11. Europe: The Christian Ferment

11.4 Christendom

The moral fiber of the Roman Empire had been lost well before the barbaric invasions, and able manpower did not match any more the needs of the Government. There was a definite lack of it at the higher echelons. Able men preferred to serve the Church which, in those days and up to now for the Orthodox Church, does not impose celibacy. The Plebe, lazy and undisciplined, had concentrated within the cities where it rested one day out of two. Juvenal’s disdain for the Roman demand “Panem et Circenses” (bread and entertainment) was not enough to turn the tide. The barbaric invasions accelerated the downfall: roads were left to decay, agricultural techniques were lost and kept only by monks, populations were greatly reduced, the insecurity of life kept the level of population extremely low. The Western part of Europe was in addition extremely poor. Well within the 10th century, two thirds of Gaul, England, Ireland, the Low Countries and Central Germany were forested. Nutrition was poor and debilitating. Men were lazy, dumb, ignorant, superstitious and careless about the future. It could hardly have been otherwise. This situation favoured the predominance of the Church over temporal rulers since the ablest men were drained to abbeys, which became extremely rich.

After the Viking and Magyar attacks, the whole of the continent entered in anarchy. It saved order through feudalism. However, whereas the noblemen often had to leave their burg at the call of the sovereign, the bishop of the town never left his burg, regardless of how many of his underlings were still alive, and actively took part in the town’s defense, assuming the various functions of an administrator and a city mayor since he alone, his children and his clerics could read and write. Besides, the only Germanic power of stature still standing after the Arab attack, the Franks, made it a policy to rely on the Church for government. In order to stabilize his rule, the usurper Pepin the Short, in exchange for his services to the Papacy, received the anointment. From then on, the ruler of Frankish Lands ruled through the Church without, however, necessarily being “under” the Church.

The Celts of Ireland were never colonized by the Romans and were spared the first Germanic invasions. Their land was hospitable, with mild winters, an abundance of fowl and fish, an absence of wolves, and they enjoyed a Neolithic political system of clans. They developed an autonomous Church on their druidic religion and began Christianisation of the Germanic tribes that had invaded Great Britain, at least a century before the arrival on that isle of Saint Augustine of Canterbury who was carrying the Roman version of Christ’s message. The vitality of the Celts was so great that they invaded Caledonia to which they gave their own name of Scotland.

Their monks were present all over Europe. Yet, the Viking attack on Ireland was so violently destructive that the Celts never recovered from it. Their civilization withered away. In Europe, the Roman Church remained alone in the field without any serious contender but the Orthodox Faith.

With the Byzantine exarque residing in Ravenna and later with the Basileus, the Holy See communicated only by letters. This lack of physical presence of the temporal ruler, the weakness of Byzantium during the barbaric invasions and the need for the Papacy to confront the barbarians (Alaric, Attila, Odoacer, Theodoric and the Lombards), the Christian tradition that slowly asserted the emergence of the Patriarch of Rome over the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Constantinople as leader of the Church, all this contributed to separate Rome from the Basileus. Already in 729, Gregory II forcefully defined the Roman Church’s positions: “We derive our authority and power from the Prince of Apostles, Peter, and we could, if we want, pronounce judgment on You but You have already pronounced a judgment on yourself and on your own advisors and You and them may remain damned!” This virulent epistle was sent to the Basileus after Byzantine arms had driven the Arabs back, only 10 years before. The separation of Rome from the Orthodox Church was only a matter of time.

The Germanic Empire was most active in the push east and the christianisation of barbarians but Germany was, however, not the only regnum that imposed the Roman version of the Catholic Faith. A different regnum existed in England, which participated in the christianisation of Scandinavia, which in turn colonized Finland. After the Viking invasions, the defender of Paris gained a large autonomy and soon Francia escaped the control of the Emperor. From Aquitaine, the reconquest of Spain began. Christian Normans settled in Sicily and recognized no sovereign, nor did the Magyars and the Croats. In short, the Roman Church had to deal with various reigns but felt bound to none. This was apparent already during Theodoric’s time, who chastised Rome for dealing with the Byzantines while the Byzantines accused Rome of treason with the Ostrogoths.

