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Enlightenment: Etymology and Timespan

The term Enlightenment has a very deep meaning, the common literary definition being: 'wisdom and understanding and ability to think and reason rationally'. There are two broad meanings of the term enlightenment, religious or spiritual enlightenment and intellectual enlightenment. The Enlightenment Period or Age of Enlightenment, which is sometimes also known as an Enlightenment era, refers to the intellectual enlightenment in the American history and also the European history.

The genesis of the concept of the period of enlightenment is often attributed to several events. An after wave of the Renaissance, the era of Enlightenment is often said to have triggered the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 as the French revolution was largely attributed to common thought and rational behavior by society. The people wanted to do what was right and what was rational. Some scholars conclude that the actual intellectual change started, much before in 1648 when the 30 years war was concluded. It was a replicating after effect of Renaissance. The Enlightenment Period timeline is quite debatable, though a literary record that triggered the interest of intellectuals to give momentum to the Age, was published in 1784-83, by Immanuel Kant, a philosopher and thinker, who published the essay Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment. The literary meaning was new found and the concept of 'Enlightenment' or Aufklrung (Greman word), was used quite strongly for the first time with reference to intellectual rationality and thought.

The essay was moreover an observance of the ongoing change that probably gave the era its name. The first paragraph of the essay was quite influential, and in some famous words, Kent has argued that people or society at large was not capable to think rationally or independently. The reason for this incapability as cited by Kent was fear, lack of right education and to some extent the element of unwillingness, and was not due to the lack of intellect. From the historical chronology of all historic events, the time period between 1648 (end of Thirty years war) to 1789 (French Revolution) are generally cited to the beginning and ending of the Era of Enlightenment in Europe.

It is often concluded that the Enlightenment Period was not initiated on a certain event date or time, but was assimilated by the society to such an extent that dogma was broken down by rationality. Believe it or not the Enlightenment Period per se was said to have concluded with the complete change in the though or more rudely the mentality of the society, that the beginning of the era or the World Wars. In several ways the Enlightenment Period has not ended in several primitive society and the genesis of ideas and acceptance of rationalism, empiricism and other schools of thoughts have become social institutions that are integrated it our minds quite naturally and to some extent by the promotion of education such as mathematics, science, history philosophy and economics. The 'why' element in the human thought is infinite and everlasting. All we need to do is find the answer to it naturally, rationally and in some cases through certain experience.

The Development of Feudalism in Europe

With the dissolution of the Charlemagne's empire and the rise of the monarchies, the political and social organization of feudalism evolved in Western Europe. The three main pillars on which the concept of feudalism rests, are the fragmentation of political power, public power in private hands and the armed forces being secured through private contracts. Its basic essence is derived from the concept of granting of land in return for military service. It led to the formation of the hierarchy of power, where land constituted the principal form of wealth and defined the political, social and economic structures. The roots of the feudal system lie in the 8th century, when Charles Martel granted his nobles, rights over tracts of land to yield the income with which they could provide fighting men for his army. The act of generosity had to be sealed with the oath of loyalty towards the benefactor. This led to the development of the relationship between lord and vassal and this is the heart of feudalism. With the lord giving the vassal an income-yielding fief (fehu-od in Frankish, the basis of the word 'feudal'), the vassal in return paid homage to the lord with his loyalty, thus formalizing the relationship.
With the attack of the Vikings from the north, the Magyars from the west and Muslims from the south, the central authority broke down. Public functions, obligations, and privileges were taken over by individuals, operating under a variety of private hierarchical arrangements created by personal obligation. This led to the development of feudalism in Europe in the 10th century BC.
Feudalism in the Middle Ages resembled a pyramid, with the papacy at the helm of the affairs. The King, who came next in the feudal structure pyramid, was answerable only to the pope. In turn, everyone under the king had to pay allegiance to him and he would in turn, grant the land to important nobles and the lesser powerful military men who were called the vassals. While the nobles swore to protect and serve the king, the vassals or the knights agreed to fight for the king in exchange for the land. The last in the pyramidal structure were the medieval serfs, peasants or the villeins who worked on the land and were allowed to subsist only on what they grew. Most of them toiled hard in their lands, which they were not allowed to leave. The positive part was that it was possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks of the pyramid of feudal system and this is what everyone aspired to do. The knights who were valiant in the battle fields, aspired to join the nobility and the powerful nobles aspired to become kings.

As time passed, the middle ages feudal pyramid became more complex and riddled with bureaucratic problems with the fiefs becoming hereditary. There was also a breakdown of the mutual ties between the lords and the vassals. This, along with the centralization of strong lordships, whether as kings (as in England and France) or territorial rulers (as in the holy Roman empire) led to the decline of medieval feudalism.

