7.1 The Early Middle Ages

In European history, the thousand-year span between the fall of the Roman empire and the Renaissance beginnings of modern history is known as the Middle Ages. Perhaps best remembered today for knights on horseback and towering Gothic cathedrals, this medieval period began with the collapse of the western Roman empire.

Illustration of armed medieval soldier atop a horse, reaching arm to the sky and looking upward in battle.

King Clovis of the Franks rallies his warriors during one of many battles he fought to build his kingdom. His conversion to Christianity set an example for other Germanic rulers.


  • Summarize ways in which the Byzantine empire flourished after the decline of Rome.
  • Explain the impact of the fall of Rome on Western Europe.
  • Describe how Germanic tribes carved Europe into small kingdoms.
  • Explain how Charlemagne briefly reunited much of Western Europe and what happened to his empire after his death.

Key Terms

  • Constantinople
  • Justinian
  • Justinian's Code
  • autocrat
  • Theodora
  • Clovis
  • medieval
  • Franks
  • Charles Martel
  • battle of Tours
  • Charlemagne
  • Magyars
  • Vikings

The Byzantine Empire Thrives

You have read that as German invaders pounded the Roman empire in the west, the Roman emperor Constantine and his successors shifted their base to the eastern Mediterranean. Constantine rebuilt the Greek city of Byzantium and then renamed it after himself—Constantinople. By 330, he made Constantinople the new capital of the empire. From this “New Rome,” roads fanned out to the Balkans, to the Middle East, and to North Africa. In time, the eastern Roman empire became known as the Byzantine empire.

Constantinople Grows

The vital center of the empire was Constantinople. The city was located on the shores of the Bosporus, a strait that links the Mediterranean and Black seas. Constantinople had an excellent harbor and was guarded on three sides by water. Emperors after Constantine built an elaborate system of land and sea walls to bolster its defenses.

Equally important, Constantinople commanded key trade routes linking Europe and Asia. For centuries, the city's favorable location made it Europe's busiest marketplace.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments