High Middle Ages

High Middle Ages

The High Middle Ages was the period of European history in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (AD 1000–1299). The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500.

The key historical trend of the High Middle Ages was the rapidly increasing population of Europe, which brought about great social and political change from the preceding era. By 1250 the robust population increase greatly benefited the economy, reaching levels it would not see again in some areas until the 19th century. This trend was checked in the Late Middle Ages by a series of calamities, notably the Black Death but also including numerous wars and economic stagnation.

From about the year 1000 onwards, Western Europe saw the last of the barbarian invasions and became more politically organized. The Vikings had settled in the British Isles, France and elsewhere, whilst Norse Christian kingdoms were developing in their Scandinavian homelands. The Magyars had ceased their expansion in the 10th century, and by the year 1000, a Christian Kingdom of Hungary was recognized in central Europe. With the brief exception of the Mongol invasions, major barbarian incursions ceased.

In the 11th century, populations north of the Alps began to settle new lands, some of which had reverted to wilderness after the end of the Roman Empire. In what is known as the "great clearances," vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated. At the same time settlements moved beyond the traditional boundaries of the Frankish Empire to new frontiers in eastern Europe, beyond the Elbe River, tripling the size of Germany in the process. Crusaders founded European colonies in the Levant, the majority of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered from the Moors, and the Normans colonized southern Italy, all part of the major population increase and resettlement pattern.

The High Middle Ages produced many different forms of intellectual, spiritual and artistic works. This age saw the rise of modern nation-states in Western Europe and the ascent of the great Italian city-states. The still-powerful Roman Church called armies from across Europe to a series of Crusades against the Seljuk Turks, who occupied the Holy Land. The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle led Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers to develop the philosophy of Scholasticism. In architecture, many of the most notable Gothic cathedrals were built or completed during this era.

Historical events and politics

British Isles

:"Main articles: Britain in the Middle Ages and Scotland in the High Middle Ages

In England, the Norman Conquest of 1066 resulted in a kingdom ruled by a Francophone nobility. The Normans invaded Ireland in force in 1169 and soon established themselves throughout most of the country, though their stronghold was the southeast. Likewise, Scotland and Wales were subdued to vassalage at about the same time, though Scotland later regained her independence. The Exchequer was founded in the 12th century under King Henry I, and the first parliaments were convened. In 1215, after the loss of Normandy, King John signed the Magna Carta into law, which limited the power of English monarchs.


:"Main articles: Histories of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden"

From the mid-tenth to the mid-eleventh centuries, the Scandinavian kingdoms were unified and Christianized, resulting in an end to Viking raids, and greater involvement in European politics. King Cnut of Denmark ruled over both England and Norway. After Knut’s death in 1035, England and Norway were lost, and with the defeat of Valdemar II in 1227, Danish predominance in the region came to an end. Meanwhile, Norway extended its Atlantic possessions, ranging from Greenland to the Isle of Man, while Sweden, under Birger jarl, built up a power base in the Baltic Sea.

France and Germany

:"Main articles: France in the Middle Ages, Germany in the Middle Ages"

By the time of the High Middle Ages, the Carolingian Empire had been divided and replaced by separate successor kingdoms called France and Germany, although not with their modern boundaries. Germany was under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, which reached its high-water mark of unity and political power.

outhern Europe

:"Main articles: Spain in the Middle Ages, Italy in the Middle Ages"

Much of the Iberian peninsula had been occupied by the Moors after 711, although the northernmost portion was divided between several Christian states. In the 11th century, and again in the thirteenth, the Christian kingdoms of the north gradually drove the Muslims from central and most of southern Iberia.

In Italy, independent city states grew affluent on eastern maritime trade. These were in particular the thalassocracies of Pisa, Amalfi, Genoa and Venice.

Eastern Europe

The High Middle Ages saw the height and decline of the Slavic state of Kievan Rus' and the emergence of Poland. Later, the Mongol invasion in the 13th century had great impact on Eastern Europe, as many countries of that region were invaded, pillaged, conquered and vassalized.