Around the year 1,000, the continent was almost completely christianized but there existed no political unity. Furthermore, the Church itself had sunk into moral depravation. When, in 962, a great Emperor, Otto 1st, was consecrated by an inept pope, the drama was announced. In front of a deliquescent Papacy, the Emperor, by definition endowed with universal ambitions, wanted the universal direction of Christendom. The Holy See was at that time in no position to defend itself and the Saxonian Emperor began the reformation of the Church from without, appointing to the highest ecclesiastical charges those he believed most fit and most willing to serve the Emperor’s purposes, i.e. his sisters, brothers, cousins. The material power and the prestige of the emperors were, however, too weak to assert themselves and they had no relationship of authority with a spiritual power that might support them. Too many reigns (Francia, England, Sweden, Croatia, Spain, Hungary etc.) did not participate in it and disintegrating forces appeared in the German Realm itself. The only integrating force at hand was Christendom but it would not be available until a spiritual revival had taken place from within.

11.4.1 Hildebrand

The renovation of the Church started with a puritanical revolution at the monastery of Cluny. Cluny was a Benedictine abbey founded in 927. Its novelty was that it was absolutely free of any political or hierarchical control: the local bishop had no say in the conduct of the abbey. The rule of Benedict was followed by the Benedictines usually only in a lax manner but the abbots of Cluny, initially exempt from simoniacal practices 9, had the power and energy to restore the rule in its pristine harshness, which they did. Note that the period was one of chaos, with the Vikings repeatedly laying Europe to waste, with the result that the temporal and spiritual rulers were little more than scoundrels. The much-needed reformation that was implemented assured the fame of the monastery (see fig. 11.8).

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Figure 11.8. Cluny in the 16th century. Lithography of 1879. The monks on the foot of the church indicate its dimensions.

Hughes of Semur, abbot from 1049 to 1109, made it the greatest church of Europe. At that time, Cluny was on imperial soil. The abbey was destroyed by the French Revolutionaries in the 18th century and served as a stone quarry.

Hildebrand was at Cluny in 1049, together with the elected pope Leon IX. He accompanied the new pope to Rome and helped him to energetically reform the conventions of the depraved papal court. Leon IX died in 1054, the year of the Great Schism. Victor II, whose main occupation during his short pontificate was to dismiss inept and simoniacal bishops, followed him.

A decree of Pope Nicolas II, promulgated in 1059, stipulated: “…that, in order to make sure the disease of venality will find no occasion to enter surreptitiously, the men of the Church acquire a decisive role in the outcome of a papal election and that laymen be followers” and further “that they make their choice in the Roman Church if an adequate person can be found there; otherwise, someone else is eligible”. The dominance of the Roman aristocracy over the Roman Church was thereby terminated. The papal court thus became genuine by law, and universal. And indeed the next pope was not a Roman aristocrat nominated by the Emperor but was the Florentine Benedictine monk Hildebrand, elected Gregory VII. Despite his name “Hildebrand”, Gregory was born in Tuscany. However, the Empire had returned in Frankish hands in 1065, with Henry IV. The Franks, contrary to the Saxons, resented the dominance of the papacy, and a clash will soon appear.

Gregory VII decreed that no priest would marry, to avoid that the priesthood becomes a hereditary benefice. One must take care here not to derive from this interdiction more than it entails. Gregory did not forbid fornication, did not forbid sexual intercourse to anointed clergymen but solely marriage. His concern with this interdiction was not moral but juridical and left room for sexual satisfactions. The policy of sexual abstinence imposed by Gregory on the priestly class relied on the most respected tradition of the Church, which always advocated restraint in procreation for her sons and daughters, but was humane. Paul wrote and spoke in this sense also, with humanity and understanding for the sexual needs of his flock (1. Cor. 7:1 to 40).

Orthodox priests and popes married and founded families. The Schism allowed the enforcement of Gregory’s policy. At the council of 1074, Gregory excluded from the Church all priests who either married or received their charge from the temporal power. However, in the Germanic Empire, most of the bishops had received their charge from the prince. The emperor had nominated the pope preceding Hildebrand because the emperors did not want unable people in important functions and because these charges had usually as collateral immense revenues that the prince did not want in the hands of hereditary vassals who might become unruly. People belonging to the House of the emperor were the usual beneficiaries of this policy.

