|| The World History Rewritten
Late Medieval History
will concentrate on main economic processes in late medieval ages
(XIth-XVth centuries), and their influence on political history of
Europe. Good and reader-friendly introduction to the economic history
is a book Concise Economic History of
the World by Rondo
Cameron (and Larry Neal).
Though it concentrates mainly on the economic of West Europe.
For the late
medieval Europe three basic economic processes are important:
Economic development of populistic city-states of Italy. Their
expansion in Mediterranean basin and their influence on other European
Economic expansion of German merchants from trade union called Hansa in
the basin of Baltic Sea.
Great Trans-European economic cycle of XIIth, XIIIth and XIVth
centuries that ended with the epidemic of The Black Death (1348-1350).
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Setting the scene
A few introductory notes:
There were three basic “trade alleys“ that for the history of late
Because of poor road system seas and great rivers: (Tagus, Loire,
Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Vistula, Volga among others) were important
medieval trade routes.
- Mediterranean Sea - trade between Orient and West Europe.
- Baltic Sea and North Sea - trade between West Europe and
“emerging markets” of East Europe and Scandinavia.
- Sout-North trade routes between Italy and France, Germany,
and Northern Europe in general.
It is good to remember the proportions of population (estimates) of
medieval European countries:
But note that because of general feudal fragmentation, even small but
united countries (like Denmark, Kingdom of Sicily, Bohemia) may play
important role in medieval politic.
- The biggest were France and Russia (comparable population).
- Then come middle populated countries: Germany, Italy and
Iberic peninsula (as a whole) - about 50-60% of France population.
- Then tertiary countries of England, Poland and Hungary -
about 20-30% of France population.
During the late medieval ages, population of cities (as the percentage
of the whole population) was slowly increasing. And the volume of trade
too. In medieval pyramid, city-dwellers are the middle income group, so
under normal conditions they grow in power faster than other social
groups (low-income peasants or high-income nobles - see Early Medieval page).
But it was a
and long run process.
As a consequence, at the end of medieval ages importance of personal
feudal dependencies and hierarchies decreased, while the importance of
money, and trade increased. At the very beginning (XIth century)
powerful was the ruler who had more
allies, at the end (XVth century) the ruler who had more
The beginning of new millennium was the age of feudal chaos.
Western Europe (generally France) was feudally fragmented and every
feudal lord fight with each other trying to get rich or to get more
political power. A very good example of zero-sum game. This chaos was
the serious encumbrance (barrier) for trade and normal economic
activities in general - whose relative profitability started to
increase these times.
So the new ideologies and new intellectual trends (ideas) appeared,
promoting the more peaceful way of living. The source of new ideas was
the institution of Catholic Church which controlled many economic
enterprises (ex. in monasteries), but had very limited military power.
The ideas like Pax
Dei or Tregua Dei were introduced and
Also the Church itself reformed to cure the corruption: nepotism
(favoring own relatives for offices) - and simony
(buying offices for money). Reforms started from the Congregation of Cluny.
In the middle of XIth century the conflict (the reason was the problem
between Western (Catholic) and Eastern Church (Orthodox) started, and
effected in the Great Schism. This conflict may
seem ridiculous from today’s perspective, but the core of the problem
was: which of the two church centers (Rome or Constantinople) is more
pyramid-like feudal hierarchies is very important who is on the top.
In 1066 after
the Battle of
Hastings William of Normandy (William the Conqueror)
conquered the England. Normans - former Danish Vikings - conquered the
French land of Normandy in late 9th century, then assimilated, and in
XIth were regular French nobles. William of Normandy had some legal
right to the crown of England. So, his
conquest was rather something like an
“aggressive takeover of a corporation” called England. In
medieval Europe legal rights to the country or privilege played
important role in feudal wars. Feudal rulers had to consider the
reaction of public opinion, even planning brute aggressions, because
other rulers waited for his mistakes.
Normans in England
These times England started to unite after the period of feudal
fragmentation. William conquest speeded up this process. As invaders
Normans had to be united (ex. all Norman nobles were the vassals of the
king opposite than in France where only the “highest level” nobles were
the vassals of the king) and had to introduce a strong administration.
