How the West Won: Superior Technology

How the West Won: Superior Technology

The great Greek ecclesiastic, Johannes Bessarion

To those who view the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages,” it should be noted that the later Middle Ages was a period of great technological development unrivaled at the time. Economic historian Lynn White Jr. writes:

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“Not in craftsmanship but in basic technological capacity, the Latin West of the later Middle Ages far outstripped its elaborate, sophisticated, and aesthetically magnificent sister cultures, Byzantium and Islam. In 1444, a great Greek ecclesiastic, Bessarion, who had gone to Italy, wrote a letter to a prince in Greece. He is amazed by the superiority of Western ships, arms, textiles, glass. But above free subscriptionall he is astonished by the spectacle of water wheels sawing timbers and pumping the bellows of blast furnaces. Clearly he has seen nothing of the sort in the Near East” (Lynn White Jr., Machina Ex Deo: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1968, p. 81).