The crusades were a series of raids by Western European kingdoms in and around Jerusalem against the Muslim rulers of the land. The 4th crusade didn’t even make it to the ‘Holy Land’, with the western troops ransacking Byzantium and leaving it in ruins. This destroyed the Byzantine empire, while the wars were devastating to both sides involved. The 100 years’ war, in the meantime, in Northern Europe, did much the same for that area. The final step was the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, which killed off 1/3 of Europe. Interesting that what followed was the Renaissance: one of the periods of greatest cultural and intellectual achievements ever. How did this happen?
The aftermath of all this left Europe destitute. This meant the rich lords weren’t in power anymore and social structures were in shambles. This allowed for what Schumpeter called ‘Creative destruction’ to take place. Old, established norms were ignored, and money, food and goods had to be bought and sold in new ways. So new ways were discovered.
For example, a curious consequence to the crusades was the establishment of trade routes through the Levant from the East to the West, and vice versa, while the 4th crusade more or less destroyed the influence and power the Byzantine Empire had enjoyed since it was the Roman empire.
So suddenly spices, silks and dyes were coming from the East, through the Levant, and into the now more viable ports of Venice, Genoa and Pisa. From these ports the goods were then traded throughout Europe. These trade routes also served as conduits for knowledge. Greek mathematics and philosophy, while often outlawed by the Catholic church, thrived in Arab lands. Thanks to these trade routes, these ideas made their way back into the Western world. This new wealth and knowledge were the spark of what we now call the Italian Renaissance.
It is no coincidence that the Renaissance started in Italy, before spreading to other countries throughout Europe (only reaching England, for example around 200 years later). Davinci, Michelangelo, The DeMedici family, Macchiavelli were all products of this trade.
In fact, Davinci, Michelangelo, The DeMedici family and Macchiavelli were all Florentine, and this was for a specific reason. The Medici family engaged prolifically in trade with the Champagne trade fairs, cities such as Bruges, and regions such as Egypt and the Baltic states. They were able to use the dyes imported from the east, with wool imported from the North, to become some of the biggest woolen textile producers in Europe. This sparked the Medici-controlled International banking system, foreign exchange market, double-entry bookkeeping, insurance, and many other economic novelties we still use today.
This increase in trade, large even compared to other Italian states, made Florence the wealthiest city in Europe of the time. The trade it engaged in made its trading city partners richer as well. So, Creative destruction, followed by trade, brought about what we call a Rebirth of Western Europe. Could it do the same everywhere else?