III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 2. The High Postclassical Period, 1000–1500
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
2. The High Postclassical Period, 1000–1500
The emerging networks involved different types of interactions, ranging from the exchange of scientific ideas and commercial goods to religious conversions and military conquests. These laid the foundations for more global integration by 1500. Improvements in navigation facilitated some expansions. They included the magnetic compass, in use on Chinese ships by 1100 and on Arab ships soon after; and development of more accurate maps by the Arabs.  1
a. Major Interregional Expansions
INTERREGIONAL EURASIAN EMPIRES. Central Asian peoples created a series of great conquest empires. The SELJUK SULTANATE emerged as a part of the migrations of Turkish peoples into the Middle East. Seljuks conquered the eastern provinces of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 11th century, proclaiming themselves the protectors of the caliphs and Sunni Islam, and following their victory over the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert in 1071 (See 1071), they took control of Anatolia. Although the extended Seljuk Sultanate lasted only from 1037 to 1092, Turkish soldiers became the ruling elite in many Muslim lands.  2
The MONGOL EMPIRE was the largest of the central Asian empires. It began with the conquests of Chinggis Khan (c. 1170–1227) (See 1206), and by the time of his grandsons' rule, it had become a network of large states. One grandson, KHUBILAI KHAN (r. 1260–94), established the Yuan dynasty, which controlled China until 1368, although expeditions to conquer Japan (1274 and 1280), Vietnam, and Java failed. A second grandson, HULEGU (r. 1256–65), established the ILKHAN EMPIRE (1256–1335) in the Middle East (See 1265–1335) and brought an end to the Abbasid Caliphate with the conquest of Baghdad in 1258. Mongol expansion was stopped in Syria in 1260 by MAMLUKS from Egypt. The central Asian territories were under the control of Djagatai (d. 1241) and were the basis for later Mongol-Turkish states. In the Far West, most Russian states, including Kiev and Moscow, came under the control of the khans of the GOLDEN HORDE, whose descendants ruled parts of Russia until the 18th century. Invasions of Poland and Hungary brought devastation but no permanent occupation. The fact that Mongols did not rule the Ukraine and the Baltic regions encouraged those areas to distinguish themselves from Russia. The khans of the Golden Horde converted to Islam in 1257, and the Ilkhan ruler Ghazan Khan became Muslim in 1295. For almost two centuries, Mongol rulers provided a vast domain within which trade flourished and ideas and technologies were exchanged across much of Asia and Europe. However, Mongol leaders were unable to create effectively centralized control, and the Mongol world gradually disintegrated.  3
TIMUR-I LANG (r. 1360–1405) (See 1398–99) (See 1405) created the last great central Asian conquest empire, which controlled most of the territories of the Ilkhans and Djagatai's successors. However, the empire collapsed with his death.  4
EARLY EUROPEAN EXPANSIONS. The postclassical states in Europe attempted a number of interregional expansion efforts. (Irish monks had discovered Iceland in 790, and Erik the Red discovered Greenland in 981.) SCANDINAVIANS made some of the earliest efforts to expand, across the North Atlantic. Permanent settlements were established in Iceland, and by the 11th century communities were established for a time in Greenland and some people had traveled even farther west.  5
Leif Ericsson driven off course to Newfoundland (which he called Vinland).  6
Thorfinn Karlsefni, with three ships, explored parts of the North American coast. Contacts definitely continued until 1189, perhaps until 1347, by which point Greenland's settlements were in decline (See Scandinavia).  7
TEUTONIC KNIGHTS, a Christian military order, provided leadership for an eastward expansion of warriors and farmers, changing the character of northeast Europe.  8
THE RECONQUISTA (reconquest) (See 1212, July 16) of the Iberian Peninsula by Christians from the Muslims increased in intensity by the 11th century, and continued until the final Muslim defeat in 1492.  9
THE CRUSADES (1095–1291) were the efforts led by the Catholic Church to take the Middle East (See The Crusades)—especially the Holy Land and Jerusalem—from Muslims. Although western European knights ruled Jerusalem for almost a century, after a number of formally proclaimed Crusades, Crusader control in the Holy Land came to an end in the 13th century. The Crusades had an important impact in that they intensified commercial and cultural contacts, but they did not reflect any distinctive European power.  10
Isolated efforts to explore the Atlantic were launched from Portugal, Spain, and Italy. 1270: the Portuguese began to explore the west coast of Africa. 1291: the Vivaldo brothers from Genoa sailed into the Atlantic seeking a western route to “the Indies”; did not return. 1340–41: the Portuguese rediscovered the Canary Islands (assigned to Spain after conflicts, by Treaty of Alcaçovas, 1480). 1351: Genoese sailors may have reached the Azores. 1360s: regular expeditions from Barcelona were made along the northwest African coast. Technological limits prevented further activity until after 1430. Other contacts with Africa: papal representatives sent to Ethiopia, 1316; Ethiopian delegations visited Venice, beginning in 1402, to discuss alliance against Muslims.  11
CHINESE EXPANSION. The Yuan (Mongol) dynasty was defeated by an antiforeign revolution that established the MING DYNASTY (1368–1644). Early Ming rulers worked to reestablish Chinese dominance in the areas of long-standing Chinese interests and influence, such as Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and central Asia. In addition, in 1405–33, Ming rulers sponsored a series of major commercial expeditions led by CHENG HO (Zheng He) (See 1405–33). Great Chinese fleets sailed as far as East Africa and the Middle East, establishing the potential for regular, Chinese-dominated trade throughout the Indian Ocean. However, the emperor ordered the halt of the expeditions by 1433. Nonofficial Chinese merchant activity continued in Southeast Asia, where Chinese commercial communities became an important force.  12
