Brief History of the World Wiki
End of the Middle Ages
Period Late Middle Ages
Dates 1000-1453 AD
Preceded by
Crisis of the Late Middle Ages
Followed by
Early Age of Discovery
Stories don't end. They just turn into new beginnings.

–Lindsay Eagar

The Late Middle Ages lasted from roughly 1000 AD until 1453 AD. In the broader sweep of world history, "post-classical period" is commonly preferred by historians, instead of Middle Ages, running from about 476 to 1453. The year 1000 is merely a rough mid-point between the early post-classical period and late. The period ends on the eve of the European Age of Discovery; with it, the age of true world history was beginning.

Europeans of the late-15th-century knew were belonged to a particular civilization and were proud of it. They were not unique in this; the same was true of men in other parts of the world, which was full of distinctive, self-conscious and largely independent cultures. In China, after nearly a century of Mongol Yuan rule, the ethnic Chinese threw off the Mongol yoke with the founding of the Ming Dynasty, who ushered in a long period of stability, prosperity, flourishing of art and culture, and a brief Chinese Age of Discovery with voyages throughout the Indian Ocean that reached as far as east Africa. In Japan, while the emperor and high nobles immersed themselves in the courtly pleasures and intrigues of Kyōto, out in the real world of the provinces, powerful military forces were developing; the Samurai. When Japan emerged from civil war in the late-12th-century, the emperor had been reduced to little more than a figureheads, marking the beginning of Japanese feudalism, characterised by regional warlords and the military rule of the Shoguns. In India from the late-10th-century, wave after wave of Muslim invaders began convulsing its north-western plains, eventually leading to the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206. The native religions fared differently; Buddhism declined on the subcontinent vanishing in many areas, while Hinduism survived and reinforced itself in areas not conquered by Muslims. A long series of sectarian atrocities have marred the thousand-year relationship between Islam and Hinduism, but Indian culture was also enriched by new elements, resulting in a flourishing population and corresponding expansion in urbanism, craft production and commerce.

European, Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian civilizations all lived independently long enough to leave ineradicable traces in the ground-plan of our world. Others meanwhile declined and disappeared, even if after spectacular flowerings. Indigenous civilizations in the isolated Americas are credited with many inventions: intensive agriculture, monumental architecture, mathematics, writing systems, astronomy, highly accurate calendars, medicine, fine arts, excellent metalworking, and complex theology. In cultivating the ancestors of tomatoes, maize, potatoes and squash into the crops we know today, the Inca, Aztecs, and their predecessors had unwittingly made a huge contribution to mankind, but their civilisations did not survive the fatal arrival of Christopher Columbus in the 1492. The continent of Africa too boasted a rich variety of civilised development during the Middle Ages, though it has long been overlooked outside Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. A succession of kingdoms in north-west Africa prospered on lucrative trans-Saharan trade. The Swahili city-states of the east coast were an important part of Indian Ocean trade stretching as far away as India and China. And plucky Ethiopia survived as an isolated Christian island surrounded by Muslim powers. Yet all dwindled as the European Age of Discovery disrupted long-standing trade-routes.

By about 1453 mankind was probably more diversified than ever before or since, thought the insulation of one civilization from another was never absolute; there was always some interaction of ideas going on. But the age of independent or nearly independent civilisations was coming to a close. The story of the economic integration of the globe is dominated by the astonishing success of one civilisation among many, that of Europe. It was with the modernisation of Europe that the Early Modern Age begins.


China in the Late Middle Ages[]

Kublai Khan, the fifth and last Great Khan of the Mongol Empire and first emperor of the Yuan China.

Despite its relative close geographical location, Song China was one of the last places the Mongols conquered. The Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) was formally proclaimed, when Kublai Khan, one of the grandsons of Genghis Khan, assumed the additional title of Emperor of China. In the preceding decades, the Mongols had conquered northern China, and the Southern Song Dynasty fell in 1279 after a protracted and bloody war; a non-Han Chinese dynasty ruled the whole of China for the first time in its history. Kublai Khan ruled over regions more extensive than any previous Chinese emperor. Even allowing for the fact that his authority in the western Mongol Empire was only nominal, he had under his direct control the whole of China down to the South China Sea, Mongolia, Tibet, Manchuria, and Korea.  Only one great prize frustrated him; two expeditions against Japan were costly disasters in 1274 and again in 1281. Following the previous Jin Dynasty, the Yuan capital was established at Beijing, severely damaged by Genghis Khan in 1215, but reconstructed as the winter capital, while a magnificent new summer capital was built 200 miles to the north at Shangdu; the "Xanadu" of Samuel Taylor Coleridge fame. In ruling China, Kublai Khan made a break with the old conservatism of the steppes, the distrust of civilization, and his followers slowly succumbed to Chinese culture. They were, after all, a tiny ruling elite in an ocean of Chinese subjects; they needed collaborators to survive. He even overcame his distaste for the Confusion scholar officials, and maintained the bureaucratic structure. For the first and only time in history, the Silk Road was controlled entirely by a single state, and lucrative overland trade between East and West flourished as never before, as did the maritime trade which had developed under the Song Dynasty. The Mongols also gave merchants, artisans, and craftworkers a more elevated status than under the Song, while encouraging internal trade with improved road and water communications, most notably the extension of the Grand Canal to Beijing. There was also a fair amount of cultural exchange. Kublai Khan and his successors employed significantly more foreigner in their administration than any Chinese emperor would, especially in regard to Muslim Persians, who introduced Middle Eastern mathematics, astronomy, medicine, cartography, clothing, and crops such as carrots, turnips, new varieties of lemons, eggplants, and melons. Aside from the ancient Roman embassies, the first recorded travels by Europeans to China date from this time, the best-known being the Venetian, Marco Polo (d. 1324), whose vivid account of Yuan China astounded Europe. Marco Polo spent 17-years in China, serving in various administrative roles and travelling extensively. Upon returning to Europe, he was captured by the Genoese at the Battle of Curzola (1298), and spent some time imprisoned, where he dictated his experiences to a cellmate; Il Milione (“The Million”) or The Travels of Marco Polo. Skeptics have long wondered if Marco Polo wrote his book based on hearsay, pointing to curious omissions such as the Great Wall, tea or foot binding, but most modern historians accept his account as accurate. He spoke no Chinese, only Mongolian, so his understanding of the people was understandably limited. Nevertheless, in the main the Yuan period represented a regression for China. Like the British in 19th-century India, the Mongols set-up social conventions to prevent their assimilation by their subjects, with the populace divided into four ranks, based on perceived loyalty to the Yuan rulers: the Mongols reserved for themselves almost all the key administrative and military positions; next, heritage from the Central Asian steppes was held in high regard; one rung below came the northern Chinese with whom the Mongols were most familiar; and the last group was the southern Chinese who had resisted longest. Rank had repercussions for both tax and advancement in the state bureaucracy. The populace of the southern China, which had prospered under the Song, now provided 80% of all tax revenue, yet were effectively barred from higher office. Local elites increasing turned from investng in free enterprise, to accumulating large estates at the expense of the peasantry, causing the economy to shrink dramatically. Yuan China began to crumble almost as soon as its founder, Kublai Khan, died in 1294. His grandson and successor, Temür Khan (d. 1307), contrived to keep order for a few years, but he was followed by a long line of short-reigning rulers, who struggled to balance the competing pro-Chinese and pro-Mongol interests that divided the government at all levels. For centuries China had known factionalism at court, usually fought through political means, but Mongol factionalism invariably broke out into violence. From the 1320s, China was beset by a series of disasters with unusually cold winters, famines, flooding, and plagues (including the Black Death), which all combined to bring hyper-inflation when the government tried to solve the problems by printing too much paper-money.

Hongwu Emperor, personal name Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. Zhu became only the second emperor after Liu Bang of Han to realised the ultimate rags-to-riches fairytale, rising from peasant origin to standing atop China alone and unchallenged.

