Brief History of Europe/Early Middle Ages

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The Early Middle Ages was Circa AD 500–1000; it is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, as there was a relative scarcity of literary and cultural output in Western Europe.

Peoples of the Early Middle Ages[edit]

Europe and the Near East at 476 AD
Europa in 526
Hagia Sophia was built by Greco-Romans (completed circa 537 by Justinian the Great)
Sack of Rome by Vandals (455)

The peoples of the Early Middle Ages included Indo-European peoples, but also some peoples who were not Indo-European, such as Turkic and Uralic peoples. Indo-Europeans can be divided into Germanic peoples, and Indo-Europeans who were not Germanic such as Greco-Romans, Celts, and Slavs.

Germanic peoples[edit]

Germanic peoples can be divided into West, East and North:

West Germanic peoples included:

  • Anglo-Saxons, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; they inhabited Jutland and northern Europe, and founded Anglo-Saxon England (c. 500–1066).
  • Franks, that spread across Europe from the north, to form Francia/Carolingian Empire (from 481, divided in 843).
  • Lombards, who inhabited the Kingdom of the Lombards (568–774), which covered much of the Italian Peninsula.
  • Suebi, who inhabited the Iberian Kingdom of the Suebi (409–585).
  • Frisii, who inhabited the Frisian Kingdom (c. 600–734) near the North Sea.

Other West Germanic peoples included: Chatti/Hessians (who inhabited Hesse in Roman times); Alemanni (who inhabited Alamannia/Swabia); Bavarii (who inhabited Bavaria); and Thuringii (who inhabited Thuringia).

East Germanic peoples included, most importantly, Vandals, Goths, and Burgundians:

  • Vandals (an East Germanic people) spread across Western Europe, Iberia, Carthage, and across the Mediterranean Sea to Rome; the Vandal Kingdom (435–534) included North Africa and Carthage; Corsica; Sardinia; Sicily. Eventually fell to the Byzantines.
  • Goths (an East Germanic people) included Visigoths and Ostrogoths. Visigoths spread across the Balkan Peninsula, Italy, Rome, southern France; the Visigothic Kingdom (418–c. 720) included much of Iberia and southern France. Eventually fell to Islam, Asturias and Francia. Ostrogoths spread across Europe to Rome to form the Ostrogothic Kingdom (493–553), of Italy and the west Balkans, after the murder of Odoacer. Eventually fell to the Byzantines and the Avar Khaganate.
  • Burgundians (an East Germanic people) formed the Kingdom of the Burgundians/Burgundy (411–534), before falling to the Franks.

Other East Germanic peoples and territories included: Gepids (and the Kingdom of the Gepids); and Rugii (and Rugiland).

North Germanic peoples included: Danes, Swedes, Geats, Gutes and Norsemen.

  • Danes: inhabited the province of Scania, now in southern Sweden; they moved to the Jutland peninsula (modern-day Denmark), and would migrate from there as Vikings.
  • Geats (Götar) and Swedes (Svear) were from the north of Scania; Gutes (Gutar) inhabited the island of Gotland. They would gave rise to modern Swedes. The Geats may have given rise to the Goths, but this is uncertain.
  • Norsemen, or Norwegians, inhabited the petty kingdoms of Norway, and would migrate from there as Vikings.

Non-Germanic peoples[edit]

Indo-European speaking peoples, other than Germanic peoples, included:

  • Greco-Romans, who ruled the Byzantine Empire, and who spoke Ancient Greek (a Hellenic language) and Latin (an Italic language).
  • Celts: were once widespread across Europe, but by the 5th century CE they had been mostly conquered. Celtic Britons inhabited England and Wales, and also Brittany. Celtic Gaels (also know as Scoti) inhabited Ireland and later Scotland. Picts (who may have been Celtic) inhabited Scotland. Other Celtic peoples included Gauls (of Gaul, present day France); Celtiberians (of Iberia); and Galatians (of ancient Anatolia). Britain was abandoned by its Roman garrison in AD 410, paving the way for Anglo-Saxon invasions from the east.
  • Slavs: could be divided into North Slavs (which includes East and West Slavs); and South Slavs. West Slavs would settle in Eastern Europe areas south of the Baltic Sea. East Slavs would settle in areas that correspond to present-day Belarus, central and northern Ukraine, and parts of western Russia. South Slavs would settle in the Balkans. Early Slavic kingdoms included Samo's Empire (631–658) and Carantania (658–828).
  • Balts, lived near the Baltic Sea, and are related to Slavs. Peoples included the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Old Prussians.
  • Iranians: included the Eastern Iranian Alans and Pashtuns (ethnic Afghans); in the Middle East there were the Western Iranian Persians and Kurds.