In 1075, Gregory made his measure retroactive and thereupon, on the 24th of January 1076, the twenty-six years old Franconian emperor Henry IV disqualified the pope at Worms. And the pope excommunicated the emperor at Canossa. The young emperor was a Frank. The Saxons had not forgotten the way the Frank Carolus had vanquished and subdued them. They sided with the pope. All his subjects, bishops included, abandoned Henry and a political coalition arose to disqualify him. Very astutely, Henry submitted. Since humility is one of the most important virtues of feudal times, Henry came out of this ordeal morally stronger and politically secure. He then immediately recidivated and the pope again excommunicated him in 1080. This time, however, the cutting edge of the terrible papal weapon was blunted and the imperial clergy remained behind its emperor. Henry descended to Italy and installed an antipope on the Holy See while Gregory was prisoner in the Saint Angel Castle. However, Hildebrand had the Normans as allies: he had favoured the invasion of Germanic Great Britain by the Norman duke of Normandy and had also favoured the occupation of southern Italy and of Sicily by the Normans to protect southern Italy from Muslim predatory raids. His faithful Sicilian Normans delivered him but they took advantage of the occasion to plunder the City. Gregory was forced to leave and accompany his rude liberators to Sicily. He died in Salerno in 1085.

Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII, a passionate and impetuous man of action, is the central figure of the world’s history, who shaped our present way of life, and the noblest figure of all. The purpose of Hildebrand was to raise in this world the banner of Liberty against tyrants and to achieve this in a juridical way. “Who ignores that the kings and princes stem from those who, oblivious of God and in fact under the impulsion of the Prince of this World, the Devil, through arrogance, theft, treason, murder and almost all sorts of crimes, have aspired with blind cupidity and intolerable haughtiness and voluptuousness, to dominate their equals, that is Men?”. Hildebrand used his virulent arguments against Henry from Saint Augustine: he restated what was in germination for a long time.

The bull of excommunication, Canossa, the dismal failure of Hildebrand, his death in exile, this whole story has haunted the imagination of Christendom forever thereafter and rightly so. Hildebrand was not engaged in a banal quarrel with another ambitious power. The conflict was not a power struggle between two arbitrary forces over mankind. What was at stake was the concept of legitimacy of power, which is the basis of any human society. Who obeys whom, why and by how much? Hildebrand and his assessors never claimed for themselves the power of the Emperor but they put a limit to that power. With Hildebrand, the absolute primacy of the spiritual power over the temporal is affirmed not as a theoretical postulate nor as an ideal but as a juridical principle.

The Church emerged from this crisis immensely reinforced and constituted an autonomous authority in relation to the power of the Emperor. The promotion of the celibacy of priests was successful and led in Europe to the effective suppression of the clerical caste because it requested a constant renewal of the Hierarchy’s ranks from without. It offered opportunities of social advancement to men of talent who either entered the ranks or else substituted the formerly priestly administrative functions. A vigorous and free spiritual power was created that took Europe in charge at a time feudalism was losing its strength. Freedom from a sovereign, acquired by abbeys as Cluny, rapidly led to freedom at the political level and Free Cities emerged.

11.4.2 City-states 10

Independent cities appeared during the lull between the destruction of Christendom and the creation of National states (fig. 11.9). These inde­pendent cities had an immeasurably great bearing on the development of the Western sense of Liberty. Their autonomy and importance soared spectacularly while the power of the feudal lords drastically diminished.

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Figure 11.9. Rapid development of cities in North-Germany. (Blue) squares: 9 cities before 1190. (Mauve) diamond: 20 cities before 1230. (Rose) circle: cities built before 1250. (Orange) triangle: cities before 1290. (Yellow) star: about 40 cities, mainly in Oriental Germany, before 1330.

The prowess of the cities of Flanders and Northern Italy was to stand up against the avidity of the landlords (in Flanders, it was the king of France, in Northern Italy, it was the Frankish Germanic emperor) and retain in their own hands the capital necessary for their economic development. The dominance of the West finds, basically, its source in the rejection of socialism and absolutism, in the capacity of free men to keep the fruits of their labor to themselves and, therewith, apply the savings to further development as they saw fit and not as a central government decides.

At the end of the great invasions, peace appeared in reach and a small increase in population occurred. New techniques such as the harnessing of horses and iron tools transformed agricultural exploitations and caused a surplus of serfs. However, the great forests were not cleared to provide additional agricultural land and North Africa, the traditional granary, had reached the state of abandonment that it has retained until the 19th century. Famines occurred between 970 and 1040 and especially in 1033. A stream of derelict people poured into the cities. The cities needed hands for the development of agricultural lands immediately under their control, needed artisans for the development of industries (glass in Venice, textiles in Flanders, arms in Toledo, honey in Kiev) that provided a return freight for merchants and also needed a strong armed militia necessary to protect the burghers against the new city dwellers. These were welcome and easily granted “right of city” but were savage and desperate and had to be severely disciplined. To achieve this, the cities set up militia.

