Early Middle Ages

Course No. 8267
Professor Philip Daileader, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
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Course No. 8267
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Course Overview

We often call them the "Dark Ages," the era which spanned the decline and fall of Rome's western empire and lingered for centuries, a time when the Ancient World was ending and Europe had seemingly vanished into ignorance and shadow, its literacy and urban life declining, its isolation from the rest of the world increasing.

It was a time of decline, with the empire fighting to defend itself against an endless onslaught of attacks from all directions: the Vikings from the North, the Huns and other Barbarians from the East, the Muslim empire from the south.

It was a time of death and disease, with outbreaks of plague ripping through populations both urban and rural.

It was a time of fear, when religious persecution ebbed and flowed with the whims of those in power.

And as Rome's power and population diminished, so, too, did its ability to handle the administrative burdens of an overextended empire. Fewer records were kept, leaving an often-empty legacy to historians attempting to understand the age.

But modern archaeology has begun to unearth an increasing number of clues to this once-lost era. And as historians have joined them to sift through those clues—including evidence of a vast arc of Viking trade reaching from Scandinavia to Asia—new light has begun to fall across those once "dark" ages and their fascinating personalities and events.

"A World Recognizably Becoming Our Own"

In his new course on The Early Middle Ages—which traces a journey from Scandinavia across northern and central Europe to the farthest reaches of the Byzantine and Islamic empires—Professor Philip Daileader shares this new understanding of a world, no matter how far away and strange it may seem, that is "recognizably becoming our own."

"In countless ways, seemingly obscure events and developments from the ‘Dark Ages' impinge on the lives of people today. This is true in the realm of religion, because our period saw the triumph of Christianity over paganism… This is true in the realm of language, because every word that we speak and write—indeed, the handwriting that we use each and every day—is a product of the historical forces that we will study… And this is true in the realm of family life, because many practices that existed in 300—such as polygyny, marriage within the kin group, and infanticide—are illegal today and were vanishing or completely gone by the year 1000."

Why Study "The Dark Ages"?

As Professor Daileader points out, given the period's dismal reputation and its temporal remoteness from the 21st century, one might wonder why the histories of the later Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages should command our attention.

First, he suggests, the years from 300 to 1000 present us with some of the most challenging questions historians have ever had to tackle:

  • Why did the Roman Empire fall?
  • Why did the ancient world give way to the medieval world?
  • Why did Christian monotheism become the dominant religion in Europe?

Secondly, this period commands our attention because of some of the people who lived during it.

"Theologians and philosophers such as St. Augustine were going to exert a commanding influence on European thought for well over a millennium after their death," he notes. "To understand later medieval thinkers, to understand Reformation thinkers, such as Martin Luther, one needs to know something about figures such as St. Augustine."

To be sure, the Early Middle Ages were not without figures who still pique our interest today, such as King Arthur and Charlemagne. As Professor Daileader considers the extent to which the historical realities of Arthur and Charlemagne match up to the legends that have become attached to their names, he repeatedly fascinates with revealing personal insights, such as Charlemagne's love for simply bobbing around in hot baths, or the window offered into his personality by a contemporary biography penned by a friend and confidante named Einhard. Einhard's writing is detailed, but the lectures point out that some of those details—including those about the ruler's difficulty in writing his name and chanting Latin liturgy—suggest that his largely complimentary account of Charlemagne's intellectual achievements is exaggerated.

Finally, Professor Daileader emphasizes the importance of understanding the Early Middle Ages as a vital underpinning for what was to come. Even if its accomplishments pale somewhat in comparison to those of the Late Middle Ages or the Italian Renaissance, those later developments are nonetheless built upon foundations established during the Early Middle Ages.

"Without some important transformations that occurred during this period, the rest would not have been possible. To understand fully the High Middle Ages or the Italian Renaissance, it is necessary to understand the Early Middle Ages," he states.

Great Historians View the Dark Ages

A four-time winner of Harvard University's Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Professor Daileader creates a framework for that understanding by using the contrasting historical theories offered by two extremely influential historians:

  • Edward Gibbon, the English author of the monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, whose explanations closely followed those of the Roman moralists of the 4th and 5th centuries, and
  • Henri Pirenne, the Belgian thinker who injected a newfound emphasis on social and especially economic factors into the analysis of history.