Apart from the Indo-European speakers, Europe included:

  • Turkic peoples: they may have included Huns; early Turkic peoples included Khazars and Bulgars. Also see the section Turkic migration.
  • Uralic peoples: included Magyars (of the Principality of Hungary), Sami (of northern Scandinavia), and Finns (of Finland); related to the Finns were the Livonians (Latgalians) and Estonians.
  • Northeast Caucasian people: Pannonian Avars would form the Avar Khaganate in the 6th century, before falling to the Bulgars.
  • Afroasiatic peoples: Berbers (of North Africa) and Arabs (of Arabia) would latter press north into Iberia, and would be known as Moors.

Roman Empire and movements of peoples[edit]

Invasions of the Roman Empire
Justinian the Great

The Fall of the Western Roman Empire, in AD 476, when non-Roman Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus and became King of Italy (476–493). Later on it became part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom (493–553), before Italy fell to the Byzantines. The fall of Rome can in part be attributed to the migration of peoples, mainly from the east. The Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire, survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Migration Period and other migrations[edit]

Migration Period (c. AD 375 to 538): was a period of barbarian invasions of Europe. Invasions by the Huns, and also Avars, Slavs and Bulgars, caused movements in Germanic peoples, particularly Goths (including the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths), Vandals, Anglo-Saxons, and Franks. Other Germanic peoples affected included Lombards, Burgundians, Suebi, Frisii, and Alemanni.

Turkic migration: between the between the 6th and 11th centuries, there was an expansion of Turkic tribes over Asia and Eastern Europe. Early Turkic peoples in Europe were mainly Oghurs, such as Khazars and Bulgars. Later on Turks (from the Oghuz branch) and Tatars (mainly from the Kipchak branch) became prominent. Today Turkic peoples are mainly represented by Turks, Azerbaijanis and Turkmen (from the Oghuz branch); Uzbeks and Uyghurs (from the Karluk branch); and Kazakhs and Tatars (from the Kipchak branch).

Huns may have been Turkic: the Hunnic Empire (370s–469) included much of Eastern Europe and western Asia, and was unified under Attila.

Viking Age (793–1066): began with the raid on Lindisfarne (793). Vikings were North Germanic peoples, which included Danes, Swedes, and Norsemen (Norwegians). In this period they settled in Greenland, Newfoundland, and present-day Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Normandy, Scotland, England, Ireland, Isle of Man, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey. The Varangians (also known as Rus') were Viking Swedes that traveled along the Volga and Dnieper rivers, and may have founded Kievan Rus', an early Russian federation.

Vikings would give rise to Normans, descendants of Vikings who settled in Normandy, and would conquer England and south Italy in the High Middle Ages.

Other movement of peoples included Magyars, Moors (Arabs and Berbers), and Mongols (during the 13th century).

Byzantine Empire[edit]

Byzantine (purple) and Sasanian (yellow) empires, and vassal states, in 600 AD

Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire (395–1453), continued after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. The crises of third century had led to the Roman Empire divisions into East and West. Constantine the Great, who in AD 330 ruled both the East and West, moved the seat of the Empire from Nicomedia to Constantinople (formerly called Byzantium, later called Istanbul), which was sometimes characterised as the "New Rome". Theodosius I (379–395) was the last Emperor to rule both East and West. The empire was oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterised by Orthodox Christianity.

Under the Justinian Dynasty (518–602), the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent since the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The expansion resulted largely from the Wars of Justinian the Great (Justinian I), who ruled between 527–565, and expanded it over North Africa, southern Spain, and Italy (including Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica). It also included the Balkan peninsula, Anatolia, and the Holy Land. In this period, the Plague of Justinian (541–542 AD) had a profound effect on the population of the empire, with an estimated 25–50 million deaths.