The successful revolt of a city against its suzerain in Northern Europe occurred in Flanders on 11 July 1302 (the battle of the golden spurs). The victory of a city’s army over the French royal army was received throughout Europe with a shock of disbelief similar to the one that shocked the Occident when the attack on the Twin Towers of New York took place on 11 September 2001. The showdown started with the desire of the avid French King Philip the fair (1268-1314) to definitely subjugate the County of Flanders and appropriate its wealth, as he had successfully done with the Languedoc and the duchy of Normandy. The king took the very old count Guy de Dampierre and his son in custody, wherewith the matter seemed settled. The king sent to Flanders his delegate Jacques de Chatillon to collect the taxes, which all the cities of the county remitted in his hands to be transferred to Paris, but Bruges refused. This first rebellion ended with diplomacy. A second rebellion rose, due to the extraordinary entente between the leader of the artisan’s guilds (De Coninc) and a son of the Count. Diplomacy again allowed an agreement, the rebels were allowed to leave the city unmolested and Bruges submitted again. The French troops (about 500 men) took advantage of this to occupy the city, occupation that was not foreseen in the settlement. This breach alarmed the city officials, who called the rebels back. The rebels sneaked back into town at night and proceeded to an ethnic cleansing by killing all people unable to pronounce correctly the Flemish words “schild en vriend” (shield and friend). It was not a great massacre, since four hundred of the five hundred French soldiers escaped, including de Chatillon who took refuge in the castle of Courtrai. The city’s militia followed them there, and was itself attacked by the French royal army led by Robert, count of Artois.

Artois was an excellent, experienced commander. The 2000 knights making up the royal heavy cavalry had armored horses, they themselves wore excellently crafted armor and were highly trained in combat. Each knight equated 10 foot-soldiers. Thousand professional bowmen stood by them and 4000 foot soldiers supported the whole army. The army they faced was totally inexperienced, except its commanders. The County’s army had received the support of knights from Hainaut, Namur and Holland and these numbered 300.

The tactics adopted by Artois was the one that had given the royal army innumerous victories previously: a portion of the enemy lines was first showered with arrows, followed by a frontal cavalry attack. The lines were pierced and the enemy taken in the rear. Facing such a tactic, the 300 knights of the Count of Flanders were assisted by the 8000 foot soldiers of the militia of Bruges. The militia had, in their daily assignments, which was to keep the civil peace within the city, no great use of bowmen and wore no armors. They also had no experience of war. However, the militia had superb metallic shields, was armed with swords, goedendags (i.e. good day; the goedendag consisted in a wooden ball spiked with metallic points, attached by a short metallic chain to a wooden handle; it pierced helmets and skulls, also those of horses), and an abundance of solid lances.

The issue of the battle made no doubt. Before the battle, that the County’s commanders thought lucidly they could not possibly win, the 300 noblemen dismounted their horses, knighted 30 artisans in front of the army, mingled with the foot-soldiers, arranged their formation in tight order to shield them from arrows and ordered the killing on the spot of all King’s knights caught. This command ran counter all established customs and decency and was meant to prevent the disbanding of the lines by non-experienced and derelict foot soldiers anxious to claim prisoners of whom they expected ransom.

The royal army engaged battle a little before noon. The arrows did not have the expected disbanding effect, the heavy cavalry did not pierce the enemy lines as expected and 1250 knights at the service of the king perished, including Artois and de Chatillon. The city of Gent thereafter joined Bruges and the royal armies never succeeded thereafter to durably avenge the insult. The new tactics were rapidly adopted by other cities to successfully assert their autonomy, and the king of England applied it with success at Azincourt, in 1415. The cities’ armies could never be assembled and maintained for longer than about 2 months per year, which precluded foreign adventures and also put them always on the defensive against the attacks of powerful national states that maintained standing armies. The French armies regained military dominance with Francis Ist.

