Global Interactions (c. 1450 to c. 1750)

CHAPTER 16   Empires and Other Political Systems

CHAPTER 17   Hemispheric Exchange

CHAPTER 18   Systems of Slavery

CHAPTER 19   Cultural and Intellectual Changes


Empires and Other Political Systems


Summary: About 1450, a major global transition took place with the withdrawal of the Chinese from global interactions and the rise of European dominance. The Byzantine Empire fell to the power of the Ottoman Turks, an empire that by 1750 was in decline. Russia emerged from Mongol control to forge an empire under the rule of the Romanovs. New patterns of world interactions formed as societies of the Eastern and Western hemispheres exchanged cultural traditions across the Atlantic Ocean.


Key Terms

An asterisk ( *) denotes items listed in the glossary .

absolute monarchy*



criollos (creoles)*

devshirme *

divine right*

Dutch learning*

encomienda *



Glorious Revolution*

Hagia Sophia





mestizos *

Mughal dynasty*

mulato (mulatto)*


parliamentary monarchy*

peninsulares *


Qing dynasty

Reconquista (Reconquest)*

repartamiento *


Taj Mahal

Tokugawa Shogunate

Treaty of Tordesillas*


Spain and Portugal in the Americas

In the mid- and late fifteenth century, events that took place on the Iberian peninsula culminated in an encounter between Western Europe and the Americas. This encounter profoundly altered the government and society of the peoples of the Americas. In the mid-fifteenth century, Portuguese establishment of a navigation school increased exploration of the western and eastern coasts of Africa. The knowledge and wealth obtained from these ventures created further interest in expeditions of exploration and colonization. In Spain, the marriage of Fernando of Aragón and Isabel of Castile in the mid-fifteenth century united the kingdoms of Aragón and Castile. This union gave its support to three significant events in Spanish history in 1492:

•  The Reconquista (Reconquest) of former Spanish territory from the Muslims with the fall of Granada.

•  The expulsion of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. Spain would suffer serious economic repercussions with the removal of the Jews, who were some of its most well-educated and skilled people.

•  The first voyage of Columbus. The unification of central Spain and the end of warfare with the Muslims freed the Spanish monarchs to turn their attention to voyages of exploration.

The Spanish-sponsored voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, beginning in 1519, not only circumnavigated the globe but also gave Spain a basis for its colonization of the Philippines in the late sixteenth century.

Spain’s Empire

Control in the Caribbean

Spain’s interests in the Americas began in the Caribbean. During his second voyage in 1493, Columbus established a colony on Santo Domingo. In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards took control of Puerto Rico and Cuba and settled Panama and the northern coast of South America. Spanish control of these regions introduced European diseases to the Native Americans, an exchange that significantly decreased the native population. The Spanish crown granted Caribbean natives to the conquerors for use as forced labor.

Conquest in the Americas

In the fifteenth century, the once mighty empires of the Aztecs and Incas fell to the Spaniards. Tales of riches in the interior of Mexico led the Spaniard Hernán Cortés to attempt the conquest of the Aztec Empire. The Spaniards were aided in their venture by several factors:

•  Indian allies from among native peoples who had been conquered by the Aztecs.

•  The legend of Quetzalcóatl––Moctezuma II, the Aztec leader at the time of the conquest, believed that Cortés may have been the god who was expected to return to Mesoamerica.

•  Superior Spanish weaponry.

•  The assistance of Malinche (called Doña Marina by the Spanish), an Aztec woman who served as interpreter between the Spanish and the Aztecs.

•  Smallpox––introduced into the Aztec Empire by one infected member of the Cortés expedition, it caused the death of thousands.

On the completion of the Aztec conquest in 1521, the capital city of Tenochtitlán was burned to the ground and a new capital, Mexico City, was constructed on its site. The Spaniards then continued their conquests into north central Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Spaniards also turned their attention to the region of the Andes Mountains of western South America. By 1535, Francisco Pizarro had conquered the rich Inca Empire, already weakened by years of civil war. The Spaniards then sent expeditions from northern Mexico into what is now the southwestern portion of the United States. From 1540 to 1542, Francisco de Coronado reached as far north as what is now Kansas in an unsuccessful search for seven mythical cities of gold. Further campaigns of exploration led to the conquest of Chile and the establishment of the city of Buenos Aires in present-day Argentina. By the late sixteenth century, the Spaniards had set up about 200 urban centers in the Americas.

