The Renaissance of the 12th Century: History & Culture

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Renaissance is a name given to a period in history where many changes were witnessed in an otherwise stagnant society. It is a French word which can be construed to mean a new start or a rebirth (Klaus 4). Renaissance means many and diverse changes that happen at a given period and their end result is the change in the prevailing ways of doing things. Historically, the 12th century is taken to mean the time span between the 11th, 12th, and the 13th century. The 12th century is considered as a part of the high middle ages or the age of the Cistercians.

Varied changes especially in the social, religious, political and economic spheres of life were witnessed during this period. There was also an increase in the desire for and the perception of philosophical and scientific knowledge which was used to rejuvenate the Western Europe intellectually. In Europe, the 12th century was a time of new and more forceful outlook on life although the trend had began in late 11th century (Trinkaus 5).

Before the onset of the 12th century, small but many changes were seen in Western Europe which included changes in the fields of social organization, advent and use of technology, and the conscious and rational search for knowledge. These changes, though subtle, were continued into the 12th century at an increased pace. The people were flexible and were ready to experiment with new ideas and organizations. In addition, they were committed and determined in all their activities and spheres of their lives. There was a form of political cooperation in which the leaders were supported by the public opinion and leaders who emerged from this helped fulfill their dreams.

Historical causes of renaissance and its effects on culture

According to the Kreis (2000), people’s beliefs and desires were the main sources of power, and in extent, opportunities to lead. The public opinion became the basis on which the ability to lead was gauged and even great churchmen like St. Bernard and peter Abelard together with kings like Henry of England depended on the opinions of their subjects in order to coagulate power and become better and more influential leaders.

Charlemagne was one of the Frankish rulers in 800 and had consolidated most of the Italian territory to be under the Frankish rule. However, his death brought about lawlessness and disorder as a result of the collapse of the government. This led to the division of power between the remaining nobles and the church leaders.

Since the church leaders were the overseers, the nobles often asked them for help and in return allowed tax collection from their people by the priests. This method of cooperation needed an official body to oversee the relationship and the result was the establishment of the judicial system with judicial rights and courts. Court arbitration meant the parties had to pay some money as the court fee (Revival of the West, n.d.). The tax collection led to increment in the power of the bishops, a situation that the bishops did not like. They rebelled in order to detach themselves from the bishops’ control. They cut free and established independent government houses and largely invested in businesses. Establishment of peace led to increased growth of the stalled cities and the nobles merged with the middle class to form a new form of nobility.

Italy by then existed as fragmented groups of different independent and competing states; these states pioneered the way for the rest of Europe to move forward as they acted as an example to the rest of the European countries. The means for survival were underdeveloped up to this period in Europe. The major occupation of the people in Europe before this time was hunting and gathering, farming or looking after livestock. Due to the increased mobility and levels of thinking and reduced opposition to change, there was surplus production which led to these people being freed to engage in other activities. This resulted in the emergence of cities and towns (Classen 42).

In Europe at around 1000C.E, the peasants worked for their masters and lived in poorer conditions than their masters. They had no connection to the outside world since their owners regulated the extent of their travels. The Vikings, neighboring nobles and other raiders who often terrorized them made them choose to stay with their masters since so that they could be protected against the aggressors. The lack of movement meant that the levels of trade would decline to almost non existent levels hence a need for an action to contain the situation and ensure survival (Ralph, N.d).

The means of cultivation were also underdeveloped. The fallow method meant that only half of land could be under cultivation at any given time. The farming inputs were also not suitable for large scale production resulting to low levels of outputs. These communities were characterized by low levels of population and this affected the supply of labor and the markets (Hattedndorf & Unger 25).

There were changes in climate in the 800 which made the area warmer. This increased the lengths of the seasons leading to better harvests. Better production meant the population had more foodstuffs and this led to increase in population and the people became healthier. The increased population offered labor and markets and this resulted in more production.

With the emergence of the feudal system in Europe, a form of political stability emerged. Invasions were reducing in frequency and this helped the people to settle down and concentrate on production and reproduction leading to increased population and economic growth. The feudal system eliminated the threats caused by the Vikings and the Arabs raiders.

The changes in the agricultural methods enabled the locals to harness the full potential of the climate and the environment. The two field system was exchanged for three fields which were more economical and productive. There was also the advent of intercropping in order to re-manure the fields. This led to the increased production resulting in surplus hence the people in the towns could be fed (Benson, et al, 1991).

There was also better and more refined inputs which led to less and less time used in the field to produce the same amounts as before. The use of the larger plow led to cooperation among the small villages so as to be able to effectively share the ox teams. This form of cooperation led to the formation of communities and other social groupings.

The increase demands led to a demand for a more efficient farming method. This led to the need for a faster and more economical means of plowing and the result was the use of horses. The invention of the horse shoe and collar earlier on enabled them to work longer and at a higher speed than the ox and this led to increased production.

The advent of crossbreeding helped the farmers have stronger and faster horses for plowing (Thomson, 1998). Horses were also used for the distribution of the products in a more efficient way than before and this was made more effective by the invention of the four wheeled cart.

