The Renaissance

by the 15th century, gun making and gunpowder production had already become major industries in Europe.  Guns were placed on European merchant ships, which allowed them to defend themselves in a way that non-Europeans could not.  This allowed the mercantile city-states of Italy to prosper.  As the wealth of these city-states grew they began to lend credit to other countries.  This allowed European nations to wage wars using gunpowder, which was far more expensive than traditional warfare.  At the same time as all this wealth was pouring in, Greek speaking scholars fled from the crumbling Byzantine empire to Italy as their homeland was overrun by the armies of the Muslim world.  The common language known by both the Italians and Greeks was Latin causing its resurgence as a language.  This was the setting for the beginning of the Renaissance.  The massive technological advancements of this period were in part due to the wealth in this region and the fierce competition of these city-states.  The surplus of wealth also allowed for great artists, writers, and thinkers to arise.  The Nobility of Europe went to the mercantile city-states of Italy to learn Philosophy and the Arts.  Latin became the common language of the learned.  Europe surpassed the rest of the world during this time.  No longer did Europe stand in awe of the technologies of the East.  Now Europe was the center of learning and thought and the rest of the world looked on in wonder.

Ancient America

The theory that people came over the Bering Strait to populate the Americas is widely accepted, but there is strong evidence that at least the people of South and some of Central America came via canoe.  There are amazing parallels between  the civilizations in these regions and those of Early Mesopotamia.  This suggests common ancestry or even direct lineage.  In both cases, urbanization occurred rapidly and a single large city seems to have been the origin of civilization for its region.  They share similar governing structures, with a ruling elite that derived their power from religion and control of irrigation, not from force.  With the domestication of maize and the potato these American cities flourished.  South America never used anything more advanced than copper tools and very few at that.  Else where in the Americas not even this level of technology was achieved.  Yet they where able to construct wonders that rivaled the Egyptian Pyramids.  By around 900 A.D. most of the large urban sites of the Americas had been abandoned, and the empires that were left were shadows of the former. Thus a brief history of the Americas.

The Rest of the World by the 15th Century

While Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and most of Asia where all at a similar technological level, the rest of the world lagged behind.  The Sahara Desert acted as a barrier that delayed development for most of Africa for several centuries.  While civilizations like the Zulu nation developed, most of the political structure of Africa remained on the tribal level. The most advanced weapon was the iron-tipped spear.  Around 300 B.C. the peoples of the Malayo-Polynesian language family migrated out of Southeast Asia into the islands of Oceania and did not have access to any metal deposits.  Which meant they were technologically limited, despite incredible navigational sophistication.  Despite metal deposits farther  south in Papua New Guinea and Australia, these places never advanced beyond the Stone Age.  To the north of Europe, Norse sages tell of battles with the Skraelings, their name for the Native Americans.  Even with centuries of interaction the use of iron and diseases did not spread to North America.  All advanced civilization in South America had dissolved leaving it in much the same state as Africa.

The Gunpowder Revolution

The original Chinese formula for gunpowder was difficult to produce.  This is because some of its elements were hard to obtain.  By the late 11th or early 12th century A.D., a new formula for gunpowder was developed that used easily available substances.  The Chinese developed firearms and various types of bombs, including land mines and hand grenades.  An Arab writer, probable of the 14th century, wrote that Europeans did not have gunpowder and that the formula should be kept from them.  It is clear however, that   gunpowder weapons were being used in Europe by the mid-14th century.  Until the early 15th century, gunpowder weapons were not very effective.  That is until the process of corning was invented.  Corning involved moistening the powder with wine, vinegar or urine and then breaking up the dried paste into tiny spheres.  Corned gunpowder could be stored indefinitely and detonated more efficiently, propelling the bullet or cannonball with much greater force.  The reason for the greater force is that corned powder burns faster.  This is due to the air space in between the grains, which allows more oxygen to get to the flame.  Think, what burns better a pile of sawdust or a pile of small twigs?  The twigs do.  Corning allowed for gunpowder firearms and artillery that were comparable to the crossbows and catapults of the time.  Gunpowder weapon had a psychological effect on the enemy that gave them an advantage over their conventional counterparts.  This even effected naval combat, since cannon powerful enough to smash a mast  or blast a hole in the hulls of ships could be made small enough to be mounted on a ship.  Naval combat changed from hand to hand boarding actions to cannon duels.  Gunpowder revolutionized war, and in the process, transformed the world.

The Business of War in Medieval Europe

For most of the Middle Ages, Europe was a second-tier power compared to Asia and the Middle East.  The cost of wars often exceeded the possible revenue of a medieval European kingdom.  This produced a market for credit, which the wealthy trading cities of Italy were able to provide.  Sometimes the loans where not paid back, so what were these Italian city states going to do?  With small populations but lots of money, these city-states relied on mercenary armies to ensure collection.  These mercenary armies were comprised of noblemen from all over Europe, who when they went home continued to spread the wealth.  This influx of wealth combined with abundant sources of iron led to a great expansion in Europe’s economy.


The wars in the Mongol conquests were some of the most costly in human life in history severely impairing civilization in some areas.  However, the Mongols did bring some improvements to the west.  They opened up the silk road allowing trade from China to Europe.  The use of decorated tiles was introduced to the west by the Mongols.  The food of the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean was changed:  pita bread, humus, falafels, kebabs, and yogurt were all a result of the Mongol invasion.  Also, the tall pointed hats of the steppes passed into Europe in women’s fashion and the hats of sorcerers.   But when the Mongol empire collapsed the trade routes where monopolized by the Muslims.  Since the Muslims and Europe where enemies, the Muslims cut the trade off to keep Europe from acquiring  Eastern technology.  Thus while the Mongol empire had collapsed by 1400 A.D., it had already changed the World.

Fall of the Empire

The last Great Khan was Kubilai Khan.  After his death the Mongol empire fractured into a series of ultimately independent states, called khanates.  In the far west was the Khanate of the Golden Horde, in the near east the Khanate of the Il-khans, and in the center of the Old Mongol empire was the Chagatai Khanate. In the far east the Khanate of the Great Khan which was assimilated into China, with the Chinese monarchs in Beijing being descendants of Kubilia Khan.  Although they sometimes fought, these Khanates did cooperate.  They recognized each others passports and offered safe passage.  This allowed the transcontinental transport of goods and individuals, especially along the  Silk Road.  However this allowed for the spread of the Black Death, which greatly weakened  the Mongol khanates.  By 1400 A.D. most of the Mongol empire had been reabsorbed by the local political states and cultures.  In 1368 A.D. the Chinese revolted and over through the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.  The Mamluks of Egypt and the Ottoman Turks split control of the former Mongol Near East.  The Golden Horde crippled by the Black Death was driven into the western steppes by the Duchy of Moscow.  Thus the fall of the great Mongol empire was complete and they were driven back to the steppe lands of Asia.