The Latin West, 1200–1500
I0. Rural Growth and Crisis
A0. Peasants and Population
10. In 1200 CE. most Europeans were peasants, bound to the land in serfdom and
using inefficient agricultural practices. Fifteen to thirty such heavily taxed
farming families supported each noble household.
20. Women labored in the fields with men but were subordinate to them.
30. Europe’s population more than doubled between 1000 and 1445. Population
growth was accompanied by new agricultural technologies in northern Europe,
including the vthree-field system and the cultivation of oats.
40. As population grew, people opened new land for cultivation, including land with
poor soil and poor growing conditions. This caused a decline in average crop
yields beginning around 1250.
B0. The Black Death and Social Change
10. The population pressure was eased by the Black Death (bubonic plague), which
was brought from Kaffa to Italy and southern France in 1346. The plague
ravaged Europe for two years and returned periodically in the late 1300s and
1400s, causing substantial decreases in population.
20. As a result of the plague, labor became more expensive in Western Europe. This
gave rise to a series of peasant and worker uprisings, higher wages, and the end
of serfdom. Serfdom in Eastern Europe grew extensively in the centuries after
the Black Death.
30. Rural living standards improved, the period of apprenticeship for artisans was
reduced, and per capita income rose.
C0. Mines and Mills
10. Between 1200 and 1500 Europeans invented and used a variety of mechanical
devices including water wheels and windmills. Mills were expensive to build,
but over time they brought great profits to their owners.
20. Industrial enterprises, including mining, ironworking, stone quarrying, and
tanning, grew during these centuries. The results included both greater
productivity and environmental damage including water pollution and
II0. Urban Revival
A0. Trading Cities
10. Increases in trade and in manufacturing contributed to the growth of cities after
1200. The relationship between trade, manufacturing, and urbanization is
demonstrated in the growth of the cities of northern Italy and in the urban areas
of Champagne and Flanders.
20. The Venetian capture of Constantinople (1204), the opening of the Central Asian
caravan trade under the Mongol Empire, and the post-Mongol development of
the Mediterranean galley trade with Constantinople, Beirut, and Alexandria
brought profits and growth to Venice. The increase in sea trade also brought
profits to Genoa in the Mediterranean and to the cities of the Hanseatic League
in the Baltic and the North Sea. 30. Flanders prospered from its woolen textile industries, while the towns of
Champagne benefited from their position on the major land route through France
and the series of trade fairs sponsored by their nobles.
40. Textile industries also began to develop in England and in Florence. Europeans
made extensive use of water wheels and windmills in the textile, paper, and other
B0. Civic Life
10. Some European cities were city-states, while others enjoyed autonomy from
local nobles: they were thus better able to respond to changing market conditions
than Chinese or Islamic cities. European cities also offered their citizens more
freedom and social mobility.
20. Most of Europe’s Jews lived in the cities. Jews were subject to persecution
everywhere but Rome; they were blamed for disasters like the Black Death and
expelled from Spain.
30. Guilds regulated the practice of and access to trades. Women were rarely
allowed to join guilds, but they did work in unskilled non-guild jobs in the textile
industry and in the food and beverage trades.
40. The growth in commerce gave rise to bankers like the Medicis of Florence and
the Fuggers of Augsburg who handled financial transactions for merchants, the
church, and the kings and princes of Europe. Because the Church prohibited
usury, many moneylenders were Jews; Christian bankers got around the
prohibition through such devices as asking for “gifts” in lieu of interest.
C0. Gothic Cathedrals
10. Gothic cathedrals are the masterpieces of late medieval architecture and
craftsmanship. Their distinctive features include the pointed Gothic arch, flying
buttresses, high towers and spires, and large interiors lit by huge windows.
20. The men who designed and built the Gothic cathedrals had no formal training in
design and engineering; they learned through their mistakes.
III0. Learning, Literature, and the Renaissance
A0. Universities and Learning
10. After 1100 Western Europeans got access to Greek and Arabic works on science,
philosophy, and medicine. These manuscripts were translated and explicated by
Jewish scholars and studied at Christian monasteries, which remained the
primary centers of learning.
20. After 1200, colleges and universities emerged as new centers of learning. Some
were established by students; most were teaching guilds established by
professors in order to oversee the training, control the membership, and fight for
the interests of the profession.
30. Universities generally specialized in a particular branch of learning; Bologna
was famous for its law faculty, others for medicine or theology. Theology was
the most prominent discipline of the period as theologians sought to synthesize
the rational philosophy of the Greeks with the Christian faith of the Latin West
in an intellectual movement known as scholasticism.
B0. Humanists and Printers
10. Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and G