In the mid-14th century, a fresh wave of rebellions and secret societies began to appear again, the telling symptom of a dynasty in decline. One of them, the Red Turban Movement, was led by Guo Zixing, a prominent member of the Buddhist secret society of the White Lotus, championing the cause of reinstating Han Chinese rule under the old Song Dynasty. Among its most prominent members was Zhu Yuanzhang (d. 1398). He was born into a desperately poor peasant family and orphaned in his youth, obliging him to join a Buddhist monastery, where he at least found food, shelter, and a rudimentary education. When the monastery was destroyed by a Mongol army suppressing the local rebellion, Zhu joined the Red Turbans, and soon gained a reputation as its most effective general. After Guo's death in 1355, Zhu took over as leader. His first major coup was capturing the city of Nanjing in 1356, a strategically located city on the Yangtze River, which he would later establish as the capital of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). There he began to establish a stable government, enlist the aid of many able advisors, and replaced the policy of Song restoration with his own personal ambitions to rule. Zhu cemented his power in the south by eliminating his rival rebel leaders. First to go was Chen Youliang, who was defeated at the Battle of Lake Poyang (1363). In one of the largest naval battles in military history, the MIng were outnumbered by perhaps three times, but luck and firepower sealed the outcome. This was firepower of the old sort, with fireship sent among the enemy fleet to scatter the line and set fire to ships. Next came Zhang Shicheng, whose defeat gained Zhu control of the entire Yangtze River. With the death that same year of Han Lin’er, who had claimed to be the legitimate heir to the Song line, Zhu was left the most powerful leader in China. In 1368, he marched north and seized the Yuan capital of Beijing. After chasing the remnants of the Mongol army back to Mongolia, he declared himself emperor with an appropriately glorious names; Hongwu Emperor (1368-98) meaning "vast military power", founder of the Ming Dynasty or "brilliant". His long reign established the governmental structure, policies, and tone that would characterise the entire dynasty. The new emperor proved a suspicious ruler and a strict disciplinarian. Departing from the Three Departments and Six Ministries system instituted since the T'ang Dynasty, the emperor abolished the three Department heads (Grand Secretariats), which had acted as a bureaucratic limit on an emperor’s power, and personally took charge of the Six Ministries. The emperor's role thus became more autocratic, but also the government’s sole coordinator of any significance and something of a bottleneck. From a humble background, the Hongwu Emperor harboured a special hatred against corrupt officials, and created a networks of secret agents throughout the empire. In general, officials were treated like prefects at an old-fashioned boarding school, with punishment by public caning for the slightest misdemeanors. It made for a well-behaved but unenterprising civil service, that would later prevented the Ming government from adapting to a rapidly changing world. In earlier dynasties, the eunuch palace guard had been responsible for a lot of court intrigue. The emperor forbade eunuchs from engaging in official affairs or learning to read. On the provincial level, the Ming took over the larger administrative divisions of the Mongols, with some minor adjustments their thirteen provinces were almost exactly the same as those in modern China. From a peasant background himself, the Hongwu Emperor was aware of how the peasantry had suffered under the Yuan, with wealthy landowners bribing officials to encroach on peasant's land or transfer the burden of taxation to the poor. An ambitious but pragmatic approach was taken to confiscating large estates, fragmenting, and redistributing to peasants, with new laws to prevent such abuses. Small independent farmers once again predominated in Chinese agriculture. When combined with repair of long-neglected irrigation systems, the results were huge economic and population growth. Over the course of the dynasty, the population doubled from 80 to 160 million.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years. Needless to say, the forbidden aspect derives from the controlled access to it, with only officials of certain ranks and invited ambassadors being permitted within its walls.

The Hongwu Emperor was ultimately succeeded by his fourth son, the vigorous Yongle Emperor (1402-1424), who ascended the throne after rising in rebellion against his nephew. Since his usurpation had alienated many in Nanjing, he established his capital at Beijing. At huge expense, Beijing was enlarged, essentially taking-on the layout of the city we see today, and surrounded by a 49-feet high city-walls measuring some 15 miles in total length. At its centre was a hugely ambitious imperial residence and administrative complex known now as the Forbidden City; the complex was continuously extended and restored until reaching its present impressive spread of 178 acres. Such was the city’s needs that the Grand Canal was deepened and widened so that grain ships could easily reach the capital. As Mongol raids continued periodically over the years, the Great Wall was also re-engineered and clad in brick, with the distinctive watchtowers added. The now-famous national monument is practically completely the work of the Ming Dynasty; when the Qing Dynasty took power and expanded the Chinese border northwards, the Wall became obsolete. The Mongols did briefly experience a resurgence under Taisun Khan (d. 1453), who besieged Beijing for 40-days, but the Great Wall provided ample warning and the city-walls stood firm, until the invaders withdrew back to the steppe.

Voyages of zheng he.jpg

Commerce and scientific innovation, which had flourished under the previous Song and Yuan dynasties, were less emphasized by the Ming. The Hongwu Emperor had imposed severe restrictions on merchants, believing agriculture should be the basis of the economy, but most of these policies were reversed by the liberal-minded Yongle Emperor. The Ming did not regulate the economy as earlier dynasties had; even the traditional state monopolies on salt and iron were relaxed, and other industries were privatized. Investment moved off the land and were poured into capitalist ventures. China began exporting goods around the world on an unprecedented scale, both along the Silk Road, and Indian Ocean Trade network. As part of his desire to expand Chinese influence throughout the known world, the Yongle Emperor entrusted his favoured eunuch admiral, Zheng He (d. 1433), to lead seven naval expeditions of unprecedented grandeur and scale; a Chinese Age of Discovery, two decades before Henry the Navigator first began Europe's equivalent. If Chinese chronicles are to be believe, some of the ships were the largest sail-powered wooden ships in human history. At various times between 1405 and 1433, Zheng He's fleets visited the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, Southeast Asia, India, the Persia Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and the eastern coasts of Africa, and returned to China with shiploads of exotic goods such as spices, ivory, rare woods, gems, and even a giraffe. But these voyages were diplomatic rather than commercial, designed not to gain control over trade, but to convince foreign rulers of Chinese power, to woo ambassadors to the imperial court with tribute, and to perpetuate the idea of the emperor as the universal ruler on earth. The Yongle Emperor's successors dropped anchor on China’s brief experiment with exploration. Unlike Europeans with their hunger for spices, the Chinese had no holy grail to pursue. After all, everyone wanted Chinese silks, fine porcelain, and other luxury goods, and foreigners were more than willing to take the time and trouble of visiting coastal China to procure them.

One of the best-loved exports of Ming China to an appreciative world market was its classical blue-and-white porcelain.

For a century or so after the Yongle Emperor, the stability of the Ming regime brought economic prosperity, which in turn, create a boom in the arts and culture. There were several developments in Chinese literature during the period, the most striking being the vernacular novel. Those with rudimentary education, such as merchants or women of wealthy families, became a large potential audience for literature. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (melodramatic tales interwoven with historical figures during the fall of the Han Dynasty), Water Margin (about a group of well-meaning bandits), Journey to the West (about a Buddhist monk who journeys to India), and later Dream of the Red Chamber (a semi-autobiographical tale of financial rise and moral decay), are generally acknowledged to be some of the pinnacles of Chinese fiction. As with Dante or Shakespeare in Europe, these four are touchstones to which Chinese literary culture has returned time and again to discover new relevance and fresh insight. Meanwhile, the first private newspaper was published in Beijing in 1582; by 1638 it had switched from using woodblock printing to movable type. Finally, space must be allowed for the ceramic and porcelain wares, which have come to symbolise the Ming Dynasty for many people today. The techniques were developed in earlier dynasties, but perfected to a new level of craftsmanship during this period. Although artists produced a wide range of pottery in various colours, it is the blue-on-white porcelain which was sold with unprecedented success across China and to an appreciative world market. The classic shapes and cobalt blue designs, often using foliage and landscape motifs, would be imitated around the world from Japan to Britain.

The Ming Dynasty, despite its early success, eventually began to suffer the age-old problems that had beset every other Chinese regime. The dynasty was already in decline when the first Europeans arrived seeking more than discovery and trade. By 1557, the Portuguese had established themselves at Macau. Ming China collapsed before the rebel leader Li Zicheng, and then an invasion by the semi-nomadic Manchu, who established their own dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China.

Japan in the Late Middle Ages[]

Taira no Kiyomori Sees Skulls in the Snowy Garden by 19th-century Japanee artish Yoshitoshi. Taira no Kiyomori was a general of the late Heian Period, and the first to establish the political dominance of the warrior ruling class, the Samurai.

During the Heian Period (794-1185), while the emperor and high nobles immersed themselves in the courtly pleasures and intrigues of Kyōto, out in the real world of the provinces, powerful military forces were developing. The rugged landscape and isolated valleys of Japan where local clan loyalties were strong, always worked against centralised rule. The Taika land reforms of the 7th-century, which were supposed to grant land equitably, were steadily whittled away by noblemen with influence at court, who accumulated vast estates (shoen) and tax exemptions as payment for carrying out their duties. These were effectively hereditary feudal fiefdoms, that inexorably grew as new land was brought under cultivation, or free peasantry was bullied out of their land. Burdened by excessive taxation and banditry, most needed little encouragement, preferring the greater security of working for landed aristocrats. Like the Catholic Church in feudal Europe, Buddhist monasteries formed part of this feudal elite, acting no less aggressively in acquiring new lands. The lessor provincial nobility, who managed these estates for absentee landlords in Kyōto, were increasingly left to their own devices, and recruited private armies to defend their territories or fight their rivals. This was the beginning of the Samurai (meaning "attendant"), the warrior-class grouped around warlords which would eventually take power and start the feudal period of Japan. Outstanding among these warlords were two clans, the Taira and Minamoto. Both were connected by blood to the imperial family, through a practice known as "dynastic shedding"; removing individuals from the dynastic lineage, because, with emperors having as many as 50 children, the royal family became too large and too costly to maintain. The two military clans were at varying times in political alliance with the central government, putting down rebellions, dealing with pirates, or subduing the more primitive people, the Ainu, who live beyond the northern border of the imperial territory. In one way this development occurred because the Japanese lived in an island-state where no foreign intruder was ever more than occasionally threatening. Amongst other things, this meant that there was no need for a national army which might have mastered the military clans. Meanwhile in Kyōto, the Fujiwara clan controlled the government until the reign of Emperor Go-Sanjō (1068–1073), the first emperor not born of a Fujiwara mother since the 9th-century. Determined to restore a strong personal rule, Go-Sanjō implemented reforms to curb Fujiwara influence, notably performing a land census to identify aristocratic estates that were not properly certified, and holding over them the threat of confiscation. He also created the new office of In-no-chō ("Cloistered Emperor") to fill the power vaccum by the decline of Fujiwara chief councillor. After only four years on the throne, Go-Sanjō abdicated, and became Cloistered Emperor or councillor for his successor; thus a revival of imperial family fortunes. The system worked for four generation, until a succession crisis within the imperial family in the mid-12th-century. The two factions enlisted warriors from the Minamoto and Taira, and eventually clashed openly in Kyōto in what is known as the Hōgen Disturbance (1156). The conflict was on a small scale, decided by a single night’s fighting in favour of the Taira clan, but marked a turning point in Japanese history; it demonstrated the inability of the imperial court to settle major differences without reliance on the power of the Samurai. The Heiji Disturbance (1160) was another outbreak in clan hostilities, and again the Minamoto clan were defeated. Two clashes and twice the Taira clan had prevailed, so that Taira no Kiyomori (d. 1181) and his son Taira no Tomomori (d. 1185) were now the most powerful men in Japan; for the Minamoto, though, it would be third time lucky.

Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192. This was the first fully-fledged military government in which the Shogun and Samurai elites were the de facto rulers of Japan.

For the next 20 years or so, the Taira clan based themselves in Kyōto, dominating the imperial court using the system perfected by the Fujiwara. Their high-handed manner, however, naturally provoked reaction. While the Taira clan fell prey to the many vices that lurked in the capital, the Minamoto quietly rebuilt their strength in the provinces. Finally, Minamoto no Yoritomo (d. 1199) invoked the claim of Prince Mochihito, an imperial prince passed-over for the throne by a Taira-born claimant, in order to rally eastern Japan in insurrection. The Genpei War (1180–1185) engulfed Japan in warfare on a scale theretofore unseen. The canny and unromantic leader of the Minamoto clan spent most of the five years at his coastal base of Kamakura, south of modern Tokyo, planning strategy, recruiting vassals from the military clans, and organising institutions of control and reward; the foundation for a new military government. He relied on his younger brothers and cousins - Yoshitsune, Noriyori, Yukiie, and Yorimasa - to carry the fight against the Taira clan. The Taira enjoyed early successes in the first years of the war, defeating the forces of Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito at the Battle of Uji (June 1180). In the face of defeat, Yorimasa performed an act which was to echo through the Samurai for centuries; he found a quiet place, wrote a quick poem about his tragic end, and committed Seppuku, ritual suicide. With the death of Prince Mochihito and another defeat at the Battle of Sunomata-gawa (August 1181), the Minamoto cause seemed lost. However, the Taira revenged themselves of the Buddhist monasteries which had offered support to the Minamoto, burning the great temples of Kofuku-ji and Todai-ji. There followed a year-long lull in the fighting, with Japan ravaged by famine. Many blamed the Taira for destroying the temples, while noting that the lands of the Minamoto did not suffer as badly. When the war resumed in the spring of 1183, the Taira marched into the Minamoto held Kiso Mountains, with an army conscripted from the lands surrounding Kyōto which were barely recovered from the famine. This Taira army, plagued by desertions, was ambushed and routed at the Battle of Kurikara (June 1183), clearing the way for an assault on Kyōto. The Taira no Tomomori fled Kyōto, with the child emperor in tow, for the clan's ancestral homeland on Shikoku Island, and three days later Minamoto forces led by Yoshinaka entered the capital. There followed a factional struggle between Yoritomo and Yoshinaka for leadership Minamoto clan leader, which allowed the Taira to regroup and rally their forces in the west. Yoshinaka was finally defeated and slain at the Battle of Awazu (February 1184), allowing Yoritomo to resume chasing down and defeating the Taira. The Taira were defeated at the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani (March 1184), though it took nearly a year before their main island-fortress of Yashima came under assault; Yoritomo needed ships against the superior Tara fleet, and time to win over clans in the west loyal to the Taira. In March 1185, Yoritomo's brother, Noriyori, launched a daring night-time naval assault on Yashima. Though only about 150 men made the crossing in a storm, Noriyori was able to fool the Taira into believing that a much large force was approaching from the south. They retreated inland, Yashima fortress was burned, and many more clans began switching to the Minamoto cause. The Genpei War came to an end one month later, with the Battle of Dan-no-ura (April 1185), one of the most famous battles in Japanese history. The Genpei War came to an end one month later, with the naval Battle of Dan-no-ura (April 1185), one of the most famous battles in Japanese history. The Taira should have had the advantage, as more experienced sailors with better understanding of the tides, but the luck was with the Minamoto; a Taira general defected and revealed the child-emperor's ship. With the battle turning against the Taira, in a well-known tragic tale, the mother of the fallen Taira leader and grandmother of the emperor clasped the child and leapt into the sea, rather than have him surrender. Following the victory, Minamoto no Yoritomo sought to cement his rule by eliminating any last vestiges of opposition, above all from his popular half-brother, Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune fled Kyōto, and was pretected for a few years by the Fujiwara, but was eventually betrayed and forced to commit seppuku. The herioc Yoshitune has long been a romantic figure in Japanese literature, but the practical-minded Yoritomo is of far greater significance to Japanese history.

Statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a renowned 14th-century Samurai, remembered as the ideal of Bushidō codes of honour.

Minamoto no Yoritomo stood atop Japan alone and unchallenged, but chose to rule in concert with the imperial court in Kyōto; the Kamakura Shogunate (1185–1333). In 1192, Emperor Go-Toba granted hm the revived title of Seii tai-Shōgun ("great general for the subjugation of the barbarians"), the highest military honour n Japan; it dates back at least to the 8th-century, and campaigns against the more primitive Ainu people of northern-eastern Japan. In theory, the Shōgun represented the military arm of the emperor's government; in practice, the Shōgun held the real power. Yoritomo continued to use Kamakura as his headquarters, and laid the groundwork for a military government that would rule Japan for the next seven centuries, until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The regime that Yoritomo established was a loyalty-based lord-vassal system; in a pattern similar to contemporary feudalism in Europe. At the top of the social and political pile was the Shōgun who appointed loyal clan leaders to act as military governors (shugo) across the provinces, and granted them estates (confiscated from defeated enemies) in return for their military service; both personal and of their individual private armies of Samurai. To ensure the Shogunate’s rule extended to all territories, another important offices were created: steward (Jito). It was the job of the shugo to maintained public order, while the jitō was responsible for collecting taxes from private estates. At first such offices could be taken and given by the Shōgun, but over time both became hereditary feudal lords (Daimyo). Meanwhle the government became steadily more elaborate with an administrative board (Mandokoro), a board of retainers (Samurai-dokoro), a board of inquiry (Monchūjo), and a new law code (Jōei Shikimoku). The military rule of the Shōguns was made possible by the warrior-class; the Samurai. Once warfare had given way to peace, they established themselves as a strictly and legally separated hereditary class of local lords, whose status was enhanced by serving more powerful feudal lords. The result was a pyramid of loyalty leading up to the military overlord of Japan, the Shogun himself. With oriental thoroughness, the lord-vassal relationship was a more absolute commitment of loyalty than any practised in Europe. It was formalised as Bushido (“the way of the warrior”), a codes of chivalry that stress martial mastery, bravery on the battlefield, sincerity, patience, serenity, and above all the loyalty owed by a man to his lord, with Seppuku (ritual suicide) being the ultimate safeguard of a Samurai’s honour. Towards commoners, a samurai was expected to show benevolence and exercise justice, but had the right to kill them if paid disrespect. The most prized samurai skills were always horsemanship, archery and swordsmanship using paired long and short swords (katana and wakizashi). The Kamakura Shogunate was not untroubled internally, with a power struggle between the Yoritomo's Minamoto clan and his wife's Hojo clan. In 1221, a forceful emperor in Kyōto attempted to use this to restore real power to the imperial court, but the Shogunate easily won the war; the Jōkyū Disturbance (1221). In the aftermath, the Kamakura further consolidated its political power relative to Kyōto. Henceforth, the imperial court was obliged to seek Shōgun's approval for all of its actions, and several estates belonging to court nobles were confiscated. To further weaken the Kyōto court, the Shōguns decided to allow two contending imperial lines - later known as the Southern Court and Northern Court - to alternate on the throne; a system that worked for several generations. The Kamakura period was generally a good one for the Japanese people. There were fewer famines thanks to better use of previously neglected agricultural land, improved irrigation techniques, the spread of iron tools and a hardier strain of rice imported from China. Population growth allowed cities to grow and commerce to boom, both internally and trade with China. Buddhism, which had largely been a religion of the elites, was brought to the masses through two new sects; Pure Land Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism. Another sect, Zen Buddhism, spread widely among the Samurai ruling class, with its emphasis on finding the truth within oneself, self-discipline, and austerity. Zen masters influenced some of the most distinctive cultural aspects of Japanese life, such as the exquisite simplicity of Japanese ceramics and polite formalities of the Tea Ceremony.

The Kamikaze, literally "divine wind", which twice saved Japan from Mongol invasions.

