The Renaissance means literally “rebirth;” this is when Europe exits the dark ages/middle
ages and sees a blossoming of interest and study of classical authors and other figures and
undergoes a reclamation of classical knowledge and furtherance of said knowledge –
almost like picking up where civilization left off – although such a description might be
The Renaissance is generally accorded as the break from Medieval thought patterns, even
though many things remained the same. Though advances in science, philosophy, justice,
politics, etc., were daily events, advances in art tend to be most obvious and the object of
Timeframe: mid 14
Century – mid 17
Exact start and end is difficult to identify because it starts at different times in different
Also keep in mind that the Black Death hits various parts of Europe in the 1300s.
Hard to have uniform progress when people refuse to cooperate and die of the plague.
Scholars scavenged European libraries for ancient texts that had fallen into obscurity, had
simply been lost, or had been suppressed or eclipsed/rendered useless or unpopular by the
Church, but the pickings were slim.
Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, was sacked by the Ottoman Empire in
1453, which forced thousands of scholars to flee to Western Europe, taking with them the
various codices and scrolls and such that had been preserved in the capital of the Eastern
Roman Empire. Infusion of minds and Greek (and other) texts boosted the Renaissance.
Between 1212 and 1492 various coalitions of European kings managed to drive the
Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), forcing those that remained to either convert
to Catholicism or die. The conquest also included libraries imported/preserved by the
Moors, flooding Europe with literally hundreds of thousands of volumes.
Finally, the crusades (nine or ten of them 1095 – 1272) exposed Europeans to a great
wealth of knowledge in the Middle East, which they brought back to Europe. These four
factors helped spur on Europe’s intellectual rebirth.
One final factor: Europe was very much a top-down culture at this time, so the ideas,
opinions, and economic stimulus of someone at the top could easily shift cultural output.
Consider what I told you last week about Elizabeth I and England’s Renaissance. In Italy,
Florence, the Medici family (Lorenzo in particular) was highly educated and vastly
wealthy, and also had a tendency to offer patronage to artists and other thinkers. This
patronage helped to spur on developments that might otherwise not have materialized.