Medieval England was better off than many countries today

More stereotype-busting about the Middle Ages.  From Science Daily:

New research led by economists at the University of Warwick reveals that medieval England was not only far more prosperous than previously believed, it also actually boasted an average income that would be more than double the average per capita income of the world’s poorest nations today.

In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.

The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.

However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.

This new figure of $1,000 is not only significantly higher than previous estimates for that period in England — it also indicates that on average medieval England was better off than some of the world’s poorest nations today including the following (again average annual income as expressed in 1990 dollars).

Zaire $249

Burundi $479

Niger $514

Central African Republic $536

Comoro Islands $549

Togo $606

Guinea Bissau $617

Guinea $628

Sierra Leone $686

Haiti at $686

Chad $706

Zimbabwe $779

Afghanistan $869

via Medieval England twice as well off as today’s poorest nations.

HT:Joe Carter

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  • Tom Hering

    Averages. Phooey. From later in the same report:

    “Of course this paper focuses only on average per capita incomes. We also need to have a better understanding of the distribution of income in medieval England, as there will have been some people living at bare bones subsistence, and at times this proportion could have been quite substantial.” (Emphases added.)

  • Tom Hering

    Averages. Phooey. From later in the same report:

    “Of course this paper focuses only on average per capita incomes. We also need to have a better understanding of the distribution of income in medieval England, as there will have been some people living at bare bones subsistence, and at times this proportion could have been quite substantial.” (Emphases added.)

  • WebMonk

    Like Tom said.

    Even if that weren’t the case, I’m still not sure that says so much about the state of affairs in the European Middle Ages as it does about the state of affairs in the poorest countries today.

    One of the things I suspect is that the poorest countries will almost always be about the same sort of level in comparison to their peers. While the countries may move up or down, the lowest countries have always been roughly equivalent in comparison to others of their time, so it makes sense that the Middle Ages European countries would be better off, comparatively, than the poorest countries today since they weren’t the poorest countries of their time.

    I haven’t found any studies about that one way or the other, but that’s my pet theory.

  • WebMonk

    Like Tom said.

    Even if that weren’t the case, I’m still not sure that says so much about the state of affairs in the European Middle Ages as it does about the state of affairs in the poorest countries today.

    One of the things I suspect is that the poorest countries will almost always be about the same sort of level in comparison to their peers. While the countries may move up or down, the lowest countries have always been roughly equivalent in comparison to others of their time, so it makes sense that the Middle Ages European countries would be better off, comparatively, than the poorest countries today since they weren’t the poorest countries of their time.

    I haven’t found any studies about that one way or the other, but that’s my pet theory.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Tom, and a wide income disparity exists in the third world today as well. So your observation is neither here nor there.

    But there is one other difference: In the feudal system, the possibility of being destitute / unemployed was (technically) very low, since, at the lowest rung of society, the serfs, you belonged to the land, a new employer could not fire you. Also, you were not technically a slave, since you did not directly belong to the master.

    Also, due to the enourmous cross-holding of titles, land, fealty etc., the inherent stability of the system is quite impressive, and the inability of an oligarchy to control everything was limited. This was further enahganced with many of the precursors of today’s concepts of rights, limited government and all that, such as the Magna Carta.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Tom, and a wide income disparity exists in the third world today as well. So your observation is neither here nor there.

    But there is one other difference: In the feudal system, the possibility of being destitute / unemployed was (technically) very low, since, at the lowest rung of society, the serfs, you belonged to the land, a new employer could not fire you. Also, you were not technically a slave, since you did not directly belong to the master.

    Also, due to the enourmous cross-holding of titles, land, fealty etc., the inherent stability of the system is quite impressive, and the inability of an oligarchy to control everything was limited. This was further enahganced with many of the precursors of today’s concepts of rights, limited government and all that, such as the Magna Carta.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The book “God’s Battalions” Does a lot to show up many of the same mythical thoughts concerning Medieval Europe as it compares Medieval Europe to the Middle East at the same time. Great book.
    Medieval Europe, he shows, was a time of great innovation and those living at that time were in many ways better off than most generations that had gone before them. New ploughs and agriculture methods greatly increased the yield and nutritional content of the food etc.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The book “God’s Battalions” Does a lot to show up many of the same mythical thoughts concerning Medieval Europe as it compares Medieval Europe to the Middle East at the same time. Great book.
    Medieval Europe, he shows, was a time of great innovation and those living at that time were in many ways better off than most generations that had gone before them. New ploughs and agriculture methods greatly increased the yield and nutritional content of the food etc.

