Western Europe and Byzantium circa 1000 – 1500 CE
Otto I crowned Holy Roman Emperor
Hugh Capet elected king of France
c. 1000 – 1100 CE
Emergence of Western European feudalism
Fall of the Cordoba Caliphate
Pope Leo IX begins papal efforts at Church reform
Schism between the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople
Norman Conquest of England
Battle of Manzikert annihilates Byzantine field army
Henry IV repents to Pope Gregory VII at Canossa
Fall of Muslim Toledo to the Christian kingdom of Leon-Castile
1088 – 1231 CE
Foundation of Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge
Norman conquest of Muslim Sicily complete
Council of Clermont, calling of the First Crusade
Fall of Jerusalem to Christian Crusaders, establishment of Crusader States
1100 – 1135 CE
King Henry I rules England
1118 – 1143 CE
Emperor John II rules the Byzantine Empire
Concordat of Worms
1125 – 1152 CE
Raymond is archbishop of Toledo, begins sponsoring the translation of Muslim and Greek philosophy from Arabic into Latin
1143 – 1180 CE
Emperor Manuel Komnenos rules the Byzantine Empire
1154 – 1189 CE
King Henry II rules England
Frederick Barbarossa defeated by Lombard League at the Battle of Legnano; Manuel Komnenos defeated by Saljuq Turks at the Battle of Myriokephalon
Kingdom of Jerusalem defeated by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin, fall of Jerusalem, Pope Gregory VIII issues Audita tremendi, calling the Third Crusade
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CHAPTER 12: WESTERN EUROPE AND BYZANTIUM CIRCA 1000 – 1500 CE
1189 – 1192 CE The Third Crusade, a rump (remnant of a larger government) Christian
Kingdom of Jerusalem is re-established, but Jerusalem remains in
1203 – 1226 CE France’s Capetian kings extend the control of lands directly ruled by the
1204 CE Crusaders sack Constantinople, break-up of the Byzantine Empire
1212 CE Almohad Caliphate defeated by Spanish Christian kingdoms at the Battle
of Las Navas de Tolosa
1215 CE Magna Carta
1215 – 1250 CE Frederick II is Holy Roman Emperor
1224 – 1274 CE Life of St. Thomas Aquinas
1229 CE A treaty between Frederick II and Egyptian sultan al-Kamil returns
Jerusalem to Christian rule
1240 CE Mongol Conquest of Kievan Rus
1241 CE Mongol invasion of Hungary
1244 CE Jerusalem falls to Ayyubid Egypt
1248 – 1254 CE The Seventh Crusade, France’s King Louis IX defeated by Egypt,
Egyptian Mamluk coup d’état
1250 – 1273 CE There is no Holy Roman Emperor
1261 CE Restoration of the Byzantine Empire
1291 CE Last Crusader territory in the Levant falls to Mamluk Egypt
c. 1300 CE Genoese sailors begin exploring the Atlantic Ocean
early 1300s CE Genoese sailors are visiting the Canary Islands
1309 CE Beginning of Avignon papacy
1314 – 1326 CE Civil war in the Holy Roman Empire
1315 – 1322 CE The Great Famine
1324 CE Mansa Musa’s hajj
1331 CE Nearly all Byzantine territory in Asia Minor has fallen to the Ottoman Turks
1337 CE The Hundred Years’ War begins
c. 1350 CE Beginning of Italian Renaissance and Humanism
1347 – 1351 CE The Black Death, nearly a third of Europe’s population dies
1356 CE The Holy Roman Empire becomes an elected monarchy
1358 CE French peasant revolt
1378 CE Beginning of Great Schism
1385 CE Lithuania united with Poland, Lithuanian monarch converts to Christianity
1396 CE Ottoman Turks conquer Bulgaria
1397 CE Union of Kalmar unites Sweden, Denmark, and Norway under a single
c. 1400 – 1500 CE Renaissance Humanism spreads throughout Europe
1404 CE Castilian effort to conquer the Canaries begins
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1415 – 1417 CE Council of Constance resolves the Great Schism
1440 CE Lorenzo Valla shows the Donation of Constantine to be a forgery
mid 1400s CE Iberians are settling the Azores, a plantation economy worked by African
slaves begins to flourish in the Canaries and Azores
1453 CE Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, final fall of the Byzantine Empire;
End of Hundred Years’ War and English attempts to conquer France
1454 CE Treaty of Lodi brings nearly a half century of peace to Italy
1455 – 1485 CE Wars of the Roses in England
1459 CE Final Ottoman conquest of Serbia
1479 CE Marriage of Queen Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon creates a
united Spanish monarchy
1492 CE King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella complete the Reconquista with the
conquest of Granada, Christopher Columbus, sailing for the Spanish
crown, makes landfall in the Western Hemisphere
1494 CE France invades Italy
15 July 1099: The Al-Aqsa mosque looked down on the city of Jerusalem, the light of the
sun reflecting off of its golden dome. Down below the hill on which the mosque stood, a scene of
slaughter was unfolding. Up against the northern wall of the city stood a wooden tower laboriously
rolled into place hours earlier, over the top of which had poured a desperate band of European
knights, the first over the walls of the Holy City.
