Early and High Middle Ages

Burgdorf Castle
Burgedorf Castle © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

The period which followed on from the Roman Empire and lasted from around 500 to 1000 AD is generally referred to as the Early Middle Ages. The area covered by present-day Switzerland underwent a similar development to that of the rest of Western Europe.

The earliest centuries were marked by mass migration (Barbarian Invasions). Switzerland too saw the arrival of many different settlers, each bringing their own way of life and language. Christianity, which had already been introduced by the Romans, became widespread thanks partly to the work of missionaries. The Church, together with its dioceses and monasteries, became a major landowner and enjoyed all the attendant rights over the people who lived on and worked its lands. At the same time, noble families were expanding their power base through conquests, inheritance and marriage.

For a brief period the King of the Franks, Charlemagne, controlled a large swathe of Western Europe. In 800 AD, he became the first medieval ruler to be crowned Emperor. Yet, the reign of Charlemagne did not establish any real idea of state. At each level of society, relations between the strong and weak were based on personal dependencies. The emperor ruled over a network of noble families, with kings, dukes and princes constantly jostling for greater power in a bid to preserve or add to the privileges they enjoyed.

In 962, the German King Otto I was crowned emperor by the Pope in Rome. His empire would later become known as the Holy Roman Empire (with the addition of “German Nation” in the 15th century). In the Modern period, it was referred to as the German Empire or the Roman-German Empire.

Early and High Middle Ages (PDF, 217.4 kB, English)