Many territories were later lost to the Islamic Caliphates during the early Muslim conquests (622–750). The Byzantine Empire had been weakened by the ongoing Byzantine–Sasanian wars (285 to c. 628), against the Persian Sasanian Empire; this included the 626 siege of Constantinople. The Sasanian Empire itself was toppled in 651 by the Rashidun Caliphate. But at the first and second Arab sieges of Constantinople, 674–678 and 717–718, the Umayyad Caliphate was defeated by the Byzantine Empire.

Italian Peninsula in the Early Middle Ages[edit]

Italy in 1000 AD

Odoacer's Kingdom Of Italy (476-493), which included some surrounding territory, was conquered by Theodoric the Great, who was:

  • King of the Ostrogoths (475–526).
  • King of Italy (493–526), with the Ostrogothic Kingdom including Italy and neighboring areas.
  • King of the Visigoths (511–526), with the Visigothic Kingdom including much of Iberia and what would become southern France.

Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily became part of the Vandal Kingdom (435–534), along with some of North Africa and Carthage. Both the Ostrogothic and Vandal kingdoms were conquered by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian I (527–565), after the Gothic War (535–554) and the Vandalic War (533–534); and Italy and surrounding islands became part of the Byzantine Empire under the Justinian dynasty (518–602).

Starting in the 6th century, much of Italy was eventually conquered by Lombards (a West Germanic people), their Kingdom of the Lombards being at its greatest extent around 749–756. They conquered territories from the Byzantine Empire, who in the 8th century remained in the southern extremes, the territory around Rome, Sicily and Sardinia. The Kingdom of the Lombards included:

  • Langobardia Major, which was the northern Lombards, which included (i) Neustria (in the north-west, later called Lombardy); (ii) Austria (in the north-east, later called the March of Verona); and (iii) Tuscia (south of Neustria, later called Tuscany).
  • Langobardia Minor, which was the central and southern Lombards, which included the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.

Charlemagne (of Francia) conquered the northern Lombard Kingdom in 774, but never took Benevento. Venice and the Papal States were also to remain independent of Francia. In the 9th century, Moors captured Sicily from the Byzantines, to form the Muslim Emirate of Sicily (831–1091).

Later on, Normans would conquer southern Italy and Sicily between 999 and 1139. Roger II of Sicily consolidated the Norman Italian kingdoms into one, the Kingdom of Sicily, which included Sicily, southern Italy and some of north Africa. The Norman kingdom fell in 1194 to the House of Hohenstaufen, and to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1198.

Francia and the Carolingian Empire[edit]

Francia 481–870, from union to the Treaty of Meerssen (animated)
Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I in 772

Francia, also called the Kingdom of the Franks and Frankish Empire, grew from 481 onwards as the Franks were united by Clovis I (who ruled c. 481–511). Clovis was a member of the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings, between 450 and 751. The Battle of Tours (732) in Aquitaine, where the Franks defeated the Umayyad Caliphate, helped to establish Frankish dominance. Charles Martel commanded the Franks at Tours, and established the Carolingian dynasty of Frankish kings.

On Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne (Charles I, the Great) Holy Roman Emperor, as a revival of the Western Roman Emperor. Charlemagne was King of Francia 768–814; King of the Lombards 774–814; and Emperor 800–814. As Charlemagne was a member of the Carolingian dynasty, Francia from 800 is known as the Carolingian Empire.

Charlemagne expanded the kingdom into Bavaria/Carinthia, and Lombard, Saxon and Spanish March territories. Francia by 800 covered much of the former Western Roman Empire, with most of Western and Central Europe; but not including Iberia, Britain, Jutland, Brittany, southern Italy, Venice and the Papal States. Sometimes considered to be the first Holy Roman Empire, but more often called the Carolingian Empire, and it was distinct from the Holy Roman Empire of 962–1806.