The Kamakura period saw one of the greatest threat to Japan’s existence; the two Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281.Under Kublai Khan (d. 1294), the Mongols were at the height of their power. Already master of China and Korea, the first of several letters was sent to the Japanese government in 1266, warning of this consequence if they did not pay tribute, but these were ignored by both the Shōgun and emperor. With the silence increasingly looking like insolence, Kublai Khan ordered the Koreans, as more experienced sailors, to prepare an unprecedented invasions fleet. The burden sparked a short-lived revolt in Korea, warning the Japanese of Mongol plans, and warriors were sent to Kyūshū, the southern-most of Japan's five main islands. The fleet departed from Korea in autumn 1274, with some 30,000 soldiers on 300 warships and as many smaller vessels. The Mongols landed at Hakata Bay. The Japanese forces, heavily outnumbered and inexperienced with coordinating large bodies of men, were pushed back and the Mongols soon had a bridgehead. However, a senior Mongol commander was seriously injured by an arrow in battle, and, judging a camp indefensible, they withdrew to their ships. That night a severe storms struck the fleet, sinking more than 200 ships, and persuading the rest withdraw to Korea; of the 30,000 strong invasion force, 13,500 did not return. In truth, this first Mongol invasion was little more than a test of the Japanese defences; 30,000 men is a large contingent, but not enough to occupy Japan. A much more serious determined attempt was made seven years later in 1281. Kublai Khan assembled two massive armadas, one from Korea and another from China, with perhaps 100,000 soldiers on 4,400 ships; much of the fleet consisted of repurposed river boats, rather than proper ocean going ships. The expedition got off to an inauspicious start, and was plagued by delays. The Korea armada arrived in June, and probed the coast of Hakata Bay attempting to establish a beachhead. However, the Japanese had used the time to fortify the coastline with a two-meter high walls, and well-defended Samurai repulsed then each time. During the night, small Japanese boats would carry Samurai to the Mongol fleets in the harbour, where they would slip onboard and kill enemy soldiers. To counter these night raids, the Mongols began chaining their ships together to present a collective defence; a decision that would have terrible consequences. This standstill continued for seven weeks until the Chinese armada finally arrived in mid-August. At this point, the huge combined Mongol force seemed poised to make bloody work of Japan. It was at this point that fate intervened; a typhoon rose unseasonally early, and battered the coast for two days straight. The Mongol ships, chained together and caught between the storm and the coast, were keeled-over or smashed against the rocks. It is said that of 100,000 men, about half limped home, and the second Mongol attempt to take Japan was over. This victory gave rise to the Japanese belief that they were a divinely protected people, having twice been saved by the Kamikaze ("divine winds"). Centuries later during World War II, the divine winds would once again be called upon, this time in the form of suicide pilots who gave their lives to try and protect Japan from invasion.

Ashikaga Takauji, the founder of the Ashikaga Shogunate.

The victory had consequences that seriously weakened the Kamakura Shogunate. The military preparations, the mobilization of Samurai armies from the whole nation in 1274 and 1281, and years of continuous vigil long afterwards in expectation of a third invasion, had brought the state to the verge of collapse. Heavy taxes had damaged the economy. More importantly, loyal vassals expected to be rewarded for their part in the victory, but the Shogunate had nothing to pay them; traditionally lands had been confiscated from a defeated enemy, but of course there were none. At the same time, important changes were occurring in the Samurai class. Since warriors proliferated over generations, dividing family lands among heirs gave way to single inheritance to the eldest son. Younger sons gathered into roving bands of Rōnin (masterless Samurai), further threatened stability. The Shōguns responded by delegating more power to the provincial great clans, thus undermining the vassalage structure, as powerful families - such as the Ashikaga, Sasaki, Shōni, and Shimazu - began to challenge their authority. The disaffection was exploited by a member of the Southern Court, Emperor Go-Daigo (1318-39), who sought to return to the good old days of hereditory emperors, and overthrow the Shōguns. In the Genkō Incident (1331), Go-Daigo's plans were betrayed and he was forced to flee to the fortress of Kasagiyama, where he tried to rally support, but the fortress fell to the Shogunate's forces the following year, and Go-Daigo was exiled to Oki Island. Yet Go-Daigo's son, Prince Morinaga, continued to fight, and many disillusioned Samurai threw their lot in with the imperial family. The Shogunate dispatched a large army under Ashikaga Takauji (d. 1358) to fight imperial loyalists in the west. For unclear reasons, Takauji had a change of heart, and switched sides to joined the emperor's cause. Turning his army around, he marched on and seized Kyōto. At the same time, Nitta Yoshisada (d. 1338), an eastern rebel warlord, besieged and took the fortress-city of Kamakura, and the Kamakura Shogunate quickly disintegrated after 140 years. In the flush of victory, Emperor Go-Daigo was restored to the throne, in what came to be known as the Kenmu Restoration (1333-36), an ineffectual attempt to restore real power to the emperor, that was soon confronted with the political reality of military rule. Go-Daigo's policies meant a diminishing in power of the Samurai class, who had just won the war on the emperor's behalf. Tension boiled over again in 1335, when a claimant tried to reestablish the Shogunate at Kamakura. Although Ashikaga Takauji announced his allegiance to the imperial court, and recovered Kamakura, he claimed for himself the title of Shōgun. He then defeated Go-Daigo’s chief ally Yoshisada at the Battle of Minatogawa (July 1336), and then captured Kyōto. Takauji installed a more compliant emperor, who returned the favour by officially named him Shōgun, thus inaugurating the Muromachi Shogunate (1338-1573); named for the district of Kyōto where the government was set-up. One loose end was Go-Daigo, who fled Kyōto, and established a rival court at Yoshino near Nara, 60-miles south of Kyōto. For the next 56-years, there were two emperors in Japan, the Southern and Northern Courts. After decades of sporadic and chaotic fighting, in which the Northern Court generally prevailed, Takauji’s grandson was able to broker the surrender of the Southern Court in 1392, with a promise made and then broken to alternate emperors between the two lines. The Ashikaga Shoguns thus got off to a poor start, and were never as firmly in control as the Kamakura Shogunate. The system of government followed much the same lines, but held control of the central part of Japan, while the outer provinces were left semi-independent, with local warlords (daimyo) ruling as they saw fit.

Noh, the oldest major theatre art that is still regularly performed today.

The proximity the Muromachi government to the imperial court resulted in a commingling of the imperial family, courtiers, feudal lords, and Samurai, giving the Shōguns an aura of legitimacy and culture that the previous Kamakura regime had lacked. Overall, it was the most creative of all periods of Japanese culture, with the gradual emergence of a fusion of the style of the high nobility with the austere virtues of the Samurai warrior, which was to run through Japanese life down to the present day. The famous Kinkaku-ji ("Temple of the Golden Pavilion") was built in Kyōto as retirement estates for 3rd Shōgun, and transformed into a Zen Buddhist temple upon his death in 1408, according to his wishes. The building was an important model for Ginkaku-ji (1482) and Shōkoku-ji (1382) temples, which are also in Kyoto. The Tea Ceremony had been introduced to Japan much earlier, but it now became, thanks to Zen Buddhist monks, the restrained and precise ceremony that we know today as Chanoyu; the setting was crucial, so calming and sparsely-furnished tearooms were added to the villas of the well-off. Other lasting cultural pursuits included: monochrome ink-wash painting (Suiboku-ga) reached its height with such masters as Sesshū Tōyō (d. 1506); the distinctive Japanese garden style such as the famous Ryōan-ji rock garden, Ikebana flower arrangement, and the Bonsai art of cultivating small trees. Theatre was another Muromachi passion. Noh theatre was brought to what is essentially its present-day form by two men, Kanami and his son Zeami Motokiyo, who were taken under the patronage of Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (d. 1408). In this most refined of theatrical styles, actors move and make gestures with an exquisite slowness and solemnity, while wearing masks which can nevertheless imply great passion. An offshoot of Noh, Kabuki theatre, with its lively dance and music, and comical or satirical themes, became a widespread form of popular entertainment from the 17th-century. In the countryside, with more lawlessness times, villages grew in size as farmers sought security in numbers, and worked together on communal projects such as digging irrigation systems and building waterwheels. By the end of the period, Japan's population stood at about eighteen million, having more than trebled in five centuries. Many villages grouped together into collectives (ikki) for their mutual benefit, and commerce and small-scale manufacturing thrived. The Muromachi government found it much more difficult to collect taxes than its predecessor, and was obliged to find new means to fill its coffers, that often further boosted the economy. The Japanese renewed contact and trade with China, when the Ming Dynasty sought support in suppressing the Japanese pirates (Wokou) to the coastal areas of China. Ming porcelain, silk, books, and coins were popular, while finely-worked swords, folding fans, silver and copper ore, wood, and sulfur (for gunpowder) went in the other direction.


During the final century of the Muromachi Shogunate, Japan descended into one of the bloodiest periods of its history; the Sengoko Period (1467-1603) or "Age of Warring States". It began wIth the decade-long Ōnin War (1467-77), on the surface a succession crisis within the Muromachi Shogunate. The chIldless 8th Shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1449-73), officially named his younger brother heir, until his wife unexpectedly gave birth to a son. The war sucked in most of the influential clans, each taking sides depending on local feuds. By the time the succession issue was settled, most of Kyōto had been burned to the ground, and the Shōgun had lost practically all control over the feudal lords (daimyōs), who now ruled hundreds of independent petty-kingdoms throughout Japan. These warlords fought each other almost continuously, with no one in particular ever achieving any dominance. With the Samurai having adopted the Mongol idea of spear-armed conscripts under the command of a lieutenant, this was warfare on a scale theretofore unseen. In addition to the daimyōs, Buddhist temples raised their own armies of "warrior monks", while peasant communities (ikki) did the same. One enduring symbol of this era was the Ninja, specialists in irregular warfare such as assassination, spying, and sabotage usually at night, activities deemed dishonorable by Samurai; they have acquired a perhaps exaggerated reputation for fantastic feats, and few definite historical facts are known. As feudal lords began fortifying their primary residences, some of the most spectacular Japanese castles emerged; the hilltop Himeji Castle is regarded as the finest surviving example. 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 traders, introducing many new items to Japan, most importantly the musket. This game changer played an important part in assuring that the "feudal" wars of Japan came to an end, as did in medieval Europe. One of the most successful of the warlords to take advantage of firearms was Oda Nobunaga (d. 1582), who set Japan on the road to re-unification.