Despite constant threats from Caribbean pirates, Spanish galleons carried loads of gold and silver across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain, where the influx of such large quantities of the precious metals caused inflation of the Spanish economy. Eventually, inflation spread throughout Europe. Until the eighteenth century, the Manila galleons sailed the Pacific, transporting silver from the mines of Spain’s American colonies to China to trade for luxury goods.

The pursuit of gold and adventure was not the sole motive for the founding of a Spanish colonial empire. Another goal was the desire to spread the Roman Catholic faith to native peoples. Roman Catholic religious orders such as the Jesuits , Dominicans, and Franciscans established churches and missions where they educated the Indians and taught them the Christian faith. The Roman Catholic faith became an integral element in the society of the Spanish colonies.

The right of the Spaniards to govern their American colonies was established by papal decree through the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). This agreement divided the newly discovered territories between the Catholic countries of Spain and Portugal by drawing an imaginary line around the globe. Spain received the right to settle the lands to the West of the line drawn through the Western Hemisphere, and Portugal those to the East. Spanish government in the Americas was a massive bureaucracy controlled from Spain by the Council of Indies. The council was further divided into two viceroyalties , one centered in Mexico City and the other in Lima, in present-day Peru.

The economic structure of Spain’s American colonies was the encomiendasystem. Encomiendas were grants from the Spanish crown that allowed the holders to exploit the Indians living on the land they controlled. In Peru, the exploitation of Indians took the form of the mita, or forced labor, especially in the silver mines. After Father Bartolomé de las Casas spoke out against the mistreatment of the Indians, the encomienda system was restructured as the repartamiento. The new system allowed a small salary to be paid to Indian laborers.

Spanish American Society

Spanish American society took on a hierarchical structure. Four basic classes emerged:

•   Peninsulares ––colonists born in Europe. The penisulares initially held the most powerful positions in colonial society.

•   Criollos (creoles) ––colonists born in the Americas of European parents. Generally well-educated and financially secure, the creoles would eventually become colonial leaders and organizers of colonial independence movements.

•   Mestizos ––people of mixed European and Indian ancestry.

•   Mulatos (mulattos) ––people of mixed European and African ancestry. The mestizos and mulatos occupied the lowest political and social positions in Spanish American society.

Families in the Spanish and Portuguese American colonies were patriarchal. Women were expected to devote themselves to traditional household and childbearing duties. Lower-class women worked in the fields and sometimes managed small businesses. Women could control their dowries, however, and also could inherit property.

Portugal’s Empire

The Portuguese colony of Brazil became the first colony based on a plantation economy. Founded by Pedro Cabral in 1500, Brazil was settled in 1532 by Portuguese nobles. Sugar plantations using Indian labor arose; when the Indians died of European diseases, slaves were brought from Africa. Labor in Brazilian gold mines also was supplied by Indians and African slaves. Society in Brazil followed a hierarchy similar to that of the Spanish colonies, and Roman Catholicism was introduced by Jesuit missionaries. In addition to Brazil, the Portuguese Empire included colonies and trade outposts in Africa and Asia.

The Ottoman Empire

The Mongol invasion of eastern Anatolia in 1243 led to the collapse of the Seljuk Turks and the subsequent rise of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans migrated into Anatolia to fill the vacuum left by the Seljuks. Named after their leader Osman Bey, the Ottomans established an empire centered around Anatolia. By the late fourteenth century, much of the Balkans were added to the Ottoman Empire.

In 1453, the Ottomans completed their conquest of the city of Constantinople. The Christian church of Hagia Sophia was converted into an elaborate mosque, palaces were constructed in the city, and the defense system of Constantinople was repaired. After the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans united most of the Arab world by adding Syria, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa to their empire. In the fifteenth century, they became a major naval power until they suffered a decisive defeat by a combined Venetian and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. As late as 1688, the Ottomans threatened the Austrian capital of the Hapsburg dynasty. This siege was not as devastating, however, as a previous siege against Vienna in 1529.

