IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See The Global Picture)
IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800
A. Global and Comparative Dimensions
During the early modern period, the context of human affairs was changing dramatically. Within the globalization of life, three major changes were of special significance. 1. The development of new-style empires and large state systems that came to dominate global political and military affairs. 2. The internal transformation of the major societies, but especially the transformation of society in western Europe. 3. The emergence of networks of interaction that were global in their scope. These developments reoriented the global balance of societal power. In 1500 there were four predominant traditions of civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere in a position of relative parity, but by 1800, one of these societies, the West, was in a position to assume political and military control over the whole world.  1
1. New-Style Empires and States, 1500–1700
a. Gunpowder Empires
These empires established strong centralized control through employing the military potential of gunpowder (naval and land-based siege cannon were particularly important). The major states of the Western Hemisphere were destroyed by European gunpowder empires while throughout the Eastern Hemisphere, regional empires developed on the basis of military power and new centralized administrations.  2
OTTOMAN EMPIRE. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans emerged as one of the strongest empires in the world, employing artillery to support their cavalry and then creating the Janissary Corps, an infantry using firearms. The new and expensive military was supported by the development of an effective bureaucracy. This centralized gunpowder empire rapidly expanded, conquering most of the Arab Middle East and the Balkan Peninsula. Ottoman forces laid siege to Vienna in 1529 and 1683 but did not capture this central European capital. However, in both eastern Europe and the Middle East the Ottomans remained essentially dominant until the war ending with the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) (See 1699, Jan. 26).  3
THE IBERIAN EMPIRES. Large maritime empires were created by the emerging monarchies on the Iberian Peninsula. European ship design enabled ships to carry cannons, giving them a military advantage over other ships in the 15th and 16th centuries. The PORTUGUESE EMPIRE expanded rapidly in the Indian Ocean basin but its largest stations in Goa, Malacca, and Macao were soon integrated into the local trade networks. Territories in Brazil and southern Africa were the only major territorial units within the Portuguese empire by the end of the 16th century. This overseas empire remained intact despite the problems of homeland, which included a forced union with Spain between 1580 and 1640. However, by the 17th century, the Portuguese empire had ceased to be a major world power.  4
The SPANISH EMPIRE expanded rapidly in the Western Hemisphere and gained control of all of Central and South America except Brazil (See The Spanish Conquest). Despite setbacks in Europe, Spain's overseas empire remained intact as the largest in the Western Hemisphere until the early 19th century. In the European context, Spain was joined with the Netherlands and Austria in the HABSBURG EMPIRE of Charles V (1519–58) (See 1519–56) (See 1516–56). This empire, though vast and powerful, lacked an effective central administration and geographic core, and soon divided. The Spanish Habsburgs, especially during the reign of Philip II (1556–98), were a major power on the European continent but were weakened by a long series of wars with France; the Treaty of the Pyrennes (1659) marked the end of Spanish dominance. The last Habsburg king of Spain died in 1700, and the long disintegration of the Spanish Empire was hastened by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) (See 1701–14).  5
MUGHAL EMPIRE. India was conquered by the Mughals, Muslim invaders from central Asia led by Babur (1483–30), a military adventurer. Small Mughal armies defeated huge Indian armies through effective use of firearms. Artillery enabled Mughal rulers to control local notables, and after the conquest of all of India, significant administrative reorganization during the reign of AKBAR (1556–1605) established a major centralized gunpowder empire. Dynastic disputes and attempts to impose a standard form of Islam along with drastic limitations on the practice of Hinduism led to growing conflict, and, following the death of Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707), Mughal power rapidly declined, though the empire technically lasted into the following century.  6
SAFAVID EMPIRE. In the instability following the disintegration of the empire of Timur-I Lang (See Major Interregional Expansions), various tribal and religious groups competed for power. The Safavids, under the leadership of SHAH ISMAIL (r. 1502–24), conquered most of present-day Iran and established a state whose official religion was Shi'ite Islam. The early state had a traditional military structure, but SHAH ABBAS I (r. 1587–1629) created a gunpowder-based military force that enabled him to further centralize control. However, internal conflicts arose between the imperial and traditional military forces, and under the weak leadership of Shah Abbas's successors, the Safavid state disintegrated by 1722 and was replaced by the rule of a warrior-adventurer, Nadir Shah (r. 1736–47), who was a successful conqueror but was unable to establish an effective centralized state (See 1737–38).  7
RUSSIAN EMPIRE. In central Eurasia, the huge Russian Empire began to emerge in the 15th century under the leadership of the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan III (r. 1462–1505), who created an effective artillery and a centralized absolutism that enabled him and his successors to conquer the other Russian city-states and, by the end of the 16th century, free them from the old Mongol domination. By the early 18th century, the military power and centralized absolutism of the Russian Empire brought the superiority of nomadic cavalry to an end and the Eurasian steppes into the ecumene. The modernizing efforts of PETER THE GREAT (r. 1689–1725) brought Russian power to near parity with its European and Ottoman neighbors and superiority over the central Asian Muslim and Chinese states to the east.  8
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.