Grade 9-12

Let’s Find a Deal – How the Crusades Led to the Expansion of Trade

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: October 23 2020,


Students will be able to:

  • Identify the incentives of creating various new trade routes.
  • Explain why Europeans in the Middle Ages began to explore beyond their borders.
  • Discuss the costs and benefits of trade during the Middle Ages.

In this economics lesson, students will examine the impact of crusades on expanding European trade.



Ask students what toppings they like to eat with their hamburgers. Write down the answers on the board. Then, ask what they would do if these things were not available to them or only available to the very wealthy in their community. Explain how the demand for goods and services can affect the price, noting that an increase in demand tends to increase prices when there is a limited supply. (Note: You could use this as a review of demand and supply.) Ask students if they would be willing to add cheese to their burger if it increased the price by $30.00. Most students will answer no; have them explain the reason for their answer. Remind students that prices of goods and services will increase when there is a shortage. Also remind them that resources are scarce; therefore, resources with a great demand by limited supply will increase the price of that resource and the products using it. Explain that this lesson will help them understand the reason that countries have been trading with each other for hundreds of years.


Remind students that the crusades led to the expansion of the trade boundaries as well as religious and cultural changes in the early history of Europe and the Mediterranean countries. These campaigns took place primarily between 1096 and 1271 AD, long before countries in the Western Hemisphere existed. Explain how the demand for products brought back from the crusades provided an incentive for countries like Spain, Portugal, and England to financially back explorations to locate new routes. Ask students to identify reasons that countries would want to find new routes to secure products. (Answers should note that finding better routes would decrease the time and costs of getting the products. By being the first country there, they could gain an advantage having control and increased profits.) Explain that decreasing costs creates greater efficiency in the trading process and, in turn, can increase the supply available for sale – reducing the shortage of products and reducing the price for demanders. Tell students they will now use a drop and drag activity to discover where some of the new products originated. (Note: You may choose to do this as a class activity by projecting it for all to see or as an individual activity with students using their own electronic devices. You may also want them to search for the possible answers using online searches.) After completing this activity, ask students to identify potential hazards and expenses associated with moving these products from their countries of origin to Eastern Europe. (Answers will vary, and you may need to remind students that transportation methods were limited in this time period.) Tell students that some of the same issues exist today. Ask students to identify one or more the products in the activity that are now shipped from those countries to consumers in the United States. Explain that one of the major costs of trading between countries is the “middle man”. Ask students to define the concept of using a “middle man” (a person who buys goods from producers and sells them to retailers, who then sell them to consumers). Remind students that one of the goals of the crusades was to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with using a “middle man” to obtain the desired goods.

Group Activity

Put students in small groups and distribute copies the Middle Ages Information Sheet for each of your students. Review the directions, telling them to use the recommended web sites on the handout to research life in the Middle Ages and they have 15-20 minutes to work on it. Before starting the assignment, have them locate the Eastern Hemisphere on a map. Remind them that the Europeans did not know about any of the countries in the Western Hemisphere at this time. Discuss student answers after they have completed the assignment. (Answers will vary.) Debrief the activity by asking students to identify the five most important points they learned in this activity. Write their answers on the board and try to gain consensus about them.

Individual Activity

Show students a map of the Crusade Routes Slides. Give each student a copy of Mapping a Route. Review the instructions and allow students 10 minutes to complete the assignment. Have students share their answers with the rest of the class. (Answers will vary.) Debrief the activity by having students identify common issues relate to different crusade routes.


Tell students to imagine they are an explorer during the crusades and have found a better route to the east than what is being used. Have them write a letter to the King or Queen of England, Portugal, or Spain explaining why their route and the reasons it should be chosen instead of the one being used. Remind them to write a convincing letter, describing the benefits of their route compared to the others.


Activity 1

Remind students that even with all the technology and transportation available today, challenges to trading with other countries still exists. These challenges are often the results of government-imposed trade barriers. Show students the Barriers to Trade video. Put students into five groups and assign each group one of the trade barriers discussed in the video. Have them research their assigned trade barrier and prepare a two-minute presentation about it for the class. Encourage groups to find a current example of how the trade barrier is being used.

Activity 2

Using the Trade Map provided by the International Trade Center, have students select product on the drop-list that is imported into the U.S. Have them write a brief summary of their findings, addressing these questions: who are the trading partners for this product, how much of this product does the U.S. import from each country, why do you think we import this product, what would happen if the trade with one of more of these countries was temporarily interrupted or permanently ceased, and what surprised you most about your findings.

Activity 3

Ask students if the crusades resolved all the problems associated with the demand for goods and services. (Answers should be no.) Remind students that Europeans began exploring new routes to the Far East, which eventually led to the discovery of the Western Hemisphere. Have students complete the Explorer Graphic Organizer to research one of the European explorers of the Western Hemisphere.