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The Worlds of Medieval Europe

Third Edition

Clifford R. Backman

Publication Date - May 2014

ISBN: 9780199372294

672 pages
6-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $69.99

The most lively and provocative survey of medieval Europe, now with a companion sourcebook edited by Clifford R. Backman


Deftly written and beautifully illustrated, The Worlds of Medieval Europe, Third Edition, presents a distinctive and nuanced portrayal of the Greater West during its medieval millennium. By integrating the histories of the Islamic and Byzantine worlds into the main narrative, author Clifford R. Backman offers an insightful, detailed, and often witty look at the continuum of interaction--social, cultural, intellectual, and commercial--that existed among all three societies.

This compelling volume surpasses traditional textbook representations of the Middle Ages by balancing the conventional focus on political affairs, especially those of northern Europe, with equally detailed attention to medieval society as it developed in the Mediterranean. In addition, Backman describes the ways in which the medieval Latin West attempted to understand the unified and rational structure of the human cosmos, which they believed existed beneath the observable diversity and disorder of the world. This effort to recreate a human ordering of "unity through diversity" provides an essential key to understanding medieval Europe and the ways in which it regarded and reacted to the worlds around it.

New to this Edition

  • Expanded discussions of medieval Jewish society, medieval women's lives, economic matters, and Islamic intellectual life
  • Redrawn maps and twice the number of images
  • Updated bibliographies at the end of each chapter
  • A companion sourcebook--edited by Clifford R. Backman--that can be bundled with the text at a discount

About the Author(s)

Clifford R. Backman is Associate Professor of History at Boston University. He is the author of The Cultures of the West (OUP, 2013) and The Decline and Fall of Medieval Sicily: Politics, Economy, and Religion in the Reign of Frederick III, 1296-1327 (1995).

Previous Publication Date(s)

April 2008
August 2002


"This is the best textbook on the market. It is comprehensive, engagingly written, and covers all of Europe rather than privileging the Western part over everything else."--Steven Epstein, University of Kansas

"This book is a pleasure to read. It incorporates pertinent information and places it into a narrative that will resonate with students. The conceptualized nature of the entire book transcends a traditional textbook and gives readers a sense of the 'big picture' as well as the 'facts,' continuity and change, and the sense of the 'so what' that is often absent."--Ginger L. Smoak, University of Utah

"The Worlds of Medieval Europe is an excellent text. Written with impeccable scholarship and engaging style, Backman's contribution to the teaching of medieval history is perfect for undergraduate students. I am anxious to assign it to my own students."--Frances H. Mitilineos, Oakton Community College

"The Worlds of Medieval Europe is witty, courageous, unpretentious, and fair-minded. I've assigned this book to hundreds of students over the past five years and they have always loved it."--Michael Redman, Jefferson Community and Technical College

Table of Contents

    List of maps
    Preface to the Third Edition
    Introduction: Why the Middle Ages Matter

    Part One: The Early Middle Ages: The Third through Ninth Centuries

    1. The Roman World at its Height
    The Geography Of Empire
    The Role Of The Military
    Roman Society
    Roman Government
    The Challenges of The Third Century
    Reform, Recovery, Persecution, and Favor
    Suggested Reading

    2. The Rise of Christianity
    Before Christ
    The Growth of the New Religion
    The Problem of Persecution
    The Problem of Heresy
    Constantine and Theodosius: An Imperial Church
    Responses to Imperialization
    Suggested Reading

    3. Early Germanic Society
    Germanic Life
    Migrations And Invasions
    Europe's First Kingdoms
    Germanic Christianity And The Fourth "Doctor Of The Church"
    Suggested Reading

    4. Cloister and Culture
    The Rise Of Monasticism In The East
    The Rise Of Monasticism In The West
    Cultural Life in The West: Cassiodorus, Boethius, And St. Benedict
    Suggested Reading

    5. The Emergence of the Medieval Worlds
    Continuity and Change in Northern Europe
    Continuity and Change in the Mediterranean
    The Rise of Islam
    A Tripartite World
    Suggested Reading

    6. The Carolingian Era
    The "Do-Nothing" Kings and the Rise of the Carolingians
    The Carolingian Monarchy
    Carolingian Administration
    Carolingian Society
    The Carolingian Cultural Renewal
    Suggested Reading

    Part Two: The Central Middle Ages: The Tenth through Twelfth Centuries

    7. The Time of Troubles

    Trouble From Within
    Trouble From The North
    Trouble From The East
    Trouble From The South
    The End Of The World?
    Suggested Reading

    8. Revolutions on Land and Sea
    Changes on The Land
    A Peasant Society Emerges
    Changes on The Sea
    a maritime society emerges
    suggested reading

