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The 50 Most Important Events of the Middle Ages

Our list of the most important events in the medieval world, between the years 500 and 1500 AD. This includes political and military events, as well as the dates of inventions, new writings and religious matters in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Boethius imprisoned, from a 1385 manuscript of the Consolation.

523-4 – Boethius writes The Consolation of Philosophy

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, a Roman senator and official, is imprisoned by King Theodoric the Great. As he awaits his trial, Boethius writes this philosophical treatise, which examines various questions, including why bad things happen to good people. It has since become a major work of philosophy.

525 – Anno Domini calendar invented

A monk named Dionysius Exiguus creates this new dating system as part of his efforts to understand the dating of Easter. It wanted the year 1 AD to be the date when Jesus Christ was born, although later calculations show that his birth occurred before this. Gradually use of this calendar became more widespread, and is now the most widely accepted system for counting years in the world.

529-34 – Code of Justinian issued

A set of laws created during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it is considered an important milestone in the history of law.

541-2 – Plague of Justinian

A major pandemic that struck the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, causing the estimated deaths of 25 million people

563 – St Columbus founds Iona

The Irish missionary Columba and 12 companions set up a monastery on the Isle of Iona, just off the Scottish coast. This event marks an important point in the development of Christianity in the British Isles and the rise of monasticism in Western Europe.

Pope Gregory and his Dove, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Ms 389

590 – Gregory the Great becomes Pope

Gregorius Anicius is elected Pope, taking the name Gregory I. He would reign until 604, and would undertake a series of measures that strengthened the role of the Papacy and spread the Christian religion.

618 – Tang Dynasty begins

Li Yuan leads a rebellion against the Sui Dynasty in China and becomes the first emperor of the Tang. His descendants would rule China for nearly 300 years, an era that was noted for its prosperity and stability, and a high point in Chinese civilization.

622 – Hegira

The period when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers leave the city of Mecca, establishing themselves in Medina. This is a key point in the development of the Islamic religion.

651 – Islamic conquest of Persia

After about 20 years of warfare, the Sassanian Empire collapses, allowing the Islamic caliphate to take control of most its territory. This is one of the most important events in the expansion of Islam.

691 – Buddhism becomes state religion of China

The official acceptance of Buddhism was a major landmark in this faith becoming one of the major religions in the world.

717-8 – Siege of Constantinople

A one-year siege by the Umayyad Caliphate against the capital city of the Byzantine Empire ended with the Umayyads withdrawing. Often considered one of the most important military conflicts in the Middle Ages, this would lead to significant changes within the Islamic world.

747-50 – Abbasid Revolution

The overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate, and the rise of the Abbasid dynasty, this would see the centre of the Islamic world shift to Baghdad.

793 – Vikings raid Lindisfarne

Raiders from Scandinavia attack a monastery at Lindisfarne. It is seen as the beginning of Norse attacks and expansion in Europe.

A coin of Charlemagne dated c. 812–814

800 – Charlemagne crowned emperor

On Christmas Day, the Carolingian ruler is crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III, the first person in Western Europe to hold that title.

843 – Treaty of Verdun

An agreement between the three surviving sons of Louis the Pious, dividing the Carolingian Empire. This is seen as the beginning of the states of France and Germany.

862 – Rurik dynasty in Russia

A Varangian chieftain named Rurik rises to power in Rus’ establishing a dynasty that would rule the region until the 17th century.

910 – Cluny Abbey founded

Founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine, this French monastery would become an important centre of Christianity in the Middle Ages.

911 – Foundation of Normandy

An agreement between King Charles III and the Viking leader Rollo establishes the Duchy of Normandy as a defence against other Norse raiders. The Normans emerge as a significant group over the next two centuries.

919 – First use of gunpowder

The Battle of Langshan Jiang was a naval conflict where gunpowder was used as a flamethrower and proved to be very effective. It would mark the beginning of this technology in warfare.

969 – Foundation of Cairo

The Fatimids establish a new city, al-Qāhirah, which goes on to become the capital of Egypt. By the 14th century it is one of the largest cities in the world.

A Literary Garden, by Zhou Wenju, 10th century.

979 – Song Dynasty reunites China

This new dynasty would rule the Middle Kingdom for more than 300 years, a period that saw technological growth and the population of the region greatly expand.

1025 – Avicenna writes the Canon of Medicine

The Persian scholar Ibn Sīnā completes his encyclopedia of medicine, which would remain the standard work on the topic until the 18th century.

1040 – Invention of moveable type

Bi Sheng is credited with pioneering the use of wooden movable type around 1040. This technology would develop and expand outside of China.

