Tzedakah... Artwork by Jessica Millis :)

I really wanted to take the time to introduce an amazing piece of art work from a friend of mine. She has entered a contest which allows public voting for the next few days. I am hopeful that you will like her submission and also be willing to vote for her. I have put her image below and it is beautiful! I have also posted her thoughts on her artwork which makes it even more special to me. Please take the time to look at the picture and read her thoughts.....

Please briefly describe your design:
This design incorporates a portrayal of the six days of creation within a contemporary context, expressing the power of compassion, unity and creativity in solving modern problems. The top portion portrays interconnecting human hands cradling the earth and strenghtening each other.
This tzedakah box will be made from ceramic clay, which is symbolically important, as clay comes from the earth. Each of the periods of creation will be painted in colorful glazes. The hands and the globe will be sculpted and cast in clay, forming a handle for the hexagonal lid. It will measure 11 inches tall, and 6 inches wide at the widest point.

How does your design reimagine the future of giving? How will your design spark a national conversation about the obligation to give, where to give, to whom and why?
The days of creation in my design each reflect a different way in which we can contribute to positive change through our daily actions. I believe we must use our own creativity to effect social and environmental change. We might ask ourselves, for example, "How have my actions today impacted the atmosphere, the land, the water, the plants and animals, and other human beings?", We may consider how we can give to others and to the earth. What we perceive to be insignificant acts are in fact intricately connected, affecting others in profound ways we may never fully know. My hope is that we will be inspired to give in a manner that will promote environmental sustainability, prosperity, and self-reliance. For example, donations that give even a relatively small amount of money to a small business or agricultural venture can have enormous positive impacts on individual lives. This is one creative approach to promoting self-sufficiency and environmental consciousness on a local level and in developing nations. It is sometimes by very small and simple means that great change can occur. I believe we need to begin to see more clearly the many ways in which we as human beings are connected both to each other and to our environment. Increased opportunities for travel, and modern technology, especially social media, have contributed to greater general awareness, but there still seems to be a spiritual disconnect. The interconnected hands in my design represent our link to each other and to our planet. It isn't simply about giving money to a cause, but rather about changing our perceptions of others, learning tolerance, patience, and simple kindness. It is about recognizing the impact of our actions. I believe as we go about our daily lives without judging others so harshly, constantly looking for the good in other people, opportunities to help will materialize in ways we may not expect. Some of those opportunities may involve a gift of money, but it may also be as simple as offering encouragement and hope to someone who is suffering. As we give to others, especially to people we may not necessarily like or relate to, we gain compassion and understanding, we become unified, and we begin to heal. The people we have helped may in turn choose to turn around and give to someone else. As this occurs, we can begin to recognize that we are all in this together, and we are not as different as we thought. I guess as a concept this is not complex, yet it seems so elusive to us at times. It just takes practice. As we begin to see “the big picture”, we can be creatively inspired and empowered to contribute to a chain of meaningful change.

So will you go to this site and vote? Her design is under the name Jessmillis. Please! Also leave any comments as I will make sure she gets them! :)


Short Perspectives on Feudalism, Manorialism, and Serfs

This was a difficult post for me as this is not an easy or benign topic.... While the concepts I will discuss can be seen in simple terms, they are in many ways complex and unique from other situations. Imagine trying to describe a social system such as capitalism in simple terms and you might realize some of the difficulty that a historian faces in these situations... and I will not pretend to be a true historian, simply a loyal fan as it were. In this post, I will attempt to discuss the differences between Manorialism and Feudalism (for there are differences) and what the different aspects of being a serf or being a Lord would be as well as some of the challenges that Europe faced during this time. Enjoy... :)

There are a few differences between the manorial system and feudalism. Manorialism is a system of forced agricultural labor and the human relationships are between the aristocrats and their forced laborers- the peasants. The economy is based on agriculture and little to no cash money is used. The manor, a landed estate which was privately owned, was in the center of the manorial land with the land that was given to the serfs surrounding it. This system gave some stability to the peasants and the aristocracy together. Feudalism was more of a political structure and gave rules to the relationships between the aristocracy. It was a system that worked with the power distribution between the nobles and was a system that basically made checks and balances between the 'equals' of the nobility. Whereas, manorialism really was a part of a system that gave rules for relationships that were 'unequal' – that of lord and serf... or CEO and janitor to use a common metaphor. And that system was feudalism.

The manorial system was actually an important part of feudalism, which was the system of living that was used to control and govern almost all peoples in Europe at one time. Manorialism was the basic principle that organized the rural economies in feudal Europe. In a form of 'trickle down' politics, a lord of a manor was given certain legal power over those who worked on his manor. He would benefit from the forced agricultural labor of the peasants who worked his land and he had some legal obligations towards those same peasants such as protection of them and the land. If you were a lord, in many ways you got a pretty sweet deal and it was in this way a lord would continue to develop wealth and more power from exploiting the obligatory free labor of the peasants. There really wasn't anywhere for the peasants to go... as there were simply too many of them.

The obligations or duties required of a serf were very different from the obligations of his liege lord. Serfs, of which the majority of peasants were, were bound to the soil or land of a Lord. They were required to stay on, live on, and work the land with very little say about it. If the noble sold the land or gave it to someone else, the serf went with the land- in that essence, a serf was truly property. (The only ability that a serf had to legally leave the land was if he was able to get permission from his 'lord'.) One benefit that a serf did have was that he could pass on his 'land' to his children... however, that didn't change that fact that the land and his children were owned by the Lord of the Manor. A serf was required to work the land and pay rent for it to the lord (which was usually paid in agricultural products.) A serf also had to pay dues to the manor if they wanted to cut wood, use the common bakery or mill, etc... Other work that the Lord of the Manor could require from a serf was misc labor services in the manorial land (the land the lord kept for his use) for a certain number of days- fix fences, roofs, etc... The usual number of required days was three a week. The Lords were the authority and the lawmakers of the manor. They were the judges over disputes, the disciplinarian of crimes, and the Lord was expected to above all protect his serfs from harm... such as marauding vikings or other groups. The Lord would also be obligated to try and fix damage due to natural disasters such as fire or flood and to protect the Catholic church in his lands as well.

Another aspect or social 'level' of Feudalism is the vassal. A vassal was an individual with a slightly different 'job' than a serf. A vassal was 'given' land by a lord in exchange for an oath of loyalty and the obligation to give the lord military support and protection. A vassal could 'give' his land to his heirs if they were old enough, but the vow would need to be renewed to the Lord at that time... the vow would have to be remade with each person and was not 'inherited'. Once the vow was made, a vassal was obliged to give military service, give advice and counsel to the lord about military or manor matters, to give aid if the lord incurred unusual expenses such as military campaigns and of course, to provide hospitality to the lord if he was to come for a visit- they were to be treated as royalty! In exchange, the feudal lord would give the vassal (most times) land that the vassal could use to make income and even have his own serfs. Vassals would also be required to provide military soldiers to the lord if their holdings were big enough. A vassal tended to be a lesser noble, but still not of the peasant class...

This system and social structure was fairly stable for a long period of time. Those in power kept it and the peasants would (like most of us) try to find a way to be successful in a limiting and oppressive environment. It was only with several natural disasters that this system would have its first severe challenge. One of those challenges was in the year of 1315 and is quite notable as the beginning of a deadly famine in northern Europe. Europe at this time was a mostly agricultural economy and so any kind of food shortage would have large ramifications for the population. This famine was devastating enough that the combined northern states of Europe would take several years to fully recover. There are several factors that helped contribute to the devastation that this famine had. One factor was weather itself... the spring of 1315 was mostly bad weather (rain and cool temperatures which didn't allow for a good beginning growth in the crops. This in turn led to almost universal crop failures all across the northern European continent – and as the economy and eating was based upon these crops, this was a very scary thing indeed. Peasants already found that the majority of what they were able to grow had to be given in taxes to the church or to the lord of the manor. If they didn't grow enough to have extra... they would have nothing to eat or even to save as seed to grow the next year. A crop failure during this time would have had devastating effects. Add to that the fact that the population at this time was at an historical high... so there were many more people percentage-wise to feed with the same land and techniques of growing then there had been in the past. This meant that even with a small shortage of food, some people would necessarily go hungry. By 1316, all the peasants would have found themselves hungry with no food reserves and this in turn would force them to resort to desperate means- whether it was crime, poaching, killing of needed animals, etc.... some even resorted to cannibalism and some members of 'elderly' populations would starve themselves to leave more food for the younger people. Other factors that contributed to these problem were that many kings during this time didn't really have an effective way of dealing with any major crisis affecting the country they governed. The Catholic church would also take some of the blame for the famines as prayers and other 'interventions' were not successful. So this famine would help erode the power and unquestioned authority of both kings and popes because neither group could or did deal effectively with the crisis.