The Crown made pay the city of Bruges a very high price for its defection, and it took Bruges at least 30 years to recover from the severe drain on its finances. The battle of the golden spurs prevented the kingdom of France to extend its possessions from Normandy to the Dutch coastline and therewith threaten the English coast. It directed the appetite of the French Crown toward Aquitaine and left the possibility to the autonomously administered county of Flanders to develop further without hindrance: the taxes collected in Flanders were not squandered by Paris in war against the English during the Hundred Years war. It allowed the maintenance of the business links between Flanders and England, demanded by the artisans: both countries could develop economically. It strengthened the political partnership of the artisans with their local rulers by focusing the politics of the county on their own economic needs: the liberty of adhesion of the cities to their suzerain was maintained by the “Joyous entry”.

11.4.3 The birth of technology

Innate intelligence is broadly the same for all human races. It requires more intelligence to survive in a primitive society than is required to survive and prosper in modern surroundings. The spirit of inventiveness leading to the discovery of paper, the printing press, gunpowder, rudders, steel, and magnetic needles was as high in the East as in the West. Isolated cases of people experimenting with wheels, gears and screws occurred in Antiquity (in China of course, but also in Greece, e.g. Archimedes and Heron). The Byzantine Empire and the Muslim realm were not devoid of able engineers, gifted architects and competent strategists but machines never became an essential and important element in the productive system of these civilizations. The Roman emperor Dioclecian, who socialized the empire in 301, refused to use machines for construction purposes because he needed to give work to “his poor”.

The same situation could have occurred and lasted in the West during the middle Ages. Until about 1000 years ago, the Europeans were few in numbers and lived about 30 years. Their diet was restricted to two-three vegetables (onions, carrots) while meat was reserved for the nobility. In the absence of animal proteins, their health was poor, even that of the nobility. Medieval armor now fits a 14-year-old contemporary American boy. Their mental development was commensurate to that of their bodies. They were uncouth, ignorant and lazy. Well within the thirteenth century, the prevailing opinion of the Byzantines was that the Europeans were barbarians and this was also the opinion of Marco-Polo who had just returned from Peking after having lived 17 years there. Under these conditions, how did the West succeed in taking the road of technology 11?

Firstly, there was the influence of the Church that separated from Byzantium. It was a traumatic experience, even if long overdue. The Church thereafter superbly took its clergy back in hands. Secondly, the continuous drain on the population, due to invasions, wars, plagues and famines resulted in an extreme poverty in human capital. The people concentrated in cities. Thirdly, there was a rising awareness of human value and dignity, which was a point long defended by the Church. Fourthly, Innocent III (beginning of the 13th century) protected the attempt of the Franciscans and Dominicans at a religious renovation that introduced an egalitarian element into Christendom. The Begging Orders incarnated a saint and respectful disdain for the established social rules. In a world of castes, in a world socially stable divided into Nobility which considered work a disgrace, a Clergy whose immense wealth and loose morals drew on the side of the rulers, and Serfs who accomplished extenuating menial work under dreadful conditions, the Church introduced its marginals. The Begging Orders were initially rejected by the city dwellers because these Orders preached poverty, which was the situation the City Dwellers most feared. In addition, Universities emerged in the cities. These centers of knowledge were fostered by the Church, which advocated the gratuity of the teaching, and were vigorously protected by the Papacy against the interference and encroachment of the central political powers. All did not go well with the universities. The Church controlled the teachers by forbidding some matters as Greek and Arab thoughts and by granting exclusivity of exercise of some professions, as medicine, to the university students. At the end of the Middle Age, universities became centers of oppression and obscurantism in the fields of theology, philosophy and medicine. The central political powers finally controlled the professors in State Universities. Influential also was the Pax Ottonia, which secured goods and lives throughout the Germanic Empire without the heavy taxes needed to maintain standing armies. To this was added the expatriation of warriors and other disruptive elements to the Near East. This call to crusades was decisive in opening the minds of the Roumis. Roumi meant European to Muslims while they were called Ferengi, i.e. Franks in Fareast civilizations.

Very characteristically, it is there where the cities were best organized and had had the opportunity to gain freedom and keep to themselves the fruit of their labor that the adventure started. In Flanders, the king of France had nothing to say and in Northern Italy, the feud between Papacy and Empire fostered disorders that allowed freedom. Realism slowly permeated the civilization, which took a materialistic tincture. From the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth, technology moved ahead in almost every field. The scarcity of people favored the trend of machine building. Applied mechanics came to play an increasingly important role in the productive process. Thomas Malthus warned in 1798 that excessive population growth would inevitably outpace food production. There is no doubt that rapid population growth is adverse to economic development. The empirical record indicates that the countries that succeed in breaking the poverty gap are those which have low fertility and mortality rates.