1054 – Great Schism

An official break between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches which lasts to the present-day.

Death of Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings
Death of Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings

1066 – Norman conquest of England

At the Battle of Hastings, Duke William of Normandy defeats Harold Godwinson and establishes his rule over England.

1077 – Walk to Canossa

A meeting between Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII, considered one of the most dramatic moments in the Middle Ages and in relations between church and state.

See also The Walk to Canossa: The Tale of an Emperor and a Pope

1084 – Zizhi Tongjian published

After 19 years of work, this chronicle of Chinese history is completed. One of the most ambitious works of history ever created, it covers almost 1,400 years and was published in 294 volumes.

1095 – First Crusade is launched

At the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II calls upon Christians to undertake a military expedition in support of the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks. It would lead to the conquest of Jerusalem four years later and a concerted effort by Western Europeans to take control of the Near East.

1098 – Cistercians founded

Robert, abbot of Molesme, establishes a new religious order in Cîteaux. The Cistercians offered a different kind of monastic reform that would be popular in medieval Europe.

1135 – Gothic buildings emerge

A new architectural style that would flourish in medieval Europe, it has its beginnings with the work done by French abbot Suger and his work on the Basilica of St Denis in Paris.

1170-80 – Maimonides writes Mishneh Torah

The Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon writes this 14 volume work on Judaism, becoming one of the key books on the religion.

Chinese portrait of Genghis Khan

1206 – Genghis Khan becomes ruler of Mongols

Temüjin unites the various nomadic tribes in Mongolia, and begins a series of conquests that would stretch across Asia and parts of Europe.

1215 – Fourth Lateran Council

Invoked by Pope Innocent III, this meeting would see hundreds of bishops and religious figures attend, and bring about sweeping changes to Catholic doctrine.

1215 – Magna Carta

A charter agreed to by King John of England and his rebellious barons, the document would come to be seen as the beginning of legal limits on the power of monarchs.

1258 – Siege of Baghdad

A Mongol army besieges and captures this city, ending the Abbasid Dynasty.

1265 – Thomas Aquinas begins his Summa Theologiae

This Dominican friar does not complete this massive work before his death in 1274, but the text has become one of the most important works on theology.

1291 – Siege of Acre

The last major Crusader stronghold in the Near East is captured by the Mamluks. It is often seen as the end of the crusades.

1315-17 – Great Famine

A series of crop failures and bad weather that struck large parts of Europe.

1320 – Dante Alighieri completes the Divine Comedy

Considered one of the greatest works in literary history, it was written by an Italian poet.

Musa depicted holding a gold coin from the 1375 Catalan Atlas.

1324-5 – Pilgrimage to Mecca by Mansa Musa

Musa I, ruler of the Mali Empire, is considered one of the wealthiest persons in history. In 1324 he began a pilgrimage to Mecca, bringing with him 60,000 people. His trip would have economic consequences for North Africa and Arabia that would last decades.

1337 – Beginning of the Hundred Years’ War

The Kings of England and France begin a war – fought off and on – that would last until 1453.

1347-51 – Black Death

One of the largest pandemics in human history, it crossed through Eurasia and killed as many as 200 million people.

See also What was the Black Death?

1368 – Ming Dynasty overthrows Yuan

The Chinese people depose Mongol rule, and the new dynasty rules until 1644.

1378 – Western Schism begins

A split within the Catholic churches that would see two or three men claiming to be Pope at the same time.

1397 – Kalmar Union established

The kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway are joined together by Margaret I.

1401 – Competition for the Florence Baptistery

A competition held in Florence to design the doors of the buildings, won by Lorenzo Ghiberti. It is seen as one of the key moments in the beginning of the Renaissance.

This woodcut from 1568 shows a printing press in action.

1439 – Gutenberg invents printing press

The first European to use movable type, Johannes Gutenberg would usher in a revolution in the creation of books and the spread of information.

1453 – Siege of Constantinople

Sultan Mehmed II conquers the capital of the Byzantine Empire, establishing the Ottomans as a major international power for the next several centuries.

1469 – Marriage between Ferdinand and Isabella

The union between Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon would lead to the establishment of Spain as a major international power.

1492 – Columbus sails to the Americas

Christopher Columbus leads a voyage westwards on the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to reach Asia. Instead they land in the Caribbean, beginning the period of European settlement and colonization in the Americas.

There were many other important events that could have made this list, but we felt these 50 had a extraordinary influence on history during the medieval period. You can see other lists online, such as:

10 medieval dates you need to know

Timeline of the Middle Ages

A Chronology of the Middle Ages

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