1.0 The Middle Ages: Introduction

The Middle Ages began in 410 AD with the fall of the Roman Empire and ended in 1400 AD with the beginning of the Renaissance.

Feudalism & Authority
Authority at the time of the Roman Empire was centralized around one person known as the emperor (Caesar).  Emperors generally did not share their power.  Instead, they told people what needed to be done and orders were followed. With the collapse of the Roman Empire all central authority in Europe disappeared. The territories gained their independence from Rome. The territories of the former empire fell into disorder as barbarians roamed the land killing people and destroying cities. Barbarian armies were led by competing chieftains. Chieftains competed with one another for control of territory. This competition encouraged continual fighting and lawlessness in Western and Central Europe. With Rome out of the picture no one was in control of Europe. Everywhere there was chaos.

A new form of organization emerged out of this lawlessness called feudalism. Feudalism brought some form of law and order to Europe. This is because before feudalism:

1). There was no clear understanding of who had what power. Once feudalism was established it became clear that certain leaders (called lords) were more powerful than others.

2). Powerful lords consolidated a lot of land under their own person leadership. These consolidated, or unified, territorial units eventually became called kingdoms.

3). Lower lords who lived in these kingdoms were bound by oaths of loyalty to obey the king. This put an end to the smaller wars; however, it did not put an end to larger wars between rival kings. Loyalty, however, provided structure to the new society by becoming the basis of law and order.


Feudalism was a political system binding lower lords to greater lords. The person known as the king was the most powerful lord of all. To keep his followers loyal he gave them land. His followers also provided the king with military service. These followers were called "nobles".

In turn, nobles had followers. These followers were peasant farmers who farmed the noble's land. In return for being allowed to farm the land, peasants were required to give the noble (or landlord) a portion of their crops and serve in the noble's army. There was no way to move up in station in feudalism, i.e. You were born, lived and died a peasant or member of the nobility.

Lords emerged as the true leaders of the feudal system of the early Middle Ages. The greatest leaders were those who commanded the largest most powerful armies. Lesser lords were forced to serve the stronger lords. Basically the Middle warlordAges was one large "king of the castle" game, e.g. whichever lord was left standing at the end of all the fighting ultimately became the "liege lord" (or king). Feudalism, therefore, was founded upon brute strength, competition, and military power.

Although kings were powerful they still lived in constant fear of being overthrown or assassinated. The one thing usually keeping potential rivals in check was their loyalty to the king. Lower lords swore oaths of loyalty to the king. If a lower lord disobeyed their king that lesser lord potentially lost all their lands and possibly their life. So if you challenged the liege lord to become king yourself you risked absolutely everything. Despite the risk plenty of lower lords risked it all to become the liege lord.