Brief History of the World Wiki
End of the Early Modern Age
Taj Mahal Early Modern.jpg
Period Early Modern Age
Dates 1453-1756 AD
Preceded by
Age of Absolutism
Followed by
Early Industrial Revolution
The king, my master, would be lord of all these seas and ports to the prejudice of his subjects.

–Thomas Roe, England's first ambassador to India

The Early Modern Age lasted from about 1453 AD until 1756 AD. In the broader geographic sweep of history, Early Modern spans the era between the European Age of Discovery, and the eve of the Seven Years' War, when India was irresistibly sucked into the worldwide conflict between British and French power.

Though many parts of the world had been dramatically affected by contact with Europeans, the more advanced civilisations such as Qing China, Shogunate Japan, and Mughal India were virtually untouched by such contamination of their traditional ways. In the next century and a half, change was to come thick and fast almost everywhere, as Europe consolidated her hegemony over the world. Before the mid-18th century, demand for oriental goods such as porcelain, silk, spices and tea remained the driving force behind European imperialism. China, Japan and India largely welcome European trade and cultural interaction, although both China and Japan imposed increasing trade restrictions on the unruly merchants. Nevertheless, none took the potentially crucial step of developing a strong navy, and had no sense of how vulnerable they were to attack from the sea. The Industrial Revolution would dramatically increased European demand for Asian raw materials, and give them the technological advantage to match their aggressively expansive mood.


Early Modern China[]


In the end the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) ran to seed. The tenth emperor, the Hongzhi Emperor (d. 1505), was probably the last able and conscientious rulers in the Confucian mode. He was followed by a long line of talentless, pampered, and often erratic emperors, who spent more than they should on grandiose building projects, while leaving the day-to-day running of the state in the hands of favourites. While the dynasty founder had noted the destructive role of the eunuch palace guard under the previous dynasties, the eunuchs gradually gained unprecedented power with a sort of parallel administration to the Confucian civil service, with each branch despising the other. By the reign of the Wanli Emperor (d. 1620), they had established almost complete domination of the imperial court, in part because the Confucians were themselves divided over the liberal views of Wang Yangming (d. 1529). The most important philosopher of the period, Wang Yangming argued that anyone, even commoners, could develop their own innate wisdom through experience and rational investigation; his disciples were opposed by a conservative reaction. Wealthy merchants emerged as yet another political faction, since the Ming did not regulate the economy as earlier dynasties had. This probably explains a series of counterproductive decrees restricting private maritime trading, as much as Chinese isolationism. Meanwhile, China’s long peace ended in the md-15th-century. In the north, the western Oirat Mongols under Altan Khan (d. 1582) were a constant nuisance, raiding the suburbs of Beijing itself in 1550. During the same period, Japan-based pirates repeatedly plundered China’s southeastern coast, while Japanese forces attempted to invade Korea in 1592, though Ming China was still strong enough to drive them off.

Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary and  the first European to enter the Forbidden City of Beijing in 1601.

The dynasty was already in decline when the first Europeans arrived seeking more than discovery and trade. The Portuguese first established trade with China in 1516, and after some initial hostilities gained consent from the Ming court to settle at Macau in 1557. They had little to offer that China wanted, except silver, but linked it directly to trade with the New World, and introduced new crops, such as potatoes, chillies, peanuts, maize, and tobacco. Jesuit missionaries followed, such as Matteo Ricci (d. 1610) who arrived in China in 1583, with the intention of seeking an audience with the emperor. It took eighteen years, but during that time he had become a fascinated student of China, learning the language, wearing Chinese style of dress, studying the Confucian classics, and writing in Chinese so as to bring Christian truth to these very civilized infidels. Matteo Ricci became the first European to enter the Forbidden City in 1601 when invited by the Wanli Emperor, who sought his services. Besides the mechanical toys and clocks which he brought as gifts, his scientific and astronomical learning introduced the findings of European exploration to China, and corrected the Chinese calendar, which was of great importance, for the emperor’s sacrifices depended on accurate dating. Ricci's example established a strong and sympathetic Jesuit presence in China which lasted a century or so. The Jesuits provided the first reliable reports of this ancient civilization, and Europe was greatly impressed.  Chinese rationalism chimed perfectly with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Chinese style was imitated in the Chinoiserie which becomes the fashion in European furniture, interior decoration, and garden design. And the Chinese secret of porcelain was desperately sought by European potters, in a race won in 1709 by Meissen near Dresden, but with more commercial success by Delft in the Netherlands; porcelain thus acquired popular European name, as delftware. From the Jesuits, the Chinese also learnt to cast heavy cannon, a particularly useful art since the Ming needed any military advantages they could procure in the early-17th-century.