The Ottoman Empire was focused on warfare. Beginning in the middle of the fifteenth century, its armies were largely composed of soldiers called Janissaries . Janissaries were Christian boys who were captured and enslaved. Sometimes the boys were turned over to the Ottomans by their own parents in the hope that the education given to them would lead to a prominent position in the Ottoman Empire. The selection process for the Janissaries was called devshirme; it placed the boys with Turkish families to learn their language and the teachings of Islam.

Women in Ottoman society maintained a subordinate role to their fathers and husbands. Although some women in lower classes became involved in trade and small businesses, Ottoman women as a whole were given very little opportunity to acquire an education or participate in politics. Instead, Ottoman women, especially those in elite classes, were restricted by the wearing of the veil and, in some cases, seclusion within the harem.

Ottoman Decline

By the late seventeenth century, the vast Ottoman Empire was so difficult to administer that it fell into a gradual decline. As opportunities to add new territories ran out because of the strengthening military power of other Muslims and of Christians, the Ottomans lost their ability to maintain their large army and bureaucracy. Taxes charged to the lower classes were raised as Ottoman rulers became more and more corrupt. The inflationary trend that affected Europe as a result of the influx of gold and silver in Spain also produced inflation within the Ottoman territories. The Ottomans fell behind in warfare technology because of their reliance on huge weaponry intended for siege tactics. Ignoring the value of Western technological innovations, the Ottomans also disregarded the growing power of Western Europe, a policy that hastened its decline.

Mughal India

In 1526, Babur, a descendant of Mongols and of Turks, migrated from the steppes of central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. The founder of the Mughal dynasty had lost his kingdom in Central Asia; by 1528, he had used his superior gunpowder technology to conquer a large portion of northern India and had founded a dynasty that would last to the mid-nineteenth century.

The greatest leader of the Mughal dynasty was Akbar (ruled 1560 to 1605). Throughout his reign, he brought more of northern and central India under his control, established a bureaucracy, and patronized the arts. He encouraged cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in India.

Akbar also broke with Hindu and Muslim tradition regarding the treatment of women in society. He encouraged widows to remarry and outlawed sati, the practice among Hindu elite classes of burning women on their husband’s funeral pyre. Akbar also encouraged merchants to arrange market days for women only so that those following the practice of purdah , or confinement in their homes, would have an opportunity to participate in public life. By the declining years of the Mughal Empire, however, the improvements in the position of women had largely been discontinued.

Mughal art and architecture often blended Muslim styles with those of other societies. Mughal artists were known for their miniatures, some of which included Christian religious subjects. Mughal architecture blended the white marble typical of Indian architecture with the arches and domes of the Islamic world. Probably the most well-known architectural structure of the Mughal era was the Taj Mahal , constructed by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The cost of warfare and defensive efforts to protect the northern borders of the Mughal Empire contributed to its decline. Later Mughal rulers failed to bridge the differences between Muslims and Hindus. Centralized government broke down as India returned to numerous local political organizations. The decline of centralized authority opened doors for the entrance of foreign powers, especially the British.

Monarchies in France and England

In the sixteenth century, European monarchies expanded their power dramatically. Characteristics of these monarchies were:

•  Maintenance of strong armies

•  Establishment of elaborate bureaucracies

•  High taxes to support the frequent wars on the European continent

In France, a system of absolute monarchy arose as monarchs stopped convening the Estates-General , the medieval parliament. In addition to the characteristics of monarchs listed above, absolute monarchs believed in a concept called the divine right of kings. Divine right held that monarchs were granted their right to rule by God. Territorial expansion was a goal of the strong military that the absolute monarchies assembled. The most noteworthy of European absolute monarchs was Louis XIV of France (ruled 1643 to 1715), who not only adhered to the doctrine of divine right but also lived extravagantly in his palace at Versailles outside Paris. Keeping with absolutist tradition, Louis XIV also spent huge sums on the military in order to carry out numerous wars to expand French territory.

The prevailing economic theory of the day, called mercantilism , encouraged nations to export more than they imported and promoted the founding of colonies. Colonies provided raw materials and ready markets for the manufactured goods produced by the mother country.

