Historical and Cultural Context

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E-Mail Doug at mrdoug@aznet.net or Melissa at mjmckinstry@earthlink.net

The High Middle Ages (1000-1300) - "The Age of Faith" in Europe

1000-1150 - As a product of improved farming techniques - the iron plow pulled by horses replacing its wooden cousin pulled by oxen and the three-field system replacing the two-field system, scholars estimate that the population of western Europe rose by 40 percent, from around 30 million to about 42 million (WH, p. 224).

1000-1009 - Olaf I Tryggvesson of Norway, who with the assistance of English monks Christianized Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, dies fighting the forces of the Danish and Swedish Kings. With his death, the Danes conquer and rule Norway.

The Viking King, Sweyn Forkbeard, attacks the English and exacts tribute from them in retaliation for Ethelred II's massacre of Danish settlers the previous year.

The Fatimid caliph of Egypt, al-Hakim, destroys the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, encouraging Europeans to recover the Holy Land. However, Europeans don't mobilize until 1095 (http://www.historychannel.com).

1010-1019 - The year 1012 marks the first recorded persecution of heresy in the German states.

The Danes conquer England, compelling the Anglo-Saxon monarch, Ethelred II, to seek refuge in Normandy.

The Norwegian King, Olaf II, establishes his state's independence from Norway and begins to re-Christianize his Kingdom (http://www.historychannel.com).


1020-1029 - Europe suffers an epidemic of St. Vitus' dance (Sydenham's chorea), a neurological form of rheumatic fever that can cause involuntary movement.

Boleslav the Brave proclaims himself King of Poland, declaring his country independent of the Holy Roman Empire. Although he dies within a few months, Boleslav leaves behind a powerful country that acquired considerable territory.

Guido d'Arezzo, a Benedictine monk, introduces solmization, the practice of sol-faing (singing doh, ray, mi, fah, sol, lah, te), to music (http://www.historychannel.com).

1030-1039 - The Arab physician Avicenna (Abu Sina) writes his Canon of Medicine, which is based on the ideas of Aristotle and Galen and influences medical thinking for centuries to come.

Guido d'Arezzo pioneers musical notation and invents the great scale (gamut), the hexachord, and hexachord solmization (http://www.historychannel.com).

1040-1049 - Scottish ruler Duncan Canmore is slain by his nobles, who invite Macbeth, King of Inverness, to succeed Duncan. Macbeth accepts and rules until 1057 (http://www.historychannel.com).

John Collier's - Lady Godiva - c. 1898 -

A naked (and longhaired) Lady Godiva rides through the streets of Coventry in an attempt to persuade her husband, Leofric, earl of Mercia, to stop levying heavy taxes on the population (http://www.historychannel.com).

Pi Sheng, a Chinese printer, begins using movable type of hundreds of clay blocks containing Chinese ideograms for printing (http://www.historychannel.com).


1050-1059 - The Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) churches enter into a schism when mutual anathemas are exchanged at Constantinople between Cardinal Humbert of Lorraine, representing the papacy, and Patriarch Michael Cerularius. The schism is never healed.

Malcolm Canmore murders Macbeth, who is succeeded by his stepson Lulach (http://www.historychannel.com).

1059 - A Church decree declared that all future popes would be chosen at a meeting of leading bishops known as cardinals. No longer could the Roman mob, the local nobles, or even the emperor choose a pope (WH, p. 228).

1060-1069 - The University of Parma holds its first classes. Universities arose in the Middle Ages to train young men in law, theology, and medicine. Although they were usually established by royal or ecclesiastical initiative, some were founded by students. The medieval university often had thousands of students and played an important role in contemporary affairs.

After 13 years of building, Westminister Abbey is consecrated in 1065.

Halley's tail from Mt. Wilson

The comet that will ultimately be named after English astronomer Edmund Halley appears in the sky.

