Reference Studies in Medieval History

By James Westfall Thompson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
1. 1. What is medieval history? --Medieval history is that period of the history of Europe and the Mediterranean countries--Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Africa--which is included between the decline of the Roman Empire and the period of the Renaissance in the fifteenth century.
2. 2. Origin of the term "Middle Ages." --The terms media tempestas, medium aevum, media antiquitas, media tempora, and media aetas--all expressing the same idea, however varying the phrase, have been traced back to the Italian humanism of the Renaissance. Indeed, the first of these phrases occurs in 1469. But the term has nothing but popular usage to support it, for its implication is unscientific.1 "It originated . . . . when men of letters had drawn deeper and deeper of the charméd draught of classical literature. They felt themselves, so they imagined, at one with the master minds of Greece and Rome. And all that filled the interval from the downfall of the Roman world to their own time, the whole previous history of their own people, seemed to them as a chaotic chasm, an interlude, a "middle age" of darkness and barbarity. Nothing could be more unhistorical. There never has been such a middle age. The whole history of modern nations presents one continuity from the first appearance of the Germanic peoples on the historic stage. . . . . The alleged middle age, therefore, is neither marked off by a clear line, or any kind of a line from modern history, nor does it constitute in any sense a unity in itself."2
3. 3. Essential elements in medieval history .--The period of medieval history was pre-eminently an institutional epoch when forms and customs were in the making. In consequence, the church, administrative and political powers, social structure, town life, war, trade, agriculture, arts and letters--all constitute important elements in medieval history.

Medieval civilization was formed of three elements: Greek and Roman, Christian, and German. There were other but more incidental factors, such as the Keltic, Mohammedan, Jewish, Slavonic, and Turanian, but these three are the essential ingredients of medieval life. In a sense the Middle Ages were a tumultuous laboratory in which these elements in a greater or less degree were melted and fused together to form the civilization of the time. The proportion of the elements or the degree of fusion was never everywhere equal. In Southern Europe, among the Romance nations, Roman survivals predominated. In Northern Europe, on the other hand, German influences predominated. There is infinite variety in

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1
Cf. Burr G. L., "Anent the Middle Ages," American Historical Review, XVIII, 714 and XX, 813.
2
Cf. Keutgen, "On the Necessity in America of the Study of the Early History of Modern European Nations," Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1904, p. 94. Cf. also Emerton E., "The Periodization of History," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, October-December ( 1918), p. 55.

-xiii-

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