===================Europe (AD 1000) – The High Middle Ages
As the second millennium dawned, Europe slowly recovered from an era of chaos and war which had lasted almost two centuries. The division and implosion of the Carolingian Empire, the resulting internal struggles, the Viking raids and the Magyar invasions had produced a particularly unpleasant environment to live in, for kings and peasants alike. However, a gradual process of (re)consolidation had also begun, which largely built the foundations of Europe as we know it today, a thousand years later.
After the death of Louis the Pious in 840, the Carolingian Empire plunged into a civil war which ended in the definite division of its territory by the Treaty of Verdun in 843: West Francia under Charles the Bald, Middle Francia under Lothair I and East Francia under Louis the German. Halfway through the tenth century, the middle realm had been largely annexed by East Francia, leaving two separate power blocs to dominate Western and Central Europe. In the west, the election of Hugh Capet as Rex Francorum
(987) established the foundations for the Kingdom of France, which would be ruled uninterruptedly by descendants of the House of Capet until the French Revolution of 1789. In the east, the election of Henry the Fowler brought to power the Ottonian dynasty, founding the Kingdom of Germany. Henry’s son Otto I decisively defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 and had conquered most of Italy by 961 in support of Queen Adelaide, who became Otto’s second wife. He was subsequently crowned Emperor by Pope John XII in 962, intertwining the fate of the Kingdom of Germany with that of Italy and the Papacy. Thus was born the Holy Roman Empire, which would last until 1806.
However, the new kings and emperors had far less power than their title suggests for they had to tolerate or face up to the local rulers within their realms – a significant obstacle to consolidation. The concept of a ‘state’ or ‘country’ in the modern-day sense of the word was therefore nearly nonexistent. De facto
power in the western Kingdom of Francia was not vested in the king, who was little more than a ‘first among equals’, but in the rulers of the kingdom’s duchies and counties, most of which were both larger and stronger than the royal crown domain. In the north, the strategic position and economic potential of the County of Flanders would eventually give many French monarchs a royal headache, as would the Duchy of Normandy; in the east, the Duchy of Burgundy held on to a proud tradition of de facto
independence, one which would ultimately get completely out of hand; in the south and west, the powerful County of Toulouse and the Duchies of Aquitaine and Gascony would play a vital role in feudal attempts at maintaining local independence, the rise of religious heresy and the dynastic mechanisms which unleashed the Hundred Years’ War. The descendants of Hugh Capet had much work ahead of them as the High Middle Ages dawned…
Arguably even more work lay ahead of the Holy Roman Emperors in the east, whose realm found itself in a situation similar to that of the French monarchy. However, things here were further complicated by the Empire’s different power blocs, its vast extent which prevented decisive imperial interference and the inability of the Holy Roman Emperors to establish a lasting dynasty. The splinter dominions of the Kingdom of Germany bickered among each other and bitterly clung to their feudal rights, the Kingdom of Italy and its economical centres equally attempted to gain extensive autonomy and the Papacy defied the Empire in the debate over whether the papal or imperial authority was to be Latin Christendom’s supreme guardian. Italy itself was thus a political snake pit for the Emperor, but one which was crucial to both his imperial authority and legitimacy. Further worsening the situation were Byzantine claims to Italian territory and imperial dignity, the Muslim conquests of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, and the continued existence of the Lombard principalities of Capua, Benevento and Salerno. Throughout the High Middle Ages, Italy saw numerous conflicts as the Holy Roman Emperors attempted to assert their authority. This would in the long run distract them from the political games back in Germany, allowing the German lords to expand and consolidate their power at the cost of the Emperor.
Conflicts aplenty were also the case on the Iberian Peninsula, which had largely fallen to the Muslims in the early eighth century and housed the Umayyad Emirate (and later Caliphate) of Córdoba. Christian kingdoms had been carved out in the north, which sought to retake Iberia in the name of Christendom: the Reconquista
. This ideal seemed very far away at the turn of the millennium: the military, cultural and economic power of Islamic Córdoba was a veritable giant compared to the bickering Christian realms. However, a succession crisis in the Córdoban Caliphate caused its dissolution into so-called Taifa
kingdoms by 1031, giving the Christian forces a golden opportunity to further the advance of the Reconquista
Northern Europe meanwhile was dominated by the so-called North Sea Empire of King Cnut the Great, who ruled Denmark, Norway, England and parts of Sweden, while his fleets were supreme in the North Sea and much of the Baltic. Scandinavian rule of England ended in 1042 when Edward the Confessor came to power, a fact confirmed by the Norman invasion of 1066 under William the Conqueror, which marked a turning point in the history of the Kingdom of England. Consolidation also took place in the north, where Picts, Scots, Britons and Angles formed the new Kingdom of Scotland. The Celtic realms of Ireland meanwhile successfully avoided falling under the Viking yoke (981), although some degree of Viking settlement could not be prevented, notably in the southern portion of the island, which fell to Danish and Norwegian invaders. The focus of their Swedish counterparts fell on the Baltic coastlines, from where Swedish raiding parties gained significant influence, establishing strongholds in Russia and sailing Russian rivers all the way to the Black Sea and the Byzantine Empire. The dominant power in Russia at this time was Kievan Rus’, which tied both its political and religious fortune to Byzantium from 978 onward: Vladimir the Great married Anna Porphyrogenita, the daughter of Byzantine Emperor Romanos II and sister of the Emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII. Russia would henceforth remain in the Greek Orthodox sphere.
Between Kievan Rus’ and the Holy Roman Empire lay the new kingdoms of Poland and Hungary. Poland proved itself an expansionist rival to the Empire for dominance of Central and Eastern Europe, temporarily taking Bohemia, Moravia and Pomerania and actively resisting the imperial Drang nach Osten
(Drive to the East). Hungary emerged as a kingdom in the year 1000 when the Hungarian Grand Prince Stephen converted to Latin Christianity and received the fabled Crown of St. Stephen from Pope Silvester II. This act formally integrated the Magyar people into the Latin West.
Lastly, the Byzantine Empire had successfully survived the Arab and Slavic invasions and reasserted its authority over the Balkans throughout the first half of the eleventh century, most notably by toppling the Bulgarian Empire (1018). However, Byzantine borders once again came under serious pressure during the second half of the eleventh century, this time from the Pechenegs, Normans and most of all the migrating Seljuk Turks. The resulting catastrophes would end any hope of a Byzantine revival of the territory and power it had boasted as the Eastern Roman Empire...© 2013 – 2014 undevicesimus.deviantart.com