Qing empire circa 1820.jpg

Ming China was now threatened from the north by a people living in Manchuria, the region north of Korea, which had never been officially included within China. Its inhabitants, barbarians to the Chinese, were racially closer to their western neighbours, the Mongols, but had long been somewhat sinicized; ancestors of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). Manchuria emerged as a powerful, unified state under their chieftain Nurhaci (d. 1626) and repeatedly raided within the Great Wall, even threatening Beijing in 1629 and 1638. The way was opened to them in the 1640s, when the Chinese economy took a nosedive. At roughly the same time, Spain and Japan pulled silver from international trade; Philip IV of Spain was cracking down on illegal smuggling from the Americas, while Tokugawa Japan shut down almost all its foreign trade, Silver was China's currency, because paper-money was no longer trusted after repeatedly causing hyperinflation, and the sudden stop caused massive inflation, exacerbated by the wealthy hording their reserves. For peasants this meant economic disaster, since they paid taxes in silver while conducting local trade in copper. As if things couldn't get any worse, the Little Ice Age, that brought drought in the summer and extreme cold in the winter, devastated agriculture, which was still recovering from the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, the deadliest earthquake in recorded history; along with killing almost a million people, it destroyed irrigation and flood-control systems. The central government, starved of resources, could do very little to mitigate the effects of these calamities; the Ming emperors had always been more financially restrained than previous dynasties, because taxation was generally light. The Chinese military, caught between fruitless efforts to defeat the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces, essentially fell apart. An unpaid army units on the Yellow River mutinied under a peasant soldier named Li Zicheng, and marched on Beijing, which fell n 1644 without much of a fight. The last Ming emperor hanged himself in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City, rather than be captured. On hearing about the fate of the capital and an army of Li Zicheng marching towards him, the Ming general on the pivotal northeastern pass of the Great Wall weighed his options and decided to ally with the Manchu in the hope they would put down the rebellion. Together, the two armies defeated Li Zicheng at the Battle of Shanhai Pass (May 1644), and entered Beijing two week later. Despite the loss of the capital and the death of the emperor, the Ming were not yet totally conquered. There were several strongholds of Ming resistance in the south, but their forces were divided, loyal to different pretenders to the Ming throne. Each bastion was individually picked-off by the Manchu, until the last pretender died in 1662, though Ming loyalists held out on Taiwan until 1683.

The Kangxi Emperor, whose reign of 61 years makes him the longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history. It brought about long-term stability and relative wealth after years of war and chaos, which lasted for several generations after his death.

Founded by the Manchus, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), meaning "pure", was the second conquest dynasty to rule the territory of China proper, and the last imperial dynasty in China. Like the Mongol Yuan Dynasty before them, once ensconced in the Forbidden City, the Manchu found themselves in charge of a civilisation whose government they had defeated, but whose cultural power far exceeded their own. The results were quite contradictory. On the one hand, the Qing rulers took great pains to show familiarity and respect for traditional Han Chinese culture, in order to win the allegiance of high officials and cultural figures. The Manchu had imitated the Chinese bureaucratic structures and institutions at their own capital of Mukden, and the Confucian elites found it possible to cooperate with their conquerors, needing to change little in their ways, except to conform to the Manchu practice of shaving part of the head and leaving a long pigtail (or queue) hanging down behind. Initially this policy was an aid in distinguishing friend from foe during the conquest, and then as a test of loyalty to the new regime. On the other hand, the emperors enforced strict rules of social separation between the Han and Manchu. From the start, the central government was characterized by a system of dual appointments by which each position had a Han Chinese and a Manchu assigned to it. They continued to rise Han Chinese as high officials in the civil service, as generals, and as provincial governess who did the substantive work, while appointing a Manchu colleague to ensure Han loyalty to the regime. The distinction extended to their court costumes, with Manchu officials distinguished by garments with a circular emblem, whereas Hans wore a square emblem. Qing China flourished under three emperors who ruled for a total of 135 years: Kangxi (1661-1722), Yongzheng (1722-35), and Qianlong (1735-96). The threat from the north had been neutralised by incorporating the Qing homeland into China, as well as that of the Mongols, whom they had absorbed prior to conquering China. Further north, another new historical chapter opened when the Qing fought a series of intermittent skirmishes with Tsarist Russia, culminating in the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), which gave the Amur River Valley to China and opened-up trade links; the first treaty between Russia and China. At its peak extent, the Qing Dynasty ruled the fifth largest empires ever by area, had the largest economy in the world, and more than one-third of the world's population. Between 1700 and 1850, the Chinese population tripled from around 150 million to 450 million people. One explanation was the spread of New World crops, which helped to sustain the people during shortages of rice or wheat, and could be grown in more barren regions. Unlike Europe, where population growth was greatest in the cities, in China the greatest growth was in the borderlands, where farmers cleared large tracts of forests and marshlands. The efforts from the beginning of the Manchu rulers to become assimilated into Chinese culture bred strongly conservative political and cultural attitudes. This shift was reflected in an increased demand for purity in women with men refusing to accept widows as their brides, a general turn against vernacular novels which were deemed subversive, and a great period of cataloging and commenting upon the traditions of the past such as the Kangxi Dictionary (the largest compilation of Chinese characters to date) or the Quan Tangshi (an anthology of Tang poetry). Moreover, by adopting the Ming form of government, the Qing inherited its fundamental weakness; an inability to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

The port of Canton n 1850.