The Normans introduce the French words boeuf, mouton, veau, porc, and poularde into the emerging English language. In England, the words will eventually evolve into beef, mutton, veal, pork, and poultry (http://www.historychannel.com).


1070-1079 - Hildebrand is elected to succeed Pope Alexander II and takes as his name Gregory VII. During his reign, Gregory will attack simony, enforce celibacy among the clergy, and champion the power of the papacy.

The Synod of Rome promulgates strict decrees against simony (the purchase or sale of church offices). Many German bishops oppose Gregory's elevation to the papacy.

Gregory VII compiles the Dictatus Papae, a collection of canons supporting the power of the papacy.

In response to the issue of lay investiture, which draws the papacy and European rulers into conflict, German Emperor Henry IV calls the Synod of Worms in 1076, which declares Pope Gregory VII deposed. In response, Gregory deposes and excommunicates Henry.

German Emperor Henry IV makes his penance at Canossa, and Gregory VII reluctantly absolves him in 1077. Yet the German nobles elect an anti-King to rival Henry with the approval of Gregory's legates (http://www.historychannel.com).

1080-1089 - In Salerno, Italy, a medical school that draws on the knowledge from Greek, Latin, Jewish, and Arabic texts begins to thrive.

The Synod of Rome declares Pope Gregory VII deposed and recognizes the anti-pope, Clement III. Due to the Normans' sack of the city, supporters take Gregory to Salerno.

The Oath of Salisbury makes vassals responsible directly to the English King.

In England, King William the Conqueror orders that a Domesday Book, a list of assets of landowning people, be compiled for purposes of taxation and administration.

The idea of the magnetic compass is born when Chinese waterworks director, Shen Kua, notes that direction can be found by rubbing a needle on a lodestone and hanging it by a thread; the needle usually-though not always-points south (http://www.historychannel.com).

Pantocrator - Mosaic, c. 1080-1100, Church of the Dormition, Daphne, Greece -

This mosaic portrays the bust of a stern and menacing Christ. With his furrowed brow and drawn expression, he is no longer the benevolent Shepherd of comfort from Early Christian iconography. Pantocrator, shows Christ as the "Ruler of the Universe." Backed with gold and surrounded by small windows, this mosaic appears illuminated, transcending that boundary between heaven and earth, giving human emotion to a powerful symbol, and revealing a little more of the artist's own expression (http://www.artcellarexchange.com/millarc1.html)

1090-1099 - Pope Urban II calls for a crusade to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims who now occupy it. Urban's invitation receives an enthusiastic response. Religious motives dominated the Crusades at first, but worldly aims were never absent: The nobles hoped to capture land and loot; the Italian cities looked to expand trade with the Middle East (http://www.historychannel.com).

1096 - Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world, lays claim to eight centuries of continuous existence. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.


Basilica, Paray-le-Monial, France - 1090-1110 -
Example of Romanesque architecture prevalent between 1000 and 1100

1100's - Few Europeans lived beyond the age of 50 (WH, p. 223).

1110-1119 - The earliest positive record of the performance of miracle plays comes from Dunstable, England. Miracle play or mystery play, form of medieval drama, developed (10th-16th cent.) by the addition of dialogue and dramatic action to the Roman Catholic liturgy. Originally performed in Latin, miracle plays were later given in the vernacular. Based on the Scriptures and on the lives of the saints, they were given in churchyards and marketplaces on church festival days and lasted from sunrise to sunset (http://www.historychannel.com).

1120 - Anglo-Saxon scientist Welcher of Malvern pioneers the measurement of the earth in degrees, minutes, and seconds of latitude and longitude (http://www.historychannel.com).

1122 - At the Concordat of Worms, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V renounces his right to invest bishops with the symbols of their office, the ring and staff; allows the clergy to be elected freely; and promises to restore church property (http://www.historychannel.com).

1120-1129 - Cistercian monks from Normandy travel to England and reclaim land, improve agriculture, and breed animals. As a result, they fine-tune horse and cattle breeds and raise standards of agriculture (http://www.historychannel.com).


