If people in other countries wanted to see paintings, sculptures or buildings of great artists, they had to travel to Italy. But in the case of the written word, what was written in Italy travelled to other countries. This was because of the greatest revolution of the sixteenth century – the mastery of the technology of printing. For this, Europeans were indebted to other peoples– the Chinese, for printing technology, and to Mongol rulers because European traders and diplomats had become familiar with it during visits to their courts. (This was also the case with three other important innovations – firearms, the compass and the abacus.)
Earlier, texts existed in a few hand-written copies. In 1455, 150 copies of the Bible were printed in the workshop of Johannnes Gutenberg (1400-1458), the German who made the first printing press. Earlier, a
monk would have taken the same amount of time to write out one copy of the Bible! By 1500, many classical texts, nearly all in Latin, had been printed in Italy. As printed books became available, it was possible to buy them, and students did not have to depend solely on lecture-notes. Ideas, opinions and information moved more widely and more rapidly than ever before. A printed book promoting
new ideas could quickly reach hundreds of readers. This also made it possible for individuals to read books, since it was possible to buy copies for oneself. This developed the reading habit among people. The chief reason that the humanist culture of Italy spread more rapidly across the Alps from the end of the fifteenth century is that printed books were circulating. This also explains why earlier intellectual movements had been limited to particular regions.