This great empire, in its wealth and sophistication, was now of great interest to Europe. In Chinese tradition, people from outside the empire were classed together as one group; barbarians. If they were allowed into China, it was for one purpose only; to bring tribute to the emperor. By complying with local customs, the Jesuits had disarmed the Chinese in their traditional distrust of foreign ways. But the Jesuits were followed by other Europeans, including unruly merchants. In 1686, the Kangxi Emperor (d. 1722), on a tour of the southern provinces, foresaw trouble upon discovering how many westerners were "Wandering at will over China". In 1715, all Christian missionaries were effectively expelled from China, after a quarrel between Jesuits and Franciscans over Christian doctrine; the Chinese Rites Controversy. His grandson, the Qianlong Emperor (d. 1796), went further, establishing the Canton System in 1757; the single port of Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) was the only permitted avenue of Western trade into China, while Chinese merchants dealing with foreign trade had to act through a government intermediary. By then, it seems starkly apparent that something had gone wrong with Chinese innovation. For all her early technological triumphs, China never arrived at a mastery of them which could enable her to resist Western intervention. Gunpowder is the most famous example; the Chinese had it at least four hundred years before Europe, but could not make heavy cannons as good as European craftsmen. Chinese sailors had long had the use of the stern-post rudder, compass, and grid maps, but they were only briefly maritime explorers. Despite printing, the mass of Chinese remained illiterate down to the 20th-century. The 2nd-century Han Dynasty made extraordinary mechanical devices, but the Jesuits brought with them clocks far superior to the Chinese. The list of important Chinese inventions could be much lengthened, by coal and hydraulics for example, but the point is clear. It was rooted in a profoundly conservative social system, in which the man most esteemed was the official or landowner, not the skilled craftsman, soldier, merchant, or technician. Pride in a great cultural tradition continued to make it very hard to recognize its inadequacies and learn from foreigners. Even peace and prosperity had a price, for they brought faster population growth; another problem to upset stability. Meanwhile, prosperous and self-confident Europeans, masters of the oceans, were unwilling to go to any length to trade with China

Early Modern Japan[]


The final century of the Muromachi Shogunate (1338-1573) was one of turmoil, with the Shōguns in Kyōto wielding virtually no authority, and regional warlords (daimyōs) struggled to carve for themselves the biggest piece of a fractured Japan. Amid this anarchy, a Chinese junk ship was blown off-course and landed on the southern tip of Kyushu island in 1543. The three Portuguese traders on board were the first Europeans to set foot in Japan. This accidental visit brought other Europeans, who were given permission to trade by Japanese regional daimyōs. European goods such as glassware, tobacco, clocks, and especially firearms were welcomed in Japan. Along with merchants came Christian missionaries, especially the Jesuits. The most important was the Spaniard, Francis Xavier (d. 1552), who reached Japan in 1549. There turned out to be a natural affinity between the Japanese ruling class and the Jesuits; an intensely hierarchical order, valuing obedience and honour, and applying to spiritual campaigns the ideals of a warrior caste. When Xavier sailed away from Japan, after two year, he left behind about 1,000 converts. He was fortunate that his visit Japan coincided with the rise to power of a warlord, Oda Nobunaga (d. 1582), who resents the local influence of Buddhism and sought greater trade with Europeans. He bought and then copied European artillery and handheld weapons for his army, and successfully adapted these game changers to Japanese warfare, to unify Japan after a century of chaos. By the mid-16th-century, a number of daimyōs had become powerful enough either to overthrow the Ashikaga Shōgunate altogether. As daimyō of a small territory in south-central Japan, Nobunaga burst onto the scene suddenly at the Battle of Okehazama (May 1560), defeating one such attempt to march on the capital by the Magawa clan. Though heavily outnumbered, his well-disciplined and well-equipped army was able to spring a surprise encirclement of the enemy. By 1568, Nobunaga was strong enough to contest control of Kyōto with a western clan, the Myoshi, each using rival claimants for Shōgun. Nobunaga managed to outmanoeuvre his rival and installed a puppet Shōgun in the capital, only to drive him out five years later for conspiring with his enemies; thus bringing an end to the Ashikaga Shogunate which had reigned for two-and-a-half centuries. Nobunaga continued to expand his territory with notable ruthlessness and brutality. It was not just rival daimyōs who suffered under his ambition: from 1576, all weapons held by the peasantry were confiscated in the so-called "sword hunts"; while many Buddhist temples, rich and powerful institutions at the time, were destroyed, most notoriously the Enryaku-ji monastery near Kyōto. In 1579, now in control of all central Japan, Nobunaga established a new headquarters at the magnificent Azuchi Castle, outside the capital on the shore of Lake Biwa. However, three years later, Nobunaga, a man with innumerable enemies, was betrayed by one of his vassals; surrounded in Kyōto, he had no other choice but to commit Seppuku. His death was swiftly avenged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1582-98), a humbly born foot soldier who had risen through the ranks to become Nobunaga’s foremost general and ultimately his successor. Hideyoshi took up the torch of unification, succeeding over eight years in taking control of Japan, soon after defeating his last formidable rival, the Hojo clan, in 1590. In his later years, Hideyoshi became increasingly cruel and megalomaniacal, invading Korea twice in 1592 and '97, which failed amid much bloodshed; the war cost the Ming China a fortune and contributed to its ultimate collapse in 1644. However, a reunited Japan was not yet secure. On his deathbed, Hideyoshi entrusted a group of the five most powerful lords with safeguarding the succession of his infant son. These men almost immediately began vying for supremacy, then condemning one another, and finally fighting openly, culminating in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Tokugawa Ieyasu (d. 1616) was victorious, and three years later, achieved the status which had eluded his two predecessors; the emperor named him Shōgun.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate

