The period that began with the collapse of the Roman Empire and ended with the onset of European colonialism in the 15th century has been labeled as the Middle Ages. It is usually described as a time of cultural stagnation, but the fact is that it was not as socially backward as has been assumed.
The Middle Ages witnessed a series of remarkable technological jumps. Many of them, especially in the area of agriculture, were made possible by a change in sources of power. With slavery no longer the economic bottleneck, it became important to find ways to harness wind, water and horse power.
This led to a revolution in farming, which dramatically increased crop yields. It also created a breeding ground for economic growth and the development of cities in northern Europe. One of the key inventions was the heavy plough which allowed farmers to harness areas with clay soil, which was much more fertile than lighter types. Another major leap was the use of a windmill to convert wind into power, which was used to grind grain and turn millstones. Various designs developed, but the type that flourished was probably based on a mill design the Romans had introduced into southern Europe.
In addition, a number of technological advancements were derived from cross-cultural exchanges. For example, gunpowder had been invented in China but was refined by medieval Europeans and used to great effect in war. The stirrup, which enabled warriors to sit steadily on a horse, was another small but crucial technology leap.