The medieval time of history spans a period of more than 700 years, beginning around the year 800. During this time, there were key advances in society, government and religion.
In 1066, William the Conqueror led the Norman Conquest of England which brought feudalism and started the widespread building of castles. Feudalism continued to develop, reaching its height during this period. Since there was little unity or regional boundaries outside of the large cities, the feudal system began to form to give this societal climate a basis for governmental structure. Under the feudal system, individuals were bound to serve a superior. The king was at the top with the nobles, barons, lords and knights below him. In return for service, individuals received protection from their superiors and in return would provide men to fight if the need arose. The basis of constitutional government can also be traced to the medieval period with the signing of the Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, in 1215.
Following the rule of Charlemagne, Christianity spread throughout Europe which served as a unifying force for the continent. This was in part due to the Great Schism of 1054 where two competing religious authorities, Pope Leo IX of the Roman Catholic Church, and Patriarch Michael I of the Eastern Orthodox faith, excommunicated each other in a dispute over authority.
A major part of medieval history were the Crusades. Following the split of the church and the expansion of Christianity, the Crusades were launched to defend Christianity from Islam. Thousands of Europeans traveled to Jerusalem to wage war with the Islamic forces, to settle the area and to regain the Holy Land. For a period of time, their quest was successful; however, with the fall of Acre in 1291, the Crusades effectively ended. In total, the Crusades lasted more than 200 years.
While tens of thousands died in the Crusades, Europeans were enlightened to many new technologies and developed many new trade routes. Improvements in navigation were discovered and new items such as silk, gunpowder and navigation aids were introduced. As a result of this, the Age of Exploration was possible.
Much positive came from the medieval times, but the period was not without tremendous problems. Population explosions caused poor sanitary conditions which led to the Black Death where nearly half of Europe’s population died. Much enlightenment could be found in the Church, but there was much injustice done in the name of religion. A particularly dark time in Church history was the Inquisition where in a blind quest for heretics, many innocent people were tortured and executed in the name of Christianity.
Overall, the medieval period can be divided into the Dark Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Later Middle Ages, the period which preceded the Renaissance. Much was introduced in this period and while some of the developments which had their birth in this time fell by the wayside and have been forgotten or lost to history, much that we take for granted today has roots during this period of human development.