Chapter 14 Beginnings of Revolutionary European Civilization, 1300-1650

The Beginnings of Revolutionary European Civilization, 1300—1650 In 1498 [i] the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola (SAH-voh-nah-raw-lah)[ii] and two of his disciples were burned at the stake in Florence, Italy. An observer described the scene :  


“In a few hours they were burnt, their legs and arms gradually dropping off . . . a quantity of stones were thrown to make them fall, as there was a fear of the people getting hold of them, and then the hangman and those whose business it was, hacked down the post and burnt it on the ground, bringing a lot of brushwood, and stirring the fire up over the dead bodies, so that the very least piece was consumed.”[iii]

Savonarola had angered the pope and the leaders of Florence by preaching against the vice and corruption he believed were destroying the church, the government, and society. At the heart of this decay, he argued, lay the revival of the teachings of ancient Rome and Greece.[iv] Artists and writers in Italy and other parts of Europe sought to glorify the grace and creativity of humankind. Savonarola symbolized the medieval worldview that individuals could achieve little in a universe entirely dominated by God. As Europeans rediscovered the ancient past and challenged the authority of the medieval church, however, this view was swept away.



European civilization underwent tremendous changes in the years between 1300 and 1650. The self-confident civilization that had emerged between 1000 and 1300 was rocked by famine, plague, and warfare after 1300. Instead of collapsing, however, the new civilization emerged from the challenges stronger than ever. As it recovered, the growth of trade, a rediscovery of classical learning, and new ideas about religion led to the emergence of a new worldview. This new worldview no longer had the church at its center, but human beings. As the power of the church declined, however, and Christian unity dissolved, war and violence marked the continuing human search for security and certainty.


1309  Babylonian Captivity begins.

1337  Hundred Years’ War begins.

1347  Black Death strikes Europe.

1378  Great Schism begins.

1455  Wars of the Roses begin.

1508  Michelangelo begins painting Sistine Chapel.

1517  Martin Luther posts 95 Theses.

1534  Ignatius de Loyola founds Jesuits.

1545-1563  Council of Trent redefines Catholic doctrines.

1555  Peace of Augsburg signed.

1588  English defeat Spanish Armada

1604  Christopher Marlowe publishes The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus.

1648  Treaty of Westphalia ends Thirty Years’ War.