So how did these natural disasters affect manorialism? The large scale deaths that came with the famines and almost continuous wars had taken their toll on the poor and those who were simply trying to survive through the never ending crises. During these times, many kings had started to really collect and cement an absolute power that had only been seen a few times in the past during large empires. This absolute power took away from the power of the 'lords' or nobles and gave the kings the might to control their domains and their land... whereas in feudalism, a knight might feel a lot more loyalty to the lord he knew than the distant king. The growth of towns as a different and successful economic policy also gave alternatives to the rural economy. But the disasters had also killed ALOT of people... so labor was no longer overabundant. Instead, those who gave labor now had more options (in theory). Yes, a peasant was legally obligated to stay on the land for the lord that he worked for, but if you could escape to a town and get work there you could eventually get your freedom. You could escape and go work for another lord who would pay you better wages than your current lord because the noble was desperate for labor. Trade had developed and you could make your living from more than just tilling the ground for someone else. Also, as the population began to grow again people began to move out of the manorial lands to other close land and these peasants would not be considered serfs. Money and trade would change how you could get paid for your labor. So, as the peasants started to make changes, towns and trade grew and change happened economically around the country. Also, as the 'Kings' became true absolute monarchs, manorialism was undermined and slowly defeated.

Feudalism itself was undermined and defeated in a few steps- most of the same steps that destroyed manorialism as the manor system was an essential element of this system. Feudalism itself is a system that helped to establish stability in oaths of loyalty and honor to other nobles or kings. By ending many of the wars between the noble class, it was better for the countries themselves as well as the peasants who tended to take the brunt of noble 'ambition'. The rise of towns, free men and the return of money to the economy eroded the strong, unyielding relationships that were so important in feudalism. Lords no longer had full control over all the economy on their lands and cities, etc... they might not have any control over at all. A moneyed economy allowed nobles to train and hire armies so that not only were the armies more effective, but they were not taking from the people who were growing food and had no wish to fight. The rise of education during the High Middle Ages as well as the previous disasters also eroded some of the need for feudalism by changing the mindset of ordinary people which influenced people to start to question tradition, hierarchy and the Catholic church. In essence, feudalism as a system was too rigid and unyielding to be able to survive and adapt to the subtle changes in the society that it was trying to control.

Whew! Again, this was a very short and simplistic way of looking at this subject... What are your thoughts?


Brief Views of the Early Medieval World Part II: The Decline of the Roman Empire, Monarchs, and Islam

This post is the second part of some brief paragraphs on different aspects of the medieval world and the people and religions that helped to create the world we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy....

It was during the medieval time that the Islamic religion rose to greater prominence. Islam actually has the same roots as Christianity and Judaism as these three religions can be traced back to the Patriarch Abraham. Islam was a family-oriented religion stressing ties to family over ties to clan and giving men the ability to have more than one wife. This helped protect women in this society that had not had a male protector and probably also helped increase the birthrate helping create more expansion internally for the religion itself. The religion of Islam as well was born with both political and religious arms which would make it harder to eliminate and giving it sufficient 'room' for rapid expansion... In contrast, Christianity had several centuries of persecution and discrimination due to its religious only status until Christianity was able to gain a political foothold as well. Another explanation for the rapid expansion could also be the rapid military expansion of the Arab empire soon after the death of the founder and prophet of Islam, Mohammed. Another positive quirk about Islam is that its leaders rarely felt the need to force people to convert and areas ruled by Muslim leaders tended to have a high degree of religious tolerance- a far cry form what we may sometimes see today in Muslim communities... and may also be why the areas that Islam originally 'conquered' stayed Muslim from that time until today as conversions were sincere and not necessarily forced on the populations around them. That said, religious tolerance was not absolute and while Islam was a minority, Islamic rulers would tax members of all other religions living in their communities and cities. It also should be noted that Islam and Christianity have a few similar doctrines, such as one God and a strong moral code, which were very attractive to people during that time. Also, Islamic leaders tended to keep many things about their population's day to day life the same. The Byzantine empire didn't change a lot under their leadership as the leaders kept much of the previous culture and just used and defined it on their own terms.

