DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B078-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 05, 2022, from

1. Historical and geographical boundaries

The terms ‘medieval’ and ‘Middle Ages’ derive from the Latin expression medium aevum (the middle age), coined by Renaissance humanists to refer to the period separating the golden age of classical Greece and Rome from what they saw as the rebirth of classical ideals in their own day. The humanists were writing from the perspective of the intellectual culture of Western Europe, and insofar as their conception of a middle age corresponds to an identifiable historical period, it corresponds to a period in the history of the Latin West. The historical boundaries of medieval intellectual culture in Western Europe are marked fairly clearly: on the one end by the disintegration of the cultural structures of Roman civilization (Alaric sacked Rome in ad 410), and on the other end by the dramatic cultural revolution perpetrated by the humanists themselves (in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries). There is some justification, therefore, for taking ‘medieval philosophy’ as designating primarily the philosophy of the Latin West from about ad 400–1400.

There were, of course, significant non-Latin philosophical developments in Europe and the Mediterranean world in this same period, in the Greek-speaking Byzantine empire, for example, and in Arabic-speaking Islamic and Jewish cultures in the Near East, northern Africa and Spain. None of these philosophical traditions, however, was radically cut off from the philosophical heritage of the ancient world in the way the Latin-speaking West was by the collapse of the Roman Empire. For that reason, those traditions are best treated separately from that of western Europe. Accordingly, they are dealt with in this article only to the extent to which they influence developments in medieval philosophy in the Latin West.

(See Byzantine philosophy; Hellenistic philosophy; Humanism, Renaissance; Islamic philosophy; Jewish philosophy; Medieval philosophy, Russian; Renaissance philosophy.)

Citing this article:
MacDonald, Scott and Norman Kretzmann. Historical and geographical boundaries. Medieval philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B078-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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