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The term 'renaissance' literally means 'rebirth.' The renaissance was a socio-cultural movement which began in Italy in the beginning of the fourteenth century and gradually spread all over Europe reaching England almost a hundred years later. Various theories have been proposed concerning its origins.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 is usually accepted as an important reason for the beginning of the renaissance. The Ottoman Turks invaded and captured Constantinople the capital of the Byzantine empire in 1453 and closed down all the schools of higher learning. This led to a mass exodus of Greek scholars to Italy with their precious manuscripts, which in turn led to the dissemination of the Greek classical texts all over Europe which is believed to have sparked off the renaissance.
Development of Scholasticism and Crusades to recapture Jerusalem are the other two factors that led to the beginning of renaissance.
The Renaissance was a period of scientific, intellectual, and cultural awakening beginning in mid-14th century Italy. The Renaissance stressed humanist ideas, that is ideas founded in classical Greek and Roman thought, from philosophy and education to art and cultural influence.
One key reason for the Renaissance was the emergence of secular curiosity. During the long feudal period in Western Europe, education was done through the church. Not even kings were necessarily literate; those who could read and write [in most cases] learned through the church. This logically means that all education was non-secular; it was founded in Catholic principles. The Black Death, and a combination of other factors, led to the decline of feudalism. With increased trading with the East, new and different thoughts, principles, and ideas came into Europe, and a renewed interest in secular education came about.
Another reason for the Renaissance was the printing press coupled with humanism. We have already defined humanism as a revival of classical Greek and Roman thought and culture. Humanism became a basis for new works, paintings, sculptures, and texts. These texts could now be widely disseminated thanks to the printing press (a technology adapted from a wood-block press invented in Tang/Song China in the 1000's CE). The printing press allowed for fast reproduction of text. Because of this, single page pamphlets became the best ways to share information. This was crucial to Western European growth as a whole- instead of waiting for cultures to independently develop new ideas and concepts, the information could be shared as quickly as the pamphlet could be carried from merchant to merchant.
Another crucial reason that allowed for Renaissance was the impact of the Black Death on Europe. Carried over by Mongols into trading ports on the Black and Caspian Sea, the Black Death arrived by merchant ships to Sicily in 1347. Within four years, thanks to a prevalence of plague infected fleas and rats, plague had run its way through most of Europe (the areas that are now known as Poland Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (among others) were not affected), and up to 1/3 of the population is estimated to have died from plague. This impact the political situation in Europe because the plague knocked out an overwhelming amount of peasants. Because the feudal system in Europe relied heavily on the peasants for food production, labor, and other services, a diminished labor force had major consequences for production. Those peasants that survived revolted against their vassals (for they were doing more work for no greater reward) and eventually the feudal system crumbled. Peasants were granted land and money for their work; this made the entire feudal system pointless. A new political system was needed, and leaders sought out different ideas for ruling their people. This helped encourage learning and trade, which both ushered in Renaissance.
Among the other factors already mentioned, the influence of the Italian scholar Petrarch is felt to be a major impetus to the rebirth of culture and learning. For, Petrarch possessed a passionate interest in the rediscovery of lost manuscripts and a strong belief in the power of ancient thought to civilize.
Along with the impetus of Petrarch, there were new political and social motivations, especially during the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, because of the emergence of new trade routes and the resulting merchant classes who retrieve from Constantinople and Muslim states classical texts which had been lost; also with the development of artisan classes, there was a renewed enthusiasm for classical architecture and art. The new city states that evolved from this expansion of trade became interested in the things of classical antiquity which would afford them the appearance of grandeur while exhibiting their wealth and effecting civilized thought and feeling as they modeled themselves after the Greek city states. In addition, it seems that some of the motivation directed toward the imitation of a once great civilization was that prestige and credibility would be brought to these newly-formed states as they followed traditional models. For example, when artisans returned to using classical forms, those who patronized them achieved a certain prestige.
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