- Write about the scientific and artistic advancements of the High Middle Ages and how these advancements were influenced by certain technological advancements and changes in thinking
- After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages was a time of little scientific and artistic advancement until the renaissance of the 12th century, when increased contact with the Islamic world and Byzantium revived the arts.
- William of Ockham insisted that the world of reason and the world of faith had to be kept apart, and this new approach liberated scientific speculation from the dogmatic restraints of Aristotelian science, paving the way for new approaches.
- After the renaissance of the 12th century, medieval Europe saw a radical change in the rate of new inventions, innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production, and economic growth.
- The period saw major technological advances, including the adoption of gunpowder, the invention of vertical windmills, spectacles, and mechanical clocks, and greatly improved water mills, building techniques (Gothic architecture, medieval castles), and agriculture in general (three-field crop rotation).
- In northern European countries, Gothic architecture remained the norm, and the Gothic cathedral was further embellished. In Italy, architecture took on a new form, inspired by classical ideals.
- The most important development of late medieval literature was the ascendancy of the vernacular languages.
A Greek mathematician (~300 BCE), often referred to as the “Father of Geometry.” His Elements is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics.
German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe. His invention of mechanical movable type printing started the Printing Revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period.
A Renaissance mathematician and astronomer (1473–1543) who formulated a heliocentric model of the universe that placed the Sun, rather than Earth, at the center.
Period of approximately 781 years in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, from after the Islamic conquest in 711-718 to the fall of Granada, the last Islamic state on the peninsula, in 1492.
The philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), philosopher, theologian, and Doctor of the Church.
From Ancient Greek; Hellenikos, “of or relating to Greece or Greeks.”
The native language or native dialect of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national, or standard variety of the language, such as Latin.
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 for 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.
After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Western Europe had entered the Middle Ages with great difficulties. Apart from depopulation and other factors, most classical scientific treatises of classical antiquity, written in Greek, had become unavailable. 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 the Latin West.
This scenario changed during the renaissance of the 12th century. The increased contact with Byzantium and with the Islamic world in Spain and Sicily, the Crusades, and the Reconquista allowed Europeans to seek and translate the works of Hellenic and Islamic philosophers and scientists, especially Aristotle.
The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle allowed the full development of the new Christian philosophy and the method of scholasticism. By 1200 there were reasonably accurate Latin translations of the main works of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Archimedes, and Galen—that is, all the intellectually crucial ancient authors except Plato. Also, many of the medieval Arabic and Jewish key texts, such as the main works of Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides became available in Latin. During the 13th century, scholastics expanded the natural philosophy of these texts by commentaries (associated with teaching in the universities) and independent treatises. Notable among these were the works of Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John of Sacrobosco, Albertus Magnus, and Duns Scotus.
Scholastics believed in empiricism and supporting Roman Catholic doctrines through secular study, reason, and logic. The most famous scholastic was Thomas Aquinas (later declared a “Doctor of the Church”), who led the move away from the Platonic and Augustinian and towards Aristotelianism.
Meanwhile, precursors of the modern scientific method can be seen in Grosseteste’s emphasis on mathematics as a way to understand nature and in the empirical approach admired by Roger Bacon. Grosseteste was the founder of the famous Oxford Franciscan school. He built his work on Aristotle’s vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning. He concluded from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again—from universal laws to prediction of particulars. Grosseteste called this “resolution and composition.” Further, Grosseteste said that both paths should be verified through experimentation in order to verify the principals. These ideas established a tradition that carried forward to Padua and Galileo Galilei in the 17th century.
Under the tuition of Grosseteste and inspired by the writings of Arab alchemists who had preserved and built upon Aristotle’s portrait of induction, Bacon described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, and experimentation, and the need for independent verification. He recorded the manner in which he conducted his experiments in precise detail so that others could reproduce and independently test his results—a cornerstone of the scientific method, and a continuation of the work of researchers like Al Battani.
The first half of the 14th century saw the scientific work of great thinkers. The logic studies by William of Ockham led him to postulate a specific formulation of the principle of parsimony, known today as Ockham’s Razor. This principle is one of the main heuristics used by modern science to select between two or more underdetermined theories.
