The world that humans live in today was shaped by the rapid economic growth that was witnessed in Western Europe over the last 1000 years. This growth was attributed to developments in various sectors including political, social and economic sectors in that region. Western Europe went through a period of sustained growth that had never been witnessed before.
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This period, which took place between 1500 and 1800, marks the earliest significant sustained divergence in per capital income across various parts of the world. This made Western Europe substantially richer than other regions of the world such as Eastern Europe and Asia.
This paper examines the patterns of social and economic growth in Western Europe over a period of 1000 years. It also looks into some of the important periods in the history of Europe, such as the dark ages, the middle ages, and their impact on modern Europe.
The dark ages describe a period that occurred about a millennium ago that historians have no knowledge about due to lack of accurate records that were salvaged from the era. Thus, this age is usually clouded by legends and myths. During the dark ages, “Western Europe was under the leadership of hundreds of feudal kings and lords” (Greer & Lewis 231).
The lands were filled with castles while the cities were protected and isolated from other kingdoms using large walls. Christianity was formally legalized by the Roman Empire during the 4th century.
Afterwards, their enthusiasm for Christianity was useful in multiplying their religion to the rest of Western Europe. The rapid growth of the church made it an influential institution that had authority over the content of books and the legislation process (Greer & Lewis 231).
The crusaders included among other people soldiers and peasants, who interacted with various cultures and even acquired some of their practices. During these interactions, they began to adopt their tales of romance, architecture, and discoveries in medicine.
The trade in Western Europe grew to include other merchants around the world. However, in the course of the trade, a deadly epidemic known as the Black Death was transmitted from Asia, wiping out almost a third of the population of Western Europe (Mcgrath & Martin 519).
The eastern Romans lost possession of the reconquests that they had acquired with their previous emperor, causing it to fall behind in civilization since it did not have any rich raw materials sources to start trade with. It also lacked a heavy population, and its artistic standards had been on a decline for a while.
In addition, manufacturing had been disrupted by the Germanic invasions to the extent that Western Europe could offer very little goods to trade with the sophisticated cultures of Asia and the east. As a result, Western Europe was disregarded, with its development lacking overseas support (Osborne 321).
During the period between 600 and 900, Europe attempted to rebuild its former empire. The church survived the collapse of the military and political organization of this empire, becoming a branch of the imperial Roman government from about 300. It attempted to maintain the Roman paradigms to the extent that local bishops could assume responsibility and authority of the previous Roman provincial leaders.
It was in the monasteries and cathedrals of the west that the Roman way of life was adopted to the point of being preserved. In as much as the church had a lot of influence in the pursuit of its apparent goal to restore the Roman Empire, it also needed power to proceed. Midway through that period, it chose to collaborate with the Franks.
The Franks were great Germans, and Western Europe was able to regain its power through association with them. The rulers, advisors and administrators of the Frank people started work on centralizing authority by fixing the damage in the region’s transport system. They worked together in organizing the church to operate more effectively, conquering the lands that were originally part of the Western Roman Empire.
They also converted the non-believer inhabitants, and went on to encourage and support the development of architecture, art, literature and other activities involving culture. In addition, they improved agricultural methods, though they always favored the standards and models of the Roman Empire (Robinson 461).
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50 years later, their hard work showed results “when the Frankish King known as Charles was crowned to be the Holy Roman emperor on Christmas day in the year 800” (Mcgrath & Martin 591). While the new Western Europe rulers could not compare to the previous one, it gave the new rulers an element of hope that the old empire was on its way to recovery.
As a result, the period of rule by Charles was identified as the reincarnation of Roman culture. This recovery did not last long, partly because of the Franks’ custom, which required them to split their wealth evenly amongst their heirs. Disagreements over this custom led to civil wars that permanently divided the empire that had been built by Charles the Great (Mcgrath & Martin 591).
As the civil wars continued, Western Europe was attacked by a new wave of invasions from all sides. The invaders were more interested in looting and plundering as opposed to conquering and then settling. The fierce Vikings, who were bloody-minded warriors and non-believers arrived by ship from Scandinavia.
Sailing through the coasts and rivers of Europe, they were able to reach vast regions of Europe, including the remote areas. During this time, there were other pony riding intruders from central Asia. These trespassers, who identified themselves as Magyars, invaded vast areas of France, Germany and northern Italy.
“The western Mediterranean Sea was also taken by the North African inhabitants known as Saracens”. By acquiring these lands, they were able to regulate admittance to Western Europe by sea (Greer & Lewis 193).
The Saracens were involved in numerous hit and run attacks that were a great nuisance since no central government could deal with them effectively, even if the central government rulers had not been fighting each other, as was the case.
The German kingdom disintegrated into several tiny administrative regions. France, on the other hand, fell back to anarchy with the local tycoons forming a personal region of control and governing the people in them from their castles (Robinson 376).
The ninth century was marked by unification of a Europe of Warriors and a Europe of peasants. This happened under the government system of bishops and secular clergy. In accordance with the Frankish model, all the subjects of Charlemagne Empire directly relied on the sovereign and were warriors.
They were all in duty bound to do military service, and the free men were also potential warriors. Charles ruled for 46 years. Most of his rule involved military campaigns, and most of his were victorious, which led to the accumulation of wealth (Robinson 376).
The domination of a minority of militaristic landlords made Europe a world of warriors; however, most of the inhabitants were peasants. The social statuses of these peasants varied. There were still slaves since Christianity had not helped them in any way. But new links were established between a lord, his estates, and the peasants.