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The emergence of the feudal system coupled with the increased agricultural production led to the development of towns. The feudal systems brought about some order and did away with the raids from the Vikings, and the Arabs; thus opening up the interior areas to mechanics of trade, while the need for a central trading place led to the development of town centers. Increased agricultural production meant that there would be enough food to support other people who lived in towns engaging in other modes of production.

This can be seen from what was happening in champagne where trade fairs were organized with the idea of exploiting the flourishing trade. The traders were charged for the use of the stores, foods, accommodation, and protection. These fairs brought together people from the surrounding areas, thus facilitating the flow of goods and information to different areas. The nobles and courts based in the areas where the fairs were held benefited from the revenues they got from the traders.

The need for more security to the traveling traders resulted in improved law and order in the surrounding areas because the leaders in these areas also wanted to attract the traders to their domains so that they could benefit from the commissions they would charge them.

The trade fair later led to settling down in permanent towns as the traders sought for more permanent bases for their trade due to the need for storage spaces.

The Flanders had towns developed as a result of the monks’ trade with the Flemish where they sold them wool which they used to start a textile industry and later led to development of towns. This also increased trade because some of the materials the company needed were not produced locally, hence the need to trade with the outsiders.

The rise of towns led to a new breed of people who are prominently towns’ men and also the rise of the use of money as the measure of value and worth hence the emergence of money based economy. This is because of the increased trade relations due to the increased security as the towns grew. The emergence of money was also instrumental in the abolishment of the feudal system; the increasing money supply destabilized the markets for the nobles and the church men and this reduced their power for they sold to their subjects their freedom for a large sum of money, thus wrecking their control over the peasants (Brentano 32).

The growing of powers of the money based economy, freeing up of the servants also called the serfs, rise in the predominant towns men and the increased powers of the king as the judge and a ruler chosen by God led to the diminishing of the hold the church had on the people as this hold was transferred to the king, with whom they formed allegiance against the nobles and the church leaders (Pater 49).

The instability of the markets led to the situation where the merchants had to do something if they wanted to remain influential. At the start, the local nobles controlled much of the trade through instituting tax on the goods to be traded. This, together with the adverse weather conditions, drove up the costs of these goods and led to the traders forming associations and coming together as a group in an effort to protect and promote trade. They also did this in order to defend their interests. They also established a standard unit of weights and measures.

The increased corruption in the churches and the decreased money in supply topped up with the decreased public support for the church led to its reform whereby the churchmen sought to separate themselves from the nobles who were using them to further their political agenda. This they did by putting themselves away from the lords and putting themselves under the pope’s power. Therefore, the church and the empire were once again in good terms for the emperors were using the church to weaken the nobles while the church saw the emperors as their protectors from the nobles (Bishop 120).

The church later separated itself from the state in an effort to seek autonomy in the appointment of bishops and election of the pope. These powers led to the churches back tracking to where they were before – into their corrupt ways.


All these factors led to the emergence of a new outlook to the world and a change or had an effect on how the people lived. Basically, culture is the way of life of people including their beliefs, knowledge, arts and any other capabilities acquired by men as members of the society (Renaissance: Out of the middle Ages 2010). The increased movement of people led to adoption of other people’s ways of doing things through the processes of assimilation and acculturation. This led to a change or modification of the already existing ways of doing things. Moreover, the spread of the new agricultural technologies and farming methods led to the modification of the existing practices hence a change in culture of producing only for subsistence to large scale production.

Trade changed the dependence on land and the serfs as the measure of power to the development of money based economy. The 12th century saw the development of roman art, law, architecture, Universities and the emergence of vernacular literature (Januszczak 20). This shows the development of the people thinking processes and their desire for knowledge. There was a change in the building structures made of stone, building of vaults and the carvings of monumental stone sculptures (Nauert 36).

The renaissance brought about cooperation among the people in their agricultural activities as they plowed together so as to access the improved ox plows. Cooperation was also seen in the sharing of knowledge. The sculptors, architects, traders, farmers and the artists frequently traveled and shared the knowledge they had attained bringing about conformity and uniformity to the communities through the emergence of similar ways of doing things. This can be seen in the uniformity of the shapes and modes of construction of churches and the design of the churches (Silder 101).

The forms of leadership and laws also changed with the emergence of the 12th century. There was a need for control of the emerging divisions and some kind of guidelines to dictate how the people should relate with one another. These laws were enforced by the kind of authority that was functioning at the time in certain areas. They were recognized as the ultimate authority and where not, they were ousted from power to be replaced by more legitimate authorities.

The emergence of the predominantly urban people was also the effect of the renaissance. This is where people started to live in towns with occupations that were not agricultural in nature and depended on the farming communities for the provision of the food and the agricultural products. The modes of production changed from being predominantly agricultural based to incorporate the industrial and service sector due to the emergence of institutionalized industries.

The renaissance of the12th century brought about many changes to the ways of life of the people as a group and individually. These changes led to the development of a new thought process that led to a period where the communities re-established themselves in order to accommodate these changes. This is what led to and is renaissance.

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