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Europe in the Middle Ages.—The period from the fifth to the fifteenth century is known in European history as the Middle Ages. During all these years, petty nobles with their bands of feudal retainers fought continually with each other for possession of the soil of Europe. Might was right. Those who were weak were despoiled of their lads ; those who were strong became lords of extensive domains. 'All who tilled the soil were tenants of some such lord, and were in duty bound to follow his banner to the wars. In any interval of peace, they were ground down at home. Of learning there was none, save in the quiet cloisters of the monasteries. Only to a learned few had the notion come of a round world. To the ignorant many the earth was fiat, and the sun sank each night beyond an impassable waste. Of a land to the west beyond the Atlantic they had no conception. `

The Northmen—Marco Folo.—In the ninth century the Vikings of Norway took possession of Iceland. From this island, early in the eleventh century, two adventurous sailors, Leif and Bjorn, made a voyage far to the south-west, and, it is claimed, planted a colony on what is now Rhode Island. The hostility of the Skraelings (natives) led to the breaking up of this settlement, and soon its story became a mere tradition among the Northmen. In the thirteenth century a young Venetian, Marco Polo, journeyed east from Europe, and, after many years' absence, brought back (about 1295) a tale of fabulous wealth in a far country which he called Cathay. After his death his written narrative was known to monkish scholars, and the story was told as an old "sailor's yarn" among the mariners of the Mediterranean.


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