The Plague Begins
Life in the city was soon to change drastically. During the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance (1350-1450) the bubonic
plague, also called the "Black Death," devastated one half of the population of Europe. The plague, which was almost always
fatal, spread most rapidly in cities, where people were in close contact with each other. The only way to avoid the disease
was to leave the city for the country. This solution was, unfortunately, available only to those wealthy enough to make the
The Plague's Effect on the Economy
The population decrease caused by the plague led to an economic depression. Merchants and tradespeople had fewer people
to whom they could sell their wares. Products therefore accumulated, and the merchants and traders suffered a loss in income.
Economic hardship spread throughout the community as those who dealt with the merchants--bankers, suppliers, and shippers--also
As incidence of the plague decreased in the late fifteenth century, populations swelled, creating a new demand for goods
and services. A new middle class began to emerge as bankers, merchants, and tradespeople once again had a market for their
goods and services.
The New Middle Class
As the fortunes of merchants, bankers, and tradespeople improved, they had more than enough money to meet their basic needs
for food, clothing, and shelter. They began to desire larger, more luxurious homes, fine art for these residences, sumptuous
clothing to show off their wealth in public, and exotic delicacies to eat. These desires of the middle class stimulated the
The middle-class population also had leisure time to spend on education and entertainment. In fact, education was essential
for many middle-class professions. Bankers and accountants needed to understand arithmetic. Those trading with other countries
needed a knowledge of foreign currencies and languages. Reading was essential for anyone who needed to understand a contract.
In their leisure time, middle-class men and women enjoyed such pastimes as reading for pleasure, learning to play musical
instruments, and studying a variety of topics unrelated to their businesses
Exploration & Trade
Tools developed in the Middle Ages for exploration continued to be used during the Renaissance. One of these was the
astrolabe, a portable device used by sailors to help them find their way. By measuring the distance of the sun and stars above
the horizon, the astrolabe helped determine latitude, an important tool in navigation. Another tool, the magnetic compass,
which had been invented in the twelfth century, was improved upon during the Renaissance.
Maps, too, became more reliable as Portuguese map makers, called cartographers, incorporated information provided by travelers
and explorers into their work. Shipbuilding also improved during the Renaissance, as large ships called galleons became common.
These ships were powered by sail rather than by men using oars.The Beginning of Trade
Although navigation was still an imprecise science, sailors were able to go farther than they had before. This was important
because as the economy of the Renaissance continued to improve, there were ever-increasing demands for imported goods and
new places to export local products.
(For traders, sailing proved to be a better option than traveling by land, as the network of roads that crisscrossed
Europe was poor, and the few good roads that did exist were frequented by thieves.)
The Renaissance sailor first took to the seas to supply Europeans with the many Asian spices they demanded. Peppercorns,
nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon all came from lands to the east. Also from the East came precious gems and fine silk, a fabric
especially sought after for women's clothing. These trading voyages were often paid for by investors.
History of Exploration
In the history of exploration, 1414 is often taken as an important breaking point, the start of the 'Age of Discovery'.
In that year, the Portuguese attacked the Moroccan city of Ceuta. One of the Portuguese was Henry (known as 'Henry the Navigator'),
the third son of king John I. He noticed that there was an extensive and profitable trade between the Moroccan cities and
gold countries to the south. He also wanted to fight the Muslims even harder. To get a share of the trade with West Africa,
and to find possible allies in the fight against the Muslims in Morocco, he decided to start an enterprise to explore the
coast of Morocco and get a foothold in the area.
His plans to explore the coast of Africa at first were voided by the fear of his captains. They feared that beyond one
headland on the Moroccan coast, Cape Bojador, the sea would be extremely shallow, the land barren, and the streams such that
returning would be impossible. By 1433, Henry's captains had discovered the Azoreans, colonized Madeira and put a claim on
the Canaries, but they still had not passed Cape Bojador. In that year, one of his captains, Gil Eannes, came back from another
fruitless attempt to pass the cape. Henry grew angry, and told Eannes to sail out again, and not return without having succeeded.
And this time it worked - Eannes passed Cape Bojador, and the mental barrier had finally been taken.
After Eannes's voyage, the Portuguese travelled bit by bit further south: Eannes and Baldaya went beyond Cape Bojador in
1435, Baldaya reached Rio de Oro in 1436, Tristão Cape Blanco in 1441, Dinis Diaz Cape Verde in 1445. At the same time, trade
with West Africa started - the main product being slaves. The Venetian Alvise da Cadamosto, who was allowed to take part in
this trade, gave a description of West Africa in this period. In 1460, Henry died, his captains having reached Sierra Leone.
Between 1469 and 1474, all trade with Africa was given as a monopoly to Fernao Gomes, who in exchange had to discover 600
km of coastline a year. During his time, the African coast was explored to just south of the equator.
After the contract with Gomes ended, voyages of discovery became the responsibility of the crown again, and in 1482, Diogo
Cão was sent out. He discovered the Congo River, and reached Cape Santa Maria. On a second voyage in 1485, he got even further
south, to present-day Namibia. In 1487, Bartolomeu Diaz was sent out for a further voyage along the African coast. He got
in a storm, and when it ended steered east again, but did not find the coast. He had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope without
seeing it. He explored the south coast upto Algoa Bay, and on the way back discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Around the same
time, P&etilde;ro de Covilhão visited the east coast, and in 1497, Vasco da Gama used the route that had been found to
sail to India. Those voyages are described in 'The first voyages to India'
Printing & Thinking
When Gutenberg invented the printing press
in 1445, he forever changed the lives of people in Europe and, eventually, all over the world. Previously, bookmaking entailed
copying all the words and illustrations by hand. Often the copying had been done onto parchment, animal skin that had been
scraped until it was clean, smooth, and thin. The labor that went into creating them made each book very expensive. Because
Gutenberg's press could produce books quickly and with relatively little effort, bookmaking became much less expensive, allowing
more people to buy reading material.The Demand for Books Grows
In the Middle Ages, books had been costly and education rare; only the clergy had been regular readers and owners of books.
Most books had been written in Latin, considered the language of scholarship. In the Renaissance, the educated middle classes,
who could now afford books, demanded works in their own languages. Furthermore, readers wanted a greater variety of books.
Almanacs, travel books, chivalry romances, and poetry were all published at this time. Simultaneously, a means of printing
music was also invented, making music available at a reasonable cost. As the demand for books grew, the book trade began to
flourish throughout Europe, and industries related to it, such as papermaking, thrived as well. The result of all of this
was a more literate populace and a stronger economy.Humanism Emerges
Books also helped to spread awareness of a new philosophy that emerged when Renaissance scholars known as humanists returned
to the works of ancient writers. Previously, during the Middle Ages, scholars had been guided by the teachings of the church,
and people had concerned themselves with actions leading to heavenly rewards. The writings of ancient, pagan Greece and Rome,
called the "classics," had been greatly ignored. To study the classics, humanists learned to read Greek and ancient Latin,
and they sought out manuscripts that had lain undisturbed for nearly 2,000 years.
The humanists rediscovered writings on scientific matters, government, rhetoric, philosophy, and art. They were influenced
by the knowledge of these ancient civilizations and by the emphasis placed on man, his intellect, and his life on Earth.
Symetry Shape & Size