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Thread: Was the Renaissance the result of the Bubonic Plague?

  1. #1 Was the Renaissance the result of the Bubonic Plague? 
    Time Lord
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    I wonder if it's really just a coincidence that a massive increase in scholarship and technological growth followed in the wake of a massive depopulation of the European continent?

    With fewer people, it was easier to own land, or set up your own business. Pretty much every source of labor had to be tapped, and workers began to enjoy better wages and treatment. So, does population decrease = affluence?


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  3. #2  
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    The plague is widely recognised as the reason for the end of serfdom. Whether that can be extended into the beginnings of the renaissance, I do not know.


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    The Fall of Constantinople is the most likely explanation. Greek scholars fled West into Northern Italy bringing Ancient Greek and Roman texts with them. The bitter contest between Italian city states further drove the necessity of scientific progress, and the increasing power of the Merchant Republics and Princedoms coincided with a weakening of the Church's direct control of people's lives.

    Although, one of the great works of Renaissance literature, Boccaccio's The Decameron, was inspired by the plague in Florence.
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    The siege of Constantinople worked because Mehmed brought a force just so many times larger than the defending army. 80,000 - 200,000 vs. 7,000. Perhaps the inability to resist was an indirect consequence of Europe's plague-thinned numbers as well?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Constantinople

    Maybe the reason Italian merchant princes began to focus on science as a means of gaining advantage in their wars had to do with losing the ability to increase their army sizes past a certain point? (Because of fewer people available as fighters but... even more importantly: fewer serfs to provide food to an army.)
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    The one major problem I see is that the plague spread all through the major urban centers of Europe, but the Renaissance began in Italy. It took around 100 years to reach England, and another 50 after that for Northern Europe. I suppose it could be argued that things like the Reconquista in Spain and the Hundred Year War between France and England occurring at the same time didn't really give those countries the opportunity to develop the way Italian city states did. I think the social and political climate of Italy was the driving force of the Renaissance, afterward ideas spread to the rest of Europe.
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  7. #6  
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    Hmm. And it also sounds like Italy's depleted population probably got refilled somewhat by all the refugees from the areas around Constantinopole that you mentioned. It would be a rare case in history where refugees are actually welcomed, because of the population shortage, which would allow for greater cultural mixing.

    Yeah. I might be looking at the Renaissance phenomenon all wrong.
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    Hhmm. Renaissance started in Italy. Bubonic plague brought back to Italy from central Asia by merchants. Coincidence ??
    Although the Greek scholar influence is often mentioned, the great advances in humanist thinking and art, were made by locals, indicating much more 'free' time available to common people to become scholars, thinkers, writers, artists, architects, etc. This would only come with the end of serfdom ( which was much less common in Italy than the rest of Europe ), and the greater prosperity brought about by depopulation caused by the plague.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MigL
    Hhmm. Renaissance started in Italy. Bubonic plague brought back to Italy from central Asia by merchants. Coincidence ??
    Although the Greek scholar influence is often mentioned, the great advances in humanist thinking and art, were made by locals, indicating much more 'free' time available to common people to become scholars, thinkers, writers, artists, architects, etc. This would only come with the end of serfdom ( which was much less common in Italy than the rest of Europe ), and the greater prosperity brought about by depopulation caused by the plague.
    Northern Italy thrived economically during the Renaissance, not because of lowered populations, but because of access to valuable trade roots and the formation of competitive trade guilds. They were already, economically, the most developed and powerful cities of Europe before the plague struck. And the major economic boom period of Europe was the late 13th century, the post-plague years were economically stagnant for decades. It doesn't really have much to do with the end of serfdom, which wasn't really practiced at all in that area. The wealthy families were able to consolidate a greater portion of the wealth during the plague years. And a labour shortage for an expanding market, as the city states looked for wider and wider locals to sell goods, helped to create a growing merchant middle class.

    However, it's not as if there wouldn't have been a middle class to fill those jobs without the plague, it would just have represented a smaller proportion of the overall population. People in general would have been poorer, but I don't think the plague is the contributing factor to the Renaissance.

    Favorable position along trade roots, high number of autonomous leaders, weakened Catholic Church (this could be attributed somewhat to the plague), and the atmosphere of "cultural competition" between the city states.

    The fact of the matter is, that the plague could have acted as a catalyst, but the plague also hit every other nation in Europe without triggering the Renaissance. The important question is "why Italy?" And I don't think the plague answers that.
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    In Britain, the plague left a major gap in the labour market. So many people died that there not enough hands left afterwards to do all the jobs. This opened options for serfs, who suddenly could leave their semi-slavery and obtain well paid work.