  • WebMonk

    Louis, I assumed that when they said the bare-bones subsistence groups that were a significant portion of the population, that they meant that in relation to the modern countries mentioned.

    Maybe they just meant “substantial” in a more vague sense, and the bare-bones proportions in the poor countries listed would also be similarly “substantial”.

    One thing I just noticed was that the study was very strictly England in the very late part of the Middle Ages. (at first I thought it was Europe in general) I would be interested in knowing how that time and demographic compared to areas like what is now eastern Germany around that time, and also how that time in general compared to earlier in the Middle Ages, say the 700s through 1100s.

    Good studies like this (though I can’t get access to the study itself! annoying!) always leave me wanting more.

  • WebMonk

    Louis, I assumed that when they said the bare-bones subsistence groups that were a significant portion of the population, that they meant that in relation to the modern countries mentioned.

    Maybe they just meant “substantial” in a more vague sense, and the bare-bones proportions in the poor countries listed would also be similarly “substantial”.

    One thing I just noticed was that the study was very strictly England in the very late part of the Middle Ages. (at first I thought it was Europe in general) I would be interested in knowing how that time and demographic compared to areas like what is now eastern Germany around that time, and also how that time in general compared to earlier in the Middle Ages, say the 700s through 1100s.

    Good studies like this (though I can’t get access to the study itself! annoying!) always leave me wanting more.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Webmonk – yes, I have yet to see a decent study on the functioning of feudalism (political, social and economic) of Germany (for instance). The English research tends to focus on, well, England. And my German is extremely rudimentary.

    It is interesting though that especially with modern analytical techniques, the common perception of the days of yon as primitive and brutal and backward are continually being turned on its head.

    A different study on skeletons from a basement in Pompeii recently confirmed that the idea of a very short lifespan back then is wrong – once again, as in other studies, the big factor is infant/childhood mortality – once you made it past 10, you had a decent chance for a ripe old age. This is of course a perfect example of reading the statistics in a wooden manner. Another finding is that the perception that people were on average much shorther then is wrong – the average height of people in Pompeii then is actually taller than the average height of people in Naples today.

    Unfortunately, I “mislaid” the link. But I’ll look for it.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Webmonk – yes, I have yet to see a decent study on the functioning of feudalism (political, social and economic) of Germany (for instance). The English research tends to focus on, well, England. And my German is extremely rudimentary.

    It is interesting though that especially with modern analytical techniques, the common perception of the days of yon as primitive and brutal and backward are continually being turned on its head.

    A different study on skeletons from a basement in Pompeii recently confirmed that the idea of a very short lifespan back then is wrong – once again, as in other studies, the big factor is infant/childhood mortality – once you made it past 10, you had a decent chance for a ripe old age. This is of course a perfect example of reading the statistics in a wooden manner. Another finding is that the perception that people were on average much shorther then is wrong – the average height of people in Pompeii then is actually taller than the average height of people in Naples today.

    Unfortunately, I “mislaid” the link. But I’ll look for it.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    This seems reasonable, as others note, as there was a flowering of the cities and commerce around this time. Reading the paper (call me a “geek,” it’s fair), I also note that they’re (to their credit) looking at approximate amounts of grains, meats, etc.. produced, not just “money”, and hence it ought to correlate (thankfully) better to the median than the mean. The trick here is that prior to labor-saving devices like tractors, growing X amount of grain required Y number of grain farmers, so the bigger harvest does indicate that the “peasantry” was likely eating better, too.

    And now for something completely different; you mean Medieval England wasn’t all like they portray on Monty Python? :^)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    This seems reasonable, as others note, as there was a flowering of the cities and commerce around this time. Reading the paper (call me a “geek,” it’s fair), I also note that they’re (to their credit) looking at approximate amounts of grains, meats, etc.. produced, not just “money”, and hence it ought to correlate (thankfully) better to the median than the mean. The trick here is that prior to labor-saving devices like tractors, growing X amount of grain required Y number of grain farmers, so the bigger harvest does indicate that the “peasantry” was likely eating better, too.

    And now for something completely different; you mean Medieval England wasn’t all like they portray on Monty Python? :^)

  • WebMonk

    Louis – years ago I had a discussion IRL with a guy who absolutely insisted that people usually didn’t live past 35 years old a thousand years ago. I tried to explain the effects of a high child mortality rate on the “average” life expectancy and how that didn’t mean that adults died at 35 on average. It never did sink in for him.

