12th Century

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Territorial, political situation in the 12th century.

The 12th century began on January 1, 1101 and ended on December 31, 1200. The world population in this century is estimated at 360 to 450 million people. In Western Europe the papacy took on a leading role. The popes rivaled the emperors, who increasingly had to deal with pre-forms of the formation of European nations. The knighthood reached its first heyday. Trade and the monetary economy expanded, urbanization increased sharply, and the sciences began to flourish. Europe reached beyond its borders, even though the Crusader states suffered a decisive defeat in 1187. The victorious Ayyubids , on the other hand, became the new regional power of the Middle East.

In the east of the Asian continent, the Japanese Middle Ages began with the takeover of power by the shoguns . Across the East China Sea, the triumphant advance of the Jurchen forced the Song Dynasty to concentrate their rule on southern China. Nevertheless, Song China remained the most influential power in East Asia economically and culturally. Parts of the Kitai conquered by the Jurchen moved further west and established as Kara Kitai their supremacy over large areas in central Asia. In the southeast of the continent, the Khmer experienced the height of their empire.


Europe around 1190

In the European context, the 12th century is assigned to the period of the High Middle Ages . Similar to the period of the High Middle Ages (1050–1250), several Anglo-American historians see the period from the end of the 11th to the beginning of the 13th century as a period of coherent developments and therefore speak of a long 12th century . The term 12th century renaissance describes the changes in the sciences and arts as fundamental and groundbreaking. He also points to an increased reception of antiquity in this century. For many historians, however, he overestimates numerous developments and unfairly excludes other aspects of the century.

In the 12th century Europe was divided into numerous domains, most of which were linked to one another by the people's belief in Roman Catholic Christianity . They are also spoken of as the Occident. In the European fringes of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Christian Orthodox faith prevailed, while the south of the Iberian Peninsula was dominated by Muslims. The Holy Roman Empire in the middle of Europe had lost a large part of its claimed hegemonic position in the struggle with the papacy. In Western Europe, England and France, two strong independent empires, established themselves.

Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire at the time of the Hohenstaufen

The Holy Roman Empire was in the center of Europe . The power elite of the empire formed an aristocratic upper class, which elected a king at its head. At the beginning of the century, the last Salian king, Heinrich V, was in conflict with the popes and a mostly Saxon imperial prince opposition. Due to his defeat in the Battle of Welfesholz , he lost a large part of his power in Saxony. Furthermore, in the resolution of the investiture dispute with the papacy through the Worms Concordat of 1122, he also lost part of his influence on the appointment of the bishops, another important group of imperial princes. With Henry's childlessness when he died in 1125, the election of a king by the imperial princes of the Holy Roman Empire became more important than inheritance law considerations. So the Staufer , who were related to the Salians, could only after the reign of the Saxon Lothar III. convince the majority of imperial princes to elect them as Roman-German kings. The Staufer Konrad III. followed not his underage son, but his nephew Friedrich , called Barbarossa, on the throne. It is believed that he had to make numerous concessions to the princes for his electoral success. The Roman-German kings of the 12th century strove to build up their own power base vis-à-vis the aristocrats through their kingdom policy. To this end, they combined territories owned by the king into larger areas, which they had administered by subordinate ministerials. The kings secured their territories by building numerous castles. However, the Roman-German monarchs were unable to establish a large unified territory with a central seat.

Another power factor within the empire were the northern Italian cities, which were able to gain ever greater autonomy, especially in the first half of the century. Trade and handicrafts brought them great wealth. Emperor Barbarossa tried to enforce his royal power against them. He saw numerous regalia , which the cities had claimed for themselves due to the weakness of the empire in the first half of the century, as imperial property, which he wanted to lend profitably as fiefdoms. He tried to enforce his point of view by force and thereby consolidate the central imperial power in imperial Italy . First, Friedrich succeeded in playing the cities off against each other and, in particular, defeating Milan. With his partisanship against Pope Alexander III. in the papal schism of 1159 he stood against numerous European kings. The decimation of his army by an epidemic and a military defeat against the cities that had united in the Lombard League, forced him to first Alexander III. to be recognized in the Peace of Venice and finally to grant the northern Italian cities numerous regalia against payment of money. North of the Alps, the Saxon-Bavarian Duke Heinrich the Lion , who was initially patronized by Friedrich, had built up a unique position of power. The pressure of a Saxon prince opposition and Heinrich's declining support for the imperial Italian policy were the reasons that he was largely ousted in a procedure. Its lands, especially the tribal duchy of Saxony , were divided among several imperial princes. The margraviate of Austria had previously been converted into an independent duchy through the Privilegium Minus . This intensified the process of dissolving the great tribal duchies in favor of small duchies in the Holy Roman Empire. The smaller size allowed the dukes to intensify their local rule so that they became territorial states over the following centuries.

