The other night, my husband and I were talking about basic medieval history that every medieval re-enactor should know. I thought that would make a good class to teach at one of our re-enactments, but my husband said it’d be tricky to present the information and not make it like a boring history class full of names and dates and stuff no one cares about.
Boring history class?
I understand these words individually, but I do not understand them when they’re placed in that particular order.
I guess I was lucky that I had a string of teachers–Ms. Charlotte Church in elementary school, Mr. Randy Littlefield in high school, and Professor Joe Leedom in college–who always made history interesting. Mr. Littlefield, especially, always threw out interesting tidbits of history. He was always good for gore, horror, and scandal (all the things that titillate teenagers).
So, how to follow in their illustrious footsteps and give people an overview of history that’s interesting enough to remember? I think it might work if I keep it short (one page per important bit) and add stick figure dramatization
So, although the idea is still a work-in-progress, here’s the start. Tell me if it’s sounding stuffy and boring.
All Roads Lead to Rome
In 406, Vandals crossed the Rhine—the Rio Grande of its day, separating the Roman Empire from the Germanic barbarians. In 410, Rome itself was sacked.
In 476, the last emperor of Rome was deposed, technically ending the Roman Empire in the West.
Name that Emperor: Ironically, the last emperor of Rome was Romulus. Romulus and Remus were the twin brothers who supposedly founded Rome.
It’s All Downhill from Here
It used to be that historians called the entire period between Rome and the Renaissance “the Dark Ages,” but that’s not terribly PC anymore (namely because things weren’t so bad as the name implied). Some people (including me) limit “the Dark Ages” to the very, very early medieval period, which was pretty chaotic post-Roman collapse.
Things that are Important to Know: While 476 is a nice, tidy date to end the Roman Empire, it was seriously in decline before that point, and life continued on more or less normally afterwards. This was not a giant upheaval or revolution, á la the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917. This was a steady, fairly quiet decline.
Long before Romulus was deposed, wealthy Romans began retreating to their estates in the country where they ruled more or less independently of the government. This would later evolve into the medieval feudal estate.
The Holy Roman Empire continued to exist in name throughout the middle ages, albeit under the leadership of Germanic peoples. It quickly ceased to have any real resemblance to the Ancient Roman Empire.
In 395, the Roman Empire was permanently divided into East and West. After the fall of Rome in the West, the Eastern Roman Empire became known as “Byzantium.” In dress and government and culture, it continued to resemble Ancient Rome for quite some time.
Useless Roman Trivia: “Barbarian” is a Greek word that basically means anyone who is not Greek. Romans used it to indicate anyone who wasn’t Roman.
The Rubicon was a small river that once marked the northernmost boundary of Italy. No Roman army was allowed to cross this border. Thus, when Caesar crossed it with his legions in 49 AD, it was an act of revolution. The idiom, “crossing the Rubicon” means a point of no return.
Rome is situated on 7 hills. No one outside of Italians and Classics majors bothers to learn the names of them, but you should know there were 7. Everyone who is anyone knows there were 7.