The history of the Middle Ages covers a large and important period in world history. As an important step in the history of development of human society, this period had the common and distinctive features of both East and Western civilizations. The era of the Middle Ages made irreversible changes in the history of mankind. It is a period of the formation of the majority of ethnic and political maps of states, the prosperity of feudal cities as centers of handicrafts and trade, the emergence of world religions and large social movements. Many phenomena in the life of modern peoples and states have their roots in the medieval past: the folding of the social structure of society, the formation of nations and national cultures, the development of culture, science, technology, and the affirmation of world religious.
The majority of the currently existing states were formed in the Middle Ages. Many new nations and states appeared in the historical arena: Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, the Scandinavian countries, Arab States, Japan, the states of Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia), and Turkey. The states of China, India, Iran, and Central Asia continued to grow and play a major historical role.
The most important role in the history of the world, at the turn of the antiquity and the Middle Ages, was played by five major centers of ancient civilization: the Han empire in China, the Kushan Empire in Central Asia, the Gupta Empire in India, the Kingdom of the Sassanids, which included Iran, Mesopotamia and part of Central Asia, and the Roman Empire, covering Western and Southern Europe, North Africa and Asia. Nevertheless, the history of mankind, in the period of the transition from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, was not limited to events that took place within these five states. In the Caucasus, there was an ancient slave state, Armenia. Many labor communities (the Axumite Kingdom that included Ethiopia (Abyssinia), part of Nubia and other areas) were at this time in East Africa.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, there were not only slave states. At Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and other tribes of the Western, Northern and Eastern Europe, the process of decomposition of the primitive community relations took place at this time. Tribal unions were formed, along with tribal alliances. The beginnings of state organization appeared. Jones states that the society experienced the transition from “being mainly organized around concepts of kinship, to being primarily ordered around the territorially-defined domains of power and jurisdiction of kings and state rulers”. The process of the development of class relations and the creation of states was intensive among the peoples, who inhabited the Korean Peninsula, the islands of Java and Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula.
The development of the peoples of the world was uneven. By the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the nations of Western Europe broke forward by a number of indicators. Feudalism dominated in the East. However, in many highly developed countries, such as England and Japan, particular medieval traditions, such as monarchy, are alive to this day. In Western Europe, the system of modern democracy, (representative institutions and jury) was originated with its attributes. Medieval law, like most modern laws of developed countries, was based on codified Roman law.
Feudalism was considered to be a political, economic, and social system, which “characterized medieval Europe from about 1000 to 1300”. The medieval feudal society in its development has passed through three main stages: early, developed and late feudalism, each of which had its socio-economic, political, ideological and cultural features. The early period was the time of folding and approval of feudal relations. The period of developed feudalism was the time of the complete development of feudal society. The late feudal period was a period of decomposition and decay of the feudal mode of production, as well as the emergence of feudal society in capitalist relations.
Antagonistic contradictions that were inherent in the feudal mode of production made feudal society an arena of acute class conflicts and constant struggle, especially between the two classes: the feudal dependent peasantry and the feudal landlords. The early stages of development of feudalism were characterized by local peasants’ revolts and uprisings, which did not go beyond relatively small areas. Later, when the socio-economic development had led to the formation of the main classes of feudal society, the protest of the peasant masses against the growing exploitation by the feudal lords increased. Anti-feudal peasant movement began to go beyond the limited and narrow scope of individual localities and spread over large areas. The nature of the movement had changed. They covered broad masses of the peasantry; they became longer and more acute. Through the struggle against the feudal exploiting, the working masses of the village and the city were clearing the way for the further development of the productive forces and thus, moved the feudal society forward.
In the early Middle Ages, there was not a single culture in Europe, so it was necessary to build new cultural values that could ensure the existence and development of society. Christianity had become actively engaged in the solution of this problem. Many ancient cities were revived in the Middle Ages. At the same time, new ones appeared. This gave a huge boost to the economy and culture. In towns, a new lifestyle, worldviews, and new types of people were formed. As the cities were foreign and interstate centers of trade, this contributed to greater awareness of citizens, expanded their horizons. A new social class of merchants had appeared. A citizen, who was independent of any authority, except the magistrate, saw the world differently than a farmer. Eager for success, he had become a new type of personality. In the Middle Ages, large cities had become identified as places of freedom, opportunity, anonymity and security. This created an aura of a city that is predominant in modern world. The urban culture was born in France in the 11-12th centuries. In towns, private schools were created. They were financially independent from the church. Since then, the rapid spread of literacy among the urban population had begun.
Culture had become more accessible to the masses due to the invention of the printing press, opening of universities and many schools of various types. Schools have existed since ancient times, but only in the Middle Ages, the universities appeared as autonomous, self-governing communities of students and scholars. Significant changes have occurred in the representation of the universe to people. Man finally became convinced in the sphericity of the Earth. The foundations of modern astronomy and cosmology were laid in this period.
The wonderful works of art of the Middle Ages are still unsurpassed masterpieces and encourage the human spirit to new creative aspirations. Many prominent, unique and magnificent works of art, have been created in the Middle Ages. This applies to literature, architecture, painting and sculpture. The Middle Ages gifted the indescribably majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, the Tower of London and many other beautiful cathedrals, castles, churches and palaces, which are still considered true masterpieces of human skill and art to the humanity. During the Middle Ages, the main contemporary languages were formed. They include English, French, Italian, German and others.
Since the Middle Ages, people have begun to use the crockery, mirrors, forks, soap, glasses, buttons, mechanical clocks and many other things, without which, everyday life is unthinkable today. Water engines, blast furnaces, and horizontal looms have emerged in the production. The transition to a firearm was crucial for the development of military affairs.
In the Middle Ages, the modern world religions affirmed. In Europe, it was Christianity. In the East, the foundations of Buddhism and Islam were formed. In the Middle Ages, the power and influence of the monasteries were increased in all countries. Monasteries encouraged pilgrimages and had a beneficial impact on people in difficult times. In Europe, China and Tibet, the tradition of monasticism was intensified. It called for strict rules and a simple lifestyle. The clergy was influential, not only in religion, but also in politics. Bishop emphasizes that “it was in the Middle Ages that the church formed the organization that it more or less keeps today”. Religion has become a part of everyday life. It influenced the development of art, science, medicine, and the government of the country and society. Religion was at the heart of many cultures.
The Middle Ages was a bright and rich period in the history of the mankind, which put forward new forms of economic, social and political development of society. In this historical era, which was rich with sharp social contradictions and class battles, humanity has advanced significantly forward in the development of material and spiritual culture, in comparison with previous periods of history. The era of the Middle Ages has long gone. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that the foundations of the modern world were laid during this era. Thus, the Middle Ages have left a legacy of great wealth, the study of which is necessary for learning the about past and understanding the present.