In the second half of the 12th century, on the one hand, there was a Saxon expansion into the area between the Elbe and Oder, on the other hand, there was a migration of German settlers to Eastern Europe, known as the German East Settlement . The violent conquest of the Elbe-Oder region by the Slavic Wends living there was preceded by the Wenden Crusade . This led to the formal Christianization of the Wends and their tribute obligations to the Saxon princes, who thereby strengthened their position of power in the empire.

At the end of the century, the son of Emperor Barbarossa, Heinrich VI. besides the imperial dignity also the royal rule of the Kingdom of Sicily. With this the Hohenstaufen reached the height of their power.

Western Europe

France and the Angevin Empire around 1180

In 1135 a dispute about the succession to King Henry I broke out in the Kingdom of England . The supporters of the heir to the throne Stephan von Blois and Matilda fought each other in a civil war, which is also known as anarchy . In 1154, the son of Matildas Heinrich II from the Plantagenet family was finally able to assert himself as king. Before his coronation, he had inherited control over numerous areas of north-west France, and through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine , he had gained rulership over the entire western half of France. The feudal obligation for the French parts of the domain towards the King of France remained formal, so that his entire domain is referred to by historians as the Angevin Empire .

The French kings of the Capetian dynasty only ruled directly over their crown domain. In 1137 their royal power reached a temporary climax with the marriage of Louis VII to Eleanor of Aquitaine, which was followed by a severe setback with the annulment of the marriage in 1152 and the subsequent emergence of the Angevin Empire. Only Ludwig's successor Philipp August succeeded in rebuilding a strong position of power, taking advantage of the internal disputes of the English Plantagenets. This position enabled him at the beginning of the 13th century to end the rule of the English kings over parts of France.

Southern Europe

Southern Italy was ruled by Normans. These were able to assert themselves against the claims of the papacy and the Western and Byzantine emperors. Initially in opposition to the papacy, the Normans used the first papal schism in the 1130s to be recognized as kings of southern Italy.

The popes had a secular dominion in central Italy, which they defended against various threats. In the first half of the century they faced opposition from the Roman urban population and the southern Italian Normans. In contrast, they got support from the Roman-German emperors. In the second half of the century, Emperor Barbarossa was the opponent of Pope Alexander III. In his struggle against the latter's claims to supremacy in Italy, he was supported by the northern Italian Lombard League as well as the French kings and the English Church. In the Peace of Venice, Alexander was able to prevail against Barbarossa and the antipope he supported.

The Iberian Peninsula in 1150

As in previous centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into Christian empires in the north and a Muslim empire in the south. In this century, the Christian empires continued their struggle, known as the Reconquista , to conquer the Muslim territories. This struggle had been religiously charged on both sides since the end of the 11th century. Orders of knights played an important role in the battles . The Christian empires, who fought both together and separately, were able to make some territorial gains in this century, as they had in previous ones. In the course of the century some areas split off from the great empires of Castile and Aragon. This is how the county of Portugal became an independent kingdom that was officially recognized in 1179.

The south, called Al-Andalus , was ruled by the Almoravid dynasty in the first half of the century . In the atmosphere of military pressure, the Almoravid caliphs ordered the expulsion of numerous Christian and Jewish residents from their empires. When the Almoravids weakened by military defeats and internal disputes in the middle of the century, the religious-tribal movement of the Almohads took power in Al-Andalus in 1161. The Almohads assert their position against the Christian empires. In the Battle of Alarcos they won the last great victory of a Muslim armed force on the Iberian Peninsula, but could not use it for larger territorial gains. The Almohads promoted art and culture and began numerous buildings, such as the mosque of Seville . The fields of philosophy, theology and mysticism also flourished.

Southeast Europe

In south-eastern Europe, the Byzantine Empire was the dominant power alongside the Kingdom of Hungary . Byzantium took advantage of the controversy for the throne in Hungary at the beginning of the century to gain supremacy from Hungary over the Dalmatian coast . Byzantium was able to maintain its strength in the Balkans until the 1170s. Then it lost Dalmatia to Hungary and had to give up territories to the Serbian Empire. In the 1180s, one of the Bulgarian uprisings led to success, so that the Second Bulgarian Empire split from the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantium around 1180

These developments were favored by the fact that a dispute over the succession after the death of Emperor Manuel I in 1180 severely weakened the Byzantine Empire. During his tenure, Manuel asserted Byzantine power, while he had to create a balance between the powers in the west and east. In the west, the Byzantines had to assert their interests against the Normans, the Italian maritime republics, the papacy and Hungarians. In the east they prevented the Seljuks from expanding further into Asia Minor and held their own against some crusader states. Militarily, Byzantium was dependent on the support of the naval forces of the Italian maritime republics . Since the previous century it had been supported by the Republic of Venice , whose merchants enjoyed extensive trading privileges for it. After disputes with Venice, similar treaties followed with the republics of Pisa and Genoa . In the 1180s there was a break with Venice, which Byzantium was never really able to repair. This rupture was a major cause of the conquest and sacking of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which ushered in the final fall of the Empire.


