The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages

The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages

by Matthew E. Bunson
The Middle Ages encompass a span of time roughly from the end of the fourth century to the first stirrings of the Renaissance in the 1400s.


The Middle Ages encompass a span of time roughly from the end of the fourth century to the first stirrings of the Renaissance in the 1400s.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
While classical and modern history are usually adequately covered in most library collections, medieval subjects are often slighted because of lighter demand and the high cost of major sources on the era. This new work from encyclopedist Bunson (e.g., Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, Facts on File, 1992) is a nicely priced, moderately sized, two-volume set that will enable many libraries to strengthen this subject area. Bunson defines the Middle Ages as spanning the years 410 to 1492. Arranged alphabetically, the articles average five pages, with See Also references pointing readers to related subjects and mentions of topics with their own entries appearing in bold type. The articles are tersely factual, concentrating on names of people, places, and events; coverage is less satisfactory for social concepts or philosophies. As a result, this work is more a dictionary than an encyclopedia, and its conciseness may frustrate individuals needing something beyond a brief description. While some of the best materials are the strongly focused chronologies of events, dynasties, and literature, the "Magna Carta" receives only 31 lines and "Alchemy," 62. Binding, illustrations, and the all-important index, essential for exploiting the wealth of information scattered throughout the articles, were not available for review. Libraries requiring in-depth materials will want the exhaustive Dictionary of the Middle Ages (Scribner, 13 vols., $990). A comparable though older title is The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopaedia (LJ 9/1/89); Bunson's similarly priced set is preferred, although its bibliography is unfortunately not much more current. For small and midsized public and school libraries.-James Moffet, Baldwin P.L., Birmingham, Mich.
School Library Journal
YA-A concise but comprehensive introduction to the people, places, styles, and events of an era that was anything but ``Dark.'' Bunson provides a little information on nearly everything related to the time period. Broad topics include trade and commerce, gothic art and architecture, and the Crusades. The inclusion of Arabic terms is helpful, as they are difficult to locate elsewhere. Their alphabetization may be a problem, however; e.g., Al-Hadi is found in the Hs. A detailed timeline and a family tree of dynasties are provided. Unfortunately, the illustrations are few in number and are limited to line drawings. Also, the rather drab map shows only the areas of northern Africa east to Turkey, Europe, and southern Scandinavia. Still, this is a good substitute for the multi-volume Dictionary of the Middle Ages (Scribners) for students who do not want to be overwhelmed.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Zom Zoms
This encyclopedia includes 2,000 articles on "all aspects of the medieval world" from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance. Bunson is the author of many other reference books, including "The Vampire Encyclopedia" (Crown, 1993) and "The Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire" (Facts On File, 1994). He appears to have written all the articles and provided all the line drawings for this encyclopedia himself. Bunson intends to represent a "wider perspective" of medieval culture with attention paid to the "significant non-European cultures that held a prominent role in the shaping of Western and Near Eastern civilization." He has made an effort to include topics relating to Islamic dynasties, Balkan empires, and the Mongols of Asia. However, this perspective is not unique. These topics are also covered in the intellectually formidable, 13-volume "Dictionary of the Middle Ages" (Macmillan, 198289); single-volume encyclopedias such as "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Medieval Civilization", by Aryeh Grabois (Octopus, 1980); and "The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopedia", edited by H. R. Loyn (Thames and Hudson, 1989). Of the single-volume encyclopedias, Grabois is the most comprehensive and is also the most richly illustrated, with several hundred photographs, floor plans, and maps, including full-page colorplates The alphabetically arranged articles in the "Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages" are concise, well written, and generally accurate, although oversimplified at times. Topics include persons ("Saint Bede, Genghis Kahn"), events ("Fairs", "Plague", "Inquisition"), and places ("Sutton Hoo", "Bosnia", "Fez"). The length of most articles is between one paragraph ("Danelaw", "Dance of Death") and several pages ("Byzantine Empire", "Crusades"). The encyclopedia's strong point is its many short articles on historical figures, especially from the Islamic areas and Eastern Europe. Its weakest point is its coverage of art and architecture. The article "Chartres", for example, is primarily about the town, with a cross-reference to "Cathedral", where Chartres is mentioned only briefly. Cross-references are provided to related articles, and an index concludes the volume. Special features in the encyclopedia include chronologies ("Chronology of Medieval Literary History" ), maps, and genealogies of important dynasties ("Merovingian Dynasty", "Palaeologi Dynasty"). Appendixes include lists of medieval rulers and dynasties by geographic region and a glossary Illustrative material is limited almost exclusively to amateurish line drawings presumably made by the author. This is the most unfortunate feature of the encyclopedia. Reproductions of artwork and monuments would have illustrated the richness and spirit of the medieval world much more effectively. In many cases very little information about the illustration is provided. For example, a line drawing of Geoffrey Chaucer riding a horse is a copy of a well-known painting in the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, but it is not so identified. Readers using the encyclopedia to find visual material will be disappointed. No suggestions for further reading are included with the articles, although there is a four-page "Suggested Reading List" at the end of the work. It is arranged by very broad topical and geographic headings such as "Islam and East" and "Western Europe." The list effectively identifies the most important books in English in each broad area, but this is a list of classics rather than recent research. Only one book was published in the 1990s; about a quarter are from the 1980s While the "Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages" provides articles on Islamic and Balkan historical figures that are not included in other single-volume encyclopedias of medieval history, its flaws make it a necessary purchase only for comprehensive collections. Collections with Loyn or Grabois or the "Dictionary of the Middle Ages" need not acquire this book.
Articles identify and briefly describe events, figures, and ideas of the period stretching from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the rise of the Renaissance. Includes matters that impacted Europe from beyond its borders such as Genghis Kahn and the assassins. Appendices list rulers and dynasties. A suggested reading list does duty as a bibliography. Lightly cross- referenced. Includes a glossary without pronunciation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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Facts on File, Incorporated
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8.79(w) x 11.27(h) x 1.27(d)

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