During the first half of this period (c.1025-1185) the Byzantine Empire dominated the Balkans south of the Danube, and under the Comnenian emperors there was a revival of prosperity and urbanisation; however, their domination of the region came to an end with a successful Bulgarian rebellion in 1185, and henceforth the region was divided between the Byzantines in Greece and some parts of Macedonia and Thrace, the Bulgarians in Moesia and most of Thrace and Macedonia and the Serbians to the north-west. The Eastern and Western churches had formally split in the 11th century, and despite occasional periods of co-operation during the twelfth century, in 1204 the Fourth Crusade used treachery to capture Constantinople. This severely damaged the Byzantines, and their power was ultimately usurped by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The power of the Latin Empire, however, was shortly lived after the Crusader army was routed by the Bulgarian Emperor Kaloyan in the battle of Adrianople (1205).

Climate and agriculture

The Medieval Warm Period, the period from 10th century to about the 14th century in Europe, was a relatively warm and gentle interval ended by the generally colder Little Ice Age. Farmers grew wheat well north into Scandinavia, and wine grapes in northern England, although the maximum expansion of vineyards appears to occur within the Little Ice Age period. This protection from famine allowed Europe's population to increase, despite the famine in 1315 that killed 1.5 million people. This increased population contributed to the founding of new towns and an increase in industrial and economic activity during the period. Food production also increased during this time as new ways of farming were introduced, including the use of a heavier plow, horses instead of oxen, and a three-field system that allowed the cultivation of a greater variety of crops than the earlier two-field system - notably legumes, the growth of which prevented the depletion of important nitrogen from the soil.

The rise of chivalry

Household heavy cavalry (knights) became common in the 11th century across Europe, and tournaments were invented. Although the heavy capital investment in horse and armor was a barrier to entry, knighthood became known as a way for serfs to earn their freedom. In the 12th century, the Cluny monks promoted ethical warfare and inspired the formation of orders of chivalry, such as the Templar Knights. Inherited titles of nobility were established during this period. In 13th-century Germany, knighthood became another inheritable title, although one of the less prestigious, and the trend spread to other countries.


The Church

The East-West Schism of 1054 formally separated the Christian church into two parts: Western Catholicism in Western Europe and Eastern Orthodoxy in the east. It occurred when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, mainly over disputes as to the existence of papal authority over the four Eastern patriarchs.

The Crusades

One of the most important events of the period was the series of religious wars known as the Crusades, in which Christians fought to retake Palestine from the Seljuk Turks. The Crusades impacted all levels of society in the High Middle Ages, from the kings and emperors who themselves led the Crusades, to the lowest peasants whose lords were often absent in the east. The height of the Crusades was the 12th century, following the First Crusade and the foundation of the Crusader states; in the 13th century and beyond, Crusades were also directed against fellow Christians, and in eastern and northern Europe, non-Muslim pagans.

Military orders

In the context of the crusades, monastic military orders were founded that would become the template for the late medieval chivalric orders. The Knights Templar were a Christian military order founded after the First Crusade to help protect Christian pilgrims from hostile Muslims. The order was deeply involved in banking, and in 1307 Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel) had the entire order arrested in France and dismantled on charges of heresy. They were secretly pardoned by Pope Clement V in 1314.


