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Crash Course in Early Western Civ.Presentation Transcript
The World as it was prior to 1492:
A Crash-course in Early Western Civilization
Judaism and Christianity
Judaism has its roots in ancient Mesopotamia and
emphasizes belief in one god (monotheism) and
the rule of law.
Christianity split off from Judaism about 2000
years ago and became the official religion of the
Roman Empire in the 300s. Until Islam came
along 300 years later, it was the dominant
religion of the Mediterranean region. It remains
the dominant religion of Europe.
Why it matters to us...
Christianity, as the dominant religion of Europe,
became the dominant religion of the Americas.
The idea that no one is above the law is a
common and often repeated theme in Western
World and US History.
Ancient Greece was divided into independent city-
states. One of these was Athens, where a form
of government called “democracy” was
All citizens periodically met to decide the great
matters of state. Citizenship was limited to adult
males who had completed required military
training. This was about 20% of the population.
Why this matters to us:
The idea of a democratic government, or a
government where the citizens have political
authority, survives to this day and is one of the
foundational ideas of the United States
Ancient Rome was ruled as a Republic for
approximately 500 years.
Three consuls were elected by the people. The
consuls appointed advisers called Senators.
While Senators were unelected and appointed for
life, consuls were limited to one-year terms.
Why it matters to us...
A republican form of government is basically what
we have. The people have representatives who
decide things for us (supposedly).
In the west, a succession of powerful empires
(Ghana, Mali, Songhai) brought political stability.
Trade routes across the Sahara Desert flourished.
In the east, coastal cities grew as sea trade with
India, Arabia and Persia flourished.
Trade between the Mediterranean Sea and
East Asia was carried out via the Silk Road, a
network of land routes connecting the Middle
East to China.
Central Asia in general and China in particular
flourished culturally and politically from the
wealth brought by trade.
Southeastern Europe was dominated by the
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, which
would survive until 1453.
Western Europe was fractured after the fall of
the Roman Empire in 476. Armed landlords
protected and provided for landless peasants in
exchange for loyalty in an arrangement known
Religion in Asia and Africa
West Africa to East Asia was united under
Islam. Islam required travel and therefore
Religion in Europe
The Christian Church divided in 1054 into
Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman
Religion in Europe
Western Europe was a collection of squabbling
Landlords and Armed thugs in a state of near
In an attempt to unite Europe under his
leadership, in 1095, Pope Urban II called for a
Crusade (Holy War) against the Muslims
controlling the Holy Land.
With all this disposable wealth, the Italian city-
states paid for a revival of art, architecture,
literature and drama called the “Renaissance.”
Some of the greatest art and artists emerged in
New scholarship also emerged (despite heavy
censorship by the Church) that formed the
foundation of modern science.
While Italy thrived...
If a nation could find an all-water route through or
around Africa, that nation could become
fantastically wealthy by underselling the Italians.
Problem: No one in Europe had the knowledge or
the technology needed.
Solution: Prince Henry II of Portugal starts a school
of navigation and sponsors voyages of exploration
along the African coast. Portugal also began
trading with West Africa.
Portugal developed the caravel, a small
seaworthy ship that could navigate rivers, carry
large cargoes and sail against the wind.
By 1488, Bartolomeo Diaz had found the Cape of
By 1497, Vasco de Gama had made it all the way
to India and back with a 400% profit.
Meanwhile, in Spain...
An Italian sailor named Christopher Columbus
was pitching a radical idea to the King and
Queen of Spain.
Sail west to get east.