But it is useful to note that the strength of king was also an effect
of the importance of trade. Trade cross the sea with the continental
Europe (western France, Normandy, Flanders, Netherlands, etc.), and
other sea activities like fishing, were the important part of British
income (comparing with the income from land). Also the important part
of the ruler’s income, giving kings of England resources to overpower
the opposition of nobles.
Conflict between the Papacy
Over two hundred years long (since XIth till the XIIIth century) and
probably the most important political conflict in medieval Europe was
the struggle between Popes and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. The
conflict had two stages:
conflict (XIth century)
2. Struggle for dominium
mundi (late XIIth and XIIIth century)
Generally the conflict was about: who is more important The Emperor
military power or The Pope with ideological power. Papal State was
small and was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, but Popes had income
from papal taxes from other countries and could ally with political
opposition against the emperor. Conflict was so long also because The
Holly Roman Empire balanced between the feudal fragmentation (effect of
expansion and diffusion powers) and a reunification (effect of
Italy-Germany trade that worked as a glue for the empire).
cycles in medieval Europe
It is important to note that cycles of late medieval European states
were not only the effect of the expansion of the country, but also an
influence of economic cycles in neighbouring countries. Especially when
neighbouring country was large or rich - therefore economic crises or
periods of prosperity in France Italy or Germany often affected other
countries. European economy was a system of connected vessels.
Therefore a feudal fragmentation of country A may be an consequence of
decline in demand for its export in country B which destroys the trade
that is a glue which unites country A. This complicates the political
and economic pattern of medieval Europe.
for West European countries (like France) more important were the
economic cycles, because their possibilities for expansion were
limited. On the other hand for East European countries (like Poland or
Russia) cycles launched by military expansion was more important.
Germany was somewhere between.
Simplifying: investiture was the ceremony when feudal seigneur gave his
vassal a symbol (insignia) of vassal’s office. Controversy was about
who should have privilege to give these insignia to the officials of
church (like bishops) — the Pope or the Emperor? Who should had the
last word? Is the nomination of the Church official the sole
prerogative of the Pope, or the Emperor may stop the nominations?
It is useful to note that with the investiture ceremony came feudal
lands, and the land was at disposal of the Emperor, so he had a tool to
block nominations of officials he do not like. The Papacy of course
wanted that the Emperor had to accept the personal decisions of the
Pope and grant lands automatically.
In the struggle for power inside the country there are several
important areas of influence (at least in feudal and populistic
countries, where procedures are not always respected):
- army (a tool to rule with brute force)
- secret police and police (or similar institutions
- administration (systems of offices)
- law courts
- money resources
- propaganda (to attract allies)
The Emperor was stronger in some areas (ex. army) while
the Pope in others (ex. propaganda).
Take a look on a quick summary of conflict between the pope Gregory VII
and the emperor Henry
IV: The church was strengthen thanks to the earlier reforms. The
Conflict started from ideological struggle. The Papacy introduced a
propaganda campaign to promote the idea of supremacy of Papacy over the
state and monarchy. The final effect was the document called Dictatus Papae.
Emperor tried to react to this rebellious (from his point of view) act
using military force, but Gregory VII excommunicated him. This launched
the rebellion of German feudals against Henry IV.
Because the whole feudal hierarchy was sanctioned (explained and supported) by
the ideology of Christianity, officials of the Church had the power of
excommunicate the ruler, and since then his vassals no longer had to
obey the oath of allegiance to their seigneur. A weapon of
excommunication was terribly dangerous when the ruler (ex. emperor) had
problems with opposition (usually with high-income feudals), but much
less effective when internal opposition was weak, and the country
Henry IV had to ask the Pope for forgiveness (Walk to Cannossa 1077).
And the Gregory VII had no choice but to cancel the excommunication.
The Emperor then pacified the rebellion in Germany and then invaded the
Rome with new army, introducing a new, friendly pope. Gregory VII fled
from Rome and asked the Norman rulers of Naples for help.
