History of the World in Objects and Art

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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

The coronation of the Frankish ruler Charlemagne as Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 marked the emergence of a new empire in Western Europe, the first since the fall of Rome. The Holy Roman Empire survived for more than 1,000 years, weathering various setbacks such as invasion, plague, and religious strife.
After the Frankish Empire fragmented, in the later part of the 9th century, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire moved eastward into modern Germany. The Holy Roman Emperor derived his authority both from his status as a feudal overlord and from his recognition by the Church through Papal coronation.

The Holy Roman Empire lasted until 1806, when Francis II, the last emperor, abdicated. The Empire did not have a single center of political power. Instead, it evolved as a patchwork of petty principalities,
church domains, and free towns, with a few large territories controlled by landowners such as the Welfs, the Wittelsbachs, the Hohenstaufen, and the Habsburgs.


The church remained powerful and conflicts sometimes arose between the emperor and the pope, such as over the right to appoint bishops (investiture). The revival of monastic orders, beginning with the foundation of the Abbey of Cluny in 909, saw periodic renewals in church life, but secular
culture also grew, rooting itself first in the elaborate code of "chivalry" of the martial classes and strengthening later as the influence of the Italian Renaissance spread northward.

Much effort was lavished on items meant for religious use, for example, paintings, crosses, and sumptuous manuscripts, including the Gospel Book of Otto III. Yet as towns grew— many of them forming leagues, such as the mercantile Hanseatic Eeague—a class of secular patrons arose with the money and motivation to commission their own works of art.
Crowned by the Pope

The Coronation of Otto III

Europe saw two major upheavals in the 11th century. The first was the conquest of England by the Normans—a people of Viking descent. The second was the launch of the First Crusade in 1096, marking the beginning of a series of military expeditions from Christian Europe to wrest Palestine from Islamic rule.
In 911, Charles III of France gave a portion of northern France to the Viking raiders who had settled there. They founded the duchy of Normandy and came to be known as the Normans, later adopting French as their language and Christianity as their religion. From their settlements in Normandy, the Vikings embarked on several expeditions of conquest and colonization elsewhere in Europe.

Duke William of Normandy defeated the Anglo-Saxon ruler Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066, ushering in an era of Norman rule that strengthened England's ties with northwest Europe. Norman adventurers also began to invade parts of southern Italy and Sicily. The Normans brought a feudal system to England in which the king allowed the nobility to hold land in exchange for military service, and the nobles let the peasants occupy their land in return for their labor.


In the 11th century, religious devotion and the power of the Church grew in Normandy and spread to England.
Many Normans made pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Eand. Initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095, the First Crusade began as a holy pilgrimage and ended as a military expedition to regain the Holy Lands by Roman Catholic Europe. France and England, along with the Holy Roman Empire, seized Jerusalem and set up Crusader states that survived until 1291. Successive Crusades provided reinforcements to these enclaves. The Crusades helped transmit knowledge from the East, such as advances in the art of fortification.
Embarking on a Crusade
This page from the French illuminated manuscript Order of the Holy Spirit depicts crusaders departing for the Holy Land. The banners include the papal arms, alongside those of the Holy Roman Emperor and the kings of England, France, and Sicily.

Despite its name, the Bayeux Tapestry is actually an embroidered strip of linen more than 230ft (70m) long that tells the story of Duke William of Normandy's conquest of Anglo-Saxon England in 1066. Although thought to have been created in England, the narration of the story is from a Norman perspective, depicting scenes of the Norman conquest in a series of episodes. Along the top and bottom run decorative borders with figures of animals, scenes from the fables of Aesop and Phaedrus, and some scenes related to the main pictorial narrative.

This extraordinary work of art provides information about the events that led up to William's expedition to England and his victory at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. It recounts King Edward the Confessor's despatch of Harold Godwinson—his successor-to-be—to Normandy, where Harold is shown swearing an oath of fealty to Duke William, promising to uphold his candidacy for the English throne on Edward's death. It goes on to show the Norman duke's expedition to England to uphold that claim after Harold seizes the throne.


The Bayeux Tapestry provides valuable contemporary evidence for the military equipment and tactics of mid-11th-century armies. It is by far the best pictorial source of information about the arms and armor of the Normans and Anglo-Saxons.
The men-at-arms on both sides are depicted wearing conical helmets with metal nose guards. The warriors bear kite-shaped shields and a mixture of lances, swords, and battle-axes.
The Norman side is shown to have a contingent of archers, while the Anglo-Saxons have very few. This disparity, together with William's astute use of feigned flight to draw the Anglo-Saxons out of the shield wall and render them vulnerable, ultimately played a crucial role in his victory.
The Anglo-Saxons are depicted forming a protective wall with their shields and spears. The Normans adopted a more fluid approach, with repeated cavalry charges and volleys of arrows to thin the shield-wall. The climax of the battle shows Harold's fall, apparently struck in the eye by an arrow. The final surviving panels of the tapestry show the inevitable end of a medieval battle: the massacre of the fleeing enemy and the ruthless looting of corpses on the battlefield.
The Vikings — the scourge of Europe. The West lived in terror of these men who came down from the Scandinavian north in their dragon-like ships. Their geographical location gave rise to another naine, the "Nor(th)mans". From the eighth century they attacked the coasts of Great Britain and France and sailed up the great rivers right into the heart of Europe, arriving without warning at the gates of Cologne and Paris. Normandy, the first Viking kingdom in Western Europe, was founded at the mouth of the Seine in 911. The Vikings also persisted in their attempts to establish a strong foothold in England.

William the Conqueror (c. 1028—1087), Duke of Normandy, finally secured Norman rule in England in 1066. On 27 September of that year, he sailed from the Norman coast under the cover of darkness. His ships carried 7,000 men, horses, weapons, provisions and even a dismantled wooden fortress which could be reassembled. Landing in the early morning, William rallied his troups and marched to Hastings. There, the decisive battle of the compaign was fought on 14 October 1066. The Anglo-Saxon forces, led by King Harold II, had been weakened by their hard-won victory over the Norwegian Vikings some days before as well as the subsequent march to Hastings. They were defeated and Harold was killed by a Norman arrow. With Harold dead and his army routed, the fortified Normans were at leisure to hunt down the hapless Anglo-Saxon soldiers. A few weeks later, on Christmas Day 1066, William had himself crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. For his victory, history has given him the epithet "The Conqueror".

The Bayeux Tapestry preserves the memory of his victorious campaign which linked England more closely to Latin culture and the West. The tapestry is seventy-three metres long and one of the most important pictorial records of medieval history. Rich in detail and exquisitely made, it portrays clothing, armour, weapons, vehicles, ships and even banquets and celebrations from the eleventh century. Legend has it that the tapestry was woven by Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, but it is more likely that it was made by nuns. In any case, it is a masterpiece presumed to have been created by women in southern England, and was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux (1036?—1097), the half-brother of William the Conqueror. This particular detail of the tapestry shows the Anglo-Saxon soldiers fleeing and, presumably, King Harold being struck by an arrow in the head.


The Norman Conquest of England

The Norman Conquest of England