Hey guys! So in the last episode, we talked about papal supremacy, anti-Paganism in the Christian Roman Empire, and the fall of the Western Empire. At break-neck speed, this episode is going to cover a thousand-year period known as the Middle Ages or Medieval Times. Generally, this is the time period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, and the fall of the Eastern Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, in 1453. Let’s do it.
In the last episode, we talked briefly about Christianity in the 5th and 6th centuries, but in the 6th and 7th centuries something important happens: The vast majority of Western Europe falls under the rule of a Germanic people called the Franks, who formed the Merovingian Dynasty, which later turned into the Carolingian Dynasty under the rule of King Pippin the Short.
While Pippin is settling into his new dynasty, the Lombards are harassing Italy. Now, Pope Stephen hasn’t been able to count on the Byzantine Emperor in the east for help, so he goes to the Franks in the west, who by this time have converted to Christianity. King Pippin comes in, beats back the Lombards, and gives the pope power to rule over chunks of the Italian peninsula—territories that would come to be known as the Papal States.
I should also mention that meanwhile in the Byzantine Empire they held a couple more ecumenical councils, the Third Council of Constantinople and the Second Council of Nicea, which you can read more about in the description.
After King Pippin dies, his son Charlamagne takes charge, and at the beginning of the 9th century the pope dubs him the “Holy Roman Emperor” of the Holy Roman Empire—even though he’s ruling from Aachen (a city now in Germany), and Rome is left to the Pope as the capital of his Papal States.
But the relationship between emperors and popes was… weird, because theoretically the emperor would be crowned by the pope, but the pope had to be approved by the emperor. So each sometimes saw the other as subordinate, and that made things awkward for the next several centuries.
So, we’ve got the Holy Roman Empire in the West where the Pope is head honcho in religious matters and many civil matters, but we’ve also still got the church in the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire. Over the centuries, a rift forms between the two regions.
The Pope in the West is claiming authority over the church in the East, and the patriarch of Constantinople is like, “um… no.” Theological differences also form, and in 1054 the Pope and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicate each other. The Christian Church subsequently breaks in two—this is known as the Great Schism: The Roman Catholic Church in the West, and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East. The rift continues today: Roman Catholicism is still popular in Western Europe, and Eastern Orthodoxy dominates Eastern Europe and Russia.
But despite the schism, the East and West teamed up to fight against a movement that had been gaining territory and influence in the Middle East for centuries known as Islam. Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in 1095, promising forgiveness of sin in exchange for military service. In 1097 Crusaders and their Byzantine allies conquered Nicea. In 1098 they took back Antioch. And in 1099 they took their main objective, Jerusalem.
In 1147, the Second Crusade to take Edessa was a major fail. Muslim forces retook Jerusalem in 1187, so the Third Crusade’s aim was to take it back, which didn’t happen, even with the aid of the English King Richard the Lionheart, the guy from all the Robin Hood movies. The 4th and final major Crusade was also meant to retake Jerusalem, but due to an odd and unfortunate series of events and circumstances, the army attacked and looted Constantinople, which definitely crushed any chances of East and West Christians getting back together again.
But in addition to fighting against Islam, Crusaders were also sent to stamp out Christian splinter-groups deemed heretical. The story of a group called the Cathars after the sack of Beziers (Bays-yay) is particularly horrifying. One source recorded that when the Pope’s representative was asked how to differentiate between faithful Catholics and heretics in the city, he responded, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
But the Middle Ages come to an end with the siege of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Constantinople’s walls proved no match for the advanced Turkish artillery. The city fell to the Islamic army, and the Turks hold it to this day. This event sparked the beginning of an economic depression for Europe because Constantinople was the economic throat of the region. That whole silk road trade route into India and Asia? You can kiss that goodbye.
Europe was desperate to re-establish a trade route, but going all the way around Africa just wasn’t the most practical option. So in 1492, Spain sends out a guy who thought, “You know what. The earth is round. Theoretically, we could sail West in order to reach the East.” And as you know, that man’s name was Christopher Columbus.
That’s a brief overview of the Middle Ages. Check out the links and notes in the description for more information on this subject, and have a great day!
- Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Great Schism: http://bit.ly/2TCllRX / http://bit.ly/2TkBOLI
- More on the Papal States: http://bit.ly/2TnNBcg / http://bit.ly/2VLwBye
- Pippin III “The Short”: http://bit.ly/32NYozi
- The Donation of Pippin (Papal States): http://bit.ly/2ImRoQz
- Third Council of Constantinople: http://bit.ly/32U43nz
- The First Crusade: http://bit.ly/2wuIdeg
- The Second Crusade: http://bit.ly/2IwG98x
- The Third Crusade: http://bit.ly/2TGZXLl
- The Fourth Crusade: http://bit.ly/39r4o3N
- The Albigensian Crusade/Massacre at Beziers: http://bit.ly/3awDEPs / http://bit.ly/2x8S3mh
- More on Avignon Papacy (see NOTES): http://bit.ly/2VOmFUI
- Did the Pope really promise forgiveness of sin to Crusaders?: http://bit.ly/2IlA9Pw / http://bit.ly/2VNd7ch / http://bit.ly/38npeiZ / http://bit.ly/2TKKsSy
- Video mapping the expansion of world religions: http://bit.ly/2vlhIHZ