Beginning with their two contrasting viewpoints, Professor Daileader offers a fast-moving portrait of a period of history that consistently belies its reputation as dark or dismal. You learn, for example, the role of Gibbon's massive ego in his choice of the subject matter that would make him famous, as well as the intensity of his animosity toward Christianity and willingness to express in his writings startling accusations against it.

You’ll study, in depth, the possible reasons for the decline of Rome's vast eastern and western empires, and whether and how Rome actually "fell.” Christianity, as you might expect, plays a tremendously important role in the period covered by this course, but always in unexpected ways. Professor Daileader explains, for example, how the increasing difficulty of achieving martyrdom—a chore even in a pre-Christian Roman empire and a near impossibility under Constantine—created a need for new paths toward "Christian heroicism."

Those paths might be as expected as monasticism or as outlandish as the pole-sitting Stylites, whose demonstrations of devotion might last for decades and offer Professor Daileader an opportunity to demonstrate his delightful sense of classroom wit.

Hear the Arrest of Jesus … Rewritten as a Norse Saga

You'll also encounter a style of Christian writing you may well never have seen before, as Professor Daileader explores the strategies the Carolingians used to convert Saxons to Christianity and reads a passage describing the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as rendered in one of the most unusual of these writings—The Heliand, a Carolingian translation of the Gospels dramatically rewritten as a Norse saga.

And you'll learn the strange fear that drove Charlemagne to restore Latin literacy during the "Carolingian Renaissance"—including some samples from the standardized tests given prospective priests that offer a hint as to the immense task the Carolingians were up against. The tests put forth, for example, by Louis the Pious, the son of Charlemagne, included questions on such basic elements of Christian theology as, "Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?" "Even more amazing," notes Professor Daileader, "answer sheets were provided for the examiners … because it was by no means certain that the person grading the test was going to know whether this was a ‘true' or a ‘false.' "

You encounter extraordinary successes as well, learning how the often incomprehensible copied texts left behind by the Romans and Barbarians led the Carolingians to develop basics that we now take for granted, including spaces between words, punctuation, and even the form of handwriting we still use today.

You will discover the curious reason why Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks worked harder than their counterparts on the continent, and how this contributed to their monasteries becoming the intellectual centers of their day during the 6th-century re-Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England.

The Profound Impact of the Viking and Islamic Cultures

The Early Middle Ages were marked by startling contributions from many cultures. Though the Vikings, for example, are often presented to us only as warlike invaders, Professor Daileader reveals how they were, in fact, far more complex than that one-dimensional picture indicates. Yes, their fierce raids for wealth and slaves did result in the sacking of almost every important town in the Carolingian empire multiple times in the 9th century. In fact, citizens even grew to expect the annual Viking raids. But they also established a remarkable trading network—the Northern Arc—the routes of which took them not only across Europe, but to northern Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Archaeologists, in fact, have even unearthed a Viking-age statue of Buddha in a Scandinavian bog. The Vikings' reputation in matters of invasion does not go unexamined, however, and these lectures also explain why the raiders from the north enjoyed such success.

Professor Daileader explains the technological advantage provided by their longboats—the European network of rivers that allowed them to exploit this advantage to the fullest, their ability to carry those longboats across land when they needed to reach new rivers, and the desperate payment of Carolingian protection money—danegeld—that really offered little protection at all; after taking their payout, the Vikings would often simply move on to raid neighboring territories.

Professor Daileader also offers a fascinating glimpse into Islamic culture during this crucial period. You'll see the birth of Islam in the land where, before Muhammad, most of the people were actually pagan polytheists whose worship included several gods in addition to Allah, and the countless ways in which the Arabs transformed Spain—or al-Andalus—during the golden age of Islamic rule. During this golden age, Islamic rulers brought great technological advances in agriculture to al-Andalus, making the nation a center of complex religious and ethnic diversity and a great seat of scholarship whose ruler was himself rumored to possess a library of more than 400,000 volumes.