    9. A New Europe Emerges: North and South
    The Rise of Feudal Society
    The First German Empire
    The Rise of Capetian France
    The Anglo-Norman Realm
    The Spanish Kingdoms
    The Italian Scene
    Suggested Reading

    10. The Reform Of The Church
    The Origins Of The Reform
    The Papal Revolution
    Christendom And The East
    Monastic Reforms
    Suggested Reading

    11. The Renaissances of the Twelfth Century
    Aristotle, Anselm, Abelard, And Ibn Rushd
    Law And Canon Law
    The Recovery Of Science
    The Rise Of The Universities
    Courtly Life, Love, And Literature
    Suggested Reading

    12. The Papal Monarchy
    Church Against State Once More
    The Consolidation Of Papal Authority
    The Revival Of Heresy
    The Albigensian Crusade And The Origins Of The Inquisition
    Suggested Reading

    Part Three: The Late Middle Ages: The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries

    13. Politics in the Thirteenth Century

    The Rise Of Representative Institutions
    England And France
    Germany, Italy, And The Papacy
    The New Mediterranean Superpowers
    Byzantium and Islam in the Thirteenth Century
    Suggested Reading

    14. Art and Intellect in the Thirteenth Century
    From Romanesque to Gothic Vision
    Science And Technology
    Aspects of Popular Culture
    Suggested Reading

    15. Daily Life at the Medieval Zenith
    Economic Changes
    Peasants' Lives
    Townsfolks' Lives
    The Question of Literacy
    Sex and the City (and the Town, and the Village)
    Suggesting Reading

    16. Changes in Religious Life
    The Importance Of Being Penitent
    The Importance Of Being Poor
    The Humanization of Christ and the Cult of the Virgin
    Suggested Reading

    17. The Crises of the Fourteenth Century
    Economic Difficulties
    The Great Famine
    The Black Death
    War Everywhere
    Challenges To Church Unity
    Suggested Reading

    18. Signs of a New Era
    William of Ockham
    Marsilius of Padua
    Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer
    Christine de Pizan
    Suggested Reading

    Part Four: Two Epilogues

    19. Closings In, Closings Out

    The Last Years of Byzantium
    The Search for a New Route to the East
    Closing In on Muslim Spain
    The Expulsions of the Jews
    Closing In Forever: The Forced Cloistering of Women Religious
    Suggested Reading

    20. The Renaissance In Medieval Context
    Economies New and Old circa 1400
    The Meaning of Humanism
    The Canonization of Classical Culture
    The Rejection of the Middle Ages
    Suggested Reading

    Appendix A: The Medieval Popes
    Appendix B: The Carolingians
    Appendix C: The Capetians
    Appendix C: France: The Valois
    Appendix E: England: The Norman and Plantagenet Dynasties
    Appendix F: England: The Lancastrian and Yorkist Dynasties
    Appendix G: Germany: The Ottonian, Salian, and Hohenstaufen Dynasties
    Appendix H: Germany: The Late Medieval Emperors
    Appendix I: The Spanish Kingdoms, 1000-1250
    Appendix J: The Spanish Kingdoms, 1250-1500
    Appendix K: The Emperors in Constantinople

Teaching Resources

Sources for the Worlds of Medieval Europe - Table of Contents



How to Read a Primary Source


Chapter 1: The Roman World at its Height

1.1 Virgil, The Aeneid [Bk. 1, ll. 1-33]

1.2 Tacitus, The Histories [Bk. 1, ch. 1-6; Bk. 5, ch. 2-9]

1.3 Josephus, The Jewish War [Bk. 6, ch. 1, 3-4, 8-10]

1.4 Epictetus, The Enchiridion

1.5 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations [Bk. 2, ch. 1, 5, 14, 16-17]

1.6 Imperial Crisis in the 3rd Century 


Chapter 2: The Rise of Christianity

2.1 Chronology of the New Testament

2.2 New Testament selections [Matthew ch. 5-7. 1 Corinthians ch. 15]

2.3 Pliny the Younger [Letter to Trajan]

2.4 Minucius Felix, Octavius [Ch. 30-31]

2.5 The Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

2.6 Edicts of Toleration/Milan [Lactantius, On the Deaths of Our Persecutors, ch. 34 and 48; Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 10, ch. 5]

2.7 Nicene Creeds

2.8 Origen, Against Celsus

2.9 Gospel of Thomas

2.10 St. Augustine [Two sermons on the First Epistle of John]


Chapter 3: Early Germanic Society

3.1 Jordanes, Getica [Ch. 176-178, 180-186, 194-198, 207-213, 217-227, 254]

3.2 Sidonius Apollinarus, Letters

3.3 Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks [Bk. II, ch. 35-42; Bk. VI, ch. 5]

