What were Eastern and Southern Europe like in the medieval period? Did Southern and Eastern Europe have knights and castles like Western Europe? I've never heard for example of Italian knights in the crusades. All I know that eastern Europe was under Byzantine influence for a long time. Specifically I'm looking for information on Romania in the 15th and 16th centuries?

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    A kinda big question, but a good one. Welcome to the site! +1 May 19, 2013 at 22:31
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    I'm afraid this is extremely broad. The traditional chronology of the Middle Ages sets their start in the 5th century and their end in the 15th. That's a millenium of history, even a list of the high points would be extremely long. Could you please make this a bit more narrow and specific?
    – yannis
    May 19, 2013 at 22:40
  • Well how about the period between the 11th and the 15th centuries? I'm just looking for a brief overview, not for specifics. I also adjusted the question.
    – Ovi
    May 19, 2013 at 22:51
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    As you're interested in knights and castles, you could perhaps confine this question to military structure. You can always post a new question about peasant life, commerce, etc.
    – lins314159
    May 19, 2013 at 23:30
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    Frankly, the area and the time period combine to make this just way too big a question. I'd suggest making it more explicitly just about the area around modern Romania. Trust me, there's plenty of history there.
    – T.E.D.
    May 20, 2013 at 3:17

2 Answers 2


Confining my answer to the area around modern-day Romania (IOW: The north-east Balkans).

In the beginning of the middle ages, this area was sort of a borderland between the territory of the Huns and of Eastern Roman Empire. It kept this state for another hundred years after the mid 6th century, except that the Huns were replaced by the Avars, and the Eastern Roman Empire became what we know today as the Byzantine Empire. At the end of this period, Slavic tribes began to move into the depopulated Balkans in large numbers.

By the mid 7th century, a (likely Turkic) tribe, the Bulgars, were defeated by the Khazars and driven into this area. At first Avar vassals, these Danube Bulgars eventually threw off the yoke, and set up their own empire in the area, known as the First Bulgarian Empire. At its height in the late 9th century, it encompassed nearly all of the Balkans, save the coastal Byzantine areas. This is also the period when the Slavs got their alphabet (and thus literacy in their own languages became a possibility again) and when the people of Balkans were converted to (mostly Eastern Orthodox) Christianity.

After this the Bulgars went into a long period of decline, during which their territory got slowly squeezed out between the Byzantines and the Patzinak Turks. By the mid 11th century, the borders of the two met on the Danube. Not much later another Turkic tribe, the Cumans, took over the Patzinak's territory. They held it until the Mongols arrived in the late 13th century, and took it over.

Meanwhile south of the Danube, in the early 13th century the Venetians convinced the leaders of the 4th Crusade to expend their efforts within the Byzantine Empire itself, essentially dismantling the Empire. This allowed the Bulgarians to reassert themselves in the area south of the Danube. This second Bulgarian Empire lasted until the end of the 14th century.

At that point, all of the Balkans south of the Danube was conquered by the Turks. The area immeditately north of that was being run as the Principality of Moldavia (with chiefly Vlach nobility) from the mid 14th century until it was also conquered by the Turks at the very end of the 15th.

That pretty much brings us into the modern era.

  • +1 & somewhat (geographically) related question here.
    – Drux
    May 20, 2013 at 6:01
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    "Eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire" - no! it did not became known as such! This name ("Byzantine empire") is a modern invention.
    – Anixx
    May 20, 2013 at 11:02
  • @Anixx - This is technically true. During the Middle ages the Byzantines never stopped referring to their empire as "Roman", whereas westerners tended to just call them "Greeks". I'm not sure what name was used for them in the east, but it was probably another name altogether. I'll rephrase a bit.
    – T.E.D.
    May 20, 2013 at 13:50
  • @T.E.D. In Rus they were called "Greeks" or "Ромеи" "Romei" (from Greek "Romaioi" "Romans").
    – Anixx
    May 20, 2013 at 14:00

Italy was one of the key participants, money and and troops provider for the crusades. Italian mercenaries, the Condottieri were employed throughout Europe. Italy was the leading producer of body armor in Europe (followed by Germany). Politically Italy was fragmented into rivaling city-states and the papal area, time to time subjected to the Holy Roman Empire.

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    You make a very important point - one of the chief reasons one doesn't hear about "Italian knights" is that there was no Italy. There were Venetian Knights, and participants from the Papal states, and the Kingdom of Sicily is well represented in the period. But there was no Italy until the 1870's. Well done.
    – MCW
    May 20, 2013 at 14:07
  • @Mark C. Wallace this is not exactly the case, some condottierri could easily change their allegiance. Many of them were employed by the emperor and so on. The most prominent separation was probably between the Guelph party and the Ghibelline party. So one can talk about "party soldiers".
    – Anixx
    May 20, 2013 at 14:47
  • Nothing I said touches on Guelph/Ghibelline/party soldiers. OP said "I've never heard for example of Italian knights "; I merely agreed with you that prior to the invention of "Italy" in the 1870's, the knights would not have been "Italian" knights.
    – MCW
    May 20, 2013 at 15:10

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