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Europe 1300-1453: Late Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages is a term used by historians to describe European history in the period of the 14th and 15th centuries (c. AD 1300-1499). The Late Middle Ages were preceded by the High Middle Ages, and followed by the Early Modern era (Renaissance).

Around 1300, centuries of European prosperity and growth came to a halt. A series of famines and plagues, such as the Great Famine of 1315-1317 and the Black Death, reduced the population by as much as half according to some estimates. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant risings: the Jacquerie, the Peasants' Revolt, and the Hundred Years' War. To add to the many problems of the period, the unity of the Catholic Church was shattered by the Great Schism. Collectively these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.

Despite these crises, the 14th century was also a time of great progress within the arts and sciences. A renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman texts led to what has later been termed the Italian Renaissance. The absorption of Latin texts had started in the twelfth-century Renaissance through contact with Arabs during the Crusades, but the availability of important Greek texts accelerated with the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks, when many Byzantine scholars had to seek refuge in the West, particularly Italy. Combined with this influx of classical ideas was the invention of printing which facilitated dissemination of the printed word and democratized learning. These two things would later lead to the Protestant Reformation. Toward the end of the period, an era of discovery began (Age of Discovery). The growth of the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the fall of Constantinople in 1453, cut off trading possibilities with the east. Europeans were forced to discover new trading routes, as was the case with Columbus' travel to the Americas in 1492, and Vasco da Gama's circumnavigation of India and Africa in 1498. Their discoveries strengthened the economy and power of European nations.

The changes brought about by these developments have caused many scholars to see it as leading to the end of the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the modern world. However, the division will always be a somewhat artificial one for other scholars, who argue that since ancient learning was never entirely absent from European society, there is a certain continuity between the Classical and the Modern age. Some historians, particularly in Italy, prefer not to speak of the Late Middle Ages at all, but rather see the 14th century Renaissance as a direct transition to the Modern Era.

Source: Wikipedia

Europe 1300-1453: Late Middle Ages
Dante, poised between the mountain of purgatory and the city of Florence, displays the famous "incipit Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita", by Domenico di Michelino's painting. Florence 1465.