Life in Western Europe during the Middle Ages was very different than it is today, with lifestyles unique to that time. Tremendous insecurity existed because of the threats of the Viking raiders and the Umayyad Caliph. The Europeans became very self-sufficient and did not heavily rely on trade from other places, which helped to create a new social structure. As a result, Medieval Europe had many distinctive customs that are no longer practiced. The Europeans were very insecure during this time period because of the new threats that emerged, specifically the Vikings from Scandinavia and the Umayyad Caliph.
An elite strike force of Arabs and Berbers, under the authority of the Umayyad Caliph, crossed the Straight of Gibraltar and overthrew the Visigoth Kingdom of Spain (Bulliet 244). They advanced into France with little resistance because of the inability of the Europeans to form adequate resistance but they were stopped by Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel. Eighty-two years later, a new threat emerged, the Vikings. The Vikings, who were sea raiders from Scandinavia, attacked villages and monasteries to acquire plunder and slaves.
This threat kept the Europeans on edge because they could attack at any time, being able to sail down rivers and catch the villages’ inhabitants by surprise. This insecurity contributed to making the region more self-sufficient and would help to shape the emerging social system. The Europeans became very independent and did not rely on many outside sources for supplies causing a new social structure to emerge. After the Roman Empire fell, trade across the Mediterranean diminished and people began to rely on the meager resources of the area in which they lived (Bulliet 246).
In all of Western Europe, self-sufficient farming communities, manors, were established (Bulliet 246) as the people moved away from the urban-based civilization that defined the Roman Empire. Peasants, or serfs, would work for the lord of the manor who would shelter them from attack. The serfs could be treated as cruelly or as humanely as the master wanted, with few laws enforced (Doc. 4, Harsh Treatment of Serfs and Slaves). This practice was established because of the instability of the region and the possibility of warfare.
The resultant feudal society shaped the region for the next few hundred years. Feudalism involved the serfs submitting to a vassal, the noble who owned the manor. The noble was given the manor by the king. In exchange for the land, known as a fief, the vassal promised to give military support to the king. The fiefs were like small villages with the lord of the manor providing governance and justice (Bulliet 247). This system helped to hold Europe together during this time of uncertainty.
The self sufficiency of the region helped to shape this era of history, providing a sense of stability to the region that would continue until it was conquered by Charlemagne. The customs and practices of the Middle Ages changed significantly from what had developed in the Roman Empire. The Vikings and the Umayyad Caliph created widespread insecurity that led Western Europe to depend on the Feudal System. This caused a major shift in the social system that would help to set the stage for the next era in history.