World History – Chapter Eighteen
The Conquest of the World, Slavery, and the Renaissance
Jews had been in the Iberian Peninsula since at least the third century. In medieval Spain, according to Henry Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition, they represented the single largest Jewish community in the world. In the 13th century they formed just under 2% of Spain’s population – about 100,000 persons. Political rivalry and economic jealousy led to many laws against this prosperous and influential population, as in the rest of Europe. Jews began to be restricted to a certain section of town called an aljama which was its name when unified as a corporate body for political purposes. These sections of towns were societies of their own. As the Jewish situation in Europe worsened with all Jews being expelled from England in 1290 and then from France in 1306, the urban elite in Spain who owed money to the Jews, the Catholic commoners who lived beside the aljama’s and resented their separateness, and the farmers who hated them for the way they felt exploited by the moneylenders, hostility in Spain increased.
In the mid-14th century the civil wars that broke out in the kingdom of Castile encouraged more outrages against the Jews. In Seville, hundreds of Jews were killed and the aljama was destroyed in a fit of religious frenzy spurred by Catholic archdeacon Ferrant Martinez. Jews all over Spain were murdered or forced under threat of death to convert to Catholicism. These people were called Conversos. Conversos was the name given to anyone who had converted from Judaism or Islam and the name was also applied to their descendants. While some royal decrees made it illegal to force conversion and offered the Jews a chance to go back to their old religion it was felt safer by many to stay identified with the Catholic faith.
By 1492 there were only 1/4th as many Jews in Spain as in the century before mass riots against them that took place in 1391. While Ferdinand and Isabella tried to protect Jews and maintain some peace in their regard, an Inquisition began in 1480 was started by them ostensibly to keep Jews and Christians separate. Many of the Conversos had become the most virulently anti-Semitic priests and leaders. The Jews felt betrayed by their own brethren. General Inquisitor Torquemada convinced the monarchs that the only rational solution for the outright persecution of Jews by former Jews now in the Catholic Church was their total expulsion from Spain.
The issue of whether or not a Converso was truly a Christian or still practicing the Jewish religion in secret was a matter of great controversy to the “Old Christians” who came from families that had no Jewish ancestry as far as they knew. The Office of the Holy Inquisition was designed to try to root out the so-called Judaizers among the New Christians. Those Conversos who were successfully accused and tried for still practicing Judaism were denounced and executed at what was called an auto-da-fe’ . Eventually, those who were believed to be Protestants; followers of Erasmus or Luther, and even those considered to be liberal humanists or skeptics were included in the Inquisition. All of Erasmus’ works were eventually included in an Index of banned books by Pope Paul
IV in 1559 even though Erasmus was, during his early life, highly respected by the Roman Catholic Church.
Not everyone who was condemned was burned at the stake as many recanted their “errors” publicly and swore to “reform”. Whatever the case, auto-da-fe’s were huge public entertainment events and whether the victims were burnt or not and very expensive to put on. The issue of just how many thousands of people were put to death in this reign of terror in Spain as that country became the champion of the Roman Catholic cause is one of great controversy. Nevertheless, it is a testimony to how the Church of that age dealt with any doubts or objections to its dogma. This was not the only way or the most effective as we will see later in our discussion of the Counter-Reformation and was only possible in countries where church and state were firmly welded together.
No historical subject of great importance is so burdened with controversy or so full of myths and legends as the Atlantic slave trade but I want to tackle a summary of its beginnings here. We will be dealing with the subject of slavery over time as its importance becomes even more clear as an issue in the near dissolution of the United States of America. I am using as a primary source The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas. One of the byproducts of Portuguese exploration was a raid by Lancarote de Freitas, who attacked an Azanaghi village in Africa and returned on August 8, 1444 to Portugal with 235 slaves. To quote from page 23 of Thomas’ work;
“The seizure of slaves, rather then their purchase, was then a frequent practice in both Europe and Africa. These “razzias”, as the odious practice of man-stealing was known, were carried out throughout the Middle Ages in Spain and Africa by Muslim merchants, and their Christian equivalents had done the same. Muslims were justified by the Koran in seizing Christians and enslaving them; the Christians, in their long drawn-out reconquest of Muslim Spain, had conducted themselves similarly.”
