Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Northern Europe



1  Stave Church, Borgund, Norway,
built in the twelfth century

From Scandinavia, the Vikings started sailing along the European coasts during the eighth century. Initially they sailed as warriors and pirates, but later also as traders and settlers. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden emerged in Scandinavia, 1 Christianity played a major role in the formation of these states. The kings were constantly opposed by a strong aristocracy. Even the Kalmar Union, which united the three northern kingdoms from the 14th to 16th centuries, could not obscure the structural weaknesses of the kingdoms.


The Vikings and the Kingdom of Norway

Daring seafarers, the Vikings for a time ruled the seas around Europe. Norway experienced a golden age from the 13th century until it came under Danish rule in 1387.


The Scandinavians of the Early Middle Ages were also known as 2 Vikings, Varangians, or Normans, though they formed no ethnic or political unity.

Over time, various groups sailed from their northern homelands due to limited resources and political change, but also out of a thirst for adventure.

Viking advances in 3 shipbuilding technology enabled them to conduct warring and raiding expeditions along the European coasts and even up rivers far into the interior.

Trade also played a significant role, as is testified to by the 5 port cities, such as the North German trading settlement of Haithabu.

2 Tyr, the Norse mythology god of warfare
and battle, with a tied wolf of the
underworld, bronze relief, sixth ñ

3 The Oseberg ship, found in
a large burial mound in Norway,
9th century

5 Port city of the Vikings, reconstruction drawing,
20th century

Eventually, the Scandinavians also appeared as settlers and founders of empires in England, Ireland Normandy, and Russia.

The Vikings also reached Iceland and Greenland and, around the year 1000, led by 6 Leif Eriksson, the North American coast.

In the homeland of the Vikings, the increasing power of the 4 kings curbed the former freedom and self-governance of the clans.

Opponents of the new kingdoms usually joined the emigrants.

Harold I Fairhair, about 870, was the first to unite the Norwegian monarchies.

Christianity was introduced, occasionally forcibly. In particular, Olaf I Tryggvason and Olaf II Haraldsson (St. Olaf) used the Church to support the centralization of the state in the eleventh century. As in other European countries, conflicts over the appointing of church offices arose in the twelfth century. Sverre Sigurdsson was able to strengthen the power of the monarchy again by 1202. During the reign of his grandson Haakon IV (the Old), Norwegian rule was extended over Greenland in 1261 and Iceland in 1262; for centuries before that, the institution of the Althing, an assembly of all free men in which political and legal affairs were discussed, had governed Iceland. In 1319 the Swedish Folkungs inherited Norway, and in 1380 it was inherited by the Danish queen Margaret I. Norway remained united with Denmark until 1814.

6 Leif Eriksson sees North America, painting, 19th century

4 A king, Norwegian
toy figure, twelfth c.

7 Harold Fairhair and a giant, Iceland



Denmark and Sweden

In the Kalmar Union, Denmark attempted to dominate the Baltic Sea region. However, it came up against great opposition, particularly from Sweden.


The development of the Danish kingdom began with Gorm the Old, who about 940 subjugated the Vikings of Haithabu.

His son 10 Harold II Bluetooth followed him around 950, but was killed by his son Sweyn I Forkbeard in 986.

Sweyn and his son 12 Canute the Great occupied England and Norway, thus creating a great kingdom along the coasts of the North Sea.

Only a few years after Canute's death in 1035, however, England and Norway regained their independence.

Denmark was weakened by struggles over succession in the further course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

10 Stone with runes of
Harold Bluetooth, ca. 965

12 King Canute the Great and his
wife donate a cross,
book illustration, 1031

Beginning in 1157, Valdemar I (the Great) was able to conquer territories in northern Germany and along the Baltic coast, but his son Valdemar II was defeated in 1227 at the 8 Battle of Bornhoved by the North German princes and the Hanseatic city of Lubeck.

8 Battle of Bornhoved, book illustration, ca. 1300

Following the Hanseatic War, Valdemar IV Atterdag was forced to recognize the demands of the Hanseatic League in the Treaty of Stralsund of 1370. His daughter Margaret I, widow of King Haakon VI Magnusson of Norway and Sweden, secured the Danish crown for her son Olaf and, after his death in 1387, took over  the regency herself.

In 1397, she united the three kingdoms as the 9 Kalmar Union.

9 Kalmar Castle in Southern Sweden, built 12th—16th ñ

The history of the Swedish monarchy had begun in 980 with Erik VIII Bjornsson. His son Olaf Skotkonung III was baptized in 1008. Nevertheless, the entire period of the High Middle Ages was defined by clashes with non-Christian sections of the population and fighting over the throne by rival dynasties. In 1250, the House of Folkung came to the throne.

The founder, Birger Jarl, a regent of the empire, completed the conquest of Finland, which had been the goal of Swedish 11 warriors, 13 missionaries, and settlers since the twelfth century.

Margaret I of Denmark, the heiress of the last Folkungs, brought Sweden into the Kalmar Union. Sweden, in particular, chafed under the Danish domination of the Kalmar Union. The Swedish nobility rose up against Margaret's successors, particularly against the kings from the House of Oldenburg who reigned after 1448. This ended in 1523 when Gustav I Vasa, king of Sweden, broke away from Denmark.

11 Mounted warriors on reindeers and
soldiers on skis, wood engraving, 16th ñ

13 Bishop Henry of Uppsala, a missionary
in Finland, book illustration, ca. 1475


see also texts

"The Nibelungenlied"


"The Poetic Edda"

The Hanseatic League

Lubeck and other trading cities joined together between the twelfth and 14th centuries as the Merchants' League of the Hanse.

The Hanseatic League maintained common trading posts, secured the routes of their merchant ships—the so-called cogs—against pirate attacks, and intervened in the domestic politics of neighboring countries to gain more favorable concessions.

The increasing strength of the Northern European states and the shift of the main trade routes to the Atlantic in the 16th century led to the decline of the Hanse.

see also texts

"The Nibelungenlied"


"The Poetic Edda"

Hanseatic League ship



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy