Farming methods were primitive and ineffective in the early part of the Middle Ages. At planting time, peasants tossed out seeds and plowed fields. Only few plants grew and yields were low. However, people gradually adopted new methods and technology. A new farming method was developed. Improvements in agriculture began in 8th and 9th century CE and became widespread in the year 1000. One advancement was the three-field system, a method of crop rotation. On the manor, there were usually several large fields. Each fall, peasants planted one field with winter crops such as wheat or grapes. In spring, a second field was planted with summer crop such as oats, peas, beans and barley, The third field was left fallow or uncultivated to allow the soil to rest.
The following year, the crops were rotated, and a different field was left fallow. The three-field system worked better than earlier farming systems. It spread planting and harvesting over the year, and it did not wear out the soil. The peasants’ diet also improved. With the use of new inventions, peasants also grew more food. The heavy plow could turn the dense, moist soils of Northern Europe. The invention of the horseshoe and better horses could be used for plowing. The watermill and windmill provided new sources of energy for grinding grain. In Northen France and England, miners began producing large quantities of iron, which was used for farm implements as well as weapons. Changes in farming had the most effect in Northern Europe.
During the Renaissance, people realized that education had more uses. Its goal, still aimed mostly at men, became that of making people well rounded. The ideal Renaissance aristocrat was well mannered and witty. He had learned enough to understand good literature, painting and music. The so-called Renaissance man was well formed in body and good in sports. In the arts of war, he was a brave and an able soldier. Baldassare Castiglione outlined this all-around person in his The Courtierr. He himself was a scholar, poet, and courtier. To reach the goals of Renaissance education, Italian schools taught less theology and more literature, especially Latin and Greek. The humanists who taught Greek and Latin language and literature gained great respect. People traveled far to head their lectures. Rich men and ruler took humanists into their homes to teach their sons and daughters.
Humanists found a great following everywhere. From Italy, the Renaissance spread all over Western Europe. During the latter half of the 15th century, Desiderius Erasmus of Holland became the leader of the movement. His book, In Praise of Folly, satirized the behavior of all social classes even the clergy. He also wrote the Latin translation of the New Testament. His Handbooks of the Christian Soldier urged men nit to accept the teachings of theologists but to go directly to the Bible and work out the meanings of themselves. Erasmus remained faithful to the Church, but his works helped bring out reform, which greatly weakened the influence of the Church. In Germany, the most famous humanist was Philip Melantchon. He taught Greek at the University of Wurttemberg.
He was also delighted in the study of law, theology and medicine. In England, the most famous humanist was Thomas More. He was a man of great learning,a famous statesman, and a master of Latin and English prose. His chief literary fame rests on his book written in Latin entitled Utopia. It described his envisioned ideal state. Humanists sometimes carried the spirit of freedom too far without moral restraints. The man who believed that the end justifies the means and laid the ground of power politics and a new political science was Niccolo Machiavelli. He was a statesman and political writer of Florence. His political ideas were contained in his book, The Prince, which was published after his death.