Renaissance of the 12th century

Renaissance of the 12th century

The Renaissance of the 12th century was a period of many changes during the High Middle Ages. It included social, political and economic transformations, and an intellectual revitalization of Europe with strong philosophical and scientific roots. 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 Renaissance of the 12th century

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, Norway and Novgorod, Russia the league had factories and middlemen. In this period the Germans started colonising 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 missionnaries 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 travellers such as Niccolò da Conti.


Philosophical and scientific teaching of the Early Middle Ages was based upon few copies and commentaries of ancient Greek texts that remained in Western Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Much of Europe had lost contact with the knowledge of the past. 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, 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.

At the beginning of the 13th century there were reasonably accurate Latin translations of the main works of almost all the intellectually crucial ancient authors, allowing a sound transfer of scientific ideas via 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".

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. [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.] 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 [Edward Grant, "A Source Book in Medieval Science," (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1974), p. 232] and an intermediary "sensible species" is not needed to transmit an image of an object to the eye. [David C. Lindberg, "Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler," (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1976), pp. 140-2.] 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. [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.] Meanwhile, the Oxford Calculators began to mathematically analyze the kinematics of motion, conducting this analysis without considering the causes of motion. [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.]

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.


:"Main article: Medieval technology"

During the 12th century in Europe, there was a radical change in the rate of new inventions and innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production and economic growth. In less than a century, there were more inventions developed and applied usefully than in the previous thousand years of human history all over the globe. The period saw major technological advances, including the adoption or invention of printing, gunpowder, spectacles, a better clock, the astrolabe, and greatly improved ships. The latter two advances made possible the dawn of the Age of Exploration.

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.

* The earliest written record of a windmill is from Yorkshire, England, dated 1185.
* Paper manufacture began in Italy around 1270.
* The spinning wheel was brought to Europe (probably from India) in the 13th century.
* The magnetic compass aided navigation, first reaching Europe some time in the late 12th century.
* Eyeglasses were invented in Italy in the late 1280s.
* The astrolabe returned to Europe via Islamic Spain.
* Leonardo of Pisa introduces Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe with his book Liber Abaci in 1202.
* The West's oldest known depiction of a stern-mounted rudder can be found on church carvings dating to around 1180.


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. They opposed Christian mysticism, and the Platonist-Augustinian beliefs in mind dualism and the view of the world as inherently evil. 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 towards 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.ref|Scholasticism


:"See Ars antiqua, Romanesque art, Gothic Art, and Gothic Architecture"

ee also

*Latin translations of the 12th century
*Gothic Art
*Gothic Architecture
*History of science in the Middle Ages
*Medieval technology
*Medieval university
*Crisis of the Late Middle Ages
*Ottonian Renaissance
*Carolingian Renaissance
*Continuity thesis
*Jacques Le Goff, French historian



*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

* [ A brief analysis of Haskins, "Renaissance of the Twelfth Century"]
* [ A bibliography of the twelfth-century renaissance]

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