After the eleventh century, the proportion of the urban population grew steadily (see fig. 11.15) and soon represented the most dynamic element in the development of the Western civilization. Crowded urban centers devoid of hygiene and the inherent weakness of the population made it vulnerable to epidemic diseases. The development of medicine is linked to this apparition of an urban proletariat as well as to that of an upperclass of city administrators who will have “new” diseases (e.g. syphilis, pest) and psychosomatic diseases proper to civil servants. Contact with the Orient (the crusades advocated by Urban II) introduced the pulmonary pest. The Black Death decimated Europe between 1346 and 1351. At least one person out of three died from the pest. This coincided with the Hundred Years War fought on the soil of France. As a result, the growth of population was checked so that, in the presence of growing economic activity, a substantial increase in real wages occurred.

Since labor became expensive, the pressure to adopt laborsaving devices grew stronger and the Europeans became more machine-minded than ever. The abandon of the fields by peasants attracted by the high wages obtained in the cities induced in 1351 the English parliament to force the peasants back to the countryside, with moderate wages, to avoid the threat of famine.

In the absence of competent overlords and of a central government, the capitalistic cities led by men far more sophisticated than feudal lords reached out for more and more autonomy and privileges, these being guaranteed by the sovereign when he made in the city his ‘Joyous Entry”. In some instances, as Italy, the cities prospered as demonstrated by the histories of Genoa, Milan, Pisa, Venice and Florence. In one instance, they formed a loose union, which was the Hanseatic League led by Lübeck. In most instances, the cities arrived at individual arrangements with the Prince, the final outcome of this process being the autonomous government of cities as we know it, with mayors, city police and city taxes. Finally, the Prince of whom they expected protection crushed some cities, as was the case of Novgorod, Kiev and Paris. These cities fell back to the level of all other cities of the world, which depend totally on the central government and were unable to impose their own views. Paris got a mayor only in the 1970′s. Before that, it was administered by the central government.

The net result of the efflorescence of cities was that there existed political powers with which the central government had discussions for the obtainment of financial contributions. Cities protected the “in house” merchants from outside competition. Artisans belonged to “guilds” and these men, freed from the rapacity of the sovereign, could thrive in dignity and have the product of their work sold at the price set by their corporation, standards of workmanship also being defined. The initial change was painfully slow. A progressive acceleration took place due to cumulative mechanisms. Political conditions and available craftsmen explain the rapid proliferation of firearms, improvement of shipbuilding and the expansion of ocean navigation. In turn, the demand for cannons and anchors stimulated the growth of metal and mining industries, which induced the proliferation of craftsmen to devise mechanisms for the pumping of water and the hauling of minerals.

11.4.4 The “Deutsche Hanse”

Commerce arises when surplus goods are produced, that cannot be absorbed locally. To sell the goods on foreign markets, there is a need first to produce quality materials and goods on a stable basis, second of a merchant gifted to present the goods to foreigners under the form of a desirable and useful commodity, of ways to transport the goods without undue delay and without deterioration, and finally the assurance that the goods will not be stolen underway or at their place of arrival. In addition, the merchant, a foreigner wherever he is, must master several languages, be able to read, count and write, know the customs and laws of the regions where he exercises his activities, be able to defend himself and feel at ease everywhere.

These conditions were met in Northern Europe initially by the Vikings. They engaged in commerce with North Europe and Russia as early as the 7th century. The Scandinavian people, once Christianized, were politically well in advance over the other European communities: the first European democracy appeared in Iceland in 980. The Normans occupied not only Denmark and Norway but also parts of Russia, French Normandy, England and Sicily. This vast political net allowed the development of commerce, albeit on a small scale.

Three hundred years later, the civil Saxon Ottonians came to power in Germany. The Pax Ottonia soon bore wonderful fruits: the pacification of the land resulted in an intense travel overland because the roads had been made safe, and also an intense sedentarisation of the people, most noticeable in the Northern part of the Empire. The people slowly congregated in cities, not around a burg or a castle for protection but around the market place that had itself evolved under the impulse of individual merchants. With the development of ships able to transport about 20 tons of merchandise very cheaply with wind at a speed of about 15 km/hour, individual merchants from Cologne began to sell Rhine wine from year 1130 on in London, where Henry II had allowed them to settle along the Thames, at Guildhall.

Lübeck was founded in 1158. Between 1161 and 1299, the individual German merchants associated to serve, essentially by sea, Russia and West Germany. The goods exchanged consisted in beer, casks and barrels, grain, copper and silver ores, wood and fish.

