The Influence of Christianity. Civilization suffered a severe setback by these invasions, but much of it was preserved by the Christian church, which had become a powerful institution. Christianity had its beginning in Palestine, which at the time was a part of the Roman Empire. This new religion, founded by Jesus of Nazareth, had already been accepted by many people under Roman rule, and after the barbarian invasions its influence greatly increased throughout Europe.
The Feudal Age. With the decline of civilization, many European people went back to more primitive ways of living. In this period, known as the Early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, much of the early culture was destroyed and orderly government was almost impossible. Many people lived by robbery and plunder. The weak were oppressed by the strong. Out of this period of confusion came a way of living known as the feudal system. Under this system there were groups of professional soldiers who were supported in part by plunder, and in part by the tillers of the soil. Under the feudal regime the most powerful leaders became rulers. These rulers lived in strong castles, built for their protection as well as for their homes. These rulers, or lords, divided their lands with other warriors, who became their vassals. The rulers promised to protect their vassals, and they in turn promised to fight for the rulers when called upon.
The feudal system was the result of an attempt to bring order out of chaos. It was based upon the principle that might makes right. It was a system which created definite classes. At the head of the system were the fighters and rulers known as the nobles. A second distinct group was the clergy, who looked after the spiritual needs of the people and managed the church. The great masses of the people were in a third group, known as serfs, or peasants. By the twelfth century a fourth class began to appear. This class was engaged in industry and trade, and was referred to as the townsmen.
Under the feudal system there was no strong central authority. The economic system was made up chiefly of a large number of manors or small independent communities, each under the rule of a noble. The political and military organization also was based on small units. The medieval manor was self-sufficing. Its inhabitants lived in a village with near-by meadows, pasture lands, woodlands, and lands to be cultivated. Almost all that was produced was consumed on the manor. It was an isolated, self -sufficing economic unit, with few contacts with the outside world.