Within the walls, the narrow, winding streets between the ancient stone buildings of the city
rang with the clash of steel on steel and the cries of the dead and dying. Smoke from fires breaking
out within the city mingled with the smell of death. In parts of the city, its defenders, Muslim
Egyptians, were still fighting, going down under the sword strokes of the Christian soldiers fighting
their way through the streets. In the southwest, a small group of defenders had retreated into the
more heavily fortified citadel where they were negotiating a surrender with Count Raymond of
Toulouse, a shrewd but irascible noble from the south of France.
Elsewhere in the city, the killing of the soldiers was giving way to a more horrific slaughter, as
the mail-clad knights cut down men, women, and children where they stood, torturing some with
fire, and threatening others with worse if they did not turn over their valuables. By the end of the
day, the Christian soldiers hacking their way through the city streets waded through blood up to
As the day went on, soldiers pushed through the piles of dismembered corpses to the golden-
domed Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque stood where Solomon’s temple had been millennia
before, and the knights, smeared with the blood of slaughter, fell to their knees in prayer, grateful
that God had delivered their enemies into their hands.
These men had traveled more than two thousand miles by land and sea. Tens of thousands
of their comrades lay dead along the way from starvation, thirst, disease, or battle. But these
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CHAPTER 12: WESTERN EUROPE AND BYZANTIUM CIRCA 1000 – 1500 CE
warriors had made it from their European homelands to seize control of the city of Jerusalem, a
city sacred to Jew, Christian, and Muslim, and bring it under Christian rule for the first time in
more than four centuries.
An army made up of many of the soldiers of Western Europe had managed to successfully
make war on its Muslim enemies and seize territories in the Middle East, near the heart of Muslim
culture and political power. How had they done so? And why? To understand, we must look to the
how the European Christian world had developed over the eleventh century.
In the years between about 1000 and 1500, the culture and institutions of Western Europe
took on a form that was distinct from the post-Roman Germanic kingdoms of the early Middle
Ages and which would, in many ways, lay the foundations of Europe (and the Americas) into
modern times. At the end of this period, thinkers seeking to bring about a new birth of ancient
learning would look back on the thousand years that had come before as the Middle Ages, a
period between the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans and their own. But although
these thinkers ostentatiously rejected the Middle Ages, they were in many ways its heirs. To see
how this culture developed, we shall begin in Western Europe in the chaotic years of the early
12.3 QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR READING
1. Who held most political and military power in a feudal system?
2. What were some reasons that European towns started to grow in the eleventh century?
3. Why did Europe’s agricultural output increase in the eleventh century?
4. What were some lasting results of the eleventh-century popes’ attempts to reform the Church?
5. What did Pope Urban II call on Western Europe’s nobles to do in 1095?
6. How did the thirteenth-century Capetian kings of France strengthen their authority?
7. Why did Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II ultimately fail to establish control over Italy?
8. What was the Reconquista?
9. How did noble and peasant diets differ?
10. What caused the death of a third of Europe’s population between the years 1347 and 1351?
11. Why were Genoese merchants in the service of Iberian kings exploring the Atlantic and
western Africa in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries?
12. Why did Christopher Columbus think he could sail directly from Europe to Asia?
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12.4 KEY TERMS
12.5 THE EMERGENCE OF A FEUDAL ORDER IN WESTERN EUROPE
Out of the chaos and mayhem of the tenth and eleventh centuries, East Francia—the eastern
third of Charlemagne’s Empire that is in roughly the same place as modern Germany—and England
had emerged as united and powerful states. In the aftermath of the Abbasid Caliphate’s political
collapse and the gradual weakening of Fatimid Egypt (see Chapter Eight), the eleventh-century
Byzantine Empire was the strongest, most centralized state in the Eastern Mediterranean, and
indeed, probably the strongest state west of Song China.
Most of the rest of Christian Western Europe’s kingdoms, however, were fragmented.
This decentralization was most acute in West Francia, the western third of what had been
• Albigensian Crusade
• Babylonian Captivity of the Church
• Chain mail
• Concordat of Worms
• Council of Constance
• Crusader States
• East Francia
• Filioque Controversy
• Great Schism
• Holy War
• Investiture Controversy
• Italian Renaissance
• Just War
• Magna Carta
• Malthusian limits
• Papal bull
• Population sink
• Portolan chart
• Taifa states
• Three-field System
• Twelfth-century Renaissance
• Vassal States
• West Francia
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CHAPTER 12: WESTERN EUROPE AND BYZANTIUM CIRCA 1000 – 1500 CE
Charlemagne’s empire. This kingdom would eventually come to be known as France. Out of a
weak and fragmented kingdom emerged the decentralized form of government that historians
often call feudalism. We call it feudalism because power rested with armed men in control of
plots of agricultural land known as fiefs and Latin for fief is feudum. They would use the surplus
from these fiefs to equip themselves with weapons and equipment, and they often controlled their
fiefs with little oversight from the higher-ranked nobles or the king.