There are almost too many intellectual gains made in the Muslim world during this time to list! It is a fact that the Arab societies in the Eastern part of the empire became places of learning and scientific advancement... achieving far more in these areas than anything in the western portion of the empire. Many advances in medicine and science that we have learned about from the medieval time period came from the eastern empire... not the west. Many of the ancient texts that both scientists and historians study for knowledge were preserved and saved in the Eastern empire- the western empire was more likely to burn or destroy ancient texts rather than save them. This was brought about by the needs of the new Arab leaders who needed to try and control populations with diverse languages and cultures. It was due to these challenges that the need for translations began in earnest so that the rulers of the empire and the local governments could have access to the knowledge that they felt they needed. By the mid eighth century, Muslim communities were flourishing and these communities were growing and thriving in knowledge in the areas of education, literature, science, mathematics and even medicine. An example is that the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle would have been made accessible to anyone in the eastern empire due to the widespread reading and translation of his works, but at the same time the West had changed so dramatically and become so dependent on surviving that very few people would have even heard of Aristotle or his work- education really can't be considered important if you can't feed yourself. Education was prized and the oldest university that is still functioning today is over 1100 years old and is called the Qarawiyyin in Morocco. And it was mostly from Islamic Spain that the Western world would slowly begin to get this knowledge and intellect.

The Merovingian dynasty that controlled the Frankish throne had been struggling with the chaos caused by its civil wars for several years by the time that the Carolingians arrived on the scene. However, a unique position in the Merovingian government gave the Carolingians an edge in their quest to control the aristocracy and control the throne. This unique advantage was a position within the Merovingian court called the 'mayor of the palace'. When the position had been created early in the dynasty, it was filled with the man who would be in charge of the king's household and the 'mayor' was also responsible for managing all royal affairs in the king's name- this also included granting land and other favors to the noble classes to keep them loyal to the king. But over time the power of the kings weakened and the monarchy became less secure and absolute. It was in this climate that the individual in this position gained more power... and this power would eventually be greater than the power of the king he served. Many of the individuals in this position were Carolingians and this position tended to be passed down from one Carolingian to another. It was using this position that the individuals in this position would use the prestige and powers it contained to make the nobles and the aristocracy loyal to them and not the king. And it was a man in this position as 'mayor of the palace' named Charles Martel that would eventually increase the size of the kingdom and win his heirs the right to the kingship by defeating the advancing Muslims in 732 AD. His win for Christendom was able to win him the support of the Pope and the Catholic church who then helped establish his legitimacy as the ruler. Charles Martel's son, Pippin the Short was then named King on his father's death... and the Merovingian dynasty ended with a quiet 'sigh'....

Charlemagne, another member of the Carolingian dynasty, successfully linked politics and religion in his reign and used religion as a way to help him cement his power. Upon his conversion, he was a 'zealous' missionary and followed a strict policy of 'conversion or die' to all of the people that he fought. As part of his 'foreign policy', Charlemagne continued the policies of his father towards the church and he became the 'warrior' arm of the church- their protector, etc... He used religion to prop up his rule with elaborate rituals and as well as the 'support' of the Pope. One example was his coronation by Pope Leo III on Christmas day in 800- this showed everyone that he was 'God's choice' for ruler and also linked him heavily with the church. Some have noted that his reign was a reign of pure conquest... 'by the sword and the cross'. Another example was Charlemagne’s decisions to convey meetings of church officials as well as privileged laymen to consider his agenda and when it was agreed upon he expected not only the laymen but the bishops of the church to help enforce this agenda. Some of his reforms were to strengthen the Catholic church's hierarchy and clarifying their powers- this seems like quite a big deal for a secular ruler to help set the agendas and form he rules that a different spiritual organization would follow. He also built lots of churches and made not following the Catholic faith a capital offense. This ruler truly wanted to create a stability in his lands that had not existed for several decades and he used three major ideas to do so; culture, Christianity, and the good traditions of the Roman past.

