This final chapter from “The Medieval Machine” discusses the various reasons as to why what we now call the Middle Ages went into such a dramatic decline in a short amount of time. The first half talks about the multitude of cults, famines, epidemics, economic depressions and popular uprisings which over the course of roughly 150 years completely dismantle civilizations around Europe. The most notable result of all these factors would be the immense loss of human life that occurred over time. In the mid-14th century alone, having already endured various famines across the continent, Europe suffered a loss of anywhere from 35 to 40% of its population due to the spread of the Black Death.
The second half of this chapter takes a turn, and argues that above all else, war caused the final blow to the true collapse of the Medieval world in Europe and elsewhere. Across Europe during the declining portion of the Middle Ages, wars were being rages so frequently that for 100 years, generations of children born in France never experienced a peaceful existence. Over time with the introduction of gunpowder-based weapons, civil technological development became stagnant until the modern industrial revolution while military technological development continued well beyond the Medieval Era.
What Gimpel is trying to relay is that while so many other contributing factors led to the sudden decline of Medieval civilization, the overarching theme that never went away was the tendency to fight constant wars. Yes, while the Black Plague may have caused European progress to go dormant until the Renaissance period, it’s most dangerous epidemic, the need to fight each other, would remain a prominent issue for centuries to come.
Written by: Giuseppe Vitale
Word count: 279
If you would like to know more about the details and impact the Great Famines of the early 14th century or the Black Death had on Medieval Europe, feel free to check out the informative website below.
Speaking of the Black Death, the CDC unsurprisingly has vastly information on the disease, its history, symptoms, and modern outbreaks of it if you are interested.
17 Replies to “Gimpel Chapter 9: The End of an Era”
Good summary of the chapter. I read your post before reading the actual document myself, and your summary gave me a good initial understanding of the content. I find it interesting that even with the Black Death killing 30%-40% of the population in Europe, war is still considered the main cause of the collapse of the medieval ages. Although the information is surprising, it makes sense since wars were going on for around 100 years. With that many wars it would be difficult for the economy to ever stabilize.
Thank you for sharing this information on the decline that occurred during the Middle Ages. Most history courses that I have taken attribute the decline of Europe and surrounding areas to the Black Death. However, the idea that the “true collapse,” as you put it, of Medieval civilization is the result of the chaotic environment that generations of children would have had to experience with is new to me. It is particularly interesting to consider the social impact of all of the wars that were rampant during that time in terms of those who would have grown up knowing nothing else. It makes a lot of sense that society’s focus would be drawn away from artistic and scientific pursuits if there was a constant need to develop military technology as a means of survival.
Very nicely done here. I appreciate how you get into the depths of the article and clearly explain the material. Well done!
Check out this YouTube video on the Black Death!
Thank you for writing this summary. I liked the way you organized your summary to be easy and simple to follow along with.
The link above shows the spread of the Black Death throughout Europe.
You can see in this GIF that Milan, Cracow, and Marseilles seem to be unaffected by the plague. In Milan’s case, the government had an extremely strict and gruesome way to stop the spread. When someone started to show signs of the infection, the ruler of Milan at the time would have the house and the three houses next to it barricaded, in order to stop it from spreading. For Cracow, people had multiple theories on why it was safe from the plague. One theory says that Cracow closed their borders during the plague. Another one is that Cracow had very little people and the few people that did live there were spread apart, so that made it harder for the plague to spread to others. And lastly, Marseilles is simple to explain, it was not a happy place for a lot of people to live at during this time, so like Cracow, it made it harder for the plague to spread.
Excellent summary of chapter 9 of Gimpel’s “The medieval machine”. I appreciate the external links you provided for extra information!
Thank you for a succinct post! I also read your post before reading the chapter; it is flabbergasting that war was actually the cause of the collapse of Medieval society. The plague is certainly portrayed as being the cause, probably because people are fascinated by it (the same reason people watch scary movies/can’t look away from gross things, etc if you follow my train of thought). I also wonder what the correlation between the rampant disease and the wars was: the sheer number of casualties from both causes, even over a few centuries, would definitely upset any sort of balance in society. I also did not really grasp the extent of the wars during this time period until I realized that this was the era of the Hundred Years’ War. Once that was contextualized, it put into perspective what people at the time were living through, not just for one lifetime but also over the course of multiple generations.
This post is a great summary of chapter 9. It’s good that you show that the Black Death was not the only factor that went into the decline of medieval Europe, but rather it was the constant wars and fighting. Here is a great article that relates the wars during this time period to the Black Death.
This is a great summation and representation of the factors that led to the downfall of Europe. It is obvious that the most popular epidemic that occurred in Europe is the Black Death, but many things also go under the radar. One of the most interesting things to me are the number of cults that arose. Of those cults, it was hypothesized that there was a cult of witches. More can be read about here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-cult_hypothesis#The_early_theory.
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