Society in Europe was by and large a feudal class society. Despite similar basic structures, the individual relationships were structured very differently. In a climate of social mobility, numerous groups managed to improve their social status.

Most European empires were headed by monarchs. The English and French kings managed to centralize their country. Following England, the French monarchs were able to establish a direct feudal bond with the king at least in their crown domain at all hierarchical levels, while the kings of the Roman-German Empire did not achieve this penetration. In contrast to the British and French incumbents, they also failed to introduce a central administrative and an effective central financial system in their empire. The royal officials of the empire were not only numerically fewer, but also less well trained in law than those of their western neighbors. Furthermore, the emperors were much more dependent on the aristocratic princes to enforce their peace obligations than the western European kings.

In Europe, knighthood reached its heyday. This was a group of lay people who set themselves apart from the rest of society through common ways of life and cultural ideals. On the one hand it included lower nobles and ministerials, mounted professional warriors who fought as vassals for a feudal lord. On the other hand, the high lay nobility also belonged to this group. It was he who largely organized the court festivals, tournaments and poetry readings that were part of the knightly way of life . In addition to participating in these events, the knights should behave in accordance with the ideal of a knightly ideal that was shaped by both religious and secular influences. But the real behavior was often far from that. The women's service propagated in minnesang had little to do with the real position of women in this social group. The forerunners of these forms of culture were the Angevin and French empires, of which the neighboring empires often copied. The Mainz Court Day of 1184 was the most important knightly event in the Holy Roman Empire of the 12th century.

In the crusader states and on the Iberian Peninsula, orders of knights emerged in the 12th century , which had the character of both a monastic order and a fighting knightly community. In the Levant, in addition to their original task of caring for the poor and the sick, the armed protection of pilgrims played an increasingly important role and led to the militarization of the orders. The reward for their services quickly brought the Order great wealth.

A wave of urbanization went through Europe. Many cities were founded in the Holy Roman Empire and in England in particular. Numerous other cities increased the number of their citizens. At the beginning of the century, many cities were still fully integrated into the rule of aristocratic landlords, but numerous citizenships fought for their own sovereign rights, such as the right to their own jurisdiction. Many northern Italian cities in particular achieved a high degree of autonomy. With the rights they had gained, the urban population began to differentiate themselves from the surrounding area and develop their own awareness. In the following centuries a new class grew up, the bourgeoisie . East of the Oder, however, this urban development was hardly pronounced.

Around 90% of the population in European countries were unfree farmers. By so-called spell forces the aristocratic upper class power could exert on them and charge high taxes and benefits from them. In return, it was obliged to protect the farmers. In detail, however, the rights were designed very differently, so that some farmers had great freedom, while the everyday life of others was heavily regulated by their masters.

Religion and church

Hildegard von Bingen receives a divine inspiration and passes it on to her writer. Miniature from the Rupertsberg Codex of Liber Scivias .

Initiated by the church reform movement that began in the previous century, numerous religious groups tried to distance themselves from the rest of society and to live a life according to their Christian ideals. One way was the establishment or institutional organization of new monastic orders, of which the Cistercian order , to whom the ideal of poverty was particularly important, developed the greatest importance. Numerous religious women's communities also emerged parallel to the men's orders. The abbess Hildegard von Bingen and the abbot Bernhard von Clairvaux achieved wide social attention.

In addition to the orders, believers joined together to form lay movements , which in particular put the Christian ideal of poverty into practice. Some condemned the official Church as heretical . They included the Cathars , a religious movement supported by people from all walks of life. It was the first major religious mass movement in the West, which distinguished itself from the Roman Catholic Church both through the representation of deviating religious content and through the development of independent church structures. In the confrontation with the movement, the church's position vis-à-vis the movement sharpened significantly, but it was only the connection of the church-religious confrontation with a political confrontation that led to the violence of the Albigensian Crusade at the beginning of the following century .

The church's disputes with divergent religious positions became increasingly differentiated in this century, with the theological processes representing a new quality. The legal foundations for linking theological judgments with secular jurisdiction were laid. Compared to later centuries, death sentences on the basis of heresy were pronounced and carried out only in rare exceptional cases.

The people of Europe increasingly made pilgrimages to places of pilgrimage such as Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela . In addition to the religious experience, the pilgrimage led to an increased exchange between people from different regions. Additional places of pilgrimage, such as Cologne, established themselves through the acquisition of important relics . For them, the pilgrims were also an important economic factor.