Charlemagne was succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor by his son Louis the Pious (813–840). On the death of Louis, civil war erupted (840–43), followed by the Treaty of Verdun; Francia was then divided among the three surviving sons of Louis the Pious:

  • West Francia was first ruled by Charles the Bald (who later became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy). West Francia is considered to be the Kingdom of France with the rule of the Capetian dynasty (987 onwards).
  • Middle Francia was ruled by Lothair I (who was Holy Roman Emperor); it was a short lived state of territory between West and East Francia.
  • East Francia was first ruled by Louis the German; it had four stem duchies at the time: Swabia/Alamannia; Franconia; Saxony; and Bavaria (with Carinthia). East Francia would later form the nucleus of the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) founded by Otto the Great.

With the Treaty of Prüm (855), the sons of Lothair I divided Middle Francia into:

  • Lotharingia, which would later became Lorraine and Upper Burgundy, ruled by Lothair II.
  • Provence, also known as Lower Burgundy, ruled by Charles of Provence.
  • Italy, the northern peninsula, ruled by Louis II of Italy.

By the time of the Treaty of Meerssen (870), Charles of Provence and Lothair II had both died, and Francia had become:

  • West Francia, which contained parts of Lotharingia, and some of Provence; ruled by Charles the Bald at that time.
  • East Francia, which contained most of Lotharingia; ruled by Louis the German at that time.
  • Italy, the northern peninsula, which had expanded to include most of Provence; ruled by Louis II of Italy at that time.

With the Treaty of Ribemont (880), some Lotharingia territory was returned to East Francia from West Francia. Francia was reunited briefly, between 884–887, under Charles III (the Fat), Emperor between 881–888; after that it then divided again. Charles was the last of the Carolingian dynasty of Holy Roman Emperors, with the exception of the disputed Holy Roman Emperor Arnulph (896–899).

Europe from 814[edit]

After the death of Charlemagne (814), Europe during the Early Middle Ages included the following states:

Peoples of Europe (750AD)
European states in 814
Alfred the Great
British Isles
Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon King of the West Saxons, defeated the Great Heathen Army of the Danish King Guthrum at the Battle of Edington (878) to become first unified King of the Anglo-Saxons. The House of Wessex, which included Alfred, would eventually conquer all of England from the Danes under Æthelstan (c. 927). But there were also Danish kings after this, including Cnut the Great, who reigned over England 1016–1035, as well as Denmark and Norway, as the North Sea Empire. Other tribes of the British Isles included the Welsh and West Welsh (who were Celtic Britons); the Picts; and the Celtic Gaels/Scoti.
Scandinavia and to the east
Scandinavia was inhabited by North Germanic peoples, with Danes (in Jutland and Scania), Swedes, Geats, and Gutes. In the Unification of Norway (860s–1020s), the Norwegian Norsemen unified from the petty kingdoms of Norway. Lands of Finns (a Uralic people) lay to the east.
Western and Central Europe
Was dominated by Francia (with West Germanic Franks), which remained undivided until 840. Brittany was inhabited by Celtic Britons.
Slavic states and Balts
Included Bohemia, with West-Slavic Bohemians, the ancestors of Czechs. Great Moravia (833–c. 907) was a short lived state of the West-Slavic Moravians. Kievan Rus' principalities (882–1240) would form from East Slavic peoples, Finns and Vikings. Serbia (with South-Slavic Serbs) existed as a state between 8th century up to 1371, and then fell to the Ottomans. The Kingdom of Croatia (925–1102) of South-Slavic Croats, developed from the earlier Duchy, and would enter personal union with Hungary in 1102. Carantania (658–828) was a South-Slavic state. The Bulgarian Empire was partly South Slavic. Balts lived near the Baltic Sea, and may have ruled the territory of the Aesti (Esthland or Estonia).
First Bulgarian Empire (681–1018)
The First Bulgarian Empire was established by Bulgars (a Turkic people) after defeating the Byzantines at the Battle of Ongal (680); earlier Bulgar nations included Old Great Bulgaria (632–668). After defeating the Byzantines at the Battle of Achelous (917) it achieved hegemony over much of the Balkans. It was eventually subjugated by the Byzantine Empire. Much later on in the High Middle Ages, the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185–1396) was established after uprisings, which eventually fell to the Ottomans.
Carpathian Basin
In the Carpathian Basin (or Pannonian Basin), the Avars (a North-east Caucasian people) would form the Avar Khaganate (567–after 822). After being conquered by East Francia and the First Bulgarian Empire, the Magyars (a Uralic people) would establish the Principality (later Kingdom) of Hungary (895–1301).
Iberian Peninsula
Included the Islamic Emirate (later Caliphate) of Córdoba in southern Iberia. In the north was the Kingdom of Asturias (718–924, named after the Celtic Astures), which took over Galicia. Later on the Kingdom of Navarre, at first called Pamplona, was traditionally founded in 824; and Asturias would become the Kingdom of León (910–1230).
Italian Peninsula
Francia dominated the northern peninsula, and had hegemony over the Papal States. The Republic of Venice (697–1797) was within the Byzantine sphere of influence. Benevento (571–1077) was ruled by the Lombards, with the Byzantine Empire in the south. Later on the Moors would conquer Sicily from the Byzantines, and the Normans would then conquer Sicily and southern Italy.
Byzantine Empire and to the east
The Byzantine Empire ruled the southern Balkans and Anatolia. East of the Byzantines was ruled by the Abbasid Caliphate. Khazars (a Turkic people) and Magyars ruled Europe north of the Black Sea.