3.4 Ethelbert of Kent, Laws regarding women.


Chapter 4: Cloister and Culture

4.1 Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin [Ch. 2-3, 5-8, 10, 15, 26-27]

4.2 Gregory the Great, The Life of Saint Benedict [ch. 1-2], and Letter [30] to Empress Constantina

4.3 St. Benedict, The Benedictine Rule [Prologue and ch. 4]

4.4 Caesarius of Arles, Rule for Nuns [Ch. 1-5, 7-11, 19, 23-25, 36, 40, 47]


Chapter 5: The Emergence of the Medieval Worlds

5.1 Gildas, On the Ruin of Britain

5.2 Bede I, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People and II, Ecclesiastical History of Britain (Bk. 5, ch. 23-24)

5.3 Martin of Braga, On the Correction of Peasants

5.4 Procopius on Justinian/Heraclius

5.5 Islam [Qur’an, Ibn Ishaq]

5.6 Periods of Islamic History

5.7 Genealogies of Islam

5.8 The Umayyad Caliphs

5.9 The Shi’i Imams


Chapter 6: The Carolingian Era

6.1 The Donation of Constantine

6.2 Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne

6.3 Dhuoda, Advice to Her Son William


Chapter 7: The Time of Troubles

7.1 Asser, Life of Alfred

7.2 Hrotsvitha, Dulcitius

7.3 Ibn Fadlan, Risala [Ch. 80-84, 87-92]

7.4 Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy


Chapter 8: Revolutions on Land and Sea

8.1 Burchard of Worms, The Corrector

8.2 Adso of Montier, The Antichrist Letter

8.3 The Abbasid Caliphs


Chapter 9: A New Europe Emerges: North and South

9.1 The Song of Roland

9.2 The Song of the Cid

9.3 Otto of Freising, The Two Cities

9.4 Ibn Hawqal, Portrait of the World

9.5 Medieval Jewish Chronology


Chapter 10: The Reform of The Church

10.1 Prologue to the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals

10.2 Gregory VII, Letters

10.3 Ecumenical Councils of the Latin Church

10.4 Usamah ibn Munqidh, Memoirs

10.5 Chronology of the Crusades


Chapter 11: The Renaissances of the Twelfth Century

11.1 Peter Abelard, Sic et Non

11.2 Ibn Rushd, On the Harmony of Religious Law and Philosophy

11.3 Al-Ghazali, The Deliverer from Error

11.4 Maimonides, Letter to Yemen

11.5 Trotula, On the Maladies of Women


Chapter 12: The Papal Monarchy

12.1 Lucius III, Ad abolendam

12.2 The Inquisition at Work

12.3 Gospel According to the Marks of Silver

12.4 Innocent III, Decree on Jews

12.5 Innocent III, A Christmas Sermon

12.6 Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogue on Miracles

12.7 Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Work.


Chapter 13: Politics in the Thirteenth Century

13.1 John of Salisbury, Policraticus

13.2 Giano della Bella, Speech in Praise of Republican Government

13.3 Ordinances of the Merchants’ Guild of Southampton

13.4 Ibn Battuta, Travels

13.5 Giovanni Piano, History of the Mongols


Chapter 14: Art and Intellect in the Thirteenth Century

14.1 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles

14.2 Roger Bacon, Opus maius

14.3 Marie de France, Lanval

14.4 Two Fabliaux

14.5 The Arabian Nights


Chapter 15: Daily Life at the Medieval Zenith

15.1 William Fitz Stephen, “A Description of the Most Noble City of London”

15.2 Giovanni Villani, Description of Florence

15.3 Benjamin of Tudela, Itinerary

15.4 Prominent Rabbis of the Middle Ages


Chapter 16: Changes in Religious Life

16.1 Gregory IX, Mira circa nos, Canonization of St. Francis

16.2 Gregory IX, Canonization of St. Dominic

16.3 Mechthild on Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of Divinity


Chapter 17: The Crises of the Fourteenth Century

17.1 St. Catherine of Siena, Letters

17.2 Boccaccio, “The Great Plague”

17.3 The Battle of Poitiers: Two Versions

17.4 Jean de Froissart, “On the Flagellants”

17.5 Jakob Twinger, Chronicle

17.6 The 100 Years War: 1337-1453


Chapter 18: Signs of a New Era

18.1 Marsilius of Padua, Defender of the Peace

18.2 William of Ockham, Letter to the Friars Minor

18.3 Dante, “Hymn to Mary” from The Divine Comedy

18.4 Chaucer, Prologue to “The Pardoner’s Tale”

18.5 Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies


Chapter 19: Closings In, Closings Out

19.1 Francesco Guicciardini, The History of Florence


Chapter 20: The Renaissance In Medieval Context

20.1 Petrarca, Letter to Posterity


Appendix: List of Popes