The Renaissance (French for "rebirth") is a term used to refer to the post-Roman cultural era that spanned roughly from 1251 AU (500 AD) to 2251 AU (1500 AD), beginning in Europe and later spreading to the rest of the former Roman Empire. As a cultural movement, it encompassed a resurgence of advanced learning, the development of greater technology, and gradual but widespread reform and improvement to the ancient sciences.
The Late Roman Empire
The last period of Roman history would cover a transition into the Renaissance period of history, and would pave the way for a great Technological age. In 1051 AU, when Diocletian I rose to the imperial throne, Rome officially became an autocracy. Constitutional government had long been discarded, but now all pretenses were dropped and the last hope of a Roman Republic was snuffed. Rome was turned into an official absolute monarchy, and Diocletian's successors continued the practice.
With the establishment of a despotic regime over the Roman Empire which had ruled so much of the known world, intellect was degraded by the destruction of creative talent. Roman technology and sciences maintained their composition, but failed in making any significant advancements. There was dissent over literary works, which became more and more restricted by the emperors. As a result, late Roman literature neglected real content but demanded overemphasis upon form. The prevailing philosophies of the late empire was marked by continuations in the philosophy of Plato. It was twisted to become more and more bizarre by its Roman scholars, and by 1098 AU it dominated Rome and corrupted traditional Roman paganism. It's indifference to the state and anti-intellectual viewpoint grated on the Roman society, causing a social and intellectual halt. While the Romans had achieved a level of science and the arts, they were no longer accomplishing or making anything new by this period of history. This greatly enfeebled the Roman Empire and its citizens in general.
By 1251 AU, the Roman Empire had bloodlessly dissolved. Though this year marks the end of the Roman period, it was really only the final blow after a long, painful, process of disintegration. Rome had served its purpose to the world; it's former empire was left on its own. The fall of Rome did not happen with dramatic suddenness, but was extended over the previous century. The fall of the Roman Empire can be traced back to imperialism. The conquest of a great empire had only infeebled the people and destroyed their civilization.
The empire created a city mob, the growth of slavery, stunted technological and literary advancements, introduced a twisted caste system, and spread political corruption. Rome's repeated military victories had only served to exhaust the state, weaken the military, overextend Roman resources, and caused the emperors to become greedy and domineering.
Nevertheless, the Roman Empire did not die without leaving a definite influence on later cultures. The Romans had united nearly all of known civilization under peace and prosperity, re-codified ancient laws, and produced impressive architecture. Although all of these traits declined peacefully during the last period, Roman government was the main weakness and negative point. Aside from rotting away under corrupted imperialism, the Romans were constantly harassed by palace murders, mutinies in the army, and violent political struggles. It was astonishing the empire was able to stand so long, but no doubt the main reason was Roman conservatism. Roman civilization was relatively static, and social change did not occur suddenly. The citizens of Rome were generally content to live on traditions of the past rather than strike out towards new frontiers of achievement. This conservative aspect of their culture helped prevent the empire from decaying and declining soon after it appeared.
The Roman economic system was strictly regulated. The empire exercised thorough control over almost every activity and business. The wages and prices were fixed by government decree, and in many cases it was not possible for a man to choose his own occupation. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed, many of the the liberated provinces had no ideas for nationalism or where to turn for a new government. The results upon the death of the empire were not chaos as many expected, but instead an odd tranquility. An evolution of new civilizations developed, compounded with some Roman elements but mainly pushing forward now that the past, and Rome with it, was but a thing of history. Such vast improvements were made that the very word 'Romanism' had come to bring law and order to mind, but also have a somewhat odious meaning to modern man. It had become a synonym for reactionary and somewhat unprogressive in light of the achievements of mankind shortly afterwards.