The new Christian method of learning was influenced by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) from the rediscovery of the works of Aristotle through Medieval Jewish and Muslim Philosophy (Maimonides, Avicenna, and Averroes) and those whom he influenced, most notably Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure and Abélard. Scholastics believed in empiricism and supporting Roman Catholic doctrines through secular study, reason, and logic. They opposed Christian mysticism, and the Platonist-Augustinian beliefs in mind dualism and the view of the world as inherently evil. The most famous of the scholastics was Thomas Aquinas (later declared a "Doctor of the Church"), who led the move away from the Platonic and Augustinian and towards Aristotelianism. Aquinas developed a philosophy of mind by writing that the mind was at birth a "tabula rasa" ("blank slate") that was given the ability to think and recognize forms or ideas through a divine spark. Other notable scholastics included Roscelin, Abélard, and Peter Lombard. One of the main questions during this time was the problem of universals. Prominent opponents of various aspects of the scholastic mainstream included Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Damian, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Victorines. ref|Scholasticism

Golden age of monasticism

*The late 11th century/early-mid 12th century was the height of the golden age of Christian monasticism (8th-12th centuries).
**Benedictine Order - black robed monks
**Cistercian Order - white robed monks
***Bernard of Clairvaux

Mendicant orders

*The 13th century saw the rise of the Mendicant orders such as the:
** Franciscans (Friars Minor, commonly known as the Grey Friars), founded 1209
** Carmelites (Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Carmel, commonly known as the White Friars), founded 1206–1214
** Dominicans (Order of Preachers, commonly called the Black Friars), founded 1215
** Augustinians (Hermits of St. Augustine, commonly called the austin Friars), founded 1256

Heretical movements

Heresy existed in Europe before the 11th century but only in small numbers and of local character: a rogue priest, or a village returning to pagan traditions; but beginning in the 11th century mass-movement heresies appeared. The roots of this can be found with the rise of urban cities, free merchants and a new money-based economy. The rural values of monasticism held little appeal to urban people who began to form sects more in tune with urban culture. The first heretical movements originated in the newly urbanized areas such as southern France and northern Italy. They were mass movements on a scale the Church had never seen before, and the response was one of elimination for some, such as the Cathars, and the acceptance and integration of others, such as St. Francis, the son of an urban merchant who renounced money.


Catharism was a movement with Gnostic elements that originated around the middle of the 10th century, branded by the contemporary Roman Catholic Church as heretical. It existed throughout much of Western Europe, but its home was in Languedoc and surrounding areas in southern France.

The name "Cathar" most likely originated from Greek "katharos", "pure". One of the first recorded uses is Eckbert von Schönau who wrote on heretics from Cologne in 1181: "Hos nostra Germania catharos appellat."

The Cathars are also called Albigensians. This name originates from the end of the 12th century, and was used by the chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois in 1181. The name refers to the southern town of Albi (the ancient Albiga). The designation is hardly exact, for the centre was at Toulouse and in the neighbouring districts.

The Albigensians were strong in southern France, northern Italy, and the southwestern Holy Roman Empire.
*Dualists believed that historical events were the result of struggle between a good force and an evil force and that evil ruled the world, but could be controlled or defeated through asceticism and good works.
*Albigensian Crusade, Simon de Montfort, Montségur, Quéribus


Peter Waldo of Lyon was a wealthy merchant who gave up his wealth around 1175 after a religious experience and became a preacher. He founded the Waldensians which became a Christian sect believing that all religious practices should have scriptural basis. Waldo was denied the right to preach his sermons by the Third Lateran Council in 1179, which he did not obey and continued to speak freely until he was excommunicated in 1184. Waldo was critical of the Christian clergy saying they did not live according to the word. He rejected the practice of selling indulgences, as well as the common saint cult practices of the day.

Trade and commerce

In Northern Europe, the Hanseatic League, a federation of free cities to advance trade by sea, was founded in the 12th century, with the foundation of the city of Lübeck, which would later dominate the League, in 1158–1159. Many northern cities of the Holy Roman Empire became hanseatic cities, including Amsterdam, Cologne, Bremen, Hannover and Berlin. Hanseatic cities outside the Holy Roman Empire were, for instance, Bruges and the Polish city of Gdańsk(Danzig). In Bergen, Norway and Novgorod, Russia the league had factories and middlemen. In this period the Germans started colonising Eastern Europe beyond the Empire, into Prussia and Silesia.

