For about two centuries Europe passed through an epoch of the deepest misery. Danes and Scandinavians ravaged her from the northwest, Saracens from the south, so that only the upper Rhine and Danube, harboring a rich Teutonic civilization, escaped destruction. The Carlovingian Empire broke into pieces, Frankish, Lothringian or Burgundian, and Germanic, with the last of which went the imperial title. And this disintegration might have continued indefinitely to chaos had not feudalism appeared to fortify and steady declining civilization.

Only force could successfully resist force, and at every threatened point the same mode of local resistance sprang up. Men willing and able to fight protected the community, and exacted in return certain services. They soon began to build castles and to transmit their powers, together with their lands, to their heirs. Lands soon came to be viewed as related to other lands on conditions of military and other services. The Church followed the example, until, finally, by the eleventh century, one general formula underlay western European ideas: that every individual belonged to a class, and enjoyed certain rights on the performance of various services to a superior class, and that at the head of this ladder of rank stood either the Emperor, or the Pope, or both. The last step was a highly controversial one; on the first all men were agreed.

By this time feudalism had done its best work in restoring more settled conditions, and bringing to a conclusion the northern and southern piracy. From Sicily to the marches of Scotland, Europe was now one mass of small military principalities, only here and there held together in more or less efficient fashion by monarchies like those of France and England, or by the Empire itself. Every trade route was flanked by fortifications whence baronial exactions could be levied on the traders. And when, under more peaceful conditions, great trading cities came into existence—in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands—a fierce struggle arose for mastery between burghers and feudal potentates.

Meanwhile the Church itself had developed great ambitions and suffered the worst vicissitudes. While under the Frankish protection, Rome had acquired the temporal domain she was to hold until September 20, 1870, when she was dispossessed by the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. With this territorial standing, and impelled forward by the mighty traditions of ancient Rome and of the Church, she deliberately stretched out her hand under Gregory VII (Hildebrand) in an attempt to grasp the feudalized scepter of Europe. The Germanic Empire, the offshoot of the greater domain of Charlemagne, resisted. The great parties of Guelphs and of Ghibellines, imperialists and papalists, came into existence, and for a long period tore Germany and Italy in vain attempts at universal supremacy.

Inextricably bound up with the feudal movement, and with the enthusiasm for the service of the Church that Rome for a while succeeded in creating, came an interlude, religious, chivalrous, economic, the Crusades. Out of superabundant supplies of feudal soldiers great armies were formed to relieve the Holy Places from the profaning presence of the infidels. The East was deeply scarred with religious war and its attendant butcheries, and little remained in permanent results, save on the debit side. For the Crusades had proved a huge transportation and trading enterprise for the thrifty republics of Genoa and Venice, and led to a great expansion of oriental trade; while the West had once more been to school to the East and had come back less religious, more sceptical. And from the close of the period of the Crusades (1270) to the outbreak of the Reformation, two hundred and fifty years later, economic activity and the growth of scepticism are among the most prominent facts, while immediately alongside of them may be noted the birth of the new languages, and, partly resulting from all these forces, the Renaissance.

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