Last week, I mentioned Carl Pyrdum’s post on his blog Got Medieval about describing the Middle Ages in seven words or less — or I guess I should have said seven concepts or less. I also said I would post an explanation of why I chose the seven I did, so here is my brief explanation.
1) The Church
2) The Nobles
3) The Peasantry
4) The Crusades
5) The Black Death
7) Cathedrals (”Gothic” architecture)
The first three in the list (the Church, nobles, and peasantry) were the major classes in society during that period. You generally fell into one of those categories, though by the end of the High Middle Ages and the late medieval period, the merchant classes were starting to grow. These three classes had a major influence on each other and on all aspects of society (economically, politically, militarily, etc). The Church had the greatest influence of them all, and you cannot discuss medieval history without including the Church.
The next two, the Crusades and the Black Death, were two major events that arguably had the greatest impact on society during the medieval period. There are some others that could have been included, but I was limited to seven concepts, so I chose those two.
Number six: feudalism. This was the major social institution throughout the medieval period. As the merchant classes began to grow, and serfs began to gain their freedom (a major catalyst for this being the Black Death), the old feudal order began to break down, but for the major part of the Middle Ages, feudalism drove the interactions among the nobles and the peasantry and the Church, and it was this order alone that everyone understood and lived by.
“Gothic” architecture. One of the greatest contributions to art and architecture were the grand cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Medieval masons revolutionized the old forms of the Roman-style churches and ushered in a new age of architectural design.