ISLAMIC EXPANSION continued throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. Turkish peoples and sultanates were important vehicles for this expansion. Although the Seljuk sultans were defeated, other sultanates were established, creating a belt of states controlled by mercenary military establishments identified with Islam. The OTTOMAN SULTANATE (See The Ottoman Empire), established in the thirteenth century, gained control over most of northern Africa, the eastern Arab world, Anatolia, and much of the Balkan Peninsula by the early 16th century. The Muslim Mongol rulers in Russia and Persia confirmed the military-style Muslim state in those regions, and the DELHI SULTANATE (1206–1526) (See 1206–66) was the major Muslim state in India. Non-Turkish sultanates developed as combinations of Muslim and local monarchical traditions throughout Southeast Asia.  13
WEST AFRICAN MUSLIM STATES followed the pattern of combining Islamic and local traditions. Islamic expansion in the region was confirmed by a sequence of major states, beginning with the conversion of the rulers of Ghana in the 10th century (See 500–800), followed by MALI in the 13th century. The next state in the sequence was the SONGHAY EMPIRE (emerging in the 14th century and ending in 1591), whose leaders took the title of askia, or military commander.  14
EXPANSION THROUGH MISSIONARIES AND TRADERS. The major means by which Islam expanded beyond the ruling elites in societies outside of the Middle East was through the activities of merchants, who carried their faith abroad, along with their products. From the South China Sea and the India Ocean basin to sub-Saharan Africa, merchants were often the first contact between local peoples and Islam. An important means for combining local and Islamic traditions was the development of SUFISM, the Islamic form of mystical piety (See 950–1300). Sufism provided the basis for brotherhoods that combined popular piety with organizations for social cohesion. Sufi teachers were the major missionary force in the Islamic frontier areas. Great commercial cities on the East African coast, in central Asia, and on the islands of Southeast Asia became special centers for the popular expansion of Islam.  15
The Islamic world more than doubled in size between the 10th-century decline of the Abbasid Caliphate and the early 16th century. This was largely the result of the activities of Sufis, Muslim merchants, and sultans.  16
LATER EUROPEAN EXPANSIONS. By 1439 Portugal controlled the Azores and granted land to colonists; Spain soon did the same in the Madeiras and (1480) the Canaries (previously, the islands were inhabited by hunter-gatherers). Both countries imported European plants, weapons, and diseases, set up sugar plantations for exports to Europe, and brought in slaves from northwestern Africa as workers, foreshadowing later developments in the Americas.  17
Western European states began larger efforts at expansion in the 15th century. The new national monarchies of PORTUGAL and SPAIN played leading roles in supporting maritime expeditions for commercial and crusading purposes. Developing European naval technologies, utilizing rigid hulls and multiple masts with adjustable sails, made transoceanic travel possible in the Atlantic. Such ships were also able to carry cannons to give them extra firepower. Contacts with Asia gave Europeans knowledge of the compass and explosive powder. Motivation for expansions included fear of the new Ottoman Empire and the resultant desire to find independent trade routes, and an unfavorable balance of trade with Asia.  18
PORTUGAL began a major program of oceanic exploration and trade under the leadership of PRINCE HENRY THE NAVIGATOR (1394–1460).
Portuguese Exploration
1418–19Exploration of Madeira Islands.
1427–31Definitive discovery of Azores by Diogo de Sevilla.
1433Afterten-year effort, Portuguese ships rounded Cape Bojador; increased slave raiding.
1444Nuño Tristam reached Senegal River.
1445Dinís Diasrounded Cape Verde; increased trade, Portugal–West Africa.
1455–57Alvise da Cadamosto, Venetian serving Prince Henry, explored Senegal and Gambia Rivers, discovered Cape Verde Islands.
1470–71João de Santarem and Pedro Escolar reached Mina on Gold Coast, set up Portugese trading station (fort, 1482).
1472Expeditions passed equator; Fernando Po discovered island that bears his name.
1482–84Diogo Cão reached Congo River.
1487Portuguese King John sent overland expedition (Pedro da Covilhã) to India and east coast of Africa.
Portuguese ships gradually moved along the African coast, with Bartolomeu Dias reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 and VASCO DA GAMA sailing around Africa and entering the Indian Ocean in 1497. PEDRO CABRAL touched Brazil en route to India (1500); regular Portuguese trade to India began. Da Gama attempted to close the Red Sea to Arab trade (1501). Almeida defeated Muslim Indian Ocean fleet (1509). Within the next half century, Portuguese commercial and military bases were established throughout the Indian Ocean basin and in the South China Sea, in Goa (1510; governorship of Alfonso de Albuquerque), in Malacca (1511), and in Macao by 1557. Jorge Alvarez first reached China in 1513. In 1542 Antonio de Mota first reached Japan, after being blown off course.  20
SPAIN began building a major global empire after emerging as a national monarchy through the union of Aragon and Castile, beginning in 1469, and the completion of the Reconquista in 1492. In that year, QUEEN ISABELLA provided support for the expedition of Christopher Columbus (See 1492), who hoped to find a westward route to eastern Asia. He landed in the islands of the Western Hemisphere, and his trips were followed by other expeditions that established Spanish control in Mesoamerican and South American areas outside of those claimed by Portugal. Spanish expeditions conquered and effectively brought an end to the regional civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. Hernando Cortés destroyed the AZTEC EMPIRE of Mexico in 1518–21, and Francisco Pizarro conquered the INCA EMPIRE in Peru in 1531–36.  21
Further European expeditions opened the way for travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighting the ocean to be called the Pacific in 1513 and Ferdinand Magellan organizing the fleet supported by Spain that in 1519–22 was the first to sail around the world (See 1519–22).  22
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.