    One result was a movement of wealth from wealthy down the food chain. At least to a limited degree. And again, the middle class expanded, and a larger merchant class.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    In Britain, the plague left a major gap in the labour market. So many people died that there not enough hands left afterwards to do all the jobs. This opened options for serfs, who suddenly could leave their semi-slavery and obtain well paid work.

    One result was a movement of wealth from wealthy down the food chain. At least to a limited degree. And again, the middle class expanded, and a larger merchant class.
    Yes, I think it is commonly recognized that the plague helped facilitate the growth of a middle class, but this is different from laying the cause of the Renaissance at the feet of the plague. Serfdom as a practice was almost obsolete in Italy by the time the plague struck anyway. Italy was already thriving economically. The plague helped facilitate a boom in the middle class proportional to the population as a whole, but it wasn't responsible for the creation of that middle class, which was already growing in Italy prior to the plague.
    "I almost went to bed
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    the four white violets
    I put in the button-hole
    of your green sweater

    and how i kissed you then
    and you kissed me
    shy as though I'd
    never been your lover "
    - Leonard Cohen
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  12. #11  
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    There is no ONE cause of anything in History.

    However, the Bubonic plague wasn't in itself the cause of the Renaissance. Rather, it allowed the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to consecrate the Renaissance (it was the Lumières's own Justin Bieber, they couldn't stop talking about it...).

    It opened the door in a way.
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  13. #12  
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_feel_tiredsleepy
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    In Britain, the plague left a major gap in the labour market. So many people died that there not enough hands left afterwards to do all the jobs. This opened options for serfs, who suddenly could leave their semi-slavery and obtain well paid work.

    One result was a movement of wealth from wealthy down the food chain. At least to a limited degree. And again, the middle class expanded, and a larger merchant class.
    Yes, I think it is commonly recognized that the plague helped facilitate the growth of a middle class, but this is different from laying the cause of the Renaissance at the feet of the plague. Serfdom as a practice was almost obsolete in Italy by the time the plague struck anyway. Italy was already thriving economically. The plague helped facilitate a boom in the middle class proportional to the population as a whole, but it wasn't responsible for the creation of that middle class, which was already growing in Italy prior to the plague.
    Italy was the center of commerce for all of Europe, right? Commerce is the business that thrives the most when the middle class does well, because they have the best combination of disposable income and desire to spend it. Destroying the serf class in the rest of Europe would seem to give them more well-heeled customers who could come visit and do some business.

    I disagree that things are always due to multiple causes. At least one event can dominate over the others. Usually, when you look at it, you find that all of these separate "Causes" for what you see are all actually co-results of a common root event.
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  14. #13 Re: Was the Renaissance the result of the Bubonic Plague? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I wonder if it's really just a coincidence that a massive increase in scholarship and technological growth followed in the wake of a massive depopulation of the European continent?

    With fewer people, it was easier to own land, or set up your own business. Pretty much every source of labor had to be tapped, and workers began to enjoy better wages and treatment. So, does population decrease = affluence?
    Are there any other historical cases where depopulation immediately precedes a flowering of scientific and technological progress?
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  15. #14 Constantinople 
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    I really like history of Constantinople. Where I can find more about that? Like maps and etc...
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  17. #16 Re: Was the Renaissance the result of the Bubonic Plague? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by tombyers
    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I wonder if it's really just a coincidence that a massive increase in scholarship and technological growth followed in the wake of a massive depopulation of the European continent?

    With fewer people, it was easier to own land, or set up your own business. Pretty much every source of labor had to be tapped, and workers began to enjoy better wages and treatment. So, does population decrease = affluence?
    Are there any other historical cases where depopulation immediately precedes a flowering of scientific and technological progress?
    I don't know if there are any other historical cases of a depopulation on that scale at all.
    Some clocks are only right twice a day, but they are still right when they are right.
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  18. #17  
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    Though not so much dealing with science the first thing to come to mind was the Peloponnesian Wars. In any case real progress wasn't made until the population recovered under new systems.
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    Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think there was much depopulation after the Peloppenisian wars for the control of Greece between Athens and Sparta with her allies. Are you maybe thinking of the 1st 'Greek' civilization (1200-900 BC) which was the Minoan ( also known as Mycenean and Aachean ) civilization based on Crete, and which seemingly disappeared with the coming of the 'sea people' ( Dorians ??).
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by MigL
    Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think there was much depopulation after the Peloppenisian wars for the control of Greece between Athens and Sparta with her allies..
    I agree that details are vague, but in addition to the combat deaths, we know a plague hit Athens during that time-loosing a 3rd of its population isn't an unreasonable estimate.
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