The historical period of 900 – 1200 AD for European civilization can be characterized as the transitional period between the Dark Ages, also known as the Early Medieval Period, and the High Middle Ages. A characteristic feature of the Dark Ages period that could be named was the retardation of the western region compared to the Byzantine Empire, the Muslim world, and China. However, some prominent states existed and thrived during that period, and one of such states was the Kingdom of Germany, which by the middle of X century became a part of a larger state formation, the Holy Roman Empire.
During the tenth century, the structure of a newly established empire has been fragile and complicated, mostly in the terms of a relationship between the emperorship and the “regnum teutonicum”, or German kingship; however, despite the historical challenges some details describing the life of the German people have been preserved and are worth mentioning. One of the researchers, Mary Fulbrook (2004), mentions that the population at that time amounted to 5 or 6 million, the majority of which lived in small villages located amidst the agricultural lands; average life expectancy hardly exceeded 30 years even for the higher classes, people often suffered from illnesses, famine, and various unpredicted disasters; Christianity at that time did not have deep roots and often was mixed with the pagan heritage; and literacy was mostly spread among the clergy, while the majority of people hardly ever traveled or expressed interest in things aside work, local trade and intermarriage (p. 13-14).
However, a complex system of feudal relations has already been developed as opposed to those of the tribal society, and the imperial ambitions of the first king, Otto I, fit into this paradigm as well. Another researcher also notes that “[Otto’s] imperial coronation was an event charged with symbolism … Otto was not a Roman emperor: his title in diplomata issued after 962 was imperator augustus” (Reuter, 1991, p. 172). The growing significance of the title and position of the emperor led to more intense ties with Rome and Byzantine Empire, which, in turn, led to borrowing a few distinguished political features of the latter, for example, the adoption of theocratic doctrine or absolutism as the form of government.
The Byzantine Empire, which is sometimes also called the Eastern Roman Empire, has been established as a separate formation in 330 AD when the city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was founded by Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire. Due to its age and ties with the Romans, Byzantium has had advanced social and economic system, culture and science. Marcus Lois Rautman in the book “Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire” mentions that most people had basic skills of reading and writing and were able to speak at least two languages; the period of medieval Byzantium was also known for the states’ bureaucratic complexity and the cultural brilliance (Rautman, 2006, p. 15-22). In that, the Eastern Roman Empire resembled China during the period of Song dynasty. In terms of economic, as well as politics, the Byzantium has taken a lot after its antecedent, the Roman Empire with its superstructural bureaucratic apparatus, which according to Alan Harvey (2003) was “the fundamental difference between Byzantium and the medieval west, where the breakdown of Roman institutions was more extensive” (p. 2). The Byzantium was also an autocratic form of government, with significant influence of Christian religion on every aspect of life.
Concerning China, the period of X-XIII centuries for this country was marked by the rule of the Song dynasty in the greater part of China, which was confronted by Liao dynasty, also known as the Khitan Empire located to the north-east of the Song territories. While the Song China has been ruled by several Emperors of that name, it is important to understand that technically, this title has been copied and translated by the Europeans as part of the Chinese royal title. In fact, as for the most part China remained nationally homogenous and shared a common language and history, it falls under the definition of a kingdom more than a traditional name of an empire. During the rule of the Song dynasty, the foreign trade and relationships were encouraged, and during this time “the Maritime Silk Road was at the height of its splendor … [as] the Song court constantly issued and amended administration measures, encouraging trade” (Quingxin, 2006, p. 82-83).
The scientific and economic areas flourished as well, and this period was well known to historians as the time of the first known use of paper money, gunpowder, compass and establishment of the permanent navy. Some researchers even claim that “China … became by far the richest, most skilled and most populous country on earth. Moreover, the growth of the Chinese economy and society was felt beyond China’s borders” (McNeill, 2013, p. 50). Other researchers illustrate their vision of Song China with the following paragraph: “More people lived in cities. The Song system of government was also advanced for its time. The upper-levels of the government were staffed by highly educated scholar-officials selected through competitive written examinations. Central to its engagement with the outside world were efforts to maintain peace with its powerful northern neighbors and extend its trading networks” (Ebrey & Shirokauer, 2008, par. 4-5).
Despite the Confucian ethics, which put women on a lower social step compared to men, they still had considerable power and privileges and were able to pursue careers or own businesses, as well as enjoy various property rights. Definitely, a society that advanced and developed probably would have been the best choice to live in during the specified period of time.
Ebrey, P. & Schirokauer, C. (2008). China in 1000 CE: The Most Advanced Society in the World. Web.
Fulbrook, M. (2004). A Concise History of Germany. (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Mary Fullbrook’s book This book is an informative guide to German history starting from the early medieval period and continuing to the present day. She is able to explore the interconnections between various factors, such as culture, society, economy, and politics from an academic point of view, and provide a reader with an analysis of a vast historical material. This book is an updated second edition.
Harvey, A. (2003). Economic Expansion in the Byzantine Empire, 900-1200. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
In this book Alan Harvey illustrates the economic developments of the Byzantine empire and the medieval West. He provides the reader with considerable evidence of that period’s economic aspects. Dr. Harvey’s conclusions are definitely important for all future interpretations of the general course of Byzantine history and economy. This book is intended mainly for scholars and students.
McNeill, W. H. (2013). The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
William H. McNeill makes this book an amazing synthesis of military, technological, and social history. His central argument is based on an assumption that in XI century the commercial transformation of the societies of the early medieval period was the reason that caused military activity to respond increasingly according to the demands of the market, as well as the rulers. The book discusses the present problems but does not offer any solutions aside from its discoveries and hypotheses, offering a perspective and a framework for thought. This book would be of interest to a broad audience.
Quingxin, L. (2006). Maritime Silk Road. Beijing, China: China Intercontinental Press.
The book details the period when the Maritime Silk Road has been developed and expanded and allows to witness the history of Chinese foreign economic and cultural exchanges. The author also explores the ways the Chinese government acted to expand the trading networks and keep the peace with its powerful naval neighbors. The book is intended both for academic circles and non-specialist audiences.
Rautman, M. L. (2006). Daily Life in Byzantine Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
This study is intended to academic circles as well as the general readers, who are interested in historical evidence of the daily life of ancient Byzantium citizens. This study allows to explore the world of the Byzantine Empire, as it covers everything from typical city life to clothing styles and even brushes some specific topics like hygiene or cultural sensitivities. Many details will let the reader get immersed in the unparalleled atmosphere of ancient and medieval Byzantine Empire.
Reuter, T. (1991). Germany in the Early Middle Ages, C. 800-1056. Harlow, UK: Longman Publishing Group.
This book is the first part of a sequence, that is dedicated to researching the German history from the birth of the Holy Roman Empire to the present day. It is can be useful for scholars as well as general readers interested in the topic, as it contains research on culture, society, economy, religion and politics of the German lands, and a detailed description and exploration of events of the according periods.