The Periodization of the History of Western Europe

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Historians generally define the periodization of the history of Western Europe during the Middle Ages into three eras: the Early Middle Ages (5th-11th Centuries AD); the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 AD); and the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500). Construction of the great Gothic cathedrals began during the High Middle Ages, which was an era that experienced a "dramatic re-emergence of urban life and an increasing sophistication in secular culture" (Singman xi). Major events in the High Middle Ages include the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066, the conflict between the popes and emperors for political control of Europe, and the Crusades. Indeed, the very idea of Europe during the Middle Ages was based on conflict between Christendom and Islam, although no unity existed between the Latin Christians of the West and Greek Orthodox Christians in the East (Delanty 17). In the Late Middle Ages, the Little Ice Age, the great famine and Black Death wiped out 40-50% of the population, and perhaps more in some areas. In addition, the invention of gunpowder and firearms reduced the influence of the knights and the code of chivalry, while social, religious and political crises like the peasant revolts, the Great Schism and Babylonian Captivity challenged the power of the nobility and Catholic Church. Historians have studied the Late Middle Ages far more than the earlier periods, in part because more sources are available, although no overall paradigm exists that "integrates the
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