In the late 13th century, a Venetian explorer named Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to travel the Silk Road to China. Westerners became more aware of the Far East when Polo documented his travels in "Il Milione". He was followed by numerous Christian missionnaries to the East, such as William of Rubruck, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, Andrew of Longjumeau, Odoric of Pordenone, Giovanni de Marignolli, Giovanni di Monte Corvino, and other travellers such as Niccolò da Conti.


::main|History of science in the Middle Ages|Medieval medicine

Philosophical and scientific teaching of the Early Middle Ages was based upon few copies and commentaries of ancient Greek texts that remained in Western Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Most of them were studied only in the Latin as knowledge of Greek was very limited.

This scenario changed during the Renaissance of the 12th century. The intellectual revitalization of Europe started with the birth of medieval universities. The increased contact with the Islamic world in Spain and Sicily, and during the Reconquista and the Crusades, allowed Europeans access to scientific Arabic and Greek texts, including the works of Aristotle, Alhazen, and Averroes. The European universities aided materially in the translation and propagation of these texts and started a new infrastructure which was needed for scientific communities.

At the beginning of the 13th century there were reasonably accurate Latin translations of the main works of almost all the intellectually crucial ancient authors, [Franklin , J., [http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/renaissance.html "The Renaissance myth"] , Quadrant 26 (11) (Nov, 1982), 51-60. (Retrieved on-line at 06-07-2007)] allowing a sound transfer of scientific ideas via both the universities and the monasteries. By then, the natural science contained in these texts began to be extended by notable scholastics such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus. Precursors of the modern scientific method can be seen already in Grosseteste's emphasis on mathematics as a way to understand nature, and in the empirical approach admired by Bacon, particularly in his "Opus Majus".


:main|Medieval technology|artes mechanicae

During the 12th and 13th century in Europe there was a radical change in the rate of new inventions, innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production, and economic growth. In less than a century there were more inventions developed and applied usefully than in the previous thousand years of human history all over the globe. The period saw major technological advances, including the adoption or invention of windmills, watermills, printing (though not yet with movable type), gunpowder, the astrolabe, spectacles, scissors of the modern shape, a better clock, and greatly improved ships. The latter two advances made possible the dawn of the Age of Exploration. Many of these inventions were adapted from other countries, such as China. These inventions were influenced by foreign culture and society.

Alfred Crosby described some of this technological revolution in "The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600" and other major historians of technology have also noted it.
* The earliest written record of a windmill is from Yorkshire, England, dated 1185.
* Paper manufacture began in Italy around 1270.
* The spinning wheel was brought to Europe (probably from India) in the 13th century.
* The magnetic compass aided navigation, first reaching Europe some time in the late 12th century.
* Eyeglasses were invented in Italy in the late 1280s.
* The astrolabe returned to Europe via Islamic Spain.
* Leonardo of Pisa introduces Arabic numerals to Europe with his book Liber Abaci in 1202.
* The West's oldest known depiction of a stern-mounted rudder can be found on church carvings dating to around 1180.


Visual arts

Art in the High Middle Ages includes these major periods or movements:
*Romanesque art - traditions from the Classical world (not to be confused with Romanesque architecture)
*Gothic art - Germanic traditions (not to be confused with Gothic architecture).
*Byzantine art - Byzantine traditions.
*Christian art

Other areas of study include regional surveys (Anglo-Saxon art and Jewish art for example) or areas of speciality such as Illuminated manuscripts.


