Welcome to soc.history.medieval's
Question and Answer Pages

Part I: General Concepts

A: General Concepts:
1. When did the Middle Ages start and finish?

There are no definite answers to this question. Usually they are said to start with the fall of Rome, and to end with the Rennaissance, the Reformation and/or the Voyages of Discovery. For this reason the time scale of soc.history.medieval is c500-c1500. Some leeway is employed, but topics significantly before AD500 should be sent to soc.history.ancient, and for the period c1500-c1800 to soc.history.early-modern.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

2. Is the term "medieval" acceptable for lands not a part of western Europe?

The term was originally coined to apply specifically to Western Europe, but it can be usefully employed when referring to any other part of Europe, and for those areas with which Europe had some dealings. The Crusades for instance were an aspect of medieval western Europe which had a direct effect on parts of the Middle East, one can therefore refer to medieval Jerusalem etc with no problem.

Further into Asia the term becomes slightly more anachronistic, but is usually acceptable, provided it is used carefully.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

3. What is feudalism?


4. What is _seigneurie_?


5. What is _manorialism_?


6. What is meant by the "medieval mindset?"


7. Why is it sometimes called the "dark ages?"

"Dark Ages" as a term is not much liked by today's medievalists, but it is still in use amongst popular writers and the general public. There are two variateions as to the origin of the name. The first of these is the percieved decline following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This is the definition which has led to the phrase being disliked, as it is not actually true that the period was significantly more barbaric than those immediately before or after.

The second definition is related to the first, and refers to the lack of original documents. This isn't really true either, and in most parts of Europe the only reason documents from earlier periods survive is because they were copied and kept during the so-called Dark Ages.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

I think this is both inaccurate and misleading.

The term "Dark Ages" is still in regular use by specialists - particularly British specialists - in post-Roman Britain (including Ireland, Scotland etc i.e. the Britsh Isles). They may dislike it (for the reasons given in the first paragraph above) but they find it useful because:

A. The term "Dark Ages" accurately portrays the British situation. There is a very detailed history of events in Roman Britain for the years 409-10 (much more detailed than for most of the 4th century) plus easily identifiable and datable remains into the first quarter of the fifth century, The documentary evidence then disappears until Bede (writing in the early 8th century) brilliantly and accurately illuminates the history of the 7th, at least for parts of England. For the whole period 410-597 we have Gildas, St Patrick, 3 or 4 references from continental Europe, some inscriptions (several hundred in total, but few of any value to narrative history), and saints lives, legends, poems, and origin myths written down several hundred years later.

In addition the archaeological record becomes equally obscure. Although modern techniques have enabled the retrieval of evidence which shows greater continuity - and greater technical competence - than was thought true 50 years ago this is so far still limited to a few well-known sites. It is still true that coin series disappear, pottery greatly reduces in quantity and becomes home-made and extremely difficult to date (imported amphorae etc excluded), building in stone or brick disappears, and inscriptions disappear from most of the country.

B. The term "Dark Ages" enables the historian to beg the question of whether he is writing about post-Roman Britain (in which case he should exclude Ireland and large parts of Scotland), Saxon Britain (anachronistic for large areas of England until the mid 6th century or later), Wales, or Scotland (neither really had a distinct identity until the 8th century at the earliest).

So far as I know few academic historians (British or otherwise) have ever attempted to apply the term to continental Europe.

---- Chris Price (christopher.price@btinternet.com) [Slightly modified by Paul J. Gans]

8. Is _____ really related to/descended from _______?

All questions of this sort should be directed to the newsgroup specifically designed to handle them, soc.genealogy.medieval.

---- Todd A. Farmerie (taf2@po.cwru.edu) [but heavily rewritten by Paul J. Gans]

B: Specific Information:
1. How big were medieval towns and cities?


2. Why is it "mid-evil"

The word 'medieval' (or 'mediaeval') has nothing to do with 'evil'. When it is spelled correctly, it contains neither 'mid' nor 'evil'. The word was constructed in modern times from Latin <medium> 'middle' and <aevum> 'age' and the adjective-forming suffix <-al>: <medi-aev-al> 'ofor pertaining to <-al> the middle <medi-> age(s) <-aev->'.

---- Brian M. Scott (BMScott@stratos.net)

C: University Programs:
1. What are some good university programs in Medieval History?


Part II: Specific Ideas:

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Last updated 07/19/2009