Conflict between the Papacy and the Empire continued more or less the
same way. With the periods of armistice and cooperation because both
sides needed each other: the Emperor needed an ideological support of
the Church to preserve feudal hierarchy and the Church needed the
protection of military force offered by the Empire. Example of one of
compromises was the Concordate of Worms.
Struggle for dominium mundi
The second stage of the conflict (since middle of XIIth century till
the early XIIIth) was the struggle for dominium
mundi - i.e. who had the formal title to rule over the whole
Catholic world (who is on the top of the feudal hierarchy). Neither
emperors or popes had the power to really control the whole West
Europe, so it was not only the struggle for power but also for
prestige. These times the Holy Roman Empire slowly decomposed, and
there was the new dynasty of emperors - Hohenstaufen dynasty.
There were a few new elements in this phase of conflict:
- Italian city-states were much stronger these times, and
played important role as allies for both opponents (ex. the Lombard League,
against the Emperor Frederick I, the
- Emperors had much weaker position in Germany. In fact these
times were two important families pretending to the throne of Germany:
Hohenstaufen (their followers were called Gibellines)
and Welf (their followers were called Guelfs).
- Hohenstaufen emperors, thanks to the marriage, get the
control over the rich, strong and united (thanks to the profitable
trade with the East) Kingdom of Sicily, which had strengthen their
military position in Italy.
- Because of decomposition of Empire, emperors usually
controlled only a small part of the Empire (were strong only in their
private domains - like kings of France).
priest faction and soldier faction
Conflict between religious noble elites and military noble are very
common in feudal states. The basic schema of this conflict, I described
was a kind of
simplification. The real pattern is much more complicated.
When feudal country reaches limits of its expansion, military ruler
(monarch) usually wants to increase the taxation to get resources for
future expansion. These times priests usually become leaders of
opposition against the monarch - allying with high income nobles,
merchants. These times priest faction is more “progressive” (or
“left-winged”) than the ruler. Alliance between the Papacy and Lombard
League is a good example here.
On the other hand, when religious faction dominates and the level of
exploitation of plebeians (and religious taxes) is very high, the
military leader is more “progressive” (or “liberal”), because he
usually decreases the taxation level offering his noble followers the
alternate way to get rich - an external expansion. These time the
monarch is usually supported in his efforts by low-income nobles,
Plebeians, except the richest ones usually, do not play any active role
in these games (although they are a target for propaganda). Of course
this pattern is a simplification too.
Probably the most important
consequence of this 200-years long conflict (except
crusades) was the unfettered development of Italian city-states.
Because of continuous conflict Emperors had no time and resources to
control and subordinate weak Italian cities. And cities step-by-step
grew in power, gaining more and more autonomy, privileges, and finally
becoming independent states. (Although formally were still the part of
the Holy Roman Empire, only Venice was outside the Empire.)
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Crisis of the Muslim world
In XIth century economic prosperity in Muslim states ended, and the
Crisis two some important consequences:
- Middle East deposits of precious metals were
every mineral resource, sooner or later).
- Muslim states reached the wealth level of high income
states, and thus diffusion powers (natural outflow of wealth
states) slowed down their economic growth.
- Profitability of the sea colonization
decreased when the most lucrative (profitable) lands were colonized.
- Because of decreasing surplus from trade, local trade
centers started to compete with each other to increase their share in
trade (and introduced protectionist policies). Large Muslim states
weakened, while local rulers grew in strength - process of
decomposition and feudal fragmentation started.
- When the growth is fast, not so rich people usually accept
traditional social structures, because had a chance to get rich, when
the growth slows down - they mutiny (start to rebel). Or: political
conflicts intensify because the economy changes from positive-sum game
to zero-sum game (a cake to divide shrinks). This effected in religious
conflicts and emergency of a few heresies (or new religious movements)
in Muslim World. One of them was the sect of Nizaris
(known also as Assassins),
who specialized in terrorist attacks against their political enemies.
Crisis and social
Actually, the middle income group shrinks because of polarization
effect, which affects not only states but
also social structure inside the state. When the economic and thus the
political power of middle-income people decline, radical left-winged
and right winged groups and ideologies grow in power. The consequence
were clash of ideologies and intensive political conflicts (Of course
in a feudal
part of people were out of political games,
of entering for political games are to high for most of
the plebeians, so middle-income group actually means: a middle
top of feudal pyramid).
