The Economic Depression of the Renaissance

Historians like to point out that the Renaissance was a period of great growth and development. It was a “rebirth” that took Europe out of the backward darkness of the Middle Ages.

Such a vision of the Middle Ages does not correspond to reality – at least from an economic perspective. The Middle Ages was an age of incredible economic growth and development – some have even called it the First Industrial Revolution. At the same time, the Renaissance represented a time of stagnation and decline. In fact, some more accurate historians have labeled it as a time of severe economic depression.

Medieval historian Joseph Strayer writes:

Subscription8.1The economy of Western Europe was slowing down in the last decade of the 13th century, and a depression began soon after 1300. This depression, one of the worst in history, persisted throughout the 14th century and well in the 15th…The status economy of the early Middle Ages had been based on a social organization in which almost everyone had some land and which money income was unimportant. By the late 14th century, there were thousands of landless men in every region of Western Europe and even more who depended on money incomes.

(Joseph R. Strayer, Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1955, p. 207)


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Were you aware of the Economic Depression of the Renaissance?