The postclassical period in the West is referred to as the Middle Ages. After recovering from the fall of Rome's ancient empire, civilization gradually spread beyond the Mediterranean to the rest of western Europe. Most of the West was converted to Christianity. During the Middle Ages, Europe began to establish stronger ties with other Eurasian civilizations and with Africa. As a result of these connections, Europe learned new technologies. The Flavor of the Middle Ages: Inferiority and Vitality
Europe lagged behind other civilizations in terms of its economy, technological development, and learning during much of the Middle Ages. The inferiority of European civilization helps to explain hostility toward the more powerful world of Islam. The Crusades were an outgrowth of Western anxiety about the growth of Islam. Western political structures were somewhat similar to other developing civilization centers in Africa and Japan. Despite its backwardness in comparison to other core civilizations, the West advanced significantly during the Middle Ages. Stages of Postclassical Development
The political structure of the West remained chaotic between the fifth and tenth centuries. The center of the postclassical West moved out of the Mediterranean to the northern plains that stretched from the Low Countries across France and into western Germany. The West remained vulnerable to continued invasions during this period. Given the political instability, cultural achievements in the first five centuries of the Middle Ages were limited. The Manorial System: Obligations and Allegiances
Although there were kingdoms established, the most effective political organization was local. Manorialism, a system designed to establish communal agricultural activity, featured serfs, who farmed land belonging to lords in return for which the militarized aristocracy provided protection. Technology was limited and production was dependent on the number of man hours applied to the tasks of agricultural labor. In addition to their labor, serfs were required to pay a portion of their produce to their lords. Serfs retained ownership of their houses and could pass property on from one generation to another. The Church: Political and Spiritual Power
Perhaps the most effective supranational government during the five centuries after the fall of the western empire was the Catholic Church. Popes attempted to appoint bishops, regulated doctrine, sent missionaries, and sought to impose a centralized government based on the old Roman Empire. Germanic kings, such as Clovis of the Franks, converted to Christianity as a means of buttressing their own authority. Western monasticism provided another source of Church authority, helped preserve some ancient texts, and contributed to the spiritual focus of the early Middle Ages. Charlemagne and His Successors
In the eighth century, the Carolingian family took over the Frankish monarchy. The most important of the Carolingian rulers was Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. Charles was able to unify much of western Europe under his control and to renew the title of emperor by 800. After his death, however, the Carolingian empire rapidly splintered into numerous successor kingdoms. After the decline of the Carolingian empire, the political history of western Europe consisted of the development of regional monarchies, although the title of emperor was retained. In the period immediately after the collapse of the Carolingian empire, rulers in Germany were most powerful. They styled themselves "holy Roman emperors." In fact, the kingdom of the Germans was among the least centralized governments of the early Middle Ages. New Economic and Urban Vigor
In the ninth and tenth centuries, a series of technological innovations began to increase agricultural productivity in western Europe and enhance economic prosperity. External invasions began to diminish,...