The merchants of Lübeck gained preponderance because they had command over the commerce of salt, which they obtained from Lüneburg that exploited salt mines. Salt was, in those times, very precious for the conservation of meat and fish. Lübeck sold the salt in Bergen to the Norwegians who wanted to export fish and in Novgorod to the Russians who had a surplus of meat and animal skins. The merchants of Lübeck supplanted the Cologne merchants in London in 1241, with the establishment of the Steelyard factory. The might of Lübeck increased steadily. It initiated its expansion by taking away from the Scandinavians the commerce in the Baltic Sea. A factory was established in Bergen (Norway) and in Novgorod (Russia). In 1253, Marguerite of Constantinople allowed the settlement of the German merchants (called the eastern people, in Flemish, the Oosterlingen) in Bruges.

The German merchants could commerce without any hindrance in London from AD 1281 on. The statutes of the factory of Bruges were defined in 1347.

The association of individual merchants evolved, in 1356, in an association of merchant cities, the “Deutsche Hanse” league, supported by the Germanic Emperor (fig 11.10).

Figure 11.10. The towns and factories of the Hanse. The four factories (blue triangles) were London, Novgorod, Bruges and Bergen. The Hanse was led by Lübeck (red rectangle).

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It negotiated, on a foot of equality with other free cities and princes, preferential treatment, abrogation of taxes, reduction of interest rates, building of Embassies and development of market halls. In 1360, Bruges was forced to extend privileges to the Hanse. In 1370, it obtained from the king of Denmark free passage of the merchant ships through the Sont. In 1523, the Hanse replaced Christian II by Frederic on the Danish throne. In 1535, the Hanse supported without success the revolt of the Danes against their king Christian III. The Hanse allied in 1563 with Poland and Denmark to oppose Sweden for the control of the Baltic Sea.

11.4.5 Capitalism

In Bruges, the result of the entente between nobility and trade guilds during the battle of the golden spurs was that trade guilds participated now in government. The municipal power was asserted by the construction of the city hall in 1376 (fig. 11.11). This marvelous piece of architecture was accompanied by the erection of the market halls and belfry (see fig. 11.12), where all cloths made in Flanders and sold by the merchants of Bruges were examined for quality, size and weight before receiving an attestation.

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Figure 11.11. City Hall of Bruges built in 1376
Figure 11.12. The belfry of Bruges, painted by JB van Meuninckxhove (1703). It was built in several stages, initiating around 1350.

The Hanse merchants exported the cloth on an exclusive basis and developed a cargo-ship for that purpose. (fig. 11.13).

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Figure 11.13. The Cogge is a one-mast ship developed at Bremen (Germany) in the years 1380 for the transport of goods.

Bruges itself developed with the selling of the cloth manufactured in the whole of Flanders with English wool. To make cloth, aluminium sulfate is needed, which had to be imported, mainly from the Papal estates. The exploitation of the aluminium ores provided the Holy See with huge revenues, that it defended vigorously against encroachments, by fair means or excommunication.

However, Bruges occupied a unique geographical position and also succeeded in waving, in 1302, the oppression of the French crown. These conditions allowed it to fully participate to the commercial adventure of the Hanse and provide desirable goods imported from Southern Europe, with which it had strong links. At the end of the 13th century, Bruges had become a cosmopolitan city with a population of 45.000 people, i.e. as much as Paris. A Genoan galley accosted for the first time in Damme, the harbor of Bruges, in 1277. A Venetian galley visited Damme for the first time in 1314. The Genoans built an embassy in Bruges in 1399, soon followed by the embassies of Venice and Florence.

Lübeck developed remarkably and built the Hodsemtor Gateway in 1477 as a symbol of civic pride (fig. 11.14). The Hanse erected in Bruges the “Oosterlingenhuis” in 1478 (fig. 11.15).

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Figure 11.14. Hodsemtor Gateway It is build in the Gothic style. The needs of construction in brick (backstein) rather than stone dictated a stripped-down, exaggeratedly simplified form. This backstein-gothik shows a disillusionment with the possibilities offered by the Gothic idiom.
Figure 11.15.The embassy of the Oosterlingen, i.e. the Easterners, in Bruges. Built in 1478. It burned down.

