22 episodes

Major developments in the political, social, and religious history of western Europe from the accession of Diocletian to the feudal transformation. Topics include the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam and the Arabs, the "Dark Ages," Charlemagne and the Carolingian renaissance, and the Viking and Hungarian invasions.

Early Middle Ages Yale University

    • History
    • 4.3 • 229 Ratings

Major developments in the political, social, and religious history of western Europe from the accession of Diocletian to the feudal transformation. Topics include the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam and the Arabs, the "Dark Ages," Charlemagne and the Carolingian renaissance, and the Viking and Hungarian invasions.

    01. Course Introduction: Rome’s Greatness and First Crises

    01. Course Introduction: Rome’s Greatness and First Crises

    Professor Freedman introduces the major themes of the course: the crisis of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity, the threats from barbarian invasions, and the continuity of the Byzantine Empire. At the beginning of the period covered in this course, the Roman Empire was centered politically, logistically, and culturally on the Mediterranean Sea. Remarkable for its size and longevity, the Empire was further marked by its tolerance. Although it contained an eclectic mix of peoples, the Empire was unified in part by a local elite with a shared language and customs. In the third century these strengths were increasingly threatened by the Empire’s sheer size, its imbalances, both East-West and urban-rural, and by an army that realizes it could make and unmake emperors. Having set the scene, Professor Freedman looks to subsequent lectures where he will discuss reforms enacted to address these weaknesses.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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    02. The Crisis of the Third Century and the Diocletianic Reforms

    02. The Crisis of the Third Century and the Diocletianic Reforms

    Professor Freedman outlines the problems facing the Roman Empire in the third century. The Persian Sassanid dynasty in the East and various Germanic tribes in the West threatened the Empire as never before. Internally, the Empire struggled with the problem of succession, an economy wracked by inflation, and the decline of the local elite which had once held it together. Having considered these issues, Professor Freedman then moves on to the reforms enacted under Diocletian to stabilize the Empire. He attempted to solve the problem of succession by setting up a system of joint rule called the Tetrarchy, to stabilize the economy through tax reform, and to protect the frontiers through militarization. Although many of his policies failed--some within his lifetime--Diocletian nevertheless saved the Roman Empire from collapse.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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    03. Constantine and the Early Church

    03. Constantine and the Early Church

    Professor Freedman examines how Christianity came to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. This process began seriously in 312, when the emperor Constantine converted after a divinely inspired victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine’s conversion would have seemed foolish as a political strategy since Christianity represented a completely different system of values from that of the Roman state, but not only did it prove to be a brilliant storke in aid of Constantine’s quest for power, it fundamentally changed the character of the Empire and that of the early Church. Constantine also moved his capitol to a new city he founded in the East, named Constantinople, opening the possibility of a Roman Empire without Rome. Professor Freedman ends the lecture with a comparison of Diocletian and Constantine.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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    04. The Christian Roman Empire

    04. The Christian Roman Empire

    The emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity brought change to the Roman Empire as its population gradually abandoned the old religions in favor of Christianity. The reign of Julian the Apostate, a nephew of Constantine, saw the last serious attempt to restore civic polytheism as the official religion. The Christian church of the fourth century was divided, however, by two serious heresies: Arianism and Donatism. Religious dissent led to the intervention of the emperors at church councils and elsewhere. Professor Freedman then introduces St. Augustine’s Confessions, including an overview of Platonism.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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    05. St. Augustine’s Confessions

    05. St. Augustine’s Confessions

    Professor Freedman begins the lecture by considering the ways historians read the Confessions. In this work, St. Augustine gives unique insight into the life of an intellectual mind in Late Antiquity, into the impact of Christianity on the Roman Empire, and into the problems of early Christianity. The three major doctrinal concerns of the early Church were the problem of evil, the soul-body distinction, and issues of sin and redemption. In the Confessions, St. Augustine searches for explanations of these problems first in Manichaeism, then (Neo)Platonism, and finally Christianity.Underlying this narrative are Augustine’s ideas of opposition to perfectionism, his exaltation of grace, and the notion of sin as indelible, not solvable.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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    06. Transformation of the Roman Empire

    06. Transformation of the Roman Empire

    The Roman Empire in the West collapsed as a political entity in the fifth century although the Eastern part survived the crisis. Professor Freedman considers this transformation through three main questions: Why did the West fall apart – because of the external pressure of invasions or the internal problems of institutional decline? Who were these invading barbarians? Finally, does this transformation mark a gradual shift or is it right to regard it as a cataclysmic end of civilization? Professor Freedman, as a moderate catastrophist, argues that this period marked the end of a particular civilization rather than the end of civilization in general.