Gothic architecture superseded the Romanesque style by combining flying buttresses, gothic (or pointed) arches and ribbed vaults. It was influenced by the spiritual background of the time, being religious in essence: thin horizontal lines and grates made the building strive towards the sky. Architecture was made to appear light and weightless, as opposed to the dark and bulky forms of the previous Romanesque style. Saint Augustine of Hippo taught that light was an expression of God. Architectural techniques were adapted and developed to build churches that reflected this teaching. Colorful glass windows enhanced the spirit of lightness. As color was much rarer at medieval times than today, it can be assumed that these virtuoso works of art had an awe-inspiring impact on the common man from the street. High-rising intricate ribbed, and later fan vaultings demonstrated movement toward heaven. Veneration of God was also expressed by the relatively large size of these buildings. A gothic cathedral therefore not only invited the visitors to elevate themselves spiritually, it was also meant to demonstrate the greatness of God. The floor plan of a gothic cathedral corresponded to the rules of scholasticism: According to Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism,the plan was divided into sections and uniform subsections. These characteristics are exhibited by the most famous sacral building of the time: Notre Dame de Paris.


A variety of cultures influenced the literature of the High Middle Ages, one of the strongest among them being Christianity. The connection to Christianity was greatest in Latin literature, which influenced the vernacular languages in the literary cycle of the Matter of Rome. Other literary cycles, or interrelated groups of stories, included the Matter of France (stories about Charlemagne and his court), the Acritic songs dealing with the chivalry of Byzantium's frontiersmen, and perhaps the best known cycle, the Matter of Britain, which featured tales about King Arthur, his court, and related stories from Brittany, Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. An anonymous German poet tried to bring the Germanic myths from the Migration Period to the level of the French and British epics, producing the Niebelungenlied. There was also a quantity of poetry and historical writings which were written during this period, such as "Historia Regum Britanniae" by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Southern France gave birth to Provençal literature, which is best known for troubadours who sang of courtly love. It included elements from Latin literature and Arab-influenced Spain and North Africa. Later its influence spread to several cultures in Western Europe, Portugal, the Minnesänger in Germany, Sicily and Northern Italy, giving birth to the Italian Dolce Stil Nuovo of Petrarca and Dante, who wrote the most important poem of the time, the "Divine Comedy".


The surviving music of the High Middle Ages is primarily religious in nature, since music notation developed in religious institutions, and the application of notation to secular music was a later development. Early in the period, Gregorian chant was the dominant form of church music; other forms, beginning with organum, and later including clausulae, conductus and the motet, developed using the chant as source material.

During the eleventh century, Guido of Arezzo was one of the first to develop musical notation, which made it easier for singers to remember Gregorian chants.

It was during the 12th and 13th centuries that Gregorian plainchant gave birth to polyphony, which appeared in the works of French Notre Dame School (Léonin and Pérotin). Later it evolved into the "ars nova" (Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut) and the musical genres of late Middle Ages. An important composer during the 12th century was the nun Hildegard of Bingen.

The most significant secular movement was that of the troubadours, who arose in Occitania (currently Southern France) in the late 11th century. The troubadours were often itinerant, came from all classes of society, and wrote songs on a variety of topics, especially courtly love. Their style went on to influence the trouvères of northern France, the minnesingers of Germany, and the composers of secular music of the Trecento in northern Italy.


* 962 — Otto I crowned Holy Roman Emperor
* 1003 — death of Pope Sylvester II
* 1027 — the Salian Conrad II succeeds the last Ottonian Henry II the Saint
* 1054 — East-West Schism
* 1066 — Battle of Hastings
* 1066-1067 Bayeux Tapestry
* 1073-1085 — Pope Gregory VII
* 1071 — Battle of Manzikert
* 1077 — Henry IV's Walk to Canossa
* 1086 — Domesday Book
* 1086 — Battle of az-Zallaqah
* 1091 — Battle of Levounion
* 1096-1099 — First Crusade
* 1123 — First Lateran Council
* 1139 — Second Lateran Council
* 1145-1149 — Second Crusade
* 1147 — Wendish Crusade
* 1155-1190 — Frederick I Barbarossa
* 1158 — foundation of the Hanseatic League
* 1185 — reestablishment of the Bulgarian Empire
* 1189-1192 — Third Crusade
* 1200–1204 — Fourth Crusade
* 1205 — battle of Adrianople
* 1209-1229 — Albigensian Crusade
* 1212 — Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa
* 1215 — Magna Carta
* 1216 — recognition of the Dominican Order
* 1215 — Fourth Lateran Council
* 1217–1221 — Fifth Crusade
* 1220-1250 — Frederick II
* 1223 — foundation of the Franciscan Order
* 1228–1229 — Sixth Crusade
* 1230 — Prussian Crusade
* 1230 — battle of Klokotnitsa
* 1237-1240 — Mongol invasion of Rus
* 1241-1242 — Mongol invasion of Europe
* 1241 — Battle of Legnica
* 1242 — Battle of the Ice
* 1248–1254 — Seventh Crusade
* 1257 — foundation of the Collège de Sorbonne
* 1274 — death of Thomas Aquinas; "Summa Theologiae" published
* 1280 — death of Albertus Magnus
* 1291 — Acre, the last European outpost in the Middle East, is captured by the Mamluks under Khalil.
* 1321 — death of Dante Alighieri


