The Enlightenment

•April 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment


In the wake of the Scientific Revolution, and the new ways of thinking that it prompted, scholars and philosophers began to reevaluate old notions about other aspects of society.

Philosophers admired Newton because he had used reason to explain the laws governing nature. People began to look for laws governing human behavior as well.

They hoped to apply reason and the scientific method to all aspects of society – government, economics, religion and education. Their efforts began the Enlightenment, a new intellectual movement that stressed reason and thought and the power of individuals to solve problems. Known also as the Age of Reason, the movement reached its height in the mid- 1700s and brought great change to many aspects of Western civilization.

 The legacy of Locke and Hobbes: Two views on government

 The Enlightenment started from some key ideas put forth by two English political thinkers of the 1600s, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Both men experienced the political turmoil of England early in that century. However, they came to very different conclusions about government and nature.

 Thomas HobbesHobbes´ Social Contract. Thomas Hobbes expressed his views in a book called the Leviathan (1651). The horrors of the English Civil War convinced him that all humans were naturally selfish and wicked. Without governments to keep order, Hobbes said, there would be “war… of every man against every man” and life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

 Hobbes argued that to escape such a bleak life, people had to hand over their rights to a strong ruler. In exchange, they gained law and order. Hobbes called this agreement by which people created a government the social contract. Because people acted in their own self- interest, Hobbes said, the ruler needed total power to keep citizens under control. The best government was one that had the awesome power of a Leviathan (sea monster). In Hobbes view, such a government was an absolute monarchy, which could impose order and demand obedience.

 Locke´s Natural rights. The philosopher John Locke held a different, more positive view of human nature. He believed that people could learn from experience and improve themselves. As reasonable beings, they had the natural ability to govern their own affairs and to look after the welfare of society. Locke criticized absolute monarchy and favored the idea of self government.

 John LockeAccording to Locke, all people are born free and equal, with three natural rights – life, liberty and property. The purpose of government, said Locke, is to protect these rights. If a government fails to do so, citizens have the right to overthrow it.

 Lockes’ theory had a deep influence on modern political thinking. His belief that a government’s power comes from the consent of the people is the foundation of modern democracy. The ideas of government by popular consent and the right to rebel against unjust rulers inspired struggles for liberty in Europe and the Americas.

The philosophes

 The Enlightenment reached its height in France in the mid- 1700s. paris became the meeting place for the greatest thinkers of the day. The social critics of this period in France were known as philosophes, the French word for philosophers.

 The philosophes tried to apply reason to all aspects of life. They felt that if accepted ways of doing things did not make sense, those ways should be changed. The philosophes particularly opposed the traditions of absolute monarchy and divine right. They also objected to the special privileges enjoyed by the nobility and clergy. These two groups owned most of France’s wealth, yet paid little or nothing in taxes.

Most of the philosophes turned away from traditional religious beliefs. They placed their faith in reason rather than in the Church. Some philosophes were atheists – people who deny the existence of God. Most, however, were deists. That is, they believed in God as the creator of the universe, but they rejected Church rituals and the authority of the clergy. Deists accepted only those teachings that fit with scientific understanding. For example, they looked upon Jesus as a great moral teacher rather than as the son of God.

 Voltaire fights Intolerance. Probably the most brilliant and influential of the philosophes was Francois Marie Arouet (1694- 1778). Using the pen name of Voltaire, he published more than 70 books of political essays, philosophy, history and drama.

 VoltaireVoltaire often used humor against his opponents. He made frequent targets of the clergy, the aristocracy, and the government. Though he was sent to prison twice for insulting nobles, Voltaire never stopped fighting for tolerance, reason and limited government. He also championed free speech and is remembered for the famous line, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

 Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers. Like Voltaire, the Baron de Montesquieu, a lawyer and aristocrat, admired the English system of government. After studying the English model, Montesquieu outlined practices that he believed would protect people’s rights and lead to a good government.