The policy of war pursued by the French crown, and the volume of the goods that needed to be transported, made land transport across France unsafe and impracticable, with the consequence that the former medieval markets of Champagne were abandoned in favor of Bruges. The city exchanged goods between South and Northern Europe on a gigantic scale by the building of market places, granaries, storage houses, wine cellars, and used the banking expertise of the Italians to develop into the first capitalistic city of the world. The term Börse, la bourse, bursary, purse, stems from the family Beurse, which opened a hotel and initiated a brokerage activity in Bruges in 1285. Bruges had a tendency to increase taxes on merchandises in transit and prices for services (translations, banking operations, brokerage, insurance) incommensurate with their real value. Brokerage was a monopoly reserved to the inhabitants of Bruges, who needed to master French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, translated into German, Norwegian, Letton , English, Russian, etc., and reverse. This gluttony was opposed by the repeat threat of the foreign merchants to move their embassies somewhere else, which finally occurred when Antwerp (fig. 11.16) took the lead over Bruges, in the middle of the 16th century.

Afbeelding 280

Figure 11.16. Antwerp: the cathedral, engraving on copper by Wenzel Hollar, 1647.

By that time, the Low Countries had integrated the Germanic Empire (with Charles V) and their lot was common. The Hanse is remembered by the German air company Lufthansa, and the HH on the automobile plates of Hamburg stands for Hansestad Hamburg. The Hanse had a tremendous civilizing influence, which crumbled down when the Germans indulged in the Thirty Years war, in 1629. The Empire resumed march toward progress under the guidance of Prussia but the harm inflicted to it during centuries by France translated into a nationalistic and even chauvinistic posture that ended up in the disasters of the two world wars.

The wars of religion caused the partition of the Low Countries. The catholic Southern part abandoned its cosmopolitan vocation and entered into a tetanic chauvinist spasm which still perdures today. Contrary to Brussels and French-speaking Belgium, that refused to collaborate with the Nazi chase of Jews during W.W.II, the city leadership of Antwerp meekly collaborated with the German occupant to organize three razzias of Jews with the help of the city police, approved by the catholic intelligentia of the city (L. Saerens: Vreemdelingen in een wereldstad. Lannoo, Tielt, 2000). The Northern part, the Netherlands, associated with England to promote further the notion of human individual liberty and progress.

11.4.6 The rise of England

Very soon, the European princes showed interest in machines, which were in those days quite simple. It meant the doom, or at least compromise, for the societies of free men and the rise of powerful national states. The basic asset of the more developed countries was their stock of human capital. Wars and religious fanaticism induced craftsmen to put their instruments on their backs and leave troubled regions. The very first exodus occurred in Italy during the wars of 1494-1559. Thereafter, France suffered a heavy drain. The Spaniards tore the Low Countries into pieces after 1550. Then Germany was the theater of unending fights. On the whole, England, Holland and Sweden profited correspondingly, because they were lucky and because they were administered with wisdom and sagacity, and this explains their later expansion.

A remarkable prediction of the possible worlds to come, described by Jacques Arrali (“Une brève histoire de l’avenir”, 425 pages, Fayard 2006, ISBN 2-213-63130-1) states in its introduction, on page 16, that History goes always in the same stubborn direction: “from century to century, Humanity imposes the primacy of individual liberty over any other value. This is an evidence only by hindsight. It applies solely to a few people residing at a given moment in a particular environment, and this statement does not take contingency into account. The record shows that it was a highly unlikely event.

A final element of progress that explains the contemporary dominance of Anglo-Saxon culture of experimental approaches was, very surprisingly, the rule of law adopted by that country after the Viking and Norman invasions. The concept of fact developed in the English law court 12. As a concept applied to human actions, “matters of fact” attested to the 16th century belief that human beings could arrive at “just” conclusions based on true facts and that institutions rendering the law in a “just” manner could routinely exercise. The culture of fact that gradually developed in England as a legal concept was generalized to other domains of knowledge and led to experimental approaches. Because the English citizens were already convinced that credible witnesses could produce reliable knowledge, they were inclined to believe that natural philosophers could discover facts about the natural world even when their experiments were conducted under conditions far removed from nature.


9. This was true only in the beginning. The doom of the clunisian and cistercian orders is traced to the simoniacal practices of the French royalty.

10. C. Cipolla: European culture and overseas Expansion. Pelican books, 1970

11. C. Cipolla: European culture and overseas Expansion. Pelican books, 1970

12. B. J. Shapiro: A Culture of Fact: England 1550-1720. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2000

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