800-1200 - Commercial Revolution

By Louis Lentz

Innovation, Change, Technology, Cultural Interaction

The Commercial Revolution: An expansion of trade and business in Medieval Society. The commercial revolution revived Europe. It enhanced trade and farming, thus skyrocketing the population and setting the scene for the development of several European countries.

One major cause of the commercial revolution was a growing food supply. Farmers had adopted the three-field system which allowed them to harvest more crops and eventually switch to horsepower. The three-field system originated in 800 A.D. wherein farmers rotated crops between three fields instead of two. With the three-field system one-third of the field lay fallow rather than one-half. This allowed farmers to harvest more each year, reducing the effect of crop failure and risk of famine. The increase in oat production led to the use of horsepower, another significant innovation in farming. For centuries, peasants used oxen to plow their fields. Due to their bulk and low maintenance level, oxen were popular among peasant farmers. Horses required better living conditions, but could plow three times as fast. The increase in oat production–due to the three-field system–gave farmers enough food to take care of their horses. However, a functional plow harness hadn’t been invented yet. Previously, a horse harnesses would rest on their neck. With a heavy load, the harness would squeeze the horse’s windpipe and choke them. Sometime before 900 A.D. a new harness that rested on the horse’s chest and shoulders was invented. Now, a horse could plow all day without any breathing complications.

The three-field system and switch to horsepower led to an increase in trade, kickstarting Europe’s economy. The resulting effect was a boom in European cash flow, urbanization, and population. Due to the increase in food, death rates decreased. Between 1000-1150 the European population rose from 30 to 42 million. Another interesting result of the commercial revolution was the development of set exchange rates and bills of credit. Due to the boom in trade, people were carrying immense amounts of cash with them and had no way to spend it because of currency complications. From these issues sprouted checks and set exchange rates. Bills of credit allowed people to carry whatever amount of money they needed in one slip of paper, taking a major step in the development of modern currency. The concept of set exchange rates also took a step towards today’s modernized international trade structure.

This rise in food, trade, and population increased Europe’s influence and the quality of life for the average person. The technologies and methods developed during the commercial revolution were major innovations on the path to our modern society. The commercial revolution demonstrates a change in trade, technology, and lifestyle. It led to the urbanization of Europe, modernizing the continent and altering world history.




World History: Patterns of Interaction Florida. Holt McDougal, 2012.