For several hundred years, from about the first to around the fifth century AD, Rome was the greatest power on Earth, ruling Britain and the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. However, in northern Europe, there were fierce tribes that were only held at bay by the Romans. Around 400 AD, the Roman Empire began to weaken and the northern tribes swept across the continent of Europe and plundered the city of Rome. The Roman Empire collapsed and was gradually replaced by many small kingdoms ruled by a strong warrior.
For many years, Europe was without the luxuries and riches that had marked the height of Rome. Many centuries later, a new interest in learning would mark the beginning of the Renaissance. The thousand years between is called the Middle Ages or the Medieval period. This period began and ended for different countries at different times across Europe. It also affected different areas of the continent in different ways.
The northern tribes did not stamp out learning completely, only momentarily set it back. The Catholic Church was already a powerful institution at the end of the Roman Empire and it continued to be the unifying force between the many small kingdoms that would become Europe. The Church salvaged much from the ruins of the ancient world and became one of the centers of learning during the Middle Ages. The people of the Middle Ages had a rich culture and produced many advances in art, literature, science, and medicine and paved the way for the ideas that would become the beginning of the Renaissance