The English developed a different model of monarchy in the seventeenth century: parliamentary monarchy . Although ruled by a centralized government, England limited the power of its monarchs with a parliament in which they shared power with representatives chosen by voters from the elite classes. The English Civil War (1642 to 1649) and the Glorious Revolution of 1689 placed the power of parliament over that of the king. The English parliament met regularly without the consent of the monarch and also retained the authority to tax and appropriate tax revenues.

Development of European Nation-States

Government in Europe was organized around the nation-state . Well suited to a continent composed of various cultural groups, a nation-state is defined as a political unit that:

•  Governs people who share a common culture, including a common language

•  Has definite geographic boundaries

•  Enjoys sovereignty

European nation-states were governed by either absolute or parliamentary monarchs. The number of nation-states on the small European continent, however, created rivalries and divisions that often led to war.

The Russian Empire

Russia followed the path of absolute monarchy after the final expulsion of the Mongols in 1480. The Mongol occupation of Russia produced a nation with a weakened emphasis on education, and also depressed trade and manufacturing. Under the tsars Ivan III (the Great) and Ivan IV (the Terrible), Russia expanded from the eastern border of Poland into western Siberia across the Ural Mountains. Russian pioneers called Cossacks were sent to the newly conquered territories, taking over land previously held by Asian nomads. In the process of expanding its borders, Russia added a substantial Muslim minority to its population.

The death of Ivan IV without an heir paved the way for the emergence of the Romanov dynasty. In 1613, the Russian nobles, or boyars , selected Mikhail Romanov as Russia’s new tsar, beginning a dynasty that ruled until 1917. The new tsar continued Russian expansion, adding part of the Ukraine around Kiev and also southern territory that extended to the frontier of the Ottoman Empire. Later Romanovs created state control over the Russian Orthodox Church.

Peter the Great

In 1700, the Russian Empire remained agricultural to a larger extent than East Asian empires or Western European nations. Peter I (the Great), who ruled from 1689 to 1725, launched a new era in Russian history by opening up the country to Western influence. On a trip to Western Europe in a vain attempt to enlist support against the Turks, Peter acquired an appreciation for Western science and technology. When he returned to Russia, he took Western craftsmen with him. In order to bolster trade, Peter fought a war with Sweden in which he not only greatly reduced the military power of Sweden but also gained for Russia a warm water port on the Baltic Sea. Peter also moved his capital from Moscow to a new city on the Baltic that he named St. Petersburg. He then created a navy for Russia. Continuing his policy of westernization, Peter required boyars to shave their beards and wear Western clothing. He also brought the ballet from France to Russia and allowed women of elite classes to attend public events for the first time.

In spite of his interest in Western technology, Peter the Great did not accept Western democratic trends. Unimpressed with parliamentary government, he continued to favor absolute monarchy. He set up controls over his subjects by creating a secret police and encouraged the continuation of serfdom. Serfdom, which differed from slavery in binding laborers to the land only, kept the Russian economy focused on agriculture, in spite of the westernization policies of Peter the Great.

Catherine II (the Great), who ruled from 1729 to 1796, continued the expansionist and westernization policies of Peter. Laws restricting serfs were harsher than before. Catherine upheld the concept of absolute monarchy but also brought ideas of the Enlightenment (see Chapter 19 ) to Russia. She reduced severe punishments for crimes in order to bring the Russian justice system more in line with that of Western Europe and encouraged Western art and architecture. Catherine added new territory in the Crimea, Alaska, and northern California to the Russian Empire.

Ming China

The Ming dynasty was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, a warlord who had assisted in the expulsion of the Mongols from China. The Ming dynasty, which reacted against Mongol rule by returning to Chinese tradition, lasted from 1368 to 1644. Under Ming rule:

•  The revered position of the scholar-gentry was restored.

•  The Confucian-based civil service exam was reinstated and expanded. Women, however, continued to be banned from taking the exam.

•  Public officials who were corrupt or incompetent were beaten publicly.

•  Thought control, or censorship of documents, was sanctioned by the government.

•  Neo-Confucianism, which supported strict obedience to the state, increased its influence.