Breaking centuries of tradition, Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to locate his government in the eastern city of Edo (present day Tokyo), although Kyōto remained the de jure capital as the seat of the emperor. During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1867), the emperor passed even further into the wings of Japanese politics and was firmly kept there. The quid pro quo provided by the Shōgun was peace, stability, and the assurance of financial support for the imperial court. Much of this order can be attributed to a rigid and ruthlessly effective system called Sankin Kōtai, which avoided the problems that had plagued earlier Japanese regimes and indeed European feudalism; great nobles (daimyōs) building up power bases in their own regions, and undermining the authority of the monarch (Shōgun). The distinguishing feature was that all nobles were required to spend alternate years in Tokyo. When the daimyō returned to administer their home provinces, their wives and children remained, as effectively hostages of the Shōgun. The stark reality of the situation was softened somewhat by the pleasure-loving urban life of Tokyo. The high costs of travelling back and forth with sufficiently large retinues, and maintaining residences in the capital and the provinces, further eroded the finances and ambitions of potentially rebellious vassals of the Shōgun. The Shogunate went to great lengths to suppress social unrest. Mobility between the four social classes (Samurai, merchant, artisan, and peasant) was officially frozen, and punishments could be harsh or even deadly for the most minor offenses. Having acquired a taste for absolute control, the Shōgun realised that foreign influence could be a potential danger. The early encouragement of the Christianity, as a counterbalance to the Buddhists, was reversed; Christianity has always had great subversive potential, and once this was grasped, a savage persecution began with the thoroughness of the Inquisition. In 1612, all missionaries were ordered to leave Japan, while in 1632, ffty-five victims were crucified upside down on a beach to be drowned by the incoming tide. After the Christian-led Shimabara Rebellion of 1638, the religion was completely outlawed. With the same intention of avoiding foreign contamination, the Sakoku ("closed country") isolationist policy was implemented from 1638. under which Japanese people were not allowed to travel abroad, return from overseas, or build ocean-going vessels. All Westerners were expelled, except the Protestant Dutch, who were confined to a single trading post on an island in Nagasaki harbour. The Shōguns found the Protestantism less inclined to evangelizing than Catholicism, and may have allowed the British stay as well, had not the Dutch convinced them that Britain was a Catholic country. Korea was the only other country Japan had diplomatic and cultural exchange with.

An early depiction of Izumo no Okuni, the originator of Kabuki theater. She was born near a Shinto shrine, where her father was a blacksmith. Known for her skill at dance, as well as her beauty, she became a Shinto priestess, and was sent to Kyoto to perform sacred dances and songs. Ignoring a call to return home, she formed a troup and began performing dances, songs, and mimes in comic playlets for ordinary people in order to make money. Their performances were eccentric and indiscreet, while the response of their audience wildly enthusiastic. Okuni was asked to perform before the Imperial Court, and, in the wake of this success, rival troupes quickly formed. Thus Kabuki was born.

