Power, Economy, Political, Religion during the Renaissance

  • Global balance of power: Expansion, Wars, Migration
  • Economy
  • Political
  • Religion/Cosmology


1. Expansion, Wars & Migration

▪Largest Empire after the fall of Rome was the Islamic Empire.

▪Under the leadership of Dynastic Arab & Turkish families, Islam (originating in Saudi Arabia) spread from Spain to India by the 13th C., effectively surrounding the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Empires from the East, South, and West.

Led to migration of Arabs and Turks all over Europe

▪By Mid 11th C., seeds were sown for a unified ‘Western’ identity, after more than 500 years of political and cultural fragmentation

▪1050: Split (‘Schism’) b/w Roman Catholic Church (West) & Eastern Orthodox Church

▪1096: 1st Crusades, initiated by Pope Urban II (i.e. Catholic) which brought Catholics (i.e. ‘westerners) together to reclaim the Holy Land (Palestine) from Islamic control.

Led to permanent settlement of Western Europeans in Palestine, and created new settlements from Europe into the Middle East (to service the traveling Crusaders)

▪Mongol invasion West; led to Mongol control of Russia by 1240 CE. This made Western Europeans very nervous.

Led to migration of Europeans further West.

▪Catholic reconquest of Spain from Muslim control- 11th-15th C. Jews and Muslims kicked out or killed as Catholics bring Spain under the banner of Catholic identity.

Led to migration of Jews and Muslims across Europe, and into Africa.

Other causes for migration:

10th- 15th century: Political conflicts between the political and economic powers that were established in the previous period of expansion. The 100-year war between Britain and France (1337-1453) England had penetrated a large part of France, wars between Italy and Aragon, wars between Scandinavian states and Hanseatic (German)-cities, the revolt of the Slavs against the German expansion caused a stream of political refugees to other countries.

2. Economy

▪Between 10th century CE and the Plague in 1350CE the population in Europe almost doubled in size.

▪A lot of wastelands were cultivated in order to provide food for all these people, so much in fact that some were freed from participating in primitive food  production and instead became clergy, artists, or scientists (i.e. diversified division of labor)

▪Between 1347 and 1351 about one-third of the European population was killed by the plague. After this disaster, smaller epidemics continued to strike Europe so that the population did not recover quickly. In addition to this, farmers had very small pieces of land and too much had been brought under cultivation. In these conditions, a bad harvest almost immediately led to famine.

▪Hard times had come for the farmers; besides famine and disease, they had to cope with a bad grain market. The prices were low because too much grain was being produced now that the population had diminished. Laborers on the other hand were very expensive. For many farmers, it was not possible to change their business from grain-production to cattle breeding, which could have been a solution to this problem.

▪Many new cities had developed in the previous centuries, most of which appeared near citadels built during the invasions of the Norse. This did not mean however that Europe was urbanizing quickly, as 90% of the population still made its living from agriculture and the cities often maintained a very rural character.

▪12-14th C. economic redevelopment of Europe was dependent on tapping into international economic activity:

▪Europe dependent on Gold market in Timbuktu, until conquering Americas

▪Italian city-states, particularly Genoa, Venice & Florence helped to channel ‘Asian wealth’ into Europe. Thus, Italian city-states played a vital role in reigniting trade economy for the entirety of Europe.

▪Crusades stimulated trade throughout the Eastern Mediterranean

3. Politics

▪The political authority of the Catholic Church had diminished due to internal conflicts. People developed a very personal religion which included many mystical elements. Religious leaders responded to this development with the persecution of heretics (‘non-believers) during the 14th and 15th centuries. They also tried to spread fundamentalist Christian beliefs to other areas, for instance by organising Crusades.

▪Another seed of trouble lay in the conflict between central and local power within rising “states”. There were many succession-right problems whereby cities and local lords wanted to keep their autonomy, whereas monarchs wanted to keep centralised power in their own hands. (see also, ‘Cosmology & Human Order, below)

▪A third political characteristic of Europe was a changing attitude towards the rest of the world. Europe was an area of expansion in the 11th to the 14th century, contrary to its previous position as a ‘closed’ fortress in the 9th and 10th centuries. Some contacts that already existed with Asia, the Middle East, overseas areas on the skirts of Africa and even America were strengthened and expanded upon during this period. Political battles, internal to Europe, were now increasingly played out on the international stage.

▪The movement of migrants and refugees also destabilized long-held institutions; changes in politics were responding to this new found diversity.

4. Religion/ Cosmology

▪Cosmology refers to how ‘order’ in the universe is envisioned by a particular civilization or culture. At the eve of the Renaissance, a very specific ‘cosmology’ was shared by most of Christian Europe: the great ‘Chain Of Being’.

▪The ‘Chain Of Being’ is an order of the universe characterized by a strict hierarchical system. The Chain of Being is composed of a great, almost infinite, a number of hierarchal links, from the most base and foundational elements up to the very highest perfection – in other words: God.

▪In the natural order, earth (rock) is at the bottom of the chain; these elements possess only the least amount of existence. Moving on up the chain, each succeeding link contains the positive attributes of the previous link, and adds (at least) to one other. Rocks, as above, possess only existence; the next link up, plants, possess life and existence. Beasts add not only motion, but appetite as well.

▪Man is a special instance in this conception. He is both mortal flesh, as those below him, and also spirit. In this dichotomy, the struggle between flesh and spirit becomes a moral one. The way of the spirit is higher, nobler; it brings one closer to God. The desires of the flesh drag one down.

▪In medieval Europe, it was believed that the chain of being was fixed, and that movement between the hierarchies was impossible (except for Alchemists, who were interested in the transmutation of substances).

Example: If one were to examine only the earthly inhabitants, and their place in the chain, this is what would be found











Rocks, Minerals



▪Cosmology & Human Order: Fedualism

▪Each link in this chain might be further divided into its component parts. In terms of the religious order, the Pope was directly linked to God. Under the Pope, the many levels of church administration enjoyed decreasing levels of authority.

In terms of secular (=earlthly) order, for example, the King is usually on top, followed by the aristocratic lords, and then the peasants below them. In the family, the father is head of the household; below him, his wife; below her, their children. The children might be subdivided so that the males are one link above the females.

▪The conflict between earthly rulers, and Church authority, on the chain of being become increasingly important in the centuries later on. As well, the abuse of this chain of being by both Church and royalty, throughout the medieval ages, are at the core of the political and religious revolutions in Europe in the succeeding centuries.(see ‘Politics’, ‘Expansion, War, Migration’ above)

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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