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Kievan Rus

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Varangians – the Vikings played the crucial role in the establishment of Kievan Rus. They built their trade centers in the eastern Baltic from where they penetrated deep into today’s Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and traded with the Byzantine Empire and Asia. The primal goal of the Varangians was the quest for new markets and trade routes but it ended with occupation of today’s western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where they established their kingdom – Kievan Rus.

Vladimir I

Vladimir I

Kievan Rus was established about 882 when prince Oleg, the ruler of Novgorod seized Kiev and made it his capital. His successors led successful campaigns against the Khazars, Pechenegs and Bulgarians, and several times endangered the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines managed to repulse the Kievan aspirations through political means and achieved an alliance with Kievan Rus through marriage of Anna, sister of Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir I (980-1015). Kievan Rus reached its zenith during the reign of Vladimir I and his successor Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054). The Golden Age of Kievan Rus also saw adoption of Christianity and increased influence of the Byzantine culture.

Kievan Rus began to decline in the second half of the 11th century mostly due to nomadic invasions and struggles over the throne. In the middle of the 12th century began to rise the regional centers of power: Halych on the west, Novgorod on the north, Vladimir-Suzdal on the northwest and Kiev on the south. However, Kievan forces were severely defeated by the Mongols in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and Kievan Rus was invaded and subjugated by the Mongols in 1237-1240.

Economy in the Late Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Late Middle Age was marked by severe economic crisis also known as the Crisis of the 14th century. Poor harvests and high prices of food throughout Europe caused severe crisis in agriculture at the beginning of the 14th century. However, the crisis was not taken seriously until the 1340’s although indications of its severity were noticeable much earlier. The Great Famine between 1315 and 1317 was responsible for numerous deaths, while the fluctuation of grain prices further worsened the situation. Profits were stagnating and France, the County of Flanders and some other countries fell into severe monetary crisis.

The Crisis of the 14th century did not occur at the same time nor in the same magnitude in all parts of Europe. Most severely were hit the regions engaged in grain production – Southern Italy and the greater part of France. The lands east from the Elbe River were also major grain producers but the first phase of the crisis did not affect the region because the land was not so extremely exploited and the peasants were less burdened than elsewhere in Europe. Despite that the crisis reached the lands east from the Elbe River at the end of the 14th century as well. In contrary to the majority of European countries, Holland and England remained almost unaffected by the Crisis of the 14th century.

The outbreak of the Black Death in the 1340’s greatly affected medieval European cities. The cities were more densely inhabited and for that reason the mortality from the plague was higher than in the countryside. However, the peasants lost their consumers and the grain prices declined, while the lack of labour force increased the need for wage earners who demanded better payment. Such circumstances caused severe crisis and great insecurity in the countryside as well and eventually led to peasants’ revolts. However, the Black Death only deepened the economic crisis. The European cities were flourishing until the middle of the 14th century when it became obvious that medieval European economy was crumbling for other reasons as well. The most powerful Florentine banking companies Bardi and Peruzzi bankrupted in 1343, Western Europe lost its leading position on the markets of Levant and Russia, while western Asia became virtually unaccessible to the Italian merchants. The Western European products somehow found a way to the market but in much lower quantity. Profits began to decline, while the loss of numerous markets resulted in severe competition and politics of protectionism as well as in numerous wars which further deepened the crisis.

The Late Middle Ages is widely considered as the period of crisis but it was also the period of great opportunities which eventually led to the revitalization of economy and emergence of new economic structures which began to develop already during the period of crisis. Southern Germany emerged as one of the leading manufacturing centers, while England and Holland evolved into strong trade powers. The Italian merchants retained their leading position in European trade and established their trade bases in all important European cities. The Late Middle Ages was also marked by the emergence of big cities which evolved into trade and cultural centers. The economic recovery of the Late Middle Ages had also a big impact on revitalization of agricultural economy which remained the basis of the European economy although prosperity and wealth slowly became closely associated with trade.