Slavery was not new, was not a European only institution, and was not a Catholic only practice. It was and is today a common practice and it is estimated that there are more slaves in the world, people owned by other people to varying degrees, today than ever in history. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, had said that mankind was divided into two groups; the masters and the slaves. The Catholic Church consented in the kidnapping of people for slavery in spite of clear scriptural statements condemning such actions such as 1 Timothy 1:10 & in Revelation 18:13 the wicked city of Babylon at the end is accused of dealing in slaves and the souls of men. Portugal secured approval from successive popes for most of their further southward raids to secure black slaves. First, in 1442, Pope Eugenius IV issued the Bull Illius Qui approving Prince Henry’s expeditions to secure African slaves. The Pope granted Prince Henry exclusive rights over his African conquests. Then, in the 1450’s Popes Nicholas V and Calixtus III gave an even warmer approval in three more Papal Bulls. Whatever their intentions, the results of their actions were the approval of , as in the Papal Bull Dum Diversas, the Portuguese subduing Saracen, pagans, and other unbelievers alike and even to reduce them to perpetual
slavery. The excuse of how it would be a blessing to convert these people to Catholicism did not change the wretched state of slavery. Some Popes did express disgust at the slave trade but their outcry was rare. Perhaps, from a political point of view, the Popes were doing what they thought was best in the struggle against Islam.
The Portuguese, like their counterparts from the Italian city of Genoa, were not only interested in slaves but gold and opening trade routes for goods to come to Europe by way of India and China around Africa. The ultimate goal of many of the early explorers was to find a trade route to the wealth of India and China. By 1475, the Portuguese were not only bringing African slaves to Europe but were trading them for gold to African merchants. On the coast of Benin in West Africa, the African tribes of Ijo and Itsekiri, prospered from the slave trade with Portugal. The demand for African slaves was growing in Europe during the 1400’s, particularly in Spain. The Portuguese were very exclusionary in their monopoly of the trade and even concluded a treaty with Edward IV of England in 1481 which kept the English out of the lucrative slave trade for several generations.
In 1493, Pope Alexander IV drew a line across the world dividing it between Spain and Portugal which resulted in the famous Treaty of Tordesillas which permanently divided the world between spheres of Spanish and Portuguese influence.
Christopher Columbus noted that the Indians he had captured in the Caribbean did not make good slaves and didn’t hold up well under hard labor like the Africans did so in 1510 King Ferdinand ordered “the best and strongest available” slaves to be sent to what was called the West Indies to work in mines. A priest of the day, Bartolome’ de las Casas, had written History of the Indies accusing the Spanish colonists of murdering several million Indians through the cruelties of slavery. His claims agree with some recent historians who report a far greater native population throughout the Americas living before Columbus’ arrival than previously believed. Throughout the 1500’s, the 16th century, Spain and Portugal continued to be slave countries, providing Europe and the New World of the Americas with black African and white Arabic Muslim slaves just as African potentates and Muslim leaders used white European and black African slaves. Eventually, the balance was tilted so far in favor of black slaves that African slavery became the norm. As former American slave, Booker T. Washington, would later note in his book, Up from Slavery, the Portuguese found out that slavery made the masters idle and lazy and degraded the society in general.
For a contrast, while Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1519 was granting a slaving license for 4,000 slaves to a friend, the great emperor of the African kingdom of Songhai on the Niger River was presenting a gift of 1,700 slaves to a friend of his. The trans-Saharan slave trade, as in across the Sahara, was the big trafficking route throughout the 16th century until the Atlantic trade to the Americas began to promise more cash rewards. Until 1550 Europe was the biggest purchaser of slaves. After that, with the massive planting of sugar cane in the Spanish Empire of the Americas, the New World became
the destination for many more unhappy Africans. As the 16th century drew to a close there were more voices expressed in opposition of slavery but African slavery had
become too entrenched and accepted as a cultural norm throughout Catholic countries, as it always had been in Islamic countries, that there seemed to be no turning back.