 MontesquieuIn The Spirit of the Laws ( 1748 ) Montesquieu urged separation of powers – the division of authority among different branches of government. One branch, the legislative, would make laws. A second branch, the executive, would see that the laws were carried out. The third branch, the judicial, would interpret the laws. Separation of powers, Montesquieu believed, would keep any individual or group from gaining total control of the government. This would, he said, safeguard the liberty of people against corrupt leaders.

 Jean Jacques RousseauRousseau: Champion of freedom. One of the greatest of the philosophes was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau violently disagreed with other Enlightenment thinkers on many matters. One of them was that, while most philosophes believed that progress in the arts and sciences would improve life for all people. Rousseau, however, argued that arts and sciences corrupted people’s natural goodness. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”, he wrote.

 Rousseau drew a sharp distinction between “civilized people” and what he called “natural man” or the “noble savage”. People who live in a civilized society, said Rousseau, are unhappy, insecure, and selfish. He argued that if people lived outdoors, in harmony with nature, they would be better off.

In 1762 Rousseau explained his political philosophy in a book called The Social Contract. He proposed an ideal society based on a new kind of social contract. Under this contract, the people would not give a ruler or representative the power to make laws for them. Instead, they would have a form of direct democracy. Each member of the community would vote on issues, and the will of the majority would become law.

Political Reforms

 The key thinkers of the Enlightenment had very definite views on the ideal government. They all admired the English system, with its limitations on royal power. However, only a few of them – notably Locke and Rousseau – believed that people could govern themselves.

 For this reason, most of the philosophes opposed democracy. “Once the common people begin to reason”, Voltaire wrote, “then everything is lost. I hate the idea of government by the masses”. According to Voltaire, the best form of government was a monarchy in which the ruler shared the ideas of the philosophes and respected the people’s rights Such an “enlightened monarch” would rule justly and introduce reforms.

 Although the philosophes were a small group, they had great influence. In the late 1700’s several monarchs – Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria, Frederick II of Prussia, and Catherine the Great of Russia – made reforms that reflected the Enlightenment spirit. These leaders became known as enlightened despots.

 The enlightened despots supported the philosophes’ ideas but had no intention of giving up any power. At times the monarchs allowed religious toleration and cut down on censorship. They also discouraged serfdom, simplified laws, and tried to improve education. However, their motivation for undertaking such changes was always to make their countries stronger and their own rule accordingly more effective.

 Women and the Enlightenment

The philosophes challenged many assumptions about government and society. But they often took a traditional view towards women. Rousseau, for example, developed many progressive ideas about education. However, he believed a girl’s education should mainly teach her how to be a helpful wife and a mother. Other male social critics scolded women for reading novels because they thought it encouraged idleness and wickedness. Still, some male writers argued for more education for women and for women’s equality in marriage.

Women writers also tried to improve the status of women. In 1694, the English wirter Mary Astell published A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Her book addressed the lack of opportunities for women. In later writings, she used Enlightenment arguments about government to criticize the unequal relationship between men and women in marriage. She wrote “If absolute sovereignity be not necessary in a state, how comes it be so in a family?… If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves?”.

 During the 1700s, other women picked up these themes. Among the most persuasive was Mary Wollstonecraft, who published an essay called A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. In the essay, she disagreed with Rousseau that women’s education should be secondary to men’s. Rather, she argued that women, like men, need education to become virtuous and useful. Wollstonecraft also urged women to enter the male- dominated fields of medicine and politics.


Over a span of a few decades, Enlightenment writers challenged long- held ideas about society. They examined such principles as the divine right of monarchs, the union of church and state, and the existence of unequal social classes. They held these beliefs up to the light of reason and found them in need of reform.

The philosophes mainly lived in the world of ideas. They formed and popularized new theories. Although they encouraged reform, they were not active revolutionaries. However, their ideas eventually inspired the American and French revolutions and other revolutionary movements in the 1800s. Enlightenment thinkers produced other long- term effects that helped shape Western civilization.Execution king Louis XVI

Picture of the execution of Louis XVI, king of France

Belief in progress. The first effect was a belief in progress. Pioneers such as Galileo and Newton had discovered the key for understanding the mysteries of nature in the 1500s and 1600s. With the door thus opened, the growth of scientific knowledge seemed to quicken in the 1700s. Scientists made key new discoveries in chemistry, physics, and mechanics. The successes of the Scientific Revolution gave people the confidence that human reason could solve social problems. Philosophes and reformer surged an end to the practice of slavery and argued for greater social equality, as well as a more democratic form of government.

