Late Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century (c. 1300–1500). The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era (and, in much of Europe, the Renaissance).

Around 1300, centuries of prosperity and growth in Europe came to a halt. A series of famines and plagues, such as the Great Famine of 1315–1317 and the Black Death, reduced the population to around half of what it was before the calamities. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant uprisings: the Jacquerie, the Peasants' Revolt, as well as over a century of intermittent conflict in the Hundred Years' War. To add to the many problems of the period, the unity of the Catholic Church was shattered by the Western Schism. Collectively these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.

Despite these crises, the 14th century was also a time of great progress within the arts and sciences. Following a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman texts that took root in the High Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance began. The absorption of Latin texts had started before the 12th Century Renaissance through contact with Arabs during the Crusades, but the availability of important Greek texts accelerated with the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks, when many Byzantine scholars had to seek refuge in the West, particularly Italy.

Combined with this influx of classical ideas was the invention of printing which facilitated dissemination of the printed word and democratized learning. These two things would later lead to the Protestant Reformation. Toward the end of the period, an era of discovery began (Age of Discovery). The growth of the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, eroded the last remnants of the Byzantine Empire and cut off trading possibilities with the east. Europeans were forced to discover new trading routes, as was the case with Columbus’s travel to the Americas in 1492, and Vasco da Gama’s circumnavigation of India and Africa in 1498. Their discoveries strengthened the economy and power of European nations.

The changes brought about by these developments have caused many scholars to see it as leading to the end of the Middle Ages, and the beginning of modern history and early modern Europe. However, the division will always be a somewhat artificial one for scholars, since ancient learning was never entirely absent from European society. As such there was developmental continuity between the ancient age (via classical antiquity) and the modern age. Some historians, particularly in Italy, prefer not to speak of the late Middle Ages at all, but rather see the high period of the Middle Ages transitioning to the Renaissance and the modern era.

Read more about Late Middle Ages:  Historiography and Periodization, History, Late Medieval European Society, Military History, Trade and Commerce, Arts and Sciences, Timeline

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