By the end of the 1500’s the slave trade had been internationalized with England, France, and the Dutch involved, as well.
The slave trade went hand in hand with the lust for gold which the Spanish enjoyed in the Americas and the thirst for exploration and conquest everywhere. The Portuguese Fleet appeared at Calicut on the Indian Ocean in 1500 after Vasco da Gama had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. Between 1500 and 1505, the Portuguese established trading posts along the west coast of India. Francisco de Almeida was appointed First Viceroy of Portuguese India in 1505, also establishing bases along the east coast of Africa. His son, Lorenzo, established a base on Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka. Alfonso de Albuquerque was Appointed Viceroy of India in 1507. In 1508, Sultan Mahmud Begarha of Gujerat allied with Kansu al-Gauri of Egypt to try to halt the Portuguese interference with what had been a Muslim monopoly and fought the Naval Battle of Dabul against them, resulting in Lorenzo being killed. His father gained revenge in 1509 by burning a number of Muslim ports along India’s coast, including Goa and Dabul. Almeida destroyed the Muslim fleet at the Battle of Diu in 1509.
The Portuguese not only built valuable trading posts on the east coast of Africa and the west coast of India but they moved on to Canton, China in 1514, Burma by 1519, and Portuguese were in Peking, China by 1520 but were expelled from the capital due to some misbehavior by their ships on the coast of China.
In the meanwhile the Spanish were conquering all of South and Central America, and much of North America with the explorer Coronado, in 1540-1542, conquering New Mexico while he looked for fabled Seven Cities of Gold and is the first European to see the Grand Canyon. St. Augustine, Florida was founded by the Spanish in 1565 after they massacred a French colony on the St. Johns River. Present day California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas would also belong to Spain. This is the time that Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incas of Peru and Chile’, between 1540 and 1561, was conquered by Pedro de Valdivia and Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza. Spain took tons and tons of gold from the America’s during this period. So much wealth and riches were being removed from the New World to Spain that the English “sea dog”, Captain Francis Drake and his ship, the Golden Hind, snared more than 10 tons of gold from captured Spanish ships in just two years from 1577 to 1579. Spain spent their fabulous wealth as soon as they got it. For instance, Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold tells us that Charles V in 1516 became Holy Roman Emperor by being voted in by the Pope’s German Electors at a cost to Spain of 850,000 florins, a huge fortune, and further bankrupted Spain by 27 years of constant warfare with Francis I of France plus trying to claim the Netherlands as the property of Spain. Conquest can be quite expensive.
In any event, the name America appears on a map for the first time in 1507. As an aside I am going to present to you a recent Reuters News Agency story regarding that map.
“Map that named America is a puzzle for researchers
By David AlexanderMon Dec 3, 12:19 PM ET
The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used the name America goes on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress, but even as it prepares for its debut, the 1507 Waldseemuller map remains a puzzle for researchers.
Why did the mapmaker name the territory America and then change his mind later? How was he able to draw South America so accurately? Why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific?
"That's the kind of conundrum, the question, that is still out there," said John Hebert, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.
The 12 sheets that make up the map, purchased from German Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg for $10 million in 2003, were mounted on Monday in a huge 6-foot by 9.5-foot (1.85 meter by 2.95 meter) display case machined from a single block of aluminum.
The case will be flooded with inert argon gas to prevent deterioration when it goes on public display December 13.
Researchers are hopeful that putting the rarely shown map on permanent display for the first time since it was discovered in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle archives in 1901 may stimulate interest in finding out more about the documents used to produce it.
The map was created by the German monk Martin Waldseemuller. Thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere, the Duke of Lorraine brought Waldseemuller and a group of scholars together at a monastery in Saint-Die in France to create a new map of the world.
The result, published two years later, is stunningly accurate and surprisingly modern.
"The actual shape of South America is correct," said Hebert. "The width of South America at certain key points is correct within 70 miles of accuracy."