The Last Judgment Relief, west tympanum, Autun Cathedral, Burgundy, France - c.1130-35 -

1136 - Abbot Suger completes the abbey church of Saint-Denis in northern Paris. The church's pointed arches and rose and clerestory windows are the architectural stamps of the Gothic style (http://www.historychannel.com).

Notre Dame, Chartres, France, flying buttresses - 1145-1220 -

1140 - Judah ben Samuel ha-Levi (Abu'l Hasan), a Spanish rabbi, dies. His most important philosophical work, the Sefer ha-Kusari, argues that revealed religion is superior to rational belief (http://www.historychannel.com).

1145-1220 - After two generations of back-breaking labor, the townspeople of Chartres celebrated the dedication of their new cathedral (WH, p. 223).


1150-1159 - Chinese seamen and caravan leaders employ crude magnetic compasses to navigate their journeys.  

The foundation of the University of Paris is laid.

The music of the troubadours becomes popular in southern France.

Iceland issues the first fire and plague insurance (http://www.historychannel.com).

1162 - Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, dies. King Henry II supports as successor his chancellor, Thomas Becket, thinking that Thomas will easily bend to the King's will. Henry was wrong (http://www.historychannel.com).

1163 - Thomas Becket's defense of clerical privilege against the crown puts him at odds with Henry II shortly after the King returns to England from the Continent in 1163.

The Spanish physician Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon) leaves Cordoba and travels to Fez and then to Cairo, where he becomes the personal physician to Saladin, sultan of Egypt. During his career, Maimonides writes on medicine, law, math, logic, and theology (http://www.historychannel.com).

Medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame, West Facade - Paris, France - 1163-1250 -


1170 - Thomas Becket returns to England after six years of exile in France. Although the King and archbishop have officially reconciled, tensions soon mount, and Henry II's men murder Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29.

Leaning Tower of Pisa -
Official site -

1174 - Architect Bonnano Pisano builds a 177-foot bell tower (campanile) that will eventually come to be known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa (http://www.historychannel.com).

Locusts Come upon the Earth - c. 1180 -

1182 - Jews are banished from France (http://www.historychannel.com).

1189 - The Third Crusade begins with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, in the lead (http://www.historychannel.com).


1200 - Venice is the commercial capital of Europe. The city is blessed with a strategic geographic location that enables Venetians to easily trade in the East, the Mediterranean basin, and central Europe (http://www.historychannel.com).

Compared to great cities like Constantinople or Baghdad, European towns were still primitive and tiny. Europe's largest city, Paris, probably had no more than 30,000 people by the year 1200. A typical town in medieval Europe had only about 1,500 to 2,500 people (WH, p. 224).

1200 - According to canon law, bishops were to use at lest one fourth of all tithes to care for the sick and the poor. Orphans, lepers, and beggars received are from Church funds. Most hospitals in medieval Europe were operated by the Church. Around the year 1200, there were 400 hospitals in England and 12 in Paris alone. No needy person could be turned away (WH, p. 230).

1202 - Europe begin to learn about Arabic numerals and the zero from the Liber Abaci, written by the Italian Leonardo Fibonacci.

Jesters begin to appear in European courts (http://www.historychannel.com).

1208 - Students from Bologna found the famous medical school at Montpellier (http://www.historychannel.com).

1215 - King John I of England is forced to sign at Runnymede the Magna Carta, a charter that limits the power and privilege of the English monarchy in favor of the English barons (http://www.historychannel.com).

1217 - Cambridge University is founded (http://www.historychannel.com).

1222 - Mongol leader Genghis Khan invades Russia, making his first appearance in Europe (http://www.historychannel.com).

1225 - Cotton begins to be manufactured in Spain and becomes a competitor of wool and linen (http://www.historychannel.com).

