Rise of Western Civilization Prior to 1500

Thesis Statement

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the rise of the western civilization prior to 1500. The essay takes an in-depth analysis of the years that preceded 1500 characterizing the events of each period and how they shaped the outcome for the rise of the western civilization.


The rise in technological advances and characteristic economic growth were the main driving forces behind the tremendous rise of the western civilization through the 1500’s.  This rise mostly traces it roots back to the so called classical antiquity through the early Middle Ages, the higher Middle Ages up to the late middle and early renaissance. These ages represented various periods in times and acted as the main driving force behind the economic growth of Europe, North America and Oceania regions.

Classical Antiquity (before AD 500)

This period in time represented the division of the continent of Europe into two parts. The western part became known as the Latin part while the Eastern part was known as the Greek part. This period also witnessed with what was to be considered the final and ultimate separation of the early Roman and Eastern Christians. During this time there was a highlighted amount of “per capita growth” which was evident in the Roman era. This was however followed by the economic collapse in the Western Mediterranean as well as the North western part of Europe.

The early middle ages (AD 500-1000)

This period saw Christianity set up its roots in Western Europe. By this time Christianity was the dominant faith in this part.  This period also witnessed the fall of Iberia and Sicily to Muslims. The western part became popular with Christianity and was mainly ruled by powers which abided by the Christian faith. In this period, Germany was influenced by the vicious widespread of the religion and this prompted it convert to Christianity.

Other regions which converted to Christianity were the Vikings, Magyars and the Poles. These conversions into Christianity formed the basis of economic growth since the church was regarded to have administrative divisions which acted as an example and provided the formula for administration (Liebeschuretz, 2003). The fact that Christianity was being embraced as a religion illustrates that the early church was very organized in terms of administration which as we shall see was the main force behind the success of the western civilization.

The high middle ages (1000-1300)

In this era Feudalism had deeply embedded its roots in most of the countries in Europe. This system of governance was decentralized and had a characteristic monarchy who ruled the land. The system found its way into England after the invasion and conquest of the country by “the Conqueror” (William I). The system was pioneered in France by a known as the Normans since the time they inhabited the place. The simple but effective system was used as the main administration zone in the areas where it found favor (Louis, 1961). The west had been taken by storm by the system and they recognized it as a social, political and dominant part of the economy which would promote technological advancement and growth.

The military type of rule contrary to its promise did very little to spur economic growth and encourage technological advancement. The rulers at that time exploited the system to their own advantages instead of using it effectively to gain from it. The system often discouraged unity in the government as it was seen as a threat to the rulers at the time. Feudalism was the main undoing in the growth of the economy during this period of time. This is due to the fact that it made it illegal for peasants who cultivated land to move or do any business without first seeking the permission from authorities. The government would also charge farmers and businessmen exorbitant taxes which were paid as a relatively large percentage of their overall produce. All their activities were closely monitored and this in more ways than one made the process of trading or doing business almost impossible.

The division and separation of the church was also witnessed in this period. This division known as the Great Schism resulted in the great division of church which resulted in the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. The church by this time had grown to be the most influential and powerful institution in the continent of Europe. England witnessed the laying of the foundation for parliament the Magna Carta (Turner, 2003). It was the same year that the Pope called for a crusade so as to conquer the holy land of Israel from Muslim rule.

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The late middle Ages and Early Renaissance (1300-1500)

This period witnessed a war (1337-1453) between the two countries of England and France.  This period also had one of the most devastating events yet to be witnessed in the history of the continent. The Black Plague as it was estimated to have claimed an approximate population which was about one third of the continent. This plague took with it a large number of the workforce in the western countries. Increased demand for labor was evident after the plague and this led to some of the enterprises closing down so as to avoid the losses that were evident after this disastrous period.

Among the most hit sectors were the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. This had the effect of starving the workforce and the population of the continent as well. During this time economic growth was at a snails pace but after the black plague period, Europe emerged as the force to be reckoned with in terms of economic growth and technological advancement. The plague could however be viewed as the catalyst that would forever change the face of Europe. “Christian men and women learnt to live with the plague. Another thing they learnt was to die of it” (Platt, 1996). These words are significant of the situation that the population had witnessed during those trying times.

The plague as some have argued over the years may have been the uniting factor needed to make the West realize its hidden potential. An author describes this as a period of crisis which its end results were of social and economic importance (Dyer, 2002).  The plague did not only manifest itself in Europe it also did not spare the trade neighbors of Europe such as North Africa and the Middle East either. As one writer described it the plague caused catastrophe and incredible loss of the population everywhere it landed (Benedictow, 2004). This period also saw the birth a new age which was characterized by scientific and intellectual innovation. The period started in Italy and in a short span of time had started to spread to the rest of the Western world.

At around 1450 an inventor by the name of Johannes Gutenberg developed his own company known as the Printing Press. The company made it easier to works of literature across the continent (Rees, 2006). This in itself made the transfer of knowledge much easier and convenient. This period also saw the restoration of the Iberian Peninsula from its Muslim rulers. The man known as Christopher Columbus came to fame in this period after having claimed to have discovered the Americas. His discovery was some kind of luck since he was attempting to find an alternative route to East Asia (Stevens and Abbot, 1904).

The opportunities that the Atlantic Ocean produced were considered to be the main force in ensuring that the western civilization grew both technologically and economically. The discovery of a new world by Christopher Columbus mixed with the new passage around the cape of Good Hope to the continent of Asia acted as a much needed boost to spur the region to unrivalled fame in terms of growth. Christopher Columbus exploitations can be considered as the main driving force that took place especially in the ocean vessels.

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Ship technology in the 1500’s changed for the better and the Portuguese were the first to adapt new methods in the rigging and hull designs of the ships. This in itself was a catalyst that spurred the innovations in the world of navigations. It would be good to note that not all the countries that accessed the Atlantic had the same technological and economical growth as Europe. The main reason behind the success of the continent of Europe mainly lies in the fact that Europe had invested greatly in administration and this acted as the propeller in ensuring significant growth.


The rise of the Western Civilization prior to 1500 was marked by many ups and downs. Since the beginning of the classical period up to the renaissance period the progress that was made between these two periods proved to be very significant in crafting the overall future of the west. The church as can be seen had a vital role to play especially in providing examples of systems of administration through its own system. The fact that most of the European countries had access to the Atlantic made the process of civilization much easier. The Atlantic has been considered as one of the key factors that contributed to growth of the western civilization. Christopher Columbus and Gutenberg’s can be attributed as being the pioneers of the technological advance that would come to shape the west for the years that were to come.

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