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The Early Middle Ages  By  cover art

The Early Middle Ages

By: Philip Daileader,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Philip Daileader
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Publisher's Summary

The Early Middle Ages - the years from A.D. 650 to 1000 - were crucial to Europe's future social and political development. These 24 lectures trace a journey from Scandinavia across northern and central Europe to the farthest reaches of the Byzantine and Islamic empires, providing an exciting new look an era often simply called the "Dark Ages."

Given the period's dismal reputation and its temporal remoteness from the 21st century, you'll be surprised to learn about some of the most challenging questions historians have ever had to tackle: Why did the Roman Empire fall? Why did the ancient world give way to the medieval world? Why did Christian monotheism become the dominant religion in Europe? You'll meet some of the era's exciting figures, such as St. Augustine and Justinian, and you'll consider the extent to which the historical realities of King Arthur and Charlemagne match up to the legends that have become attached to their names. You'll also look at the era's effect on the Vikings, the rise of the Carolingians, and the golden age of Islamic rule in Spain.

Professor Daileader also explores the contrasting historical theories offered by two extremely influential historians: Edward Gibbon, the English author of the monumental The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, whose explanations closely followed those of the Roman moralists of the 4th and 5th centuries; and Henri Pirenne, the Belgian thinker who injected a newfound emphasis on social and especially economic factors into the analysis of history.

You'll see why the era belies its reputation as dark and dismal, but you'll come away with a new appreciation for this once-lost era.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses

Featured Article: Travel to the Middle Ages with These Audiobooks and Podcasts


The Medieval Era, the tumultuous centuries from the fall of the Roman Empire to the advent of the Enlightenment, is one of the most alluring and intriguing periods of human history. Ready to travel back in time? Check out these audiobooks and podcasts, which cover everything from Icelandic sagas and Medieval murder to the queens of Medieval England and the scientific advancements of the Arab World.

What listeners say about The Early Middle Ages

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great professor!

LECTURE 1
Long Shadows and the Dark Ages
LECTURE 2
Diocletian and the Crises of the Third Century
LECTURE 3
Constantine the Great—Christian Emperor
LECTURE 4
Pagans and Christians in the Fourth Century
LECTURE 5
Athletes of God
LECTURE 6
Augustine, Part One
LECTURE 7
Augustine, Part Two
LECTURE 8
Barbarians at the Gate
LECTURE 9
Franks and Goths
LECTURE 10
Arthur’s England
LECTURE 11
Justinian and the Byzantine Empire
LECTURE 12
The House of Islam
LECTURE 13
Rise of the Carolingians
LECTURE 14
Charlemagne
LECTURE 15
Carolingian Christianity
LECTURE 16
The Carolingian Renaissance
LECTURE 17
Fury of the Northmen
LECTURE 18
Collapse of the Carolingian Empire
LECTURE 19
The Birth of France and Germany
LECTURE 20
England in the Age of Alfred
LECTURE 21
Al-Andalus—Islamic Spain
LECTURE 22
Carolingian Europe—Gateway to the Middle Ages
LECTURE 23
Family Life—How Then Became Now
LECTURE 24
Long Shadows and the Dark Ages Revisited

66 people found this helpful

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Amazing Look at the Transition to the Middle Ages!

Any additional comments?

This was an excellent read! Professor Philip Daileader is an excellent lecturer and scholar and you probably won't be disappointed by anything you get from him.

This lecture series takes you from the late Roman Empire around the time of Constantine and traces the transition of Europe from late antiquity to the middle ages. You will learn about the collapse of Roman rule in the West, the continuation of the Roman empire in the East through the Byzantine rulers, the Barbarian invasions of Western Europe, the rise of Islam, the emergence of the Carolingian Holy Roman Empire, and the eventual splitting off of that empire into what would become the modern states of France and Germany. He covers all major historical events to about 1000AD.

If you would like to learn more about how Europe went from a unified Roman empire to the divided and complicated state it is in now, I cannot recommend another resource more highly. You will learn about the foundations of all the modern nation states, including England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This was an invaluable read for me as it helped me connect all of those dots!

Also, the professor tries to highlight not just political history, but also cultural, economic, religious, and social aspects of history in his overview.

