Chapter 11 A New Civilization in Western Europe: the Rise of Latin Christendom, 476-1350

Section 5 Beginnings of European Transformation 

As the last wave of invasions came to an end, Europe began to thrive once again. New technological developments helped spur a revival of trade. Growing prosperity soon transformed feudal culture, as the nobility began to develop less warlike pastimes. With less need to worry about security and survival, learning and creativity blossomed once more. No longer concerned with simply holding on to an ideal Roman past, Europeans began to forge a new civilization with a character and identity of its own. 

A Technological Explosion

The last wave of invasions came to an end in the 900s. With returning security came a new prosperity. Underpinning this prosperity was an explosion of new technological developments.

            Perhaps the most important new development was the heavy-wheeled plow. European farmers had long used the Roman plow, designed for the dry, shallow soil of the Mediterranean. The soil of northern Europe was deep and rocky, however. The heavy-wheeled plow allowed farmers to cut deep into the soil, pulling rich nutrients to the surface. With richer soil, farmers could grow more crops. They further increased their yields by using horses rather than slower oxen to pull their plows. The invention of a new horse collar, which rested across the horse’s shoulders, allowed the animal to pull heavier loads without choking, while the use of horseshoes helped prevent injury to the horses' hooves.

            Farmers also began to adopt the three-field system to bring more land under cultivation. Since the days of the Romans, European farmers had typically planted only half their land at a time. The other half was allowed to “rest” and was plowed under only to keep down weeds and kill insects, a process known as fallowing. Under the three-field system, farmers planted two thirds of their land, leaving a different third to lie fallow each season.

            To help process the new crop yields, Europeans began to use interlocking gears to build watermills and windmills. Interlocking gears were also used in the making of clocks, which began to mark time from the towers of churches and town halls throughout Europe. Mills were used to grind grain, and aided in such activities as manufacturing paper, processing wool, and pressing grapes or olives for wine and oil. By the 1100s increased food production was also spurring growth in other areas.

As food production increased and the advantages of new technologies became apparent, the population began to rise. Landlords also began to see advantages in bringing more land under production. More farmland meant more income. More income meant they could support more warriors, as well as buy luxury items. More warriors meant greater power and the possibility of even greater security and wealth to come. Soon, lords were actually enticing their tenants to move into unoccupied lands and bring them under cultivation.

            In northeastern Europe a whole wave of colonization began, not from east to west as had been the case in earlier migration, but from west to east. German colonists moved into sparsely settled lands along the Baltic Sea and further east into the great plains of Russia and Poland. There they cleared the great forests and began to bring more and more land under the plow. In the 1200s, the entire movement was even further stimulated by events occurring further west and south -- the expansion of Christendom into the Holy Land. [Mention movement of Jews from western Europe to eastern Europe as consequence of the Crusades.] 

Revival of Trade

With increasing prosperity and population growth, trade also began to pick up. In the Mediterranean, the cities of northern Italy, especially Venice, took advantage of their locations to dominate international trade between the rest of Europe and the wealthier civilizations of the east. While the rest of Europe had been battling the Magyar, Viking, and Muslim invasions, the Italians had slowly been building this trade. The Crusades gave them an added boost.

            Jewish merchants were particularly active in international trade. Many Jewish merchants living in northern Europe maintained ties with Jewish communities in the Mediterranean region. This gave them safe places to store their wares in distant towns and helped them learn local business customs. They also benefited from the church’s view that Christians should not practice usury, or charging high interest on loans. Jewish bankers and merchants became the primary moneylenders of Europe.

            Europe’s internal trade also expanded in the 1100s and 1200s. Great trade fairs sprang up in the French county of Champagne, drawing people from all over Europe. Elsewhere, traders and merchants bustled along the trade routes of the Baltic, the North Sea, the Rhine and Rhone river valleys, and across the Alpine passes between Germany and Italy. Where once Viking raiders had gone south in search of plunder, now traders carried furs, timber, iron, and copper to England, Flanders, and France to exchange for wool, linen, leather goods, and wine. In northern ports they might also find grain, olive oil, and dates from the Mediterranean. To the east, merchants from northern Germany and Scandinavia traded metals, grain, wood products, and slaves through the Baltic Sea and down the rivers of Russia to the Black Sea. Everywhere, Italian merchants hawked their exotic eastern wares: silks from China, gold and ivory from Africa, jewels and spices from India and the islands of Asia. 