You'll also enjoy a remarkable glimpse into the court of al-Andalus's 10th-century ruler, Emir Abd al-Rahman III, who used dazzling tricks including "light shows"—using a bowl of mercury and the architecture of his reception hall—to impress his visitors.

If the demonstration wasn't forceful enough, of course, his visitors could also dwell upon the reputation this ruler had gained for forcefully defending his power, for Abd al-Rahman III had once disinterred and crucified the 11-years-dead corpse of an enemy's father to prove a point that even death held no shelter from his wrath!

One of the most interesting subjects covered by Professor Daileader during his lectures on Islam's role in this period is the origin of the idea of jihad, which had a very different meaning in the time of Muhammad than many of us associate it with today.

Professor Daileader concludes this enlightening look at the Dark Ages with a discussion on how Gibbon and Pirenne have fared through the lens of historical hindsight, and how today's historians will one day face the same judgment.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Long Shadows and the Dark Ages
    Though the Early Middle Ages and the world of Late Antiquity that preceded them are often little studied, the questions they raise about why Rome fell and why Christianity replaced paganism as Europe's dominant religion remain important and controversial. x
  • 2
    Diocletian and the Crises of the Third Century
    During the 3rd century, the collapse of a reeling Roman Empire is staved off for a few centuries by the transformative changes introduced by an otherwise conservative emperor named Diocletian. x
  • 3
    Constantine the Great—Christian Emperor
    Constantine's military victories gain him control of the entire Roman Empire and begin the process of transforming Christianity from a minority, illegal religion to the majority, official religion of the Empire. x
  • 4
    Pagans and Christians in the Fourth Century
    The accession of Julian the Apostate causes brief hopes—or fears—of a pagan restoration. But his reign is short-lived, and by 400 A.D. it is clear that the tide has permanently turned toward Christianity within the Roman Empire. x
  • 5
    Athletes of God
    With the conversion of Constantine and the end of imperial persecutions, and with martyrdom no longer readily available, those seeking new ways to excel in their faith turn to new ways of achieving Christian heroism. x
  • 6
    Augustine, Part One
    This is the first of two lectures about perhaps the most influential thinker of the later Roman Empire, whose life and career encapsulate some of the broad changes that were taking place. x
  • 7
    Augustine, Part Two
    In reaction to a theology that argued for the ability of humans to obey God's commands without the assistance of divine grace, Augustine develops a theology that emphasizes human helplessness and the inability to achieve happiness in this world. x
  • 8
    Barbarians at the Gate
    A chain of events set into motion by the Gothic migration of 376 A.D. ultimately leads to the formal end of the western half of the Roman Empire a century later. x
  • 9
    Franks and Goths
    An examination of the Gothic kingdoms and the kingdom of the Franks shows that while the deposing of the last Roman emperor in the west might have been significant from a political standpoint, the administrative, cultural, social, and economic impacts were minimal. x
  • 10
    Arthur’s England
    The Anglo-Saxon settlement of England substantially transforms England's language and the god or gods worshipped there. By the 7th and 8th centuries, Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks have become the leading educators and intellectuals of the day. x
  • 11
    Justinian and the Byzantine Empire
