Medieval Technology And Social Change

Medieval Technology and Social Change

Medieval Europe Technology

In addition to vast social and political turmoil and disruption, a series of technological changes and the subsequent industrial revolution made a major contribution to a transformation from feudalism to capitalism. More insight regarding some of the most influential technological changes can be gained from L. White's book Medieval Technology and Social Change (1907).

Interestingly, feudalism evolved out of the Roman Empire largely as a result of the "stirrup" and increasing use of horsepower. At the end of the 7th century, the invention of the stirrup a major impetus for social-economic change, because it provided a whole new dimension to warfare and enabled a Calvary or "chivalry" (men on horseback) to more swiftly confiscate and control land.

Many of the technological changes that occurred during the Middle Ages that led to social-economic change were related to agriculture. Heavy ploughs that featured wheels and oxen enabled cultivation to be performed in patterns of long narrow strips rather than crossing and led to formation of manor-villages and population growth. The "harness" was invented around 900 AD enabling horses to become a source of greater productive and efficient power for agriculture, warfare, and transportation. The invention of a 3-field rather than a 2-field crop rotation, as previously mentioned, during the 12 century resulted in a 50% productivity gain for food production. Increased productivity from crop rotation discoveries also provided a tremendous impetus for socio-economic change during these times.

As surplus food increasingly became available through agricultural innovations, populations began to increase and intensify. This led to, as previously discussed, the spread of trade and commerce. Not surprisingly, these developments also allowed for many people to devote time to the non-agricultural sectors. This resulted in technology advancements in other areas. For example, during the 12l century water wheel power and the windmill helped provide conditions necessary for an initial industrial revolution. The crank invented in approximately 816 AD was followed by invention of the crankshaft, enabling rotary to be converted to reciprocal motion. The inventions of the spring (13th century), spinning wheel (1280 AD), gears (14th century), and spindle (1524 AD) also contributed to social-economic change.