The Middle Ages is a time period in Europe between 500 AD to 1500 AD, which occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire. The period lasted about 1000 years, which included the building of castles and cathedrals, the introduction of knights and peasants, people like Joan of Arc, and major events such as the Black Plague. It was not a pleasant time to live. Part of the time period is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages because little was known about it, though it lasted until the year 1000 AD.
Castles built during the Middle Ages were fortified homes for the kings and nobles. The homes were built to protect the lords and princes who were ruling the local lands and the people who lived in the area surrounding the castle. They could launch attacks from the castle as well. Initially, the castles were made of wood and timber from trees, but later were built with stone to make them stronger. Of course, one of the most recognizable features of a castle is the moat, which was a ditch around the castle filled with water to help with its defense. A cathedral is a huge church, which was usually the headquarters for Catholic bishops. The Catholic Church owned about 1/3 of the land in Western Europe, and many of the leaders became rich and powerful. The cathedrals were the most expensive and beautiful buildings built in the world. They were laid out in the shape of a cross, had very high ceilings, and some of them took over 200 years to build.
A knight was a warrior who wore heavy metal armor and traveled by horse throughout the land. The knights were responsible for protecting the king when necessary, and as a reward they were given land. Wealthy nobles became knights because they could afford the expensive armor, weapons, and horse. Though there were knights protecting the king, there were others who defended the Christian faith and fought in the Crusades, which were religious wars between Christians and Muslims. If a young boy wanted to become a knight, his parents would send him to live with a knight and serve as his page. A page was a servant for the knight, who would serve meals, clean clothes, and carry messages. At age 15, the page could become a squire who would have new responsibilities such as taking care of horses, cleaning armor and weapons, and riding alongside the knight during a battle. Squires also had to be ready to fight. If the squire was brave and proved his battle skills, he could become a knight at age 21.
Peasants, sometimes called serfs, were the titles for most people who lived during the Middle Ages. They had the toughest life and did not have a special title. The peasants were owned by the Lords. If a peasant was free, he could own a business and become a carpenter, baker, or blacksmith. Most others, though were treated like slaves and had very little food to eat, working long hours six days a week.
Joan of Arc started out as a peasant girl, but later became a military leader. When she was just 12 she had a vision of Michael the Archangel, who told her she would lead the French into a battle against the English. She decided to become a fighter, but had to convince the king to allow her to become a leader of some soldiers. Eventually she did lead an attack on the English, saving the French, but was later captured and sold to the English. They tried to find some reason to execute her, but only her dressing as a man was enough for them to burn her at the stake at just age 19.
The Black Plague was the name for a deadly disease that spread throughout Europe between 1347 and 1350. It was very contagious and without a cure. Nearly 800 people died every day, and it was estimated that between 75 and 200 million people died from the disease. Even though the Black Plague only lasted for about 4 years, it took about 150 years to rebuild Europe.
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