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The Medieval Times

Middle Ages, the period in  European history from the collapse of Roman civilization in the 5th century CE to the period of the Renaissance (variously interpreted as beginning in the 13th, 14th, or 15th century, depending on the region of Europe and other factors).

The term and its conventional meaning were introduced by Italian humanists with invidious intent. The  humanists were engaged in a revival of Classical learning and culture, and the notion of a thousand-year period of darkness and ignorance separating them from the ancient Greek and Roman world served to highlight the humanists’ own work and ideals. In a sense, the humanists invented the Middle Ages in order to distinguish themselves from it. 

The sack of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth in 410 CE had enormous impact on the political structure and social climate of the Western world, for the Roman Empire had provided the basis of social cohesion for most of Europe. This decline persisted throughout the Migration period, a historical period sometimes called the  Dark Ages, Late Antiquity, or the Early Middle Ages. The Migration period lasted from the fall of Rome to about the year 1000, with a brief hiatus during the flowering of the Carolingian court established by Charlemagne. Apart from that interlude, no large political structure arose in Europe to provide stability. After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the idea arose of Europe as one large  church-state, called  Christendom.

During the 12th century a cultural and economic revival took place. The balance of economic power slowly began to shift from the region of the eastern Mediterranean to western Europe. The Gothic style developed in art and architecture. Towns began to flourish, travel and communication became faster, safer, and easier, and merchant classes began to develop. Agricultural developments were one reason for these developments; during the 12th century the cultivation of beans made a balanced diet available to all social classes for the first time in history. The population therefore rapidly expanded, a factor that eventually led to the breakup of the old feudal structures.

The 13th century was the apex of medieval civilization. The classic formulations of Gothic architecture and sculpture were achieved. Many different kinds of social units proliferated, including guilds, associations, civic councils, and monastic chapters, each eager to obtain some measure of autonomy.

The breakup of feudal structures, the strengthening of city-states in Italy, and the emergence of national monarchies in Spain, France, and England, as well as such cultural developments as the rise of secular education, culminated in the birth of a self-consciously new age with a new spirit, one that looked all the way back to Classical learning for its inspiration and that came to be known as the Renaissance.