The Renaissance, and Much More ...


The title of this section is “The Renaissance, and much more...”. With this very short introduction I want simply to place in context “The Renaissance” as a fantastically important period, culturally, scientifically and politically, but a period that is not easy to define and exploit intelligently. Many experts consider using a single word “Renaissance” as a dramatic over-simplification. How can one word describe an “age” of great intellectual, artistic, religious, economic and political turmoil?

Firstly it is not a fixed period that can easily be defined. As a cultural movement it emerged from Italy in the Late Middle Ages, and spread across Europe with variable speed. In different places it started and end at different times - so can we really call this a (single) cultural movement? Secondly “The Renaissance” was not some kind of sudden leap forward from the darkness and bondage of the Middle Ages. We know that Western civilisation also advanced throughout the Middle Ages, and it was perhaps in the Middle Ages that the real foundations of modern European civilisation were laid? Thirdly the Renaissance is often seen as a period of individualism, humanism and secularism - but should it not also included the Renaissance Papacy, as well as Luther and Calvin with the Protestant Reformation, and of course the Counter Reformation? Unable to precisely define “The Renaissance” leaves many unanswered questions.

As a starting point check out the full video documentary on “The Dark Ages” (a bit “dumbed down”, but still a good place to start), then set this against a well-balanced documentary series on life, birth, marriage and death in medieval times (A Good Birth, A Good Marriage, A Good Death). Having this “past” in mind we now can sit back and enjoy four video introductions, the first on The Early Renaissance, the second on The High Renaissance, the third on The Northern Renaissance, and the fourth on The Baroque. There is another interesting way to view the same Renaissance, and that is through the views of the Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari (video 1, video 2).

Whatever label we use, Renaissance, Middle Ages, Modern, we always over-simplify. Let us accept the limitations of such definitions. Let us not start to discuss when the Renaissance started and stopped. Let us not worry about situating Dante or Cimabue in the Middle Ages or in The Renaissance. Let us just accept that an extraordinary number of individuals from the Renaissance left their mark on our society, and that we are still able to see and appreciate great works of art from that period.

With the rest of this page I simple want to (thanks the Wikipedia) show that the period 1300-1600 can not simple be summarised by what happened in Italy. I have decided to cover a substantial period of time (1200-1600) in order to highlight how artificial it is in defining The Renaissance as a period from the contract for the first bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery (1401) to the sacking of Rome (1527). It is also important to understand that the world was not simply focused on a small number of city-states in one small part of Italy, and for this reason I intend over time to include sections on both China and on the Aztec and Inca Empires.


We saw the end of the Crusades (video 1, video 2), and rapid Christian Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula (video).

The Mongol Empire (think Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan) conquered Russia, parts of China, Hungary, Poland, and Baghdad (video 1, video 2).

We saw the almost continuous fighting within Europe, e.g. France against Spain, and France against the English. And there were the constant conflicts between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire.

We saw the emergence of the Italian city states, e.g. Venice in 1223. Whist Kingdoms were created also in Indonesia and Thailand.

And we saw great moments such as the signing of the Magna Carta (1215) and the Treaty of Paris (naturally 1259 and not 1783!).


We have here the beginning of the Ottoman Empire (video), the Vijayanagara Empire is founded in South India, and the Mexican city-state Tenochtitlan is also built.

The Majapahit Empire reaches its peak in Indonesia, and the Ming Dynasty replaces the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. The Mali Empire provided almost half of the world’s gold.

The Avignon Papacy (video) transfers the seat of the Popes to France, and this is followed by the Great Schism (video).

The Great Famine kills millions in Europe, then the Black Death kills nearly a third of the remaining population of Europe (video). The Ciompi Revolt in Florence and Peasants’ Revolt in England (video) show that the balance of power between the people and the rules is inevitably going to have to change.

The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) starts between England and France.


Here we have the expansion of the Spanish Empire, and Columbus lands in the Americas. The English and French fight at the Battle of Agincourt, and the Fall of Constantinople marks the end of the Byzantine Empire, and on top of all that we have the Spanish Inquisition.

Dynasties and Sultanates appear, grow and disappear in Asia, e.g. the Malwa Sultanate grows and the Sayyid Dynasty appears in India, the Malacca Sultanate appears in Malaysia, the Turco-Mongol Timurid Dynasty dies.

The Forbidden City is completed in Beijing, Mancu Picchu is constructed, Brunelleschi builds the dome of Florence Cathedral (video), and Gutenberg invents printing with moveable type.

The Inca Empire is founded, and the Aztecs become the dominate power in Mesoamerica.


The century is the Age of Discovery (see the video “Guns, Germs, and Steel”), with the Portuguese claiming Brazil and Macau, Spain conquering the Aztecs in Mexico and the Inca Empire, France claiming Quebec, Portugal establishing a trade route with Japan, and the Ming Dynasty in China stopping all foreign trade.

Dynasties and Empires continue to be created, grow and die, e.g. the Safavid Dynasty grows in Persia, the Mughul Empire continues to grow in India, the Funj Sultanate appears in Sudan, the Yusufzai Dynasty appears in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Demak Sultanate appears in Indonesia, and the Ottoman Empire continues to expand (check out The War Machine).

Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Copernicus places the sun at the center of the solar system, and Rome is sacked.

Everyone appears to be fighting everyone, Spain and France at the Battle of Cerignola, Poland fights the Tatars, the Portuguese win the Battle of Diu, Navarre is invaded by Castile and Aragon, the English beat the French at the Battle of the Spurs, the Ottoman Empire defeats the Safavid Empire at the Battle of Chaldiran, Spain and Germany defeat France at the Battle of Pavia, the Ottomans defeat Hungary at the Battle of Mohács, the Austrians defeat the Ottoman Empire at the Siege of Vienna, the Ottomans capture Baghdad, the Ottomans defeat the Spanish-Venetian fleet at the Battle of Preveza, the Crimea invades Russia, the French defeat Spain at the Battle of Ceresole, the Mogols invade China, the Ottomans defeat Spain at the Battle of Djerba, the Holy League defeats the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto, the Tatars sack Moscow, the Spanish Armada is repulsed, the English Armada is repulsed, the West African Songhai Empire is defeated at the Battle of Tondibi, and you have in the “background” the Ethiopian-Adal War, the Italian Wars, the French Wars of Religion, the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and Netherlands, the Anglo-Spanish War, the Long War between the Habsburg’s and Ottomans, and we should not forget the Inca Civil War

Galileo and Shakespeare are born, and the Gregorian calendar is adopted.

So enough about context, and I hope you enjoy reading on the following pages about The Renaissance as it emerged in Italy and spread throughout Europe.