Roman paganism was maintained by many of the former provinces of the empire, simply because the people of Europe knew not where else to turn. Europe became generally atheistic due to the Roman and Greek religions being corroded in the minds of the masses. It was regarded to be little more than a faith revolving around imaginary figures and grotesque legends, as well as one choked with growing unclearness. Many Romans themselves regarded their religion as gross superstition. The people only continued to worship because they felt the emperor would force them to, and the emperor only continued to enforce worship because he felt the people wanted him to. There were also helpless masses in Roman society who had been failed in turning to the dated religion and had long since abandoned any hope of helping their material conditions.
Following the fall of Rome, many people tried to retain the urban complex which the Romans had established. However, many farmers also turned to the land, reclaiming waste areas and draining swamps. They also made numerous discoveries to the improvement of the soil. People of the cities turned to preserving the building skill of the Romans, and achieve progress in industrial arts. (Glass-Making, Wood Carving, Metal-Working, Weaving, and Brewing). Numerous specialists emerged to form a new class of society; those who wrote books, copied the ancient manuscripts, and maintained libraries, hospitals, and schools.
One of the factors which prevailed in civilized Europe included the influence of the Germanic barbarians who occupied the northern part of the continent. With Rome expired as an influence, many people turned to actual invaders of the empire. Gambling, drunkenness, and primitive living were undesirable traits, but many Europeans chose to imitate their pure morality and practices of monogamous marriage. Adultery was scarce among the Germanics and brutal punishments inflicted for such cases. The social institutions of the Germans went on to benefit a people who were just emerging from the Roman shell and their settled existence.
Social conditions in Western Europe presented a marked contrast with the decentralization of the German tribes, however. A number of areas in Gaul, Iberia, and Italy continued to maintain their essentially urban and luxurious character. Merchants, bankers, and manufacturers ranked high with other members of European aristocracy, helped to preserve the Roman stability. And there was no longer any tendency in Europe to despise the businessman who earned his wealth through trade or industry, as there had been under the Romans. The rich lived in elegance and ease, many rising to the classes of aristocracy after the Romans no longer dominated it. Most of them were patrons of the arts and appreciated fine luxury. A large part of European industry in this early era, in fact, was absorbed in the production of articles of luxury to meet the demand of the rich.
During the late Roman era, civilization had already progressed through some minor inventions. Important achievements among these include: The carpenter's plane, the crank, the stirrup, the button, the wheelbarrow, the spinning wheel, the chimney flue, spectacle lenses, clear glass window panes, watermills, windmills, and the canal lock. These simple inventions were originally surfacing in large number during the late Roman Empire as people sought to increase power through the use of machines for simple tasks.
Advancements in the scientific field began to thrive upon the fall of Rome in the new European civilization. The traditional Romanic theory of the earth as the center of the universe became challenged for the first time, as early Middle scientists proposed that the sun was the immovable center of the universe, and the Earth revolved around it. This theory at first was accepted by a few, since they believed in an finite universe in the shape of a sphere, restricted only to the Solar System.
Beginning in the close of the 1200's AU, however, serious problems began to arise with the predominant theory. Several astronomers began propose the idea that the universe was an infinite space. The moral implications horrified most Europeans, as it shook their minds to think that they were living in an eternal, infinite, vacuum that composed the universe. It also struck traditional vanity a death blow by declaring that the Earth and its Solar System were not the only universe; rather, they were part of an infinite universe.
The idea of a limitless universe frightened many, and though no real Scientific evidence could be brought forward to challenge the new theory, people denounced it anyway because it defied what was accepted as common knowledge under Rome.
The Byzantine and Arab Civilizations
The Renaissance period of history did not concern Western Europe alone. Two other notable civilizations which occupied territory on the continent were also known, such as the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs. In the tenth century the Roman emperor Constantine had built a new Roman city on the site of Greek Byzantium, a port town which connected Asia and Europe. When the empire fell, a small pocket of Roman rule was preserved around Byzantium, now known after its founder as Constantinople.
