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The Middle Ages form the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three "ages": the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. The idea of such a periodisation is attributed to Flavio Biondo, an Italian Renaissance humanist historian.
The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (or by some scholars, before that) in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, marked by the rise of nation-states, the division of Christianity in the Reformation, the rise of humanism in the Italian Renaissance, and the beginnings of European overseas expansion which allowed for the Columbian Exchange. There is some variation in the dating of the edges of these periods which is due mainly to differences in specialization and focus of individual scholars. Commonly seen periodization ranges span the years ca. 400–476 AD (the sackings of Rome by the Visigoths to the deposing of Romulus Augustus) to ca. 1453–1517 (the Fall of Constantinople to the Protestant reformation begun with Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses). Dates are approximate, and are based upon nuanced arguments.
Post-Roman Europe continued to develop jewelry making skills; the Celts and Merovingians in particular are noted for their jewelry, which in terms of quality matched or exceeded that of Byzantium. Clothing fasteners, amulets, and to a lesser extent signet rings are the most common artefacts known to us; a particularly striking Celtic example is the Tara Brooch. The torc was common throughout Europe as a symbol of status and power. By the 8th century, jewelled weaponry was common for men, while other jewelry (with the exception of signet rings) seems to become the domain of women. Grave goods found in a 6th-7th century burial near Chalon-sur-Saône are illustrative; the young girl was buried with: 2 silver fibulae, a necklace (with coins), bracelet, gold earings, a pair of hair-pins, comb, and buckle. The Celts specialized in continuous patterns and designs; while Merovingian designs are best known for stylized animal figures. They were not the only groups known for high quality work; note the Visigoth work shown here, and the numerous decorative objects found at the Anglo-Saxon Ship burial at Sutton Hoo Suffolk, England, are a particularly well-known example. On the continent, cloisonné and garnet were perhaps the quintessential method and gemstone of the period.
The Eastern successor of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, continued many of the methods of the Romans, though religious themes came to predominate. Unlike the Romans, the Franks, and the Celts, however; Byzantium used light-weight gold leaf rather than solid gold, and more emphasis was placed on stones and gems. As in the West, Byzantine jewelry was worn by wealthier females, with male jewelry apparently restricted to signet rings. Like other contemporary cultures, jewelry was commonly buried with its owner.