The medieval period, or Middle Ages, were a time from 476 to 1453, with a lot of give and take on the dates.
The Middle Ages were the time in the middle between the supposed intellectual greatness of the Roman Empire and the supposed intellectual greatness of what was considered modern at the time. This in between time was regarded as inferior in some ways, and it was thought that people living in it were ignorant, illiterate, and superstitious.
The term that came into use in the middle of the fifteenth century for the Middle Ages was media tempestas, or middle time, and this first appeared in a document of 1469. The term medium aevum, which means Middle Ages, and is the source of the word medieval, was first recorded in 1604.
The Middle Ages was time of impressive growth politically, economically, and culturally. It is traditionally divided into three periods, Early, High, and Late. I would further divide the Early Middle Ages into the Age of Migrations, and the Carolingian Age, because these two were very different from one another.
The first half of the Early Middle Ages, about 400 to 750 AD, called the Age of Migrations, began with the military, economic, and intellectual bankruptcy of the West Roman Empire, which collapsed as Germanic tribes moved into a power vacuum and set up their own kingdoms. The first thing the Germanic people had to do was to find places to settle down and set up their governments among people who had different ways of doing things.
The second half of the Early Middle Ages, about 750 to 1000 AD, which I suggest be called the Carolingian Age (which I am applying to all western Europe), was a time of building great nations and empires in Western Europe, not only in France but in Germany and England. In Spain, it was a time of beginning the Reconquista. In the North, it was a time for building kingdoms out of prehistoric tribal groups. It was during this time that the Carolingian Empire was formed, including nearly all of France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, together with about half of Italy and parts of Austria and other countries. And it was in this time that the Carolingian Empire divided into the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire.
The High Middle Ages, about 1000 to about 1300 AD, was a time of great economic growth. Part of this was because of the crusades, whose returning warriors brought back foreign ideas and a taste for exotic goods. Merchants began to import more goods. Towns and cities developed. The middle class, which had always been around, formed guilds, and began to take real political power. The medieval communes (city states governed as commonwealths) and republics were formed. There was a great increase in artistic output. Gothic architecture developed. Minstrels wandered Europe, and music was written in notation that included time and relative pitch, instead of shorthand. Universities opened.
The Late Middle Ages, about 1300 to 1450, saw more development of nations and political systems. It was also a period in which there were unfortunately a series of famines, a great plague, which killed off between one and two thirds of the people, depending on where you were, and the very destructive Hundred Years' War.
During the entire Middle Ages, there was development in science, architecture, and mathematics. One important invention, for example, was the chimney, in the 11th or 12th century. Prior to this invention, there were no true fireplaces, and the smoke of a fire went out through a hole in the roof or holes under the gables. But it was just one among many inventions. Other developments included the importation of new ideas from other places. These included Arabic numerals to replace Roman numerals.
The Middle Ages are often described as dirty, smelly, and superstitious. None of these is any more true of the Middle Ages than of other times, including the Renaissance. People of the Middle Ages bathed frequently because they believed that the way a person kept his body was a reflection of how he kept his soul - cleanliness is next to godliness. They cleaned up smelly messes because they believed that diseases were carried by foul air. And the great witch hunts were something that came after the Middle Ages ended.
The Middle Ages was certainly a time in which religion was
important, however, and perhaps religion was the thing that defined
the time. A couple examples of how religion effected legal systems
illustrate this. Secular people were tried for crimes in secular
court, but clergy got "benefit of clergy," and were tried by Church
courts. In the end, this meant that anyone who could read was given
better treatment in Church run courts where torture was not used,
and the system was more lenient. At the same time, there was a
thing called asylum, which meant that a person could not be removed
from a monastery or church. In some places accused criminals had to
be given time to repent, confess, and do penance before they were
turned over to secular authorities. In other times and places, a
fugitive could not be removed from certain monasteries by anyone,
regardless of the crime or time that had passed. We know of one
woman who attempted to poison King Louis IX of France, who took
refuge in a convent and remained there until she died of natural
The Middle Ages form the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three "ages": the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. The idea of such a periodisation is attributed to Flavio Biondo, an Italian Renaissance humanist historian. The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (or by some scholars, before that) in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, marked by the rise of nation-states, the division of Christianity in the Reformation, the rise of humanism in the Italian Renaissance, and the beginnings of European overseas expansion which allowed for the Columbian Exchange. There is some variation in the dating of the edges of these periods which is due mainly to differences in specialization and focus of individual scholars. Commonly seen periodization ranges span the years ca. 400-476 AD (the sackings of Rome by the Visigoths to the deposing of Romulus Augustus) to ca. 1453-1517 (the Fall of Constantinople to the Protestant reformation begun with Martin Luther's 95 theses). Dates are approximate, and are based upon nuanced arguments; for other dating schemes and the reasoning behind them, see "periodisation issues", below. The Middle Ages witnessed the first sustained urbanization of northern and western Europe. Modern European states owe their origins to events unfolding in the Middle Ages; present European political boundaries are, in many regards, the result of the military and dynastic achievements in this tumultuous period.
The Middle Ages was between the Classical period (ancient Rome) and modern times (the Rennaiscance)