A more secular outlook. A second outcome was the rise of a more secular, or nonreligious, outlook. During the Enlightenment, people began to question openly their religious beliefs and the teachings of the Church. Before the Scientific revolution, people accepted the mysteries of the universe as the workings of God. One by one, scientists discovered that these mysteries could be explained mathematically. Newton himself was a deeply religious man, and he sought to reveal God’s majesty through his work. However, his findings often caused people to change the way they thought about God.

Importance of the Individual. Faith in science and in progress produced a third outcome, the rise of individualism. As people began to turn away from the church and royalty for guidance, they looked to themselves instead.

The philosophes encouraged people to use their own ability to reason in order to judge what was right or wrong. They also emphasized the importance of the individual in society. Government, they argued, was formed by individuals to promote their welfare. The British thinker Adam Smith extended the emphasis on the individual to economic thinking. He believed that individuals acting in their own self- interest created economic progress.


•March 29, 2008 • 1 Comment


The Renaissance inspired a spirit of curiosity in many fields. In science, as in the arts and humanities, people began to question ideas that had been accepted for hundreds of years. New scientific theories and discoveries led to changes so great that historians speak of a Scientific Revolution during the 1500´s and 1600´s.

The Scientific Method

The many discoveries of the Scientific revolution were made possible by a new method of looking at nature. As early as 1200´s, the English thinker Roger Bacon had argued that scientist should use experiments to learn about the natural world. At the time, Bacon’s ideas fell on deaf ears. By the late 1500´s, however, many scientists were turning in that direction. They used what has come to be called the Scientific method – a logical procedure for gathering information and testing ideas.

The scientific method involves stating a problem or question, forming an hypotheses (an unproved theory), making observations and experiments, and drawing conclusions. Using the scientific method, scientists of the 1500´s and 1600´s revolutionized the way we think of the universe.

Steps scientific method

Changing views of the Universe

The Medieval view. In medieval times people believed that the sun the moon, and planets revolved around the earth. This idea had begun with the Greek philosopher Geocentric theoryAristotle in the 4th century B.C. It had been restated by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D., and supported by the Christian Church during the Middle Ages. The Church had taught that God had designed the universe especially for human beings. He had place the earth at the center of the universe, ringed by the planets. Beyond the planets lay the stars, and beyond the stars was the dwelling place of God.

This earth- centered view of the universe, called the Geocentric theory, made sense to people of the Middle Ages. They observed the sun traveling across the sky every day, and they noted the changing patterns of stars at night. It seemed logical to think that the earth was the fixed center of the universe.

A new Scientific view. In the early 1500´s, the geocentric view of the universe was questioned by Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish churchman, doctor and astronomer. Nicolaus CopernicusCopernicus thought that the sun was in a fixed position at the center of the universe and that the earth was one of the planets circling around it.

Copernicus´ Heliocentric theory – the idea that the sun was the center of the universe – marked the beginnings of modern astronomy and modern scientific thinking. Copernicus knew, however, that most scholars and clergy of the time would reject his theory because it went against their religious views. Fearing persecution, he did not publish his work until 1543, the last year of his life. Not until the next century would his ideas become widely accepted.

Heliocentric theory



One of the first people to agree with Copernicus was Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642). An Italian scientist and mathematician, Galileo was a firm believer in the scientific method. Galileo GalileiKnowledge of nature, he thought, came from making “sensible experiments and necessary demonstrations”.

Early in his career, Galileo caused a great stir with an experiment on the laws of motion. Galileo is said to have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropped objects of different weight to the ground. To the surprise of many people, he found that light objects fall at the same time as heavy objects. This discovery sparked controversy, as did Galileo’s later work in astronomy.

