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Thread: The Rise of Europe

  1. #1 The Rise of Europe 
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    In the year 1400, Europe was deep in the Late Middle Ages and about to enter the Renaissance. In the centuries since the fall of the Western Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire, Islam, India, and China had become the Old World's centers of trade, science, and culture. While Europe faced the Dark Ages, manorial economies, plagues, and unstable feudal power structures, the East blossomed in untold creativity and and wealth. By the year 1800 however, Europe was at the forefront of culture and technological development while China, India, and Islam had fallen behind. Europeans were expanding in all directions and making new discoveries every year while the Ottoman Empire slipped ever more into decline, the Mughal Empire of India finally fell to pieces in the face of Marathi and British aggression, and China closed itself off to Western Influence.

    So what happened? How did Europe arise from a backwater into the dominant area of the planet in little over 200-300 years? Lets see if we can place on what exactly happened that led to this strange turn of events.


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    This is a really hard question to answer and I'm sure we will never know or agree on the theories presented.

    I read a book a few years ago that tries to outline what when right where and give some ideas or possibility on why. Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950

    I look forwarded to following this post.


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  4. #3  
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    Jared Diamond makes a pretty good case for why Europe "won" in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I could try to summarize it, but the wikipedia page does a better job than I could.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel
    The book's title is a reference to the means by which European nations conquered populations of other areas and maintained their dominance, often despite being vastly out-numbered - superior weapons provided immediate military superiority (guns), European diseases weakened the local populations and thus made it easier to maintain control over them (germs), and centralized governmental systems promoted nationalism and powerful military organizations (steel). Hence the book attempts to explain, mainly by geographical factors, why Europeans had such superior military technology and why diseases to which Europeans were immune devastated conquered populations.[
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  5. #4  
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    Lets take a look at one of the theories for why Europe developed as it did. Presenting, the Black Death!

    Europe in 1000 began to look a little brighter than it had for the previous 500 years. Various European monarchies had finally been established and, in the Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire and the Norman dynasty of England, began to assert some centralized authority over their domains. Throughout Europe, especially so in Flanders and Northern Italy, towns and cities were being founded, while over the next few centuries crop rotation, the iron plow, and horse collar would spread like wildfire throughout the continent, increasing agricultural production. The Medieval Warm Period was finally beginning to spread its wings bring a glorious bounty to European farmers.

    Of course, all was not rosy. The plethora of second, third, and fourth sons among the nobility created a large number of aristocratic warriors for whom their were not enough clerical positions or land. Warfare was endemic as feudal lord fought feudal lord, landless knights signed onto the retinues of various lords in order to gain land for themselves and descendants. The Kings of France, Poland, and the Spanish states were finding themselves not only battling their foriegn foes, but also their own nobility. In England the Normans were able to establish a powerful monarchy that was able to make use of educated bureaucrats and burghers to create a much more even relationship between King and vassals. The Papacy was beginning to challenge the Holy Roman Emperor over the question of investiture and who was really the dominant partner in Empire.

    All in all, however, the period between 1000-1300 was a productive time in Europe, as trade, education, art, and warfare expanded greatly. This productiveness was fed Europe's new, massive population of nearly 100 million. With the effectiveness of new farming techniques and equipment, the kindly gaze of the sun during the medieval warm period, the medieval European population exploded throughout Europe. Expanding to work every productive area of land, Europe found itself running out of land and producing too many people by the year 1300. With the population growing, and the amount of arable, of even barely farmable land, disappearing, many peasants found the future uncertain. Free peasantry found their ancient rights, and somtimes their very freedom, taken from them by duplicity, dept, or force, while the plots allotted to serfs were smaller every year. Compounding this problem was the fact that the Europe elite, its aristocracy, high clergy, and burghers, had cemented their power and grown accustomed to ostentatious living. Taxes began to rise and wages lessen throughout Europe as the price of labor declined. Lords throughout the continent were able to demand extremely high prices from tenants or workers since labor was just so very cheap.

    A problem with this increased population and a growing shortage of land was that the food supply to feed so many had grown strenuous. People started to be come more malnutritioned and unhealthy as there was less nutritious food to go around. In a series of famines, cold summers, and other negative environmental problems in the decades before the 1340s Europeans suffered several disease outbreaks, famines, and periods of upheaval as Europe strained against its own population and harvest failures. Against this weakened and hungry population the Black Death struck.

    Explain the Black Death and its immediate effect on Europe would take an entire book, but suffice it to say it did several easy to explain things. Nearly half of the European population, the vast majority the peasantry and townsfolk, was wiped out in a matter years. This caused a mass labor shortage in the European population as the number of artisans, traders, and farmers decreased that led to an increase in wages and benefits throughout the continent. Land was freed up as many people died and could be parceled out in greater amounts to people. In cities and in the country this new wealth and power ran up against the established elites in the form of the aristocracy and burghers who still maintained a strangle hold on power. From 1350 till the reformation Europe began to experience social strife as peasants, artisans, and traders began to challenge the European aristocracy and town elites. A find example of this are the various peasant wars that ripped across England, Germany, Slovenia, and France. In a particularly brutal peasant war in Germany nearly 100000 were killed, many in brutal reprisals by the nobility.

    thoughts?
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