The West Takes the Offensive

With the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire and the development of feudalism, Europe showed little immediate potential for the development of political and economic power.

But during this period the growth of trade and commerce broke up the manorial system, new social classes were formed and the society of the West became changed in the process.

The Muslims were successfully challenged in Sicily and this ended the complete control by the Muslims of the Mediterranean world.

At the same time in northern Spain bands of Christians sparked a long struggle against Muslims known as the Reconquista, and this attitude of military campaign in the name of Christ would achieve its highest expression in the crusades.

With the crusades and other expansive eastward movements international trade was allowed to recover and new towns based on trade flourished.

As this process continued new markets were stimulated, industry flourished and the economies became increasingly monetized.

Urban life became the center of civilization.

As these forces transformed Europe a new class emerged known as the bourgeoisie and little by little the bourgeoisie gained political influence as well as wealth and began to directly affect the course of European history.

Around the year 1000 southern Italy was a battle ground for rival Lombard dukes, the Byzantine empire and the Muslims.

By 1016 adventurers of Viking ancestry form Normandy plunged into this scene of constant warfare.

At first the Norman knights were mercenaries, but they soon began to carve out estates for themselves and by 1071 the Normans defeated the last Byzantine foothold in southern Italy.

As the Normans conquered the Muslims from Sicily, similar campaigns were going on elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Venice in 1002 had won in a great victory over a Muslim fleet and this enhanced Venetian trade with Byzantium.

By 1090 the western Mediterranean had been cleared of both Muslims and pirates and the crusades to the Holy Land would have the same result on land as had been attained at sea.

The Muslims still remained in Spain. Until 756 Muslim Spain was ruled from Damascus and afterward became an independent Muslim state under the last remaining member of the Umayyad dynasty.

From 756 to 1031 the Umayyad rulers located in the capital of Crodova made many cultural and economic advances. Water power was harnessed to drive mills and new crops such as rice and sugar cane were introduced. Other important products included wine, olive oil, leather goods, weapons, glass work and tapestries.

The Muslims of Spain were the most cultured peoples of the west and by the 12th century scholars from northern Europe were flocking to Cordova to study.

Through these scholars much of the data base of the Arabs was passed on to Christian Europe.

The conquered Christians were treated relatively good by the Muslims and some form of tolerance was granted to all peoples including the Jews who under Muslim rule became professionals and served as officials of the state.

Inter-marriage between Jew, Christian and Muslim was common.

But politically speaking, Muslim Spain was a weak and disunited country for Spain had been conquered by a confederation of Muslims—Arabs, Syrians and Berbers who often conflicted with each other.

In 1031 when the Umayyads were overthrown, the caliphate of Cordova was replaced by 23 small warring states.

Despite this period of Muslim dominance Christian states did survive in the north of Spain such as Barcelona which would be the future kingdom of Aragon, Leon in the west, and in between Navarre which was and still is populated by the fiercely independent Basques who neither the Romans or the Visigoths successfully ever conquered.

These Christian states slowly expanded south through the hills with Leon leading the way. Part of the kingdom of Leon was Castile, named after all the castles built to defend it.

By the mid 10th century the kingdom of Castile became strong enough to throw off the rule of Leon and emerge independent.

After central authority of the Muslim state broke down after 1031 and the Caliphate of Cordova disintegrated the Christian kingdoms made more advances.

Castile captured a large part of what was to be Portugal.

In 1063 a century before the first crusades the Pope declared the reconquista to ba holy crusade and many northern knights then flocked to Spain to fight the Muslims.

Toledo the mighty bastion of Muslims fell to Castile in 1085 and the end of Muslim occupation seemed in sight.

But Muslim resistance would continue for another four centuries and military expansion in the name of Christianity would continued to influence the present and future of the modern nations of Spain and Portugal.

For hundreds of years pilgrims had been traveling from Europe to worship at the birthplace of Christ and by the 10th century bishops were organizing mass pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

But by the 11th century Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land became especially concerned when the Seljuk Turks who were new and fanatical convert to Islam took over Jerusalem from the more tolerant Abassid Moslems.

At the battle of Manzikert in 1071 Byzantine forces desperately tried to defeat the Seljuks but the eastern emperor was capture and his forces scattered.

Within a few years Asia Minor which was an important economic sector of the Byzantine empire was lost.

In addition tales of alleged Turkish mistreatment of Christian pilgrims circulated throughout Europe.

In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land and at the Council of Clermont he urged all Christians to take up the cross and strive for a goals that not only promised spiritual but material rewards as well.

At the end of his oration the crowd shouted "God wills it".

The Pope clearly saw in the crusade an outlet for the energy of quarreling nobles despite the fact that the pope called it a holy war. The word crusade itself is derived from taking the cross, and the pope assured the crusaders that if they took part in this campaign they would be forgiven all of their past sins.

Also the pope would awaken religious enthusiasm that had been on the wane by creating the crusades as well as strengthen his claim to the moral leadership of Europe.

There were seven major crusades from the end of the 11th to the end of the 13th centuries.

The first crusade was compose of feudal nobles from France, Germany, and Norman Italy and they proceeded overland to Constantinople.

The first Crusade was the most successful of the seven and with not more than 5000 knights it overcame the resistance of the Turks who were no longer united and most importantly it captured the holy city of Jerusalem.

The first crusade conquered a narrow strip of land stretching from Antioch to Jerusalem and created the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem which lasted until 1291.

When this kingdom of Jerusalem was threatened the 2nd crusade was organized in 1147, but it never reached Jerusalem for it decided to attack Damascus where it was defeated.

The fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to the Muslims provoked the 3rd crusade in 1189.

The leaders were three of the most famous medieval Kings—Frederick Barborossa of Germany, Richard the Lion hearted of England, and Philip Augustus of France.

To keep the Muslims united, their leader Saladin proclaimed Jihad, or holy war against the Christians but he was also a diplomat.

Richard and Saladin agreed to a three year truce and free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims, bu the ironic thing was that Saladin would have granted such a truce and concession at any time and the Europeans knew this.

The fourth crusade was an unmitigated disaster from a religious perspective. No Kings answered Pope Innocent III’s call and the knights who did were unable to pay their transportation costs.

In order to pay their transportation costs to the Venetians the knights agreed to capture the town of Zara in Dalmatia on the Adriatic and eliminate an economic rival of the Venetians.

Then in order to absorb all of the Byzantine commerce the Venetians persuaded the knights that they should attack Constantinople and they did and set up the Latin Empire of Constantinople and forgot about recovering the Holy Land.

Still more crusades occurred in the 13th century one was the ill-fated children’s crusade that began in 1212 and thousands of them were sold into slavery in Marseille.

The fifth crusade in 1219 failed in its attack on Egypt.

The sixth crusade in 1228 was led by the excommunicated enemy of the pope emperor Frederick the II who through his skilful diplomacy succeeded in acquiring Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth fro the sultan of Egypt.

In 1248 the Muslims reconquered the Holy City and this sparked the Seventh Crusade led by Louis IX of France in 1248 and Louis was captured in Egypt and held for ransom.

Still there were four crusader principalities with the kingdom of Jerusalem along the eastern Mediterranean coast. But by the time Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187 there were only isolated pockets of Christians surrounded by very hostile Moslems.

Politically the crusades weakened the Byzantine empire and accelerated its fall. The contact with the East widened the scope of the Europeans, ended their isolation and exposed them to new forms of culture, technology and civilization.

The Crusaders by reopening the eastern Mediterranean to Western commerce helped create the rise of cities and monetized economies in the West.

The Mediterranean trade had never died out after the breakup of the Roman Empire, though it had gone through periods of decline and growth.

In the West the Mediterranean trade was controlled by the Italians who brought in luxury goods from Egypt. Merchants from Venice, Pisa and Genoa traveled north with their goods to trade in central Europe.