India in the Late Middle Ages[]


India's transition the early medieval period to the late is marked by repeated invasions by Muslim groups via the historic north-western routes. The explosive first century of Islam had brought Arab armies along the coast from Persia, to occupy Sindh (modern-day southern Pakistan). The region became Muslim and has remained so ever since.  But this area around the mouth of the Indus River, separated by desert from the main body of the subcontinent, was a poor stepping-stone for further conquest. Three centuries would pass before the Hindu kingdoms of north India face the real thrust of Islam. The long-standing threat was renewed in the late-10th-century when an aggressive Turkish dynasty won power in Ghazni (modern-day Afghanistan). In their declining years, the Samanid Sultanate (819–999) of eastern Persia made the same mistake as Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad had with the Mamlukes; they acquired slaves from the Turkic steppe nomads of Central Asia and utilized them in their armies. Well-placed to advance their own interests, they frequently took the opportunity. Sabuktigin (d. 997) was born in what is today Kyrgyzstan, captured as a boy by a rival tribe, and taken to the slave market in Bukhara. There he was sold to a Turkish officer serving in the Samanid army, who was later commander of the district around Ghazni. The officer soon set himself up as a semi-independent ruler, a position later inherited by his now son-in-law Sabuktigin. By the time Subuktigin was succeeded by his brilliant son Maḥmūd (997-1030), Ghazni was effectively a kingdom. Maḥmūd was an empire builder, who turned this tiny provincial city into one of the world’s most glorious capital cities by conquering his neighbours’ territories. The short-lived Ghaznavid Empire soon stretched from Isfahan in the west, to the Oxus River in the east. Maḥmūd also regularly campaigned deep into north-west India, though predominantly raids for plunder which were destructive, but again did not produce radical change. India was the first place where Muslims were confronted with a highly developed cult of idolatry. The profusion of sculpted Hindu gods and goddesses was practically calculated to outrage any attentive reader of the Qur'an; with its uncompromising prohibitions against idols and graven images. Maḥmūd’s raids gradually took on a mood of religious zeal, as seen in the plundering and vandalizing of the great Shiva Temple of Somnath in Gujarat in 1026. It was later boasting in the Muslim sources that 50,000 devotees died trying to defend the temple, the first in a long series of sectarian atrocities that have marred the thousand-year relationship between Islam and Hinduism. The Ghaznavid Empire fractured shortly after Maḥmūd’s death, in the face of the rising power of the Seljuq Turks, and India was granted a respite for several decades. But a foothold had been established beyond the Khyber Pass for countless Muslim adventurers seeking their fortune in India.


In 1173, the descendants of Maḥmūd were expelled from Ghazni, by another Turkish warlord, Muḥammad of Ghūr (d. 1206), who began campaigning in northern India, not just to raid, but to carve out territory for himself. Advancing in systematic fashion, he consolidated his position with victory at the Battle of Taraori (1192) against a confederacy of Hindu rulers, and captured Delhi the next year. However, Muḥammad was assassinated in 1206 on his way back to Afghanistan. With his death, the Persian Khwarezm Sultanate was able to take over Afghanistan, and Delhi became the centre of power for his successors. Delhi was seized by a Ghūrid general, Qutb al-Din Aibak, who set himself up as an independent Sultan, the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). It was during his reign that the famous Delhi landmark, the Quṭb Mīnār Complex was built, containing India's first mosque. His dynasty, known as the Mamluk Dynasty, lasted only until 1290, but the Delhi Sultanate survived much longer under four successive dynasties; Khalji (1290-1320), Tughluq (1320-1413), Sayyid (1414-51), and Lodi (1451-1526). Under the Mamluk Dynasty, Muslim control was consolidated over almost the whole of norther India, conquering rival Sultanates in the Punjab and Bengal, as well as Hindu rulers. It is also notable for the four-year reign of Razia Sultana (d. 1240), one of the very few female rulers in Islamic history. Under the Khalji Dynasty, the Delhi Sultanate began inexorably pushing its borders south down the west coast and into the central Deccan Plateau. At the same time, their successful campaigns in the north west repelled repeated Mongol invasions, saving the Indian Subcontinent from the devastation visited on Central Asia, the Middle East, China, and Eastern Europe. Their empire was not monolithic; Hindu kingdoms survived within it on a tributary basis, almost all the land outside the cities was still subject to some form of control by Hindu chiefs, and strong independent Hindu powers remained on the east coast as well as the Rajputs of Rajasthan. Further south they did not penetrate and Hindu society survived there largely unchanged. The Tughluq period marked both the high point of the Sultanate and the beginning of its decline, due to the overreaching ambition of its second Sultan. This was Muhammad bin Tughlaq (d. 1351), who dreamed not only of extending his indirect influence over southern India, but of controlling it directly as part of his empire. After a series of successful campaigns Tughlaq decided to move his capital to a more central location, so as to more effectively control both the north and south. The new capital was called Daulatabad, on the Deccan Plateau. Tughlaq sought to populate his capital by the forced migration of the entire population of Delhi 700 miles south. Daulatabad quickly proving too arid to support the population, so the entire capital was moved north again. This crazy misadventure caused considerable loss of life and suffering, both from the journey and an outbreak of plague. More importantly, it provoked a series of revolts in the north due to fears the borders would be exposed to invasions. The superb hilltop fortress of Daulatabad stands as the last surviving monument to his folly.


From 1336, the empire of the Delhi Sultanate fell apart, as Muslim generals revolted and struck out for themselves, while Hindu vassal kingdoms declared independence. The two most significant successor states were the Islamic Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) with its capital at Gulbarga, and the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1646) centred on Hampi. The battles between the two were among the bloodiest communal violence in Indian history. The Delhi Sultanate survived in the north, but its fate was sealed by the arrival of Timur (d. 1405), a fearsome Turkic-Mongol conqueror in the style of Genghis Khan; better known in the West as Tamerlane ("Timur the Lame"). In possession of a vast empire in the Middle East and Central Asia, Timur became aware of the weakness of the Delhi Sultanate, and invaded in 1398, on the pretext that it was too tolerant of their Hindu subjects. He marched with his army on Delhi, leaving a trail of carnage in his wake, and mercilessly sacked and plundered the city for three days. Timur had no intention of ruling India and speedily withdrew with his plunder, according to one chronicler to escape from the stench of corpses. The Delhi Sultanate stablised somewhat under the Lodi Dynasty, but was little more than one power among many on the north Indian plain.

Qutb Minar, one of the great landmarks of Delhi, constructed along with Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque by the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate from around 1200.

Nonetheless, Islam was by now established on the Indian subcontinent, the greatest challenge yet seen to India's assimilative power, for its prophetic, revelatory style was wholly antithetical both to Hinduism and to Buddhism. Unlike previous invaders who had assimilated into the prevailing social system, the successful Muslim elites retained their Islamic identity, and introduced legal, administrative, social, and ethical systems that challenged and in many cases superseded the existing systems. The led to the rise of a new Indian culture that was a synthesis of Indian civilization with that of Islamic civilization. An important factor in the synthesis of cultures was that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India were native Indian converts to Islam played. One earlier sign of this synthesis was the appearance of a new language, Urdu, the tongue of the camp. It was the lingua franca of rulers and ruled, with a Hindi structure and a Persian and Turkish vocabulary. While obviously disruptive during the passing of power from native Indian elites to Turkic Muslim elites, the Delhi Sultanate was responsible for fully integrating the subcontinent into the vast Islamic international networks, spanning large parts of Afro-Eurasia, leading to escalating circulation of goods, peoples, technologies and ideas. On the whole the period was marked by a flourishing urban economy and corresponding expansion in craft production and commerce. Delhi in the 13th-century became one of the largest cities in the whole of the Islamic world, and Multan, Lahore, Anhilwara, Kar, Khambhat, and Lakhnauti emerged as major urban centres. India already had sophisticated agriculture, textiles, medicine, mining, and metallurgy, but it was not as advanced as the Islamic world in terms of mechanical technology; water-wheels, paper-making, and the spinning wheel all became common. Estimates suggest the Indian economy almost doubled in size between 1000 and 1500. The Indian population had largely been stagnant at 75 million between the 1st and 10th centuries, but increased 50% to 110 million by the 15th-century. A distinctive Indo-Islamic architecture style emerged. The types and forms of large buildings required by Muslim elites, often topped by large domes with extensive use of arches, were very different from indigenous Indian styles. Unlike most of the Islamic world, where brick tended to predominate, India had workforce well used to producing stone masonry of extremely high quality. The later Mughal period is generally agreed to represent the peak of the style. On the negative side, the Delhi Sultanate was responsible for the widespread destruction and desecration of idols and temples. In many cases, the demolished remains were reused to build mosques and other buildings; for instance, the Qutb complex in Delhi is said to have been built from the stones of 27 Hindu and Jain temples. Beyond destruction, the Sultans in some cases forbade the construction of any new Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples, and prohibited repairs of damaged temples or old temples; or granted permission only if the religious community paid a hefty tax. Seizing non-Muslim for the slave-martets in major India cities and in Central Asia was not uncommon. It should be noted that this was intermixed with period when temples were protected from desecration, and there were numerous recorded instances of conflict between between Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain devotees prior to the coming of Islam. Already in decline, Buddhism nearly became extinct on the subcontinent in the 13th-century; with many monks freeing to Buddhist Tibet to escape persecution. Hinduism also underwent profound changes, aided by teachers such as Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya, who began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophies and world views that had emerged in ancient India; known today as the six systems of mainstream Hindu. Towards the end of this period, this reformed movement within Hinduism was revolutionised in Sikhism.

