Thursday, June 30, 2011

Western Hegemony

So today's post is about the West's and then America's dominance over the world and what could possibly happen in the future. I feel like talking about this because this topic came up as me and a friend, who actually has his own blog:, which has some pretty cool alternate art stuff that has the awesomeness of the internet in one place, (kay back to the story) were in the car and the topic came up on it's own. As we were talking I realized "Yo, this is somthing I could post in my blog and I do want to do some more history stuff!" (Yes I do say "Yo" in my head). So I wrote this.

During the renaissance in Europe the west was finally getting out of the Dark Ages, where centralized nations where finally taking hold and science and art became more important than being dedicated to live a completely pious life. However this mellenia of uncivilized barbarism was not world wide. China continued to being one of the most civilizations of its time. The Aztecs in central america were on the rise and nearby in the Middle East the Ottomans Empire finally took over the last vestiges of the Roman empire known as the Byzantine Empire conquering Constantinople in 1453 which was the final stronghold of the Greco-Roman culture. So why in the 16th century was it Europe the began conquering and dominating the world?

During the 12th century the nations of Europe were invading the Middle East and the holy lands. Luckily at this time the Abbasid Caliphate ruling the Middle East and North Africa was not completly united and could not stand against the United Christian forces. For a hundred years the Europeans held the small crusader states they made in the holy land until Saladin was able to rally the power of the Muslims and kick the Westerners out. Even though in the end Europe did not spread Christianity and did not win territorial gains they got allot of interactions with the much more advanced Abbasid Civilization. The crusades spread the ideas, sciences and mathematics created in the Middle East where learning and discovery was at the fore front of its priorities which they learned from the Greeks that spread there ideas across the Middle East during the Conquering of Alexander the great creating the short lived Hellenistic Empire and making Alexandria in Egypt which became the center for learning in the Ancient world, and in the peace of the Roman Empire that let ideas quickly spread across its vast empire (Roman and Greek ideas went east just as Christianity went west during these times). By the time of the Renaissance the Europeans relearned the importance of scientific discovery and the encouragement of making ideas, unfortunately the Muslims forgot this later and became lost in Religious Ideology making it the back water it is now and caused it to be controlled by Britain at the end of World War One.

School of Athens; Raphael 1509-1510
Luckily for Italy, at the end of the Crusades where they started to open there eyes to the glories of the Ancients, the Church held most of the documents written during Antiquity and let the Italians see the ideas of Pythagoras, Sophocles, Euclid, and the other great minds of Greece. During this period we see the art of Italy change from being solely being centered around Christianity and move to Greek and Roman mythology. One of my favorite paintings is the "School of Athens" by Raphael in 1509-1510. In the middle can be seen Plato and Aristotle arguing with each other. This painting strikes both the Artist and Scientist in me (Yes I used to do art, it was high school, things were different back then, things change). Soon Italy was the richest nation (well not a nation yet) in Europe opening trade across the Mediterranean coming into more contact with the Byzantines and there ancient history and the still thriving Muslims.

Soon this philosophy of humanism, concentrating more on human values and concerns rather than God's spread across Europe. Spain and Portugal started the Reconquista during the Crusades and began to claim all of Iberia for Christendom (the idea of a unified Christian kingdom, much like how the Islam empires were like but never really happened due to each nations will to not be associated with its neighbors). They saw Italy's wealth with envious eyes and knew that international trade was necessary to become rich. However Italy, most notably Venice, already owned the entire Mediterranean trade network very smartly took advantage of the Geographic advantage of being on the edge of the Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the Exploits of a very adventurous Marco Polo Europe heard fantastical stories of China's Yuan Dynasty. However at the time the only trade route to China was the overland Silk Road. In the times of Man and animal power going by sea being pushed by the winds was by far the fastest way to travel, trade, and make money. But unfortunately the entire continent of Africa was in the way and even though the Mediterranean was only a few miles from the Red Sea no canal existed then to let ships cross. Muslims had control over the Silk Road forcing the Europeans to pay taxes for everything that came from China or India, so they just wanted a cheaper way too. At this time a new ship was designed, the Carrack, this was the world's first ocean going ship. Soon Portugal began going south Africa's western coast. By 1499 Vasco da Gama was the first European to circumnavigate Africa and reach India by the sea.