The basic problem was trust for a merchant had to be able to deposit goods and funds in a town and have knowledge of the local markets and traders.

The placement of family members in local markets as marketing representatives solved this problem.

Also hampering trade was the unsafe road conditions of the time. Merchants had to be able to travel and the roads were dangerous and bands of robbers roamed the roads and forests.

Until the late 11th century the Jewish merchants were borrowers rather than lenders of money.

The wealth of northern Europe was in agriculture and the wealthy landed aristocracy had little to invest their money in.

Jews borrowed the capital to finance their trade. But this pattern was to change about the time of the crusades.

The crusaders who were mostly knights needed to borrow funds for their journey to the Holy Land and were forced to borrow this money from either Jews or monasteries.

From the middle of the 12th century on the knights and their lords were investing in grandly fortifying their houses and castles so they continued to need capital and continued to borrow.

Monasteries also became heavy borrowers when they began to build grand churches.

By the middle of the 12th century European trade had been taken over by Christians and the Italians represented the peak of the merchant community of Europe.

After the Italians unloaded their purchases on their home docks they transported them north over the Alps by pack train and along these routes in southern France and southern Germany towns grew up.

Several factors combined to give merchants a special status in European society, and no man owned the merchant for they traveled constantly. Also they were free men for they had to come and go as they pleased in order to conduct business and therefore had no special loyalties to a particular lord.

These realities of the business work contributed to the charter movement which gave the new cities independence from local feudal lords and created municipal corporation controlled by the merchants.

As a social class the merchants were given special names as a privileged class, they were called burgers in Germany, burgesses in England and bourgeois in France.

The prosperity of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries was based even more on the development of local and regional trade than on long distance trade.

All over Europe towns gained control over the villages in their vicinity and made them satellites of their market economies.

The villages would supply the raw materials and agricultural produce and would also purchase manufactured goods from the towns.

By the 14th century the villages began to manufacture their own goods, such as textiles and the cities either tried to stop these cottage industries or buy them out and own them.

The Kings also helped in this process of proto-urbanization. Beginning in the early Middle Ages Kings became active founders of cities which then became flourishing market places for agricultural production.

In the final analysis the process of urbanization in Europe was driven more by local and regional economic development than by the growth of long-distance commerce.

The growth of towns from the 12th century on were due to migration from the rural sector immediately around the new town.

Those people who remained in a chartered town for one year were considered free from any personal obligations they may have had to the lord back in the rural sector and they were essentially free people.

The population of the towns was divided into merchants, craftsmen and laborers. Everywhere the merchants were the ones who had led the effort to get a royal charter and control of the town government.

From the late 11th century on, guilds sprang up which were very similar to the association of craftsmen in Roman times except that these guilds would regulate the quality of products and they were also mutual assistance societies for the families of members who became disabled or died.

Most guilds were local in nature and their powers only extended to their city limits, but a few were international.

The Teamsters served regional and international commerce and their loose organization extended over large areas.

In the beginning entry into a guild was easy. Young boys who were 12 to 14 years of age were placed with a master craftsman as apprentices.

In effect the apprentice became part of the masters family and the apprentice would engage in only the most menial tasks of the trade.

After several years as an apprentice and when his skills and maturity had reached the level of a young adult the youngster rose to the status of journeyman who was still under the direction of his master but was in essence a craftsman.

The system worked well until the later Middle Ages and the system became very exclusionary and restrictive as guild membership became hereditary.

At the bottom of the urban social order were the laborers, or the proletariat. Apprentices and Journeymen were part of this class, but so were day laborers who had been hired for the maintenance and construction of roads, bridges and the walls of the city.

They lived poorly, but so long as the economy continued to grow as it did from the late 11th through the 13th centuries the proletariat were a relatively peaceful segment of the population.

Presumably the women of the artisanal class worked with their husbands in running the shops, while also managing the extended family that included their own children, apprentices and journeymen.