A growing number of men and plots of land became directly subject to the local lord. Despite an early wave of land clearance in the sixth and seventh centuries, the West had remained a land of forests (Robinson 376).
In Charlemagne’s time, there were already the beginnings of a development that was to be of paramount importance to the middle Ages. These advancements would lead to one of the most characteristic features of Europe. The peasants forced their lords to emancipate them, and thereby formed a free category, exempted from forced labor.
The lords were now obliged either to accept a reduction in the size of their estates or to re-impose servitude on the peasants. The latter solution was mainly adopted in Eastern Europe and became a further cause of the differences and distancing between Western and Eastern Europe (Mcgrath & Martin 591).
One of the reforms effected by Charlemagne and his councilors was writing. “The new Carolingian minuscule was clear, consistent, elegant, and easier to read and write”. Studies suggest that this was the first European writing. The writing desired more clarity through the use of punctuation, in the copying of manuscripts in the monastic, royal, and Episcopal scriptoria.
Charlemagne also encouraged the emendation of the texts of the Scriptures. This inspired the widespread activity of biblical interpretations in the medieval West. There are still some products of the Carolingian renaissance today.
It was during the exegesis process of the bible that there emerged an interest in the gospels and psalm books, which were part of the exceptional Carolingian masterpieces.
The appeal with the text of Psalms was due to its poetic context that accelerated its spread in the middle ages. This trend is still evident in today’s Europe. It was during this time that fashion appeared, developed and persisted throughout the middle Ages, and even survives today (Mcgrath & Martin 591).
The ninth century was also critical to the future of religious architecture in the West. Two of its innovations constituted a legacy of the first importance to European architecture. One was the introduction of the symbolism of the transept, which integrated the cross into the linear design of the ancient Roman basilica.
The earliest transepts appeared around 800 in Saint Maurice of Agaune, the cathedral of Cologne, as well as the cathedral of Besancon (Mcgrath & Martin 591).
During this same period, the abbey of Saint-Riquier produced another innovation that was to enjoy exceptional success. This was the west front with flanking towers that made the doorways of Romanesque and Gothic buildings so dramatic. A number of splendid examples of this type were erected including the monastery of Saint-Denis and that of Fulda, and the imperial palace and church of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Both those seeking to hire skilled workers and representatives of workshops would travel widely. The collaboration of artists, who were the referred to as master craftsmen, presented the Europe of the future with works of beauty that many later monuments reproduced in the same style from one region to another (Greer & Lewis 193).
Charlemagne died in 1814 after he be-queathed his entire empire to his son Louis. Louis was unable to manage the pressure from his sons, or to resolve the problems of government for such a vast area. As a result, he reverted to the practice of dividing the empire between his sons. Following his death, that division was confirmed by an agreement between Lothar and Louis the German.
It was then given concrete form, first by the oaths that were sworn in Strasburg in 842 and recorded in the first official text written in two vernacular versions, one Frankish, the other German, and later by the treaties of Verdun (843) and Minden (844), which ratified the division of the empire (Greer & Lewis 193).
Following these dramatic events, the extreme west was reorganized into two regions, western and eastern Francia, held respectively by two peoples, the one destined to become the French, the other the Germans. There was a third are between these two that extended from north to south and incorporated the two capitals, Aix-la-Chapelle and Rome. Part of this region was known as Lotharingia, the rest as Italy.
Soon Lotharingia proved to be an artificial entity that was hard to maintain. The territorial and political reality of the situation found expression in the emergence of three predominant regions. In a ninth-century document, these regions are called the prestantiores Europae species, the three dominant parts of Europe: Italy, Gaul, and Germany (Greer & Lewis 193).
Although these entities possessed no precise identifiable frontiers or any clearly defined institutional structures, they prefigured the three nations of the distant future in modern, contemporary Europe: France, Germany, and Italy.
The division of the Roman Empire led to the establishment of different cultures between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Western Europe comprised mainly the Latin speaking people while Eastern Europe was dominated by Greek-speaking people.
These cultural and linguistic divisions were later emphasized by various events in the middle ages including the political division of the Roman Empire. Other defining factors were the rise of the Frankish empire in the West, which enhanced the divisions by separating eastern and western Christianity. The eastern Roman Empire was also referred to as the Byzantine Empire. This empire survived for another 1,000 years (Osborne 321).
The late Roman world was a stable and sophisticated society, bound together by patronage, commerce and taxation. Its citizens lived in bustling cities or country estates. Its collapse after the invasion did not lead to the end of an era since the trespassers adopted various Roman models including religion, coinage and language.
The end of the Western empire was a story of evolution, and the deposition of the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476. In the eastern Mediterranean, in any case, Roman rule continued for centuries. The East Roman empire (Byzantine) remained the most sophisticated and powerful state in the Eurasian world for centuries (Osborne 321).
Greer, Thomas & Lewis, Gavin. A Brief History of the Western World, New York: Cengage Learning, 2004. Print.
Mcgrath, John & Martin, Kathleen Callahan. The Modernization of the Western World: A Society Transformed, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2012. Print.
Osborne, Roger. Civilization: A new history of the western world, New York: Pegasus Books, 2006. Print
Robinson, James Harvey, Introduction to the History of Western Europe (Illustrated Edition), New York: Echo Library, 2009. Print