Economy in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The natural economy – direct exchange of goods for goods began to decline at the end of the 11th century and was gradually replaced by monetary economy or bartering – trading with goods and services in exchange for money. The progress of agricultural technics and tools such the use of wheeled plough, harrow, iron tools (spade, pitchfork, rakes), horse collar and horseshoe, water mill and other resulted in the more efficient production which increased the incomes of the feudal landowners who started to purchase more luxurious goods from the foreign merchants. The first merchants were Jews and Arabs and later Italians, while the trade goods mostly originating from the East were brought to the coastal cities like Venice, Genoa, Pisa and from there into the mainland. Thus the coastal cities eventually evolved into trade centers.

The peasants depended on the land but they also had to make and fix the clothes, shoes, tools, furniture and other items for their own needs as well as for the landlords. More talented ones became famous for their skills and eventually began to live exclusively from craft. The feudal lords freed them of work on the fields and moved them nearer to their castles and manor houses. At the same time some individuals gave up crafting and began to trade with other people’s items and services and thus emerged the local merchants who were a bond between the producers and consumers.

Demographical Changes in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The High Middle Ages was marked by the rapid growth of population. By some estimations the European population between 1000 and 1300 even doubled. According to J.C. Russel 22,6 million people lived in Western Europe about the year 1000 and 54,4 million before outbreak of the Black Death in 1348. M.K. Benett estimated that population in Europe numbered 42 million about the year 1000 and 72 million about the year 1300.

The causes for the dramatic growth of population during the High Middle Ages are not exactly known. Some historians believe that the progress of agricultural techniques and tools which enabled more efficient production is the main reason for the rapid growth of population in Europe between 1000 and 1300. However, this theory does not explain the growth of population in regions where the agricultural progress did not occur. Growth of population in the High Middle Ages was most likely influenced by several factors including the growth of the cities, increased trade with the East after the Crusades, colonization of new areas by deforestation and drying of marshes, and cessation of the Viking and Hungarian invasions.

Political Changes in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The period of the High Middle Ages saw the emergence of the states and kingdoms which evolved into the leading European powers over following centuries: Germany, France, England, and the Spanish and Scandinavian kingdoms. The mentioned states managed to achieve the stability required for economic growth and to consolidate their power which resulted in the territorial expansion.

The Spanish kingdoms were established on the ruins of the declining power of the Moors, while the German kings and dukes constantly carried out pressure on territories eastern from the rivers Oder and Elbe. The Scandinavians extended their rule over Iceland and established their settlement in Greenland and North America. England which was invaded by Normans eventually subdued Wales, Ireland and Scotland. However, European expansion in the High Middle Ages was mostly directed to the south – the Mediterranean. Rome was considered the center of Christianity, while the Italian coast cities provided a great opportunity for profit from the trade with luxurious products from the East. For that reason German kings and Holy Roman Emperors launched several military campaigns to gain control over Italy, while the Normans founded their kingdom in Sicily and Southern Italy.

The High Middle Ages also saw the first European expansions out of Europe. One century after the voyage of Leif Ericson in North America, the French and Norman knights founded their kingdoms in Antioch, Syria and Palestine.

Economy in the Early Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The claim that the barbarian invasions resulted in the period of general economic and cultural decline turned out to be incorrect. The economic crisis started much earlier and could not be reversed neither by the reforms of Diocletian nor of Constantine the Great.

The barbarian invasions undoubtedly accelerated and deepened the economic crisis which was probably not as severe as it was formerly believed. The emergence of the barbarian kingdoms made traveling less safe which accelerated the collapse of long-distance trade on which based the ancient economy. At the same time also declined the importance of the cities as cultural and trade centers. With exception of few Italian cities which preserved the ancient Roman institutions, monetary economy and trade with the East, the majority of cities in the Early Middle Ages served as administrative centers, royal residences and seats of bishoprics.

Monetary economy gave way to the natural economy. The disappearance of the monetary system in Western Europe greatly affected both trade and progress of economy although the trade with the East did not completely disappeared. Many contemporary sources mention the oriental merchants in first place the Syrians, Jews and Greeks who had their bases in all important ports such as Marseille, Narbonne, Bordeaux and Nantes, while their caravans reached deep into the mainland. They were trading with at that time luxurious goods such as fragrances, spices, silk, jewelry, glass, papyrus, and exotic fruits. However, the possession of the land was of the greatest importance not only during the period of the Early Middle Ages but throughout the Medieval Times, while the majority of Medieval population directly or indirectly depended on agriculture.

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