The economic boom of the 11th century continued in the 12th century. Grain production played an increasingly important role in agriculture, which was at the expense of the livestock industry. The spread of the three-field economy continued. In agriculture, common areas such as common land continued to decline. The manor changed. Regulations on the model of Villikation where the farmers forced labor had to be made to the landlords decrease strongly in favor of Erbzinsvereinbarungen. This development was one aspect of the commercialization of the entire economy that began in the 12th century. In addition to new forms of organization, the entire agricultural area expanded through inland clearing. In addition, the new order of the Cistercians made previously undeveloped areas usable. Due to the migration of large population groups to Central and Eastern Europe, also known as the German East Settlement , previously unused areas were reclaimed in these areas.

Furthermore, the production of agricultural and handicraft goods was increased through the use of technology. So, following on from the development of the previous century, the spread of water mills continued. In addition, at the end of the century, the first windmills were built in Northern Europe, which were improved by a rotating mechanism so that the wind could be used from different directions. At the same time, the first gears for water mills were developed, which could convert the circular motion into vertical or horizontal motions. This innovation made it possible to mechanize further work processes. The spread of glassworks made it possible to expand glass production.

The commercialization of the economy brought with it an expansion of trade and the monetary economy. Large supraregional exhibition centers such as the champagne fairs flourished for the first time. With the growing urbanization, the craftsmen and merchants increasingly organized themselves in cooperatives. The first guilds and the early forms of the German Hanseatic League emerged, which fought for privileges for their members. The long-distance trade network became denser. The Italian maritime republics increased their central role in European long-distance trade by gaining a monopoly on ships in the Mediterranean.

Art, culture and science

View into the choir of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral

In the 12th century, churches in France were built according to a new architectural style, the Gothic . These cathedrals are particularly characterized by their height and large window areas in the walls, so that a much lighter spatial impression is created compared to their predecessors. In contrast, the churches in the rest of Europe were still built according to the Romanesque architecture. In England the Gothic construction method was adopted at the end of the century. The cathedrals were built jointly by specialists from different regions of Europe. These spread the knowledge that was developed from experience in Europe.

In the French and English regions in particular, various literary works were written in Latin and the vernacular. Many royal and princely courts promoted ritualized love poetry in the form of trobadord poetry and heroic songs . From the latter, the form of the courtly novel developed , which reached its first climax with the Arthurian novel popular in this century . The literary lecture was often accompanied by music, so that there was no clear separation of literature and music. Numerous literary works dealt with secular subjects. In different regions of Europe historical works were written, which often concentrated on the history of their own people.

With regard to the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, a clear change took place in the 12th century. The main providers of school education were cathedral and cathedral schools, while the importance of the early medieval educational institutions, the monastery schools, declined sharply. In the second half of the century the first universities and city schools emerged, making educational institutions more scientific and secular. Although the majority of the students aspired to a spiritual career, the number of those who followed different paths in life increased. In addition to the Italian peninsula, the schools in France were the leaders, while the teaching establishments that were located north of the Alps in the Holy Roman Empire fell sharply behind in international comparison.

In terms of content, the knowledge horizon of the West expanded through contact with the Muslim empires and Byzantium during the Crusades and the Reconquista. On the one hand, scholars were given access to ancient sources that were previously inaccessible, and on the other to knowledge that was developed in Byzantium and the Muslim world. In particular, the spread of the works of Aristotle led to the scholastic method being trained and disseminated. A more rational understanding of the world began. Legal and philosophical knowledge gained in importance alongside theology.

Muslim world

In the 12th century, numerous rival domains from the Maghreb to Central Asia were linked by the Muslim faith.

Almoravids and Almohads

Koutoubia Mosque

At the beginning of the century, the Almoravids ruled the Maghreb and the south of the Iberian Peninsula. In the 1120s, the religious tribal movement of the Almohads , who wanted to enforce Islam in its original form and give the practice of religion more depth, increasingly came into conflict with the ruling Almoravids. In 1147 the movement seized power over the Maghreb. It had its roots in the Berber region and was organized militarily and strictly hierarchically. When they came to power, their leader also assumed the title of caliph , which symbolized both political and religious leadership. He underpinned this by conquering Ifrīqiya and the Iberian Al-Andalus in the following years .

Despite all the differences between the Muslim elites south and north of the Mediterranean, numerous scholars from Al-Andalus also moved to the Maghreb. Poets, philosophers and scientists were patronized by both the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties. Among them, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides held a special position as a border crosser between cultures. The two dynasties hardly differed in terms of building activity either. Thus the Koutoubia Mosque became a model for the subsequent architecture of the Maghreb.

The Ayyubid dynasty

The empire of the Ayyubid dynasty and its neighboring empires at the end of the 12th century

Egypt was the heartland of the Fatimid caliphs. These belonged to the Ismaili faith, while the Egyptians were mostly Sunni Muslims or Christians. Internal power struggles weakened the Fatimid dynasty. This led to military intervention by both the Crusaders and the Zengids . The attempt of the caliphs to play both opponents off against each other failed. Together with the Zengids came Salah ad-Din b. Ayyub, called Saladin , went to Cairo and took over the leadership of the country after the overthrow of the Ismaili caliphs in 1171. The new ruler reorganized Egypt strictly according to the Sunni faith, recognized the caliph of Baghdad as religious leader and carried the secular title of sultan. With Saladin's takeover in Egypt, the Ayyubid dynasty took an important step on the way to becoming a regional power in the Middle East. A further step was the conquest of Northern Nubia, Yemen, Mecca and Medina by his brother. From 1183 to 1186 the Sultan subjugated the Zengid Empire, with whose army he marched into Egypt. These were originally the Atabegs of the Seljuk Empire in Mosul and brought the first significant defeat to the Crusader states in 1144 with the conquest of the county of Edessa . In 1187 Saladin was able to conquer the most important Crusader empire, the Kingdom of Jerusalem , due to his decisive victory in the Battle of Hattin . Afterwards, numerous crusaders tried to recapture the lost territories for the West, but the Third Crusade (1189–1192) only succeeded in taking the city of Acre and some coastal areas.

Saladin saw his war against the crusader states as a military jihad . His successors, however, recognized the military stalemate at the end of the Third Crusade, and a period of relatively peaceful coexistence between the Crusaders and the Ayyubids ensued. Both sides benefited from mutual trade. As under the Fatimids, there was also significant trade between the Italian Maritime Republics and Egypt under the Ayyubids . As one end point of the spice route, the Egyptians supplied luxury goods from Asia as well as local goods such as sugar and alums in exchange for raw materials such as iron and wood.

The Ayyubids base their power on members of their family clans and their army. Political power was in the hands of a relatively closed Turkish-Kurdish group. In Egypt in particular, there was a growing gap between rulers and rulers who belonged to different ethnic groups.

Muslim empires from Anatolia to Central Asia

After the conquest of Anatolia in the previous century, some Seljuks established the Sultanate of the Rum Seljuks there . They withstood the attacks of the Byzantines and Crusaders and were finally able to secure their territory through their victory in the battle of Myriokephalon in 1176 against a Byzantine army. Numerous Christians in their sphere of influence converted to Islam.

The empire of the Rum Seljuks was only one of many small rulers that had been acting largely autonomously in the greater Seljuq empire since the beginning of the 12th century . At their head were mostly Turkish military leaders who had used their function as tutors of the Seljuk princes, Atabeg , to come to power. Originally they had acquired their powers of government over their territories as an administrative fiefdom, but over the course of the century they also legally secured the inheritance of their fiefs.

The religious heads of the Seljuq Empire were the caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty. At the end of the 12th century they were able to regain part of their political power. However, it was limited to a large area around their city of Baghdad. Even if they were Sunnis themselves, they sought a balance with the large group of Shiites in their empire. Only in Khorasan , southeast of the Caspian Sea, were the Seljuks able to maintain their direct rule in the first half of the century. After the defeat against the Oghusen of the Aral Sea, the last ruler quickly lost his power. Its former rival, the Ghaznavid dynasty, was also able to maintain its empire further east until it was replaced by the Afghan Ghurid dynasty in the middle of the 12th century.

Society, religion and culture

The most important institutions of religious and legal scholarship in the Muslim world were the madrasses . Most of the numerous madrasses in the Muslim world were founded and maintained by private donors. Through the selection of teachers, the founders, who mostly belonged to the urban elite, also determined the law school, madhhab , which was taught there.

On the one hand, most of the rulers in this century tried to enforce a traditional Sunni view of Islam at the expense of other orientations, on the other hand there were also efforts to balance the Sunnah and Shia as well as book scholarship and mysticism. As in the 11th century, Islamic mysticism grew in popularity. In the course of the century, the originally very heterogeneous movement unified into a few main lines and the first Sufi orders, Tarīqa , emerged.



The Song Empire in 1142: The dynasty lost northern China to the attack of the Jurchen.

politics and society

In the 12th century, China, ruled by the Song Dynasty , was East Asia's leading empire in cultural, economic and technological terms. In terms of area, it was much smaller than today's China, surrounded by militarily and politically equal states. The most powerful northern neighbor was the Khitan empire ruled by the Liao dynasty . They fought against their former vassals, the Jurchen , a semi-nomadic people who had been ruled by the Jin dynasty since the beginning of the century . Initially allied with China, they conquered the Kite Empire in the 1120s, but then turned against China. From 1127 the Jin conquered northern China, which had previously reduced its army considerably for cost reasons, and established a capital there. The Song Imperial Court fled to the south of China, so that China was effectively divided into two empires. In the following years, the Song dynasty changed its strategy several times between that of a military reconquest of the north and that of a peaceful coexistence against tribute payments to the Jurchen. Large parts of the Chinese south also suffered from their campaigns. After the conclusion of a peace treaty in 1142, however, there were no more sustained significant border shifts. Another campaign by the Jin Dynasty against the south in the 1160s failed and the peace treaty was renewed in 1165.

