Southern’s Middle Ages

Category: Marriage, Middle Ages
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2020
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Southern’s Middle Ages In the novel, “The Making of the Middle Ages,” author, R. W. Southern, calls attention to the events during the years of 972 and 1204, and how they influenced the intellectual, religious and cultural traditions of our modern era. This period, lasting well over 200 years, is usually associated with waring knights and starving peasants rather than highly developed intellect and great innovation.

However, Southern explains that there were considerable academic and sociological advancements made during this period, that go relatively unnoticed. He refers to these events as a “secret revolution” and explains that, “The significant events are often the obscure ones, and the significant utterances are often those of men withdrawn from the world and speaking to a very few. ” (Pg. 13)  He reiterates this theme throughout the book, focusing primarily on Christianity, society, and thought.

There can be no dispute that the prominence of Christianity, during the Middle Ages, has done more to shape the world, as it is today, than possibly any other religion. This is primarily because Christianity offered a unifying, stabilizing force throughout Europe, where a majority of areas had an “incoherent jumble of laws and customs, difficult to adjust to each other and hard even to understand. The survivals of barbaric codes of law jostled with varying mixtures of Roman law, local custom, and violence”. pg 15) Christendom provided Europe with a unified identity in language, government, and education. It is no great mystery that language plays an important role in the creation of personal relationships between individuals. So when applied on an international stage, language can mean the difference between war and peace. The church’s use of Latin acted as a merging factor in areas where people spoke in diverse and various dialects. As stated by Southern “This broad similarity of language from the lowlands of Scotland to Sicily was a real bond between men. (pg 17) The unifying quality of Latin not only bound men together linguistically, but also allowed those from different countries to move about freely with little or no language barrier. “The likenesses of language over this broad area were sufficiently pronounced to facilitate ease of movement both of men and of ideas: it took relatively few alterations to make a Provencal song intelligible in England, and a member of the English baronage could, without uch difficulty, make himself at home in Italy” (pg 20). As a side effect of the church being the one constant variable of the European continent, individual governments became subjugated to the power of the church. Christendom had developed such a loyal following that the peoples of the European nations, including those in power, were dependent on the church for moral and political authority. In this way, Christianity helped to unify countries that would otherwise be at odds with each other.

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Through the unification of these nations, the church grew to be the most commanding institution of Europe, enforcing that “all paid a form of tribute known as Peter’s Pence, which was the foundation of more or less determined claims to Papal overlordship; and when Bohemia finally became a kingdom, its new status was guaranteed by a Papal confirmation” (pg 27) The influence of the church was so great that all countries were reliant upon it, and were only recognized as sovereign nations, when determined as so, with the expressed confirmation of the Pope.

Above all though, the most distinguishing impact that Christianity had, was a result of the crusades. Southern states that, “Even the Crusades only touched the fringe of this hostile world. But they had one great effect: they opened men’s minds to the size of the uncovered world. ” (70) These wars brought people to the edges of their culture and introduced to them to thier neighbors of the Muslim world where there was a literal collide and infusion of new thought, which Southern calls “The great period of acquisition”. pg 68) At this time, the advancement in the Muslim’s refined scientific knowledge and mathematic skills, which “had been intensively cultivated by Moslem Scholars” (65) were transferring and even being sought after by those in academia. The Jewish culture was instrumental as well in that they were effective in the translation of the two different languages. Maribel Dietz, author of “Wandering Monks,Virgins and Pilgrims” writes on the effects the journeys of the pilgrims had on not only the institutional church, but on society and thought.

As stated in her novel “In an environment of religious, political, and social change, movement itself was now open to a multiplicity of meanings, interpretations, and purposes. ”(pg 42) The crusades resulted in a surge of material and intellectual wealth coming back to Europe from the front lines. Southern discusses the transfer of Muslim knowledge during these wars, Throughout his novel Southern looks at society and the individual. He writes about the importance certain groups and individuals within a particular community as well as the growth of society global scale.

