Epic forms develop and change throughout the period often designated as ‘the Middle Ages’. However, this historical term is of limited use when applied to the wide variations that exist across the continuum from oral to literary epic. The reason for this is that the medieval period only makes sense in Western European conceptions of a long epoch between the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of the Renaissance. Even so, the situation is further compounded when deciding what defines either end of the period. Rome fell several times; the Eastern Roman Empire lasted until 1453; and the Renaissance gathered momentum in different countries at different times. The various epics that were produced during this time need to be treated in relation to their specific historical contexts. This is especially true for those texts that do not belong to the post-Roman world, since they are not influenced by the classical tradition so familiar from Homer and Virgil. Epic narratives that come from Norse and Celtic cultures are obvious examples, especially because of their roots in oral composition, but they are not the only alternatives.

The Persian Shah-Namah is especially important in this regard, since it represents a highly sophisticated literary culture with its own epic narratives. The Shah-Namah embodies a particularly Persian sensibility, incorporating into its themes the rise of Islam.