What Were the Major Battles and Conflicts of the Medieval Period?

From the Battle of Tours to the Spanish Reconquista, these are the major battles that took place during the Medieval period.

Dec 8, 2023By Matt Whittaker, BA History & Asian Studies
major battles conflicts of medieval period

 

In 476, the year Rome fell, heralded the Medieval Period, lasting until around 1492 when Christopher Columbus reached the Americas. Like any timespan, this Period was not immune to wars and protracted conflicts. Some took decades for resolution, while a single engagement could decide fate. It’s always interesting to see the impact of battles and conflicts on Europe.

 

The Battle of Tours – Muslim Expansion Stopped

Charles Martel versus the Moors at Tours, by Jean Fouquet, 15th century.
Charles Martel versus the Moors at Tours, by Jean Fouquet, 15th century.

 

Seven hundred and thirty-two marked the Battle of Tours as one of the most significant pivotal battles. The Muslim Moors invaded from Spain, seeking to expand into Frankish lands. France’s most powerful leader, Charles Martel, stealthily marched south to Tours. There, his army fought the Moorish cavalry force from a hillside, defeating and killing their leader. This battle checked the Moors’ rapid growth into Europe, preserving Christianity in the West. Charles later became the King of France, helping to establish feudalism.

 

The Reconquista – Spain Unites

the capitulation of granada early modern period
The Capitulation of Granada, by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz, 1882. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

When the Pope’s call for a Crusade went out in 1095, Spain’s version had been ongoing for nearly two centuries. An invading Moorish army had seized the Iberian Peninsula, pushed out the Visigoth nobility, and established the Ummayad Caliphate in 711. Only Charles Martel’s victory over a Muslim army in the Battle of Tours in 732 pushed the Moors back. 

 

The Reconquista, or “reconquering” of Spain, commenced in 718. It differed from the later Crusades by being a territorial expansion, not a religious war. The Moors granted Jews and Christians freedoms, preventing much hatred. Meanwhile the wars in Iberia lasted for hundreds of years as the Christians went south, capturing swathes of land. 

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The Reconquista only took on a religious tone as the Crusades to the Holy Land began. Their final campaign was the capture of Granada, the Moor’s last stronghold in Spain, in 1492. This final victory led to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims.

 

The Crusades – The Popes’ Call

first crusade entry jerusalem
Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099, by Émile Signol, 19th-century, via Crusades.Usherbrooke.ca

 

The Crusades started in 1095, with Pope Urban II asking for volunteers to retake the Holy Lands from Islam. This Holy City and surrounding lands had fallen several years before. The First Crusade retook Jerusalem in 1099, establishing kingdoms, touching off a religious war until 1291. The Crusades seized back the Holy Lands and became de facto rulers. By doing so, the Crusaders encountered a very different culture. New food, trading routes, and ideas like a better numbering system soon spread back home. Eight Crusades reached the Middle East, primarily to defend their kingdoms. By 1291, the Muslim armies from Egypt and Syria under the famous Saladin gained had retaken most of the Holy Land.

 

The Mongol Invasions – Unstoppable

Genghis Khan wax image. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Genghis Khan wax image. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

The Mongols, the dreaded horse lords, swarmed out from the Asian plains beginning around 1206 under the infamous Genghis Khan. Their armies reached Eastern Europe by the 1220s, devastating the Rus Principality in 1223. The Mongols, after pausing in the 1230s, pushed further into central Europe. After defeating several Polish, Hungarian, and Russian armies, they sacked Kiev and invaded Hungary. Mongols used terror tactics such as mass slaughter and enslavement. One-half of Hungary’s population was killed during this conflict.

 

mongol empire typhoon painting
The Mongol Invasion, by Tsolmonbayar Art, 2011. Source: DeviantArt

 

Their armies reached Dalmatia by 1240. One leader, Subutai Khan, lay poised in eastern Austria when the Great Khan died back in Mongolia. This forced leaders to return home and select a new Khan. Their armies raided deep into Europe, even to Lithuania. The Mongols settled in southern Russia, establishing khanates. Europeans didn’t defeat the Mongols until the late 1300s.

 

The Battle of Agincourt – The Longbow

Henry V at Agincourt. Source: Picryl
Henry V at Agincourt. Source: Picryl

 

Few history buffs have not heard of Agincourt, one of the most famous medieval battles. This battle was one of many during the Hundred Years’ War. On October 25, 1415, near Agincourt in northern France, an outnumbered English army led by King Henry V clashed with a larger French one. 

 

Henry V campaigned in France through the fall to press his claim to the French throne. His army weakened from continual fighting and disease, sought to return to England—the pursuing French army, led by knights, caught up and fought in a muddy field.

 

The English killed many charging French knights with powerful longbows as they forced their way through thick mud. In the melee, the English infantry overran the knights, killing thousands. But the longbow, with its range and killing power, was the prime reason for victory. The defeat helped secure England’s hold on their French territories, leaving the French in disarray. It took until 1453 for the French to reduce England’s possessions to Calais. 

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By Matt WhittakerBA History & Asian StudiesMatt Whittaker is an avid history reader, fascinated by the why, how and when. With a B.A. in History and Asian Studies from University of Massachusetts, he does deep dives into medieval, Asian and military history. Matt’s other passion besides family is the long-distance Zen-like runs.