  • WebMonk

    Louis – years ago I had a discussion IRL with a guy who absolutely insisted that people usually didn’t live past 35 years old a thousand years ago. I tried to explain the effects of a high child mortality rate on the “average” life expectancy and how that didn’t mean that adults died at 35 on average. It never did sink in for him.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Ifter looking at the original paper, I was struck by the idea that the basic measure of wealth here is agricultural production. Apart from trade, the other major source of wealth creation would be mining. I wonder if there is a study on mining outut in Britain over the same period.

    Cornish tin was important from beefore 1000. Other commodities mined prior to 1500 were Iron lead, silver and coal – according to the wikipedia article on the matter ( 😉 ), silver production from the north of England got a boost after discoveries in 1133, and soon the production from there was 10 times the amount of silver produced in the rest of Europe combined. This should be a reasonably sized addition to the medieval economic output.

    And by 1496, the first blast furnace was created.

    Producine commodities in tradeable quantities is the backbone of wealth creation, hence I think that the premise of the paper, namely that later major economic advances (such as the Industrial Revolution) always built on previous advances.

    It is a pity though that the impact of mining, and subsequently, metallurgical advances were not included.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Ifter looking at the original paper, I was struck by the idea that the basic measure of wealth here is agricultural production. Apart from trade, the other major source of wealth creation would be mining. I wonder if there is a study on mining outut in Britain over the same period.

    Cornish tin was important from beefore 1000. Other commodities mined prior to 1500 were Iron lead, silver and coal – according to the wikipedia article on the matter ( 😉 ), silver production from the north of England got a boost after discoveries in 1133, and soon the production from there was 10 times the amount of silver produced in the rest of Europe combined. This should be a reasonably sized addition to the medieval economic output.

    And by 1496, the first blast furnace was created.

    Producine commodities in tradeable quantities is the backbone of wealth creation, hence I think that the premise of the paper, namely that later major economic advances (such as the Industrial Revolution) always built on previous advances.

    It is a pity though that the impact of mining, and subsequently, metallurgical advances were not included.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Webmonk @ 8: ” It never did sink in for him.”

    Well, you assume that there was something to sink into :) . A big assumption.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Webmonk @ 8: ” It never did sink in for him.”

    Well, you assume that there was something to sink into :) . A big assumption.

  • WebMonk

    Louis, it sounds like the specific time period which the study looked at and the particular location, may have been a bit anomalous compared to the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. A general “boom” from new mining resources could have a bit of effect – plenty of money and wealth in the area for several hundred years.

    Where did you find the original paper? I was checking around for it but never found it.

  • WebMonk

    Louis, it sounds like the specific time period which the study looked at and the particular location, may have been a bit anomalous compared to the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. A general “boom” from new mining resources could have a bit of effect – plenty of money and wealth in the area for several hundred years.

    Where did you find the original paper? I was checking around for it but never found it.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis
  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis
  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Zaire? Did they call it Zaire because they were referring to 1990 dollars?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Zaire? Did they call it Zaire because they were referring to 1990 dollars?

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd, I saw that as well – must be. Actually, I guess it it quite possible that the DRC’s AAI is even lower today.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd, I saw that as well – must be. Actually, I guess it it quite possible that the DRC’s AAI is even lower today.

  • SKPeterson

    They called it Zaire because they’re imperialists!

    There is a good article if I can find it that makes the argument for economic advances coming in progressive stages rather than definite leaps – the premise that the Industrial Revolution was not a revolution but rather the outcome of centuries of technological advance and capital advancement. Also, gradual changes in legal structures – the enclosure movements, revision of primogeniture, the rise of companies, insurance, etc.

    There is a corollary book, which covers the later stages of the Middle Ages, and into the Early Modern, called “The Age of Reconnaissance,” by JH Parry, that describes the evolution and development of cartography, navigation, ship building, commodities trades and discovery. Unfortunately, so much of this research is stuffed in obscure (but excellent) academic journals like Economic History that do not get a wider audience.

  • SKPeterson

    They called it Zaire because they’re imperialists!

    There is a good article if I can find it that makes the argument for economic advances coming in progressive stages rather than definite leaps – the premise that the Industrial Revolution was not a revolution but rather the outcome of centuries of technological advance and capital advancement. Also, gradual changes in legal structures – the enclosure movements, revision of primogeniture, the rise of companies, insurance, etc.