Popes started its war against heresy. The Inquisition was an organization of experts whose job was to find the judge heretics. These men left no stone unturned in their search for heresy, even accepting rumors and gossip. A person who was suspected of heresy might be questioned for weeks and even tortured. It was almost impossible for a suspect to prove his or her innocence (WH, p. 230).


Synagoga (Synagogue), column figure, South Transept Portal, Strasbourg Cathedral - c. 1230 -

Church and Synagogue were common allegorical figures in the Middle Ages. Draped females, they are ways of representing the transition from the Old Law to the New. Synagogue is always a blindfolded figure, the blindfold representing moral or spiritual blindness or darkness, sin, and ignorance. Often a crown falls from the inclined head of Synagogue and the Tables of the Law fall from her hands.

1231 - Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II founds a medical school in Salerno, Italy. The curriculum includes three years of logic, five years of medicine, and one year of practice. The school's director is Nicolaus Praepositus, author of the first medieval pharmacopoeia

Surgeons at the medical school in Salerno, Italy, begin to dissect human bodies, signaling a gradual change in European attitudes toward corpses (http://www.historychannel.com).

1235 - Frederick II commissions Michael Scot to translate into Latin the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (http://www.historychannel.com).

1236 - Theodoric of Lucca, a Dominican friar, pioneers the use of anesthesia when he advocates applying to the nose of patients undergoing surgery sponges soaked in narcotics. He also supports the use of the opiates mandrake and opium in similar situations (http://www.historychannel.com).


1247 - St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital for the insane opens in England. Suggesting what the conditions of the hospital were like, the modern word bedlam is derived from its name (http://www.historychannel.com).

Robin Hood - http://www.legends.dm.net/robinhood/

In York, England, a tombstone identifies Robert, earl of Huntington, as Robin Hood. Robert died in December (http://www.historychannel.com).

Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, advocates making science part of the curriculum at Oxford University, maintaining that science complements, not opposes, religion (http://www.historychannel.com).

1250 - Notre Dame Cathedral was completed in Paris (HM, p. 500).

Crusaders introduce the decimal system into Europe.

Crusaders introduce spices such as cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cubebs, ginger, mace, and nutmeg to Europe. Often they are valued more for their medicinal value than for their flavor (http://www.historychannel.com).


Bible - Illuminated Gothic Manuscript - 1252-70 -

1253 - Robert de Sorbon, chaplain and confessor of Louis IX of France, opens the Community of Poor Masters and Scholars, later to be known as the Sorbonne, the first college of the University of Paris (http://www.historychannel.com).

1259 - While repelling a Mongol invasion with bullets shot through bamboo tubes, China's Sung armies pioneer the use of firearms that propel bullets (http://www.historychannel.com).

1269 - Roger Bacon, a scientist at Oxford University, draws plans for the magnetic needle and reading glasses (http://www.historychannel.com).

1271 - Marco Polo-along with his father, Niccolo, and uncle Matteo- begin a journey to India and the Far East (http://www.historychannel.com).

1275 - Moses de Leon's Zohar, the fundamental work on Jewish mysticism, is finished. Cabala [Heb.,=traditional lore], mystical Jewish system of interpretation of the Scriptures. Cabala is based on the belief that every word, letter, number, and even accent of the Scriptures contains mysteries. Cabalistic signs and writings are used as amulets and in magical practices (http://www.historychannel.com).

1280 - Marco Polo travels to Hangchow, which Polo says surpasses in greatness all the other cities in the world. Polo is particularly struck by the pleasures available, such as spices and silks (http://www.historychannel.com).

1291 - Venetians develop the great galley, which facilitates trade by enduring long voyages and accommodating large cargoes (http://www.historychannel.com).

1295 - Marco Polo returns to Venice, bringing with him, among other things, spices and eastern cooking customs (http://www.historychannel.com).

1298 - Textile production is revolutionized with the invention of the spinning wheel (http://www.historychannel.com).

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E-Mail Doug at mrdoug@aznet.net or Melissa at mjmckinstry@earthlink.net

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