Islam and the Caliphates[edit]

Early Muslim conquests (622–750):      Prophet Muhammad (622–632)      Rashidun Caliphate (632–661)      Umayyad Caliphate (661–750)
Map of the fragmented Abbasid empire in 892, with areas under direct control (dark green), and areas under autonomous rulers (light green)

Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion: the central message is that there is only one God (called Allah), and that Muhammad is his prophet, whose scriptures called the Quran are the word of God; later teachings, called the sunnah, are composed of hadiths (sayings). Followers are usually called Muslims.

Shia–Sunni divide: soon after the death of Muhammad, the Muslims were divided into Shia and Sunni branches. Shias (also called Shi'ites) believed that the early caliphs should only have been members of Muhammad's family; so they only recognise the imams as being legitimate. The Battle of Karbala (680), where the supporters and relatives of Husayn ibn Ali (Muhammad's grandson and Shia imam), were defeated by a larger force of the caliph Yazid I (of the Sunni Umayyad caliphate), solidified the Shia-Sunni split. The Shias were instrumental in the Abbasid Revolution (747–750), the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids. Today the majority of Muslims are Sunni, with Shia majorities only in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The Early Muslim Conquests can be divided into:

  1. Conquests of Muhammad (622–632): including Islamic expansion in Arabia. Muhammad lived c. 570 to 632.
  2. Rashidun Caliphate (632–661): including the conquests of the Levant, Egypt, and the neo-Persian Sasanian Empire.
  3. Umayyad Caliphate (661–750): including the conquest of Sindh, Maghreb, and Hispania and Septimania (al-Andalus).

The Byzantine Empire lost many territories to Islamic expansion. A caliphate is a state under the leadership of a caliph, an Islamic steward who claims to be a successor to Muhammad. Islamic rulers also include sultans (who rule over sultanates), and emirs (who rule over emirates).

After the Early Muslim Conquests, the two most significant caliphates were:

  1. Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258), and the Islamic Golden Age.
  2. Ottoman Caliphate (1517–1924), a later caliphate of the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), an empire of the Late Middle Ages and modern period.

Islamic Golden Age[edit]

Al-Khwarizmi, the father of algebra
The human eye according to Ibn al-Haytham

The Islamic Golden Age occurred during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258), a Sunni caliphate that succeeded the Umayyad Caliphate; for many years they ruled from the city of Baghdad. Early splinter states included:

  • Córdoba (756–1031): the Umayyads held on to al-Andalus (Iberia) as the Emirate of Córdoba, which became a caliphate in 939. It then split into smaller states called taifas, and was later ruled by the Almoravid dynasty and Almohad Caliphate. The Reconquista was the reconquest of Iberia by Christians.
  • Smaller dynasties, such as the Idrisids (788–974) who gained Morocco, and the Aghlabids (800–909) who gained Ifriqiya (north-central Africa).

