Key terms: Define each below, addressing the “5 W’s and How:”
The Middle Class:
The Hanseatic League:
Johannes Gutenberg: Essay Questions: Write 5 good sentences on each topic:
1. Talk about merchants, trade and trade fairs after the Crusades:
2. Explain what a guild was and how Medieval people learned a trade:
3. Describe life in medieval cities:
4. Describe the Black Death in five sentences.
The High Middle Ages
GROWTH OF TRADE
Before the Crusades, European society was organized according to the Feudal System. The symbol of wealth was land and the nobles grabbed all of it. Poor people worked for the wealthy landowners and had little or no hope of improving their lot in life.
After the Crusades, things changed. Many nobles who fought in the Crusades died in battle, or lost their land because they couldn’t repay the loans they took out to go on the Crusades. Peasant soldiers came back determined to live a life independent of the great estates that they were born on. Both nobles and peasants had seen the advanced civilization of the Muslims and sampled the trade products brought by Muslim ships from the Far East. Many Europeans wanted to sell these products to their own countrymen and get rich. This heralded the rise of a new class of people – the middle class – who built their success and grew wealthy from trade.
When the Crusades ended, most trade was controlled by merchants – people who bought and sold goods for a profit - in Italy and northern Europe. Italians were good at sailing and traveled great distances to gather rare and expensive goods such as silk and spices from the Byzantine Empire, Muslim territory, and China. The most significant trading city at this time was Venice in Northern Italy. They had the biggest fleet of ships in the Mediterranean Sea. In time, the Italians cities of Genoa, Florence, Pisa, and Milan also became major trading cities. Before long, Italy controlled most trade in southern Europe.
In northern Europe, trade was controlled by the Hanseatic League. This was a group of cities and towns in northern Germany that worked together to promote and protect trade routes and connections. The league managed most northern trade between Europe, Russia, and the Baltic region.
Merchants used trade fairs to get their goods to customers. Trade fairs were very large open air markets set up once a year near towns or monasteries across Europe. Crowds poured into the fairs, eager to buy spices, animals and fabrics. Some merchants traveled from town to town to take part in many fairs. Local markets were smaller and held weekly so that people could get essential goods close to home.
As a result of increased trade, many European cities began minting their own coins. People used coins to pay workers, buy goods and pay taxes to their lords. Some merchants allowed customers to buy goods on credit, which means no money now, but you promise to pay what you owe later. Coins and credit led to the establishment of the first banks in Europe, where people could deposit money for safekeeping or request loans. Most money lenders were Jews because of religious laws that forbid Christians from charging interest on loans.
GROWTH OF TOWNS AND CITIES
More trade and the use of money helped the cities and towns of Europe grow. People wanted to move off the farms and seek their fortunes through trade. Advances in farm technology, such as theheavy plow, water mill, and windmill made it possible to produce
more food with fewer people working on the farms. As a result, more people could move to cities and open shops.
Merchants obtained charters – special documents that granted them independence from the feudal lords who owned the land where town existed - from kings to avoid paying taxes to feudal lords. These
merchant-led towns grew very quickly. One example is Paris, which had 100,000 people in the year 1300
.Craftspeople in cities created trade organizations called guilds to protect their own interests and restrict competition. Guild members worked together to set standards and prices and to train children in the craft. Most guilds were only open to men, but women did control some industries such as textiles.
Skilled craftspeople often took on apprentices – beginners just starting to learn a trade. Apprentices spent several years with a master, often living with him and his family, and doing more and more complicated work as their skills improved. Once trained in a career, apprentices became journeymen, who either traveled to learn more from new masters, or stayed in one town, working on their craft as they saved money to open their own shop. The most experienced journeymen were called master craftsmen, whose reputation of excellence guaranteed them customers and apprentices who wanted to learn their craft.
DAILY LIFE IN CITIES
Daily life in the cities during the Middle Ages could be unpleasant.
Living conditions were small and cramped. Townspeople paid taxes based on the square footage of the building lot, so most land owners bought tiny lots, then built straight up for several floors. Each floor above street level projected out, over the sidewalk, so that two buildings across the street from each other almost touched. This created narrow, dark streets below. Most buildings were rickety wooden structures, and if one caught fire, flames quickly spread up and down the block. Most people used outhouses - or chamber pots, which were emptied into the street. Trash was flung from windows or swept out the front door. Street sweepers were common in the richer neighborhoods, but the poorer neighborhoods waited until rain washed the streets clean. Disease was common because of the numerous rats and insects attracted to the waste. There was also violence and theft.
However, cities also offered opportunities for entertainment and sport. Social activities were popular, especially on religious holidays. Traveling plays, festivals, and ball games were a big part of city life.
In 1347, a devastating crisis swept Europe. The Black Death, a plague that gripped Europe until 1351, killed millions of people. No one is certain where the plague started, but it arrived in Europe aboard a trading ship bound for Italy from the Black Sea that docked in Messina, Sicily with dead and
dying men at the oars. The diseased sailors had strange black swellings the size of an egg or an apple in their armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within 5 days of the first symptoms. This form of the Black Death was known as “bubonic plague” from the swellings(“buboes”). It was spread by fleas that lived on rats and other animals and jumped onto humans. When they bit their new host, the plague germs spread.
Another form of the Black Death was called pneumonic plague,
which passed from person to person by sneezing and coughing. Victims
of this type of plague died even faster – sometimes within 24 hours.
From Sicily, the plague quickly spread north and south - wherever ships traveled by sea, lake or river. By 1348, it had devastated France (the death rate in Paris was 800 a day) and crossed the English Channel into the British Isles. In 1349, a ghost ship carrying a load of wool and dead sailors ran aground in Norway, where the plague launched itself into Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland.
Because no one knew how the Black Death passed from person to person, and no cure was known, social norms broke down. Parents abandoned children – and children abandoned their parents. Priests refused to administer last rites to the dying, and farm workers, overwhelmed by hopelessness and despair, left crops to rot in the fields. Jews were falsely accused of poisoning well water to spread this evil illness, and persecutions occurred throughout Europe.
The Black Death accomplished its kill in an area in 3-6 months, then moved on. In cities, it would disappear during the winter, then come back in the spring. Finally, after 4 years, the plague disappeared. In all, it is believed that 20 million people died in Europe alone – about one third of the total population.
The plague changed the lives of poor people in Europe forever because those who survived were in high demand as workers. They insisted on being paid wages and later left the manor to live in cities. This migration ended the manorial system and added to the middle class of merchants and tradesmen who demanded a say so in government.
Before the plague, few people could read or write. Books were incredibly expensive because each one was handwritten on sheets of parchment – thinly sliced animal skin – and rare, because it took about three months for a monk in a monastery to copy just one book. After the plague, a big change occurred. First, expensive parchment was replaced by a new, cheap paper made from rags. Where did the rags come from? From the 20 million plague victims who left behind tons of clothing, sheets, curtains, table cloths and towels. These fabrics where cut up and used to make paper – inexpensive paper – that was perfect for a brand new invention in Europe: the printing press, an invention by the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg. Just one of Gutenberg’s printing presses could turn out 3,600 pages a day, which meant affordable books that even a peasant could buy.
Cheap books created a demand for the education necessary to read them. Universities with libraries opened up in major European cities and ideas spread quickly. Europe emerged from the “Dark Ages” as the light of learning was rekindled.