Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Southeast Europe



Bulgarian Kingdoms

During the ninth and tenth centuries the Bulgars were the dominant power in the Balkans.


During the fifth century, elements of the Huns withdrew back into the steppes of southern Russia, where they mixed with related Turkic tribes and Slavic ethnic groups to become the Bulgars. Their first major kingdom fell apart around 640 because of the advance of other steppe peoples, dividing the Bulgarian people into the Volga and Danube Bulgars. Thereafter, the Volga Bulgars prospered on the trade route between Kicvan Rus and the Islamic lands to the south until their kingdom was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1236.

The Danube Bulgars established the first Bulgarian kingdom in the Balkans around 681 under their khan, Asparukh, who claimed to be descended from Attila.

Boris I introduced 2 Christianity in 865 to facilitate the unification of the kingdom. His younger son, Simeon, whom he had sent to Constantinople to be educated as a monk, usurped the throne in 893.

2 Orthodox chapel overlooking Lake Ohrid,
in present-day Macedonia, built in the late ninth

Simeon I ("the Great"), the most significant Bulgarian ruler, waged several 3 wars against Byzantium but was unable to capture Constantinople.

In 925, he assumed the title "Tsar of All the Bulgars." Simeon presided over a cultural golden era in the Bulgarian Empire, promoting the use of the Cyrillic alphabet to enable Slavic translations of the Bible and to facilitate the population's conversion to Christianity.

Soon after Simeon's death in 927, during a time of conflicts with Kievan Rus, the decline of the empire set in.

Bulgaria was so weakened in 1014 by its 5 defeat at the hands of Byzantine emperor Basil II, the "Slayer of Bulgars", that four years later the Byzantines returned to annex all of Bulgaria, managing to hold it for almost two centuries.

3 Fights between Bulgars and Byzantines outside
Thessaloniki, book illustration, 13th century

5 Bulgar prisoners, blinded by Basil II,
return from Byzantine captivity, wood engraving, ca. 1900

The Bulgarian nobles Peter and Ivan Asen used the distraction caused by the attacks of the Seljuks on the Byzantine Empire to proclaim their independence in 1186.

They founded the second Bulgarian kingdom, with its capital at 6 Turnovo.

6 Fortifications and church of the old town Veliko Turnovo,
above the river Yantrain, present-day Bulgaria

Their brother, 1 Kaloyan Asen, was recognized as king by Pope Innocent III in 1204.

Shortly afterward, however, he turned away from Rome and supported the Greek Orthodox Christians in their struggle against the Latin Empire, defeating Emperor Baldwin I in 1205 at Adrianople. Kaloyan's nephew. Ivan Asen II, expanded the kingdom all the way to the Aegean and Adriatic Seas and in 1235 founded a Bulgarian patriarchate.

Following the invasion of the Mongols in 1242, the kingdom came under the rule of Mongolian khans. In 1330, Bulgaria was defeated by the Serbs at the Battle of Velbuzhd and was reduced to half of its previous size, thus becoming a relatively insignificant state.

Bulgaria's last medieval tsar, 4 Ivan Shishman, participated in the Christian defeat at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 against the Ottomans, and by 1396 the Bulgarian territories were under the control of the Sultan.

1 Kaloyan Asen in battle, mosaic, 16th

4 Ivan Shishman and his family,
book illustration, 14th century


Serbian Kingdoms

From the twelfth to the end of the 14th century, the Serbs were able to establish a large kingdom in the western Balkan region.


Like the Bulgars, the South Slavic Serbs, under Stephen Nemanja in 1167, used the decline of the Byzantine Empire in the twelfth century to establish an independent state. He reorganized the Serbian kingdom and Church. New Serbian bishops were selected and Serbian became the liturgical language.

In 1196 he abdicated and retired to 7 monastery.

7 Studenica Monastery, the largest in Serbia,
founded by Stefan Nemanja after his abdication in 1196

His son and successor, 8 Stephan II Nemanja, initially turned toward the West and was granted the title of king by the pope in 1217.

In 1219, as a counterweight to Stefan's pro-Roman policies, his brother 12 Sava founded the Serbian Orthodox Church, which later became a key part of Serbian national identity under foreign domination.

8 St. Stefan II Nemanja, king of Serbia,
portrait surrounded by scenes from his life,
Serbian icon painting, 16th

12 St. Sava, fresco in the monastery
of Decani, Kosovo, 1572

The monasteries founded by St. Sava became cultural centers. Later in the 13th century, Serbia, which had previously been characterized by clan groupings, developed a feudal state after the Western European model, and the peasants effectively became serfs.

In 1330 at Velbuzhd, the Serbs won an important victory against the Bulgars, which brought additional territories to the Serbian crown.

Stephen Dushan, crowned in 1331, continued these expansionist policies and conquered Greece as far as the outskirts of Athens.

He had himself crowned "Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks" in 1346 in Skopje and established a Serbian 10 patriarchate.

11 Stephen Dushan, mosaic, 14th century

10 Serbian Patriarchate Monastery in Pec,
built in the 13th14th centuries

Domestically, he built up a hierarchical government organized along Byzantine lines and codified the legal system. His son, Stephan Urosh V, crowned in 1355, was unable to hold the empire together and it splintered into a number of principalities in 1371. The North Serbian prince, Lazar Hrebeljanovic, tried in vain to halt the Ottoman advance. The Serbs suffered a massive defeat in the Battle of Kosovo on the "Field of the Blackbirds" in 1389, and Lazar's successors were forced to recognize Ottoman suzerainty.

In 1456, Belgrade was besieged by Mehmed II.

On that occasion 9 Janos Hunyadi, the Hungarian regent, succeeded in relieving the city and forced the Ottomans to retreat before he himself died of plague in his army camp.

Nonetheless, in 1459 the Ottomans deposed the last of the Serbian princes and integrated the region into their empire.

9 Janos Hunyadi fighting against the Ottomans,
wood engraving, 19th



The Battle of Kosovo

"Field of the Blackbirds"

In June 1389, the armies of the Ottoman Sultan Murad I and the Serbian prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic faced each other at the town of Kosovo Polje, Serbian for "Field of the Blackbirds." With the defeat of the Serbs, the Ottomans became undisputed masters of the Balkans.

Mythologized by nationalists in the 39th and 20th centuries, the battle still plays a role in Serbian national sentiment.

Battle at the "Field of the Blackbirds",
copper engraving, 18th century



Battle of Kosovo 1389, Turks killed Tsar Lazar's horse; by Adam Stefanović


Uros Predic
Kosovo Maiden



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