High Middle Ages

High Middle Ages
Europe and Mediterranean region
Large map
Europe and the Mediterranean region, c. 1190
The Crusades

Small map

Central Europe
Guelf, Hohenstaufen, and Ascanian domains in Germany about 1176

The High Middle Ages, or High Medieval Period, was the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until around 1250. The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and were followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention, ended around 1500.[1]

Key historical trends of the High Middle Ages include the rapidly increasing population of Europe, which brought about great social and political change from the preceding era, and the Renaissance of the 12th century, including the first developments of rural exodus and of urbanization. By 1250, the robust population increase had greatly benefited the European economy, which reached levels that would not be seen again in some areas until the 19th century. That trend faltered during the Late Middle Ages because of a series of calamities, most notably the Black Death, but also numerous wars as well as economic stagnation.

From around 780[citation needed], Europe saw the last of the barbarian invasions[2][not in citation given] and became more socially and politically organized.[3] The Carolingian Renaissance led to scientific and philosophical activity in Northern Europe. The first universities started operating in Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Modena. The Vikings settled in the British Isles, France and elsewhere, and Norse Christian kingdoms started developing in their Scandinavian homelands. The Magyars ceased their expansion in the 10th century, and by the year 1000, a Christian Kingdom of Hungary had become a recognized state in Central Europe that was forming alliances with regional powers. With the brief exception of the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, major nomadic incursions ceased. The powerful Byzantine Empire of the Macedonian and the Komnenos dynasties gradually gave way to the resurrected Serbia and Bulgaria and to a successor crusader state (1204 to 1261), which countered the continuous threat of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor.

In the 11th century, populations north of the Alps began a more intensive settlement, targeting "new" lands, some of which areas had reverted to wilderness after the end of the Roman Empire. In what is known as the "great clearances",[4] Europeans cleared and cultivated some of the vast forests and marshes that lay across of the continent. At the same time, some settlers moved beyond the traditional boundaries of the Frankish Empire to new frontiers beyond the Elbe River, which tripled the size of Germany in the process. The Catholic Church, which reached the peak of its political power around then, called armies from across Europe to a series of Crusades against the Seljuk Turks. The crusaders occupied the Holy Land and founded the Crusader States in the Levant. Other wars led to the Northern Crusades. The Christian kingdoms took much of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim control, and the Normans conquered southern Italy, all part of the major population increases and the resettlement patterns of the era.

The High Middle Ages produced many different forms of intellectual, spiritual and artistic works. The age also saw the rise of ethnocentrism, which evolved later into modern civic nationalisms in most of Europe, the ascent of the great Italian city-states and the rise and fall of the Muslim civilization of Al-Andalus. The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle led Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers of the period to expand Scholasticism, a combination of Catholicism and ancient philosophy. For much of this period, Constantinople remained Europe's most populous city, and Byzantine art reached a peak in the 12th century. In architecture, many of the most notable Gothic cathedrals were built or completed around this period.

The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages began at the start of the 14th century and marked the end of the period.

Historical events and politics

Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings during the Norman invasion of England

Great Britain and Ireland

The painted effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England from the Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France, which no longer houses their remains

In England, the Norman Conquest of 1066 resulted in a kingdom ruled by a Francophone nobility. The Normans invaded Ireland by force in 1169 and soon established themselves throughout most of the country, although their stronghold was the southeast. Likewise, Scotland and Wales were subdued to vassalage at about the same time, though Scotland later asserted its independence and Wales remained largely under the rule of independent native princes until the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282.[5] The Exchequer was founded in the 12th century under King Henry I, and the first parliaments were convened. In 1215, after the loss of Normandy, King John signed the Magna Carta into law, which limited the power of English monarchs.

Spain and Italy

Much of the Iberian peninsula had been occupied by the Moors after 711, although the northernmost portion was divided between several Christian states. In the 11th century, and again in the thirteenth, the Christian kingdoms of the north gradually drove the Muslims from central and most of southern Iberia.

In Italy, independent city states grew affluent on eastern maritime trade. These were in particular the thalassocracies of Pisa, Amalfi, Genoa and Venice.

The Pontic steppes, c. 1015


From the mid-tenth to the mid-11th centuries, the Scandinavian kingdoms were unified and Christianized, resulting in an end of Viking raids, and greater involvement in European politics. King Cnut of Denmark ruled over both England and Norway. After Cnut's death in 1035, England and Norway were lost, and with the defeat of Valdemar II in 1227, Danish predominance in the region came to an end. Meanwhile, Norway extended its Atlantic possessions, ranging from Greenland to the Isle of Man, while Sweden, under Birger Jarl, built up a power-base in the Baltic Sea. However, the Norwegian influence started to decline already in the same period, marked by the Treaty of Perth of 1266. Also, civil wars raged in Norway between 1130 and 1240.