Galileo’s study of the skies. When Galileo heard about a recent Dutch invention – the telescope – he turned his attention to studying the stars. He made a telescope for himself, with which he could even see the moon’s craters. He described his discovery enthusiastically:

Sketch of the moon made by Galileo“It is a most beautiful and delightful sight to behold the moon. Anyone may know that the moon certainly does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one that is rough and uneven, just like the face of earth itself, it is everywhere full of vast bulges and deep chasms”

Galileo’s observations seemed to disprove the medieval belief that objects in the heavens were smooth and perfectly shaped, and thus purer than the earth. Other scientists challenged his findings, but soon they used their own telescopes to confirm his reports. Galileo also discovered that Jupiter has moons circling around it. This challenged the view that all heavenly bodies move around the earth.

A clash with the Church. Early in the 1620´s Galileo asked the Pope’s permission to write a book comparing Ptolemy’s and Copernicus´ ideas. The Pope agreed because Galileo had promised to uphold the Church’s teachings. When the book was published in 1632, however, it shocked and angered the Pope. Galileo had kept his promise by making a final statement supporting Ptolemy’s views. Yet the rest of the book clearly showed that he agreed with Copernicus. In 1633 he was brought before the Inquisition and accused in these words:

Galileo´s trial

“You, Galileo, were denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the

false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world and

immovable and that the earth moves”

Threatened with torture, the 70- year old Galileo was forced to retract what he had said. In addition, he had to promise not to teach the heliocentric theory and had to remain under arrest in his own house, where he was closely watched. Still, these actions did not prevent the spread of Galileo’s ideas. He continued to write, and with the aid of friends, smuggled out a new manuscript.


Galileo was not alone in looking for new theories to explain what he saw in the skies. Other astronomers of the time included Tycho Brahe of Denmark and Johannes Kepler in Germany.

Brahe. Like Renaissance artists, scientists of the early 1500´s and 1600´s often Tycho Brahedepended on wealthy patrons. With money from the Danish king, Brahe built one of the earliest modern observatories. There he watched the stars for evidence to support his ideas. Brahe agreed with Copernicus that planets move around the sun, but he still thought the sun circled the earth once a year.


Kepler. After Brahe’s death in 1601, Johannes Kepler continued Brahe’s work. Using Johannes KeplerBrahe’s observations and measurements, Kepler showed that a mathematical order exists in the planetary system. More important, he took Copernicus´ ideas from theory to fact: he proved mathematically that the planets revolve around the sun. Kepler’s work made an enormous contribution to astronomy.



The ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe and Kepler changed the way people looked at the world. Isaac Newton (1642- 1727), an English mathematician and scientist, came up with Isaac Newtoneven more startling ideas.

Newton showed that all objects in the universe – things on earth, as well as moons and planets – obey the same laws of motion. He explained this by demonstrating the actions of gravity and inertia. Gravity is the attraction that draws all objects toward each other. This force, Newton found, increases qith the mass of the objects.

Inertia is resistance to change. According to the law of inertia, an object at rest will remain at rest unless a force causes it to move. Similarly, a moving object will keep moving in a straight line unless another force causes it to halt or change direction.

Newton’s discoveries made it possible to explain the movements of planets. According toNewton´s discovery of planetary motion the law of inertia, the planets would move in a straight line endlessly into space. however, the gravitational pull from the sun forces the planets into oval- shaped orbits. With the same reasoning, Newton could explain the movement of objects on earth. Apples, for example, fall to the ground instead of flying upward because of gravity.

Newton’s achievement was remarkable. Building on earlier discoveries, he had explained laws that operate everywhere in nature. In 1687, he published his ideas in a work known as the Principia. The universe Newton describe was like a giant clock, whose parts all worked together perfectly according to strict scientific laws. Newton, however, believed that God was the creator of this orderly universe, the clockmaker who had set everything in motion.


Careful observation and use of the scientific method became important in many different fields. At the same time that astronomers began to explore the secrets of the universe, other scientists began to study the nature of living things.

Vesalius. In 1543, the year Copernicus published his theories, a Flemish doctor Andreas Andreas VesaliusVesalius, published a beautifully illustrated textbook on anatomy. Recognized as a pioneer in the field, Vesalius is often considered the father of modern anatomy.