•  Women continued to occupy a subordinate position in the strongly patriarchal society.

Between 1405 and 1423, the Ming dynasty, under the leadership of Zheng He, engaged in several major expeditions of exploration and trade. Designed to impress the remainder of the Eastern Hemisphere with the glories of Ming China, the Zheng He expeditions sailed through the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. By the 1430s, however, the scholar-gentry had persuaded Ming leaders that the expeditions were too costly in light of the need to spend the empire’s funds on restraining continued Mongol threats to China’s northern border.

In the late sixteenth century, Jesuits such as the scholar Matteo Ricci were allowed to enter China. More interested in the Jesuits’ transmission of scientific and technological knowledge than in Christian theology, the Ming Chinese allowed some Jesuits to remain in China throughout the Ming era.

During the last 200 years of the Ming dynasty, China was ruled by incompetent rulers. The maintenance of dams, dikes, and irrigation systems was neglected, and nomadic peoples continued to exert pressure along the Great Wall. In 1644, the Jurchen, or Manchus , a nomadic people on China’s northern borders, conquered the Ming dynasty. The new Qing dynasty ruled until the early twentieth century as the last Chinese dynasty.


While the Ming dynasty isolated itself from most foreigners, Japan went through periods of both isolation and acceptance of Western influence. In 1603, the Tokugawa family gained prominence when one of its members acquired the title of shogun . Ruling Japan from the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Tokugawa Shogunate brought a degree of centralized authority to Japan. Large estates of many of the daimyo were broken up and taken over by the Tokugawa family.

Europeans entered Japan in 1543 when Portuguese sailors shipwrecked and were washed up on the shore of the southern island of Kyushu. Additional visits from European traders and missionaries brought Western technology, including clocks and firearms, into Japan. The use of firearms changed Japanese warfare from feudal to modern and assisted the Tokugawa in maintaining their authority. When Christian missionaries arrived to bring Roman Catholicism to the Japanese, the Tokugawa at first protected them from Buddhist resistance. In the late 1580s, however, the Tokugawa stifled Buddhist resistance to their authority. Christianity was perceived as a threat to Tokugawa authority, and Christian missionaries were ordered to leave Japan. Japanese Christians were persecuted and executed. By 1630, foreign trade was allowed only in a few cities and Japanese ships were banned from trading or sailing across long distances. By the 1640s, only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to trade through the port of Nagasaki. Contacts with the Dutch allowed the Japanese to keep informed about Western developments (Dutch learning ) and adopt those they considered appropriate to Japanese goals.

Images Rapid Review

Western Europe developed models of both absolute and parliamentary monarchy as its advanced technology strengthened its position as a world leader. Russia built a large empire whose rulers continued repressive policies and a system of serfdom that perpetuated Russian backwardness begun under Mongol rule. Spain and Portugal established empires in Mesoamerica and South America, while England and France vied for colonial dominance in North America. The Ottoman Empire conquered the Byzantine Empire, but by the early seventeenth century, could not keep up with Western technological advances and was on a path of decline. Ming China and Tokugawa Japan displayed varying responses to foreign influence. At the conclusion of the period, the Chinese pursued a policy of isolation from foreigners, whereas Japan allowed limited Western influence in order to avail itself of Western technology. Mughal India at first brought centralized government that softened relations between Hindus and Muslims; then later it broke up into regional governments that created openings for foreign intervention.

Images Review Questions

1 .    Mercantilism

      (A)  brought long-term prosperity to Europe

      (B)  encouraged the importation of foreign goods

      (C)  supported free trade

      (D)  sparked further rivalries among European nations

2 .    In the early eighteenth century, the political system where citizens enjoyed the greatest amount of self-rule was

      (A)  Japan

      (B)  Russia

      (C)  France

      (D)  England

3 .    Both the Russian Empire and Ming China

      (A)  became increasingly more traditional after the expulsion of the Mongols

      (B)  improved the position of women in the period 1450 to 1750

      (C)  established policies that were a reaction to the Mongol presence in central Asia

      (D)  cooperated with the established religions in their respective countries

4 .    A comparison of the reactions of Japan and China to European influence in the period 1450 to 1750 shows that

