|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
HOW THE CRUSADES ONCE MORE MADE THE MEDITERRANEAN A BUSY CENTRE OF TRADE AND HOW THE CITIES OF THE ITALIAN PENINSULA BECAME THE GREAT DISTRIBUTING CENTRE FOR THE COMMERCE WITH ASIA AND AFRICA
 THERE were three good reasons why the Italian cities should
have been the first to regain a position of great importance
during the late Middle Ages. The Italian peninsula had been
settled by Rome at a very early date. There had been more
roads and more towns and more schools than anywhere else
The barbarians had burned as lustily in Italy as elsewhere,
but there had been so much to destroy that more had been able
to survive. In the second place, the Pope lived in Italy and
as the head of a vast political machine, which owned land and
serfs and buildings and forests and rivers and conducted courts
of law, he was in constant receipt of a great deal of money.
The Papal authorities had to be paid in gold and silver as did
the merchants and ship-owners of Venice and Genoa. The
cows and the eggs and the horses and all the other agricultural
products of the north and the west must be changed into actual
cash before the debt could be paid in the distant city of Rome.
 This made Italy the one country where there was a comparative
abundance of gold and silver. Finally, during the Crusades,
the Italian cities had become the point of embarkation
for the Crusaders and had profiteered to an almost unbelievable
And after the Crusades had come to an end, these same
Italian cities remained the distributing centres for those Oriental
goods upon which the people of Europe had come to depend
during the time they had spent in the near east.
Of these towns, few were as famous as Venice. Venice was
a republic built upon a mud bank. Thither people from the
mainland had fled during the invasions of the barbarians in the
fourth century. Surrounded on all sides by the sea they had
engaged in the business of salt-making. Salt had been very
scarce during the Middle Ages, and the price had been high.
For hundreds of years Venice had enjoyed a monopoly of
this indispensable table commodity (I say indispensable, because
people, like sheep, fall ill unless they get a certain amount
of salt in their food). The people had used this monopoly to
increase the power of their city. At times they had even dared
to defy the power of the Popes. The town had grown rich and
had begun to build ships, which engaged in trade with the
Orient. During the Crusades, these ships were used to carry
passengers to the Holy Land, and when the passengers could
not pay for their tickets in cash, they were obliged to help the
Venetians who were for ever increasing their colonies in the
AEgean Sea, in Asia Minor and in Egypt.
By the end of the fourteenth century, the population had
grown to two hundred thousand, which made Venice the biggest
city of the Middle Ages. The people were without influence
upon the government which was the private affair of a
small number of rich merchant families. They elected a senate
and a Doge (or Duke), but the actual rulers of the city were
the members of the famous Council of Ten,—who maintained
themselves with the help of a highly organised system of
secret-service men and professional murderers, who kept watch upon
all citizens and quietly removed those who might be dangerous
 to the safety of their high-handed and unscrupulous Committee
of Public Safety.
The other extreme of government, a democracy of very
turbulent habits, was to be found in Florence. This city
controlled the main road from northern Europe to Rome and used
the money which it had derived from this fortunate economic
position to engage in manufacturing. The Florentines tried to
follow the example of Athens. Noblemen, priests and members
of the guilds all took part in the discussions of civic affairs.
This led to great civic upheaval. People were forever being divided
into political parties and these parties fought each other
with intense bitterness and exiled their enemies and confiscated
their possessions as soon as they had gained a victory in the
council. After several centuries of this rule by organised mobs,
the inevitable happened. A powerful family made itself master
of the city and governed the town and the surrounding country
after the fashion of the old Greek "tyrants." They were called
the Medici. The earliest Medici had been physicians (medicus
is Latin for physician, hence their name), but later they had
turned banker. Their banks and their pawnshops were to be
found in all the more important centres of trade. Even today
our American pawn-shops display the three golden balls
which were part of the coat of arms of the mighty house of
the Medici, who became rulers of Florence and married their
daughters to the kings of France and were buried in graves
worthy of a Roman Caesar.
Then there was Genoa, the great rival of Venice, where
the merchants specialised in trade with Tunis in Africa and
the grain depots of the Black Sea. Then there were more than
two hundred other cities, some large and some small, each a perfect
commercial unit, all of them fighting their neighbours and
rivals with the undying hatred of neighbours who are depriving
each other of their profits.
Once the products of the Orient and Africa had been
brought to these distributing centres, they must be prepared
for the voyage to the west and the north.