This is part one of a three part series offered by the Great Courses that will take you through the entire middle ages up to the year 1500. I highly recommend the whole series.

If you are at all interested in the topic, and enjoy a good read about history, you will not be disappointed! Enjoy!!!

38 people found this helpful

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Not Actually About the Middle Ages

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

I think history requires a great narrative and passion about the subject. This lecture series lacked both.

Next, this lecture series says it covers 650 to 1000 A.D. The actual lecture spends 3/4 of the time discussing events from about 215 to 500 A.D. In other words, less than a quarter of the series is about the time period I thought it would be covering.

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

This book was not actually about the time period specified 650 to 1000 A.D. It spent an inordinate amount of time on St. Augustine (354 to 430 A.D.), Muhammad (570 to 632 A.D.), and Diocletian (245 to 311 A.D.). The author also spends almost 30 minutes discussing early-Christian views on celibacy. It was weird and disconcerting. In fact, you don't even approach the stated subject matter of the lectures until almost nine hours after you start.

Also, this lecture is rife with historical inaccuracies.

Even once you think you're going to get into the meat and potatoes of the Early Middle Ages, this lecture series fails to deliver. It makes a time period, which is really fascinating, seem droll and boring. The author spends 30 minutes discussing the changes made to manuscripts during the Carolingian Renaissance. (They invented spacing between words!) The author spends nary 30 minutes on Britain or Spain during the Middle Ages, choosing instead to focus on the obscure and pedantic.

Unlike other Great Courses History lectures I've done in the past, this lecture lacked a narrative. This made the whole experience feel scattershot, unorganized, and unfulfilling.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator had a cold for three or four of the lectures, which was gross. Even without the cold, he was grating. He had a nervous tick where he would suck saliva through his teeth.

What character would you cut from The Early Middle Ages?

I would cut the first nine hours of the lectures (which were outside of the stated scope of the course) and summarize them in one or two lectures. I would also discuss some of the more important figures and battles during the Middle Ages. Really, I would just discuss the Middle Ages.

Any additional comments?

I was extremely disappointed by this lecture series. I have done a few Great Courses in the past, and I had enjoyed them. A friend and I decided to listen to this lecture together, and it was so unpleasant.

20 people found this helpful

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Early early Middle Ages, background and ... yawns.

Did Professor Philip Daileader do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

This is a very typical "history course", the kind we all know from school, if we had a teacher that really knew his topic, was interested, loved the theme ... and just couldn't wake us up in time before class ended.

The pro is: Mr. Daileader knows his ways around, he presents a very stringent, logical line of historic events that "follow one another with some believable interconnections".
At first I was irritated because he started his journey way before what we usually call "middle ages" (around 300 AD), but that soon made enough sense, as he laid out the grounds for the political (and to some degree religious) developments throughout the "medieval world".
Also on the pro side: By concentrating fully on the "hero characters", by strictly following global events, Mr. Daileader manages to explain the rather complex and divided historical lines in a "graspable package".

The con is: Aside from the very unusual presentation (it sounds as if Mr. Daileader recorded the sessions after long and very hard working days, only wishing to get to bed as soon as possible and barely being able to concentrate on the notes from which he, quite audible, pun intended, reads) it's exactly the concentration on the global political view. There is nearly no "every day life" in this lecture, there is no "why did the people in the world do what the people in the world did", there is no "where do we get our information from", no "can we believe this view on history, since we clearly only have data from victorious sides", no doubt, no insight, no "if you want to know more about this, read xyz", no "As abc points out - and you can find more about this by looking at ...". It is all a giant block of "this is how it went. Period."
Sure, there are some very carefully placed "we don't know exactly" lines, but at the end of the course the audience is left alone with no clue where to go for more in depth detail, or some hints at what might have been completely different than presented.

Now, I do understand that evidence is lacking for a lot of events covered in this course. But archaeology is constantly making (slow) progress, views are getting changed, data is questioned. Mr. Daileader ignores this, strictly following his notes, not once speaking freely and "in the here and now".
This is the sad side of those cliche teachers: They seem to know so much, that any kind of doubt or careful questioning bounces off from them and the fact that we only have very shady ideas of "how it all came together" seems but a distraction to them.