    There is a corollary book, which covers the later stages of the Middle Ages, and into the Early Modern, called “The Age of Reconnaissance,” by JH Parry, that describes the evolution and development of cartography, navigation, ship building, commodities trades and discovery. Unfortunately, so much of this research is stuffed in obscure (but excellent) academic journals like Economic History that do not get a wider audience.

  • Porcell

    Bror is right that not only England but all of medieval Europe had worked its way ahead of other civilizations, mainly through the influence of Christianity. Capitalism, which played a major influence in this actually began in a serious way in eigth-century Europe. In addition to God’s Batallions, another good book on this is Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

    Check out a short article on this including:

    A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. …The most convincing answer to those questions attributes Western dominance to the rise of capitalism, which took place only in Europe. Even the most militant enemies of capitalism credit it with creating previously undreamed of productivity and progress. In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that before the rise of capitalism, humans engaged “in the most slothful indolence”; the capitalist system was “the first to show what man’s activity can bring about.” Capitalism achieved that miracle through regular reinvestment to increase productivity, either to create greater capacity or improve technology, and by motivating both management and labor through ever-rising payoffs.

    Stark, by the way, was born and raised a Lutheran.

  • Porcell

    Bror is right that not only England but all of medieval Europe had worked its way ahead of other civilizations, mainly through the influence of Christianity. Capitalism, which played a major influence in this actually began in a serious way in eigth-century Europe. In addition to God’s Batallions, another good book on this is Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

    Check out a short article on this including:

    A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. …The most convincing answer to those questions attributes Western dominance to the rise of capitalism, which took place only in Europe. Even the most militant enemies of capitalism credit it with creating previously undreamed of productivity and progress. In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that before the rise of capitalism, humans engaged “in the most slothful indolence”; the capitalist system was “the first to show what man’s activity can bring about.” Capitalism achieved that miracle through regular reinvestment to increase productivity, either to create greater capacity or improve technology, and by motivating both management and labor through ever-rising payoffs.

    Stark, by the way, was born and raised a Lutheran.

  • Porcell

    Sorry, that link is Here.
    .

  • Porcell

    Sorry, that link is Here.
    .

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Hey guys, thanks, for the titles and links. And bravo to Louis @ 6. Every time I hear that baloney that folks didn’t live much past 40, I just cringe.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Hey guys, thanks, for the titles and links. And bravo to Louis @ 6. Every time I hear that baloney that folks didn’t live much past 40, I just cringe.

  • WebMonk

    Peter, I wouldn’t go putting words in Bror’s mouth like that, especially when they’re incorrect facts.

    During much of the Middle Ages, the Persians were generally better off than the Europeans. I’ve never seen any economic studies of the average income like the study here about England, but they are considered to have been several steps ahead of Europe in a variety of measures until the Mongols came sweeping through in the 1200s.

    In the late Middle Ages, Europe certainly surpassed the other civilizations, but that didn’t really begin until 1200 or thereabouts.

    It’s one of those fun imagination trails to speculate what might have happened to world history if the Mongols hadn’t gone rampaging through the world. Might the Persian empire and civilizations have continued its ascendancy over the European cultures? (I have my doubts, but it is certainly a plausible path which history could have taken.)

  • WebMonk

    Peter, I wouldn’t go putting words in Bror’s mouth like that, especially when they’re incorrect facts.

    During much of the Middle Ages, the Persians were generally better off than the Europeans. I’ve never seen any economic studies of the average income like the study here about England, but they are considered to have been several steps ahead of Europe in a variety of measures until the Mongols came sweeping through in the 1200s.

    In the late Middle Ages, Europe certainly surpassed the other civilizations, but that didn’t really begin until 1200 or thereabouts.

    It’s one of those fun imagination trails to speculate what might have happened to world history if the Mongols hadn’t gone rampaging through the world. Might the Persian empire and civilizations have continued its ascendancy over the European cultures? (I have my doubts, but it is certainly a plausible path which history could have taken.)

  • SKPeterson

    @WebMonk #19, But, there is the other side of that question — what if Rome and Constantinople had not worked at cross purposes and had successfully Christianized the Mongols, rather than allowing them to be lost to Islam? The book “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” makes a good, if flawed, argument for the positive influence of the Mongols on the rise of the West. In similar fashion, there has been revision of Attila and the Hun’s impact on early medieval Europe.