    The eastern half of the Roman Empire—known to historians as the Byzantine Empire—survives the Western Empire by roughly a millennium, managing to preserve classical culture and urban life even as its official language passes from Latin to Greek. x
  • 12
    The House of Islam
    An emerging Arab Empire conquers the Persian Empire, large sections of the Byzantine empire, and even parts of continental Europe, including most of the Iberian peninsula. But an Arab raiding party's insignificant defeat provides the key moment in the ascent of Europe's next great dynasty. x
  • 13
    Rise of the Carolingians
    The Carolingians finally depose the last Merovingian king in 751 A.D., bring all of Francia under their control, and even begin to intervene in Italy, reversing the power balance established during the Roman Empire. x
  • 14
    The Carolingian Empire reaches its territorial and military high watermark during the very long reign of Charlemagne, who makes the Empire the most powerful Christian state on the European continent and gains for himself the revived title of emperor. x
  • 15
    Carolingian Christianity
    Carolingian rulers are deeply involved in the affairs of the Christian Church, dictating policy, sponsoring missionaries, and supporting ecclesiastical reform in a number of ways. x
  • 16
    The Carolingian Renaissance
    The fear that educational deficiencies were jeopardizing the salvation of souls and interfering with the ability of people to call on God for help drives a century-long period of educational reform known as the Carolingian Renaissance, the impact of which is felt to this day. x
  • 17
    Fury of the Northmen
    Beginning in the 8th century, Scandinavians fan out from their homeland in a diaspora that stretches from Newfoundland to Russia, involving settlement, the forging of new trading networks, and relentless violence. x
  • 18
    Collapse of the Carolingian Empire
    Discredited by its inability to deal with Viking attacks, the Carolingian dynasty falls prey to battles over succession and its consequent civil wars and ultimately crumbles. x
  • 19
    The Birth of France and Germany
    The collapse of the Carolingian Empire results in the emergence of the Capetians and Ottonians as the new ruling dynasties in West and East Francia, whose differing paths ultimately reshape them as the Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of Germany. x
  • 20
    England in the Age of Alfred
    Viking attacks on Britain produce very different results from those on the continent, with large sections of England settled. The ultimate result, after the Norman Conquest of 1066, is that a group of Christianized, French-speaking Viking descendents becomes the ruling class in England. x
  • 21
    Al-Andalus—Islamic Spain
    Islamic Spain becomes one of the most dynamic and developed areas of the continent. Despite the brutality of its high politics and religious restrictions on Jews and Christians, its flourishing economy, trade, and intellectual ferment make it an important center of cultural exchange. x
  • 22
    Carolingian Europe—Gateway to the Middle Ages
    This lecture makes the case that, during the Carolingian period, Europe stepped decisively out of its classical past and into its medieval present. x
  • 23
    Family Life—How Then Became Now
    The family underwent a number of structural changes during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, and these changes illustrate how Roman and Germanic culture fused to become the medieval world. x
  • 24
    Long Shadows and the Dark Ages Revisited
    This final lecture examines how historical research has modified the ideas of Gibbon and Pirenne about the transition from the ancient to the medieval world, particularly as they explain the Roman Empire's demise. x

