AP World History

Continuity & Change Over Time (CCOT) Essay Europe 600-1750
Question: analyze the social and economic continuities and changes that
occurred in Europe between 600 and 1750.
During the time period between 600 and 1750, economic and social
continuities and changes impacted Western Europe immensely. One particular
economic alteration was the decline of feudal manoralism, prevalent in the early
medieval era, as a result of the restoration of commerce following the Crusades.
Another major change was the socioeconomic impact of the Age of Exploration
circa 1500, which would establish European Hegemony. While economic transformations occurred throughout Western Europe, the influence of the Roman Catholic
Church was continuous despite fluctuations in its authority.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE, Western Europe became
divided into the Germanic Kingdoms that characterized the Middle Ages. Trade
languished during this time as a result of the constant warfare (feuds) and political
instability that ensued after the fall of Rome. For this reason, self-sufficient manors
managed by local warlords developed. Rigid social stratification defined the period
with a hierarchy comprised of Kings, Noblemen, Knights and peasantry. Socially, living
conditions were unfavorable, and the Black Plague ran rampant devastating the
European populace circa 1350. Between 1100 and 1300, Western Europeans
embarked upon a series of religious quests against Muslims, known as the Crusades.
European soldiers fighting in the Middle East were intrigued by foreign goods and the
Muslim preservation of long forgotten Greco-Roman ideals. Amazed at such riches and
ideas, they returned home to introduce and expose Western Europeans to what they
had discovered. As a result, commerce was resumed and interregional trade networks
were created to obtain foreign “luxury” goods that were at increased demand.
Fortunately the war had forged European contacts with the Middle East via the
Mediterranean Sea, which allowed for merchandise to be acquired from lands as far as
China without extended voyages. As trade once again began to flourish, Europe saw
the decline of manoralism. This was due to the rise in the merchant class which
challenged the power of the Aristocracy, thereby weakening their influence. Increased
business in port cities caused urbanization in several areas in addition to an emerging
middle class. Burgeoning trade and economic prosperity allowed for the resurgence of
Greco-Roman intelligence and culture in what is known as the Renaissance, which
spanned from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century.
In the midst of the Renaissance, world trade was prosperous and vast.
Nations established personal control through the commercial contacts that they
established. In an effort to shorten certain trading routes and obtain a more
surmountable amount of natural resources, many nations entered the Age of Exploration
circa 1500. Christopher Columbus, in an effort to discover a more efficient route from
Western Europe to India, accidently unearthed the Americas in 1492. His discovery led
many other European nations to pursue imperialistic endeavors in what had become
known as the New World. Two Spanish conquistadors, Cortez and Pizarro, made a
profound impact on the areas they conquered in the New World. In Mexico, the native
Aztecs were overpowered by Cortez’ forces. A majority fell ill from susceptibility to
European diseases, while the rest were placed into coercive labor systems. Similar fates
were bestowed upon the Incas subjected to Pizarro’s control. The Spanish created these
colonies as a source of raw materials and cheap labor to support their expanding
economic endeavors. To assert control over the native populations, the encomienda and
mita systems were utilized. These systems, originally devised as a means of converting
natives to Christianity, were in reality, inhumane, harsh organizations that devastated
local populations. Through coercive labor systems and colonization, European nations
were able to lay the foundation they needed to attain hegemony during this time period.
Between 600 and 1750, the Roman Catholic Church continued to play a
constant role in Western Europe. During the feudal period, the church developed its
strong authority due to the decentralized political nature of Western Europe. In this
instance Christianity acted as a unifying force amongst the several divided kingdoms of
the age. Upon entry into the Crusades in 1095, the Church’s influence was at its peak as
European soldiers rallied in opposition to Muslim forces encroaching on Byzantine
territory. Those who fought returned from the conflict to spark interests in worldly luxury
products and thought laying foundation for the European golden age or Renaissance.
Intellectual movements spurred by Renaissance thought led many to question the
morality of the Catholic Church, specifically in regards to the sale of indulgences. Martin
Luther, a Catholic monk, witnessed firsthand the lavish way in which clergy were
allowed to live due to their increased secular power. He strongly disapproved of their
practices and pursued reform through his 95 theses. The Church’s failure to comply with
his proposals resulted in his decision to begin the Protestant Reformation. This division
in the Catholic Church combined with an increase in monarchal authority temporarily
decreased the church’s influence. Circa 1500, the Age of Exploration transmitted
material goods as well as cultural and spiritual ideals. The Spanish conquistadors who
conquered regions of Latin America instilled upon the natives their Roman Catholic faith
thus replacing their polytheistic worship. What at first was evidence of religious
exploitation, as seen in the coercive labor systems established, was transformed into a
force of social stability that dominated everyday life. The spread of Christianity to the
New World once again established the Catholic Church as a religious authority with
substantial influence.
Economic and social patterns between 600 and 1750 were transformed due to
several changes and continuities throughout Western European society. The European
decline in feudalism was impacted immensely by the resurgence in commercial activities
following the Crusades. The prosperity that ensued from increased world contacts laid
the foundation for eager explorers to trail their ambitions during the Age of Exploration.
Their discoveries and conquests would then establish European Hegemony at the
expense of many aboriginal people subjected to coercive labor. Throughout this time the
Roman Catholic Church continually held a place in society despite fluctuations in their
authority and support.