France and Germany

By the time of the High Middle Ages, the Carolingian Empire had been divided and replaced by separate successor kingdoms called France and Germany, although not with their modern boundaries. Germany was under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, which reached its high-water mark of unity and political power.


During the successful reign of King David IV of Georgia (1089–1125), Kingdom of Georgia grew in strength and expelled the Seljuk Empire from its lands. David's decisive victory in the Battle of Didgori (1121) against the Seljuk Turks, as a result of which Georgia recaptured its lost capital Tbilisi, marked the beginning of the Georgian Golden Age. David's granddaughter Queen Tamar continued the upward rise, successfully neutralizing internal opposition and embarking on an energetic foreign policy aided by further decline of the hostile Seljuk Turks. Relying on a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated vast lands spanning from present-day southern Russia on the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Georgia remained a leading regional power until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar's death.


In the High Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Hungary (founded in 1000), became one of the most powerful medieval states in central Europe and Western Europe. King Saint Stephen I of Hungary introduced Christianity to the region; he was remembered by the contemporary chroniclers as a very religious monarch, with wide knowledge in Latin grammar, strict with his own people but kind to the foreigners. He eradicated the remnants of the tribal organisation in the Kingdom and forced the people to sedentarize and adopt the Christian religion, ethics, way of life and founded the Hungarian medieval state, organising it politically in counties using the Germanic system as a model.

The following monarchs usually kept a close relationship with Rome like Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary, and a tolerant attitude with the pagans that escaped to the Kingdom searching for sanctuary (for example Cumans in the 13th century), which eventually created certain discomfort for some Popes. With entering in Personal union with the Kingdom of Croatia and annexation of other small states, Hungary became a small empire that extended its control over the Balkans and all the Carpathian region. The Hungarian royal house was the one that gave the most saints to the Catholic Church during medieval times.

Poland and Lithuania

During the High Middle Ages Poland emerged as a kingdom. It decided to bond itself with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, confirmed by the Union of Krewo and later treaties, leading to a personal union in 1569.

Southeastern Europe

Main articles: Byzantine Empire, Second Bulgarian Empire, Serbian Grand Principality, Principality of Arbanon, Banate of Bosnia, and Kingdom of Croatia

The High Middle Ages saw the height and decline of the Slavic state of Kievan Rus' and emergence of Cumania. Later, the Mongol invasion in the 13th century had great impact on the east of Europe, as many countries of the region were invaded, pillaged, conquered and/or vassalized.

During the first half of this period (c. 1025—1185) the Byzantine Empire dominated the Balkans, and under the Komnenian emperors there was a revival of prosperity and urbanization; however, their domination of Southeastern Europe came to an end with a successful Vlach-Bulgarian rebellion in 1185, and henceforth the region was divided between the Byzantines in Greece, some parts of Macedonia, and Thrace, the Bulgarians in Moesia and most of Thrace and Macedonia, and the Serbs to the northwest. Eastern and Western churches had formally split in the 11th century, and despite occasional periods of co-operation during the 12th century, in 1204 the Fourth Crusade treacherously captured Constantinople. This severely damaged the Byzantines, and their power was ultimately weakened by the Seljuks and the rising Ottoman Empire in the 14-15th century. The power of the Latin Empire, however, was short lived after the Crusader army was routed by Bulgarian Emperor Kaloyan in the Battle of Adrianople (1205).

Climate and agriculture

The Medieval Warm Period, the period from 10th century to about the 14th century in Europe, was a relatively warm and gentle interval ended by the generally colder Little Ice Age. Farmers grew wheat well north into Scandinavia, and wine grapes in northern England, although the maximum expansion of vineyards appears to occur within the Little Ice Age period. During this time, a high demand for wine and steady volume of alcohol consumption inspired a viticulture revolution of progress.[6] This protection from famine allowed Europe's population to increase, despite the famine in 1315 that killed 1.5 million people. This increased population contributed to the founding of new towns and an increase in industrial and economic activity during the period. They also established trade and a comprehensive production of alcohol. Food production also increased during this time as new ways of farming were introduced, including the use of a heavier plow, horses instead of oxen, and a three-field system that allowed the cultivation of a greater variety of crops than the earlier two-field system—notably legumes, the growth of which prevented the depletion of important nitrogen from the soil.

The rise of chivalry

Household heavy cavalry (knights) became common in the 11th century across Europe, and tournaments were invented. Although the heavy capital investment in horse and armor was a barrier to entry, knighthood became known as a way for serfs to earn their freedom.[citation needed] In the 12th century, the Cluny monks promoted ethical warfare and inspired the formation of orders of chivalry, such as the Templar Knights. Inherited titles of nobility were established during this period. In 13th-century Germany, knighthood became another inheritable title, although one of the less prestigious, and the trend spread to other countries.

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