7.4 Economic Expansion and Change: The Crusades and After

By about 1000, Europe was undergoing an economic revival. Over the next few centuries, remarkable changes greatly strengthened Western Europe. These changes began in the countryside, where peasants adopted new farming technologies that made their fields more productive. The result was an agricultural revolution that transformed Europe.

Illustration of a farm with two horses pulling a wide plow, with other farm work and medieval city life occuring in the background.

New farming technologies changed medieval Europe. In the fields, a new type of harness distributed pressure along the shoulders of the horse, which allowed the plowing of heavier soils.


  • Summarize how new technologies sparked an agricultural revolution, and the revival of trade led to the growth of towns and cities.
  • Explain how a commercial revolution changed society and how guilds led to the rise of the middle class.
  • Explain the causes and effects of the Crusades.
  • Summarize how Christians in Spain carried out the Reconquista.

Key Terms

  • charter
  • capital
  • partnership
  • tenant farmer
  • middle class
  • guild
  • apprentice
  • journeyman
  • Holy Land
  • Pope Urban II
  • Reconquista
  • Ferdinand and Isabella
  • Inquisition
  • Crusades

Changes in Agriculture Transform Europe

Farming Technology Improves

By about 800, peasants were using iron plows that carved deep into the heavy soil of northern Europe. These plows were an improvement over wooden plows, which were designed for light Mediterranean soils rather than heavier northern soils.

Also, a new kind of harness allowed peasants to use horses rather than oxen to pull the plows. Faster moving horses could plow more land in a day than oxen could, so peasants could enlarge their fields and plant more crops.

Food Output and Population Grow

Other changes brought still more land into use. Peasants adopted a new way of rotating crops: the three-field system. They planted one field with grain; a second with legumes, such as peas and beans; and the third they left unplanted.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments