The Early Middle Ages, 500-1000
The first dominant kingdom to emerge from the decentralization of the early Middle Ages was that of the Germanic tribe of the Franks. From 714 to 814, the Carolingian House of the Franks brought stability and progress to northern Europe. A large portion of the West enjoyed military and political security as well as religious unity.
This accomplishment was not to last, however. The Frankish empire did not endure, partly because it lacked the strong economic bases that has supported the Romans. By the ninth century, Muslim conquests and commercial activity successfully competed with the Franks; inland trade declined sharply and urban life almost disappeared in the north. In addition, the empire had no strong administrative machinery to compensate for the weak rulers who followed the dominating leadership of the emperor Charlemagne; the empire disintegrated amid civil wars and invasions.
The impressive achievements of the Carolingians towards building a unifying governmental system were not able to counteract the decentralization of political, military, and economic activity in most of western Europe. A system of government sometimes referred to as feudalism attempted to provide stability and to serve as an effective political substitute for a powerful, effective central government. Economic life centered on a concern for subsistence and security, which could only be provided by the acceptance of local and rural customs and practices designed to ensure the necessities of life through resisting change and fostering self-sufficiency. The church continued its efforts to convert and standardize the belief of its members, and in so doing attempted to provide spiritual security in a troubled and insecure world.
A New Empire In The West
In the merging of Roman and Germanic cultures and institutions, the Franks played an especially significant role. The kingdom of the Franks was...