Portugal monopolized the African trade route to Asia and when all of Spain was united in 1492 Spain had only one direction to go, West. Funding a crazy Italian merchant Spain sent three ships across the Atlantic hoping to reach Asia from the opposite end, letting Christopher Columbus to be the first westerner to discover the Americas (if you don't count the Norwegian Vikings around the year 1000). Before the rest of Europe realized what happened Spain and Portugal spit these new continents between themselves. In the 1994 Treaty of Tordesillas, the pope drew a line down the middle of South America, where they currently thought the middle was, where Portugal got the East Side, mainly modern Brazil, and Spain, luckily for them go everything in the West. These lands along with the trade in the East made Portugal and Spain the strongest and richest nations in Europe.

Soon Europe the rest of Europe joined in. The 1600's saw the golden age of the Netherlands and after the Defeat of the Spanish Armada England proved to be the new uncontested naval power of Europe. Since the 1700's England was on the Rise claiming North America (which according to the Pope was Spain's but they couldn't do anything about it and where happy with what they had already). Eventually Europe wasn't quite satisfied with just trading with India and China but wanted direct control over their lands. After a decisive  victory against the French,  Britain claimed all of India as one of it's most treasured colonies. France had to settle with Indochina, which was the peninsula of South East Asia what is now Modern Day Vietnam (which stayed french until the Vietnam war). The Netherlands claimed many islands in Indonesia. And England claimed Australia and New Zealand. Even though the Western Powers never directly conquered China Each major power by 1900's carved it's own sphere of influence where China could do barely anything except comply with the "Barbarians". And by in two decades, the 1880's and the 1890's Europe caught Africa fever and each nation quickly tried to claim it's own slice of the poor Continent known as the "Scramble for Africa".   If it wasn't for Germany's colony of Tanzania Britain would have had a strip of Africa that would have gone from "Cape to Cairo", reaching from Egypt all the way down to South Africa. Russia as well was beginning it's Empirical Conquest and while not overseas territories, Russia went non stop from its startings in Moscow to Northern Asia and Almost continued going into North America with it's conquest of Alaska  but then sold it to the new nation of the United States for two pennies an acre!

Matchlock Musket
One of the main reasons that Europe was so successful at conquering the rest of the world was it love affair with gun powder. While invented in China while looking for a potion of immortality a Chinese Alchemist created a powder that would violently burn. While only militarily used to shoot flaming arrows and for crude guns, if they could be called that, the main use for gun powder was for fireworks. However when brought to the Middle East and Europe it's true potential was found. In the Middle east the united Muslim Empire was split into three states; The Ottomon Empire (Iraq, Turkey, Balkans, Egypt, North Africa) , the Safavid Empire (Iran) and the Mughal Empire (India) which where known as the three "Gunpowder Nations" due to their avid use of Gunpowder. As Europe continued its rise of scientific and technological prowess it quickly used gunpowder in its own armies. With the European process of corning (wetting gunpowder and letting it dry letting it form is larger chunks rather than a superfine powder) increased the power of black powder many times. Soon refined match lock muskets replaced the old Arquebus, allowing them too be full fledged military weapons. This allowed Spain and Portugal to wipe out the Native American empires of the Aztecs and Incas with just a few hundred men. Innovations in cannon design also let Europeans put cannons on a ship. This what allowed the West to become a global force, the power to bring the power of an army to any shore where the native people are no where near as advanced allowed Europe to spread their power unquestionably across the world. In China even though it was impossible to conquer it with a land army, the Nations of Europe forced open its harbors with the sound of cannon fire.
The epitome of European naval power: A Ship of the Line

But why where they the first to conquer the world? Well if you truly look at it, they got lucky. The fact is was that they where just the first to explore the world and to first to properly use cannon and guns. China at the time was starting to send exploratory ships out at the time but stopped for some reason. Honestly if just a few things where different, if Columbus and da Gama wasn't born and the children of China where as itchy to explore as they where I would be explaining right now why the world is currently dominated by China in Mandarin. However once Europe began tasting the riches that came with colonization that would not stop and with an positive attitude of questioning the world and testing new ideas Europe would continue to advance and grow richer while the rest of the world is trying to catch up.

Now it turns out that this post is ALLOT longer than I meant for it to be which is cool, it just lets me get one more post before my queue of ideas to post about runs out. So I shall continue this subject later, talking about the rise of the United States and the fall of Europe and how America might get over shadowed soon by a nation from across the ocean! OOOOOHH!

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