It was very important to Charlemagne to connect himself to the good legacy of the Roman empire. Some parts of it, such as education, the use of Latin, the Christian church, and even the peace and unity that were known and romanticized about the thoughts of the Roman empire. He stressed the traditions of this time and saw value in education and classical knowledge. In fact, Pope Leo III called Charlemagne a 'great and peace giving emperor' at the later's coronation...giving Charlemagne a symbolic title and beginning the time we now call the 'Holy Roman Empire'.

Charlemagne's new title of Holy Roman Emperor gave him the respect of the Byzantine Emperor. He was also an admirer of the knowledge held by the eastern empire and copied the eastern architecture for buildings and attempted to start a large educational system. It is also known that Charlemagne at one point has hopes of adding the Byzantine empire to his territory and tried to marry one of the royal women in the eastern empire to strengthen his position. As the emperor of the eastern part has ambitions to also own the 'western' lands again, the relationship between Charlemagne and the Byzantine Emperor must have been fairly tense and distrustful at times. At one point, the tension came to actual warfare, but for the most part, both of these empire co existed peacefully after an agreement was reach between both emperors.

Charlemagne's relations with the Islamic empire are actually a little complicated. The Islamic Empire had control over the pertinent parts of Africa and of Spain. Charlemagne's agreement and ceding of some land to the Byzantine Empire gave this ruler a large empire that had no access to the Mediterranean sea and was surrounded by the Byzantine and Islamic empires. The Islamic empire when looking at a map appears to have been bigger than both Charlemagne's empire and the Byzantine empire combined... and the Islamic empire had a lot of wealth and resources. Much thought and care was given by Charlemagne to a 'buffer zone' between his empire and Spain to try and keep peace between these two kingdoms. The main reason that Charlemagne didn't have to fight the Islamists in his time was that Charles Martel had stopped their continued aggressive conquests of Europe in the land known as France several years before the reign of Charlemagne. His approach seemed to be to mostly to try to leave them alone and try to be prepared in case they didn't.


Brief Views of the Early Medieval World Part I: The Decline of the Roman Empire, Monarchs, and Christianity

This post is a bit convoluted.... well, I thought I would warn you early. :) It is a hodgepodge of information about the different rulers of early medieval Europe and the rise of Christianity... and the gradual decline and fall of the Roman empire. (There are some historians that suggest that the Roman empire didn't actually collapse, but instead continued on in the rise of the Roman Catholic church... there certainly seems to be some good evidence for this perspective... but I digress.)

There are many important legacies that Diocletian and Constantine gave to the medieval world. Both of these men were emperors of the Great Roman empire as it was beginning to 'fall' or decline. Both of these men ruled in a time of crisis for the empire and it was their decisions to try and save the empire and their reforms that really helped to shape the land known as Europe in the early Middle Ages. One of the major difficulties that these emperors faced was trouble with the Roman army. The empire itself was too large to be easily defended and military service was no longer considered to be an honorable career choice. It was not an easy life – quite hard as a matter of fact- and so finding people to do it when it was no longer honorable either and no good promises of land, pensions, etc... became quite challenging. So outside warriors would be hired but as with any people who are hired for money, they are more loyal to the people around them and those that pay them... so not necessarily loyal to the roman emperor himself. Other difficulties that they faced was the diminishing amount of slave labor and the inequality of the economic system in the different areas of the empire. As the Roman empire stopped fighting wars because they had conquered so much, they no longer had huge amounts of captives to make slaves. And some areas of the empire had managed to achieve economic stability while others really depended on these economically wealthy areas to sustain them. This sharp division of secure economies, cheap labor shortages, and the added burden of differing groups of people attacking the large and under-protected borders of the empire would have created quite a crisis for these emperors to deal with. Diocletian came to power from his position in the Roman army – a good example of how joining the army did create opportunities for the underclasses as he was from a peasant family in the area that is now the former Yugoslavia. He managed to cement absolute power for himself (which many leaders for the last 100 years had not) and he used that influence and power to push back on the barbarians who were raiding and compromising the borders and the towns near them. He reconstructed the government of the empire into a position of absolute power that was 'divinely' appointed. Using ceremony and created 'pomp and tradition/ceremony', Diocletian created a persona of the competent Roman ruler which Constantine was to continue with great success. He also created a class system which required all peasants to be bound to the land they had been on. Diocletian divided the empire into two large parts that could be more easily controlled. Constantine would continue every policy of Diocletian and added more reforms of his own. He himself became a Christian and made it the majority religion in his lands by force over paganism. Constantine the Great gathered much power and control over the fledgling Catholic church and even help to establish official church doctrine – an example is the Council of Nicea called in 325 CE to establish 'standard' beliefs for the church.

