Exam preparation materials


The purpose of this section is to help you pull together the history from this time period and view it from a global perspective. The examples below are by no means an exhaustive list of the ways that civilizations or groups of people interacted from 600 to 1450C.E. To the contrary, they are examples that serve as a starting point in your studies. We strongly suggest that you add examples to the ones below as you work your way through this review and your materials from your class.


Trade has always been a big deal historically speaking. Getting stuff and buying stuff is a huge incentive behind interactions. If you have everything you need and want, you can live in isolation. If you don’t, and somebody else down the road has what you want, you’ve got two choices: take it or trade for it. If you’re not into the whole conquest thing, then trading is probably your best option.

From 600 to 1450, trade exploded onto the world scene—so much so that the world after 1450 is inseparable from global interaction. Let’s quickly review the global trade routes that you read about in this chapter.

· The Mediterranean Trade between western Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Empire

· The Hanseatic League (more details below)

· The Silk Road (used heavily again from about 1200 C.E. until about 1600 C.E.—see next page)

· The land routes of the Mongols

· Trade between China and Japan

· Trade between India and Persia

· The Trans-Saharan trade routes between west Africa and the Islamic Empire

Remember, too, that trade was not only aided by better boats and better roads, but also by monetary systems, lines of credit, and accounting methods that helped business boom. Record-keeping and money management is key. If you’re able to keep records or borrow money, you are by definition establishing a business relationship that extends into the future. Once you start thinking about a regular business-trade relationship extending into the future, you can get people to invest in that future, and pretty soon the wheels of international business are going ’round and ’round.

The trade routes are important, of course, not just because of their impact on business, but also because of their role in cultural diffusion. It is over the trade routes that religions and languages spread. It is over the trade routes that literature and art and ideas spread. And, unfortunately, it is over the trade routes that disease and plague sometimes spread. The Bubonic Plague (also called the Black Death) started in Asia in the fourteenth century and was carried by merchants along the trade routes all the way to Europe, where it destroyed entire communities and killed as many as one out of every three people in western Europe. The plague quickened the decline of feudal society because many manors weren’t able to function.

In addition to the trade routes mentioned above, there’s one that we haven’t mentioned yet—the Indian Ocean Trade. It’s important, so we’ll go into it in some detail.

Indian Ocean Trade

Throughout the period covered in this chapter, the Persians and the Arabs dominated the Indian Ocean Trade. Their trade routes connected ports in western India to ports in the Persian Gulf, which in turn were connected to ports in eastern Africa.

Unlike boats that were used on the Mediterranean Sea, boats that sailed the Indian Ocean were, necessarily, more resilient to the large waves common in those waters. The traders learned to understand the monsoon seasons and direction of the winds, and scheduled their voyages accordingly. Despite these difficulties, the Indian Ocean trade routes were relatively safe, especially when compared to those on the Mediterranean, where constant warfare was a problem.

Since sailors often married the local women at the ends of their trade routes, cultures started to intermix rapidly. Many sailors took foreign wives home and created bilingual and bicultural families.

More on the Silk Road

You already know that the Silk Road connected China to the Mediterranean cultures even way back in the early days of the Roman Empire. You also need to know that the Silk Road was used heavily again from about 1200 C.E. until about 1600 C.E., during the reign of the Mongols.

The important thing to know about the Silk Road is that it carried so much more than silk. It carried porcelain and paper. It carried military technologies. It carried religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. It carried food. Because it extended so far and was used for so long, it’s safe to say that East met West on the Silk Road. It’s impossible to have a discussion about international trade and cultural diffusion without mentioning it by name.

More on the Hanseatic League

As you already know, the Hanseatic League was a collection of city-states in the Baltic and North Sea regions of Europe that banded together in 1241 to establish common trade practices, fight off pirates and foreign governments, and essentially establish a trade monopoly from the region to much of the rest of the world. It worked for a few hundred years. More than 100 cities joined the league. The result was enormous for two reasons. First, it resulted in a substantial middle class in northern Europe, a development that would drive changes in that region in later centuries (more on that in the next chapter). Second, it set a precedent for large, European trading operations that profoundly affected the Dutch and the English, which would also deeply affect the world in later centuries.

Was There a Global Trade Network?

If you think about it, after about 1200 C.E. or so, the world was very interconnected. Europe was trading with the Islamic world and Russia. The Islamic world was trading with Africa, India, and China. India was trading with China and eastern Africa. China was trading with Japan and southeast Europe. If you link up all the trade routes, goods could make their way from England to Persia to India to Japan. They could also travel to points north and south, from Muscovy to Mali.

The global network wasn’t entirely controlled by one entity or laid out by one trading organization. It was more like a web of interconnected but highly independent parts. It required lots of managers at each site. It required people to be linked up through third and even fourth parties. No one person was managing it, and yet almost all major civilizations (except those in the Americas) were a part of it. In short, it was like the Internet, only in geographic space instead of cyberspace.

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