HWC, Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe: Introduction

Just as the ancient world is easy to recognize but difficult to define precisely, so too is the medieval world. You will notice that we now begin to speak of Europe, though the use of the word is anachronistic. People did not start speaking of "Europe" as a distinct place until the 16th century, a century that most historians would call post-medieval. During the Middle Ages, people spoke of "Christendom."

The very word identifies some of the key characteristics of the Middle Ages. It was a civilization that was Christian. Not only was its religious life conditioned by Christianity, but the faith affected politics, social life, culture and even economics. But medieval people meant more than this by "Christendom". It really did mean a distinct civilization, in much the same sense as "Hellas" or "Rome" in the ancient world.  It was a distinct place, though the boundaries fluctuated; within its boundaries, everyone was (or was supposed to be) Christian. Outside its boundaries lay an alien world comprised of non-Christians (again, with exceptions). It was when this perceived unity broke apart in the 16th century that we move out of the Middle Ages and into the modern world.