Since the fifteenth century, when humanist writers began to speak of a “middle” period in history linking their time to the ancient world, the nature of the Middle Ages has been widely debated. Across the millennium from 500 to 1500, distinguished historian Johannes Fried describes a dynamic confluence of political, social, religious, economic, and scientific developments that draws a guiding thread through the era: the growth of a culture of reason.
“Fried’s breadth of knowledge is formidable and his passion for the period admirable…Those with a true passion for the Middle Ages will be thrilled by this ambitious defensio.”
—Dan Jones, Sunday Times
“Reads like a counterblast to the hot air of the liberal-humanist interpreters of European history…[Fried] does justice both to the centrifugal fragmentation of the European region into monarchies, cities, republics, heresies, trade and craft associations, vernacular literatures, and to the persistence of unifying and homogenizing forces: the papacy, the Western Empire, the schools, the friars, the civil lawyers, the bankers, the Crusades…Comprehensive coverage of the whole medieval continent in flux.”
—Eric Christiansen, New York Review of Books
“[An] absorbing book…Fried covers much in the realm of ideas on monarchy, jurisprudence, arts, chivalry and courtly love, millenarianism and papal power, all of it a rewarding read.”
—Sean McGlynn, The Spectator
This beautifully written and well-translated overview of the period between 500 and 1500 C.E. examines concepts and perceptions rather than kings and battles. Fried, professor of medieval history at the University of Frankfurt, begins with Boethius, whose work bridged classical and late antiquity. The development of new attitudes toward liberty and the beginnings of the division between church and state are described with a lucidity that is rare in historical overviews. Fried considers Jews, Muslims, and women as integral parts of society. He also addresses the development of natural science in the 13th century, noting that its monastic adherents had no problem with trying to discover how God's creation worked. The politics of absolutism are presented in the context of the nature of governance and the rise of the power of commerce. As Fried reaches the plague years of the 14th and 15th centuries and the Renaissance, he analyzes the "eruption of the supernatural into the real world" through new modes in art and the rise of witch hunts. Fried's conclusion that the "Middle Ages... crossed seamlessly over into a similarly constituted Early Modern period" is aimed at dispelling the myth of a "dark" age between antiquity and modernity.