European Political Map In The Early Middle Ages

early middle ages, middle ages, medieval history, castles, strongholds
photo by Tony Hisgett

By Isaac Vusterly

European political map in the Early Middle Ages (476-ca.1000) saw dramatic changes. The first phase of the Migration Period (ca. 300-500) and collapse of the Western Roman Empire was followed by the emergence of Germanic kingdoms in Central, Western and South Europe most of which were short-lived.

The realm of the Franks which later came to be known as the Carolingian Empire emerged as the strongest of all early medieval Germanic kingdoms and greatly expanded its power and territory on the expense of other early medieval political units. It reached its height during the reign of Charlemagne (481-511) when it incorporated much of Central and Western Europe.

The power of the Carolingian Empire started to decline after Charlemagne’s death and the sons of Louis the Pious divided the Charlemagne’s empire into three kingdoms in 843. Disintegration of the Carolingian Empire continued and by the end of the Early Middle Ages, two European powers emerged on the ruins of the former Charlemagne’s empire – Kingdom of France and Holy Roman Empire.

Germanic peoples occupied a large part of Great Britain after the withdrawal of Roman legions in the 5th century. Settlement of the barbarian peoples in England was followed by the emergence of seven Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (also known as the Heptarchy) by the end of the 6th century. At the end of the 8th century Great Britain saw the Danish invasions, while neither of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms was able to repulse the invaders.

The migration of Germanic peoples was followed by the second phase of the Migration Period (ca. 500-700) which was characterized by settlement of the Slavic peoples in the Eastern and Central Europe, and the Balkans. Like the majority of early medieval Germanic kingdoms, most Slavic states ceased to exists as independent political units by the end of the Early Middle Ages.

The Iberian Peninsula was invaded and captured by the Muslims in the early 8th century. After they defeated the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, the Umayyad forces crossed the Pyrenees but the Muslim conquests in Western Europe ended after their defeat in the Battle of Tours in 732.

The Byzantine Empire managed to survive the barbarian invasions and even recaptured some of the territory of the former Western Roman Empire. Many territorial gains were lost in the later period due to the war with the Sassanid Empire which also enabled the Slavic peoples to capture the entire Balkan Peninsula.

Political changes in the Early Middle Ages were primarily marked by rise of numerous barbarian kingdoms. Most of early medieval kingdoms managed to survive for a short period only resulting in general political instability which was worsened by the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, and the Viking and Hungarian invasions at the end of the Early Middle Ages. On the other hand, the early medieval Europe saw the emergence of the Carolingian Empire which became the precursor of the future European powers – Holy Roman Empire and Kingdom of France.

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