The Dark Ages
The Dark Age, often called the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, was a time in European history considered to have taken place between the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and the Renaissance in the 14th century. The Fall of Rome sent the world into chaos. Without a centralized power, the empire fractured and a vast and bloody scramble for power devastated Europe. Those with the might to hold their lands created a network of Lords, Vassals and Fiefs to support their claim. A lord was a noble who owned land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the fief, the vassal would provide military service to the lord. The obligations and relations between lord, vassal and fief form the basis of feudalism.
But first, there was The Holy Roman Empire.
At it's height, 27 BC to 395 AD, Rome was considered to be the world's most powerful political and military force. It reached across a major portion of the known world and changed western culture in a way that is still felt to this day.
No civilization is so identified with constructing and building things than the Romans. Aqueducts, roads, baths, walls, theaters, temples, arches, cities, palaces...
They built a world from which later peoples still benefited for a long time to come. Some of their old roads are even still in use today. So too, some of their great amphitheaters.
Rome's military might was unconquerable, but ultimately it began to fall in upon itself.
Dividing the Empire
By 285 AD, The Roman Empire was beginning to feel the strain of it's size and reach. It was the decision of Emperor Diocletian to parcel out land and territory, to be tended by his heirs and competent military commanders, so as to maintain their grasp upon their empire.
This splitting of territory was an eventual process: The Western Roman Empire in 286 AD and Eastern Roman Empire in 330 AD, also known as the Byzantine Empire.
And at first it was an effective solution. But as time wore on and the two empires began to focus on their own interests, it was clear that the Roman Empire of old was gone.
The rise of Christianity in 313 AD and its expansion across Europe can directly be attributed to the Western Roman Empire's adaption of the religion. It was around 962 AD that the Germanic leader, Otto the Great began his conquest to form the Holy Roman Empire. This Empire encompassed a broad swath of land including modern day Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy. Ironically, the city of Rome is not actually part of the Holy Roman Empire.
From 1095 under the pontificate of Urban II, the Crusades were launched. These were a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, initiated in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion.
In total, there were 4 crusades:
- First Crusade
- Second Crusade
- Third Crusade
- Fourth Crusade
The Crusades ultimately failed to stifle Islamic aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204 AD).