The West and the changing balance of World Power

Beginning of the 14th century, there was a shifting balance between world civilizations. The international role of the Islamic world, with the fall of the Abbasids and other Mongol disruptions, was in decline. The Ming dynasty of China attempted, for a time, to expand into the vacuum. The most dynamic contender was western Europe. The West was not a major power, but important changes were occurring within its civilization. Italy, Spain, and Portugal took new leadership roles. The civilizations outside the international network, the Americas and Polynesia, also experienced important changes. So basically the chapter talks about the steps in the new world order, how the civilizations expanded to one another, and how it influenced the world today.


         One theme that relates to this chapter is interaction between humans and the environment as well as the creation of new technology. Population was greatly affected in areas such as China due to the spread of the disease called the Black Death. This caused people to migrate into different places. However, the disease later spread into India and the Middle East, wiping out a huge amount of about 30 million people.

    Another theme that relates to this chapter is the development and interaction of cultures which deals with religion, belief systems, philosophies, or ideologies, science and technology, and the arts and different architecture. As the Sufi movement became more active, religion slowly began to spread. Scholars had wrote about their mystical contacts with God and the stages of their religious passion. Europeans continued to spread Christianity during their time of expansion. Prince Henry had the desire to spread the name of Christ to unfamiliar lands.

    Science and technology also was developing. Zheng He was able to acquire improved compasses, maps, vessels with supplies, and goods for trade. With the discovery of new compasses and new maps, Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India by sea. The start of the Renaissance was a factor for increasing power in Western Europe. It was a movement that portrayed itself in literature and the arts.


 Ibn Rushd described as "Bridging Islamic Traditions and Greek Thought"

 Ibn-Rushd (Averro√ęs): 

Iberian Muslim philosopher who studied Greek rationalism. He was ignored in the Middle East, but influenced many European scholars. In the Middle East, a more typical philosopher used Aristotle's logic to show that it was impossible to discover religious truth by human reason. New statements of Islam were made due to the rising of the Sufi movement in which scholars wrote about their mystical contacts with God and the stages of their religious passion. Although Islamic science continued, it slowly decreased. Overall, this rising of Sufi movement indicates a cultural shift as the movement affected both literature and philosophy.

Ming Dynasty:

Succeeded Mongol Yuan dynasty in China in 1368 and lasted until 1644. It initially mounted huge trade expansions to southern Asia and elsewhere, but later concentrated efforts on internal development within China.

- Map of the reign of the Ming Dynasty from 1368-1644

Zheng He: 

Between 1405 and 1433, the admiral commanded the expeditions to the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea to expand the trade routes. He was well suited to trade with Muslims in southeast Asia because he was a Muslim from western China. He was also a eunuch, castrated for service at the royal court. Eunuchs were needed to guard Ming emperors' wives without threat of sexual rivalry. He acquired an improved compass, excellent maps, huge vessels with sufficient supplies, and goods for trade. His fleets either impressed or terrified local rulers, making many people pay tribute to the emperor. He brought gifts and had well-armed troops. However, Confucian bureaucrats resented him and refused to write about him in their chronicles. 

Zheng He's extensive exploration routes 


Black Death:

Also known as the bubonic plague. It began to spread in several parts of Asia in the 14th Century. It reduced the population in China by about 30 percent. It later spread into India and the Middle East. The hugest impact that the plague created occurred between 1348 and 1375 in which 30 million people (1/3 of the population) died.

- The plague was spread throughout China. 

- Map of the spread of the Black Plague in the 1400s


Cultural and political elite movement that began in Italy in the 1400. It rested on urban vitality and expanding commerce. It featured a literature and art with distinctly more secular priorities than those of the Middle Ages. Religious art remained dominant but used more realistic portrayals of people and nature, and some nonreligious themes surfaced completely. Artists and writers became more ambitious for personal reputation and glory. Italy was the center of this culture since it had more contact with Roman tradition. The Renaissance was a cultural movement started in Florence and displayed itself in literature and different arts. It was one of the three factors for leading the Western Europe into international position.

 Francesco Petrarch: 

He is an Italian author and humanist who is a major literary figure of the Western Renaissance. He was one of the leading writers in the 14th century who took pride in his city and his age. He explored the glories of personal achievement with new confidence. He defined human ambition mainly in cultural terms.

 Portugal, Castile and Aragon: 

Regional Iberian kingdoms; In 1469, Castile and Aragon were united through royal marriage. Spanish and Portuguese rulers developed a vigorous military and religious agenda before the marriage between Ferdinand and Isabella. They supported effective armies, including infantry and feudal cavalry. They promoted Christianity by converting or expelling Arabs or Jews and by maintaining doctrinal purity within the church. Spain and Portugal were developing effective new governments through a special sense of religious mission and religious support (church provides revenues and officials for the royal government, while government supports church courts). This promoted West's expansion into the international position.

A map of Portugal, Castilla, and Aragon all neighboring each other.

 Vivaldi brothers: 

Italian Genoese brothers who sailed with two galleys through the Straits of Gibraltar, seeking a western route to the "Indies." They disappeared in 1291, but they were the precursors of a major Western thrust into the southern Atlantic. No one really understood what they meant by the "Indies." After, other explorers started to discover the routes, such as Spain sailing along the African coast.

medieval depiction of the brothers' fleet.


Vasco da Gama:

Portuguese captain who sailed for India in 1497. After the introduction of the compass and the improvement in map-making, he was the first European to reach India by sea, establishing early Portuguese dominance in the Indian Ocean in 1498.  He is the one who opened the trading route from Portugal to India, and is known as one of the most successful explorers in the 14th century.

Vasco da Gama's passage into India