Still: What you can get from this course, content-wise, is well worth the time spent listening to it. If ... you speed up playback :-)

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Someone get that gentleman a coffee. A strong one, please.

The constant (and I mean constant) yawning and stressing of every second "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnd" or "thhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaatt" (followed by another suppressed yawn) or a break, while Mr. Daileader regathered his thoughts made concentrating on the GREAT content so unnecessarily difficult ... speeding up playback a tad helped, but required even more concentration to follow the lectures.

18 people found this helpful

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  • JC
  • 10-10-16

Aaaaaaaaaaaand

It is a good course. Be warned, the prof has a nervous habit of drawing out and, as, and other conjunctions. He seems to tone it down as the course goes on, but at first it's like nails on a chalk board.

15 people found this helpful

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recommended

The prof had a sense of humor and way with words. Breaks the lessons into coherent building blocks that tell the whole story.

12 people found this helpful

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Fascinating and deeper look at the early Mid. Ages

This is one of my favorite Great Courses. Having recently re-discovered my love for Ancient and Medieval history, this is exactly what I needed. There's no prior background required, but enough interesting detail that I learned a lot despite having read some other books on the period recently. I particularly liked that each lecture was self-contained and yet built on each other. Although I listened to it relatively quickly, it would work well for someone who needs a podcasting for commuting or other travel.

Daileader helpfully frames each lecture with a summary at the beginning and the end. He has a dry sense of humor and tells wry anecdotes and differing views of scholars all in a very engaging way. Because he is only focusing on one part of the Middle Ages, he was able to go a bit deeper than some courses or books on the period.

Prof. Daileader does have some verbal tics that might bother some people. I quickly got used to them, however.

Overall, he reminds me of Prof. Fagan's lectures for being witty, fascinating, and accessible to those with different levels of knowledge.

I liked Daileader so much that even though I haven't been able to buy his other lectures on discount, I will splurge and use a credit to get one!

10 people found this helpful

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Exciting, Exacting and Entertainingly presented

Have you ever heard someone tell you that the Roman Empire collapsed because of lead in their water pipes? I have. I only wish I had listened to this course before hearing the ignorant of history fool tell me that. The Professor tells the listener why that simplistic take on history is foolish (though he does it politely).

The dark ages weren’t as dark as we once believed; the Vikings were a scourge who shaped the West in unexpected ways; Islam, Byzantine, Spain, Anglo-Saxon, Franks and so on shaped our world; and what about that Catholic Church? How did it go from being a ‘universal’ church which meant it would accept anyone as a member to a ‘universal’ Church that was everywhere?

The lecturer slyly educates the listener on the development of the Roman Church by never really quite focusing on the church but ties together pieces such as those non-iconoclastic blasphemers, Justinian and his losing parts of his Empire, and what really happened on Christmas Day 800 CE and why it was so important.

When I grow up I want to be just like Dr. Daileader because he knows how to entertain, excite and educate the listener on the Early Middle Ages and the enthusiasm he has for the subject matter was not wasted on me.

History is complex and relevant for understanding the world, and if the only thing one got out of this course was being able to explain to a naïve fool why ‘lead in the pipes’ was not the reason the Roman Empire fell, this course would be well worth it for that alone. But, not only will you get the satisfaction of justifiably calling them ignorant of real history you will also get to explain with excruciatingly long detailed reasons why they are mistaken.

Dr. Daileader explains where we came from and why it matters better than almost any body. (BTW, a really good book covering the same material is ‘Inheritance of Rome’ by Wickham).

7 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Narration is annoying

The narrator constantly elongates vowels when he can't think of what to say. It's as annoying as someone who says "um" all of the time. It happens often, because he seems completely unprepared to speak. The information is mostly interesting, but I couldn't finish because of the narration. I feel sorry for the students that have to endure hours of that in his classes.

7 people found this helpful

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Early Middles

I enjoy everything that this professor does, but I do enjoy this time period this best. He has such a good sense of humor and relevance.

7 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 12-27-14

Excellent insight into a little understood period

This is the best course I have listened to this far from the Great Courses. The material covered is not a period I knew well and the lecturer had an enjoyably light style with a nicely dry sense of humour.