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu

    This course was recorded in Fall 2011.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5
229 Ratings

229 Ratings

JoelG Marietta ,

Lucid and kind

Professor Freedman’s remarkable lucidity and mastery of this subject matter are part of why these lectures are so outstanding. But for me, even more powerful are the kindness and humanity that shine through in every talk. The depth of Professor Freedman’s care—about the people who lived and made this history; the students in his lecture hall, and perhaps the listeners online—make these lectures something truly special. His dry sense of humor, too, is worth the price of admission!

Crowbar Man ,

Too biased

It is unquestionable that professor Freedman is knowledgeable. However, I’m looking for an unbiased course. He says that if any of the friends of the students are wondering why the course spends so much time discussing theology, then they should come to office hours. Well, we the listeners can’t go to his office hours. So if theology is so central to middle age history, then I wish he would have explained it to the rest of us. I’m sure he could have talked about other things aside from the exquisite religious details that dominate the course. He spent an entire lecture on the confessions of St. Augustine. He has to cover the entire history and the lives and culture of middle age Europe in a handful of lectures, and he dedicated a whole lecture on the writings of one religious figure. His lectures are 85% religion, with no mention of the negative impacts of religion on the lives of the people. He presents all religious topics as factual components of history. Yet when the topic of King Arthur comes up, he admits he will only mention him briefly because he is 99.9% legend. This was a lost opportunity to discuss the resistance of the Celtic people against the Roman invaders, and the leaders and communities that inspired the legend of King Arthur. He explains how there was no such thing as the dark ages, conveniently ignoring the degree to which the dominance of religion stifled science, secular art and literature, and the exchange of the large scale civil engineering of the Romans with just building cathedrals. Interestingly, if religion is such a large component of the Middle Ages that we can’t have a history course without discussing it at length, then maybe it was the dark ages after all. Freedman further supports this idea on the lecture of Monasticism but saying that much of the learning in the Middle Ages was in the monasteries. If most learning at the time was limited to what was sanctioned by religion, then that pretty well defines the Dark Ages. This brings to mind the Muslims who burned books, and the many books banned by the Catholic Church. In making a comparison and saying the modern university is very much like a monastery, he is essentially saying monasteries were as harmless (and essential) to knowledge as universities. This is a blatant denial that the middle age limitation of knowledge to monasteries was a suppression of non religious writings. When he covers the topic of ethnogenesis, and the emergence of the Visigoth cultural identify, he literally explains how the Visigoth culture transitioned to the emergence of the German culture, “culminating into the Nazis”. Really?! This is a rich culture of 1000 years that made tremendous contributions to science, literature, poetry, philosophy, music, sports, modern technological manufacturing, not to mention the linguistic contributions that gave rise to the English language and set it apart from the Romance languages….. and he represents it all by a single political party that lasted 25 years and was backed by a minority of voters! The importance of religion to middle age Europe is debatable; but there’s no need for racist comments.

Freedman says that in In 632, Islam is not to be understood as a militant conversion-oriented jihad-o-centric religion from the start, in 632 when Mohammed died.
Interestingly, 632 was the year of the first Muslim Arab raiders in Persia culminating in the fall of the empire in 651
Islam did not “develop” in the Persian empire. It was pure conquest, jihad, forced conversion, the effects of which have successfully lasted for over 1300 years until today.
I’m simply tired of Freedman’s personal biases. I’m sure he is successfully misinforming countless young impressionable minds with his personal opinions, presented as historical fact. My rating has progressed from 3 stars to 1 star, and I can no longer listen to these lectures. I will eagerly seek another lecture series on the Middle Ages.

palmetto210 ,

Perfect for the blue stocking mother

This course has enriched our homeschooling this year, as I teach medieval and Renaissance history to elementary students. The lectures are filling in grad school gaps and providing both depth and breadth to a fascinating subject. Doses of clever wit are appreciated.

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