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Your professor

Philip Daileader

About Your Professor

Philip Daileader, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
Dr. Philip Daileader is Associate Professor of History at The College of William and Mary. He earned his B.A. in History from Johns Hopkins University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. Before taking his position at William and Mary, he taught at the University of Alabama and the State University of New York at New Paltz. Professor Daileader received William and Mary's 2004 Alumni Fellowship Award...
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Early Middle Ages is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 201.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deceptively Interesting Probably the least-studied of all the histories. After a few minutes of viewing you get pulled in hook, line, and sinker
Date published: 2018-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The First Course I ever Got! This was the first course I ever listen to and the beginning of a lifelong love of the Great Courses. I was excited to take this course when I first got it and it did not disappoint. There is so much to learn about this misunderstood period of history. Professor Philip Daileader is a gifted lecturer and I learned so much from him. This course is the reason I love history.
Date published: 2018-03-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Presentation is not smooth. Content is not interesting.
Date published: 2018-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course and well done Dr. Daileader did a great job in presenting the material. My understanding of the early middle ages has changed for the better. While it appears that this course was prepared some years ago, it is still effective. Thanks...
Date published: 2018-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on Middle Ages Simply one of the best courses I have ever taken. Professor Daileader is outstanding. His wit makes the course incredibly interesting. I wish I had professors like him when I was in college and graduate school. I took the course after my son, who is in high school, asked me about the dark ages. I realized I knew almost nothing about that period of history. I started watching The Early Middle Ages by Professor Daileader and couldn't stop. It is a fascinating period that is often overlooked in history classes. I wish I could have given the course a 10.
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Informative I very much enjoyed this course. I found the professor to be very knowledgeable and his presentation was at the right speed, right tone, just right for me. The subject matter of the Dark Ages was brought to light by Professor Daileader. I will say the first lecture is very academic - describing theories from important historians, important, but some might need to persevere through, but it will get way better!
Date published: 2018-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great teacher I watched this on Great Course Plus and felt I got my money’s worth and much more. Dr. Dialeader is knowledgeable, articulate, and informative as well as delightfully humorous at points.
Date published: 2018-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great I am enjoying it immensely. And I'm looking for to other courses on the Middle Ages
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great teacher! in addition to his erudition and command of the material. the professor has a delightful sense of humor which enlivens the presentation and makes it a pleasure to listen to
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent and thought-provoking survey This course is worth taking because it gives an excellent picture of the early middle ages. The period could also be described as the gradual disintegration of the Roman Empire, which, in some ways, lived on after the last Emperor was removed. Professor Daileader is highly knowledgeable and entertaining. He focuses on the social and economic history as well as the political developments of the period. The discussion of the Carolingian empire, and its eventual downfall, was especially memorable. Professor Daileader is well-informed on developments in the early Christian church and explains how the early Viking raids are relevant to a study of the period. Anyone who is interested in how the world changed after the Roman Empire disintegrated and how Europe gradually developed new political organizations to take its place should take this course.
Date published: 2017-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Less ancient and "dark" than once thought! Becoming "old" one's self (I am now, incredibly, 74!) brings with it many gifts, one of which is to understand that what once seemed "long ago" was, in fact, not really that far back. Furthermore, one becomes more aware of how we humans just love to attach characteristics -- that can pass as "knowledge" -- to an entire era -- which we love to denote as an "age" -- of immense complexity and interest. Such is the case of that period that, in this course, is covered by Professor Daileader -- what he calls the "Early Middle Ages" and which many have previously designated as "The Dark Ages." Just for some perspective: What do you think future historians will call the period of the 20th century with its wars and genocides that consumed upwards of 100 million lives? In a sense, studying history is like watching the ebb and flow of ocean tides, for there seems to be a definite rhythm to human history that involves innovation, discovery, growth and flourishing -- and then, sadly, diminishment, conflict, and a fading away. But this last phase is not, as we once thought, a path to oblivion but, rather, the beginning of -- or, more accurately, a merging into -- another story that has more continuity with the past than once understood. So it is with this remarkable period that witnessed the definite decline of western Roman imperial power, but also the continuity of many of its ideas, instruments, and forms for centuries longer among those who succeeded to political dominance in its place. Indeed, if one thinks of the Idea of Rome -- an idealized concept of thriving peace, communication and commerce -- than that Rome never "fell" at all. I especially valued the way in which Professor Daileader narrated the fascinating relationship between political powers and those of the religious sphere, true both of the "Christian" West as well as the quickly spreading power of Muslim-professing Arabs beginning in the 7th century. There is no doubt that, for the average person, this would have been a very difficult period in which to live: successive warring states, the constant threat of famine or plague, and -- for many -- the palpable sense of true loss of what had once been. But it was also a time of visionaries, including some who were warriors first: exploration, conquest, new order, new things, and new understandings. For many wonderful insights into a period more distant in understanding than in time, I recommend this enjoyable course on peoples not so very different from ourselves!
