The Five Major Influences on the Renaissance
Five social trends that spurred change in Europe between 1349 and 1633.
Historians have long called the 1400s the “Renaissance” from the French word for “rebirth.” Literature, learning, art, and thought all experienced their own transformations that were intertwined with each other. This renaissance of culture and learning in the European world was real and robust and grew out of a series of events that changed how Europeans viewed the world and ultimately themselves and their possibilities. The 1400s saw tremendous changes in Europe. By the end of that century, the world from the European perspective was dramatically different than it was at the beginning of the century. The seismic shift in perspective of the Renaissance was from one of looking back and copying the past to one of looking forward to create a better future by rekindling the spark that had given the Greek and Roman eras light. Changes accelerated in the 1500s as momentum from new discoveries and innovations spread across Europe.
There were five broad trends that shaped the Renaissance: trade and exploration, art, philosophy, science, and religious conflict.
Trade and Exploration
The ancient Silk Road from China, through Central Asia, to ports in Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt, had been a major avenue of trade since Roman times. During the 1100s, Venice had grown as a trading power, its merchants establishing trading posts throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. They deftly translated their sea power to military power and for more than two centuries were a dominant naval power in the eastern Mediterranean. Through its dominance over Mediterranean seaways, Venice came to monopolize the silk and spice trades in Europe between 1200 and 1453. The publication in 1299 of Venetian Marco Polo’s journeys in Asia opened the eyes of many in Europe to the possibilities of trade with China. Black pepper, cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, and cloves were among the Asian spices increasingly available to Europe in this period. These became luxury items much sought after by those who could afford them, and the Venetians and other traders willingly supplied them — at a profit, of course.
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople, a city founded in 324 as Roman Emperor Constantine’s new Christian capital. Constantinople had been the…