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The Middle Ages
Conclusion to Pages 1, 2 and 3
During the period known as the early Middle Ages (500-1000), the focus of
European civilization shifted from the Mediterranean to France. The conversion
of Clovis to Christianity and the subsequent Frankish alliance with the papacy
united the most energetic of the Germanic tribes with the greatest existing
force for civilization in western Europe - the Christian church. The
foundation of the new Europe was completed by Charlemagne, but his empire
depended too heavily on the forceful personality of its founder and did not
survive his less dynamic successors. After the Carolingian collapse, new
political and economic patterns evolved to meet the turbulent conditions of
The decentralized political systems and customs of government during the
early Middle Ages are sometimes generally referred to as feudalism. This term
is helpful in describing a theoretical pattern of government, although in
reality local diversity and custom were more the rule. Blending of Germanic
and Roman practices to suit regional needs resulted in a great variety of
Manorialism is the term sometimes employed to generalize the condition of
life for the vast majority of commoners in the early Middle Ages. On the
manors, serfs grew the food for all segments of medieval society and performed
the exhausting labor required. They were politically restricted, bound to
their estates, and very rarely in a position to control their own destinies.
Throughout the period, the church attempted to serve the spiritual needs
of the populace, in addition to strengthening its position as an institution
of power and influence. The church also spread its influence through
missionary activity across the Continent and into England and Ireland.
Monasteries served not only as centers from which missionary activity spread,
but also as repositories for the preservation of the learning of the classical
world and the church itself.