As a child, Vesalius was so curious about the structure of living things that he dissected the bodies of mice, rats, dogs and cats. As he grew older, he studied the writings of ancient doctors such as Galen. However, Vesalius did not accept many of the long- held ideas about human anatomy because they were based on studies of animals. He would therefore begin to dissect human corpses, despite widespread disapproval of this practice. To find bodies, Vesalius searched cemetaries in the middle of the night.

Although his work caused great controversy, Vesalius knew more about anatomy than any other doctor in Europe. Teaching at the University of Padua in Italy, Vesalius urged his students no to rely on the theories of earlier scientists but to learn by investigating for themselves.

Harvey. One of the graduates of the University of Padua, an English doctor named William HarveyWilliam Harvey (1578- 1657), discovered that blood circulates in the body and is pumped through vessels by the heart. As part of his research, Harvey examined the hearts of many animals. “I found the task so full of difficulties”, he wrote, “that I was almost tempted to think that the motion of the heart was only to be understood by God”. Harvey’s careful work was another triumph for the experimental method.

Leeuwenhoek. Scientist’s investigations in many fields were made easier by the Anton van Leeuwehoekinvention of the microscope. Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch shopkeeper and amateur scientist who lived from 1632 to 1723, was one of the first people to build and use a microscope. With this instrument, Leeuwenhoek studied the eye of the ox, the brain of a fly, wool fibers and the seed of plants. He even watched the blood racing through a tadpole’s body.

One day Leeuwenhoek put some water under the lens of his microscope and saw “living creatures, little animals”, swimming quickly about. Soon he was looking with “wonder at a thousand living creatures in one drop of water”. Leeuwenhoek was peering into a mysterious new world – the world of one- celled living things.

Linnaeus. One of the aims of early scientists was to find laws or systems that would reveal a logical order in nature. The Swedish biologist Carolus Linnaeus came up with suchCarolus Linnaeus a system in the 1700´s. Linnaeus started his work by studying plants and animals and writing careful descriptions of them. Linnaeus walked nearly 1000 miles through the lonely, freezing areas of northern Europe to collect samples. From his observations, Linnaeus developed a system for naming and classifying plants, and he published his research in 1753. five years later, he published a system for classifying more than 4000 animals.

Linnaeus system, which gave a two- word Latin name to each kind of living thing, put similar animals into groups. For example, the group Felis (cat) included both Felis domesticus (the house cat) and Felis leo (the lion). Today’s system of classifying living things is based on Linnaeus model.


A number of thinkers who were not working scientists played important roles in the Scientific Revolution. Sir Francis Bacon, an English politician and writer of the early Sir Francis Bacon1600´s. believed that science could help people live more comfortable lives and better understand the world around them. Bacon urged scientists to free themselves from the cobwebs of the past – from ignorance and prejudice – to make new discoveries.


In France at about the same time, René Descartes took a keen interest in science. However, his approach to gaining knowledge was different from Bacon’s. Rater than using Rene Descartesobservation and experimentation, Descartes relied on mathematics and logic. For Descartes, the only clear truth was his own mind and ability to reason. He expressed this idea in a few words: “I think, therefore I am”.

Modern scientific methods are based on the ideas of Bacon and Descartes. Scientists has shown that observation and experimentation, together with general laws that can be expressed mathematically. Can lead us to a better understanding of the natural world.

The Plight of Palestinian people- 9th Grade

•March 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This is the reading that you must do for next week… my advice: read it, print it and bring it to class. There´s going to be a quiz the following class based on the reading and your knowledge of the topic.(download here: Jesus nacio aqui, Belen 2007 A.D.)


•January 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment


The Story Continues. In the 1960s Obafemi Awolowo A leader from western Nigeria, spoke about human rights in his newly independent homeland: “Every member of any human association has rights, intangible though they are, which are sacred and inalienable, and which must be protected against invasion, at all costs.” Awolowo believed that it was the duty of the state to preserve these rights. However, in newly independent African nations. It was more easily said than done.