One particular group he writes about is women. Women, during this time period, were often given very little recognition. However, the power they wielded during the middle ages was far greater than many have been led to believe. Henry Chaucer often wrote on the subject of women. In his famous poem “The Canterbury Tales” he gives an in depth look at the power that women held. In one particular section of the poem the wife of bath describes a great deal of her life, omitting very little detail.

She describes herself as being a strong woman who makes a habit of manipulating her husbands. “I will have a husband who will be both my debtor and servant, and have his tribulation upon his flesh, while I am his wife. As long as I live I, and not he, have the power over his body. ” Regardless of the fact that history shows men as having all the power, in reality women held a great deal of power often through the manipulation of men. While Southern does not address the manipulation of men by women as Chaucer does, he does address the binding nature of marriage.

He states in one passage “the way for this diffusion of rules of conduct and guides to statesmanship was prepared by something less tangible than ideals - it was prepared by the bond of marriage. ” During the time in which Southern is writing about, marriage was more that just an expression of love by two individuals. It was an event that could mean the literal difference between life and death. The marriage of a couple was a binding of two families and often two nations if the individuals being married were nobles. In particular he focuses on the influence women have in marriage.

Women during this time were married to men for many reasons, each having some sociopolitical ramification. Often times they would leave their home country as a result of a marriage which meant that they were immersed in a new culture, absorbing new ideas as well as spreading ideas from their own homeland. Southern makes a point of this by stating “Women were less rooted in the soil than men; they brought new influences from distant parts and established bonds between men of little or no identity of purpose or of interest. ” This bonding of men from different cultures through women could and did have vast ramifications on society as a whole.

One such example is that of Agnes of Aquitaine who was married the King of Germany, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry the 3rd. 13 years after their marriage in 1056 Agnes was left widowed and became regent for her infant son. Her reign lasted for 6 years at the end of which she was run out by an uprising. After her reign ended she became well known for her religious devotion and was the chief ambassador between the Papal court and her son, Holy Roman Emperor, Henry the 4th. She was well known and had considerable influence in the political world. The case Agnes is just one of many that show the power women held during the this time period.

Southern moves from the world of women and marriage into the world of men and the nuances of class that men could hold. A common term used when talking about class in the middle ages is the term serf. A serf was a person who was essentially a volintary slave who worked for a lord or religious institution, often working the land and paying a portion of their harvest to their master. It was also possible to be born into serfdom if one was born to parents who were serfs or were promised by their parents to a lord or institution. Education during the middle ages is often seen as something that was essentially non-existant.

While it is true that it was more difficult to learn, as a result of geographic restrictions, the enthusiatic pursuit of knowledge never ceased or deminished during this time period. St. Augustine wrote the De Doctrina Christiana, which Southern refers to as “the most comprehensive syllabus of Christian Studies. ”(pg 170) Augustine’s book outlines the way that science is too be used to better understand the bible. It is at this time during the middle ages when science and religion not only go hand in hand, but are practically indistinguishable from each other.

And it is not until Boethius attempts to revive the ideas and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome that this system began to change. Boethius’s dream to translate Greek science and philosophy into Latin, was the precurser to the renaissance and inspired others such as Gerbert, who revived the art of rhetoric. It is at this point that one can begin to see the shift from Augustine’s combination of science and religion into a new era when the two begin to split. Southern calls it“the divorce between Divine and Secular learning” (pg 173) .

What started out as a way of understanding religion was becoming a secular endevoure. Southern, R. W. The Making of The Middle Ages. Fredericksburg, Virgina: BookCrafters, Inc. , 1953. (accessed November 4, 2012). toatinthe Ancien Early in the period covered by this novel scientific knowledge was something that went hand in hand with the search for biblical truth. St. Augustine was wrote on this subject stating that clergy should use science to better interpret the meaning of the bible, and theological studies where indistinguishable with scientific.

This changed later on when (insert name here) began to draw a p The majority of the european continent consisted of a rural and uneducated society, with diverse political and religious practices, besieged by violent invaders. Conclusion “Countries which , in 972, appeared so menacing had become by the end of our period an integral part, and to all appearances a permanent part, of Western Christendom” (pg 27) education the popes kings and emperors united in defensive of the perceived threat of islam and roaming tribes

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Southern’s Middle Ages. (2017, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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