Genoa carried her goods by water to Marseilles, from where
 they were reshipped to the cities along the Rhone, which in
turn served as the market places of northern and western
Venice used the land route to northern Europe. This ancient
road led across the Brenner pass, the old gateway for
the barbarians who had invaded Italy. Past Innsbruck, the
merchandise was carried to Basel. From there it drifted down
the Rhine to the North Sea and England, or it was taken to
Augsburg where the Fugger family (who were both bankers
and manufacturers and who prospered greatly by "shaving"
the coins with which they paid their workmen), looked after
the further distribution to Nuremberg and Leipzig and the
cities of the Baltic and to Wisby (on the Island of Gotland)
which looked after the needs of the Northern Baltic and dealt
directly with the Republic of Novgorod, the old commercial
centre of Russia which was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in
the middle of the sixteenth century.
The little cities on the coast of north-western Europe had
an interesting story of their own. The mediaeval world ate a
great deal of fish. There were many fast days and then people
 were not permitted to eat meat. For those who lived away
from the coast and from the rivers, this meant a diet of eggs
or nothing at all. But early in the thirteenth century a Dutch
fisherman had discovered a way of curing herring, so that it
could be transported to distant points. The herring fisheries
of the North Sea then became of great importance. But some
time during the thirteenth century, this useful little fish (for
reasons of its own) moved from the North Sea to the Baltic and
the cities of that inland sea began to make money. All the
world now sailed to the Baltic to catch herring and as that fish
could only be caught during a few months each year (the rest
of the time it spends in deep water, raising large families of
little herrings) the ships would have been idle during the rest
of the time unless they had found another occupation. They
were then used to carry the wheat of northern and central Russia
to southern and western Europe. On the return voyage
they brought spices and silks and carpets and Oriental rugs
from Venice and Genoa to Bruges and Hamburg and Bremen.
Out of such simple beginnings there developed an important
system of international trade which reached from the
manufacturing cities of Bruges and Ghent (where the almighty
guilds fought pitched battles with the kings of France and
England and established a labour tyranny which completely
ruined both the employers and the workmen) to the Republic
of Novgorod in northern Russia, which was a mighty city until
Tsar Ivan, who distrusted all merchants, took the town and
killed sixty thousand people in less than a month's time and
reduced the survivors to beggary.
That they might protect themselves against pirates and
excessive tolls and annoying legislation, the merchants of the
north founded a protective league which was called the
"Hansa." The Hansa, which had its headquarters in Lubeck,
was a voluntary association of more than one hundred cities.
The association maintained a navy of its own which patrolled
the seas and fought and defeated the Kings of England and
Denmark when they dared to interfere with the rights and the
privileges of the mighty Hanseatic merchants.
THE HANSA SHIP
 I wish that I had more space to tell you some of the wonderful
stories of this strange commerce which was carried on
across the high mountains and across the deep seas amidst
such dangers that every voyage became a glorious adventure.
But it would take several volumes and it cannot be done here.
Besides, I hope that I have told you enough about the Middle
Ages to make you curious to read more in the excellent books
of which I shall give you a list at the end of this volume.
The Middle Ages, as I have tried to show you, had been a
period of very slow progress. The people who were in power
believed that "progress" was a very undesirable invention of
the Evil One and ought to be discouraged, and as they
hap-  pened to occupy the seats of the mighty, it was easy to enforce
their will upon the patient serfs and the illiterate knights.
Here and there a few brave souls sometimes ventured forth into
the forbidden region of science, but they fared badly and were
considered lucky when they escaped with their lives and a jail
sentence of twenty years.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the flood of
international commerce swept over western Europe as the Nile
had swept across the valley of ancient Egypt. It left behind
a fertile sediment of prosperity. Prosperity meant leisure
hours and these leisure hours gave both men and women a
chance to buy manuscripts and take an interest in literature
and art and music.
Then once more was the world filled with that divine curiosity
which has elevated man from the ranks of those other
mammals who are his distant cousins but who have remained
dumb, and the cities, of whose growth and development I have
told you in my last chapter, offered a safe shelter to these
brave pioneers who dared to leave the very narrow domain
of the established order of things.
They set to work. They opened the windows of their
cloistered and studious cells. A flood of sunlight entered the
dusty rooms and showed them the cobwebs which had gathered
during the long period of semi-darkness.
They began to clean house. Next they cleaned their gardens.
Then they went out into the open fields, outside the crumbling
town walls, and said, "This is a good world. We are
glad that we live in it."
At that moment, the Middle Ages came to an end and a new
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