In both parts of China, in the southern Song Empire and in the Chinese part of the Jin Empire, the social, administrative and economic structures essentially remained the same as in the previously unified China. At the head of the southern empire stood the emperors of the Song Dynasty, who now resided with their court in the southern capital, Hangzhou . They built their rule on a hierarchical bureaucratic apparatus, at the head of which they stood. Access to civil servant posts was to a significant extent through audits. The tripartite, highly selective examination system was open to most social classes, but with few exceptions only wealthy candidates could afford the study effort for the exams. Despite the high selection rate, the southern Song were no longer able to provide civil servants with numerous graduates. Nonetheless, these graduates were part of the local elite, influenced local politics without official posts or turned to artistic activities. Since there were only a few civil servants at the regional and local level, the local elites, mostly large landowners, played a major role in the local administration. These were the providers of local infrastructure, such as schools, social institutions and cultural funding. Due to their property rights, the large landowners also had a large part of the executive power over their tenants, whose freedom they could severely restrict.

In the 12th century, China's women were increasingly pushed out of public life. The practice of tying the feet has been a strong indicator of this trend. Nevertheless, some women achieved high social attention as poets or entrepreneurs.

In the Jin Dynasty, the Jurchen made up the political ruling class, but were a small minority. Before the Kitan, the Chinese were the largest group of the population. The Jurchen allowed the Chinese administrative, economic and social structure to exist alongside their nomadic tribal culture. The endeavor to centralize the whole empire on the Chinese model gave way to countercurrents. Many Jurchen adapted to Chinese customs and got used to urban life. The Jin Empire's religious tolerance contrasted with the high number of slaves.

Economy, technology and culture

Stepping out of the Qingming role of the Chinese painter Zhang Zeduan

The spirit of optimism of the previous century flattened out in the 12th century. Nevertheless, with its growing economy, China remained Asia's economic engine. As in previous centuries, a mild climate favored increased production and agricultural diversification. This led to an increase in population, an increase in trade and the growth of cities.

80% of the Chinese lived in the south, particularly in the Yangtze River Delta and the coastal regions. The rice cultivation practiced here could feed four times as many people as the grain cultivation in the north. As in the past centuries, in addition to the larger reservoir of labor, the use of new techniques, such as the perfecting of wet farming, the use of new rice varieties and the application of fertilizers, was the driving force behind agricultural development. In addition, there was the use of pumps and the use of mills and threshing machines. These funds made it possible not only to increase the yield of existing areas, but also to use areas that were previously not economically viable. To promote the economy, the Song Dynasty designated additional agricultural land, redistributed the tax burden and implemented infrastructure measures such as the construction of canals and dams. Large agricultural surpluses favored specialization. So the agriculture of the Song increasingly produced for the market, which caused a flourishing trade.

The considerable military spending led to considerable financial problems for the state in the empire of the southern Song. The government tried to counteract this by reducing the metal value of coins issued. This encouraged traders to take the old coins with a high metal value out of circulation. The state reacted to this by issuing state borrower's notes made of paper, which were ultimately only replaced by other paper borrower's notes, so that they became paper money.

Chinese iron production, which was by far the largest in the world at the time, made use of coal mined to a large extent due to the lack of other resources. Metals were exported on a large scale, including in the form of coins. In addition to silk, ceramics were an important export good, a large part of which was produced in bulk for this purpose only. Export was an important source of income for the state, both through foreign trade monopolies and through tariffs paid by free traders. Inland trade, for which transport on rivers and canals was of central importance, was also of great importance, with north-south trade declining sharply when the Jurchen came to power.

An important shipbuilding industry manufactured ocean-going ships for maritime export, which were technically improved. From the 12th century, the number of Chinese traders engaged in overseas trade increased sharply. The further development of the compass for easy use on ships supported this development. Considerable advances have also been made in other areas of science and technology, so that the level of knowledge in almost all areas was significantly higher than that of Europe at the same time. The main driving force behind progress was the elite's interest in governing an increasingly complex society. The knowledge was gained on the basis of experience and observations. However, there was little interest in developing abstract scientific theories.

Playing children; Painter: Su Hanchen

In the 12th century, guilds were established in all common professions that regulated the economy. The army also played a significant role in economic life.