In broad terms this two-centuries of isolationissm hampered Japan’s development, but at a local level the Tokugawa period saw rapid economic, urban, and cultural growth. In the peace and stability, Japan's population doubled to thirty million. The Shogunate built roads, eliminated tolls, and standardized weights and coinage, benefiting the merchants and artisans of the cities. Japan's cities grew enormously; Tokyo's population topped one million, while Kyoto, a centre for the production of luxury goods, and Osaka, a centre for trade, each hovered around 400,000 for much of the period. With no major military engagements, many Samurai changed from warrior to government bureaucrat, while Confucianism was officially encouraged with its emphasis on hierarchy and the status quo, and literacy increased significantly. By the end of the period, more than 200 of the 276 distrcts had established schools, and over 40% of Japanese boys and 15% of the girls had some literacy; perhaps the world's highest rate at the time. The high nobility in Tokyo and Kyōto needed luxury goods and money-lenders providing business for merchants (shōnin), many of whom became fabulously wealthy. Indeed, the quasi-parasitical Samurai ruling class underwent a reduction in their share of the national income, at a time when the share of merchants and other producers were rising. Though they sat near the bottom of the social hierarchy, and were, for example, not allowed to wear silk, the merchants created their own culture. Kabuki theatre, flamboyant and more accessible than traditional Noh theatre, became widely popular. Other entertainments included Bunraku puppet-theatre, Haiku poetry, popular novels, Ukiyoe wood-block prints, and the pleasure quarters. This was the period when the first Geisha appeared. Cheaper and more accessible than high-ranking courtesans, they offered more than sex. entertaining their clients by dancing, singing, and playing music; some were renowned poets. In the settled conditions of the so-called "great peace", military skill declined. The Samurai now fought mere paper wars as bureaucrats, broken by little except the ceremonial parade in outdated armour which accompanied a lord’s progress to Tokyo. Only occasionally was the idealism of Bushidō code still put into practice, such as the famous revenge of the Forty-Seven Rōnin. Left leaderless after their lord's murder in 1701, they spent two years carefully plotting to avenged their master's honour, and, after killing the man responsible, all forty-seven were then themselves obliged to commit Seppuku. When the Europeans came back in the 19th-century with up-to-date weapons, Japan’s military forces would be unable to match them technically. Yet the Japanese faced the West in a way very different from the subjects of Qing China or Moghul India.

Early Modern India[]


For two-and-a-half-centuries after the 1350, politics in India fragmented into several regional states, under either Muslim or Hindu dynasties. The Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526) showed no power to restore the former Islamic empire. It wasn't even the paramount power in northern India, competing with a separate sultanate in Bengal, and a Hindu coalition of Rajput rulers in Rajasthan. Only in the 16th-century was Islamic rule revived by a prince from outside, Babur of Kabul (1504-30), founder of the magnificent Mughal Empire (1504-1857). Babur is one of history's more endearing conquerors, despite his cruelty and duplicity; generous, hardy, intelligent, courageous, and sensitive. He left a remarkable diary that vividly described his triumphs and his sorrows throughout his life. On his father’s side Babur descended from the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur, and on his mother’s from Genghis Khan himself, formidable advantages and a source of inspiration to a young man schooled in adversity. In his youth, he was one among many impoverished Timurid princes, fighting one another for small fragments of the great man's empire. There can have been few monarchs who, like Babur, conquered a city of the importance of Samarkand at the age of fourteen. He was ousted almost as quickly, but his throneless times came to an end in 1504, when at the age of twenty-one he conquered Kabul (modern-day Afghanistan). With help from the powerful Persian Safavid Dynasty, he made a triumphant reentry into Samarkand in 1511, but lost it again three years later to a formidable Uzbek rival. Babur now resigned all hopes of recovering his ancestral domains, and instead sought his fortune in India. His reputation steadily grew from a series of profitable raids beyond the Khyber Pass into the Punjab. By 1525, Babur was able to assemble a 12,000-strong army, complete with artillery and matchlock rifles, probably acquired from the Safavids, who had been forced to rapidly adopt gunpowder weaponry to meet the threat of the Ottoman Turks to their west. Babur marched on the Delhi Sultanate, and its fate was decided at the Battle of Panipat (April 1526). Babur was heavily outnumbered, perhaps as much as four to one, but his tactics and weaponty won the day. He took-up a prepared defensive position, using carts to form a barricade in front of his artillery; a device pioneered by the Hussites of Bohemia a century earlier. The Sultan of Delhi order almost all his elephants and troops to attack head-on, sure his numbers would decide the day. However, these were some of the first cannons seen on the subcontinent, and sent the elephants into a frenzy. With any semblance of order lost, Babur boxed in the enemy with his cavalry, while riflemen and archers used the carts for extra elevation with devastating effect. The Sultan of Delhi was slain and his army routed. Delhi was now under Babur's control, and another impressive victory using similar tactics at the Battle of Khanwa (1527) against the Rajputs, who territories became vassals of the growing Mughal Empire. For the next three years, Babur roamed around with his army. The result was an empire which in 1530, the year of his death, stretched from Kabul to Bengal. Babur’s body, significantly, was taken as he directed to Kabul, where it was buried in his favourite garden with no roof over his tomb, in the place he had always thought of as home.