      (A)  the Chinese persecuted Christian missionaries about the same time that the Japanese gave them some acceptance

      (B)  Japan saw the need for knowledge of Western developments, but China did not

      (C)  both excluded foreigners from trading at their ports

      (D)  European philosophy was accepted, but Western technology was not

5 .    Compared to the Spanish Empire, that of the Portuguese

      (A)  developed a more egalitarian society

      (B)  was more global in its extent

      (C)  was less influenced by the Roman Catholic Church

      (D)  developed a better relationship with Indian inhabitants

6 .    The Mughal Empire

      (A)  failed to ease tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India

      (B)  controlled the entire Indian subcontinent

      (C)  terminated in the return of a traditional centralized government to India

      (D)  produced art and architecture that reflected syncretism

7 .    The Ottoman Empire

      (A)  weakened because its technology fell behind that of Europe

      (B)  unlike the Mughal Empire, was not a gunpowder empire

      (C)  was unsuccessful in controlling European territory

      (D)  reached its height around 1750

8 .    The nation-state

      (A)  was embraced by the Ottoman Empire

      (B)  arose in Europe because of its diversity of cultural groups

      (C)  was incompatible with absolute monarchies

      (D)  promoted harmony among Europeans

Images Answers and Explanations

1 .   D   Inherent in mercantile philosophy was the need for colonies, a necessity that provoked international rivalries. Spain’s wealth caused a European depression rather than long-term prosperity (A). Mercantilism encouraged exports rather than imports (B) and government participation in economic matters rather than free trade (C).

2 .   D   In the early 1700s, England had already established the sovereignty of Parliament, whose members were elected by the elite classes. Russia (B) and France (C) were under the authority of absolute monarchs who ruled without parliamentary authority. Japan (A) was ruled by the authoritarian Tokugawa Shogunate.

3 .   C   The emperors of Ming China returned to Confucian traditions and by the 1430s had entered a period of isolation as a response to Mongol threats along China’s northern borders. Russia reacted to the previous Mongol occupation by establishing absolute rule and expanding its territories to include land previously held by Asian nomadic peoples. Although Ming China became increasingly more traditional, Russia eventually entered into a period of increased westernization (A). Although Russia allowed women more participation in public events, the subordinate position of women in China was continued by the strict Confucian and Neo-Confucian policies under the Ming (B). Although the Ming cooperated with Confucianists and Neo-Confucianists because of their respect for governmental authority, Russian tsars placed the Russian Orthodox Church under their authority (D).

4 .   B   Although both countries entered into a period of isolation, Japan maintained some contact with Western ways through trade with the Dutch. In the 1580s, Japan persecuted Christian missionaries while China gave them some acceptance (A). China retained two ports for foreigners, whereas Japan kept only the port of Nagasaki open to trade with the Dutch and Chinese (C). Western philosophy was not embraced by either country, but there was interest in Western technology, particularly firearms in Japan and clocks in China (D).

5 .   B   Although the Spanish Empire embraced only the Philippines and the Americas, the Portuguese Empire included Brazil, outposts in Africa and India, and trading posts throughout the Indian Ocean and East Asia. Both the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires had a stratified society (A). Both were Roman Catholic empires with active missionary efforts; both nations had submitted to the pope’s authority in accepting the Treaty of Tordesillas (C). Both empires first used Indians as forced labor (D).

6 .   D   Mughal art and architecture reflected Christian themes and Persian and Indian architectural structures. Under Akbar, cooperation between Muslims and Hindus was encouraged (A). The Mughals controlled the northern and central portions of India (B). Their rule ended in the return of traditional regional government in India (C).

7 .   A   The Ottoman decline was hastened because of Ottoman reluctance to embrace Western technology of the time period. Both the Ottomans and Mughals were gunpowder empires (B). The Ottomans gained control of Hungary and some parts of the Balkans (C), but was in decline by 1750 (D).

8 .   B   Nation-states are organized around cultural groups, a characteristic of Europe. The Ottoman Empire included numerous cultural groups under one empire (A). Many of the European nation-states were ruled by absolute monarchs (C). The different nation-states in Europe contributed to conflict (D).

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