2: The Crises of the Middle Ages
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From a very "high level" perspective, the years between about 1000 CE - 1300 CE were relatively good ones for Europe. The medieval agricultural revolution sparked an expansion of population, urbanization, and economics, advances in education and scholarship paid off in higher literacy rates and a more sophisticated intellectual life, and Europe was free of large-scale invasions. Starting in the mid-thirteenth century in Eastern Europe, and spreading to Western Europe in the fourteenth century, however, a series of crises undermined European prosperity, security, and population levels. Historians refer to these events as the "crises of the Middle Ages."
- 2.1: The Mongols
- The Mongols are not always incorporated into the narrative of Western Civilization, because despite the enormous breadth of their empire under Genghis (Anglicized as Chingis) Khan and his descendants, most of the territories held by the Mongols were in Asia. The Mongols, however, are entirely relevant to the history of Western Civilization, both because they devastated the kingdoms of the Middle East at the time and because they ultimately set the stage for the history of early-modern Russia.
- 2.2: The Mongols in Eastern Europe
- In 1236, after years of careful planning, the Mongols attacked Russia. Russia was not a united kingdom - instead, each major city was ruled by a prince, and the princes often fought one another. When the Mongols arrived, the Russian principalities were divided and refused to fight together, making them easy prey for the unified and highly-organized Mongol army. By 1240, all of the major Russian cities had been either destroyed or captured.
- 2.4: Effects of the Plague's Aftermath
- Ironically, the immediate economic effects of the plague after it ended were largely positive for many people.
- 2.6: The Babylonian Captivity and the Great Western Schism
- Even as the French and English were at each other’s throats, the Catholic church fell into a state of disunity, sometimes even chaos. The cause was one of the most peculiar episodes in late medieval European history: the “Babylonian Captivity” of the popes in the fourteenth century.
Thumbnail: Genghis Khan. (Public Domain).