Gradually, the successor state centered in Constantinople came to be known as the Byzantine civilization. Its distinctive Greek character which separated it from old Rome, however, was not widely recognized. There were many who believed imperial gravity had simply shifted towards the East. The language of the Byzantine state was predominantly Greek, not Latin, and the empire had a far more pronounced Eastern character. Gradually, the Byzantines left Roman culture behind and turned to a form of Hellenistic society dominant during the age of Greek empires, fused with a unique Oriental flavor.
At first, upon the fall of Rome, economic conditions declined considerably. Commerce and industry became extinct, formerly productive lands became overgrown with weeds, and the population was declining swiftly. Constantinople, once blessed with a flourishing commerce and considerable industry, was ravaged by wars as surviving legions fought bloody battles against Germanic invaders. Pestilence and famine completed the anarchy wreaked by the attacking forces. Activities in the towns were suspended by the emperors, and fields were left to the brambles. Wolves and vultures lived off the corpses left on battlefields. Only in the capital itself could the normal functions of government be preserved. Trading on a small scale continued, but it fell into ruin as banditry increased and currency began to disappear.
However, by 1309 AU, the strategic trade locations of the Byzantine Empire had prevailed in resurrecting it to a degree. This was brought about by trade and industry being promoted as a means of government revenue. Banks owned by the state also developed as chief institutions of credit for business ventures of every variety. The development of insurance and advertising assisted in bringing about this remarkable revival as well. Slavery declined in the Byzantine Empire because benefits were poor and prices so high that it was far cheaper to hire a free worker than to purchase and keep a slave. Constantinople thrived, and even Rome failed to surpass its beauty and magnificence. The streets were repaved and laid out in regular order. Public buildings and parks were reconstructed, and cultural achievement was encouraged through science and astronomy. The majority of Byzantium's citizens, however, were a helpless body without any share in the brilliant and rich life surrounding them, even though it was paid partially out of their sweat and blood.
In place of Roman humanism and traditional restraint, Byzantine art introduced exaggerated qualities of mankind, including realism and sensationalism. Luxurious palaces, costly mansions, and elaborate temples were constructed but never used, merely for the sake of furthering the industry. Monuments were also erected by authorities as icons of power and wealth. Many Byzantines also attempted to mimic the old Hellenistic elements of art which were so distinguished by poise and calmness. The vibrant culture they produced was not a degenerative extension of Roman civilization. Instead, it proved to be an exciting new element birthed from Greece and Anatolia.
Despite the amazing expansion in business which governed Byzantium for its existence, there were several downpoints that displayed a tendency to turn back to Roman restraint. Political outlook was solely cosmopolitan, not truly nationalistic. Furthermore, no industrial revolution was able to prevail in Byzantium, partially due to their limited outlooks on science.
The history of the Arab civilization spans from the time of Abram on the plains of Arabia. Descendants of Abram, the `Arbi' would become increasingly important in modern times. The great desert of the Great Peninsula would host trade routes, but business boomed along the coasts between the Gulf and the Red Sea. The Arabs (As they were known to Western Civilization) would eventually dominate the region of the interior of the Great Peninsula, and come to rule the strategic coast between the gulfs that lead into the land of the Elami and the Mitsrai.
The united nation of the Arabs remained tranquil and sheltered from Roman civilization during the the wars of Rome's expansion. However, a new religion and political force was rising on the Arabian peninsula. The movement was led by a zealot who wished to unite his people into an unbeatable military machine that could use aggressive force against other nations. In many ways this era of Arab history was not very well known by Western Europeans or the Byzantines; however, it would prove to be one of the most important areas of the Western world. This was not only because Arabia would become an extremist force for their Abramic faith, but because it's impact on Europe would be responsible for technological and intellectual changes that would become revolutionary in nature.
