European Dominance From the Black death?
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11-05-2013, 11:18 AM
European Dominance From the Black death?
The single most fascinating point in western history for me is the period Just before to just after the Bubonic Plague struck Europe. The Black Death utterly decimated Western Europe killing as many as 200 million people and crippling about half again out of the few lucky survivors.

The vastness of the devastation is really hard to fathom. The Tiber River in Rome was actually sanctified so corpses that were unburied could be thrown in the river due to the lack of manpower available to offer "proper burial". In some parts of Europe the death toll may have been as high as 70% of the population.

This event is used to mark the end of the Feudal era in Europe and soon afterwards began the Renaissance and the eventual domination of the globe by European powers. My proposal is the Black Death was the most important reason for Europe's eventual dominance.

Following the Black Death Europe faced for the first time the situation where it's labor force was less than the demand for that labor. This is of course where Automation became popular. Before this time Automation had been nothing but a toy to amuse however once the work force had been reduced to 1/10 it's former strength, between the dead and crippled, it became a matter of life and death for the survivors. This then was the catalyst towards the Renaissance and eventually the industrial age.

(31-07-2014 04:37 PM)Luminon Wrote:  America is full of guns, but they're useless, because nobody has the courage to shoot an IRS agent in self-defense
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11-05-2013, 11:43 AM (This post was last modified: 11-05-2013 11:55 AM by TheGulegon.)
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
That's very interesting. Necessity is the mother of invention, some say.
*off topic* I know Rome wasn't the epitome of humanity, but I sometimes wonder what if it hadn't fallen, and the roads & engeneering & constant building had never fallen into the dark ages. *anyhoo, disregard that*
I wonder if you could include the (very very early/primitive, & unrecognizeable) beginnings of a middle class to that list. I'm sure skilled engineers, whether they designed castles or war machines, were in short supply. And maybe you'd have to pay an instructor (that teacher being the beginning of a low, but above peasant, class) to train a farmer how to millwork, etc...(working the mill takes as little brain power as working the plow, but you get what I mean).

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11-05-2013, 12:17 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
For those interested in "what if" historical scenarios, the novel 'The Years of Rice and Salt' by Kim Stanley Robinson postulates how the world would have looked if the Plague had killed 99% of Europe's population. Haven't read it yet, but it's on my stack...
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11-05-2013, 01:52 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
Immediate counterpoint, without reading beyond the thread title:

While less serious where it originated (likely central or east asia), the plague hit EVERYBODY along the way. There were serious outbreaks all the way from Samarkand to Theodosia, before any Europeans ran into it. Southwest Asia was particularly hard hit (parts of Persia and Egypt saw some of the worst outbreaks anywhere) as well. I'm not aware of any immediate sources for parts further east, but I have to imagine there were similar outbreaks across east, south, and southeast Asia.

All right. Now, to add:

So many people dying DID create massive economic turmoil... But then, the effects are a lot more complicated that might naively be assumed. Nominal wages did increase through the 1340s and 1350s - but so did all prices, given how many fewer people were producing! And so in real terms, the average peasant was not really any better or worse after.

Perhaps a more important effect was that the rich and noble were killed at nearly the same rate as the common people. So, afterward (and only temporarily, mind!) there was indeed a lot of social mobility. But, this was true everywhere, not just (western) Europe.

True automation and mechanization was a much, much later development. The catalyst of industrialization was the machined screw, and that's a 1700s thing.
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11-05-2013, 02:27 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
(11-05-2013 01:52 PM)cjlr Wrote:  Immediate counterpoint, without reading beyond the thread title:

While less serious where it originated (likely central or east asia), the plague hit EVERYBODY along the way. There were serious outbreaks all the way from Samarkand to Theodosia, before any Europeans ran into it. Southwest Asia was particularly hard hit (parts of Persia and Egypt saw some of the worst outbreaks anywhere) as well. I'm not aware of any immediate sources for parts further east, but I have to imagine there were similar outbreaks across east, south, and southeast Asia.

All right. Now, to add:

So many people dying DID create massive economic turmoil... But then, the effects are a lot more complicated that might naively be assumed. Nominal wages did increase through the 1340s and 1350s - but so did all prices, given how many fewer people were producing! And so in real terms, the average peasant was not really any better or worse after.

Perhaps a more important effect was that the rich and noble were killed at nearly the same rate as the common people. So, afterward (and only temporarily, mind!) there was indeed a lot of social mobility. But, this was true everywhere, not just (western) Europe.