Population growth and the more effective and diversified economy resulted in the number and size of cities. With an urban population greater than 10% of the total population, the Chinese were by far the most urbanized society in the world in the 12th century. The structure of the cities was open, which allowed unrestricted mobility between the city districts. They were home to a variety of different establishments, including entertainment districts. Chinese cities were characterized by great social diversity, but also strong economic differences between the population groups. The state tried to counteract the widespread social hardship with extensive welfare programs and the establishment of social institutions.

With the retreat of the Song dynasty south, the focus of the educated elite turned inward. The private and local was a central theme of literature. The religious-philosophical doctrine of Neoconfucianism , which reached many more layers than in the previous century, now turned its attention to the individual. A distanced view free from material entanglements was considered an ideal. Even if these views, of which Zhu Xi was the most important representative , briefly met with rejection from the powerful at the end of the century, in the following century they became an important part of state teaching and played an important role in the history of China. The images of this century are devoted to fleeting pleasure and the transience of beauty. Letterpress printing was widespread as wood-plate printing, but most of the works were only printed in small editions. The readers of these documents were also only a small minority in society.

Although the Jurchen had their own script, it was often used to translate Chinese books. In the empire of the Jin Dynasty, numerous new literary works also emerged, often entertainment literature.

Central Asia

Shortly before the fall of the Liao dynasty in 1125, its former military leader Yelü Dashi gathered numerous followers who are known under the name Kara Kitai . In successive campaigns he subjugated large areas of Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea. While the areas north of the Tian Shan Mountains remained under the direct control of the Kara Kitai, they contented themselves with supremacy in the areas from the Aral Sea to the Tarim Basin . The local rulers left them in office as tributary vassals. Their vassals also included the Khorezm Shahs , who founded a great Persian empire in the following century.

The Kara Kitai were strongly influenced by the Chinese and Mongolian cultures and were mostly shamanists or Buddhists. Unlike her, her subjects were predominantly Muslims who were shaped by an Iranian-Turkish culture. Their rule was characterized by religious and cultural tolerance. They also left the existing mixture of pasture and arable land.

The Ghurid dynasty rose in the second half of the century in what is now Afghanistan . After conquering the Ghaznavid Empire , it expanded to northern India at the end of the century. There the Sultanate of Delhi emerged from their empire in the following century .

Korea and Japan

The Korean peninsula was ruled by the Kingdom of Goryeo . Their northern neighbor, the emerging Jin dynasty , forced the Korean kings into vassal relationships in the first half of the century. These were based on a class of officials whose status was hereditary. The officials were organized in different clans, two of which tried in vain in the first half of the century to gain power permanently. In the second half of the century, some of the military felt disadvantaged by the civil administration, putsches and established a military dictatorship that was only formally dependent on the king. Goryeo was a corporate state. The land belonged to high nobles, officials and Buddhist monasteries, who let tenants and slaves manage it.

The eastern neighbor Japan was ruled by the court in Kyoto at the beginning of the 12th century. At the head was an emperor, Tennō , who had little de facto power. The abdicated emperors, who had withdrawn into Buddhist monasteries, ruled indirectly. Large parts of the agricultural area were owned by the farm, aristocrats and Buddhist monasteries. In the peripheral areas in particular, powerful war clans owned large estates. The land holdings of the first three groups were administered by provincial officials who had received military training.

In the middle of the century there were throne disputes. These fought the two most powerful warrior clans, Taira and Minamoto, together with allied provincial officials, on behalf of the court parties. The victorious Taira were then able to take over a large part of the power of the court. In the 1180s, the Minamoto clan conquered the rule of the Taira in the Gempei War and established a military government with its clan chief at its head. The emperor gave this the title of Shogun . This began the Kamakura period and the Japanese Middle Ages.

South East Asia

Southeast Asia was divided into great empires on the mainland, of which Bagan in the west, Angkor , and Champa in the east were the most important, and maritime empires with a focus on the islands, of which the Srivijaya Empire was the most powerful.

The Khmer kings of the Angkor Empire continued their centuries-old tradition of temple building policy to support the rulers. In the first half of the century, King Suryavarman II built the largest and most important temple in Angkor, Angkor Wat . This was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Agriculture, which was irrigated by a large, elaborately built system of canals, reservoirs and watercourses, gave the empire high agricultural surpluses. Angkor was also connected to the coast by waterways, which enabled it to be integrated into the Southeast Asian sea trade. Also in this century the Khmer waged numerous campaigns against their neighbors in order to expand their empire further. In 1177, however, the Champa attacked, pillaged and plundered Angkor. After this defeat, Angkor experienced its last great period of prosperity with the accession of Jayavarman VII . The new king started an extensive building program. In addition to the construction of numerous temples, houses and streets, a new capital was built with Angkor Thom . If his predecessors were Hindu, this king promoted Buddhism.

America and the Pacific

In North and Central America there lived numerous indigenous groups and small empires in the 12th century, which modern historians have combined to form cultures due to common characteristics.