In the upper classes of the towns women were expected to tun the households and cater to their husbands.

For a wife public demeanor was important in the 1300’s and the wife should not go out unaccompanied and should walk straight and calmly without looking around.

Her eyes should be focused on the ground in the middle distance.

She should be patient and clam when her husband became silly, drunk, or difficult and should counsel him when he proposed to do foolish things.

The rearing of the children was a function of women. There were primitive forms of birth control, including induced abortions.

The birth rate was probably higher for upper class women than for lower class women, because women of the upper class had better nutrition and health and did not nurse their own children.

Upper class infants were ‘put out’ to a wet nurse in the village and only wealthy wives of craftsmen could afford this luxury.

Male children were raised in the workshop as apprentices, while female children were raised in the home where they were prepared for marriage by learning to run a household.

At all levels of society babies were delivered by midwifes.

These women also took charge of the infant upon birth by rubbing its body with salt, cleansing its mouth with honey and diapering it.

Women then put their babies in cradles for it was thought that if it shared the same bed it would suffocate.

The mother was regarded as the guardian of her children, who raised them, taught them to speak, pre-chewed their food for them and instructed them in religion and morals.

Poor single women were at the bottom of the social scale and had the most troubled existence.

The poor widow was commonplace in towns and villages and struggled to make ends meet.

Prostitution was very common in the Middle Ages and medieval governments frequently issued guidelines concerning prostitution.

The guiding principles of these regulations concerned sanitation, living conditions, and the working hours of the prostitutes.

One medieval theologian even argued that prostitutes deserved their earning just as others who provided necessary labor, but he also agreed with the common view of the time that prostitution was evil and women should give up the profession.

Upper class single women could enter monasteries which were noble institutions, not open to those of the lower classes. Many aristocratic widows took this route after they had discharged their duties to their children.

While the 12th and 13th centuries had been a boom period the 14th and 15th centuries saw economic stagnation.

By 1350 there was a great economic depression which lasted 100 years.

The reason for this depression were probably a severe demographic catastrophe.

By 1300 the population of western Europe had stopped increasing, probably because it had exceeded the limits of the available food supply.

Great famines had become common.

Also the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague occurred that spread from Asia carried by fleas on rats.

The plague hit western Europe in 1347 decimating society and population.

At least one-third of the population was wiped out and towns were the hardest hit. The population of Florence for example fell from 114,000 to 50,000 in five years.

Also in 1337 there occurred the 100 years war between France and England that didn’t end until 1453.

There was great economic stagnation and social unrest. It was a great period of social banditry when people such as Robin Hood became folk heroes by robbing the rich and supposedly giving the proceeds or some of them anyway to the poor.

Class warfare broke out between the organized textile workers in the Flemish cities and in Florence who hated the restrictive guild system and the guild masters and rich merchants.

There were peasant rebellions in France and Britain but they were mercilessly crushed. Depression and economic stagnation eased by 1450 as geographical discovery and the development of new markets and overseas riches stimulated the European economy to recovery.

Customarily people refer to this period of history as the Dark Ages.

While there were certainly some dark spots most historians acknowledge that medieval men and women reached a remarkably complex economy and society.

By 1100 for example they had surpassed Roman methods of agriculture by perfecting a more efficient harnessing of horses.

Economic, social and intellectual progress in the 12th century was so great that it has been called a renaissance comparable to the much later Italian Renaissance.

Urban life revived throughout Western Europe. And use of the great trading waterway of the Mediterranean was recovered from the Muslims.

This in turn encouraged the rapid growth of Venice, Genoa and other Italian cities.

Industry and commerce flourished in northern Europe, especially in Flanders.

The rebirth of urban centers led to a transformation in agriculture from subsistence to profit-oriented market production.

The ripple effects of all these social and economic development in many ways drastically effect the industrial revolution in Europe in the 19th century and are a sort of pre-industrial revolution.