Renaissance of the 12th century: Wikis


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New technological discoveries allowed the development of the Gothic architecture

The Renaissance of the 12th century was a period of many changes at the outset of the High Middle Ages. It included social, political and economic transformations, and an intellectual revitalization of Western Europe with strong philosophical and scientific roots. For some historians these changes paved the way to later achievements such as the literary and artistic movement of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century and the scientific developments of the 17th century.



Charles H. Haskins was the first historian to write extensively about a renaissance that ushered in the High Middle Ages starting about 1070. In 1927, he wrote that:

[the 12th century in Europe] was in many respects an age of fresh and vigorous life. The epoch of the Crusades, of the rise of towns, and of the earliest bureaucratic states of the West, it saw the culmination of Romanesque art and the beginnings of Gothic; the emergence of the vernacular literatures; the revival of the Latin classics and of Latin poetry and Roman law; the recovery of Greek science, with its Arabic additions, and of much of Greek philosophy; and the origin of the first European universities. The twelfth century left its signature on higher education, on the scholastic philosophy, on European systems of law, on architecture and sculpture, on the liturgical drama, on Latin and vernacular poetry...[1]

Trade and commerce

In Northern Europe, the Hanseatic League was founded in the 12th century, with the foundation of the city of Lübeck in 11581159. Many northern cities of the Holy Roman Empire became Hanseatic cities, including Hamburg, Stettin, Bremen and Rostock. Hanseatic cities outside the Holy Roman Empire were, for instance, Bruges, London and the Polish city of Danzig (Gdańsk). In Bergen and Novgorod the league had factories and middlemen. In this period the Germans started colonizing Eastern Europe beyond the Empire, into Prussia and Silesia.

In the late 13th century, a Venetian explorer named Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to travel the Silk Road to China. Westerners became more aware of the Far East when Polo documented his travels in Il Milione. He was followed by numerous Christian missionaries to the East, such as William of Rubruck, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, Andrew of Longjumeau, Odoric of Pordenone, Giovanni de Marignolli, Giovanni di Monte Corvino, and other travelers such as Niccolò da Conti.


Philosophical and scientific teaching of the Early Middle Ages was based upon the few Latin translations and commentaries on ancient Greek scientific and philosophical texts that remained in Western Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This scenario changed during the renaissance of the 12th century. The increased contact with the Islamic world in Spain and Sicily, the Crusades, the Reconquista, as well as increased contact with Byzantium, allowed Europeans to seek and translate the works of Hellenic and Islamic philosophers and scientists (mainly in the Toledo School of Translators), especially the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Plotinus, Geber, al-Khwarizmi, Rhazes, Abulcasis, Alhacen, Avicenna, Avempace, and Averroes, among others. The development of medieval universities allowed them to aid materially in the translation and propagation of these texts and started a new infrastructure which was needed for scientific communities.

Medieval scholars sought to understand the geometric and harmonic principles by which God created the universe.[2]

At the beginning of the 13th century there were reasonably accurate Latin translations of the main ancient Greek scientific works, allowing a sound transfer of scientific ideas through both the universities and the monasteries. By then, the natural science contained in these texts began to be extended by notable scholastics such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus. Precursors of the modern scientific method can be seen already in Grosseteste's emphasis on mathematics as a way to understand nature, and in the empirical approach admired by Bacon, particularly in his Opus Majus.[citation needed]

The first half of the 14th century saw much important scientific work being done, largely within the framework of scholastic commentaries on Aristotle's scientific writings.[3] William of Ockham introduced the principle of parsimony: natural philosophers should not postulate unnecessary entities, so that motion is not a distinct thing but is only the moving object[4] and an intermediary "sensible species" is not needed to transmit an image of an object to the eye.[5] Scholars such as Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme started to reinterpret elements of Aristotle's mechanics. In particular, Buridan developed the theory that impetus was the cause of the motion of projectiles, which was a precursor of the modern concept of inertia.[6] Meanwhile, the Oxford Calculators began to mathematically analyze the kinematics of motion, conducting this analysis without considering the causes of motion.[7]

Even though the devastation brought by the Black Death (mid 14th century) and other disasters sealed a sudden end to the previous period of massive philosophic and scientific development, two centuries later started the European Scientific Revolution, which may also be understood as a resumption of the process of scientific change halted during the crisis of the Late Middle Ages.


Detail of a portrait of Hugh de Provence, painted by Tomasso da Modena in 1352

During the High Middle Ages in Europe, there was a change in the rate of new inventions and innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production and economic growth.

Alfred Crosby described some of this technological revolution in The Measure of Reality : Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600 and other major historians of technology have also noted it.


A new method of learning called scholasticism developed in the late 12th century from the rediscovery of the works of Aristotle; the works of medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophers influenced by him, notably Maimonides, Avicenna (see Avicennism) and Averroes (see Averroism); and the Christian philosophers influenced by them, most notably Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure and Abélard. Those who practiced the scholastic method believed in empiricism and supporting Roman Catholic doctrines through secular study, reason, and logic. The most famous of the scholastic practitioners was Thomas Aquinas (later declared a "Doctor of the Church"), who led the move away from the Platonic and Augustinian and toward Aristotelianism. Using the scholastic method, Aquinas developed a philosophy of mind by writing that the mind was at birth a tabula rasa ("blank slate") that was given the ability to think and recognize forms or ideas through a divine spark. Other notable scholastics included Roscelin, Peter Abelard, and Peter Lombard. One of the main questions during this time was the problem of the universals. Prominent non-scholastics of the time included Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Damian, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Victorines.[1]


See also


  1. ^ Charles Homer Haskins. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927. (p. viii - introduction).
  2. ^ The compass in this 13th century manuscript is a symbol of God's act of Creation.
    * Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, (Washington, DC: Regenery, 2005), ISBN 0-89526-038-7
  3. ^ Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1996), pp. 127-31.
  4. ^ Edward Grant, A Source Book in Medieval Science, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1974), p. 232
  5. ^ David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1976), pp. 140-2.
  6. ^ Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1996), pp. 95-7.
  7. ^ Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1996), pp. 100-3.


  • Benson, Robert L., Giles Constable, and Carol D. Lanham, eds. Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
  • Haskins, Charles Homer. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927.

External links



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