Late 16th century portrait of Akbar the Great by Manohar

The reign of Babur’s son, troubled by his own inadequacy and by a half-brothers eager to exploit the Timurid tradition of divided inheritance, showed that the security of Babur’s empire could not be taken for granted. For five years of his reign, he was driven from Delhi, but recovered his throne almost unopposed just before his death in 1555. His thirteen-year-old son Akbar the Great (1556-1605), inheriting just six months after the return to Delhi, would seem have little chance of holding onto India. Yet he was to build an empire that won the awed respect of Europeans, who had appeared on the west coast, and called him "the Great Mughal". Akbar reigned for almost half a century, just overlapping at each end the reign of his contemporary, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and some historians have compared their roles. He had many kingly qualities. As a boy, Akbar preferred riding, hunting, and fighting to lessons; as a consequence, uniquely among the Mughal rulers, he was almost illiterate. Yet he possessed a considerable natural intellect, a strong personality, but a willingness to listen to the arguments before taking his decisions. He was a man of culture and learning, and courage to the point of folly. In his early reign, the fragile empire was skilfully held together by the able statesman, Bairam Khan, with young king as his most attentive pupil. Among Akbar's first acts on reaching maturity was to marry a Rajput princess, who was, of course, a Hindu. To signal that his intention of ruling in a new way the two religious communities of India, Muslim and Hindu, his new wife was permitted to freely practice the rites of her own religion; an unprecedented act for a Muslim ruler. She became the mother of his heir, Jahangir, and her Rajput relatives were made members of his court. They were treated on par with his Muslim follower for the most part, with the Rajput soldiers and generals fighting for the Mughal army under Akbar; though the last Rajput Raja held out until 1583. And Akbar carried his religious policy further. In 1563, he abolished a tax levied on pilgrims to Hindu and Jain shrines. The next year, he put an end to a much more hallowed source of revenue, the Jizya (tax on non-Muslims), which the Qur'an itself stipulates shall be levied in return for Muslim protection. He also discouraged the slaughter of cows out of respect for Hindu custom, and prohibited the killing of any animals on the holy days of Jainism. Akbar even invited the Portuguese to send Christian missionaries to his court, and three Jesuits duly arrived in 1580, who were allowed to construct a church at Agra; though they were disappointed in their long-indulged hope of his conversion.


At the same time, Akbar steadily extended the boundaries of his empire, rebuilding the unity of northern India. A cunning general, Akbar's normal way of life was to move around with a large army, holding court in a splendid camp laid out like a capital city but composed entirely of tents. In 1573, he conquered Gujarat, the area that dominated India’s trade with western Asia. He then turned east, subjugating Bengal in 1576. Toward the end of his reign, he embarked on a fresh round of conquests, in the north adding Kandahār (Afghanistan) in 1595 and as far south as the Godavari River by 1601. Akbar's success as an empire builder was as much a result of diplomacy as warfare. Signing a treaty with Akbar involved presenting a wife for his harem; as his empire grew, so did his harem, eventually numbering around three-hundred. And their relatives, Hindu or Muslim, usually prospered in Akbar’s service. At the same time, he showed no mercy to those who refused to submit, most notoriously in massacres at Panipat and Chittorgarh. In governing his vast empire, Akbar was less an innovator than a carefully reorganiser of the institutions he inherited. The empire was subdivided into fifteen provinces, each with a military governor for a limited term, and a separate civil administrator to supervise tax collection; thus establishing checks and balances to prevented the emergence of regional warlords. They had the primary function of providing soldiers as needed and raising the tax revenue, now assessed on an empire-wide and more flexible taxation system that varied with local circumstances; a system devised by a Hindu finance minister. The Mughals also built an extensive road network, created an empire-wide uniform currency, and improved living standards. By his death, Akbar the Great had tripled in size and wealth of the Mughal Empire, whose influence extended over the entire subcontinent in a way not seen since the time of Asoka. Estimates suggest that by 1700, the India economy was the largest in the world, larger than both Qing China and the entirety of Western Europe.

Badshahi Mosque, in Lahore, Pakistan was the last of the imperial mosques built by the Mughals, and the largest mosque in the world for 313 years.

