There was indeed a European-wide recovery during the 11th and 12th
centuries, a period known as the Late Middle Ages, or High
Postclassical Period. This recovery took place on a series of
societal fronts, which included agriculture, economy, and town
building. These were accompanied by the rise of a middle class, and
the creation of the modern state. The changes on all of these fronts
in turn made the interregional exchange of scientific advances,
commercial goods, and religious ideas easier.
See the Encyclopedia of World History for more on these ideas:
and also at:
The index for the entire Middle Ages at this site is at:
Another excellent overview of the period is in the form of a
Powerpoint presentation at this URL:
It is also available in HTML format here:
Agricultural improvements included the heavy plough, which made it
possible to break harder soil, and allowed for faster work. In turn,
these advantages made more land available to work, which increased
harvests. The watermill and windmill were both developed during this
period, which made it possible to grind the increased harvests of
grain that were made possible by other advancements. Rotational
planting increased the fertility of the land, and so added to the
general harvest increase. With the expansion of agriculture, the old
feudal boundaries became antiquated, and this resulted in a decline in
the practice of serfdom. Also aiding the agricultural revival was the
improvement in climate associated with the same era. Temperatures
across Europe increased by about one degree, resulting in a more
temperate environment more conducive to agriculture. With more land
available, along with kinder conditions which produced more of a
surplus, trade increased, adding to the increased general welfare.
Trade increased as a result of the increased agricultural harvests and
town building. The Crusades also enhanced trade, as traveling knights
and their entourages spread throughout Europe on their way to the
Middle East. A good article on trade development during the period
can be found here:
Another major advancement took place in town building. Previously,
the Romans had encouraged building towns, but the Germanic invaders
settled on vast tracts of land called manors, and established small,
isolated villages to provide services solely for the manor. Travel
spurred by the Crusades also stimulated the rise of centralized towns.
For an excellent treatment of the rise of the town during this
period, see this article:
One of the important end results of all this increased trade was the
rise of a middle class, made up of farmers, merchants and tradesmen.
Another was the rise of the modern idea of the state or country.
Resulting in turn from all this trade expansion and civic/political
growth was a revival in learning, which had its upshot in the
development of the university.
All of this development and expansion of course set the stage for the
Renaissance. So in fact, the late Middle Ages were a revival. There
had been an academic tradition that held that the period was a dark
one for Europe, however that assumption has changed over the past few
years, and it is now taught that the 11th and 12th centuries were a
time of fantastic growth, both economically and intellectually in
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