True automation and mechanization was a much, much later development. The catalyst of industrialization was the machined screw, and that's a 1700s thing.

I'm not claiming at there were no other factors just that this was the lynchpin. In Europe before the black death innovation was at a standstill the Feudal system didn't allow for new ideas and it was only through the Black Death that the system collapsed.

For example you can do alternate history on a lot of big events and we still end up with a European dominated world but remove the black death and that delays or even prevents the Renaissance which would then delay or prevent the Industrial Revolution.

The devastation in Europe and the aftermath is what I believe to be the cause of those changes. Now of course the Bubonic Plague affected people outside of Europe (it is believed to have evolved in China) however they did not respond to the devastation the same way the Europeans did.

As for automation I brought that up because before the black death automation was never an issue because you had more hands to do the work than work that needed hands. Remember it took Europe centuries to regain the population it had pre-plague.

As far as Epochs go it is also one of the few that happened very fast we are only talking about a 15 year window. In history 15 years is nothing, Rome fell for a few hundred years, to name another Epoch.

(31-07-2014 04:37 PM)Luminon Wrote:  America is full of guns, but they're useless, because nobody has the courage to shoot an IRS agent in self-defense
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11-05-2013, 03:28 PM (This post was last modified: 11-05-2013 03:31 PM by PoolBoyG.)
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
(11-05-2013 12:17 PM)Atheist_pilgrim Wrote:  For those interested in "what if" historical scenarios, the novel 'The Years of Rice and Salt' by Kim Stanley Robinson postulates how the world would have looked if the Plague had killed 99% of Europe's population. Haven't read it yet, but it's on my stack...

I read it years ago. I GREATLY enjoyed it at the time. It has alternative history, legitimate history, and a supernatural aspect to it that you can freely embrace or ignore and everything still makes sense.

For fun, try reading Guns, Germs, and Steel before or after you read it. Try to determine how accurate/inaccurate TYORAS might have been.
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11-05-2013, 03:40 PM (This post was last modified: 12-05-2013 05:06 AM by PoolBoyG.)
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
I'll disagree with OP. What separated Europe from other worlds was the Agrarian Revolution (which "fed" the Industrial Revolution with excess labour - excess, not scarce).

Huge parts of the population were no longer tied to land. We had EXCESS amount of people that could move and spend time on other sectors of the economy. More time for education, study, business, massive amounts of people looking for employment - creation of private labour markets, larger military drafts - more conquests, etc.

Theses revolution began on the British Isles, and moved outward to neighbouring european states. Which allowed for a power imbalance which spurred all sorts of races (armed, economic, conquest, etc), and further advancements.

This was much much later than the Black Death - the Black Death itself wasn't the only mass plague or disease that killed large portions of the population. Just the most publicized.
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11-05-2013, 04:20 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
(11-05-2013 03:40 PM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  I'll disagree with OP. What separated Europe from other worlds was the Agrarian Revolution (which "fed" the Industrial Revolution with excess labour - excess, not scarce).

Huge parts of the population were no longer tied to land. We had EXCESS amount of people that could move and spend time on other sectors of the economy. More time for education, study, business, massive amounts of people looking for employment - creation of private labour markets, larger military drafts - more conquests, etc.

These revolution began on the British Isles, and moved outward to neighbouring european states. Which allowed for a power imbalance which spurred all sorts of races (armed, economic, conquest, etc), further advancements.

This was much much later than the Black Death - the Black Death itself wasn't the only mass plague or disease that killed large portions of the population. Just the most publicized.

The problem with this is by the time the Industrial Revolution happened Europe had already Colonised most of the rest of the world. This can't be the reason that Europe took over if it happened after Europe had already expanded into Empires.

I think I need to expand on what I meant by European Dominance. I count this from the beginning of the Portuguese Empire up until the modern time when Europe and her descendants (mainly the United States) are the main movers and shakers in International Politics (China being the Main exception now so this Dominance may be ending). Now I feel there are several factors that all contributed to this turn of events of which the mass die off from the Black Death was the catalyst that propelled them.

(31-07-2014 04:37 PM)Luminon Wrote:  America is full of guns, but they're useless, because nobody has the courage to shoot an IRS agent in self-defense
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11-05-2013, 05:04 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
(11-05-2013 02:27 PM)Revenant77x Wrote:  I'm not claiming at there were no other factors just that this was the lynchpin. In Europe before the black death innovation was at a standstill the Feudal system didn't allow for new ideas and it was only through the Black Death that the system collapsed.