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting, I bought the second one, and the vikings set. all good so far, only complaint is not being able to discuss with instructor or other students.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a great buy. content is very informative and the professor is clear, concise and engaging. We have decided that if you are using the material anywhere except your car DVD is the way to go. The maps etc are very helpful in following the content.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Look at the "Dark Ages" The Early Middle Ages gave me a glimpse of part of European history that's often skipped over. Professor Daileader is not only knowledgeable but knows when to add a touch of humor that makes listening a pleasure.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course!!! This course is an excellent course, the lecturer is great, very clear, informative, interesting. The course is very well constructed, the points for each sections are clear.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous I never cared for the middle ages until a friend pointed out how much of our current western civilization was established during that period: religious competition, statesman craft, secular vs. religious power, languages, and the long shadow of the black death. Prof Daileader is a wonderful speaker, very clear, always with a salt of humor to make this material come to life. He makes the Middle Ages fascinating, and so relevant to understanding our current age. After listening to this course on the early Middle Ages, I bought his two other courses, High MA and Late MA which are equally wonderful. Just Fabulous. Thank you professor for making all this dense material so accessible.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Enjoyable This is an informative and enjoyable course. The professor does a good job of walking through both the social and political history of the late Roman empire through the early Middle Ages. It is often hard to blend both social and political history, though this professor does a remarkably good job of covering both. I learned something in every lesson, and I feel better informed about this period of time. My favorite lecture was the one on family structures where he compared Roman traditions with barbarian traditions and described how they combined, with the influence of the Christian Church, into our modern notion of family structure.
Date published: 2017-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course This is a fascinating exposition of a highly interesting subject, delivered in a deeply engaging way. I absolutely loved the lectures. They are focused and succint, and yet cover a lot of ground. They are highly accessible, and yet manages to present the key historiographical issues with wit and insight. They achieve a perfect balance between the 'history of events' and 'history of mentalities', illuminating a 'dark' age. I would recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone considering studying the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprise! I haven't been interested in the middle ages since early college years. My wife has had no interest at all. We bought several courses for the winter months and flipped to start with this one. It's great. She's especially taken by it. We were thrilled with Ehrman's course on how Jesus became God and this one picks up that story. Wow.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This course is wonderful--I'm learning so much. The instructer is excellent, a great raconteur. His discourse is concise and focused, and he has a subtle sense of humor which keeps it lively. It's my favorite of the Great Courses so far, and I will definitely be getting the next two courses in the series.
Date published: 2016-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatly enjoyed! The classes are thorough and enjoyable. Well structured, clear, cocise, and super interesting. After listening to this course I immediately ordered three other courses by this professor (The High Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages, and Crusades).
Date published: 2016-10-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Early Middle Ages I was so disappointed to find that this video is a waste of money. The audio would be the best value for sure, as there are few pictures other than of the professor giving a lecture. He pretty much puts me to sleep every time I try to listen. Poor speaking ability. His frequent emphasis on the word "...and....." is like scraping fingers on a chalkboard to the ears of the listener. Very upset with this purchase.
Date published: 2016-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An eye-opening course I just completed this delightful course on the early middle ages and have to agree wholeheartedly with the other reviewers here--this course is excellent. The professor takes you by the hand from the fall of Rome (traditionally dated 476 A.D., but the professor explains why too much emphasis shouldn't be placed on this date) to just after the beginning of 1000 A.D., explaining how the world slowly changed to become the world that is today. What I like about this course is the professor's knowledge of the subject, his delightful personality, his passion for this period of history, and--perhaps most importantly--the fact that paints so well with such a broad brush! For instance, the professor not only explains how the land occupied by the Romans in the west changed with the coming of the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, but discusses the Carolingian revival, the birth of the modern nation states of France and Germany, Islamic Spain, the Viking invasions throughout Europe, the settlement of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the changes in the country with the Viking invasions (again), and finally the golden era under Alfred the Great. The scope is pretty comprehensive, and the professor covers it all well. Finally, the final lecture does a nice job of tying much of the previous material together, and presents several compelling arguments as to why the traditional competing explanations of Rome's collapse (i.e., moral degradation and economic turmoil) are both important but insufficient to explain why some parts of western Rome fell long before 476 A.D. (e.g., the Romans abandoned England in 410), why some fell long after this date (up through the 6th century, in fact), and why the eastern half of the Roman empire continued in existence to 1453 A.D. All in all, this is an important course about a oft-neglected and under-appreciated chapter of history that explains how our world came to be what it is. When you finish the course, you will understand why calling this period the "dark ages" says much more about our state of knowledge than about the period the label purports to describe. Grade = A. I'm looking forward to his next course!
