Historians characterized the middle Ages in terms of ecclesiastical hierarchy and doctrinal unity. For quite some time, there was a notion that medieval Europe was governed by something called a feudal "system." Although there is a consistency to the portraits of Muslims in the medieval epic tradition, there are shifts. Nonetheless, virtually all Western medieval treatments of Islam present damning and distorted information. In the past historians and literary scholars have exhibited a tendency to view the European Middle Ages from a universalist viewpoint, generalizing about all of Europe and much of the Middle Ages. This same universalizing tendency has been applied to portrayals of European medieval views of Islam, which are sometimes viewed as uniformly hostile. In fact, they mixed popular and learned views, intermingled the realistic with the marvelous and the legendary, modulated over time and ran the gamut from the murderous to the empathic.