The Latin West, 1200–1500
Rural Growth and Crisis
Peasants and Population
. most Europeans were peasants, bound to the land in serfdom and
using inefficient agricultural practices. Fifteen to thirty such heavily taxed
farming families supported each noble household.
Women labored in the fields with men but were subordinate to them.
Europe’s population more than doubled between 1000 and 1445. Population
growth was accompanied by new agricultural technologies in northern Europe,
including the vthree-field system and the cultivation of oats.
As population grew, people opened new land for cultivation, including land with
poor soil and poor growing conditions. This caused a decline in average crop
yields beginning around 1250.
The Black Death and Social Change
The population pressure was eased by the Black Death (bubonic plague), which
was brought from Kaffa to Italy and southern France in 1346. The plague
ravaged Europe for two years and returned periodically in the late 1300s and
1400s, causing substantial decreases in population.
As a result of the plague, labor became more expensive in Western Europe. This
gave rise to a series of peasant and worker uprisings, higher wages, and the end
of serfdom. Serfdom in Eastern Europe grew extensively in the centuries after
the Black Death.
Rural living standards improved, the period of apprenticeship for artisans was
reduced, and per capita income rose.
Mines and Mills
Between 1200 and 1500 Europeans invented and used a variety of mechanical
devices including water wheels and windmills. Mills were expensive to build,
but over time they brought great profits to their owners.
Industrial enterprises, including mining, ironworking, stone quarrying, and
tanning, grew during these centuries. The results included both greater
productivity and environmental damage including water pollution and
Increases in trade and in manufacturing contributed to the growth of cities after
1200. The relationship between trade, manufacturing, and urbanization is
demonstrated in the growth of the cities of northern Italy and in the urban areas
of Champagne and Flanders.
The Venetian capture of Constantinople (1204), the opening of the Central Asian
caravan trade under the Mongol Empire, and the post-Mongol development of
the Mediterranean galley trade with Constantinople, Beirut, and Alexandria
brought profits and growth to Venice. The increase in sea trade also brought
profits to Genoa in the Mediterranean and to the cities of the Hanseatic League
in the Baltic and the North Sea.