The period of European history extending from about 500 to 1400-1500 CE is traditionally known as the Middle Ages, starting from the collapse of the Roman civilization in the 5th century CE to the period of the Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, many people left a lasting impact on the world and left their mark, so much so that we still talk about them to this day. Take a look below for 10 of the most iconic people of the Middle Ages.
1. Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan, born Temüjin, was the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death, spanning the entire Asian continent from the Pacific Ocean to modern-day Hungary in Europe. His massive empire was able to challenge the powerful Jin dynasty in China.
Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, was a member of the Carolingian Dynasty, King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and the first Holy Roman Emperor from 800 until his death in 814. He is considered to have been a strong leader, a good administrator and is known for many things. Firstly he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the collapse of the Roman Empire, which earned him the nickname of the “Father of Europe”.
On top of that, he was the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor and played a vital role in the spread of Christianity across Europe. He also believed education was very important and ordered the creation of many schools. Charlemagne is essentially the reason why you get an education today.
3. Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of the West Saxons from 871 to c. 886 and King of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 until his death in 899. He was known as a brave, resourceful, pious man, who was generous to the church and anxious to rule his people justly. He is considered to be one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon kings of England and for good reason as despite overwhelming odds he successfully defended his kingdom, Wessex, against the Vikings.
4. William the Conqueror
Before he became the king of England, William I was one of the mightiest nobles in France as the duke of Normandy, but he is best remembered for leading the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, which changed the course of English history and earned him the name William the Conqueror. He was the first Norman king of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087 and was a descendant of the Viking chieftain Rollo, who was the first ruler of Normandy in France.
5. Marco Polo
Marco Emilio Polo was a Venetian merchant, explorer, and writer who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295, 17 of those years he spent in China. Though not the first European to explore China, he became famous for his travels thanks to a popular book he co-authored while languishing in a Genoese prison. Marco Polo is also given a lot of credit for opening up trade routes to East India and China.
6. Johannes Gutenberg
Johannes Gutenberg is famous for having designed and built the first printing press. His greatest accomplishment was the first print run of the Bible in Latin which took three years to print around 200 copies, which at the time was considered a miraculously fast achievement considering books had to be copied by hand. Although he didn’t get to see the impact his invention had on the world at the time, the success of his invention meant that books soon became cheaper, and ever wider parts of the population could afford them.
7. Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc is considered a heroine of France. She was a peasant girl who, believing that she was acting under divine guidance, led the French army in a momentous victory at Orléans in 1429 that repulsed an English attempt to conquer France during the Hundred Years’ War. She is also famous for her tragic death as after she was captured and exchanged to the English, She was put on trial by the pro-English bishop, Pierre Cauchon, on a charge of heresy.
She was declared guilty and burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at about 19 years of age. In 1456, Pope Callixtus III authorized an inquisitorial court to investigate the original trial. The court nullified the trial’s verdict, declaring it was tainted by deceit, and Joan was exonerated. She was canonized in 1920, and declared a secondary patron saint of France in 1922.
8. Richard the Lionheart
Richard I was King of England from 1189 until his death in 1199. He is remembered for being a chivalrous medieval king, for battling Saladin during the Crusades, and for rebelling against his father, Henry II. He was considered a hero in his day and has often been portrayed as one in works of literature. He is also famous for his capture and imprisonment which happened during his return from the crusade.
Bad weather drove him ashore near Venice and he was imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria before being handed over to the German emperor Henry VI, who ransomed him for the huge sum of 150,000 marks. In February 1194, the ransom was payed and Richard was released.
9. Constantine XI Palaiologos
The last Roman emperor (the Byzantine Empire was the eastern half of the Roman Empire). The Roman “Empire” had shrunk so much that by this point it was nothing more than just the A) Roman capital of Constantinople, B) much of the Peloponnese, C) and a few scattered small islands. After rallying the army and people to defend the city against the Ottoman Turks, Constantine XI died while fighting the Turks after Sultan Mehmed II’s forces had breached the city walls.
Saladin was a Sunni Muslim Arab who became the first sultan of both Egypt and Syria, and was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. Saladin’s army was defeated during the crusades by Richard the Lionheart. It is said that the two men’s relationship had been one of chivalrous mutual respect as well as military rivalry.