Revival of Urban Life

With trade and surplus food came the growth—and independence—of towns and cities. Under feudalism, towns had been under the direct control of feudal lords. A lord could charge merchants for using his roads and for setting up a market. This made trade difficult and expensive. By the 1000s merchants had begun to realize that the king could free them from the lords' control. To free towns from their feudal overlords, kings and merchants devised the charter of incorporation. Such a royal charter allowed merchants to govern a town under the king’s protection. The town paid taxes to the king, but merchants could set taxes in ways that did not hurt trade. Serfs who stayed in an incorporated town for a year and a day could claim freedom from all feudal obligations. Consequently, the growth of such towns not only spurred trade but also contributed to a breakdown of feudalism.

            Merchants controlled town politics, electing the mayor and a town council. Below the merchants were artisans, such as shoemakers, brewers, smiths, tanners, and weavers. By the 1100s, these artisans had begun to organize themselves into guilds, or associations. The guilds set quality standards, restricted competition, and regulated the training of new artisans. They also helped set prices. Not least, guilds acted as mutual aid societies. Some guilds admitted both men and women, others were exclusively male or female. Women dominated many crafts, especially in the cloth industry.[78] Beneath artisans were manual laborers. They helped with the harvest, repaired roads and bridges, and did any other jobs where manual labor was required. Their jobs were usually temporary. With no guilds to protect them, their lives were precarious. 

From Feudalism to Chivalry

By the 1200s, feudal culture was also changing. Instead of relying on his nobles for troops, kings collected taxes from them and used the money to hire mercenary soldiers. As kings made fewer military demands, knights had more time to quarrel with their neighbors and to fight one another. The church tried to stop Christians from killing Christians by forbidding combat on certain days. Although such rules were often ignored, by the late 1100s they had led to a code of conduct called chivalry. Chivalry required a knight to be brave, to fight fairly, and to protect women, children, and the clergy.

            As the nobility's military role changed, so did the culture of the aristocracy. Nobles became interested in new forms of music and poetry. Traveling poets entertained noble courts with narrative poems called romances, which told of the adventures knights undertook for love. The poems were part of a growing tradition of courtly love that glorified noble women and praised heroic and gentle virtues in knights. Chrétien de Troyes [kray-tyan duh trwah] of France, reflected the new tradition in his romance, Perceval, or The Story of the Grail

“The squires were followed by a maiden

who bore a grail, with both hands laden.

The bearer was of noble mien [appearance],

well-dressed, and lovely, and serene,

and when she entered with the grail,

the candles suddenly grew pale,

the grail cast such a brilliant light,

as stars grow dimmer in the night

when sun or moonrise makes them fade.” [79]   

INTERENT RESOURCE: Medieval Sourcebook, Chretien de Troyes

Poets like Chrétien often had royal patrons who provided them with a livelihood in exchange for entertainment. One such patron was Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most powerful woman of her times. Born about 1122, Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited the provinces of Aquitaine, Poitou, and Gascony, almost one third of present-day France.[80] She married Louis VII of France but their marriage was annulled in 1152.[81] She soon married the heir to the English throne,[82] Henry II. This marriage united Eleanor's and Henry's considerable landholdings, and together they ruled all of England and almost half of France.[83]

            In the early years of their marriage, they ruled as partners, with Eleanor governing the French territories.[84] In 1173, however, Eleanor helped her sons rebel against Henry.[85] The revolt failed, and Henry imprisoned his wife for 15 years.[86] When he died Eleanor was freed. She ensured that her favorite son, Richard the Lion-Heart, succeeded Henry as king, and governed while he was away on the Third Crusade. When he was imprisoned in Germany on his way home, she helped to raise the ransom that freed him. Before she died in France in 1204[87], she was still active enough to raise an army to help her son John, Richard’s heir, against the French.[88]

            Eleanor of Aquitaine had access to power and influence that few women of her time had. In the literature of courtly love, men paid homage to aristocratic women, but this romantic ideal contrasted with the real position of women. Few women inherited land or managed estates. Noble women were often married off to men they did not love in order to build family alliances; their most valuable function was still considered to be bearing children. 

Revival of European Intellectual Life

While feudal life was changing, so too was intellectual life. Toward the end of the 1000s, the church led the way in a cultural revival that soon spread throughout Europe. Conflicts with kings had encouraged the clergy to study church history in search of support for the pope’s authority. As they looked backward for knowledge, they rediscovered many ancient texts that had been copied during the Carolingian era. They rediscovered Roman law and began to read classical Greek and Latin authors once again—especially the works of Aristotle. 

Scholasticism. Revived interest in Aristotle and Greek philosophy sparked a major controversy in the church over how human beings could learn about the world around them. Aristotle believed that truth could be discovered only through human reason. Christians, however, believed that truth was revealed by God, and depended solely on faith. In the 1200s, Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican monk, tried to reconcile the two approaches.

            Aquinas argued that both reason and faith were necessary for a complete understanding of truth. Furthermore, it was not possible for either to contradict the other. His approach, known as Scholasticism, tried to demonstrate that what Christian revelation taught was also knowable and provable through the use of logic and reason. By using human reason, the scholastics thought, one could make logical deductions from the revelations found in the Bible and the knowledge discovered through observation. Thus, reason and faith together would reveal truth. Unlike al-Shafi‘i, who had resolved a similar problem in Islamic theology by emphasizing faith over reason, Aquinas ensured that in Latin Christendom human reason would remain a primary element in determining truth. 

Science. While Aquinas and others tried to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christian theology, other scholars studied the scientific works of the ancients. In the 1200s, the English monk Roger Bacon became a pioneer of science in Europe by advocating detailed observation and controlled experimentation to understand things in the natural world. Of the future, he wrote prophetically: 

“Machines may be made by which the largest ships, with only one man steering them, will move faster than if they were filled with rowers; wagons may be built which will move with unbelievable speed and without the aid of beasts.” 

Universities. Both Bacon and Aquinas were products of a new system of education. In the 1100s, cathedral schools taught Latin grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Eventually, universities sprang up and developed a regular curriculum, or course of studies. Paid lecturers, usually members of the clergy, taught not only Latin grammar, rhetoric, and logic but also geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music—courses collectively called the liberal arts. As they spread throughout western Europe, the universities helped revive a tradition of learning. They also created a new educated class, who spoke and wrote in Latin and shared a common culture.


Section 5 Review 

Identify.  three-field system, usury, charter of incorporation, guild, chivalry, romance, courtly love, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, scholasticism, Roger Bacon, curriculum, liberal arts.

1. Main Idea.  How did the growth of trade and new technologies change life in Europe after 1000?

2. Main Idea.  In what ways did intellectual life revive in Europe by the 1100s?

3. Geography.  Why was the invention of a new type of plow extremely beneficial to the farmers of northern Europe?

4. Writing to Describe.  Describe what life was like in a typical European town around 1100.

5. Synthesizing.  How did the expansion of trade and contact with other cultures help revive intellectual life in Europe?


Chapter 11 Review

Reviewing Terms

From the following list, choose the term that correctly matches the definition.

Hanseatic League






1. governmental body in England, originally consisting of the Great Council of nobles, knights, and townspeople---later composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons

2. tract of land given to a noble by a king for military service

3. noble who served a higher noble or a king by providing knights and soldiers

4. system of labor organization in towns, under which apprentices learned trades from master craftsmen, and then became craftsmen themselves

5. group of northern European cities that banded together for protection and to increase trade

Reviewing Chronology

List the following events in the correct chronological order

1. Pope Urban II calls on Christians to begin the first crusade

2. murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury

3. crowning of Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans"

4. England conquered by William the Norman

5. Roman church reformed by Pope Gregory I


Understanding the Main Idea

1. What motivated Europeans to go on crusades?

2. How did the rulers of France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire try to consolidate their power?

3. How did the growth of trade affect life in Europe around 1100?

4. How did Charlemagne's empire unify western Europe?

5. How was feudal society organized?


Thinking Critically

1. Hypothesizing.  What dangers might have faced the Roman church as a result of the conflict between popes and monarchs? How might these conflicts have affected the church's ability to establish Christian unity?

2. Analyzing.  How did romances and conceptions of courtly love reflect the reality of everyday life? Why might these romances have been so popular at the time?

3. Assessing Consequences.  Why might the continued growth of towns have threatened the existence of the feudal system?


Literature Through Time:  The Nibelungenlied

The Germanic peoples had a long oral tradition of epic poems, which told stories of the adventures of brave warriors. By the 1000s, epics such as the German Nibelungenlied (nee-buh-LOONG-uhn-LEET) and the French Song of Roland  had begun to be written down in vernacular languages, or the languages that ordinary people spoke. In part, the popularity of vernacular works reflected a growing secularism in European society. Although scholasticism might appeal to theologians and other scholars, most Europeans did not read Latin, nor were they particularly interested in learning it. They were interested, however, in expressing their new sense of identity as Latin Christians in a language they could understand.

            As vernacular literature grew more popular, many epics reappeared as romances in the new tradition of courtly love. The Nibelungenlied, for instance, blends elements of courtly love, adventure, and Christian ideals into a tale of love, revenge, and murder. The following passage relates the death of the hero Siegfried (SIG-freed) at the hands of his brother-in-law,  King Gunther (GOON-tuhr) of Burgundy, and Gunther’s vassal Hagen (HAH-guhn). The men are acting on behalf of the king’s wife, Brunhild (BROON-hilt), who is seeking revenge on Siegfried. Years earlier Siegfried had helped Gunther trick Brunhild into marrying him.  

When lord Siegfried felt the great wound, maddened with rage he bounded back from the stream with the long shaft jutting from his heart. He was hoping to find either his bow or his sword, and, had he succeeded in doing so, Hagen would have had his pay. . . .

            The hero’s face had lost its color and he was no longer able to stand. His strength had ebbed away, for in the field of his bright countenance he now displayed Death’s token. Soon many fair ladies would be weeping for him.

            The lady Kriemhild’s lord fell among the flowers, where you could see the blood surging from his wound. . . . “You vile cowards,” he said as he lay dying. “What good has my service done me now that you have slain me? I was always loyal to you, but now I have paid for it. Alas, you have wronged your kinsmen so that all who are born in days to come will be dishonored by your deed. You have cooled your anger on me beyond all measure. You will be held in contempt and stand apart from all good warriors.”

            The knights all ran to where he lay wounded to death. It was a sad day for many of them. Those who were at all loyal-hearted mourned for him, and this, as a gay and valiant knight, he had well deserved.

            The King of Burgundy too lamented Siegfried’s death.

            “There is no need for the doer of the deed to weep when the damage is done,” said the dying man. “He should be held up to scorn. It would have been better left undone.”

            “I do not know what you are grieving for,” said Hagen fiercely. “All our cares and sorrows are over and done with. We shall not find many who will dare oppose us now. I am glad that I have put an end to his supremacy.”

            “You may well exult,” said Siegfried. “But had I known your murderous bent I should have easily guarded my life from you. I am sorry for none so much as my wife, the lady Kriemhild. May God have mercy on me for ever having got a son who in years to come will suffer the reproach that his kinsmen were murderers. If I had the strength I would have good reason to complain. But if you feel at all inclined to do a loyal deed for anyone, noble King,” continued the mortally wounded man, “let me commend my dear sweetheart to your mercy. Let her profit from being your sister. By the virtue of all princes, stand by her loyally! No lady was ever more greatly wronged through her dear friend. As to my father and his vassals, they will have long to wait for me.”