Recall the crisis of Byzantine Empire described
earlier, but European conflicts of early XXth century when
colonization ended is also a good example
Finally in the late XIth century, Muslim states of Middle East were
invaded by Seljuk
Turks - a barbarian (but Muslim) tribe from the Central Asia.
More or less the same way, as Byzantine Empire was invaded by Muslims
in VIIth century. Since these times Arabs were ruled by non-Arabic
rulers: Turks, Mongols, mercenaries like Mameluks (or Mamluks).
Seljuk Turks - which conquered whole Middle East west from Egypt -
opposite than Arabs were intolerant, and restricted the Christian
pilgrimage to Palestine (Jerusalem). Because the crisis of Middle East
states (mentioned above) was serious, Seljuk Turks did not create a one
empire, but many smaller or larger states fighting with each other.
As a side-effect of political chaos, social conflicts, and increasing
importance of local trade centers, two populistic city-states emerged in
Lebanon: Tyre and Trypoli (year
1070 - or 462 according to the Islamic Calendar). But not survived for
long. Tyre was conquered by local Muslim ruler in 1089 (482), while the
“republic” in Trypoli was conquered by Crusaders in 1108 (501). Because
of cruel geography city-states of Lebanon had no chance to survive,
surrounded by much more powerful feudal states.
The crisis and protectionism of Muslim states (higher prices of East
goods) launched a kind of “social crisis” in Europe.
All these economic factors created the explosive
mix in Western Europe. Middle-income Europe had a need and power
to conquer some countries of high income (again we can see more or less
the same combination of factors, as these responsible for barbarian
invasions, or Germany expansion in early XXth century). And only rich
countries in neighbourhood were Middle East Arabian lands and Byzantine
Empire. But Byzantium was a Christian and united state while Muslims
were alien and weak because of feudal fragmentation and continuous
conflicts (and Seljuks rulers blocked the pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
as you recall - important argument for Crusaders propaganda).
- As you recall: internal wars ended, and the trade become
more profitable than wars, so the role of the accumulation of the land
increased (we could say: productive enterprises). According to new
feudal laws only the oldest noble sons inherited the land. And thus
Europe had a problem with the army of “unemployed” (i.e. without land)
- When the prices of Eastern goods increased, merchant from
Italian cities started to think, how to protect their profits from
trade without increasing prices for West European customers (i.e.
nobles). So were willing to finance (and support ships) military
expeditions to the East.
- There were also a few years of poor cropping (and thus
hunger and poverty) - probably because of overexploitation of land and
peasants by nobles, who tried to protect their high consumption of
Council of Clermont
In 1095 (488) at the Council of Clermont the pope Urban II
crusades to free (from the Christian point of view) the Holy Land of
Palestine, starting this way the Crusades - 200 hundred years long wars
between Muslims and Europeans.
Urban II of course had no knowledge of economic factors I had mentioned
above. Motives of his decision were:
- To get some political advantage or popularity in the
emperors (more or less the same way as today when politicians announce
some project to get more votes).
- To get some advantage in the conflict with Orthodox
because Byzantine emperors asked for help in the struggle with Seljuk
And the pope had probably a general feeling of an
launched by these economic processes. So his decision was explainable
from the economic point of view - but this do not means that his
decisions were driven by economics. To
be honest: there is something
strange in the way (mechanism) that economic processes are translated
onto decisions of politics. The correlation is too
A few groups of crusaders set off to the Byzantine Empire. Some of them
traveled cross the sea, some marched thorough the Hungary and Balkans.
Except the first group of fanatic plebeians (The People’s Crusade
- which was with ease defeated by Turks inn Asia Minor), most of
crusaders were seasoned French and Italian knights.
The German Crusade
did not reached the Palestine, and crusaders started to haunt and slay
Jews in German cities.
In times of economic crisis there are a few types of social conflicts,
- general conflict between rich ones and poor ones
because of unequal distribution of wealth.
