The End of the Middle Ages
The end of the Middle Ages.
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Two events greatly shaped the future toward the end of the Middle Ages. The first was the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague, or Black Death, killed 30 to 60% of the population of Europe.
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This was approximately 25 million people. So, it made a huge impact on all of Europe. The growth of cities and increase in travel between cities led to the rapid spread of this disease. So, how this disease actually started was that fleas on rats would be carrying it. And then the fleas would bite the rats, or the fleas would travel on the rats, and they would go on ships from different places, and get on to people, and then to clothes, and to other animals, and the disease would spread.
People would flee the cities to try to get away from the disease, and they would carry the disease with them. Or just simply by traveling to trade between cities, the fleas or infected people or animals would bring the disease with them. And if a flea bites you, or a rat bites you, or once it got to someone’s lungs, if they were coughing, there could airborne particles that could infect you.
So, there were several ways this disease was able to be spread once it started growing as it did. And so, the cities already had a lot of people in them. The conditions weren’t always clean in cities, and so, if you stayed in the city, and the city was infected, you were likely to get the bubonic plague. If you traveled out of the city, you may have been able to survive the plague, but you would’ve probably spread it to other places. So, the spread of this disease happened very quickly, and it was able to affect a lot of people in that short amount of time.
Now, the disease caused seemingly random devastation, and caused people to question their faith. If people are praying and saying, “God, please don’t let me get the plague.” And then they get the plague. If good, God-fearing people that went to church every day were getting the plague, and people who were known as robbers or burglars or generally bad people were safe, it looked very random, and it was really going to cause people to question their faith. In turn, the power of the church suffered. So, the bubonic plague or Black Death affected the Europe both mentally and physically. Physically, it took a toll and knocked out 30 to 60% of the population. Mentally, it changed people’s mindsets toward the church.
The other major event toward the end of the Middle Ages was the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, around 1436. So, before now, people would spend a really long time writing out pages, or they had something that was similar to the printing press, but it didn’t have movable type. You had to use the same thing over and over. So, once you made something to print with, that was it, kind of like a stamp, where the printing press Johannes Gutenberg came up with had movable type, and so, you could move letters around and make new words, and then print. Move letters around and make new words, and then print.
And so, you could change what the words on your stamps said, where with previous versions of a printing press, you couldn’t do that. And so, you wouldn’t get as many copies of something made because you would have to go through the trouble of making each individual stamp for the printing press, where instead of just being able to move the letters around on one stamp.
So, the printing press was first used to print cheap copies of the Bible. So, the first thing Johannes Gutenberg made was the Bible. It made them cheap, easily available for lots of people, and so, that was what a lot of people wanted first was the Bible. And so, that’s what Johannes Gutenberg made, it made copies of the Bible available to everyday people, where before, it may have just been upper-class people that were able to afford a book.
Soon after, printing presses with movable type were being used to print a variety of things. So, once he got this invention going, lots of people started making them too, and printing more things. And so, the literacy rate in Europe rose dramatically. If there were more books to read, more people were going to be able to learn to read. And more people were going to want to learn to read because they wanted to read these books that were coming out and being distributed throughout the countries. So, the literacy rate rose a lot because of the interest in printing presses, and the new books that were being printed that anyone could access, not just the upper class. It became possible to spread ideas much more quickly.
So, before, you may have had to only spread ideas by word of mouth, now, if it was in print, you could make lots of copies of this and disburse it throughout the country, or your city, or the whole continent. And so, ideas were able to be able to spread much more quickly, and if it was the same copy of a book, it wasn’t going to be like a rumor, where if your ideas were being spread by word of mouth, they could get changed from city to city as someone repeated it to someone else, and interpreted it a different way. If the ideas are in print, they can’t be changed quite so much. They’re still open to interpretation, but the words aren’t going to change from place to place as the idea is being distributed.
So, the two major events toward the end of the Middle Ages that changed how the future was going to unfold were the bubonic plague, which took a toll and wiped out 30 to 60% of the population of Europe, and changed the way that people were seeing the church. And the printing press, it being invented in 1436 was the second event. It made books available to everyone, and they didn’t cost a lot of money, and it wasn’t just for the upper class, which caused the literacy rate to increase, and ideas to be able to be spread more quickly.
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