For example you can do alternate history on a lot of big events and we still end up with a European dominated world but remove the black death and that delays or even prevents the Renaissance which would then delay or prevent the Industrial Revolution.

The devastation in Europe and the aftermath is what I believe to be the cause of those changes. Now of course the Bubonic Plague affected people outside of Europe (it is believed to have evolved in China) however they did not respond to the devastation the same way the Europeans did.

As for automation I brought that up because before the black death automation was never an issue because you had more hands to do the work than work that needed hands. Remember it took Europe centuries to regain the population it had pre-plague.

As far as Epochs go it is also one of the few that happened very fast we are only talking about a 15 year window. In history 15 years is nothing, Rome fell for a few hundred years, to name another Epoch.

Hah, well. I'm not claiming it wasn't a factor - just that it was by no means the lynch-pin! I don't know that it's fair to say Europe was at a standstill (and when, specifically, do you mean by that)? The high middle ages (~1100-1300)? There was continuous development in philosophy, theology (which I know sounds a little silly to be calling progress on this forum, but it was much the same thing as philosophy and natural history at the time), geography, economics, science hell, everything.

The worst plague years actually CONTRIBUTED to feudalism! Well, though, properly speaking feudalism is really a late Antiquity, early middle ages thing - it was on the way out by the 1300s regardless... Anyway - though many landowners did in fact die, what happened was that survivors could buy out abandoned and defunct land - and did so to a huge extent. There were some peasants and the like who gained a little more power, but the biggest effect was consolidation. One could make the argument that the big increase in royal and noble power was part of what led to greater state centralisation a hundred years down the line - which WAS a huge deal, but was also kind of a matter of (north/western) European rulers catching up in terms of power with their counterparts in the rest of the developed (as it was at the time) world - the Middle East, India, and east Asia.

And, while the first-wave plague was in the 1340s, there were recurring outbreaks (less virulent - at times only slightly so - thanks to natural immunity, and the slow but steady medical and hygienic improvements) for centuries.

The idea of automation was nothing new - it had been toyed with since Classical times (aeropiles!). The idea of mass industry was not new - consider the Venetian Arsenal, in particular, as antedating the Black Death. The Plague wasn't the first time there was a widespread labour shortage, after all. But mass automation, though, requires consistency and duplication, which requires standardised machining, which requires machined fasteners, ie the screw (as I mentioned before). And I'd say that's much too far removed to draw a straight line between the two.

European dominance of the Americas was an almost forgone matter of technology and (more importantly) biology, but the European takeover of India was an almost entirely political matter. The broader economic advantages of the European great powers in the 1800s were based on the hilariously unequal distribution of industrialism's key resources - the UK is incredibly rich in high-quality coal and iron; Silesia and the Rhineland through Flanders too. The lands of the former Ottoman empire, by contrast, have almost none, and while parts of India have lots of coal, it's very poor in quality. Similar, too, is China, where, as a bonus, the best deposits are also much less accessible.

What am I getting at here? Well, I've rambled on long enough I hardly know myself. But I suppose - I think you're ascribing much too much to the Plague. I think the burst of social mobility it provided was hugely important, and the knock-on geopolitical effects were key (the Hundred Years War, for one; Denmark conquering Norway, for two; plus it definitely shifted Europe's centre of gravity northward a little faster than would otherwise have happened...). I just wouldn't call it the biggest factor (or even a biggest factor) leading to industrialisation, or even the Renaissance. Important, but hardly epochal.

Bonus fun fact - hundreds of years is the minimum you'd need to define the (always nebulous) fall of Rome. The last person to rule using the title Caesar was 1990 years (not a typo) after ol' CAIVS IVLIVS himself got stabbed to death.
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11-05-2013, 05:28 PM
RE: European Dominance From the Black death?
(11-05-2013 05:04 PM)cjlr Wrote:  
(11-05-2013 02:27 PM)Revenant77x Wrote:  I'm not claiming at there were no other factors just that this was the lynchpin. In Europe before the black death innovation was at a standstill the Feudal system didn't allow for new ideas and it was only through the Black Death that the system collapsed.

For example you can do alternate history on a lot of big events and we still end up with a European dominated world but remove the black death and that delays or even prevents the Renaissance which would then delay or prevent the Industrial Revolution.

