066. For the next 300 years England was ruled by kings who did not speak English.

The English hated the Normans and the two countries became enemies for the next centuries. William built a lot of castles and buildings and paid for his projects by collecting taxes from the English people. The Normans brought a lot of French words to England. They also took over the lands of English lords and built the Tower of London.



The Crusades


The Crusades were wars that were fought by Christians against Muslims. The Turks and other Muslims took control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the 11th century. The Muslims forbade Christians to come to Jerusalem and pray.

In 1095 Pope Urban got together many soldiers and knights and sent them to Jerusalem to free the city from the Muslims. The French, Germans and Italians were the first European Christians to go on Crusades. The word “ crusade” meant "war of the cross". Pilgrims also went to Jerusalem to pray there.

During the first Crusade many knights died of hunger, thirst and disease. When they got to Jerusalem, they killed anyone they could find.

Some knights took foot soldiers with them. They helped carry things for their masters. When the soldiers got to Jerusalem they tried to get into the city by using huge weapons, called ballistas. They were big catapults that shot large stones and other things over big walls. Other knights tried to dig tunnels and then set fire to the walls. When the knights got inside the city they killed everyone they could see.

The Crusades didn't really achieve much for the European Christians. Soldiers and knights captured the Holy Land back for a few years but then lost it to the Muslims again. But the Crusades were important for Europe. Many castles were built and new religious orders were founded.



Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was one of France's most famous women. She became a saint and was also called the " Maid of Orleans".

She came from a very poor family. When Joan was 13 she believed she heard voices from God. Sometimes she also saw visions from heaven. When the British were about to capture Orleans in the Hundred Year War, these voices told her to help Charles VII, who later became King of France. In the Battle of Orleans, Charles gave her soldiers and with them she was able to beat the English.

After Charles became king, Joan went on to fight against the English on her own. But Charles wanted to have peace with the English king. When the English captured her, they turned her over to the French king. She was burned at the stake, because Charles and his supporters thought that she was a witch.


Black Death

Almost half of the people in Western Europe died of a great illness that was called the "Black Death". It got its name because the skin of the sick people turned dark and grey.

The Black Death probably began in China, where it killed about 35 million people. When sailors travelled to Asia, rats returned with them. Fleas sucked their blood and spread the disease to most of Europe.

In the middle of the 14th century merchant ships returned from Asia and many sailors were already dying of the plague. Within days, it spread to all big cities and the countryside.

Death came very quickly. The first signs were aching arms and legs and many people vomited blood. Faces often became swollen and the skin colour turned dark. Most victims had terrible pain. Many people died within 24 hours after they got the disease.

The disease could spread quickly because there was not enough medicine in those days and people often ate rotten meat.

The people of the Middle Ages thought that the "Black Death“was a sign of punishment from God. Today we have a cure for this disease but it still happens in very poor countries of the Third World.


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  •   A.D = anno domini = after the birth of Christ
  •   ache = hurt
  •   achieve = reach a goal
  •   attack = to damage and destroy places
  •   B.C. before the birth of Christ
  •   beat = to win against
  •   capture = to take control of
  •   catapult = a large weapon used a long time ago to throw stones and balls over a wall
  •   century = a hundred years
  •   conquer = to invade with soldiers and take control of
  •   continue = to go on with
  •   crown = to become king or queen
  •   Crusades = eight wars that European kings led in the 11th , 12th and 13th centuries to get control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land
  •   cure = treatment
  •   defeat = to win against
  •   destroy = to damage something so that you cannot use it anymore
  •   dig = to make a hole into the Earth
  •   discover = to find a place for the first time
  •   disease = illness
  •   emperor = a man who rules an empire or a group of countries
  •   empire = a group of countries ruled by a king
  •   enemy = someone you fight against in a war
  •   fierce = terrible, violent, brutal
  •   flea = a very small insect without wings that bites animals and people and sucks out their blood
  •   foot soldier = a soldier who helps a knight and usually travels on foot
  •   forbid – forbade = not allow
  •   force = to make someone do something
  •   found – founded = to start or make something new
  •   found - founded = to start something new
  •   goal = aim, what you want to do
  •   grape = small round green and purple fruits that you use to make wine
  •   heaven = place where God lives
  •   huge = very big
  •   illness = disease
  •   invade = to enter a country with an army and take control of it
  •   kingdom = a group of many countries ruled by a king or queen
  •   knight = a man with a high rank who lived in the Middle Ages and fought on horseback
  •   lord =a man in the Middle Ages who usually had a lot of land and was very powerful
  •   maid = woman or girl who is not married
  •   main = most important
  •   merchant ship = a ship that has goods and products on board and travels between continents
  •   Muslim = a person whose religion is Islam
  •   on her own = by herself
  •   order = a religious group that lived according to certain rules
  •   originally = at first
  •   overrun = to take control of a place
  •   pain = the feeling you have when your body hurts
  •   pay = to give money for something
  •   pilgrim = a religious person who travels a long way to a holy place
  •   plague = a disease that spreads very quickly and kills many people = the Black Death
  •   plunder = to steal things from a place
  •   pope = the leader of the Roman Catholic church
  •   pray = to say words to God
  •   punishment = penalty
  •   Roman Empire = the countries in Europe and northern Africa that were ruled by the Romans in the first century before until the 5 th century after the birth of Christ
  •   rotten = something that no longer can be eaten because it is old
  •   rule = govern
  •   sailor = a person who works on a ship
  •   saint = someone who gets a title by the church after they have died because they have done something very good
  •   settle = to live in a place for the first time
  •   soldier = member of an army who fights in a war
  •   spread = to move from one place to another
  •   stake = a post used to tie people against
  •   suck = to take out with your mouth
  •   supporter = friend ,helper
  •   swollen = very thick
  •   take control = to get power again
  •   tax = money you collect from the people and use for many things in a country
  •   tribe = a group of people of the same race who have the same traditions and customs
  •   victim = people who have the illness
  •   vision = something that you see but other people cannot
  •   vomit = when food or drink comes back out of your stomach through your mouth
  •   warrior = a brave soldier of the past
  •   weapon = something you use to fight in a war
  •   witch = a woman who has magic powers