Together the general accomplishments of these emperors was to stabilize the borders and to create economic and social opportunity. The restructured governments helped keep their subjects in line and a more peaceful existence in the kingdom. In some cases, they were able to win back lost territories and to restore area to the empire They also were truly able set up the empire in such a way that 1/2 of it lived on in success for almost 800 years after the other half 'fell'. That is an achievement in itself. :)

There were a few different things that allowed for the development of a strong Christian church with specific orthodoxy and hierarchy. One thing that helped was the suppression of these early Christian groups, but was also due to the suppression and exiling of many Jewish groups. The religion that we see as Christianity in the beginning was seen as a form of Jewish heresy... Jesus Christ was Jewish, many of the laws followed the Jewish laws, etc... When Rome attempted to split up Jewish communities to give the government more power over the Jews, they inadvertently spread this heresy to a much larger area and made it much more difficult to destroy. The idea and development of church hierarchy came from the events up to and after the death of the Christ. When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he was the prophet and unquestioned leader. Upon his death by crucifixion and his 'resurrection', the first 'male' he saw was Peter the apostle. It was this experience and the words of Jesus that Peter was to be 'the rock upon the church's foundations' that caused Peter to become the new leader of the fledgling church. The organization of the twelve apostles was still used and as Peter or other apostles died they were replaced. Within the next few centuries, tradition about the resurrection of Jesus began to change a bit to state that Jesus only spoke with the apostles after his resurrection and no one else which was used to give the growing leaders of the Catholic church- the pope as the man who inherited his leadership for Peter the apostle, the bishops and cardinals who inherited the positions of the apostles and other high placed missionaries such as Paul- legitimacy as the heirs of these great founding 'fathers'. And as the church grew in membership, size and diversity, it became important to church leaders as well as secular leaders to control and standardize the beliefs of the Christian church. When some of these standards or orthodoxy had been established, it gave both secular and political leaders more power to deal with the other differing beliefs. New laws and persecutions would cause believers to either adhere to the new orthodoxy... or suffer for non-compliance. When necessary over time, more 'orthodoxy' would be added to help control other splinter groups (or groups with differing Christian ideas) over the years.

Christianity was so appealing to converts for many reasons. One thing that is clear is that it was most appealing to people who were unhappy and dissatisfied with the current government or civilization around them. This can be seen in the high percentages of converts who were members of alienated classes – women, slaves, immigrants and free people without a lot of rights or money. Christianity maintained a belief that all members of this spiritual order were 'equal' whether you were a slave or a member of the aristocracy which would attract many who were in the lesser classes. In many ways in the Roman empire, belonging to the official religion was seen as a form of patriotism so belonging to this 'Jewish splinter group' was not looked kindly upon. Christianity also offered spiritual guidance, a moral code, and a much better potential afterlife for its believers than the abstract philosophy and emotionless expression of the Roman pagan religion. Some historians also believe that due to the similarities between one of the pagan religions (Mithraism) and Christianity, people were more likely to convert to Christianity because its major beliefs and ideals were already known to the population and were not new ideas. One last idea that is believed to have converted followers to this religion is that Jesus Christ was a real person and as such, evidence for what he said or did could be found. Most other religions had no large amounts of evidence that could conclusively back them up.