            The flowers everywhere were drenched with blood. Siegfried was at grips with Death, yet not for long, since Death’s sword ever was too sharp. And now the warrior who had been so brave and gay could speak no more.[89]

Understanding Literature

1.      What elements of courtly love and the code of chivalry are expressed in this passage?

2.      What justification does Hagen give for killing Siegfried?

Through Others' Eyes

Islamic View of the Crusades

Under the late Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and Southwest Asia from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River, including the Holy Land, had been predominantly Christian. The Muslim conquest and occupation did not occur until the 7th century AD. Consequently, Europeans viewed the Crusades as holy wars to take back the lands in which Christ had lived from infidel invaders and return them to the true Faith. Muslims, on the other hand, also valued these homelands of Jesus, whom they revered as the Prophet ‘Isa. Moreover, having been in possession for several hundred years by the time of the First Crusade, they now saw the Crusades as “Frankish invasions.”

            Less than 90 years after the initial success of the First Crusade, in the late 1100s the Muslim sultan Salah ad-Din reconquered most of the Holy Land. Once again, Western European knights set out to recover the region in what became the Third Crusade. In the summer of 1191, Philip Augustus of France and Richard the Lion Heart of England recaptured the city of Acre from Salah ad-Din’s forces. A Muslim witness, Baha‘ ad-Din, recorded the reactions to Acre’s fall:

“The Franj let out an immense cry of joy, while in our camp everyone was stunned. The soldiers wept and lamented. As for the sultan, he was like a mother who has just lost her child. I went to see him to do my best to console him. I told him that now we had to think of the future of Jerusalem and the coastal cities, and to do something about the fate of the Muslims captured in Acre.”

Despite Salah ad-Din’s efforts to negotiate their release, Richard ordered the execution of the 2700 captive soldiers from the Acre garrison, along with their families, some 300 women and children. [90]

History Through the Arts

Gothic Architecture 

By the 1100s European architecture was undergoing a transformation. The Romanesque style—which, as the name implies, was heavily influences by Roman traditions—was beginning to give way to Gothic architecture. The great churches build during this period provide some of the best examples of this new and innovative style. In place of the rounded arches of the Romanesque style, Gothic churches had tall, pointed arches and were flooded with light that streamed in through stained-glass windows.

            Light was a central element in Gothic architecture. As one of the leading advocates of the new style put it: “It was most cunningly provided that . . . the whole [church] would shine with the wonderful and uninterrupted light of most sacred windows, pervading the interior beauty.” Ceilings that soared heavenward were also characteristic of Gothic churches. To achieve these effects, architects and builders developed a whole new set of engineering skills. For example, to free up the interior and carry the roof as high as possible, they redesigned the wall supports, moving them to the outside. These new flying buttresses, as they were called, pressed in upon the walls to keep them from collapsing. They also designed elaborate vaulted ceilings that used the interior arches to sustain the roof.  As a result, Gothic churches could rise higher and have more windows than Romanesque churches. 

Thinking About Art

1.      Why might it be said that Gothic architecture reflected the beliefs and values of Latin Christendom?



[1]Pierre Riché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993): 121

[2]Hoyt and Chodorow, p. 58.

[3]A History of Women: Silences of the Middle Ages, pp. 171-172 and 176-177.

[4]Geary, Patrick J., ed. Readings in World History, Vol. 1, p. 95.

[5]AAWH, p. 109.

[6]A history of Women: Silences of the Middle Ages, p. 190, says that Hilda founded Whitby.

[7]Bede, A History of the English Church and People, transl. Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin Classics, p. 247.

[8]Lawrence, 17.

[9]Henry Bettenson, ed. Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1982): 121-122.

[10]Lawrence, 21.

