The 19 Most Important Characteristics of the Middle Ages

When you think of Characteristics of the Middle Ages , To some we come to mind a dark stage, where humanity had not advanced much. However, others associate it with one of the greatest stages of artistic and cultural splendor.

The Middle Ages is the historical period between the Old Age and the Modern Age. This stage began in 476, just after the disintegration of the Roman Empire of the West in the fifth century after Christ, which ended the Ancient Age and culminated before the discovery of America in 1492, when Began the Modern Age.

The 19 Most Important Characteristics of the Middle Ages

In any case it is noteworthy to note that for some the beginning of this modern era was a little earlier, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

19 Characteristics of the Middle Ages

1- It had two stages, the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages

High Middle Ages (approximately from the 5th to the 11th century): the feudal model prevailed and there was a privileged class constituted by the king, the nobles and the clergy; They held the power. The other non-privileged class consisted of vassals and peasants. People lived mostly in the countryside

Low Middle Ages (from the twelfth to the fifteenth century): the power of the king increased and Christianity expanded thanks to the Crusades. Many changes occurred at the political, economic and cultural level, there was an increase in trade between the West and the East.

It began the urbanization of several territories and people began to focus on the cities.

2. System of government and economic production was feudalism

During the Middle Ages, the model of slave production was displaced by the model of feudal production, a new system emerged based on vassalage and servility, there was the birth of feudalism and this system ranged from the 9th to the 15th century .

By means of this system, a bilateral obligation of obedience and service is created, on the one hand there is a"vassal", a free man who undertakes and obliges to fulfill a service for a so-called"lord", who is no more than a man Free, but more powerful.

The origin of the word feudalism comes from the action in which the king granted great extensions of land, denominated"fiefs", to the nobles and warriors.

The nobles and warriors (gentlemen) put to work in these lands to the peasants (vassals) and they appointed managers to make them produce and they had to fulfill with obedience.

Most of the collected proceeds were handed over to the feudal lord, and the workers or peasants offered them the possibility of living in those lands under their protection in the event of an enemy invasion.

The fief was not simply a domain of land under certain conditions, there were different types of fiefdom depending on the circumstances, among some of them we can find:

  • Alodial: not redeemable.
  • Of camera: represented the Hacienda of the lord, property or señorío, this type of fief was entirely related to the money.
  • Franco: granted without gifts or personnel.
  • Ecclesiastical: delivered by the church to any of the members of the church.
  • Improper: usually, the fiefs had to comply with a series of rules and characteristics, but in this case, it is improper because it lacked some characteristics to fulfill.
  • Laical: delivered by secular princes or lords, differs from the ecclesiastic in that they are not part of the goods of the church but the priest or bishop himself.
  • Ligio: the feudatario was to end up as a subordinate of his master.
  • Own: fully complied with all the rigorous standards.
  • Straight: possessed personal service or gift for who delivered the fief.
  • Reversible: could be returned if necessary.
  • Of soldada: it consisted in offering a rent of urbanization, by the offices or the urban rates.

3- Predominance of agriculture in the economy

Agriculture and animal husbandry was one of the main sources of wealth in the Middle Ages, it was the base of the economy and the main supplier of wealth.

Each family lived in small villages or communities where villagers worked the land for their own food and to pay tribute to the Lord Feudal. Owning land was what made men rich.

Before the Middle Ages, commerce had been very important, especially during the Roman Empire, but this was declining by the arrival of the Germanic peoples and then with the appearance of the Arab Empire (produced a cessation in trade between the two banks Of the Mediterranean).

4- Wars and continuous invasions

Because land ownership was a key and paramount factor for economic growth, wars and invasions became a common problem in society at that time. Everyone wanted to conquer more land to gain more power.

Therefore, they lived long periods of war because the feudal lords usually disputed the territorial dominions.

5 - During this time there was a great climatic improvement

In the Middle Ages, there was an excellent climatic improvement between the XI and XIII centuries, with sufficient rainfall and mild temperatures. This improved the environment and facilitated the development of population activities in all aspects.

6- Demographic increase

The tools for accurately calculating the population increase at that time are scarce, but according to the information gathered by historians, the population increased considerably in the 11th and 12th centuries from an average of 40 million people to 75 million people by the year 1250.

This change and demographic increase offered more labor and demanded greater economic development.

7- Technological advances

Extensive technological advances were presented, which were fundamental to make possible the agrarian expansion and to improve the conditions of life in general terms.

The main technological advances were: replacement of wood plow, use of plowshares and moldboard, among many others.

