8th Century: A Time of Transformation

The 8th Century: Islamic Expansion and Viking Raids

The 8th century – a time period that spanned from 701 (DCCI) through 800 (DCCC) – was marked by significant historical events. North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula fell under the swift domination of Islamic Arab rule. While the Umayyad Empire’s expansion was eventually halted by the Byzantine Empire’s successful siege of Constantinople and the Franks’ triumph at the Battle of Tours, the tide of Arab conquest came to an end midway through the century.

As the century progressed, Scandinavia’s seafaring peoples, the Vikings, started to raid the coasts of Europe and the Mediterranean, leading to the establishment of several important kingdoms.

In Asia, the Pala Empire emerged in Bengal, while China’s Tang dynasty reached its zenith under the leadership of Emperor Xuanzong. Meanwhile, Japan’s Nara period commenced, setting the stage for the country’s future development.


Arabs conquer Toledo, Spain
The Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle

In 711, Muslim Arabs from North Africa landed on the Iberian Peninsula and crossed into Spain. Their swift conquests brought them to Toledo, where they expelled the Visigoths, marking the beginning of Islamic rule in the region. The conquests continued, and for a time, the Moors controlled most of Spain.

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The Death of Pepin II: A Tumultuous Era of Civil War and Turmoil in the Frankish Kingdom
Pepin of Herstal

Pepin of Herstal

The passing of Pepin II, the influential Frankish 'mayor of the palace,' sparked a brutal civil war between his kin. The conflict led to a period of intense turmoil and unrest in the region, as various factions vied for power and influence. In this tumultuous era, the fate of the Frankish kingdom hung in the balance, and only time would reveal the victor.


Siege of Constantinople
 Miniature 47 from the Constantine Manasses Chronicle, 14 century: The arabs attacking Constantinople during the reign of emperor Leo III

Miniature 47 from the Constantine Manasses Chronicle, 14 century: The arabs attacking Constantinople during the reign of emperor Leo III

In the year of our Lord, 717, the mighty walls of Constantinople were put to the test as the Arab invaders sought to expand their empire into Europe. But the Bulgarians and Byzantines, united in their determination to defend their lands, launched a fierce counterattack. The clash was brutal, the battle lines hard-fought, but in the end, it was the defenders who emerged victorious. Thus was the Arab advance halted, and the glory of Constantinople preserved for another day.

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Visigoths Find Refuge in Asturias, Spain Amid Arab Onslaught

In the 8th century, the Visigoths were cornered by the relentless Arab conquests. Seeking a last stand, they settled in Asturias, at the farthest reaches of Spain. In doing so, they created a bastion of resistance that would last for centuries, marking the beginning of the Reconquista.


The civil war among the Franks ends with complete victory for Charles Martel

Charles Martel, the legendary Frankish commander, emerged victorious in a pivotal civil war fought in 8th-century France. His triumph ensured the continuation of his family's reign, with his son, Pippin the Short, going on to become King of the Franks. This momentous victory marked the beginning of a new era in Frankish history, which would see the Carolingian dynasty rise to unprecedented heights of power and influence in Europe.


Charles Martel lays the foundation for European feudalism
Oravsky Podzamok, Slovakia

Oravsky Podzamok, Slovakia

The actions of the Frankish ruler Charles Martel in the 8th century profoundly impacted the evolution of European society. By awarding land to his nobles, he established the framework for the feudalism system that would shape much of the continent's political and social structure in the centuries to follow. This seemingly small decision would have far-reaching consequences, fundamentally altering the course of European history.


The Venetians elect their first doge

In a groundbreaking move, the Venetians - famed for their mercantile power and seafaring prowess - asserted their independence by electing their first doge. This marked a significant moment in the Republic's history as it shifted away from Byzantine governance and toward greater autonomy. The doge's election empowered the Venetians to pursue their interests more assertively and set the stage for the Republic's future growth and prosperity.


Battle of Tours
Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours

Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours

The year was 732, and the Muslim conquest of Europe was at its peak. However, that all changed when Charles Martel, the Frankish ruler, emerged victorious over the Arabs in the famous Battle of Tours. Martel's forces employed a novel tactic, the phalanx, which successfully thwarted the Arab cavalry charge. This battle marked a turning point in European history, halting the Muslim advance into France and solidifying Martel's position as the savior of Christendom.