What I particularly enjoyed was the comprehensive coverage of the subject including low and high culture; religion and politics; war and peace. Really a superb series of lectures

6 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 06-15-14

Very good

Really good, I learnt a lot more than I expected, good delivery. Three is the series, started listening to the third (unaware of the second, before driving) and the start is excellent. So go for it.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Jonathan
  • 01-24-15

The perfect lecture course

I have listened to many of the Great Courses series, and this ranks amongst the very best. This seemingly remote period came alive completely in the hands of Professor Daileader and I became almost addicted to the lectures. It is a beautifully crafted course: each lecture has a clearly defined topic, beginning with a summary of the last lecture and ending with a short review. And the presentation is just wonderful. For detailed information about content I recommend looking at the Great Courses web site, which has a list of lecture titles. Or you could just take my word for it and download this course now -- I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I will now move seamlessly on to Professor Daileader's next course on the High Middle Ages......

5 people found this helpful

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  • Ms. S. Smith
  • 11-10-14

Content great but narration slightly annoying

What did you like best about The Early Middle Ages? What did you like least?

This is a period of history that I know relatively little about and especially the fall,of the Roman Empire was really interesting. The only fly in the ointment was the narrator's irritating use of a long, drawn out "aaaand" every couple of words which made listening quite hard going after only a short time. I persevered however because the subject interested me.

What did you like best about this story?

The historical content obviously.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Pace yes, but I would probably read another work by this author. rather than listen to him narrate another audio book.

Did The Early Middle Ages inspire you to do anything?

Yes, I have already bought additional historical audio books from the Great Courses series.

3 people found this helpful

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  • elena gomez
  • 05-03-18

so engaging

This is the first book of the series I have read. I liked it so much that I got the next two volumes.
Professor Daileader is such good fun. I highly recommend this audible.
I usually listen to it on my way to work and I just check my understanding of names and places. The pdf is quite a good tool.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Dennis Sommers
  • 07-27-20

College level- which college?

One or two lectures were detailed and informative, such as the two on Carolingian culture, and over all, a competent survey of the subject and certainly enjoyable and worth the price of a credit. If I’d paid the. Full price as advertised I might have been very much less happy.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 07-14-17

Definitely recommend

I enjoyed this course very much. It was structured well so that it conveyed the information well.

1 person found this helpful

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  • John
  • 02-19-17

Is he Bill Bryson in disguise?

Great buy. Informative, witty and well-paced. I'm now moving on to The High Middle Ages.
Say no more!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-19-22

Brilliant account of the period

Fascinating, informative and accessible history of the period. Brilliantly presented. Definitely recommended for anyone wanting a greater insight into this period of history.

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  • S. Terry
  • 07-29-22

So interesting!

Not my usual choice but I loved this and hope to listen again, because it's a lot to take in. The narrator was good and chronological and subject grouping made it completely understandable.

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  • James
  • 07-18-22

More about Christianity than the Middle Ages

Not great, is seems to really be about Christianity in ancient Rome and few specific figures. Was expecting this to be about the European Early Middle Ages more broadly.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-05-21

Excellent introduction to early medieval Europe

Daileader is as entertaining as he is knowledgeable. These lectures will benefit any interested person, from the uninitiated to the professional historian.

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  • Victoria
  • 01-24-21

Spot on

An interesting, fast-paced, intelligent and thoughtful summary of the early Middle Ages. Simply brilliant. I love listening to all 12 hours of it.

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  • Michael
  • 08-28-19

Loved the performance

Great content and great presentation. I enjoyed the wry humour throughout. Now for volume two.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-27-19

VERY WORTH WHILE

Very well put together. Fascinating and informative throughout. Philip Daileader in my opinion has dealt with this subject in an insightful and masterful manner. I thoroughly enjoyed these lectures from beginning to end.

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  • George Slater
  • 10-26-18

Brilliant set of historical lectures

If you want to find out more about European history at the end of the western part of the Roman Empire look no fiurther. Really wish I’d listen to this prior to going on a euro tour. Places and peoples mean so much more now.

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  • Paul
  • 09-11-17

Great introduction to the period

Stimulating discussion of the Early Middle Ages. Gets you engaged in some deep thinking of this time.