[11]Cantor, Medieval Reader, p.

[12]Merovech rather than Merovich according to Larousse Dictionary of World History, p. 607, and Wetterau’s World History, p. 712.

[13]Einhard 75.

[14]Einhard, 48.

[15]Oxford History of Medieval Europe, p. 97

[16]Loyn, p. 327.

[17]Oxford History of Medieval Europe, pp. 91, 115-116

[18]For this entire discussion on mutual obligations see Hayes, Medieval and Early Modern Times, p. 92.

[19]See The Civilization of Charlemagne by Jacques Boussart, p. 218-219 for caption information on the stirrup.

[20]Keen, 48. and Boissonnade, 130.

[21]Keen, 48.

[22]Keen, 48 and Boissonnade, 130

[23]Keen, 48.

[24]Gies, 163.

[25]P. Boissonnade.  Life and Work in Medieval Europe: The Evolution of Medieval Economy from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century.  (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1927; reprint 1982): 98.

[26]Boissonnade, 99.

[27]Boissonnade, 100.

[28]Gies, 161. and Boissonnade, 130.

[29]Gies, 163.

[30]Gies, 163.

[31]Gies, 163.

[32]Boissonnade, 129-30.

[33]Davis, 288.

[34]Anderson, 288.

[35]Anderson, 274.

[36]Anderson, 276.

[37]Anderson, 234.

[38]Anderson, 285.

[39]Anderson, 294.

[40]Anderson, 294.

[41]C.H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (London: Longman, 1984): 62

[42]Lawrence, 176.

[43]Lawrence, 63-64.

[44]Lawrence, 115.

[45]Lawrence, 77.

[46]Lawrence, 82.

[47]Oxford History of Medieval Europe, p. 137 and p. 154.


[48]The Middle Ages, A Concise Encyclopaedia, Loyn, ed., p.  285.

[49]Hoyt and Chodorow, p. 352.

[50]Davis, 209.

[51]Davis, 217.

[52]Davis, 218.

[53]Davis, 228.

[54]Davis, 237.

[55]Maurice Keen, The Penguin History of Medieval Europe (London: Penguin Books, 1968): 123.

[56]Keen, 123.

[57]Keen, p. 117.

[58]Patrick J. Geary, Readings in Medieval History.  Vloume Two: The Later Middle Ages  (Broadview, NY: Broadview Press, 1992): 72.

[59]Patrick J. Geary, ed.  Readings in Medieval History, Volume Two:  The Later MIddle Ages.  (Lewiston, NY: Broadview Press), 1992, p. 82.

[60]Robert S. Hoyt and Stanley Chodorow, Europe in the Middle Ages, 3e  (San Diego, CA: HBJ, 1976): 320.

[61]Hoyt/Chodorow, 320.

[62]Geary, Readings in Medieval History, Vol. II, p. 93

[63]Geary, Readings in Medieval History, Vol. II, pp. 76-77 

[64]Keen, 124.

[65]Geary, vol 2, page 91

[66]Davis, 272.

[67]Keen, 127.

[68]RHC Davis, A History of Medieval Europe From Constnatine to Saint Louis, 2e (London: Longman, 1988): 271.

[69]Davis, 275.

[70]Davis, 276.

[71]Davis, 280.

[72]Davis, 280.

[73]Davis, 280.

[74]Hayes, 188.

[75]Hayes. 189.

[76]Davis, 334; Keen, 140

[77]Davis, 335.

[78]Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, ed., A History of Women, Silences of the Middle Ages, p. 300.

[79]Holt World Lit.

[80]Gies, 300.

[81]Gies, 301. and Webster's Biographical, 320.

[82]Webster's Biog, 320.

[83]Gies, 301.

[84]Gies, 301.

[85]Webster's Biographical Dictionary, 320.

[86]Gies, 302.

[87]Webster's Biog, 320. entire paragraph

[88]Gies, 303.

[89]Taken from HRW’s World Literture, pp. 738-739.

[90]Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, pp. 210-211, and Forward.