Given what Europeans are believed to have known about the world at the time, it should not have been possible for the mapmakers to produce it, he said.
The map gives a reasonably correct depiction of the west coast of South America. But according to history, Vasco Nunez de Balboa did not reach the Pacific by land until 1513, and Ferdinand Magellan did not round the southern tip of the continent until 1520.
"So this is a rather compelling map to say, 'How did they come to that conclusion,"' Hebert said.
The mapmakers say they based it on the 1,300-year-old works of the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as well as letters Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci wrote describing his voyages to the new world. But Hebert said there must have been something more.
"From the writings of Vespucci you couldn't have prepared the map," Hebert said. "There had to be something cartographic with it."
MISGIVINGS ABOUT AMERICA
Waldseemuller made it clear he was naming the new land after Vespucci, describing how he came up with the name America based on the navigator's first name.
But he soon had misgivings about what he had done. An atlas Waldseemuller produced six years later shows only part of the east coast of the Americas, and refers to it as Terra Incognita -- unknown land.
"America has gone out of his lexicon," Hebert said. "(No) place in the atlas -- in the text or in the maps -- does the name America appear."
His 1516 mariner's map, on the same scale as the 1507 map, steps back even further, showing only parts of the new continents and reconnecting the north to Asia. South America is labeled Terra Nova -- New World -- and North America is labeled Terra de Cuba -- Land of Cuba.
"Essentially he's reconnecting North America to the Asian mainland, suggesting a continual world of land mass rather than separated by those bodies of water that separate us from Europe and Asia," Hebert said.
Why the rollback? No one knows.
In writings accompanying the 1516 map, Waldseemuller comes across as if he "has seen the better of his error and is now correcting it," Hebert said.
He speculated that power politics played a role. Spain and Portugal divided the globe between them in 1494, two years after Columbus, with territory to the east going to Portugal and land to the west to Spain.
That demarcation line is oddly absent from the 1507 Waldseemuller map, and flags marking territorial claims in South America suggest Portugal controls the region's southernmost land, even though it is in Spain's area of influence. On the later map, the southernmost flag is Spanish, Hebert said.
"It is possible one could say the 1507 map is influenced strongly by Portuguese sources and conceivably the 1516 map may be influenced more by Spanish sources," he said.
Although the map conceals many mysteries, one thing is clear: it represents a revolutionary shift in the way Europe viewed the world.
"This is ... essentially the beginning or first map of the modern age, and it's one that everything builds on from that point forward," Hebert said. "It becomes a keystone map."”
In 1513, Ponce De Leon explores Florida. Vasco Nunez de Balboa travels through Panama in 1513 and becomes the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. In 1517 Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba explores the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. We have already discussed Hernando Cortez’ adventures at Tenochitlan against the Aztecs. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese working for Spain, leaves on an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. He dies fighting the natives in 1521 in what was later to be called the Philippines.
In 1524, Italian navigator, Giovannia da Verrazano, working for France, enters what we now call New York Harbor. In 1541, Hernando de Soto, leads the first Europeans to see the Mississippi River. In 1606, Luis Vaez de Torres sails around New Guinea.
Exploration was not now the sole provenance of the Spanish and Portuguese as, in 1553, the English mariner, Richard Chancellor, opens up a northeastern sea route to Russia. In 1576, Martin Frobisher, rediscovers Greenland for the English. During an expedition in 1577-1580, Francis Drake circumnavigates the globe for the first time since Magellan’s expedition in 1522. In the process, he sails up California as far as San Francisco Bay. In 1610, English navigator, Henry Hudson, trying to find a northwest passage to India, instead finds landlocked Hudson Bay.