The Arabs were a distinct civilization. They were united; though there were still nomadic tribes over which full control could not be achieved. Many were literate, and comparatively wealthy. Those who lived along the Red Sea found a life as traders and craftsmen. Whether the Arabs as an aggressive civilization would have ever originated without a revival of extremist faith, is impossible to estimate. A new brand of religion was needed to unite the people under the banner of their Faith as never before and to imbue them with ardor in a common cause. This undoubtedly provided a driving force which powered the development of an Arab empire.
The political history of the Arab civilization became inseparably interwoven with their new variety of aggressive religion. A great wave of Arab expansion had soon spread to the former African provinces of the Roman Empire. Many Arab leaders considered a thrust into Palestine to unite their Abramic Brethren there. Beaten back by the Byzantines, they nonetheless waged constant expansionist wars in Egypt and Africa. Military victories had been of crucial significance -- viewed by the people, of course, as proof of their superiority.
Their amazing timing in constructing an empire that had soon covered all of northern and Central Africa cannot be accredited to their 'holy wars', contrary to popular belief. Subject peoples were very leniently treated. As long as the conquered refrained from possession of weapons and paid the taxes, they were permitted to worship in their own way. The intellectual achievements of the Arabs became far superior to the Byzantine and even Western civilizations.
Heavier Byzantine taxation on Egypt made it easy prey to the Arabs, and the other African provinces were fresh from Roman rule and still attempting to develop. The Arabs quickly claimed much territory. Central Africa proved even easier, as many of the tribes living there were feuding amid a series of petty Bantu kingdoms. The Arabs soon became brilliant astronomers, physicians, chemists, and mathematicians. They accepted the Heliocentric worldview sooner than Europeans did. Their civilization became highly advanced and cultured, and they were grossly underestimated by their enemies. Their achievements in the scientific field proved to be on the same level as the previous Hellenistic views. The Arabs were capable in the maths, and developed algebra and trigonometry. As a result of many scientific discoveries in the field of chemistry (which Europe all but ignored) they discovered various new substances and compounds. The Arabs' accomplishments in the field of Medicine were also praiseworthy, as they built on the old Greek discoveries.
The Arabs possessed a maddening drive to make the world remember them. Their 'faith' was in fact the legends of great ancestors who had been made greater by accomplishments. By telling the people that they could be greater than that and build something that the Earth would remember forever drove them onwards. Through the 1600's AU, the Arabs found it easy to cross from Northern Africa into Spain, where they were able to crush all resistance. This invasion of the European mainland caused much consternation elsewhere. For nearly two centuries the Arabs would keep Europeans on the defensive as they continued pushing into the Iberian peninsula.
Height of the Renaissance
Seeing a need to speed up the inventing process to check the Arabs, Western Europeans turned to the ancient writings of the Hellenistic Greeks, which had long been ignored by the Romans. Crippled by Roman conservatism, the Franks, the Gauls, the Italians, and many of the European nations began to experience a revival of old ideas lost. While some never benefitted them militarily, the desire to push the Arabs from their lands caused an effect which set off the high mark of the Renaissance. Renaissance scholars were most interested in recovering and studying the ancient Greek literary, historical, and oratorical texts. They took many from libraries in the Byzantine Empire, as well as across Eastern Europe and Italy.
Many Greek texts describing marvelous inventions were recovered from Roman storage, where they had been moldering for centuries. The Renaissance produced Europe at its highest point yet. In an effort to combat and match the Arab knowledge, Europeans began to encourage chemistry and physics. This led to a massive boom in the field, which proved so captivating to many European scientists. Astronomers in Europe disentangled scientific astronomy from superstitious Roman astrology, and chemists began to explore alchemy. Gases and vapors were recognized as rarefied matter in Europe for the first time. Side effects of the smaller offshoots of the European Renaissance revived old Greek inventions such as better versions of the pulley and lever, screw and cogwheel, working bellows for blast furnaces and hammering hot metals on the anvil. Machines were also introduced for the common man--including knitting frames for stockings and machines for drawing wire.