Thomas Bradwardine and his partners, the Oxford Calculators of Merton College, Oxford, distinguished kinematics from dynamics, emphasizing kinematics, and investigating instantaneous velocity. They formulated the mean speed theorem: a body moving with constant velocity travels distance and time equal to an accelerated body whose velocity is half the final speed of the accelerated body. They also demonstrated this theorem—the essence of “The Law of Falling Bodies”—long before Galileo, who has gotten the credit.
In his turn, Nicole Oresme showed that the reasons proposed by the physics of Aristotle against the movement of Earth were not valid, and adduced the argument of simplicity for the theory that Earth moves, and not the heavens. Despite this argument in favor of Earth’s motion, Oresme fell back on the commonly held opinion that “everyone maintains, and I think myself, that the heavens do move and not the Earth.”
The historian of science Ronald Numbers notes that the modern scientific assumption of methodological naturalism can be also traced back to the work of these medieval thinkers
After the renaissance of the 12th century, medieval Europe saw a radical change in the rate of new inventions, innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production, and economic growth. The period saw major technological advances, including the adoption of gunpowder, the invention of vertical windmills, spectacles, mechanical clocks, and greatly improved water mills, building techniques (Gothic architecture, medieval castles), and agriculture in general (three-field crop rotation).
The development of water mills from their ancient origins was impressive, and extended from agriculture to sawmills both for timber and stone. By the time of the Domesday Book, most large villages had turnable mills; there were around 6,500 in England alone. Water power was also widely used in mining for raising ore from shafts, crushing ore, and even powering bellows.
European technical advancements from the 12th to 14th centuries were either built on long-established techniques in medieval Europe, originating from Roman and Byzantine antecedents, or adapted from cross-cultural exchanges through trading networks with the Islamic world, China, and India. Often, the revolutionary aspect lay not in the act of invention itself, but in its technological refinement and application to political and economic power. Though gunpowder and other weapons had been started by the Chinese, it was the Europeans who developed and perfected its military potential, precipitating European expansion and eventual imperialism in the Modern Era.
Also significant in this respect were advances in maritime technology. Advances in shipbuilding included the multi-masted ships with lateen sails, the sternpost-mounted rudder, and the skeleton-first hull construction. Along with new navigational techniques such as the dry compass, the Jacob’s staff, and the astrolabe, these allowed economic and military control of the seas adjacent to Europe and enabled the global navigational achievements of the dawning Age of Exploration.
At the turn to the Renaissance, Gutenberg’s invention of mechanical printing made possible a dissemination of knowledge to a wider population that would lead to not only a gradually more egalitarian society, but one more able to dominate other cultures, drawing from a vast reserve of knowledge and experience. The technical drawings of late-medieval artist-engineers Guido da Vigevano and Villard de Honnecourt can be viewed as forerunners of later Renaissance works by people like Taccola or da Vinci.
Visual Arts and Architecture
A precursor to Renaissance art can be seen in the early 14th century works of Giotto. Giotto was the first painter since antiquity to attempt the representation of a three-dimensional reality, and to endow his characters with true human emotions. The most important developments, however, came in 15th-century Florence. The affluence of the merchant class allowed extensive patronage of the arts, and foremost among the patrons were the Medici.
There were several important technical innovations in visual arts, like the principle of linear perspective found in the work of Masaccio and later described by Brunelleschi. Greater realism was also achieved through the scientific study of anatomy, championed by artists like Donatello. This can be seen particularly well in his sculptures, inspired by the study of classical models.
In northern European countries, Gothic architecture remained the norm, and the Gothic cathedral was further embellished. In Italy, on the other hand, architecture took a different direction, also inspired by classical ideals. The crowning work of the period was the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, with Giotto’s clock tower, Ghiberti’s baptistery gates, and Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome of unprecedented proportions.
The most important development of late medieval literature was the ascendancy of the vernacular languages. The vernacular had been in use in England since the 8th century and in France since the 11th century. The most popular genres of written works had been the chanson de geste, troubadour lyrics, and romantic epics, or the romance. Though Italy was later in evolving a native literature in the vernacular language, it was here that the most important developments of the period were to come.
Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, written in the early 14th century, merged a medieval world view with classical ideals. Another promoter of the Italian language was Boccaccio with his Decameron. The application of the vernacular did not entail a rejection of Latin, and both Dante and Boccaccio wrote prolifically in Latin as well as Italian, as would Petrarch later (whose Canzoniere also promoted the vernacular and is considered the first modern lyric poetry collection). Together these three poets established the Tuscan dialect as the norm for the modern Italian language.