The Struggles of Life in Europe During the Middle Ages

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During the late years of the Roman Empire, property owners and massive ones specifically took more authority in their land and workers in order to stay independent and self-sufficient regardless of the political decline in Rome from brutal attacks and weak corrupt government. As Rome fell, manorialism became a wide spread and accepted way for peasants to find jobs as well as being able to provide food for their families. Merchants were facing the risk of being attacked from both land and sea due to the lack of secure trade. As a result, the countries that were extremely dependent on trade struggled. Towns and cities where eventually destroyed by barbarians, which meant the upper class nobles had to move away to more rural areas throughout Europe. Being that the new kingdoms weren’t united after the fall of the Roman Empire, this made it impossible for kingdoms to defend themselves from outside attacks and ultimately caused the rise of feudalism in Europe. Feudalism was more focused towards the political and social aspects of Europe where as manorialism was based on the economical aspect. In this system, the King would give land to the Lord in exchange for knights, money, and loyalty. The Lord would then provide land to the knights in exchange for their protection, loyalty, and military aid during times of war. The Knights would then provide serfs with protection, food, and housing in exchange for labor.

The quality of life for the serfs in particular was extremely harsh. Serfs were basically peasants who lived and worked on the lord’s manor. They couldn’t leave without permission from the lord or marry. Lords felts as though it was their obligation to protect from outside dangers. Serfs truly lived a very harsh life with long hours spent farming, seeing to the livestock, and worry about providing for their families. Serfs also died at extremely young ages due to bad diets and lack of medical attention. In facts serfs had a life expectancy rate of about 30 years and that’s about less than half compared to today in America. Manorialism is slightly more complicated for the simple fact it relied a little more on the fertility of the land and was heavily reliant on workers and food. There was a collapse of Feudalism in certain parts of Europe from the effect of the Crusades. Before the idea of the Crusades came into place, the government at the time had pushed the ideology of chivalry and religion along with feudalism. The Crusades did affect Western Europe in a major way, although they failed to conquer Jerusalem. The amount of money that it would cost to finance a crusade was extremely crippling for some parts of Europe and as a results kings increased the flow of trade and start charging people more taxes. People would literally sell all that they had and even borrow money from others in order to cover the cost of the journey.

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One of the major effects of the crusades was it caused a shrinkage in economic power that the church wielded and expanded opportunities for the peasants and the middle class. The lower class took advantage of the situation being that there was a high demand for their services. Before the crusades had begun, most of Europe economy was based around manors ad the idea of feudalism. There was also an improvement of trade with the Middle East and the interest for different goods increased domestic inflation, therefore increasing the quality of life throughout Europe. The high demand for funding the crusades through borrowing resulted in the formation of Europe’s first credit union as well as stimulating their economy and this inevitably led to the improvement of life for the peasants. Being that trade was at a high demand it caused the need for better cities and better jobs. While the Black Death is categorized as one of the most catastrophic events in human history, there were some advantages for the lower class citizens. For one, the rapid drop in people during the Black Death made labor and work extremely scarce. Even though the black plague was extremely devastating to the human population, it really did not affect things such as land and buildings. Also with there being a shortage of workers, property owners came to the question: who will see to their land? After being faced with the ideal of death, workers were less willing to work for smaller wages. With that being said, workers demanded more pay and a lower price of living just due to the fact that workers were extremely scarce. At least with higher wages, workers would be more motivated to work. Price of living had to decrease because cities were in fear of an economic collapse if families moved away.

As the Black Death swept through Europe it also ended Feudalism. Serfs had a complete advantage; just due to the fact that they were able to leave the place that they dedicated their lives to in exchange for seeking better pay in towns that might have had a scarce amount of workers. Also Barons came to the realization that since there where a shortage of worker, then they should promote better pay and provide better living situations. Barons really didn’t have the knights and serfs to boss around, so the few that were left throughout European society were faced with comprising in order to achieve a common goal. If a compromise wasn’t met or achieved that allowed the working class to revolt, for the simple fact they refuse to return to the lifestyle they were faced with before the Black Plague. With their being a lack of medical knowledge about the Black Death during this time period, people where led to believe that it was a punishment sent from the heavens. After a while, people inevitably turned away for their faith for the simple fact that the church really could not offer any real explanation on what caused the diseases and why it cannot be cured. With the death rate being extremely high as it was, people where fulling their worldly desires and temptations. The plague also took a psychological toll on people to the point where they blamed the origin of the plague on abstract things such as god and dreams then targeting a whole race, the Jews.

At the end of the plague, something amazing flourished for the Europeans: the Italian Renaissance. In a way the black plague, impact the European society in a positive way. The reason being is because the Italian Renaissance sparked a revolution of artists, writers, and scholars. The European society’s train of thought completed changed being they allowed to think for freely. The Italian Renaissance is known as one of the biggest turning points in western civilization because they were able to survive one of the most catastrophic events in human history. Although the Roman and Greek empire fell: artist, writers, architects, etc. took inspiration from the ideas from both the Roman and Greek cultures. Through the discovering of ideas from past civilization, the European culture put a lot of emphasis humanities. Humanities would consist of subjects such as Art, Literature, Philosophy, Music, etc. although they contributed to fields such as math and science; they weren’t as invested in these fields as their humanities. Also the idea of what a man should be changed significantly. The ideal man should be extremely versatile and well rounded. A man should know how to write poetry just as good as he could wield a sword.

Society had begun to broaden their understanding about nature and architects were able to create buildings bigger and better. Also the banking system had improved significantly along with the idea of trade. Humanism along with the Renaissance played a large role in reforming the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church. The reason that this is significantly to the intellectual aspect of the Italian Renaissance because human life had started to embrace their own achievements rather than letting their faith cloud their judgements as it did during the times of the black plague. This ultimate leads to the concept of separating church values from political power. This came about when Martin Luther protest against the church for its contribution to corruption in Europe society. These protests lead to a religious warfare between the Catholic nations of Europe and those who had begun to establish the Protestant faith. A series of conflicts had begun to spark up between the Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant states. The war had lasted approximately thirty years and is categorized as one of the most destructive wars in European history for the sake of religion. With the death rate rising due to the war it leads to widespread of famine. While the working class was supposed to see to their lads they were off fighting in the war.

As the war had progressed throughout the years, it had soon begun to turn into a war for political power rather than it being fought on the terms of religious beliefs. The idea of balancing power is good idea at time until they run into the simple fact that it does not work. Every time these countries come faced with a conflict there is an issue of rebalancing the power scale. The Treaty of Westphalia helped end the thirty years’ war between the Protestant and the Catholics. France came out on top in destroying the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire had begun to separate and become independent states. This also allowed the leaders to take charge over what religion can be allowed within their realm in order to keep the peace. There also a conflicting argument that says if a ruler can control religion then he overtly controls what the information that attendees hear of that religion or church. The thirty years’ war is a complex story on the basis of politics and religion. It is crucial to realize and take account that there are many factors and many motivations that cause people to retaliate for the greater good or could it just be a cover in order to achieve political gain.

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