Changes in Europe During the IX and X Centuries

Ninth- and Tenth-Century Invasions

Europe is virtually the cradle of Western Civilization. The “old continent” has been subject of lots of drastic changes due to some of the terrible and good circumstances it had to undergo. The 9th and 10th Century invasions were part of the terrible ones and they yielded significant political and social changes for the West.

There were three major groups that took care of the invasions. the Norsemen (Vikings), Magyars (some people from Asia), and the well known Muslims. These three groups combined utterly savaged Western and Eastern Europe. The West was more damaged by the Vinkings and the Magyars, leaving the Carolingians with a handful of worries. For example, the city of Tours in France was pillaged in 853, 856, 862, 872, 886, 903, and 919. Also, in over 40 years, the city of Paris was beseiged fout times, pillaged three times, and burned twice. This obviuosly left the western part of what used to be Charlemagnes Empire totally devastated.

The kings of Europe were incapable of protecting their countries. Even with the somewhat good idea of king Charles the Simple in the early 900s of dealing with the Norsemen by “lending” them a great chunk of land (known as Normandy) to settle, the raids prevailed. Even with the reestablishment of the Holy Roman Empire, the insecurity continued. Something had to be done, and as always, a central power proved to be a non-viable solution.

Origins of Feudalism and Manorialism

During the year of 955, in what is now present day Germany, the first Ottonian king, Otto I, defeated the Magyars. In this victory, his troops proclaimed him emperor, but it was not until 962, after defending the Pope from harassment, that king Otto was crowned emperor by pope John XII and the Holy Roman Empire was reestablished for the first time after Charlemagne’s death in the early 9th Century.

However, the Franks were under much pressure by the invasions that when the last of the Carolingian dynasty die by the endings of the tenth century, they chose a successor that had practically no power over the country. King Hugh Capet would be the elect and it seems that his power extended only to the surrounding areas of Paris. Apparently the Franks had lost all hope in the king’s protection as they had proved themselves unable of adequately providing it. Therefore, the people began to look for security in the territories of local strongmen.

People became bound to the lands of these lords and worked in them in exchange for protection. The worker of a lord’s land are known as a serf and the system is called manorialism. Meanwhile, some lords would realize that they had just too much land to protect for themselves, thus they hired warriors to become vassals or knights by giving them portions of their land, or fiefs to keep. The fief is the vassal’s source of income to attain weapons, horses, and leisure time in order to become a skilled warrior with training. Within their fief, vassals exercised absolute authority over the people, like judicial, legal, and etcetera. This system of relationship between lords and vassals is known as feudalism. Sometimes, a vassal would have a huge amount of land to protect for himself that he would hire another vassal and continue the process known as subinfeudation.

With this we learn two things. First, that central authorities, when challenged, are unable to cope with the difficulties and are therefore not viable to seek satisfying solutions. Second, when you give one person or a handful of people the responsibility of an entire country, you will inevitably have chaos, the best is to have small governments with not much power over the people to have a better ordered society.


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