The great American historian of the 19th century, George Bancroft tells, in his epic The History of the United States of America From the Discovery of the Continent, of how the English colonized Virginia at Jamestown when a group of men, including adventurer John Smith, petitioned James I of England to set up a colony in Virginia. King James I agreed and on April 10, 1606 the first colonial charter under which the English established their claim to the New World was signed. The Jamestown colonists were not prepared for what they had to face and would have hardly survived had it not been for the help of kindly Indians. The term, Indians, by the way, was mistakenly given to those people first discovered by the Spanish thinking, or hoping rather, that they had, indeed,
arrived in the Indies or rather South and Southeast Asia, later called the East Indies with the Caribbean being called the West Indies. A group of the people we call the Pilgrims, journeying on a ship called the Mayflower, landed at a place they called Plymouth, in New England praying to enjoy the religious liberty they had been denied in England. Due to the close ties to the Reformation struggles that the English colonies in North America had we will discuss some important characters of these areas of English settlement in a short time.
In 1615, French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, reaches the eastward extension of Lake Huron, called Georgian Bay, becoming the first European to see the Great Lakes. It now becomes time to consolidate and try to exploit the territories that have been taken. Tobacco, chocolate, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and vanilla have been brought back to Europe from the New World.
In 1644, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman becomes the first European to discover the continent of Australia.
Now, let’s go on to a period of time which the Italians of the era between 1378 and 1464 called La Rinascita, or Rebirth, because it seemed to them to be a triumphant resurrection of the spirit of the classical era of Roman and Greek history after a barbarous interruption of a thousand years. We call it the period of the Renaissance. It took more than a revival of antiquity, Durant tells us, in his fifth volume of The Story of Civilization entitled The Renaissance. It took a lot of money. The funds of merchants, bankers, the Church, and fortunes made on slavery and the theft of gold from technologically backward and politically disorganized cultures were necessary to buy the manuscripts that revived a love of pagan antiquity. The secularization of the growing middle classes of Europe, the growth of universities which invited skepticism and a disdain for the supernatural world of religion, and a larger acquaintance with the world all helped to create this love of the pagan past. It first took hold in Florence, Italy, which along with Venice, was the richest city in Italy. Art was Florence’s passion at this time. Patronage of art was a way of gaining status and power for wealthy merchant families.
The Medicis were one of those wealthy and powerful families. The flow of manuscripts from beleaguered, then conquered, Byzantium were not all religious. There were a great many secular works which found their way to Western Europe. The Medicis became known as patrons of the arts just as the Borgia family became known as ruthless politicians and power seekers. The Greek philosopher, Protagoras, had said that “man is the measure of all things”, which is in direct contradiction with the Bible’s clear statements that the Lord Jesus Christ is the measure of all things. This philosophy is called humanism and it was the prevailing religion of the Renaissance, the idea that somehow mankind was this magnificent creature who was going to create a perfect world all on his own without a God or gods involved. Although many of the humanists were also deeply religious there is a great strain of atheism and glorification of man as the ultimate example of nature’s perfection in the Renaissance.
One of the arts and sciences that were profoundly affected by the Renaissance were architecture with the majesty of the Gothic Cathedral replaced by the mixture of classical and gothic architecture of Filippo Brunellesco. Other major artists of the Renaissance were Leonardo Da Vinci, not only an artist but an inventor and far ahead of his time in particular with military science. He not only painted memorable masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper but also explored everything from flying machines to eyeglasses, designing things far ahead of his time like armored tanks and helicopters. Another great artist of this period was Michelangelo who is famous for his statue of David and painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
One of the period’s great sculptors was named Ghiberti. Another was named Donatello. Again another was Luca della Robbia. In painting some of the most famous names were Masaccio, Raphael, and Titian along with Fra Angelico. Artists and scholars were lured to Florence by the patronage of the wealthy Medici’s and others of wealth. A group who met with Lorenzo Medici formed the Platonic Academy to study pagan Greek philosophy. Often, like Origen and Philo, men of the Catholic faith would attempt to
combine Plato and Christ, making one understandable to themselves and those likeminded by the words of the other. The Hebrew occultic study of the Kabbala became popular much as it is today among some celebrities.