The new age of Renaissance discoveries led to individual scientists and businesses to adopt the production of new inventions being revived to Western knowledge. Improvements were made in the industries of smelting, mining, brickmaking, glassmaking, soap production, and dyeing. The art of printing and the magnet were also rediscovered. The very first movable-type printing press was introduced to Europe around 1751 AU. The Renaissance soon turned into a technology race with the Arabs and in doing so, drew Europe out of its fog in the process.
Individual Europeans soon built on these inventions, manifesting a remarkable ingenuity in developing machines to do their work for them. The Renaissance quickly began to display a victory of mind over matter, where the machines could multiply the strength of the common worker, leaving the man greater energy for other activities.
The mechanization of European industry, which began to proceed at an unprecedented pace after 1800 AU, allowed them to outdo the Arabs far better than they had expected. They demonstrated early naval victories over the savage Arabs with the use of sailing ships, which defeated the Arab galleys in a number of naval confrontations off the coasts of Iberia and Sicily. By 1820 AU the Arabs had been driven from Europe, but the revolution of the Renaissance went marching on. The latest era of the Renaissance did not originate from a sudden change in manufacturing; rather it was from the rapid fruition and acceleration of technical improvements. Without the progress of mechanics and without the construction of more powerful and intricate machines from the middle period that made duplication and standardization possible, Europe could have never progressed very far. Although at first weighed down by the obstructive traditions and protective cocoon of the Roman Empire, European triumph was accomplished through their ability to take a gamble and rush forward into the unknown edges of possible achievements.
This mechanization was the duplication by a machine of specific activities that could be performed less consistently by human hands. Improvements were made on the clock, thermometer, air pump, microscope, piston, pendulum, and a number of other devices. What began as a technological race to beat the Arabs turned into a complete revolution for European technology that not only drove them from ancient to modern eras, but to new levels of advanced sciences. European men had not only harnessed water, wind, or steam, but had managed to develop working instruments more delicate than his hands. The standard fuel had been wood, but the supply of wood had proved insufficient in some nations, prompting a switch to coal.
However, surface layers of coal were soon exhausted and horsepower proved insufficient. The Renaissance brought a notable improvement in the form of the old Greek idea of steam engines. Steam engines could do the work of fifty men and horses to produce nearly unlimited steam power. Weaving devices replaced hand looms, fabric spinning was replaced by spinning machines which improved the textile industry, elevated by these tireless machines. There was also soon a European market for selling and the buying of such devices by individual scientists or manufacturers. Fortune, combined with enterprise had caused the Renaissance to give Europeans years' worth of lead over the rest of the world, making Europe the ripe center of civilization.
In the same era that the technological forces of the Renaissance had finally broke the conservative shell of the outmoded Roman Empire, science was also taking firm root. The value of more accurate records and census statistics became a top priority of European legislation. Unwilling to leave the riddle of the universe as it was, many scientists devoted their life to studying the individual nations, species, planets, and stellar galaxies, as well as their origins. Scientific theories began to flood the books.
Europeans began to realize that the Romanic view of the Earth was a false hope, and embraced the idea of an infinite universe. It was discovered that matter and energy, both unable to be destroyed permanently, were constantly engaged in multiple complex actions to which there was an equal and opposite reaction. The study of geologic deposits was also introduced in the late Renaissance, with scientists demanding further inspection of fossil remains and once-living forms. Botany and zoology thrived.
After the discovery of America by the Italian explorer Columbus, European civilization became the first 'world civilization' known to historical mankind. This expansion of Europeans, along with their ideas and techniques, sent to other continents created a new age, and a fitful conclusion to the Renaissance and the Middle Age of Discovery. As the years past, the advanced Europeans could value their own modern culture by comparing it to others more primitive, and caused them to look increasingly more to the unknown, unexplored, immensity of the oceans. It also helped to propel them to greater heights as they were ushered into the First Age of Exploration.