Political Milestones: 1400AD to 1500AD
One of the great discoveries that came out of the Renaissance was the re-discovery of Ptolemy’s “Geographia”, which reached Italy from Constantinople in 1400AD. It revolutionised the way Europeans looked at the world. This recovery of lost knowledge helped propel Europe into what we now describe as the “Age of Discovery”. From 1418AD the Portuguese began to use latine-rigged ships and were able to systematically explore the African Coast. By 1488AD, they had reached the Indian Ocean. In 1492AD, the ever competitive Spanish crown sponsored the Italian navigator, Columbus, to search for India in the opposite direction by heading west. His discovery of the Americas would forever change world history. In 1498AD the Portuguese explorer, Vasco De Gama, did indeed reached India via Africa. Why were they both looking for sea routes to India? The Muslim monopoly on trade from east to west had been in place for 700 years. It was now finally broken and Islamic commerce and wealth would begin to stagnate. One of the sad legacies of the Portuguese ventures into Africa was the bringing slaves back to Europe, the beginning of 500 years of suffering for some 10 million of these poor souls. Amazingly, at the same time, between 1405-1433AD, the Chinese Admiral Zeng-He was charting the continental coastlines from the opposite direction. In fact, there is substantial evidence that he had circumnavigated the world during this time.
Tamerlane’s final campaigns and most sickening occurred in the first few years of the century. In 1401 he ravaged Christian Armenia and Georgia with unspeakable brutality. The same year he sacked Iraq again, killing all its inhabitants, including some half a million Christians. In 1402AD he defeated the Ottomans in the battle of Anatolia. However, with the death of Tamerlane in 1405AD, the Ottoman Turks were now free to pursue their goal of expanding their kingdom, and Islam, to their west. Constantinople finally fell in 1453AD. Within fifty years the Ottomans were in control of Albania, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Greece and the Crimea. In 1499AD the Ottomans defeated the Venetian navy in the first battle ever to use maritime cannons. Islam was once again firmly in control of a part of Europe for the first time since the conquest of Spain 600 years earlier. Ironically, over in Spain itself, the remaining Muslim stronghold of Grenada was defeated in 1492AD and its citizens were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave for Africa.
At the same time, at the opposite end of the ever-expanding Islamic Empire, the Malay Archipelago, previously dominated by Hinduism and Buddhism, now began to be systematically converted to Islam, again by force. However, unlike the puritanical Qur’anic Islam of the Middle East, Islam in South East Asia did not penetrate as deeply into the local culture, which to this day remains largely Animistic in Indonesia and the southern Philippines.
Back on the European mainland much was going on. The 100 Years War came to an end in 1453AD with the English losing all continental possessions, thanks in no small part to the amazing exploits of the French heroine, Joan of Arc. In Germany, Gutenberg invented a superior means of printing which would lead to an information explosion in Europe. It was to be the internet revolution of that era. In Italy the four capitalist city states were flourishing. Florence was reaching the height of its power as a banking and commercial centre due in no small part to the Medici family bank, which was the first to use debit and credit accounting, the abacus, regional branch networks, and insurance underwriting. This wealth helped pay for the mind-boggling grandeur of the Florence Cathedral. Today’s Vatican is a copy of this design.
The Medici’s became so powerful via fractional reserve banking that they bought three Papacies and controlled the purse-strings of most of the kings of Europe. Florence was where the money was so it attracted many of the great Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci. The Renaissance by this stage was starting to bring into European thinking many secular ideas about the nature of man that would one day lead to the development of Humanism and Atheism as dominant philosophies in Europe. The flow of Humanism into the European mind can be vividly seen in the 300 years of Renaissance art housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
In 1440AD Ivan “The Great” came to power in Moscow. By the time he died in 1505AD he had laid the foundations of the Russian empire by tripling the size of his possessions at the expense of the Mongolians and the Muslims. The vastness of Modern Russia, and the independence of the Russian Orthodox Church, is a legacy of this man’s rule.
In South America the Inca Empire was gaining power over neighbouring states. After having secured much of what today is central and northern Peru by 1471AD, they expanded their empire into Ecuador. With a new king, Tupac Inca, they then began to expand southward into Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Spiritual Milestones 1400-1500AD
Inquisitions and persecutions against anyone perceived to be a threat to Catholic orthodoxy continued unabated though the century, along with progoms against the Jews in various locations and times. The best known of these was the infamous Spanish Inquisition from 1478AD, which was instigated as a means of ensuring the Catholic orthodoxy of those who were converting from Islam and Judaism. There was also a large scale crusade against the Waldensians from 1483AD in France and Italy, and there was ongoing persecution of the English followers of John Wycliffe, known as the Lollards. In contrast to the intellectual suppression of the Papacy, 1455AD saw Gutenberg produce the first massed-produced Bible, which immediately led millions to see the faults in the Catholic Church for the first time. This was the tool that would eventually transform small scale challenges to the Papacy into continental rebellion in 1517AD.
On the other side of Europe the fire of reform that Wycliffe began was stirred to even greater heights. 1400AD Jan Hus was ordained a as priest and quickly began translating Wycliffe’s teachings into the Czech language. Hus demanded deep reform from the Catholic Church and the Czech people followed him to a man. However, within a few years Hus was executed for treason in 1414AD. Outraged at the treatment of their national hero, the Bohemian people instigated the first large scale territorial rebellion against the Catholic Church in Europe. All efforts to subdue the rebel Bohemians failed.
In 1457AD the national movement morphed into the Moravian Brethren Church, the first church to be founded in Europe that was completely independent church to the Catholics. This church created a liturgy in the Czech language, had lay people receive communion, used married priests, and eliminated indulgences and the idea of purgatory, and that justification in the eyes of God was through grace and faith alone. The Moravian Church became the first true Protestant church. It would also become, three hundred years later, the first Protestant church to engage in world missions. The Reformation had begun.
By 1500AD the world’s population had recovered from the ravages of the Black Death 150 years earlier. However, the percentage of Christians in the world was now less than a thousand years earlier! The once mighty Byzantine Orthodox Church had been vanquished by the Ottoman Turks, while Christian countries in the Balkans were falling like dominos. Catholic Europe was corrupt, arrogant and intolerant of new ideas. On the surface, things were looking decidedly grim for the future of European Christendom.