  • SKPeterson

    @WebMonk #19, But, there is the other side of that question — what if Rome and Constantinople had not worked at cross purposes and had successfully Christianized the Mongols, rather than allowing them to be lost to Islam? The book “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” makes a good, if flawed, argument for the positive influence of the Mongols on the rise of the West. In similar fashion, there has been revision of Attila and the Hun’s impact on early medieval Europe.

  • Tom Hering

    “Might the Persian empire and civilizations have continued its ascendancy over the European cultures?” – WebMonk @ 19.

    I think what allowed the West to advance, materially, was the independence of commerce and science – their separation from religion and the limitations it imposed (usury laws, geocentrism, etc.). Christendom allowed this independence, if slowly – and with serious reservations. I don’t think Islam ever would have.

  • Tom Hering

    “Might the Persian empire and civilizations have continued its ascendancy over the European cultures?” – WebMonk @ 19.

    I think what allowed the West to advance, materially, was the independence of commerce and science – their separation from religion and the limitations it imposed (usury laws, geocentrism, etc.). Christendom allowed this independence, if slowly – and with serious reservations. I don’t think Islam ever would have.

  • Porcell

    Tom, Stark makes a convincing case that the main cause of the West’s economic development, including that of the late Medieval period, can be traced to the role of Christianity in the development of freedom, science, technology, and capitalism. One of his key arguments is that the conventional notion that capitalism is a product mainly of the Renaissance and Enlightenment is a mythical product of secular scholars.

    WebMonk, it is rather unlikely that the Persians would have prospered had the Mongols not savaged them, as, like all other Muslim nations, the sort of intellectual and political freedom necessary for the development of capitalism was practically non-existent.

  • Porcell

    Tom, Stark makes a convincing case that the main cause of the West’s economic development, including that of the late Medieval period, can be traced to the role of Christianity in the development of freedom, science, technology, and capitalism. One of his key arguments is that the conventional notion that capitalism is a product mainly of the Renaissance and Enlightenment is a mythical product of secular scholars.

    WebMonk, it is rather unlikely that the Persians would have prospered had the Mongols not savaged them, as, like all other Muslim nations, the sort of intellectual and political freedom necessary for the development of capitalism was practically non-existent.

  • SKPeterson

    How many have read “God’s Battalions”? It’s been mentioned a couple of times in this thread. I have it, along with “The Last Crusaders” by Barnaby Rogerson, but I have not yet begun to read them. Thoughts, impressions?

  • SKPeterson

    How many have read “God’s Battalions”? It’s been mentioned a couple of times in this thread. I have it, along with “The Last Crusaders” by Barnaby Rogerson, but I have not yet begun to read them. Thoughts, impressions?

  • Porcell

    SK, at 23, as Bror suggests, God’s Battalions is an interesting read. Essentially it challenges the secular-liberal view that the Crusades were an unfair attack on the Muslims, who in reality had charged out of Arabia and brutally conquered the Christian Middle East, Africa, Spain, and the Balkans. This book is a must read for the Christian side of the story; it is a well written rebuke to those who view the Crusades as an unfair attack on the Muslim world.

  • Porcell

    SK, at 23, as Bror suggests, God’s Battalions is an interesting read. Essentially it challenges the secular-liberal view that the Crusades were an unfair attack on the Muslims, who in reality had charged out of Arabia and brutally conquered the Christian Middle East, Africa, Spain, and the Balkans. This book is a must read for the Christian side of the story; it is a well written rebuke to those who view the Crusades as an unfair attack on the Muslim world.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror0122@hotmail.com

    SK,
    I wrote a review which can be found on Amazon.com If you want more detail. Great read.
    Webmonk, it’s possible Persia was better off for a brief period during the middle ages than Europe. I don’t know. However, it was Islam that turned that area into the culturally backwards backwater that it is today. As it has done with every area that it has taken over, with the possible exception of those that were Buddhist beforehand. As that religion tends to be quite destructive in its own right, promoting mass poverty.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror0122@hotmail.com

    SK,
    I wrote a review which can be found on Amazon.com If you want more detail. Great read.
    Webmonk, it’s possible Persia was better off for a brief period during the middle ages than Europe. I don’t know. However, it was Islam that turned that area into the culturally backwards backwater that it is today. As it has done with every area that it has taken over, with the possible exception of those that were Buddhist beforehand. As that religion tends to be quite destructive in its own right, promoting mass poverty.