 

The Roman Empire

The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the societal collapse encompassing both the gradual disintegration of the political, economic, military, and other social institutions of Rome and the barbarian invasions that were its final doom in Western Europe. This slow decline occurred over a period of approximately 320 years, culminating on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain. The decline of the Roman Empire is one of the events traditionally marking the end of Classical Antiquity and the beginning of the European Middle Ages. Throughout the 5th century, the Empire's territories in western Europe and northwestern Africa, including Italy, fell to various invading or indigenous peoples in what is sometimes called the Migration period. Although the eastern half still survived with borders essentially intact for several centuries (until the Arab expansion), the Empire as a whole had initiated major cultural and political transformations since the Crisis of the Third Century, with the shift towards a more openly autocratic and ritualized form of government, the adoption of Christianity as the state religion, and a general rejection of the traditions and values of Classical Antiquity. While traditional historiography emphasized this break with Antiquity by using the term "Byzantine Empire" instead of Roman Empire, recent schools of history offer a more nuanced view, seeing mostly continuity rather than a sharp break. The Empire of Late Antiquity already looked very different from classical Rome.

The Roman Empire emerged from the Roman Republic when Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar transformed it from a republic into a monarchy. Rome reached its zenith in the 2nd century, then fortunes slowly declined (with many revivals and restorations along the way). The reasons for the decline of the Empire are still debated today, and likely multiple. Historians infer that the population appears to have diminished in many provincesespecially western Europefrom the diminishing size of fortifications built to protect the cities from barbarian incursions from the 3rd century on. By the late 3rd century, the city of Rome no longer served as an effective capital for the Emperor and various cities were used as new administrative capitals. Rome and other Italian cities fell into severe decline (Rome itself was almost completely abandoned). Another blow came with the Persian invasion of the East in the 7th century, immediately followed by the Muslim conquests, especially of Egypt, which curtailed much of the key trade in the Mediterranean on which Europe depended. Successive emperors, starting with Constantine, privileged the eastern city of Byzantium, which he had entirely rebuilt after a siege. Later renamed Constantinople, and protected by formidable walls in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, it was to become the largest and most powerful city of Christian Europe in the Early Middle Ages. The Empire was to live on in the East for many centuries, and enjoy periods of recovery and cultural brilliance, but its size would remain a fraction of what it had been in classical times. It became an essentially regional power, centered on Greece and Anatolia. Modern historians tend to prefer the term Byzantine Empire for the eastern, medieval stage of the Roman Empire.

 

The Vikings

The Old Norse feminine noun víking refers to an expedition overseas. It occurs in Viking Age runic inscriptions and in later medieval writings in set expressions such as the phrasal verb fara í víking "to go on an expedition". In later texts such as the Icelandic sagas, the phrase "to go viking" implies participation in raiding activity or piracy, and not simply seaborne missions of trade and commerce. The most important primary sources for information on the Vikings are different sorts of contemporary evidence from Scandinavia and the various regions in which the Vikings were active. The contemporary documentary sources upon which modern knowledge is based therefore consist mostly of texts written in Christian and Islamic communities overseas that had often been negatively affected by Viking activity. These texts reflect varying degrees of bias and reliability, but not more so than is usually the case in early medieval writings, and they remain very important. Evidence from after the Viking Age can also be important for understanding the Vikings, although it needs to be treated very cautiously. After the consolidation of the church and the assimilation of Scandinavia and its colonies into the mainstream of medieval Christian culture in the 11th and 12th centuries, native written sources begin to appear, in Latin and Old Norse. In the Viking colony of Iceland, an extraordinary vernacular literature blossomed in the twelfth to 14th centuries, and many traditions connected with the Viking Age were written down for the first time in the Icelandic sagas. The period from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is commonly known as the Viking Age of Scandinavian history. The Normans, however, were descended from Danish Vikings who were given feudal overlordship of areas in northern France the Duchy of Normandy in the 10th century. In that respect, descendants of the Vikings continued to have an influence in northern Europe. Likewise, King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, had Danish ancestors. Geographically, a "Viking Age" may be assigned not only to Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden), but also to territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, including Scandinavian York, the administrative center of the remains of the Kingdom of Northumbria, parts of Mercia, and East Anglia. Viking navigators opened the road to new lands to the north, west and east, resulting in the foundation of independent settlements in the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands; Iceland; Greenland and L'Anse aux Meadows, a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, circa 1000 A.D. Many of these lands, specifically Greenland and Iceland, may have been originally discovered by sailors blown off course. They also may well have been deliberately sought out, perhaps on the basis of the accounts of sailors who had seen land in the distance. The Greenland settlement eventually died out, possibly due to climate change. Vikings also explored and settled in territories in Slavic-dominated areas of Eastern Europe, particularly the Kievan Rus. By 950 AD these settlements were largely Slavicized.

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