The Renaissance is a period of time and history which had it's origins in the 1300s in Italy and would gradually spread across Christendom and beyond. The word roughly means "rebirth" in English, more specifically it refers to the revitalization of Civilization after the Medieval Period. Various Italian City States gradually grew in wealth and prominence through maritime trade as well as connections with Byzantium and the Middle East and banking. The merchant princes of Italy would invest that wealth to make more money, but also into grand architecture, the arts, literature, engineering and academics ranging from studies of the Classical Period to natural philosophy. Things which were seen as noble pursuits in their own right but they were also as signs of wealth and prestige and ways of currying favor with other influential figures ("The Cardinal would be glad to back your bid after your magnificent assistance on the new Cathedral"). Eventually, ideas from Italy would begin to spread out and took root elsewhere in Europe. Cities once again began to grow across Europe.
This was fine and dandy in of itself, but in coincided with other big changes. Kings began to consolidate power for themselves with a mind of keeping the squabbling vassals in line. Guns were making an increasing impact on the battlefield. In Spain, the Spanish managed to drive the Muslims out of Iberia in the Reconquista and emerged as a new powerful European state. Not too long after that thanks to improvements in ship design and navigation methods Vaso de Gama sailed around Africa to India and latter an Italian guy named Columbus set out sailing west across the Atlantic to prove
to the ignorant masses that world was round that you could get to India by circumnavigation without starving to death first and ended up finding the Caribbean, thus beginning the colonization of the New World began by the Spanish and Portuguese at first, followed by the French, Dutch and English latter. Add to that some religious upheaval which shook the foundations of Christendom in the form of the likes of Hussites and eventually the start of the Protestant Reformation and you got a turbulent period of upheaval, to say the least, ultimately culminating in the Thirty Years War, which was the first time people not directly victimized started realizing that maybe this war thing isn't all that good (it took a thorough ass fucking of the continent and the lesson didn't stick).
The broad strokes of the Renaissance wars were that the Protestants and Catholics hated each other, each side bringing in more and more forces until the entire continent was ablaze. This is also the period where modern day political thought was put in shape with Machiavelli's magnum opus "The Prince" summarizing basic political and diplomatic skills necessary for the effective ruler to know, bringing concepts such as pragmatism, balance of power and others on forefront. This also lead to hilarious abominations like Catholic France (de-facto ran by the cardinal at the time, no less) allying with Protestant Swedes (That Exterminatused large portions of Germany) against Catholic Habsburgs, in a formally religious war, no less. As a result, the Holy Roman Empire was a shitstorm for most of this time. The French had their one okay king who refused to die, and the English would fight anyone anywhere anytime (including themselves). The Spanish colonized everything, found a literal mountain made of silver and built the biggest overseas Empire ever seen. They then proceeded to lose it all due to Dynastic inheritance problems and the fact that no one had yet understood the problems of inflation. Attempts at post-monarchical government began to appear with Parliament taking control of England and the Dutch provinces uniting into a republic. Towards the end of the Renaissance, the first modern corporations would appear, typified by the East India Company and the VoC (more about them in the next era).
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, we've got the final death of Eastern Rome and the meteoric rise of the Ottoman Empire. Undoubtedly the most iconic empire of the period, which established the first modern professional armies with it's elite Janissary corps and thoroughly butt-fucked the Balkans for centuries to come. For a time they were the terror of Europe, a bushy-bearded, turban-wearing Muslim foe against whom Christendom would need to unite in order to survive, while on the high seas, their allies on the Barbary Coast terrorized coastal towns from Italy to Iceland. For a time, their only true rivals were the pesky Habsburgs of the Holy Roman Empire. The Sultans of Turkey ruled luxuriously from the grand palace in Istanbul, surrounded by their massive harems of concubines and armies of viziers. However, by the tail end of this period, the Ottomans era of rapid expansion would come to an end as the Ottoman state transitioned into a more sedentary imperial polity.
In the east, the Renaissance contains the part of Japanese history most people care about. the part where they cut each other to pieces with swords (as opposed to the other parts where they cut each other to pieces with older swords and rifles, and the part where they cut others with swords and guns). The late Sengoku was heavily influenced by borrowed European technological advancement. In particular, Oda Nobunaga would turn the gun into the main weapon of the solider, developing tactics that would be used till the invention of the metallic cartridge.