Akbar was succeeded by his eldest and only surviving son, Jahangir (d. 1627). Two other sons had died of drink, and Jahangir's effectiveness as a ruler was limited by his own addiction to both alcohol and opium. But the empire was now stable enough for him to preside over it for twenty-two years without much danger of upheaval. For all his faults, though, Jahangir was a notable promoter of the arts, above all of painting. Under his keen eye the imperial studio produced work of finely detailed realism and exceptional beauty. During his son's reign, Shah Jahan (d. 1666), some of the most vivid and permanent reminders of the Mughals’ glory were constructed. In addition to the Taj Mahal (1653), the world's most famous and beautiful mausoleum, he oversaw the construction of Delhi's mighty Red Fort and converted the Agra Fort into a palace that would later become his prison. He also began the piecemeal conquest of the Deccan sultanates. Below the level of the court, the picture of Mughal India was becoming less attractive. Local officials had to raise more and more money to support not only these lavish building projects and campaigns, but the élites who were essentially parasitic on the producing economy; virtually nothing was productively invested. The rise of rural banditry is a telling symptom of the resistance these exactions provoked. Shah Jahan’s rapacious demands probably did the empire less damage than the religious enthusiasm of his son Aurangzeb. In 1658, Shah Jahan fell ill, and appointed his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, as his regent, which swiftly incurred the enmity of his three brothers. The resulting civil war ultimately became a ideological struggle between Dara championing the syncretistic Hindu-Muslim culture, and his brother Aurangzeb supporting Islamic orthodoxy. Aurangzeb defeated Dara in 1659 and had him executed; although Shah Jahan recovered from his illness, he was declared incapable of ruling and spent the rest of his life imprisoned. Aurangzeb (1658-1707) combined disastrously absolute power, distrust of his subordinates, and a narrow religiosity. That he did not enjoy a luxurious life and reduced the expenses of his court is not much of an offsetting item in the account. As a religious and political conservative, he abandoned a century of pluralism and religious tolerance, and instead endeavoured to impose strict Islamic rule on India, including prohibiting behaviour such as music, gambling, fornication, and consumption of alcohol and narcotic. While the imperial bureaucracy continued to employ a great many Hindus, conversion became more and more necessary for advancement. At the same time, Aurangzeb was obsessed with extending Mughal rule into the difficult terrain of southern India. To fund his wars, he reimposed the Jizya poll tax on non-Muslims, alienating Hindu merchants and peasants. During his reign, the empire reached its greatest extent, ruling over nearly all of the subcontinent, but this was balanced by a series of major revolts. While brutally suppressing them, Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many Hindu temples that were accused of being centres of plots against the state, as well as executing a number of local rulers, including the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur. By his death in 1707, he was still imposing heavy taxes to fund permanent and futile wars to hold onto southern India and to suppress revolts in many parts of the empire. Moreover, Aurangzeb died without nominating an heir, and there followed a grave crisis for the Mughal dynasty, as sons again disputed the succession; in 1719 alone, four emperors successively ascended the throne. The empire almost at once began to break-up, and vast tracts of territory passed to independent regional kingdoms, some founded by provincial governors and others based around ethnic and religious groupings. Another significant blow came in 1739, when Delhi was sacked by a Persian conqueror in the classic mould of Genghis Khan or Timur.

Nader Shah, to descibe him as a brilliant but war-loving mercenary is something of an understatement.

Safavid Persia (1501-1722) reached its peak under Shah Abbas (d. 1629), who oversaw a spectacular flowering of Persian culture and built a new capital at Isfahan whose beauty and luxury astounded European visitors. Although the Safavid empire continued for almost a century after his death, it was a period of political infighting and dynastic feuding. In 1722, Afghan rebels besieged and took Isfahan, slaughtering thousands and sparing only the architectural wonders. Yet the Safavids were briefly rescued from oblivion by a soldier of fortune, Nader Shah (d. 1747), who shattered the Afghans in 1729. He ruled Persia in the name of the Safavids, until he grew tired of the pretence and had himself crowned in 1736, thus ending the dynasty once and for all. History regards him as a little more than a brilliant warlord who idolized Genghis Khan and Timur, and sought to imitated their military prowess; and occasionally their cruelty. The obvious weakness of the Mughal Empire invited Nādir Shah’s descent upon the plains of northern India for plunder and spoil. In 1737, he captured Kabul, where Akbar had been brought up. Then he marched on Delhi, defeating the Mughals at the Battle of Karnal (February 1739), and taking the emperor prisoner. As Nādir rode through the conquered city, some Indian civilians threw stones at him. and a brutal sack of the city ensued, that left some 30,000 dead. The conqueror soon left Delhi laden with booty, including the famous jewelled Peacock Throne that was the seat of the Mughal emperors of India; it is said that the plunder allowed him to stop taxation in Persia for three years. Nādir Shah’s constant warring rapidly wore out the Persia, and his assassination in 1747 brought a welcome if temporary respite, soon followed by the ineffectual Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925). Meanwhile, the Persian raid paralyzed the Mughal court, and a precipitous decline set-in. Mughal "emperors" continued to rule right up until the Indian Mutiny of 1857, but they were emperors without an empire. The most significant successor states was the Maratha Empire (1674-1818) of the western Deccan, founded and consolidated by Shivaji (d. 1680) who gathered popular support by championing the Hindu cause. At its peak, the empire covered a third of the subcontinent, but expansion came to an abrupt halt in 1761 against a much more formidable foe than the Muslims; the European.


