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How and when did the medieval period get its name?

In European history, the Middle Ages or the medieval period refers to the era between the collapse of the Roman empire in the 5th century and the beginning of the Renaissance. But when and how did the period get its name? BBC History Revealed explains…

Italian poet Francesco Petrarch
Published: November 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm
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Most people living in the Middle Ages wouldn’t have used that label – understandably, because how could they know they’d end up as the meat in the sandwich between ancient and modern times? Men and women of the Norman and Tudor worlds certainly would not have known what it meant.


The concept of medievalism emerged later on, inspired by the Italian poet Petrarch. He lived in the 1300s and felt his world was a cultural “Dark Age”, inferior to the greatness of the prior Greco-Roman world.

Thankfully, the ensuing 1400s produced more great minds, allowing the humanist scholar Leonardo Bruni to christen it a new golden era – the so-called Renaissance.

Deciding this marked a new phase for humanity, Bruni suggested history could be divided into the three categories: ancient, middle and modern. Confusingly, however, the Late Middle Ages (often classified as 1300-1500) actually overlaps the Renaissance (1350-1600s), meaning Bruni was himself a medieval man!

It’s also worth noting that the word ‘medieval’ is not even medieval creation, but a 19th-century Anglicisation of Bruni’s Latin phrase, "Medium Aevum”.


This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


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