How had such a system emerged? Even in Carolingian times, armies in much of Western
Europe had come from war bands made up of a king’s loyal retainers, who themselves would
possess bands of followers. Ultimate control of a kingdom’s army had rested with the king, and the
great nobles had also exercised strong authority over their own fighting men. The near constant
warfare (both external attacks and civil wars) of the tenth and eleventh centuries, however, meant
that the kings of West Francia gradually lost control over the more powerful nobles. Further, the
powerful nobles often lost control of the warlords of more local regions. West Francia had little
governmental authority and much war.
As a result of constant warfare (albeit warfare that was usually local in scope), power came to
rest in control of fiefs and the ability to extract surplus from their occupants and to use this surplus
to outfit armed men. The warlords who controlled fiefs often did so by means of armed fortresses
called castles. At first, especially in northern parts
of West Francia, these fortresses were of wood,
and might sometimes be as small as a wooden
palisade surrounding a fortified wooden tower.
Over the eleventh and twelfth centuries, these
wooden castles came to be replaced with fortifications
of stone. A castle had two roles: it would
protect a land from attackers (such as Viking
raiders), but it would also serve as a base for the
control and extortion of a land’s people.
The castle represented Europe’s feudal
order in wood and stone. Corresponding to the
physical structure of the castle was the figure of
the knight. Knights in the eleventh century wore
an armor called chain mail, that is, interlocking
rings of metal that would form a coat of armor.
The knight usually fought on horseback, wielding
a long spear known as a lance in addition to the
sword at his side. With his feet resting in stirrups,
a knight could hold himself firmly in the saddle,
directing the weight and power of a charging
horse into the tip of his lance.
Knights and castles came to dominate West
Francia and then other parts of Europe for several
Figure 12.1 | A Wooden Castle of the Type
that was Common in the Eleventh Century
Author: Julien Chatelain
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Page | 432
reasons. The technology of ironworking
was improving so that iron was cheaper
(although still very expensive) and more
readily available, allowing for knights to
wear more armor than their predecessors.
Moreover, warfare of the tenth and eleventh
centuries was made up of raids (both those
of Vikings and of other Europeans). A raid
depends on mobility, with the raiders able
to kill people and seize plunder before
defending soldiers can arrive. Mounted on
horseback, knights were mobile enough
that they could respond rapidly to raids.
The castle allowed a small number of
soldiers to defend territory and was also
a deterrent to raiders, since it meant that
quick plunder might not be possible.
A knight’s equipment—mail, lance, and horse—was incredibly expensive, as was the material
and labor to construct even a wooden castle. Although knights had originally been whichever
soldiers had been able to get the equipment to fight, the expense of this equipment and thus the
need to control a fief to pay for it meant that knights gradually became a warrior aristocracy, with
greater rights than the peasants whose labor they controlled. Indeed, often the rise of knights
and castles meant that many peasants lost their freedom, becoming serfs, unfree peasants who,
although not property that could be bought and sold like slaves, were nevertheless bound to their
land and subordinate to those who controlled it.
Figure 12.2 | Rochester Castle | A stone castle built in
the twelfth century.
Author: User “Prioryman”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 4.0
Figure 12.3 | Eleventh-Century Knights
Author: User “Myrabella”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
Page | 433
CHAPTER 12: WESTERN EUROPE AND BYZANTIUM CIRCA 1000 – 1500 CE
The regions of West Francia controlled by powerful nobles were nearly independent of the
crown. But even at the Frankish monarchy’s weakest, these nearly independent nobles were
understood to hold their territories from the king and to owe allegiance to him if he called on them
for military service. In this way, feudalism of the European Middle Ages resembled Western Zhou
feudalism. The smaller fiefs that made up the territories of these great nobles likewise were understood
to be held from these nobles; the knight who held a fief was, at least in theory, required to
render military service to the lord from whom he held it. In practice, though, the kingdom of West
Francia (and other regions of Western Europe where such a system held sway) had little cohesion
as a state, with most functions of a state like minting money, building roads and bridges, and
trying and executing criminals in the hands of the powerful nobles.
12.5.1 Global Context
Thus far, we have discussed feudalism in eleventh-century Western Europe, but a decentralized
state dominated by a warrior aristocracy could emerge anywhere that central authority broke
down. A similar system emerged in Heian Japan of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when
mounted soldiers (in this case samurai rather than knights) came to occupy the social role of a
warrior aristocracy (see Chapter Four). Such an arrangement would emerge at the same time
in the Middle East: the Great Saljuq Empire was dominated by mounted warriors in control of
iqtas, units of land whose revenues (often from taxation) would fund these warriors, who in turn
held their iqtas from the sultan.
12.6 GROWTH OF TOWNS AND TRADE
Although the eleventh century was in many ways Western Europe’s nadir, it would
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