8- There was a visible social inequality

Society was clearly pyramidly divided into social classes, with a hierarchical social structure.

It was divided specifically into:

  • The church: God's representative on earth, was at the top of medieval society. The feudal lords were the only ones who questioned its power.
  • The nobility: composed of the feudal lords, they had their own military strength and were the owners of the land.
  • The king: he was also a feudal lord, the most powerful, all the others had to obey his will.
  • The peasantry: of this group depended the agricultural production, was the most exploited sector. Free peasants worked on leases of land parcels and for that reason had to pay taxes. On the other hand, the serfs were part of the feudal property.

9- Society characterized by theocentrism

The church intervened in all aspects of the life of the settlers, both public and private.

It was the figure charged with imposing the divine order and the fear of God above all things.

For the most part, culture was influenced by the Catholic Church, which imposed its doctrine categorically and according to the Bible. The center of everything was in God and the Bible, a situation that prevented the possibility of advancing in scientific and social matters.

Even reaching the extremes, the Holy Inquisition burned alive those who disobeyed the Church's commands.

10- Predominated the fragmentation of power

Although during this era the political power resided in the king, this one did not have so much power. In fact, the class of the nobles was almost as powerful as the monarchs themselves, although there were kingdoms and principalities, the defense rested on the nobles and warriors. Each of them ruled over their lands or fiefs. In addition, the clergy were extremely powerful.

11- Cultural activity during this time was very limited

During these centuries, only the conservation and systematization of what had already been created took place, the common thing was to copy and comment on the works previously created, without generating new ones.

12- Medieval literature was a reflection of their society and mentality

They attached great importance to oral transmission, much of it being spread through recitation, especially since most of the population was illiterate.

The authorship of the works is mostly anonymous, arises from the collectivity and is being modified by those who transmit it.

As a consequence of religious influence, literature was used to influence listeners in a didactic or moralizing way. It served as propaganda for the values ​​of a king or people. The verse was the usual way of writing, this facilitated recitation.

13- Construction of castles and fortifications

During the years 1000 and 1500 a large number of castles were built in order to defend the feudal lords and control their possessions. These formed the basis of military operations and allowed them to react better to threats.

14- Catholic Division

The Roman Catholic Church faced a long crisis and in 1378, after the death of Pope Gregory XI, the Catholic Church faced a division with two papal headquarters.

The successor chosen by the Roman cardinals was the Italian Urban VI, but some dissident cardinals differed from this decision and proclaimed Clement VII. Therefore, there were two papal sites at the same time, one in Rome and one in Avignon.

15- At first, there was no long-distance trade

During this time the barter reigned because it could be done between nearby villages. Long-distance trading was not so popular because they feared robberies and assaults.

16- Over time, a new character arises, the merchant

Trade was strengthened in the Middle Ages, which led to the formation of a new class of professional traders or merchants. Through this new trade, agrarian activity became part of a secondary role.

These merchants, first appeared in Europe and the majority were of rural origin. They left the countryside for the increase of the population and lack of lands to change to an errant and adventurous way of life.

At first they traveled only short distances to sell their products (beer, salt, honey, wool, cereals) for fear of the bandits they could find on the way, who frequently assaulted them.

They were called"dusty feet"and began to expand their horizons using pack animals and four-wheeled carts pulled by horses or oxen, in other cases also used waterways and sea

They expanded the products for sale, they were no longer just staples but they began to trade luxury products like perfumes, spices, dyes, etc.

From the fourteenth century, these merchants became sedentary in view of the increasing volume of their merchandise, which made it difficult for them to move from fair to fair.

17- Creation of trade fairs

Taking into account that commercial activity expanded considerably in the course of the thirteenth century, within this environment began to present the fairs, which were large markets located in areas of contact between Mediterranean and Nordic trade, to these fairs came merchants Of many places.

They were not permanent markets, they were realized at certain periods of the year and lasted several days.

18- The mills were invented and this increased the production

The creation of this system allowed the release of labor and facilitated the possibility of the population to engage in other activities.

19- The feudal system was dissolved in the fourteenth century

After a serious stage of wars, famines and rebellion on the part of the peasants, the feudal system was dissolved.


  1. Characteristics of the Middle Ages. (2014). Extracted from
  2. Encyclopedia of Characteristics. (2016). 10 Characteristics of the Middle Ages. Extracted from
  3. About History. Middle age. Extracted from
  4. About History. Feudalism in the Middle Ages. Extracted from
  5. Socialhizo. Economy of the Middle Ages.Extraido of

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