The End of the Middle Ages and the Rebirth of Europe (1500): Reasons
1. Black Death leads to the weakening of feudalism.
2. Church begins loosing power throughout Europe.
3. Kings begin to obtain more power over the Nobles and the Church, thus becoming absolute rulers. Kings are able to protect their lands and maintain order and stability.
4. Crusaders return from the Middle East with new knowledge and products.
5. The emergence of a new middle class (merchants, bankers, businessmen, etc.) further weakens the system of feudalism.
6. Italian trade with the Middle East and the Byzantine Empire begins a revival in Italy known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance soon spreads to the rest of Europe.
7. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Greek scholars fled to Italy. The scholars brought with them copies of ancient texts, new ideas, and new technologies. Europe is reintroduced to the classical greatness and knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome.
8. The Age of Exploration and Discovery brings change and new wealth to Europe. The economy of Europe changes and begins to shift away from agriculture.
Renaissance: Overview of a New Age
The Renaissance was an age of pioneers. Explorers expanded the boundaries of the new world beyond the European continent. The New World was discovered.
Astronomers made possible a new view of the universe.
Painters discovered perspective and new art forms.
Sculptors carved marble statues in new ways that revealed pathos and emotion.
Architects designed magnificent domed buildings.
Scholars scour monasteries and old libraries for the precious manuscripts of the ancient Greeks and Romans and began a revival of learning.
Advances made during this time people were supported by the wealthy ruling classes who were not only inspired with pioneering spirits, but also with generosity.
Renaissance- the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. It began in Italy and spread gradually to other countries and marked the transition from the medieval world to the modern.
Renaissance means “rebirth” and “reawakening”. It is a term used to describe the period of history between the beginning of the 15th century and the end of the 18th century when the old ways of thinking were loosing their force. The Renaissance was actually a time of revival of interest in learning and in life.
Events Leading to the Renaissance
Crusades: Christian soldiers returning from the Middle East brought back new ideas, technologies, and products to Western Europe. (astrolabes, compasses, better ship building techniques, and ancient texts)
Black Death: With so many deaths, a scarcity of labor developed across Europe. This shortage of workers caused the labor of those still alive to be worth more. Peasants demanded and received more money for their services.
Peasants who survived the plague became wealthier and bought more. Businesses began to flourish, great trading centers were established, and profits increased. The peasants began to enjoy a better standard of living and began challenging the Church and lords for power.
Peasant revolts increased, thus leading to the demise of feudalism and Church influence. Peasants became freer to pursue their economic and social interests.
Church begins to loose power and influence over society: Since the fall of Rome in 476 up until the 1300’s, the power of the Church was virtually unchallenged. The Church maintained stability throughout Europe. It was the source of all knowledge. It had tremendous influence over all aspects of European society, including the kings, lords and vassals.
By the 1500’s, Europe was poised for a “rebirth”. Powerful kings ruled over nations, peasants were freer to pursue their social and economic interests, a middle class developed, and the Church began to loose its control over society. Such factors led to the Renaissance.
The Early Renaissance: Italian Beginning
The Renaissance began in Italy in the 1300’s then spread to the rest of Europe. It reached it’s height in the 1500’s. Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance for several reasons.
The Renaissance was marked by a reawakened interest in the culture of ancient Rome (and Greece). Since Italy was the center of ancient Rome, it was only natural for the reawakening to start there.
Italy differed from the rest of Europe. Its cities had survived and flourished during the Middle Ages. Powerful city-states developed where manufacturing and trade thrived.
Cities like Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome dominated life in Italy. Italy had no unifying king, city- states controlled the economy and politics of vast regions.
Political power was not centered in landed nobility, but rather in urban ruling class. Wealthy bankers, merchants, and traders, were the leaders of the Italian city-states.
Italy had never truly been medieval. It did not rely on the system of feudalism. Italy had been out of the mainstream of medieval culture, thought, and politics.
The wealthy and powerful merchant’s class promoted the cultural rebirth. They stressed education and individual achievement. They also spent lavishly to support the arts. Most members of the merchant class became patrons.
Italian schools were different. They were not controlled by the Church. They stressed a broader education, not one society dedicated to the teachings of the Church and scriptures.
The concept of liberal education developed people were free to study all areas of knowledge.
Italian city-states were leaders in international trade. Italian traders and merchants served as the European source for such rare trade goods as spices, silks, and exotic fruits.
In addition, Italian merchants, due to their monopoly on trade with the Middle East, came into contact with superior Muslim (and Asian) innovations and inventions.
It was only natural that Italy would be the birthplace of the Renaissance. Italy differed from the rest of Europe in many ways. It was neither feudal nor medieval. It was dominated by and urban merchant class which supported the arts, liberal education, individual achievement, the concept of progress, and trade.