The Roman empire was a empire of vast proportions of land and differing geography... and it was a land full of diverse people. The only unifying force was the government itself and this force would be less 'unifying' the farther you lived from it and it's influence. There was nothing that really connected any of these different groups or people to each other except their differences... which were more conductive to division and war rather than peace and unity. Clovis I may have had a few reasons for conversion including belief, but he was shrewd enough to recognize that as he continued to conquer lands and build his own empire, he needed something to unify these diverse groups of Franks in able to be able to rule them effectively. He was successful in both of these goals. He conquered the land of Gaul which we now call France and toppled the last roman emperor in 486 CE. By forcing conversion to Christianity, his people now had a common spiritual outlook and a way that they could be more easily controlled. It was also rumored that he had looked at other Christian religions (Arianism), but he chose the Catholic church and he became (as far as we know) the first Catholic ruler. And as a member of the rising Catholic church, he would also have the church heirerchy's support for his rule.

During the decline of the Roman empire, the Germanic tribes to the North gathered strength even as Roman officials continued to call these Germanic groups barbarians and uncivilized. The amusing irony is that while these Germanic groups did eventually overthrow the roman emperor.... the fact that the western empire lasted as long as it did was because of the military might of these groups that had become the majority members of all the armies for the Roman emperor in the Western empire. The groups that today we would call 'Germanic' would have been similar in culture, religious practices and in language- but those would be the only similarities. Under Clovis I, these tribes became united and incorporated other groups of people into their cultures. When these groups were not unified, each group had a leader who served in the capacity of the leader of religious function, military commander, judge... basically a king in most ways although the leader of these small groups was usually elected or agreed upon in some way by the eligible members of the tribe. With the success of Clovis and Christianity that brought about the unification of these groups, the leader quite literally became a king and was no longer 'electable' by his people. The society of the German peoples was hierarchical with laws that were more lenient for wealthier or more noble offenders, and women would only gain any form of class from their closest male relative- such as father or husband. Warfare was fairly 'rare' and most forms of violence were for easy gain- such as raids on neighboring villages before unification. Economics was mostly agricultural and hierarchical as well with peasants bearing the brunt of the labor and food production.

Most historians mark the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE when the emperor was overthrown by a German Chieftain. Certainly describing this slow and petering decline as a 'fall' seems slightly inaccurate. The study of the ending of the Roman empire in the west reminds me of a cancer patient. The problems started small and and then spread... and even with a few great rulers who were able to make reforms in attempts to eradicate the cancer, it continued to spread until the last gasp of life was gone and the empire was no more. At least when I hear the word 'fall' I imagine a group, city or territories being quickly and forcibly taken over by another large and powerful group.... a very clear defining line between the before and after so to speak. With the Fall of the Western Roman empire, there is no true defining line except for potentially where the 'last gasp' came- at the fall of the last emperor to Clovis and his army. Those are just my thoughts though. Another part of the gradual separation of these two large empires was the rise of the strength of the Islamic religion that started to become prominent both religiously and politically in the eastern part of the empire, which caused more separation between the two emperors and their people.

The Eastern Roman Empire had so many advantages over the Western Empire so its ability to survive for almost 800 years more is not necessarily remarkable. For quite a few years before the collapse of the Western empire, the leader in the East was the stronger emperor due to his empire's superior economy. The survival of the Western empire during its last few years was really based on the generosity and willingness of the Eastern empire to provide it with money, military help, etc.... So it comes as no surprise that the Western empire would fall if the emperor of the Eastern part of the empire decided not to continue the aid... which is what eventually brought the downfall of the Western empire. The Eastern empire had a steady tax base, fewer problems with outsider invasions and was generally more urban that the Western empire.

Two rulers of the Byzantine Empire really had several outstanding accomplishments during their rule – Justinian and Theodora. One thing of note is that Justinian used a lot of military might and kept his focus on reclaiming the lands around the 'Roman' lake or Mediterranean Sea. It had been lost before his rule and it was not an easy thing to gain back.... but he was successful during his reign. Justinian also helped reform Christianity and the church. One focus for Justinian was to pursue and force the idea on the people that an absolute emperor should be the status quo. Unlike many of the kings or 'emperors' in the west, Justinian was educated and was deeply religious and he used his power, position and the wealth of the empire to create beautiful churches. His total reformation of the law, known as the Justinian code, became the basis for civil law in the empire that is actually still used in many ways today (over 1000 years later.)