The Harmandar Sahib ("Abode of God") or Golden Temple of Amritsar. It is the preeminent pilgrimage site of Sikhism.

The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (d. 1539), was the son of a Hindu tax collector in the Punjab, which had been under Muslim rule for centuries. In about 1500, he rejected the comfortable life into which he had been born, and left home on a journey of spiritual pursuit; following in the footsteps, two millennia previously, of the founders of founders of Jainism and Buddhism. It was said that Guru Nanak went missing for three days while meditating as usual, and when he reappeared, was "filled with the spirit of God". The message he preached was one of compromise between Hinduism and Islam. He retained the central theme of all Indian religions, escaping from the endless cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation, but rejected two key characteristics of Hinduism; the Caste System and worship of a profusion of colourful gods. He took from Islam the concept of monotheism. In formulating these ideas Guru Nanak made his own synthesis; a religion of love for all men in which the way of achieving eventual release from this world is through faith and meditation on the name of the one and only God. His teaching brought him followers called Sikh ("disciple"), for whom he was Guru ("teacher"). Guru Nanak was the first of the ten Gurus now considered the founding prophets of Sikhism; the first four selected his own successor, and the remaining six followed by descent within one family. The religion became a power in the Punjab under the fifth Guru, Arjan (d. 1606), who compiled the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, and built Amritsar as the holy city of pilgrimage for all Sikhs. The strength of his sect was now sufficient to alarm the Muslim authorities; he was arrested, tortured and executed after refusing to convert to Islam. His martyrdom transformed a contemplative sect into one of passionate militancy. The tenth and last Guru, Gobind Singh (d. 1708), took the step which finally gave the Sikh community the characteristics for which it is known today, the Khalsa; his followers will wear his hair long and uncut (kesh), with a comb in it (kangha); he will wear shorts suitable for fighting (kachha), have a steel ring around his right wrist (kara), and will carry a sabre (kirpan). The Khalsa, and the accompanying commitment to fight for the faith, become the symbols of orthodox Sikhism. All the sons of Guru Gobind Singh died before him, and, with no direct heir, proclaimed that he was the last of the ten Gurus. He named the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, making the scripture the eternal, impersonal spiritual guide for Sikhs.

The Sultans at Delhi showed no power to restore the former Islamic empire. Only in the sixteenth century was it revived by a prince from outside, Babur of Kabul. Shortly after the first European, Vasco da Gama, arrived in India in 1498, having sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, Babur founded the magnificent Mughal Empire, which at its height covered almost the entire subcontinent.

Indian Ocean Trade[]

Austronesian maritime trade network in the Indian Ocean.jpg

Centuries before Europeans "discovered" the Indian Ocean, a vast and dynamic international web of trade routes linked the entire Indian Ocean basin and beyond, including Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Java, India, Arabia, the Middle East, and East Africa. The Indian Ocean trade network dates all the way back to classical antiquity. In the west, evidence of commercial exchange between Harappan India and Mesopotamia can be found from around from 2300 BC. In the east, Indian merchants were trading along the coastal journey between Calcutta to Canton, with Singapore in the middle, from at least the 1st-century AD. By the early-8th-century, there was a recognisable Indian Ocean trade network. The rise of the Umayyad Caliphates (661–750) provided a powerful western focus, with wealthy Muslim cities creating an enormous demand for luxury goods; Islam always valued trade since Muhammad himself had been a caravan merchant. At the other end, the T'ang Dynasty (618–907) was one of China's most dynamic eras, with a new openness to foreigners and their ideas. Between the Arabs and Chinese, several major empires blossomed based largely on maritime trade. The Chola Dynasty (640-1279) in southern India dazzled travelers with its wealth and luxury. The Srivijaya Empire (650-1377) based on Sumatra bloomed almost entirely on taxing vessels moving through the narrow Malacca Straits. Even the Angkor civilization (800–1327), based far inland in the heartland of Cambodia, used the Mekong River as a highway into the Indian Ocean trade.

Angkor Wat is the most famed of all Cambodia’s temple complexes and one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Originally built in the early-12th-century as a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist centre of worship towards the end of the 12th-century, which continues to the present day.

The Indian Ocean trade network was bigger, richer, and featured more diverse players than the better known Silk Road. The seasonal monsoon winds made the maritime trade remarkably easy; the winds would bring dhows and proas eastwards if one sailed between April and September, and would bring one back westwards between November and February. Ships carried mass-market goods, rather than just luxuries for the elites: wood, ivory, animal hides, and gold from East Africa; cotton and cloth from India; silk and porcelain from China; rice from South-East Asia; and books and weapons from the Islamic world. But the most lucrative product was spice; pepper, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Ideas spread along with goods. The Indians were the most energetic early traders and thus the most culturally influential, spreading Hinduism and Buddhism throughout the region. A number of spectacular temples were built in the service of one or other religions, such as the 7th-century Buddhist shine of Borobudur in Java or the 12th-century shrine of Angkor Wat in Cambodia; originally consecrated to the Hindu god Vishnu, although later converted to a Buddhist temple. By the 13th century, Islam was becoming the dominant religion on the Indian Ocean trade network. When Marco Polo visited Southeast Asia in 1292, he noted a Muslim sultanate in northern Sumatra; all of Sumatra was Muslim in 1445. Java converted to Islam in 1475. By the late-15th-century, Islam was well-established throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Malay peninsula. Its spread had encouraged trade in other ways as well, for merchants could count on the same laws applying wherever they bought and sold merchandise. Buddism continued to thrive especially in Southeast Asia, but Hinduism went into precipitous decline. By the 17th-century, the small island of Bali became, as it remains to this day, the only Hindu outpost in a southeast Asia otherwise divided between Buddhism and Islam. For centuries, China had mostly allowed foreign traders to come to it; after all, everyone wanted Chinese goods. In 1405, however, the Ming Yongle Emperor (d. 1424) launched the first of seven expeditions under Admiral Zheng to visit all of the empire's major trading partners around the Indian Ocean. These missions were diplomatic rather than commercial, and this short-lived Chinese Age of Discovery was soon abandoned. In 1498, strange new mariners made their first appearance in the Indian Ocean; the Portuguese sailors under Vasco da Gama. The sophisticated traders around the Indian Ocean basin had no need for European cloth, iron cook-pots, or other meagre products. As such, the Portuguese enter the trade network as pirates and extortioners, rather than traders. As European power grew, the centuries on Indian Ocean trade network would go into precipitous decline.

Africa in the Late Middle Ages[]


Africa has often been overlooked as a continent were sophisticated civilisations emerged before the coming of European exploration, with the obvious exception of Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. A general trend is obvious; the enrichment and elaboration of African culture in the north first and its gradual appearance in the south. Ethiopia is a convenient beginning, whose first royal dynasty claimed descent from King Solomon of Israel (d. 931) and the Queen of Sheba; Sheba (or Saba) is generally believed to have been in what is now Yemen, 25-miles across the mouth of the Red Sea. By the 1st-century AD, Aksumite Kingdom ranked among the most powerful states of the ancient world, and entered its hey-day two centuries later when the gold-rich Sudanese Nile Valley was conquered. The kingdom had a profound influence on the rest of Ethiopia's history; it introduced Christianity. The Ethiopian church claims that Christianity first reached Aksum during the time of the Apostles. According to the Byzantine sources, it arrived on Ethiopian shores by accident, when two young Christian boys, accompanying their uncle on a journey between Alexandria and India, were enslaved during a stopover. The eldest boy, St. Frumentius (d. 383), rose to a position of trust in the royal court, persuaded the king to allow Greeks to build churches in his kingdom, and became the first Ethiopiam bishop. Whatever the truth of the matter, Christianity was well-established by the end of the 5th-century, According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed was nursed by an Ethiopian woman and in 615 sent some of his followers to Negash in Ethiopia to avoid persecution in Arabia, though most refugees returned home when things calmed in Arabia. Good relations between the two religions lasted until the late-7th-century. Thereafter, Christian Ethiopia became an isolated island surrounded by Muslim powers, trade shifted away, and the medieval centuries were one long battled for survival against Muslim incursions from several directions. In 1441, some Ethiopian monks travelled to Rome, causing something of a sensation, and beginning diplomatic contact with Europe for the first time since the 7th-century. This proved to be an important development, for in the early-16th-century Christian Ethiopia came close to being wiped out by the Adal Sultanate of Somalia, only to be saved by an appeal to the Portuguese, who were active in the Indian Ocean by that time. Africa was the first region into which Islam was carried by merchants rather than armies. The coast of east Africa was a region where Africans and Arabs mixed to create a unique culture; the Swahili city-states. From the 8th-century, the entire coastal area blossomed into a number of important and independent port-cities. The most important of over 35 major city-states were Kilwa, Mombasa, Mogadishu, Zanzibar, Malindi, Lamu, and Mozambique. At their height from the 12th to 15th century, these city-states traded with African tribes as far inland as Zimbabwe, and across the India Ocean Trade network to Arabia, Persia, India, and China. One of the greatest Islamic traveller, Ibn Battuta (d. 1369), visited Kilwa (in modern-day Tanzania), and reported an extremely prosperous Sultanate, busy with trade in gold, ebony, ivory, tortoise shells, sandalwood, as well as slaves. The palace and great mosque constructed from coral rock blocks, as well as the general attention to architecture, led him to famously describe Kilwa as "one of the most beautiful towns in the world".