Throughout the the Mughal period, Europeans had gradually established themselves as a strong presence around the coasts of India. The process had begun when the Portuguese captain Vasco da Gama arrived on the coast of modern-day Kerala at the end of the 15th-century. Within a few years his countrymen had installed themselves as aggressively armed traders. Attempts to dislodge them failed in the troubled years following Babur’s death, and during the late-16th-century the Portuguese moved around to found new posts in the Bay of Bengal. They made the running for Europeans in India for a long time. Yet the Portuguese were liable to attract the hostility of good Muslims, because they brought with them pictures of Christ, Mary and the saints, which smacked of idolatry. Protestants were to prove less irritating to religious feeling when they arrived. In 1612, the first emissary of the British East India Company arrived at Jahangir’s court at Agra; the first contact between two countries whose historical destinies were to be entwined so long and with such enormous effect for them both. The contrast at that time between the two realms is fascinating: the Mughal Empire was one of the most powerful in the world and their court one of the most sumptuous, while England was barely a great power even in Europe and crippled by debt. Jahangir was contemptuous of the gifts sent to him by King James I. Yet the future of India lay with his subjects. British trading posts were established at Surat in Gujarat in 1613, at Madras in 1639, Mumbai in 1668, and Calcutta in 1690. For the most part, the Mughals welcomed European trade, profiting from the export of cotton, indigo, silk, sugar, saltpetre (for gunpowder), and of course spices. The Europeans brought with them chillies and potatoes from the Americas, which have become an integral part of Indian cuisine. And they were strong enough to discourage overly-aggressive trading, giving the British a bloody nose in Child's War (1686–90). By 1672, the French had also established themselves at Pondicherry, an enclave they held even after the British departed; further trading posts were added at Chandernagore in 1690, and Karaikal in 1739. The stage was set for more than a century of rivalry between the British and French for control of Indian trade. Perhaps responsibility for the eventual triumph of Europeans in India lies with the Mughals, for not scotching the serpent in the egg. Strikingly, it seems they never envisaged the building of a navy, a weapon used with modest success by the Ottomans. With the decline and fragmentation of the Mughal Empire after 1707, we are into the era in which India was increasingly caught up in events not of her own making. The transformation of the British from traders to conquerors began almost by accident as an offshoot of two European wars; the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) and Seven Years' War.

Early Modern Africa[]


Much of the reason why Africa has long been overlooked as a continent were civilisation developed, is because the diverse variety of civilised development there during the Middle Ages went into sharp decline as the world transitioned into the Modern Age. One factor in this was that African civilisations with any semblance of wealth would soon attract predators, and be quickly overwhelmed by armies with artillery and muskets. Another was the disruption to long-establish overland trade that was caused by the new maritime trade. In West Africa, a long series of empires had emerged based on the lucrative trans-Saharan trade. The last of these, the Songhai Empire (1464–1591), was destroyed by the Muslim Moroccans, and with its fall no more West African trade based empire arose to take its place. Meanwhile, the Swahili city-states of the East African were similarly conquered, this time by the Portuguese; the European model was not to share Indian Ocean Trade, but to control it. The ports were either directly taken over such as Kilwa, Mombasa, Mozambique, and Malindi, or driven out of business. Neither did Africans particularly benefit from acting as middle-man for the Europeans in the African slave trade. The slave trade caused a dramatic increase in inter-tribal warfare, as Africans competed to act as the middle-man for the Europeans. Whenever Africans tried to monopolise the trade and raise prices, Europeans tended to move elsewhere. Alternatively they would become more directly involved, such as the Portuguese conquest of Angola in 1575; the first European colony on the West African coast. Contact with Europeans also had a number of other effects. Since slaves were predominantly male, this caused a gender imbalance on the continent and an increase in the practice of polygamy. Somewhat ironically, the population of Africa actually increased during the Modern Age, despite some 10 and 12 million people being transported to the Americas against their will, because Africans gained access to the Columbian Exchange; maize, yams, peanuts and other crops. Meanwhile many African elites on the West coast converted to Christianity in order to attract slave traders, similar to the way people converted to Islam to attack Muslim merchants during the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, even as late as the 1870s, European states still directly controlled only 10% of the African continent, with all their territories located near the coast. This would dramatic change during the era of New Imperialism.