  • WebMonk

    Well, part of the argument put forward is that the Mongol invasion and annihilation of so much of the Persian area fundamentally changed Islam. Before then, and this is solid history, the Persian empire (technically that should be plural) was definitely Islamic-based, but also far and away the most free and prosperous by almost any standard in the world at that time for over 700 years. That’s a pretty impressive track record.

    However, after the Mongol armies swept over them, none of the Islamic cultures since then have had anything like the same sort of freedom or long-term prosperity. The argument goes that the Islamic religion took a much more militaristic turn around then. Even during the Crusades, Christians were free to live and have their churches and be normal citizens (at least in areas that weren’t in active warfare), and the Middle East was phenomenally prosperous compared to everywhere else around them. But, with the Mongol invasion and near total annihilation (tens to possibly hundreds of millions died in the Mongol invasions), the culture changed as did the religion.

    I don’t buy everything from that view of the history of Islam, but from what I can tell it’s not nonsense either and parts of it are obvious historic fact. (drawing conclusions from facts can always come up with different results, which is where I differ from the books I read on that topic)

    And right on to @24, that the Crusades weren’t out-of-the-blue religious fanaticism and hatred for no reason. The Persian cultures were definitely sweeping in through most of the world of the time and the Crusades were very much in response to that. Though I wouldn’t call their conquests any more brutal than any other conquests of the time. They were pretty comparable with the Romans – war is always brutal and horrible, but once they were in charge they typically set up some good government systems.

    Another book I read suggested they took a lot of their cues from the previous Roman empire, and I believe it. They weren’t nearly so city-centric as the Romans, but as far as setting up governments, taxation, and leaving the masses of populace more or less alone, they were very much like the Romans.

    Like I said above, I really don’t think the Persian empires would have dominated the world instead of the European empires. The nature of the Persian empires were very much trade-based and very little industry-based. The roving and nomadic base of an empire will almost always lose out to the more settled and manufacturing empires, at least in the long run.

    And yes, I don’t think Islamic cultures can provide the sort of support for a successful culture like Christianity can. Before the Mongol invasions, Islam was certainly much more easy-going in allowing other religions freedom in the culture, but that’s not enough to build the cultures which grow like Christian cultures have.

  • WebMonk

    Well, part of the argument put forward is that the Mongol invasion and annihilation of so much of the Persian area fundamentally changed Islam. Before then, and this is solid history, the Persian empire (technically that should be plural) was definitely Islamic-based, but also far and away the most free and prosperous by almost any standard in the world at that time for over 700 years. That’s a pretty impressive track record.

    However, after the Mongol armies swept over them, none of the Islamic cultures since then have had anything like the same sort of freedom or long-term prosperity. The argument goes that the Islamic religion took a much more militaristic turn around then. Even during the Crusades, Christians were free to live and have their churches and be normal citizens (at least in areas that weren’t in active warfare), and the Middle East was phenomenally prosperous compared to everywhere else around them. But, with the Mongol invasion and near total annihilation (tens to possibly hundreds of millions died in the Mongol invasions), the culture changed as did the religion.

    I don’t buy everything from that view of the history of Islam, but from what I can tell it’s not nonsense either and parts of it are obvious historic fact. (drawing conclusions from facts can always come up with different results, which is where I differ from the books I read on that topic)

    And right on to @24, that the Crusades weren’t out-of-the-blue religious fanaticism and hatred for no reason. The Persian cultures were definitely sweeping in through most of the world of the time and the Crusades were very much in response to that. Though I wouldn’t call their conquests any more brutal than any other conquests of the time. They were pretty comparable with the Romans – war is always brutal and horrible, but once they were in charge they typically set up some good government systems.

    Another book I read suggested they took a lot of their cues from the previous Roman empire, and I believe it. They weren’t nearly so city-centric as the Romans, but as far as setting up governments, taxation, and leaving the masses of populace more or less alone, they were very much like the Romans.

    Like I said above, I really don’t think the Persian empires would have dominated the world instead of the European empires. The nature of the Persian empires were very much trade-based and very little industry-based. The roving and nomadic base of an empire will almost always lose out to the more settled and manufacturing empires, at least in the long run.

    And yes, I don’t think Islamic cultures can provide the sort of support for a successful culture like Christianity can. Before the Mongol invasions, Islam was certainly much more easy-going in allowing other religions freedom in the culture, but that’s not enough to build the cultures which grow like Christian cultures have.