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Charles Martel dies and leaves the Frankish kingdoms to his two sons, Carloman and Pepin III
Charles Martel divides the realm between Pepin and Carloman. Miniature (illuminated manuscript) from Grandes Chroniques de France. Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. fr. 2615, fol. 72

Charles Martel divides the realm between Pepin and Carloman.

Charles Martel, the Frankish king who halted the Arab invasion of Europe, passed away and bequeathed his hard-won kingdoms to his two sons, Carloman and Pepin III. They were left with a daunting task - to protect their lands from external threats while consolidating their rule.


The beginning of the Carolingian dynasty
Divisions of the carolingian empire (Verdun, Meerssen)

Divisions of the carolingian empire (Verdun, Meerssen)

In the early 8th century, with papal backing, Pepin III ascended to the throne of the Franks, founding the Carolingian dynasty - named after his father, the famed Charles Martel. Under Pepin's leadership, the Franks became a formidable power, and the dynasty would go on to dominate Europe for centuries to come.


The Abbasid caliphs create Baghdad as a new capital city on the Tigris

As the Islamic world expanded under the Abbasid caliphs, they sought to establish a new capital city that would reflect their power and ambition. In 762, they founded Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris, an ambitious feat of engineering that included canals, walls, and a grand palace. The city quickly became a center of learning, trade, and culture, with scholars, merchants, and artisans flocking to its bustling streets. For centuries, Baghdad remained a symbol of Islamic power and prestige, a testament to the vision and ambition of the Abbasid caliphs.


Charlemagne inherits the entire kingdom of the Franks
The Bust of Charlemagne, an idealised portrayal and reliquary said to contain Charlemagne's skull cap, is located at Aachen Cathedral Treasury, and can be regarded as the most famous depiction of the ruler.

The Bust of Charlemagne

With the passing of his brother, Charlemagne was thrust into a position of immense power and responsibility. He now held the reins to the mighty kingdom of the Franks, and would have to navigate treacherous political waters to maintain his grip on power. It was a daunting challenge, but one that Charlemagne was more than capable of rising to. For he was a man of boundless energy and ambition, driven by a desire to leave his mark on the world. And with the fate of an entire nation in his hands, he knew that he could not afford to fail.


Charlemagne establishes himself as king of the Lombards in northern Italy

With two hard-fought campaigns in Lombardy, the mighty Charlemagne had proven himself as a formidable warrior and astute ruler. Now, with the Lombards subdued, he crowned himself king of the north and set his sights on further conquests in the name of the Frankish empire.


The monks of Lindisfarne become the first known overseas victims of a Viking raid
Viking Raider Doomsday Stone; Kloster Lindisfarne, Holy Island

Viking Raider Doomsday Stone; Kloster Lindisfarne, Holy Island

In the year of our Lord, 793, the tranquil community of Lindisfarne, nestled upon the rugged coast of Northumbria, was shattered by a most heinous attack. A band of Norsemen, raiders from across the seas, descended upon the unsuspecting monks, pillaging their sacred sanctuary and slaughtering the devout brethren within. Thus began the age of Viking incursions, a dark chapter in the annals of English history.

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Featured Image

Charles Martel at Battle of Tours, Great Chronicles of France

Charles Martel at Battle of Tours, Great Chronicles of France

The Great Chronicles of France

Artist: Mahiet and the Master of the Cambrai Missal (Hedeman (1991), p. 221)

Description: 418 one or two-column miniatures in colors and gold, at the beginning of books; the miniature at the beginning of the text with a full bar border with vine extensions (f. 3). Foliate initials in colors and gold, at the beginning of books. Initials in blue with red pen-flourishing, or in red with dark blue pen-flourishing.

Provenance: Before ascending the throne as John II, John the Good, Duke of Normandy, owned a book with his arms as Duke on page 3 and an inscription that read, “Jehan Ce rommant est monss. le Duc” under ultraviolet light on page 445v. The book was numbered in red on page 3, and a list of its contents was added in the late 14th century. Sir John Chandos, a landowner and administrator, acquired the book, and it was eventually passed down to Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. It was included in the list of books at Richmond Palace in 1535 and presented to the British Museum in 1757 by George II.


  • 8th century. (2023). Oxford Reference. https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/acref/9780191735516.timeline.0001;jsessionid=8A74E2DA6BD51877C83DF9B4388A4A4B

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 8). Battle of Tours. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tours

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, January 27). Doge. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doge

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 19). Feudalism. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudalism

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 13). Charles Martel. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Martel

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 13). Tariq ibn Ziyad. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariq_ibn_Ziyad

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 16). 8th century. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8th_century

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