Before the disputes that would lead to the split of the early Christian Catholic church, the leaders of both the east and western churches would discuss orthodoxy and different church issues. One major religious dispute that was to help cause the eventual split between the two parts of the Christian church was based on who was the ultimate leader of the Catholic Church. At this time, there was a patriarch of Constantinople and a patriarch in Rome- both men argued that they were the true heir of St Peter (Peter the apostle) and therefore the true 'Pope' or Patriarch of the Catholic Church. The apostle Peter had been martyred in Rome and so the Patriarch of Rome felt that the head of the church should be in Rome where the apostle had died and where his grave was. The Patriarch of Constantinople disagreed and felt that since the first Christian Emperor (Constantine) had declared the city of Constantinople the 'New Rome', the patriarch of that city was the true heir to the apostle. Also, the city of Constantinople was in the stable part of the Eastern empire... whereas Rome was in the disintegrating and unstable Western empire. Other differences included differences in language and circumstances based on the slow estrangement of the western empire from the eastern empire... in a sense, the two sides became different enough that they began to distrust one another. In the Western empire, the pope was the head and all loyalty went to him whereas in the east disputes were only brought to Rome if the patriarchs in the east could not solve the dispute... clearly a different situation. Another was a dispute over the whether the Holy Spirit comes from the Father only or whether it comes from both the Father and the Son. Over time, There were several 'petty' disputes as the patriarch in Rome refused to agree with decisions made by the patriarch in Constantinople. These differences would continue until the Christian Church 'split' and became two churches. The first part would become the Roman Catholic church and would be led by the Pope. The church in the east would be headed up by the Byzantine emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. In a sense, this schism was very much more of an human and emotional schism, not a schism based on doctrine or church policy.

Charlemagne, a member of the Carolingian dynasty, successfully linked politics and religion in his reign and used religion as a way to help him cement his power. Upon his conversion, he was a 'zealous' missionary and followed a strict policy of 'conversion or die' to all of the people that he fought. As part of his 'foreign policy', Charlemagne continued the policies of his father towards the church and he became the 'warrior' arm of the church- their protector, etc... He used religion to prop up his rule with elaborate rituals and as well as the 'support' of the Pope. One example was his coronation by Pope Leo III on Christmas day in 800- this showed everyone that he was 'God's choice' for ruler and also linked him heavily with the church. Some have noted that his reign was a reign of pure conquest... 'by the sword and the cross'. Another example was Charlemagne’s decisions to convey meetings of church officials as well as privileged laymen to consider his agenda and when it was agreed upon he expected not only the laymen but the bishops of the church to help enforce this agenda. Some of his reforms were to strengthen the Catholic church's hierarchy and clarifying their powers- this seems like quite a big deal for a secular ruler to help set the agendas and form he rules that a different spiritual organization would follow. He also built lots of churches and made not following the Catholic faith a capital offense. This ruler truly wanted to create a stability in his lands that had not existed for several decades and he used three major ideas to do so; culture, Christianity, and the good traditions of the Roman past.

Hope you enjoyed this post and learned a few things to boot. Stay tuned for Part two in a few days. :)


2012 Poetry Corner #3 : Who is Your Master?

When you stand upon a path
that will soon quickly divide
How do you make the necessary choice
of which path you will abide?

Are you impulsive, quick – fast to choose
to quickly move ahead
Or do you dawdle to collect
the knowledge of where to tread?

What are your motivations?
Why do you make your choice?
Do your truly understand yourself
and the thoughts that you give voice?

I have found that I’m not sure
of what is really me
Why I do the things I do
what I want to be

But there is one thing I know
one thing that I find true
That Christ should be my master
He will show me what to do…

So who is your master?
Who is your guide?
Who do you follow?
Who do you mind?

So I try to move forward
Feeling the peace that I seek
Struggling to hear the spirit
Focusing on being meek

My soul feels less pain
My heart does feel more peace
A door begins to open
And the path is right ahead…

I’m ready...