Life in the Middle Ages Global History and Geography I e. Napp

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Life in the Middle Ages

Global History and Geography I E. Napp

Name: ____________________ Date: ________
In 476 A.D., warriors attacked the city of Rome and ended more than 800 years of glory for the “eternal city.” Historians mark the fall of Rome as the end of ancient history. The next one thousand years were called the Middle Ages. The Latin term for Middle Ages is "medieval."
The beginning of the Middle Ages is often called the "Dark Ages" because the great civilizations of Greece and Rome had fallen. Life in Europe during the Middle Ages was very hard. Very few people could read or write and nobody expected conditions to improve. The only hope for most people during the Middle Ages was their strong belief in Christianity, and the hope that life in heaven would be better than life on earth.
The Dark Ages were anything but dark in other parts of the world. The Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa studied and improved on the works of the ancient Greeks while civilization flourished in sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, and the Americas.

  1. When did the Middle Ages begin and what is the Latin term for the Middle Ages?


  1. Why was the early Middle Ages called the “Dark Ages”? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. Why was the Roman Catholic Church so powerful in Western Europe during the Middle Ages? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. What was life like for the Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa during the European Middle Ages? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

During the Middle Ages, peasants could no longer count on the Roman army to protect them. German, Viking and Magyar tribes overran homes and farms throughout Europe. The peasants turned to the landowners, often called lords, to protect them. Many peasants remained free, but most became serfs. A serf was bound to the land. He could not leave without buying his freedom, an unlikely occurrence in the Middle Ages. Life for a serf was not much better than the life of a slave. The only difference was that a serf could not be sold to another manor.

Serfs would often have to work three or four days a week for the lord as rent. They would spend the rest of their week growing crops to feed their families. Other serfs worked as sharecroppers. A sharecropper would be required to turn over most of what he grew in order to be able to live on the land.


  1. What dangers did peasants face after the fall of Rome? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What did peasants do in order to find protection from “Barbarian” tribes? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. How is a serf different from a slave? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Primogeniture is a system of inheritance where all property is handed down to the first-born son. In the Middle Ages, the oldest son would become the Lord of the Manor upon the death of his father, much in the same way that the oldest son of a king would gain the crown. The younger sons would have to find other careers.

The military was an option for many sons. A knight began his training as a young boy and advanced to the rank of squire at about the age of fifteen. When the overlord considered the young squire worthy, he was proclaimed a knight, and was entitled to the honorific title "Sir." Knights were expected to be chivalrous. Chivalry was a set of rules for honorable behavior followed by the knights. The term chivalry now refers to aristocratic display and public ceremony rather than good manners.


  1. How did the practice of primogeniture benefit the oldest son? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. Why did younger sons become knights? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. What was chivalry? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

By the later Middle Ages, the gods of the Romans, Greeks, and Celts had long since been forgotten, and Christianity became the universal faith of almost all of the people of Europe. People did not think of Europe as a distinct place until the Middle Ages had passed. Instead they spoke of “Christendom,” or the community of Christians. Christianity was the most important influence of the Middle Ages.

Religious life attracted many people during the Middle Ages. The Church was often the only way to get an education. It also allowed poor people to escape a dreary life and possibly rise to power. Religious workers are called clergy. In the Middle Ages, the Pope ruled the Christian Church. Other clergy included bishops, priests, nuns, and monks.

Monks were men who lived in monasteries, or small communities of religious workers. Monks devoted their lives to prayer, and their behavior influenced the entire church. Monasteries produced many well-educated men prepared to serve as administrators for uneducated kings and lords. Monks were responsible for keeping the Greek and Latin “classical” cultures alive. Monks copied books by hand in an era before the printing press. Though few in number, monks played a significant role in the Middle Ages.


  1. What was “Christendom”? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. Why were many people attracted to the religious life? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why were monks important? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

For safety and for defense, people in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a central lord or master. Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle, the church, the village, and the surrounding farm land. These manors were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms.

In this "feudal" system, the king awarded land grants or "fiefs" to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies. At the lowest echelon of society were the peasants, also called "serfs" or "villeins." In exchange for living and working on his land, known as the "demesne," the lord offered his peasants protection.


  1. Why did people live on manors during the Middle Ages? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What did lords offer in exchange for land? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Define feudalism. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. What were serfs offer in exchange for protection? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Peasants lived in small towns or nearby farms on a lord's manor. The average peasant lived in a two room cottage that was constructed of mud plastered branches and straw or of stone and wood with a roof of thatch. The rooms had dirt floors and a few furnishings such as stools, a table, and maybe a chest to hold clothes in the common room. In the other room, sacks of straw served as beds for the entire family. A wealthy peasant might own a bed stand and a few iron pots. In the winter, the common room was shared with the livestock, who helped provide warmth. An open kitchen hearth was also located in the common room. Windows were small slits and didn't have glass in them.

Peasants had a fairly unchanging diet of baked bread, porridge, stew, seasonal vegetables, and some meat. If a peasant lived near a stream or ocean, he may have caught fish to supplement his diet. Otherwise, he ate what he could grow. Peasants mainly grew crops of corn, beans, and wheat. Each family also had a vegetable garden near their home that provided lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans, radishes, carrots, and other vegetables. Some peasants may have had fruit trees as well. Peasants also harvested acorns and other nuts and berries from the nearby forest. Peasant women made butter and cheese from the milk of cows as well. In the fall, they slaughtered most of the animals for their meat. If it was too rainy or too dry for a good crop to grow, peasant families had a very good chance of starving to death.

Birth and infancy were the most dangerous stages of life for people in the Middle Ages. Records from the time period suggest that approximately 20% of women died during childbirth and 5% of infants died during delivery with another 10-12% dying in their first month. Healthy children were regarded as a gift from God. Most families wanted sons, who would one day carry on the family name, as opposed to daughters, who would require a large dowry when they married. However, many parents probably rejoiced at the birth of a daughter as well, especially if they had been childless for many years or their infants had died.


  1. Describe a peasant’s home in the Middle Ages? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. Why was a peasant’s diet simple and sparse? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why did families want sons? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Imagine that you are a peasant. Write a diary entry about your life. Make sure to include the following terms: Manor, Lords, Serfs, and Christendom.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“All things were under its domain...its power was such that no one could hope to escape its scrutiny.”
Which European institution during the Middle Ages is best described by this statement?

  1. the Guild

  2. Knighthood

  3. the Church

  4. the nation-state

The Middle Ages in Western Europe was characterized by

  1. the manor system and the importance of land ownership

  2. absolute monarchies and strong central governments

  3. decreased emphasis on religion in daily life

  4. extensive trade with Asia and the Middle East

Feudal societies are generally characterized by

  1. an emphasis on social order

  2. a representative government

  3. many economic opportunities

  4. the protection of political rights

The art, music, and philosophy of the medieval period in Europe generally dealt with

  1. human scientific achievements

  2. religious themes

  3. materialism

  4. classic Greek and Roman subjects

In Europe during the Middle Ages, the force that provided unification and stability was the

  1. central government in Rome

  2. military alliance between France and Germany

  3. federation of the craft guilds

  4. Roman Catholic Church

Which is a characteristic of a feudal society?

  1. rapid social change

  2. high literacy rate

  3. industrial-based economy

  4. rigid class structure

In European feudal society, an individual’s social status was generally determined by

  1. birth

  2. education and training

  3. individual abilities

  4. marriage

Which economic system existed in Europe during the early Middle Ages?

  1. free market

  2. socialism

  3. manorialism

  4. command

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