# John H. Mundy, "Europe in the High Middle Ages, 1150-1309" Harlow, England, Longman (2000) ISBN 0-582-36987-8
# [http://campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/WestCiv/MedievalMusic.Chron.html Music of the Middle Ages: 475-1500]
# [http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0859627.html Middle Ages: The High Middle Ages on Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia at infoplease]
# [http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/ent/A0840334.html Provençal literature on Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia at infoplease]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • High Middle Ages — noun The period of European history, between the Early Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages, that saw great social and political change …   Wiktionary

  • Scotland in the High Middle Ages — The history of Scotland in the High Middle Ages covers Scotland in the era between the death of Domnall II in 900 AD and the death of king Alexander III in 1286, which led indirectly to the Scottish Wars of Independence.In the tenth and eleventh… …   Wikipedia

  • Culture of Gwynedd during the High Middle Ages — For other uses, see Gwynedd (disambiguation). Main article: Kingdom of Gwynedd See also History of Gwynedd during the High Middle Ages Culture and Society in Gwynedd during the High Middle Ages is a period in the History of Wales spanning the… …   Wikipedia

  • Economy of Scotland in the High Middle Ages — The Economy of Scotland in the High Middle Ages for the purposes of this article pertains to the economic situation in Scotland between the death of Domnall II in 900, and the death of Alexander III in 1286 which then led indirectly to the… …   Wikipedia

  • Gwynedd in the High Middle Ages — is a period in the History of Wales spanning the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (AD 1000 ndash;1300). The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages. Gwynedd is located in the north of… …   Wikipedia

  • Society of Scotland in the High Middle Ages — Scottish Society in the High Middle Ages pertains to Scottish society roughly between 900 and 1286, a period roughly corresponding to the general historical era known as the High Middle Ages.tratificationHigh Medieval Scottish society was… …   Wikipedia

  • Culture of Scotland in the High Middle Ages — Coronation of King Alexander III on Moot Hill, Scone. He is being greeted by the ollamh rígh, the royal poet, who is addressing him with the proclamation Benach De Re Albanne (= Beannachd Dé Rígh Alban, God Bless the King of Scotland ); the poet… …   Wikipedia

  • England in the High Middle Ages — *Norman rule (1066 1154) *House of Plantagenet ** Henry II of England or Henry FitzEmpress, or Henry Curtmantle ** Richard I of England or Richard the Lionheart/Lion hearted, or Cœur de Lion ** John of England or John Lackland, or John Softsword… …   Wikipedia

  • Legal institutions of Scotland in the High Middle Ages — Scottish legal institutions in the High Middle Ages are, for the purposes of this article, the informal and formal systems which governed and helped to manage Scottish society between the years 900 and 1288, a period roughly corresponding with… …   Wikipedia

  • Warfare of Scotland in the High Middle Ages — The Scottish army of the High Middle Ages for the purposes of this article pertains to the fighting men and military systems that existed in Scotland between the death of Domnall II in 900, and the death of Alexander III in 1286, which fell… …   Wikipedia