Research topic: The Middle Ages
In a Europe context the Middle Ages extend from the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the 5th century AD to approximately 1500, the era of discovery and the Reformation.
In contrast to several of the other terms used by historians to describe periods in history, the Middle Ages also formed an epoch in other histories than that of Europe. The period around 1500 is also a significant watershed in the histories of Islam and of South-East Asia, with the consolidation of large, well-developed kingdoms.
In Europe, however, the Middle Ages were not dominated by the existence of large kingdoms. Economically the period was characterised by agriculture and a subsistence economy. Only a small proportion of the population lived in towns. The process that made the strongest impression on the European Middle Ages was Christianisation, particularly during the period up until the 11th century. The coming of the church and Christian doctrine brought new ideas and rules that gradually came to control people's lives from the cradle to the grave. The church was responsible for all education during this period and the present-day university system has its roots in mediaeval universities.
The whole period was characterised by wars and conflicts such as, for example, the Viking raids, the Crusades and the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). For most people, war and plundering were part of everyday life. Despite these wars and a high death rate, the period up until about 1300 was characterised by an increase in population and economic growth.
However the Black Death in the mid-14th century, which carried off more than half of Europe's population, had enormous economic and social consequences and strongly affected societal developments until about 1500.