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The fall of the Roman Empire and more I love it when a course surprises me. Within my interests in history I ranked the middle ages at near dead last. After all what is there of interest in the Dark Ages? I have long found the Roman Empire fascinating and "The Era of the Crusades" was one of my first history courses within The Great Courses. But the "Early Midlle Ages", why bother? Professor Daileader won me over instantly with a brilliant presentation, excellent overlap with the fall of the Roman Empire, a superb treatment of the rise of Christianity with discussions of Constantine, martyrdom vs monasticism, and a fine introduction to St. Augustine. All this comes at you non-stop within the first half-dozen lectures. As Professor Daileader explains the Dark Ages were not so much devoid of historical intrigue as they were lacking historical record. Once the Romans are gone the lectures lead into us murky waters. It is not clear to me how historians piece together the details out of the darkness. The professor does mention sources like saga, biography, and most critically, archeology. Given the difficulty of finding historical facts I wonder where the details come from. Nonetheless the details are many and are vibrant in the post-Roman part of the course with stories of Kings and Popes, of Counts and Dukes, of Arab conquests and Viking raids. I did not find this material as captivating as the Roman era but I always looked forward to the next lecture. Don't miss the last lecture. It not only summarizes the course succinctly but highlights details that critical to understanding the era. In summary this course is a must just for its treatment of the fall of the Roman Empire but Professor Daileader's skillful presentation and bewildering knowledge of the Dark Ages make every moment interesting.
Date published: 2016-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview I needed a quick overview of early medieval history for a class I was taking -- and this was a good choice. Most important topics are covered at an overview level, with plenty of examples, etc. The professor really enjoys his subject, and is an acceptable presenter. I would recommend this course to others.
Date published: 2016-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get This One and Ruiz'a 1492 video download version I finished professor Ruiz's "The Other 1492" in audio during my morning walks and with some serendipity was watching professor Daileader's course on the "Early Middle Ages" during the same time. For me, especially, the portions of both courses dealing with the Iberian peninsula, issues of Islam and Christianity during this era frequently reinforced each other covering some of the same topics from different angles and with differing emphasis. I also might add that there is some overlap and additional insights to be gained from listening to the "Era of the Crusades" course. Dr. Daileader begins his course going back to the Roman empire to the days of the late Roman empire, beginning with discussing the earlier, two conflicting theories of the fall of that empire: Gibbon and Pirenne. At first I was a bit put off with Dr. Daileader's instance of using one-third of his course to cover ground that is not considered a part of the Middle Ages. However the period from 300 CE to 1000 CE while clearly not all technically in the "Middle Ages" was clearly a transition from the classical era to the Middle Ages and detailing much of that transition is well worth the time. There is plenty to be learned from this series, especially about how the Franks, Charlemagne and the Carolingians dominated much of this period. And more about which I had no idea. For example the raids by the Vikings into their empire and the Carolingians complete inability to deal with these incursions. To the point that they paid tribute rather than dealing with the problem. Or that the Viking raids had completely opposite effects in Britten and France (in modern terms). Just a few of the gems in this course. A bit on the downside. The course on Early Middle Ages was filmed after professor Daileader's "High Middle Ages" course. Unfortunately, his delivery seems way too artificial in this course as opposed to his much more natural delivery in the earlier course. I have noticed other lecturers present in this same two-handed, off-putting style and I now expect that it is not the professor, but rather the director who should be held accountable for the artificiality/ Regardless, highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surpassed my expectations I did not know a great deal about this period when I purchased the course. Professor Daileader made the course so fascinating that I finished it more quickly than I intended. I appreciated his clarification about the "fall" of the Roman Empire. I was especially interested in the religious aspects of the period, including the rapid expansion of the Islamic power following the death of Mohamed. The lecture style is informative with some wry humor and the lectures kept my attention throughout. I learned much more than I expected. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good indeed I've come out of watching this course knowing a heck of a lot more about this period than when I went in. Prof. Daileader really knows what he is talking about. I must admit I found him slightly irritating in the first lecture, but he quickly grows on you and then you can only appreciate his personal teaching style, which is extremely fluent and eloquent. I have encountered few better public speakers/lecturers than this man. 10/10 on course content and 10/10 on delivery. This must be a difficult period to teach and at the price of the DVDs it's a steal for the amateur historian! Highlights for me were the material on the Carolingians, Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings.
Date published: 2016-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent with Only Minor Caveats For those interested in the history of early medieval Europe, I can heartily recommend the course. I have only minor caveats. Of the 24 lectures, the first 7 still deal with the time of the later Roman Empire. Also, although the lecturer is very good, he has two minor personal quirks: he tends to look down a lot, rather than facing the camera, and one of his favorite words seems to be 'and'. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend the course for those interested in the period.
Date published: 2016-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Daileader's Fabulous Courses Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages; all awesome courses. I listen to them over and over. A real boon to those with inquiring minds. Love Professor Daileader's teaching style.
Date published: 2016-03-28
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