The terms ‘medieval’ and ‘Middle Ages’ are modern, signifying the period of transition between the intellectual glories of antiquity and those of the modern period. Although phrases similar to ‘medieval’ are encountered in the medieval period itself, their meaning is quite distinct from the modern sense of the term. Thus Julian of Toledo uses the phrase ‘the middle age’ or ‘the middle of time’ (tempus medium) in an Augustinian sense to refer to the period between the incarnation and the second coming of Christ. Since the Renaissance, the term has been used in a somewhat disparaging sense, to mean the somewhat uninteresting period of time separating the intellectual glories of antiquity and their retrieval in the Renaissance.
Historians have been vexed for some time by the question of when the ‘Middle Ages’ can be said to have begun, and the answers given to this question depend upon the criterion used in its definition. The practically simultaneous suppression of the Athenian Platonic academy and the establishment of Montecassino in 529 are regarded by many as marking, although not in themselves causing, the transition from late antiquity to the medieval period. For the purposes of the present study, the medieval period is regarded as having been initiated through Alaric's conquest of Rome in 410, with the resulting gradual shift in the centres of intellectual life from the Mediterranean world to the northern European world of Theodoric and Charlemagne, and later to the abbey and cathedral schools of France, and the universities of Paris and Oxford.
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