- For the average peasant in the Renaissance the changes were as a rule not so great and usually weren't even noticeable. As far as they were concerned beautiful paintings, fine statuary and magnificent architecture were all well and good and they'd admire them if they had the opportunity to see them but for all of that the grain still needed to be harvested and the cows still needed to be milked just like in their grandfather's day and as their grandchildren would do after they passed. They were more likely to be conscripted into a new army if war came, but this was hardly a world-shattering event.
- Infantry returned to prominence during this period. New weapons such as arbalest crossbows, matchlock arquebuses and pikes played a role in this, as did cheap munitions plate, but more importantly than that armies became more centralized and systematic than the old feudal systems as the beginnings of standing armies began to take shape. The nobility generally resisted this when they could since it meant that the crown could boss them around more, but the general trend was well underway because these forces were just better at fighting wars. Cannons also played a role in the process, as did navies.
- Feudalism began to decline as the idea of the Nation-State started to take root. Nationalism would become more prominent in the early modern period to coincide with the Enlightenment, but for now, modern countries were starting to take shape, as people began to think of their homelands as distinct cultural-geographic regions instead of the property of ever-changing noble families. At the same time though, this was when the infamous Habsburg family would come to power and control a good chunk of Europe, owning Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, and all territories owned by those states.
- While many classical texts had been lost in the West, many had been preserved in the East, with some advances in the sciences provided by scholars under Muslim rule. These texts returned to Europe due to increased trade with the East, which started with the Crusades. If you wanted to be educated, you had to be well versed in Greek, Latin and even Arabic. With fall of Constantinople, many Byzantine scholars escaped to Italy (including some members of Palaliologoi, last imperial dynasts) bringing the knowledge preserved in Byzantine Empire to the west, that played key role in renaissance.
- The printing press made its debut, ensuring that all those rediscovered classics spread very quickly throughout Europe as the first modern universities took shape.
The appeal of the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the closing of the middle ages. A lot of its mechanisms were still in place in various forms, but shifts were in place. There were knights in Shining Armor and they were still formidable battering rams, but they were facing new competition from pike squares and arquebusiers in a rather distinctive combo. Chivalry was gradually on the wain even as the plate was forged proofed against shot. All the while there was a lot of shrewd political scheming and intrigues. Why mobilize a thousand levies and a hundred knights to kill someone when a few drops of poison or a well-placed stiletto could accomplish the job cheaper and with far less fuss? The game of dynastic power is still being played, but with a rules update that favors a more subtle style.
At the same time, mechanics and engineers were tinkering contriving a wide variety of new machinery. If one was to ascribe a heroic ideal to the Renaissance it would be the Renaissance Man reflected in the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, a brilliant Engineer, Scientist and Artist all rolled into one. On the battlefield, the men of power were beginning to take notice of these new novelties and so active patronage of inventors was encouraged. At the same time, explorers and conquistadors carve their place in history by finding new lands, settling them and conquering Bronze Age societies. For those who want to see what Da Vinci could’ve accomplished if he was more of a mad scientist (I.e. if his tanks and other war machines were actually built), Clockpunk has you covered.
In general, if you like your medieval fantasy to have a dash of the modern in it, the Renaissance is where you look for ideas. Besides, the stuff associated with this period is frankly pretty. This period is listed as an art history thing more than anything and it did provide plenty of classics. William Shakespeare operated at the tail end of this period as well, though since he was a big classics nerd many of his plays dealt with earlier time periods.
Renaissance-inspired Games, Factions, and Settings
- The Empire
- Virtually any Japan analog as nobody, not even the Japanese, cares about pre-Sengoku Japan (except maybe the Mongol Invasions) as a setting and nobody makes settings modern enough to have a post-sakoku Japan analog. Seriously, when the Meiji Revolution happened it was like one night you go to sleep and it's Japan as its always been for forever, and the next morning you wake up and there are soldiers in the streets with bolt action rifles harassing people for not building gunpla and buying KFC for Christmas.
- Golarion edges closer to renaissance than straight middle ages.
|Historical Time Periods|
|Premodern:||Stone Age - Bronze Age - Classical Period - Dark Age - High Middle Ages - Renaissance|
|Modern:||Age of Enlightenment - Industrial Revolution - The World Wars - The Cold War - Post-Cold War|