Social and Economic changes and continuities in Europe between 600 and 1750

Social and Economic changes and continuities in Europe between 600 and 1750

Europe is a continental organization whose power reaches out very far. It influences the world trade through its early developments in economy and commerce. However, Europe has been influential to the world economy and trade only since the 1400s which is not very long compared to Islamic who solidified their place in global economy by the 600s. Thus, in order to know the traits of world economy now, it is inevitable to study the historical traits of Europe’s both social and economic aspects during 600 CE to 1750 CE

Throughout the post classical period and the early modern period, Western Europe Catholic Church’s economy; and the gender roles, social participation and the treatment of women changed slowly for the worse; however, desire for the deserved equal rights of the lower working class people did continue.

Catholic Church, as one of the most influential organization that carried enormous power in the Western Europe during the period, has experienced shifting of their economical power to individuals during the period of 600 CE to 1750 CE. In 1054 CE the Roman Catholic Church first separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church to take control over the western half of Europe. However after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church became the only solid organization with popular religious correlation. Thus, the church carried high political values. This political importance became the key that the church was able to gain such economical power. During the medieval period, German princes ardent for political power donated lands and money to the church associations. To add on, as the church moved towards being capitalistic, monasteries and nunneries started to act as the church’s economical branch. The monasteries with granted lands and estates farmed both crops and raised animal. They also developed agricultural techniques that helped productivity to increase. By the 13th century, monasteries grew as a major economical candidate not only because of its enormous landholdings but also because it played an important role in the medieval wool trade as the middleman. To add on, during the period from 11th century to 13th century, the church promoted crusades to conquer Jerusalem from the Muslims. At first the church gained economical power through the lands and booties conquered from the Muslims. However, after the last crusade state in the Middle East fell back to the Muslim’s hands, church has lost a great deal of money in promoting the failed crusades. From that point onwards, the church started to lose its economical superiority. By the end of 15th century, church’s power became very corrupt that they promoted lavish building projects such as the rebuilding of St. Peter Basilica. Along with the shortage that the church felt right after the failure of crusades, these building projects made the church desperate for money. This fact is clearly shown through the abusive selling of indulgences to pay off the expenses spent during the mid 15th century. Furthermore, the protestant reformation that followed the selling of indulgences threatened the Catholic Church even more. Soon after the separation of protestant church from the Catholic Church, German princes who wanted to be independent from the tight organization of the church followed the protestant church. This gave German princes a chance to take away monastery lands. Hence this process directly led to the loss of church. The enlightenment movement that happened at the late early modern period finally separated the church authorities and the political powers that it had. This finally ended the economical prosperity that the Catholic Church enjoyed by strictly cutting down possibilities that the church could have had of earning money through political powers.

The gender roles, social participation of women and treatments toward women has changed for the worse since the medieval period. During the medieval period, all of Europe’s social and economical structure was based on agricultural life of the peasants. Due to this factor, women were allowed to take part in agricultural activities that does require physical strength but is very much capable of being completed by women as well. Furthermore, women were able to take greater part in local commerce through creating craft guilds. In addition, the Catholic nunneries granted women social power to some extent. The monastic groups gave chance to women to take part in economy more intensively through church-run manufacturing production. They were also able to receive education from the nunneries to the extent where they were able to create literary pieces of work collectively. To add on, nunneries provided women with alternatives to marriage. To add on, biblical significance of female character such as Mary gave more attention to women than before. Furthermore, the religious emphasis on Christian equality of all souls gave women more equal chances even in religious services where women became less segregated from men. However as the early modern period approached, the society changed from being an agriculture based society to mercantile society. This first reduced the importance of women as a part of economical society because jobs that woman could do in it were too minor to be done. This eventually eliminated the possibility for women to get jobs. The protestant reformation played a big role in determining the women’s social value in the early modern period. The power gaining protestant churches strongly believed in witch-hunting. The witch-hunting trials and executions spread across Europe like wildfire and has killed thousands of women regardless of what their true identity was. Furthermore, theological analyses on women were made during the enlightenment movement which too degraded them. The analogy was given that women were no more than tools of reproduction and production. This shows how women’s values are deteriorated.

Even though from 600CE to 1750CE major parts of Europe changed, the rebellion created by the combination of desire to ascend in the social hierarchy and popular theologies to reason was kept continuous. During the medieval period, there are reported cases of serfs, who were free men tied to landowners because he has no money to be independent, escaping and running away from their landlords to create communities of homeless serfs. Along with this, theologians such as Peter Abelard or Thomas Aquinas suggested people to reason with information and have skeptic views than to just take in information as they are. They have also mentioned the necessities of logical thought process which later directly links to rebellion for natural rights. In global historical context, soon after the transition to the early modern period, the Columbian Exchange took place all around the world for several years. There were new ideas that traveled through sea and as well as ideas slaves from Africa traveled too. This too gave the rebellion strength to be continued. First, because of Columbian exchange, the economical and social gap between the poor and the rich became very distinct. This created new social classes such as the proletariats, the working class without access to prosperity. To add on, the exposure to the social classes below the existing low classes should have given the peasants the feeling of deserving more privileges than the slave classes. These two major global events pushed peasant uprisings to continue even as it went in to a new era. Furthermore, with the enlightenment movement, people were able to ask for what in specific they needed. The natural rights that John Locke argued were the right to life, right to liberty, and right to property. Spread of these basic rights gave peasants foundation for their protest to base on.

To conclude, Europe indeed has faced lots of changes as well as continuities. The declining status of economy of the Catholic Church during the 600CE to 1750CE period has determined the government that now stands independent from religion; the change of gender roles and social participation of women has laid its foundation on the equal society that Europe now has; and finally the continuously rebellious lower classes and criticisms had created a Europe with developed philosophy and strong skilled work force. All together, the period from 600CE to 1750CE is a period of transition when major events happened not just for the sake of happening but it occurred to change and shape world economy and society that exists now.


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