The devastation in Europe and the aftermath is what I believe to be the cause of those changes. Now of course the Bubonic Plague affected people outside of Europe (it is believed to have evolved in China) however they did not respond to the devastation the same way the Europeans did.

As for automation I brought that up because before the black death automation was never an issue because you had more hands to do the work than work that needed hands. Remember it took Europe centuries to regain the population it had pre-plague.

As far as Epochs go it is also one of the few that happened very fast we are only talking about a 15 year window. In history 15 years is nothing, Rome fell for a few hundred years, to name another Epoch.

Hah, well. I'm not claiming it wasn't a factor - just that it was by no means the lynch-pin! I don't know that it's fair to say Europe was at a standstill (and when, specifically, do you mean by that)? The high middle ages (~1100-1300)? There was continuous development in philosophy, theology (which I know sounds a little silly to be calling progress on this forum, but it was much the same thing as philosophy and natural history at the time), geography, economics, science hell, everything.

The worst plague years actually CONTRIBUTED to feudalism! Well, though, properly speaking feudalism is really a late Antiquity, early middle ages thing - it was on the way out by the 1300s regardless... Anyway - though many landowners did in fact die, what happened was that survivors could buy out abandoned and defunct land - and did so to a huge extent. There were some peasants and the like who gained a little more power, but the biggest effect was consolidation. One could make the argument that the big increase in royal and noble power was part of what led to greater state centralisation a hundred years down the line - which WAS a huge deal, but was also kind of a matter of (north/western) European rulers catching up in terms of power with their counterparts in the rest of the developed (as it was at the time) world - the Middle East, India, and east Asia.

And, while the first-wave plague was in the 1340s, there were recurring outbreaks (less virulent - at times only slightly so - thanks to natural immunity, and the slow but steady medical and hygienic improvements) for centuries.

The idea of automation was nothing new - it had been toyed with since Classical times (aeropiles!). The idea of mass industry was not new - consider the Venetian Arsenal, in particular, as antedating the Black Death. The Plague wasn't the first time there was a widespread labour shortage, after all. But mass automation, though, requires consistency and duplication, which requires standardised machining, which requires machined fasteners, ie the screw (as I mentioned before). And I'd say that's much too far removed to draw a straight line between the two.

European dominance of the Americas was an almost forgone matter of technology and (more importantly) biology, but the European takeover of India was an almost entirely political matter. The broader economic advantages of the European great powers in the 1800s were based on the hilariously unequal distribution of industrialism's key resources - the UK is incredibly rich in high-quality coal and iron; Silesia and the Rhineland through Flanders too. The lands of the former Ottoman empire, by contrast, have almost none, and while parts of India have lots of coal, it's very poor in quality. Similar, too, is China, where, as a bonus, the best deposits are also much less accessible.

What am I getting at here? Well, I've rambled on long enough I hardly know myself. But I suppose - I think you're ascribing much too much to the Plague. I think the burst of social mobility it provided was hugely important, and the knock-on geopolitical effects were key (the Hundred Years War, for one; Denmark conquering Norway, for two; plus it definitely shifted Europe's centre of gravity northward a little faster than would otherwise have happened...). I just wouldn't call it the biggest factor (or even a biggest factor) leading to industrialisation, or even the Renaissance. Important, but hardly epochal.

Bonus fun fact - hundreds of years is the minimum you'd need to define the (always nebulous) fall of Rome. The last person to rule using the title Caesar was 1990 years (not a typo) after ol' CAIVS IVLIVS himself got stabbed to death.

You make some interesting points and there is no doubt that everything you mentioned was a factor (by biology I am assuming you meant the diseases the Europeans introduced to the Americas).

Here is our problem (as I see it) Europe is unique in the world as being the first center for Industrialisation and world wide Expansion. Regardless of how you feel about the merits of Colonialism the Facts are European Powers are the only World Powers to hold Empires on all 6 habitable continents. Now we know that genetically speaking Europeans are no smarter/more able than any other "race" (with the mapping of the human genome we also know that race is now an out dated model but as of yet it is still a useful meme for classifying groups by location) In looking back through History the Chinese were actually much more advanced than the Europeans until a tipping point roughly around the 1500's. I have seen this ascribed to the invention of the printing press and I can agree that the ready spread of information that Gutenberg's invention facilitated did have a factor but I still maintain that the initial motivation was the aftermath of the Black Death.

(31-07-2014 04:37 PM)Luminon Wrote:  America is full of guns, but they're useless, because nobody has the courage to shoot an IRS agent in self-defense
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