The Borgia’s were a ruthless and brutal political family that began its ascent to power with Rodrigo Borgia, who, moving from Spain, had changed the spelling of his name from Borjas, the family of Pope Calixtus III. He became a cardinal and then, spreading the wealth of his family around liberally in the College of Cardinals, he bought his way to being Pope Alexander VI in 1492. His purchase of the papacy was a pagan beginning for a pagan pope, says Durant. He was a wily politician and even allied himself with a Turkish Sultan against his enemies. He was known for promoting relatives to positions of influence and power. He sold offices, took over the estates of dead cardinals, and sold dispensations and divorces to make money. He had taken a married woman as a lover when only a priest and she bore him four children. When he began to set his sights on the Papacy he found her a husband and she was twice widowed, dying at the age of 76, and leaving her wealth to the Church.
Alexander’s oldest son, Caesar Borgia, became a cardinal and fighting for the Papal States against their enemies he even used one of Leonardo’s war machines and became the most powerful man in Italy. He had a reputation for bloodthirsty cruelty, as well. Once he released several convicted prisoners and shot each of them with arrows for sport.
Caesar’s sister, Lucrezia, who lived until 1519, was also an infamous member of the Borgia family. Their family name has come down to us as consistent with treachery, deceit, murder, and political betrayal. Alexander eventually died, in 1503 of what some call malaria, but what others have said was the result of an attempt to poison a cardinal that backfired, with Alexander consuming his own poison.
One of the Renaissance’s most interesting characters and the owner of the name where we get the word, Machiavellian, from was Niccolo Machiavelli, who lived from 1469 to 1527. He was the son of a Florentine lawyer who became a politician, a philosopher, and an author writing books on politics that still affect our political world today; including The Prince and The Art of War. As a political philosopher he admired lying, treachery, deceit, and almost every kind of wicked design a leader could concoct to achieve his ends. His belief that “the ends justify the means” has been a battle cry of many of our most recent politicians in American history, much to our shame. Durant says that he represented the ultimate challenge of a revived paganism against a weakened Christianity, which, of course, he should have said Catholic Christianity. Machiavelli is on almost everyone’s list of history’s most influential people and much admired by the world today.
Eventually, the Renaissance, so loved by humanists everywhere as a time of great glory and awakening for their godless pipe dreams, came to a gradual end. Its anti-scriptural dream lives on in most of today’s universities and colleges, as the doctrines of secular humanism have even crept into Protestant and Evangelical Christian Education and practice in present day America. While the Bible says that mankind is basically wicked and in need of the Saviour, Humanism teaches that people are basically good, no Saviour necessary. The Renaissance, at its essence, was an exercise in humanistic self-adoration.
The British Isles saw the reign of Henry VII, from 1485 to 1509, who strengthened royal authority and suppressed private feudal armies. His son, Henry VIII, broke with the Papacy. We will discuss him in a bit in regard to his place in the Reformation. For 5 years from 1553 to 1558, Mary I ruled England and re-established Catholicism. She married Philip of Spain and was called Bloody Mary for her execution of over 300 Protestants. Then, in 1558, Elizabeth I took over in England. Mary’s sister, she returned England to Protestantism. She even sent expeditions to France to help Huguenots, French Protestants, fighting by the Catholic Church. She allied with the Netherlands in their revolt against Spain but avoided outright war with Spain. Then, in 1586, mighty Spain planned to invade England. The names of thousands of English Protestants were prepared, who would be murdered if the Spanish Armada was successful. In 1587, Sir Francis Drake, who had just come off from circumnavigating the globe, attacked the Spanish at Cadiz and destroyed many ships.
The Spanish continued to prepare their massive invasion and finally departed in July of 1588. But, after many unsuccessful naval engagements that didn’t go their way, the failed Armada tried to return to Spain by going around the British Isles, only to lose over half their ships and thousands of men to battle, starvation, or drowning in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. In Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots, ruled from 1544 to 1547 allying herself with France against England and fighting against Elizabeth. The French were driven out of Scotland,
and in 1567, Mary’s infant son, James VI came to power, becoming king over Scotland and England as James I of England some thirty years later..