The Anasazi, a pueblo culture in North America, experienced a cultural downturn due to droughts, an increasingly unpredictable climate, and an emerging culture of social anxiety since the middle of the century.

In Central America, the Mexican empires were in the north and the Mayan empires in the middle. The city-states of Chichén Itzá , which shrank in this century, and Mayapan , whose buildings reveal a clear social stratification, were of supraregional importance . The Toltec culture was very influential in the area. Around the year 1185 there were disputes between the two cities. In the ensuing war, the ruler of Mayapan captured the city of Chichen Itza.

In the 12th century, the Rapa Nui people on the Pacific Easter Island began to flourish. The inhabitants began to erect the sculptures typical of the island, moai .



  • Bernhard von Clairvaux , an important Cistercian abbot, developed a great enthusiasm for the Crusades in Europe with his sermons.
  • As Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Friedrich Barbarossa tried to assert his power over the northern Italian cities and the papacy.
  • Hildegard von Bingen wrote important works on medicine and mysticism.
  • Petrus Abelardus continued the early scholasticism significantly and developed important basics of the disputation technique.
  • Richard the Lionheart made a name for himself as a crusader and king of England.
  • Walther von der Vogelweide became one of the most important poets of the Middle Ages through his Minnelieder .
  • Ibn Ruschd ( Averroes ), Muslim philosopher and natural scientist in Al-Andalus, also influenced the Christian West with his works.
  • Mosche ben Maimon ( Maimonides ) created important works of medieval philosophy and Jewish legal doctrine as well as religious philosophy.
  • Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayub ( Saladin ) conquered the central Crusader state with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and established a powerful regional power.
  • Zhu Xi was a Chinese scholar and the most important exponent of neo-Confucianism .
  • Borić was the first ban in Bosnia.


Web links

Commons : 12th century  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


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  2. Egon Boshof : Europe in the 12th Century - on the Way to Modernity . Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-17-014548-1 , p. 229-233 .
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  4. ^ A b Georg Bossong : The Moorish Spain . Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-55488-9 , pp. 42-49 .
  5. a b Gudrun Krämer : History of Islam . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-53516-X , p. 144-153 .
  6. ^ A b Egon Boshof: Europe in the 12th century - on the way to modernity . Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-17-014548-1 , p. 268-271 .
  7. Hans-Jörg Gilomen : Economic history of the Middle Ages . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65484-8 , p. 59 .
  8. a b c Marcus Popplow: Technology in the Middle Ages . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-58782-5 , p. 69 and 81-84 .
  9. ^ Gerhard Hoffmann : Regionalization, Contacts, Conflicts - The Islamic World . In: Angela Schottenhammer, Peter Feldbauer (ed.): Die Welt 1000–1250 . Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85476-322-2 , p. 149 .
  10. ^ A b Egon Boshof: Europe in the 12th century - on the way to modernity . Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-17-014548-1 , p. 184-199 .
  11. a b c d e Gudrun Krämer: History of Islam . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-53516-X , p. 157-169 .
  12. a b Monika Gronke : History of Iran . CH Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-48021-8 , pp. 41-45 .
  13. a b Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer : The old China - From the beginnings to the 19th century . 5th edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-45115-7 , p. 106-109 .
  14. ^ Kai Vogelsang : History of China . 3. Edition. Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-010933-5 , p. 311 .
  15. a b c Kai Vogelsang: History of China . 3. Edition. Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-010933-5 , p. 333-354 .
  16. a b Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: The old China - From the beginnings to the 19th century . 5th edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-45115-7 , p. 97-98 .
  17. a b c Kai Vogelsang: History of China . 3. Edition. Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-010933-5 , p. 294-303 .
  18. Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: Small history of China . S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 3-596-18409-6 , p. 78 .
  19. a b Angela Schottenhammer: The Song Dynasty - a revolutionary turning point . In: Angela Schottenhammer, Peter Feldbauer (ed.): Die Welt 1000–1250 . Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85476-322-2 , p. 39-43 .
  20. The Compass on Asia for Educators - The Song Dynasty in China by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University (English)
  21. Angela Schottenhammer: The Song Dynasty - a revolutionary turning point . In: Angela Schottenhammer, Peter Feldbauer (ed.): Die Welt 1000–1250 . Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85476-322-2 , p. 52-53 .
  22. Jürgen Paul : Central Asia (=  New Fischer World History . Volume 10 ). S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2012, ISBN 978-3-10-010840-1 , p. 159-164 .
  23. ^ Marion Eggert , Jörg Plassen: Small history of Korea . Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52841-4 , p. 46-53 .
  24. Riddles of the Anasazi by David Roberts in Smithsonian Magazine, July 2003 (English)
  25. Maya Area, 1000–1400 ad on Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (English)
  26. a b Berthold Riese : The Maya . 6th edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-406-46264-1 , p. 109-110 .
  27. Easter Island on Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (English)