In the early Middle Ages, Europe saw explosive urban growth, a revival of trade, and a stronger Catholic Church. Yet catastrophic setbacks followed in the form of plague, economic collapse, and war. Christianity remained a focus of European life, but centuries of confrontation with the monarchies weakened the Church. The diverse geography of the Americas resulted in the emergence of many varied and highly advanced civilizations. Some of these early civilizations were wiped out by diseases introduced to the Americas by European expeditions.
Section 1 Europe in the Middle Ages
The near doubling of Europe's population, more peaceful and settled conditions, the development of labor-saving devices, improvements in farming, and a revival of trade contributed to major improvements in life in Europe. Many people still lived as peasants in villages, turning over part of what they produced to the lord of the manor. In the cities, guilds regulated employment in many crafts and professions. The Church had a growing role in European affairs. Religious fervor led to new monastic orders for men and women. The Inquisition gave the Church a tool for discouraging heresy. The first universities were established in twelfth-century Italy, France, and England as educational guilds. Innovations in architecture made it possible to build soaring Gothic cathedrals. Europe's fortunes sank as the Black Death decimated Europe's population and devastated Europe's economy. Church power declined as European kings rejected papal claims of supremacy and because of the Great Schism. The Hundred Years' War added to the problems of the Late Middle Ages. The new monarchies of the fifteenth century reestablished the centralized power of the monarchies in England, France, and Spain.
Section 2 The Americas
Many historians believe that the first inhabitants of the Americas arrived from Asia across a land bridge. These early hunters and gatherers later learned to farm and developed many distinct cultures. Mesoamerican civilizations appeared beginning around 1200 B.C. with the Olmecs. The most advanced were those of the Maya and the Aztec. The Maya inhabited the Yucatán Peninsula, building splendid temples and pyramids, and they created a sophisticated calendar. The Aztec, who established their capital Tenochtitlán in 1325, built pyramids and roads made of stone. In the 1440s, the Inca in South America launched a campaign of conquest that eventually brought the entire region under their control. The Incan emperor controlled an army of 200,000 soldiers. The Inca built roads spanning nearly 25,000 miles. The Aztec and Inca were defeated by Spanish conquerors after being weakened by diseases brought by the Europeans.