During the Islamic Golden Age, science, economic development and cultural works flourished in the Middle East, with Baghdad as a central hub. The translation movement continued, which was the translation of texts into Arabic, especially from Persian and Greek. Great scholars of the Islamic Golden Age include:

  • Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian scholar who made great advances in algebra, the Arabic being "al-jabr". He also developed and popularized Hindu–Arabic numerals.
  • Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab scholar described as the "father of modern optics"; he was the first to describe sight as light reflecting from an object and then entering the eyes.
  • Jabir ibn Hayyan was known as the "father of chemistry", making advances in alchemy, cosmology, numerology, astrology, medicine, magic, mysticism and philosophy.
  • Ibn al-Nafis was an Arab physician who first to described the pulmonary circulation of the blood.
  • Avicenna (Ibn Sina) was a Persian polymath who wrote the hugely influential The Canon of Medicine and The Book of Healing.
  • Al-Zahrawi was an Arab physician, surgeon and chemist, and is considered as the "father of surgery". He described over 200 surgical instruments, and used catgut for internal stitching.
  • Al-Razi was a Persian polymath and physician, and an early proponent of experimental medicine.
  • Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet, who devised a very accurate solar calendar.
  • Ismail al-Jazari was an Arab polymath who wrote The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, describing many mechanical devices.
  • Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Al-Battani greatly advanced trigonometry.

By about 892 and the death of Al-Mu'tamid, the Abbasid's direct rule was reduced mostly to Mesopotamia and western Arabia, with other autonomous rulers adhering to nominal Abbasid suzerainty. Later on Abbasid political power would further diminish, especially with the rise of the Iranian Buyids and Seljuk Turks. But the Abbasids would be recognized as caliphs by most dynasties that followed, and there were also later political revivals.

Islam during the ninth and tenth centuries[edit]

Buyid dynasty within the Middle East, c. 970

Arab and Berber dynasties included the Abbasids, but the Hamdanid dynasty and Fatimid Caliphate would also gain prominence:

  • Hamdanid dynasty (890–1004) was a Shia Muslim Arab dynasty of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. It would fall to the Uqaylid dynasty (990–1096), a Shia Arab dynasty.
  • Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171) was an Arab and Berber Caliphate of the Isma'ili-Shia. Starting in North Africa and Sicily, it spread to Egypt, the Holy Land, and western Arabia. It was eventually reduced mostly to Egypt, and would later be taken over by the Ayyubid dynasty.

The "Shia Century" was the period of vitality by Shia Muslim dynasties starting in the tenth century, such as the Hamdanids, Uqaylids, Fatimids, and Buyids; although many Iranian dynasties were Sunni Islam. It ended with the "Sunni Revival", with the rise of Turkic dynasties of Sunni Islam.

The Iranian Intermezzo was an interlude of ethnic Iranian dynasties (mainly Persians and Kurds), between the dominance of the Arab and Berber dynasties in the Middle East, and the rise of Turkic dynasties:

  • Buyid dynasty (934–1062) was a Shia Iranian dynasty, which would rule lands in Mesopotamia and Persia during this time.
  • Other Iranian dynasties tended to be more Sunni Islam, and included the Samanids (819–999), Tahirids (821–873), Saffarids (861–1003), Sajids (889–929), Ziyarids (930–1090), and Sallarids (942–979).

Turkic dynasties, of Sunni Islam, ended the Iranian Intermezzo, such as the Ghaznavids, Seljuk Turks, and Khwarazmians.


Iberia during the High Middle Ages, c. 1210
Iberia during the Late Middle Ages, c. 1400
Deputation of Jews before Ferdinand and Isabella

The Umayyad conquest of Hispania (711–788) was the capture of Iberia by the Umayyad Caliphate from the Visigoths, who by 624 had gained control of all of Iberia. Hispania was the Roman name for Iberia, which is now Spain and Portugal. The Islamic dominions of Iberia were known as al-Andalus; they were ruled by Muslim Arabs and Berbers known as Moors. The Emirate of Córdoba (756–939) was a splinter state ruled by the Umayyads, after al-Andalus separated from the Abbasid Caliphate. Córdoba would later became a caliphate (939–1031), before splitting into many independent states, called taifas.

