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Unit 2: How Trade and Travel Changed the World

Lesson E: Rise of Early Europe

Opening: Early Europe's Social Struggle

The story of Europe during the Ancient and Classical Periods is one of great achievement. Ancient Greece and Classical Rome had lasting political and social accomplishments that created the basis for the modern world. However, the Medieval Period that followed is often referred to as the "Dark Ages" for Europe. With little centralized rule, the Mediterranean region and Western Europe struggled to maintain stability.

As the Medieval Period passed, the world neared the Modern Period. Europe started to regain its stability. Society and land use were ruled by feudalism, a system under which the wealthier elite owned land, and groups such as merchants, knights, and serfs filled in the bottom portions of society. Land was farmed using the manorial system, and local rulers held power over regional areas.

To give you a better idea of the feudal system, consider the following present day examples. In today's world, inequality also exists between groups in society. Although many people work to create wealth, only a small percentage of people control most of this wealth.

Directions: Read the newspaper headlines below.


Tax cuts approved for low income families Richest Americans getting richer
Study shows poverty continues throughout world Elections hinge on lower and middle class vote
Riots continue over pay cuts and unemployment
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Written Activity - Notebook

In your notebook, respond to the following questions:

  • How do these issues reflect the tension created by unequal wealth?
  • What might change these issues and provide more equality?
  • How could life be improved for poorer people of the world?

Many of the issues you discussed in response to these questions are likely similar to the reasons for the eventual decline of feudalism as a social and economic system in Europe. Think about the similarities between your answers to the questions as you view the actual reasons for the decline of European feudalism in the mini lesson that follows.