Mansa Musa depicted holding a gold coin from the Catalan Atlas, produced in the Majorcan Cartographic School in 1375.

In north-west Africa, a succession of powerful kingdoms in the Niger-Senegal River Valley flourished for a millennium, on the proceeds of the lucrative trans-Saharan trade route. Caravans, beginning around 300 AD, linked the Mediterranean markets to the north with the supply of African raw materials to the south and east, otherwise blocked further east by the hostile expanse of the Sahara Desert. Trade was further facilitated by the abundance of iron, copper, and above all gold, locally mined or panned; two-thirds of the Europe's gold once came from this region. The most important other commodities traded were ivory, hides, ostrich feathers, cola nut (containing caffeine and popular long before the discovery of the New World), salt, and slaves. The Kingdom of Ghana (500-1180) was the first to establish full control over this crucial crossroads; it covered modern-day eastern Mauritania and western Mali, rather than the present-day state of Ghana. The kingom grew immensely rich, allowing for larger urban centres to develop; the capital of Koumbi Saleh was originally two cities six miles apart, which effectively merged into one. Islam was spread throughout the region by Muslim merchants as they came into contact with local traders and urban elites, who recognised that adopting the religion would be beneficial to trade; the nomadic Berbers (Moors) further north were particularly early converts. Yet there is no evidence that the kings themselves converted to Islam. While the merchant district of the capital had 12 mosques, the royal district had only one and many traditional cult shrines. The Kingdom of Ghana began to crumble when the capital was sacked in 1076, by the Berber Almoravid Dynasty. The Kingdom of Sosso (1180-1235) further east was the biggest inheritor of the decline, aided by the growing importance of the Bure gold-field, on the upper reaches of the Niger. Yet both kingdoms ultimately fell to a great conqueror, Sundiata Keita (d. 1255), a rebellious vassal of the Sosso king, who founded the even more extensive Kingdom of Mali (1230-1670), which stretched from the Atlantic coast to beyond the Niger River. From the start, the Mali rulers were Muslim converts, and the faith really took-off in north-western Africa. A mosque and universities was established at Timbuktu, which quickly gained an international reputation. After a string of somewhat lacklustre rulers, the Kingdom of Mali entere its golden age during the reign of Mansa Musa (d. 1337), who conquered 24 cities, doubling its territory. With more tribute from conquered chiefs, more trade routes under Mali control, and more natural resources to exploit, Mansa Musa may have been the richest ruler in the world. In 1324, he caused quite a sensation in the Islamic world when he made the hajj to Mecca. It is said his impressive entourage included 10,000 servants and officials, 100 camels each carrying 300 pounds of gold, and 500 slaves all brandished a 6 pounds gold staff. During a stopover in Cairo, he spent or simply gave away so much bullion that the great city experiences a period of runaway inflation.

Archaeological findings reveal that Great Zimbabwe was a major centre for trade.

Even a vague picture of the workings of the rest of Africa is hard to get at, but some remarkable traces remain of dim and shadowy kingdoms. The great trade routes to the north, through first Ghana and then Mali, gradually provided a market for the produce of the tropical rain forest regions of west Africa. Unlike the northern open savannah, the conditions of life in the forest made it difficult for communities to coalesce into more powerful states. Yet two such state emerged among the Yoruba people of south-western Nigeria during the 11th century; the kngdom of Ife and Benin, whose bronze sculpture were to captivated later Europeans. Much further south, the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe flourished between the 12th and 15th century. The Zimbabwe Plateau offered rich opportunities for settlement, with excellent grassland for grazing cattle, as well as easily accessible gold from surface deposits, shallow mines, and tributaries of the Zambezi River. Long distance trade is evident from non-African goods which presumably came via merchants from the Swahili city-states. It produced the only significant building in stone in southern Africa, in carefully shaped stone, laid in courses without mortar but with great accuracy. Modern Zimbabwe is dotted with the ruins houses often 10-meters in diameter, probably for village chieftains. But the most impressive ruins are at the capital of Great Zimbabwe, surrounded by massive city-walls with a 10-meter high watch tower. The Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe had already collapsed, probably due to its gold deposits becoming exhausted, when a Portuguese captain visited the site in 1531. African civilisation was in marked decline everywhere by the time of the European Age of Discovery, perhaps naturally or perhaps because the outsiders seized important coastal settlements and disrupted long-standing trade routes.

The Americas in the Late Middle Ages[]


The Spanish arrived in the Americas at the end of the 15th-century to discover two large civilizations which had achieved much more than those of Africa. They had invented writing systems, intensive agriculture, monumental architecture, complex theology, excellent metalworking, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, fine arts, and highly accurate calendars. And all this without any evidence of outside stimuli. This has seemed so improbable to some scholars that much time has been spent investigating and discussing the possibility that the elements of civilization were implanted in the Americas by trans-Pacific voyagers a very long time ago. Most historians find the evidence for pre-Columbian contact unconvincing, except for two historical case: the short-lived Viking landing and settlement in the late-10th-century; and material exchange between the peoples of Siberia and Alaska which waned around the same time. When Christopher Columbus steps ashore on a Caribbean island in 1492, the Americas probably had a population of more than 100 million people, spread across a huge landmass with.very diverse climate and geography. It is scarcely surprising that it threw up equally diverse patterns of life. In much of North and South America, there were still people living in hunter-gatherer societies, characterised by small, semi-nomdic tribes of no more than 50 members. There were also sedentary, agrarian societies. The best studied is the mound-building Mississippi Valley culture, which flourished from approximately 800 to 1600. It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages linked together by loose trading networks over a huge area stretching from Illinois in the north to Florida in the south. Their success was based on gradual spread northwards of farming corn (maize) from the more advanced civilizations in Mexico. The largest "city" was Cahokia near modern St. Louis, which covered about 6 square miles with a population that may have at times reached nearly 18,000 people. Another example is the Ancestral Puebloans culture, who lived in hundreds of communities across the arid Colorado Plateau. Far to the north, a tour de force of specialization enabled the Eskimos to live with great efficiency in an all but intolerable environment. Yet although the Indian cultures of North America are respectable achievements in their overcoming of environmental challenge, they are not civilization. For the American achievement in indigenous civilization it is necessary to go south of the Rio Grande. Although these cultures are respectable achievements in their overcoming of environmental challenge, they are not civilization. For the American achievement in indigenous civilization it is necessary to go south of the Rio Grande.


Mesoamerica is the region extending from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica, that gave rise to a series of culturally related agrarian civilizations spanning an approximately 3,000-year period. The earliest known, the Olmec Civilisation (1200-400 BC), laid foundations that would endure all the way down to the fatal arrival of the Spanish in the New World. The calendars, hieroglyphic writing system, and the practice of building large ceremonial pyramids which mark so much of the region in later times may all be ultimately derived from them; the gods of Meso-america were already known in Olmec times, too. The Aztecs Civilisation (1345-1521) was founded by the Mexica people, who migrated into central Mexico from somewhere in the north around 1300. The term "Aztec" derives from their semi-mythical ancestral homeland of Aztlan; the Aztecs referred to themselves as "Mexica", from which we get both modern-day Mexico and Mexico City. The Aztec migration story tells how they were guided by the supreme deity of their pantheon, Huītzilōpōchtli, who eventually sent them an appropriate sign to indicate where they should build their new home; an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake - an emblem which today sits in the middle of the Mexican flag. This was probably around 1325, and their settlement on a group of islands on edge of Lake Texcoco became the city of Tenochtitlan, which they built up from a village. Their prospects in this place seemed unpromising, surrounded by powerful city-states competing with one another for resources and regional dominance. The Aztecs were warriors, and their success was based on a ferocious cult of war. Huītzilōpōchtli was the god of the sun and of war; a lethal combination. Every night He would drive from the skies the creatures of darkness; the stars and the moon. For the next night's fight He needed strength; His diet was human blood. The need to supply Huītzilōpōchtli's voracious appitite with prisoners-of-war to sacrifice, chimed well with Aztec imperial ambitions. As they began to extend their territory, sacrifices become larger and more frequent, providing an ever-growing need for war, and striking terror into their enemies with reports of their blood-drenched ceremonies. A state of peace would have been disastrous for the Aztecs. It has been estimated that the annual harvest of victims was close to 50,000, shortly before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The Greater Temple of the Aztec peoples in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. First constructed in 1325, and rebuilt or extended six times. The temple was destroyed by the Spanish in 1521 to make way for a cathedral.