France had almost continuous wars with Spain and fighting in Italy during this period under monarchs Louis XII and Francis I. As I have mentioned before, the Holy Roman Emperor of Germany was also the King of Spain, Charles V (Charles I of Spain). He fought several wars with Francis I of France. The Wars of Religion took place between 1560 and 1598. Huguenot or French Protestant leaders fought against the Catholic establishment finally marked by the ascendancy of Henry of Navarre, a Protestant who eventually returned to the Catholic Church.
Germany saw a Knights War, a Peasant’s War, and the collapse of the powerful Teutonic Knights when their grand master turned Protestant. During this period of time in the 1500’s, Poland became firmly united with Lithuania, and Poland became one of the great powers of Europe. Bohemia and Hungary were combined under a single ruler for most of this period. However, Louis II was defeated by the Turks at the disastrous Battle of Mohacs. Ferdinand of Hapsburg paid tribute to the Turkish Sultan.
Russia saw the Grand Duchy of Moscow transformed into the Russian Empire in the 1500’s. Under Basil III and Ivan IV (aka Ivan the Terrible), this great new Slavic empire was almost constantly at war with its neighbors. These wars were caused partly by the lack of natural geographic barriers on the vast flatlands of Eastern Europe and partly by the Russians desire for an outlet to the sea. Russia’s westward expansion was halted by the Poles and the Swedes but was successful to the East over the Mongols and Tartars.
This was also the era of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest glory. In a brief reign, Sultan Selim I nearly doubled the empire’s size with victories over the Persians and the Egyptian Mamelukes. Selim’s better known son, Suleiman the Magnificent, was a military genius. He was the most powerful ruler anywhere in that century. His long reign coincided with Frances I of France, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, and Henry VIII of England. Suleiman conquered most of Hungary and nearly captured Vienna, Austria. His great admiral, Khair ed-Din Barbarossa, made him dominant over the coast of North Africa. Victories over Persia resulted in his conquest of Armenia. The Black Sea became a Turkish lake. Europe was saved from outright conquest by the division of his strength in attacking Persia. Sixty years after his death the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire began with the naval defeat at the Battle of Lepanto by Don Juan of Austria.
This period of time in India saw squabbles in the Moslem states and Hindu uprisings with Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, conquering North India and founding the Mogul Empire (named after the Mongols from which he had descended). His grandson, Akbar, is thought of as one of the great warriors of Indian history. In South India, the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire saw its greatest glory during this time, the 1500’s.
In the late 1500’s the Japanese invaded Korea but were finally repulsed. Japan had a leader named Hideyoshi, who planned on taking over all of East Asia, invading China through Korea and setting up the Japanese court at Peking. It didn’t work, however, and he died in the attempt to hold Korea after his fleet was annihilated by Chinese Admiral Yi Sung Sin.
Siam, now called Thailand, invaded Cambodia late in the century during a ten year war with Burma. Indonesia and Malaya suffered under conquest for Portugal by Albuquerque. The Dutch arrived in 1595 to rival the Portuguese for power.
In West Africa, Alonso I, of Kongo, ruled from 1506 to 1543, and caused the Christianization of many of his subjects. Eventually in 1570, the King of Kongo would have to appeal to Portugal for military help to prevent invasions from neighboring tribes.
The Songhai Empire reached its peak in the 1500’s but was destroyed at the end of the century by an invasion from Morocco of Spanish and Portuguese mercenaries equipped with firearms which were unheard of in Africa’s interior.
Small arms like the arquebusier and large cannon came into their own during this period revolutionizing land warfare. Ironclad ships like the ones manned by Admiral Yi Sung Sin and the great Spanish Galleons revolutionized naval warfare.
Speaking of war, martial arts schools began to be quite prevalent in European cities at this time, as well. It became commonplace practice for gentlemen to learn skills for pleasure, sport, and education that had once been essential just for survival. Two very informative books about the study of hand to hand, personal combat are Sidney Anglo’s The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe and Medieval Swordsmanship by John Clements. The ancient sport of boxing reappeared in 16th century England under the control of elite sporting clubs but it was not until the 18th century that modern Boxing truly began to evolve into the sport it is today. Another informative book that covers the Medieval Period and the Renaissance is English Castles by Adrian Pettifer.