Wikipedia 10K Redux by Reagle from Starling archive. Bugs abound!!!
Period in European History (see also HistoryofEurope) which lasted from the end of the Western Roman Empire (late 4th century) to the beginning of the Renaissance Age (ca. 14th century). After the downfall of Roman power, several Germanic and Slavic tribes and the Byzantine Empire competed for power in different parts of Europe. Basicly, the spread of Christianity from the Mediterranean area and from Ireland and Scotland throughout Europe led to a spread of ecclesiastical power which pervaded political institutions (e.g. the FrankEmpire) and formed the basis for a first European "identity": Christendom. A rather nasty example of this identity at work are the Crusades, during which Popes, kings, and emporors drew on the unity of all Christians to wage bloody war on Islam, which was spreading along Europe's southern borders. With the rise of western European economic growth, culture and political power, the Middle Ages came to an end, gradually making way for a movement called the Renaissance.