The rise of the Aztecs began in 1417, when they formed a three-way alliance with neighbouring states of Texcoco and Tlacopan, in order to overthrow the city-state of Azcapotzalco, who then exercised supremacy in the region. Victory in 1428 brought under the control of the alliance the whole of central Mexico. Despite the initial concept of three equal partners, the Aztecs soon came to dominate the empire of 38 major and 400 minor cities. Aztec expeditions went east to the Gulf of Mexico, west to the Pacific, and far south into what is now Honduras. Aztec society was a highly complex and stratified. At its head was a semi-divine but elected ruler (tlatoani), chosen from the royal family by a council of nobles (pīpiltin) and priests (tlamacazqui). He directed a highly ordered and centralized society, making heavy demands on commoners (mācehualtin), serfs (mayeques), and slaves (tlacotin) for compulsory labour and military service, but also providing them with an annual subsistence. The society was centred on warfare; every Aztec male, noble or commoner, received basic military training from an early age, and the only possibility for upwards social mobility for commoners was through military achievement. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan flourished into a magnificent city, and the Spanish left excited descriptions of it. Originally located on two small islands, it gradually spread through reclamation of swampland to cover more than 5 square miles, and connected to the lake shores by causeways, one of which was five miles long. The city boasted more than 200,000 inhabitants by 1519 (making it the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas), thanks to a remarkable system of intensive cultivation, irrigation, and dykes for flood defenses. The whole city was designed to inspire awe in the people, especially visiting nobles who were entertained with lavish ceremonies. The heart of Tenochtitlan was the sacred precinct, containing the royal palace, public buildings, temples, a school for nobles, and the ball-court. Dominating the skyline, the Great Pyramid rose 50-meters above the city, dedicated simultaneously to Huitzilopochtli, god of war and the sun, and Tlaloc, god of rain and the harvest, each of which had a shrine at the top with separate staircases. This was where most of the human sacrifices were carried-out, with the gods favouring the hearts, which was torn from the victims’ body as his offering. The Aztecs were not the first civilization in Mesoamerica to carry-out such rituals, which probably date all the way back to the Olmec Civilization (1200-300 BC), and were practiced by other contemporary cultures such as the decaying Maya Civilization of Yucatán. Indeed, Aztec culture seems to have been entirely derivative. Latecomers to central Mexico, they were barbarians who took over the fruits of those longer civilized than themselves. Their magnificent art, sculpture, architecture, writing system, engraving, featherwork, ceramics, metalwork, agriculture, and calendar came from the exploited skills of their subjects. Not a single important invention of Mesoamerican culture can be confidently assigned to them. At their peak, 300,000 Aztecs presided some five million people spread over 80,000 square-miles. The Aztecs were warriors and preferred an empire of tribute: they left subject cities and tribes more or less alone, provided the agreed tribute was forthcoming. They did not really mind that their vassals were often disobedient, which provided a pretext for punitive expeditions at the slightest provocation. Trade between subject cities was restricted, in order to make them dependent on Tenochtitlan for luxury goods. Few empires of which we know have pressed so far their demands on their subject peoples, and this ensured that it could not win their; they were bound to welcome the Aztec collapse when it came. Religion also helps explain why small Spanish forces succeeded in conquering the Aztecs so easily. With in their pantheon was Quetzalcoatl, deity of wind and learning, who, after instructing his people in the arts, departed for the east; but vowed to return one day. He was described as fair-skinned, bearded, and wearing a conch-shell breastplate. In 1519, a fair-skinned stranger landed on the east coast, and the Aztecs welcomed him as Quetzalcoatl; the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés.


To the south of Mesoamerica lay several respectable cultures, including the remnant of the Maya Civilization, though much reduced from their golden age in the 9th and 10th centuries. But none achieved the size and scope of the Inca Civilisation (1418–1533) of the Andes. Like other pre-Columbian cultures, the origin of the Incas is difficult to disentangle from their own founding myth. According to legend, their civilization was born when demi-gods Manco Cápac and his sister Mama Ocllo, children of the sun, emerged from Lake Titicaca to establish a civilization in the Cuzco Valley. What is certain is that the first Incas were a pastoral tribe, who established what would become Cuzco at some point in the 12th-century. For more than two centuries, Cuzco remained a small place, just one of many competing polities that emerged after the collapse of the Wari Empire in the 10th-century. Expansion took off under Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-71), whose name literally means "earth-shaker". Pachacuti was one of the more than 50 sons of the Inca king. When when Cuzco was besieged by the warlike Chanka people, his father and all his brothers fled. It was Pachacuti who organised a successful defense of the city, against, it is said, quite incredible odds. With victory, he claimed the Inca throne, and began an era of far-reaching conquest, a policy continued by his son, Túpac Inca Yupanqui (1471–93). By the end of these two long reigns, spanning 55-years, the Inca Empire stretched for 3,000 miles along the west coast of South America, from northern Ecuador to central Chile; a remarkable two generations of conquest perhaps comparable only to Genghis Khan and his sons. The Incas shared another characteristic with the Mongols; a few astonishingly brutal massacres were suffice to terrify most rivals into cooperation. At the same time, Cuzco was transformed into a suitably imperial capital. The whole city was laid out in the structure of a giant puma, with the imperial palace forming the tail, and the temple complex of Sacsayhuamán forming the head. Master stone masons, the Incas constructed large buildings, walls and fortifications using semi-worked stone blocks, which fitted together with such uncanny and beautiful precision that no mortar was needed. They have easily withstood the earthquakes and volcanic activity which frequently effect the region. Such world famous sites as Machu Picchu, perched high on an inaccessible peak, continue to impress modern visitors.

Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (d. 1472). It had been abandoned by the time of the Spanish conquest, and remained unknown until American explorer Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

The Aztecs never created a true state, but the Incas got much further than that. The Inca Empire had a formidably totalitarian structure, like the blueprint of a utopia drawn up with great concerned for the physical well-being of its subjects, but with no higher ideals like freedom, liberty, or equality. Like the Aztecs, the Incas associated themselves with the sun god, whom they called Inti, though He did not require human sacrifice. They saw their emperor, also known as Sapa Inca (the "only Inca"), as the semi-devine link between people on earth and the sun in the sky. Next in rank came the Inca nobility, who formed the ruling class of the empire; called Orejones ("big ears") by the Spanish because they wore large earspools to indicate their status. As the empire grew, the emperor needed more people he could trust, and so created a third class, which have been called "Inca by privilege". These were usually the children of conquered petty-kings, who were brought to Cuzco, to both ensure their loyalty as hostages, and to be educated and indoctrinate into Inca society; with luck, they would marry into the Inca nobility. The Incas organized their entire population into units, from the four large provinces (suyu) all the way down to the smallest unit (ayllu), consisting of about ten families. These smallest units were allotted land by the state to till for their own needs, and in return paid tax in the form of crops and forced labour (the m’ita system). They might work fields reserved for the state, or serve in the army, but the most important task was building and maintaining a system of about 25,000 miles of roads and bridges throughout the Inca Empire, along which were special huts for runners who carried messages to the runner in the next hut; a sort of pony express on foot. Runners bore messages either orally or recorded in Quipu, a unique system of knots in coloured cords with which the Incas were apparently able to keep elaborate records monitoring taxes, collecting census data, and organising armies; sadly the knowledge of how to read Quipu has been lost. There was also a special tax in the form of a young man or woman selected to serve the state. Young women served as artisans weaving fine textiles or priestesses in the state cult or a place in the emperor's harem for the most beautiful. Young men became runners or herdsmen for the state herd of llamas, which all belonged to the state, providing wool, transport, milk, and meat. Unlucky young men were forced to work in the gold and silver mines, where the mortality rate was typically less than two years. Careful and tight control kept the population where it was needed. In a system that would have been familiar to the Romans, a loyal community might be forcibly resettled, sometimes hundreds of miles, into a new region that might otherwise be unruly; a vice versa. The aim of the Inca system was integration rather than obliteration; they tolerated the custom and cults of their conquered peoples. And the Incas brought certain benefits. They undertook major agricultural projects such as irrigation works on the desert coast and terracing to maximise arable land in the mountains. There was an impressive social welfare system, where state granaries supported the sick and elderly, and distribute food in times of famine or natural disaster, including a form of freeze-dried potato called Chuño that could be keep for decades. There were also many colourful festivals in which a beer called Chicha brewed from maize (corn) played a major role. Unusually, the Inca Empire had no money and functioned with an almost complete lack of markets. The distribution of goods was controlled by the state, with citizens contributing crops, and receiving food, tools and clothing they needed, with no need to purchase anything. Huayna Inca Capac (1493-1524), the third Inca emperor, continued expanding the Inca Empire, spending most of his reign commanding armies in northern Ecuador and sothern Colombia. By this time, the Spanish presence in the Americas was already being felt, bringing with them diseases that were common in Eurasia, against which natives of the Americas had no resistance. These diseases spread ahead of actual group of Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro, claiming thousands of lives, including that of Huayna Cápac and sparking a civil war over the succession.

New World native plants: maize (corn), tomato, potato, vanilla, rubber tree, cacao, and tobacco.

All the American civilizations were highly organised and complex, but lacked many features that had long been taken for granted in the Old World. They knew nothing of the plough, iron-working, coinage, or the wheel. One explanation for this slow progress is geographic isolation. Even contact between Mexico and Peru posing pretty impenetrable natural obstacles, with the overland route blocked by jungles; neither of the civilisations were particularly strong seafarers. Another factor was the lack of beasts of burden suitable for ploughing, riding, or pull a cart. The horse was unknown in the Americas until introduced by Europeans. Andean society did domesticate the llamas and alpacas, but their mountain habitat made them unsuitable for anything other than herding. Finally, it seems that complete literacy escaped them. The Maya came closest, keeping elaborate historical records, but writing was the exclusive privilege of the ruling elite. Thus society was denied the liberating magic of literacy, handicapping both the diffusion of information and consolidation of government. In the end, the civilizations in the Americas were fated to be no more than beautiful curiosities on the margin of history, except for one incalculable contribution to the world. Their forefathers had carefully cultivated and bred the ancestors of maize, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash into something like the plants we know today. In so doing, they had unwittingly made a vast addition to the resources of mankind, that was to change the world.