- conflict between capital (land) owners and labour
(peasants) - between exploiting and exploited ones - as described by
- conflict between traders and customers when prices of
- conflict between money lenders and money borrowers.
The last one conflict is the most important here (it is
middle-income countries in times of polarization
Christian religion condemned and prohibited the money lending, Jews
monopolized “capital services” of medieval Europe. When the crisis came
and many people would not be able to repay their debts, the hate of
bankrupted money-borrowers in natural way turned against money-lenders
(i.e. Jews), and was stronger because Jews were alien.
On the other hand Jews had no chance to avoid the hate, for example
lowering “interest rates” to help the poor borrowers, because in the
times of crisis nobles perceived them as easy prey to rob and often
(having the propaganda advantage) stirred up the mob to slay the Jews.
This mechanism is universal, even the myths about Jews crimes and
secret rituals or conspiracies are more or less the same as for example
Roman myths about first Christians (in the times of Nero) or false
accusations against the Templars (to rob their banking enterprises) in
the times of Philip
the Handsom in France.
In medieval ages rulers of other West European countries: France,
England, Spain banished the Jews to make space for own native money
borrowers (and to rob Jews too), but disunited Germany did not.
Periodical crises and returning conflict between money-lenders and
money-borrowers typical for middle-income countries like Germany were
responsible for a slow accumulation of negative myths about Jews in
next centuries - which finally effected in holocaust. But no European
country was free from this hate.
Having much better military equipment, crusaders defeated lighter
armies of Muslim rulers, who were conflicted with each other and
sometimes even helped invaders. Arriving into rich Muslim lands
European knights behaved like barbarians interested in plundering and
murdering. For example they slaughtered city dwellers of Jerusalem, not
only the Muslims (there was still many Christians in Middle East these
After the 1st crusade Europeans founded a few feudal states in Middle
East — although there were some populistic institutions here: military
knights orders of Templars and Joannites
(Hospitallers) and the merchant enclaves of Italian city-states in
major towns. Generally European states were much weaker than the
neighbouring Muslims, and could only survive because of two reasons:
When Muslim domains of Syria and Egypt were finally united by Nur ad-Din,
and then a Kurdish mercenary called Saladin (here
is his Arabic feudal title for reference: Al-Malik an-Nasir,
Salah-ad-Din wa ad-Din, Abu-al-Muzaffar, Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, Al-Kurdi),
European domains faced the real danger. Saladin defeated Christian army
at the Battle
of Hattin (1187 or 583) and regained most of the Middle East
- Financial support of Italian city-states. Thanks to trade
outpost in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, merchants from Italy could
control the sea trade between Middle East and Europe (dictating prices
and taking the surplus).
- Disunity of Muslim domains. Almost every country here
fought with each other and alliances changed continuously. Sometimes
one Muslim ruler supported Europeans attacking another Muslim ruler and
But this launched the response of Europe. Germany, France and England
sent armies to recapture The Holy Land of Palestine. Saladin had a
great dose of good luck, because large army of crusaders from Holy
Roman Empire returned home when its commander, the emperor Fredrick I Barbarossa,
sunk crossing a river. Moreover other commanders of the crusade —
king of France Philip
II and king of England Richard I the Lionheart — heated
After a few years of struggle Saladin concluded a peace with the king
of England Richard
I the Lionheart. It was a compromise. Saladin regained most of
the Muslim lands, but Europeans keep the coast and the right to free
pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Saladin could probably defeat the Crusaders,
but he knew that the only result of such a victory would be another
crusade and another European army to fight.
Thanks to political chaos in times of crusades Assassins
(Nizari) could play important role in Middle East Politics. Operating
from their base in castle Masyaf (Lebannon), they made terroristic
attacks on rulers (ex. against Saladin). In XIIth century when chaos
ended Mamluk rulers of Egypt and Syria decided to eliminate this
dangerous sect, which started to become completely unpredictable —
assassins started to attack everybody, even potential allies. Assasins
stronghold of Masyaf was captured (1260 or 658). Without bases and
the terrorist sect vanished.
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I HAVE TO STOP HERE FOR A
- Lack of health, lack of time,
lack of money,
PAGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Warsaw August 2005 -