EUROPE BEFORE THE RENAISSANCE
The Renaissance is an important event in European history that stretched from the 14th century to the 17th century. It was preceded by the Middle Ages in Europe and eventually led to the major events of the Age of Enlightenment. In historical terms the Renaissance is important because it led to a major shift in European thought and worldview. This shift eventually led to the developments of the Enlightenment and set the stage for the modern western worldview. While the Renaissance is considered to have begun in the city-states of the Italian peninsula in the 14th century, the main ideas of the movement eventually spread to all of Europe by the 16th century. The most significant changes that emerged as a result of the Renaissance can be seen in European architecture, art, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, politics, religion and science. Intellectual thought in these fields flourished during the timeframe of the Renaissance and led to many people questioning long held beliefs about each. This created an environment of discovery and curiosity in which new ideas were constantly being introduced and tested. With that said, the term ‘renaissance’ in French means ‘rebirth’. This is in relation to the idea that the intellectual culture of the Renaissance was sparked by the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy which had largely been ignored in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.
As stated above, the Renaissance first began in the 14th century on the Italian peninsula and quickly spread to the rest of Europe by the 16th century. The period of time that came before the Renaissance in Europe is called the Middle Ages or Medieval Period. It lasted for approximately 1000 years from the 5th century to the 15th century. Due to its timeframe, the Middle Ages in Europe is divided into three smaller periods referred to as the Early, High and Late Middle Ages.
The Early Middle Ages began in the 5th century during the decline of the Roman Empire. Europe at the time was ruled by many different kingdoms and did not have large unified countries such as those in modern times. The Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) remained in the eastern sections of Europe and parts of the Middle East and was formed at the end of the 4th century, when the Western Roman Empire collapsed. For example, the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul in Turkey) after Emperor Constantine when he transitioned the power of the Roman Empire to its eastern sections. The Byzantine Empire remained until the 15th century when it was overthrown by the Ottoman Empire.
The High Middle Ages began at the start of the 11th century and included some of the most prominent events and elements of the whole Middle Ages. For example, life in the High Middles Ages was characterized by religious faith in the Catholic Church and the social structure of feudalism. Feudalism was a form of government common during medieval Europe that involved society being structured in a very rigid and hierarchical way. It was popular in European society from the 9th century until the 15th century and was the form of government in which the country was dominated by an absolute monarch, in which all power was held within a single king. The monarch would rule over the country while the rest of the people were bound by a hierarchical system in which people were placed into classes in which they were born. For example, under feudalism, most people were peasants who worked tirelessly on farms of local lords. A major event of the High Middle Ages was the crusades. The crusades are one of the most significant events in the history of Europe and the Middle East. They were a series of religious wars carried out by Christian crusaders from Europe during the timeframe of the Middle Ages. Beginning in 1095 CE, the crusades saw European knights and noblemen travel to the Middle East in an attempt to capture the Holy Land away from Muslim people that had controlled the region for the previous centuries. The crusades display the importance of religious faith in the lives of people during the High Middle Ages.
The final period the Middle Ages is called the Late Middle Ages and is considered to have occurred from the start of the 14th century to the end of the 15th century. The Late Middle Ages was a difficult time for most people in Europe and the surrounding areas. This is due to the spread of the bubonic plague that led to the events of the Black Death. The Black Death is one of the most important events in Western history and is the most famous pandemic in all of human history. A pandemic is the term used to describe the spread of an infectious disease over a wide area including the entire planet. The Black Death occurred during the 14th century and ravaged human populations throughout Asia and Europe as it spread along trade routes and through trading ports. Throughout history it has also been referred to as the ‘Great Mortality’ and ‘Great Pestilence’. The death toll of the Black Death is a debated topic and different historians have offered different views on the issue. Regardless, the reported death tolls are massive with some suggesting that it resulted in the deaths of between 75 and 200 million people in Europe and Asia. These high numbers suggest that between 30% and 60% of people died due to the infectious disease. Some regions suffered more than others, but in general it is widely accepted that approximately half of Europeans died as a result of the disease. For example, it has been recorded that both Paris, France and London, England saw half of their populations succumb to the pandemic. The Black Death also had devastating results in the Middle East and Asia with equally dramatic death tolls. While the Black Death was a horrific event that caused widespread death there were also several major developments during the time period of the Late Middle Ages. First, the Age of Exploration (or Age of Discovery) began at the end of the Late Middle Ages. For example, Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World on his first famous journey in 1492. Second, the Renaissance in Europe emerged out of the Late Middle Ages.
In conclusion, the time before the Renaissance in Europe is referred to as the Middle Ages. Life during this time was dominated by religious faith, the Catholic Church, feudalism, the crusades, and the Black Death. The Renaissance was important because it was fundamentally concerned with challenging the worldview of Europeans at the time and led to many drastic changes in architecture, art, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, politics, religion and science.