The Reconquista was the reconquest of Iberia by Christians, began after the Battle of Covadonga (either 718 or 722), where the Visigoth Pelagius of Asturias defeated the Moors. The Christian Kingdom of Asturias was founded after it. The Franks were successful in early battles against the Moors; at the Battle of Tours (732), also known as the Battle of Poitiers, the Frankish leader Charles Martel defeated the Umayyad Caliphate. After Barcelona was conquered by the Moors, the city was retaken by Franks, led by Louis the Pious, in 801. Almanzor, the Umayyad vizier between 978 and 1002, waged many campaigns against the northern Christian kingdoms.

Alfonso III of Asturias (866–910) would consolidate power and have numerous victories over Islamic and Christian opponents. It is assumed that the old Asturian kingdom was divided between the three sons of Alfonso III of Asturias, into the kingdoms of León, Asturias and Galicia. The Kingdom of León was so named as the capital was shifted from the city of Oviedo to the city of León in 910. The Kingdom of León would unite with the Kingdom of Asturias in 924; and the Kingdom of León would at times be in personal union with the Kingdom of Galicia, with this becoming permanent with the Crown of Castile of 1230 to 1715.

Iberia during the High Middle Ages[edit]

During the High Middle Ages, Al-Andalus (that is, Islamic Iberia) rulers would include the Almoravid dynasty (1040–1147), and Almohad Caliphate (1121–1269).

The Kingdom of Navarre (824–1841): was founded as the Kingdom of Pamplona, it was a northern Basque-based kingdom. Sancho III of Pamplona was King of Pamplona/Navarre (1004–1035); he gained suzerainty of many lands, including the counties of Aragon, Castile and Barcelona, as well as the Kingdom of León and the French Duchy of Gascony. His son Ferdinand I of León would rule both Castile and León; his other sons were García Sánchez III of Pamplona, and Gonzalo of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza, and Ramiro I of Aragon.

The Crown of Aragon (1162–1716): developed from the County of Aragon, which became the Kingdom of Aragon (1035–1707), first ruled by Ramiro I. The Crown of Aragon developed from the Union of the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona; later on they would gain Valencia.

The Kingdom of León would develop into the Kingdom of Portugal and Crown of Castile:

  • Kingdom of Portugal (1139–1910): the County of Portugal (1093–1139), in 1128 with the Battle of São Mamede, achieved independence from the Kingdom of León, and then became a kingdom.
  • Crown of Castile (1230–1715): in 931 the County of Castile separated from the Kingdom of León; it became the Kingdom of Castile in 1065. During the 11th and 12th centuries Castile and León would be in personal union at times. With the Crown of Castile, Castile and León and would be permanently united; it would also eventually unite the kingdoms of Galicia, Toledo, Seville, Córdoba, Jaén, Murcia, Granada, and most of Navarre; and the Principality of Asturias and Lordship of Biscay.

El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar) took Valencia from Muslims in 1094; it would later be retaken by Muslims in 1099 before being conquered by Aragon in 1238. After the Siege of Córdoba (1236) and Siege of Seville (1247-1248), the cities fell to Castile. By 1250 only the Emirate of Granada remained Islamic; the northern Christian states consisted of the crowns of Castile and Aragon, and the kingdoms of Portugal and Navarre.

Iberia during the Late Middle Ages[edit]

King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile were later called the Catholic Monarchs; they were both from the House of Trastámara, and their marriage in 1469 marked the de facto unification of Spain (as Aragon and Castile). In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella launched the Spanish Inquisition primarily to identify heretics, especially among the conversos, those who converted to Catholicism from Judaism and Islam; Tomás de Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor between 1483 and 1498.

Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista with a victorious war against the Emirate of Granada (1482–1492). After the Reconquista, the Alhambra Decree (1492) led to the expulsion of Jews from Spain, although Jews who converted to Christianity escaped expulsion. It was followed by forced conversions and expulsions of Muslims; even some Moriscos (i.e. Muslims who had converted to Christianity) experienced expulsion.

In 1512 most of Navarre was annexed to the Crown of Castile; northern Navarre then entered personal union with France when Henry III of Navarre became Henry IV of France in 1589. In 1519 the crowns of Aragon and Castile would join in personal union with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and from then onwards they remained in personal union, finally becoming a unified crown of Spain in 1715. But Portugal would remain independent of Spain, except for the period of the Iberian Union (1580-1640).

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