Political Challenges

Africans greeted independence with high hopes. The end of colonial rule, however, brought with it many serious problems. New African leaders were inexperienced in politics and in governing the new states. When they failed to improve conditions as quickly as people wanted, the military often stepped in. Soon many African countries were being ruled by military dictatorships.

Ghana is a good example of the pattern that emerged in many African states after independence. During the early years of Kwame Nkrumah’s rule, Ghana’s main crop -cocoa- sold for high prices on world markets. The resulting prosperity helped make Nkrumah popular. He used that popularity to gain absolute power.

Kwame NkrumahIn 1964 a new constitution made Ghana a one-party state, and any challenge to Nkrumah was seen as treason. “All Africans know that I represent Africa”, Nkrumah said, “and that I speak in her name. Therefore no African can have an opinion that differs from mine”.

Kwame Nkrumah

That did not stop people from criticizing, particularly when the price of cocoa dropped on the world market. This drop, combined with government and corruption, caused Ghana’s economy to collapse. Nkrumah became more and more ruthless and his popularity fell rapidly. In 1966, he was ousted in a military coup. Over the next 12 years Ghana shifted between civilian and military rule. Political instability was linked to shifts in the economy that resulted from changing cocoa prices.

In 1979 a young air force pilot, Jerry Rawlings, led a takeover. Rawlings claimed that the present military leaders were corrupt and had to go. After public trials several leading military officers were executed. Rawlings then allowed elections to take place, and the country returned to civilian rule.
A little more than a year later, Rawlings dissolved the civilian government. He claimed it was worse than the military junta it had replaced. Rawlings tried socialist policies to improve the economy, but they too failed. A new course toward free enterprise worked. By 1990 Ghana’s rate of economic growth was one of the highest in Africa. To achieve this success, however, the people of Ghana had to pay high import, sales, and income taxes. Subsidies on food and fuel were reduced. The currency was devalued to stimulate exports. Ghanaians grew tired of these measures and of Rawlings’s rigid governing style. A new constitution was adopted, and civilian rule was established. Resigning from the military, Rawlings ran for the presidency and won.

1. What kinds of political problems – exemplified by Ghana – did new African nations face?

Ethnic Violence

Ghana’s political experience was typical of many African nations. Some nations, however, had to deal with special problems left over from colonial rule. National boundaries had been drawn by imperialist powers for their own convenience. People of similar cultural backgrounds were often separated, while people of different cultures were grouped together. In some places, such as Nigeria, this led to civil war.

Nigeria. By 1963, four years after independence, Nigeria was a federation of four regions. Each had a large degree of local independence. In the north are the Hausa- Fulani, who are mostly Muslim. In the south are the Yoruba and the Igbo (also called Ibo) , who are mostly Christians, Muslims or animists, who believe that spirits are present in animals, plants, and natural objects. The Yoruba, a farming people with a tradition of kings, live to the west. The Igbo, a farming people who have a democratic tradition live to the east. The government hoped that this loose federation would satisfy people’s ethnic and regional differences and prevent conflicts. It did not.
Hoping to end political conflict and corruption, a group of Nigerian military officers seized control of the government in January 1966. Most of these officers belonged to the Ibo. When word got out that Yoruba and northern leaders had been killed, many people decided that it was an Igbo grab for power.
Biafran territory

Biafra and the division of Nigerian territory into regions. 

In July a second army revolt placed a northerner at the head of Nigeria’s government. In September and October, Muslim mobs in northern cities had killed some 20000 Igbo and other southerners, causing thousands more to flee to their homes in the southeast.
Unable to get help from the military government, in May 1967 the Igbo proclaimed the independence of southeastern Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. This act set off a two-year civil war that resulted in the deaths of several million Igbo from starvation and disease.
After Biafra surrendered, the Nigerian government gradually restored stability. Ethnic and regional tensions continued, however. The Nigerian civil war showed what ethnic conflict could do within a country. Such violence also spilled over national borders and threatened whole regions.

Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. In the 1990s in Rwanda and Burundi, tensions between the two major ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu, exploded into violence. In late 1993 about 50,000 Burundians -mostly Hutu- lost their lives in violence following a Tutsi- sponsored coup attempt. Marie Kaboinja, a survivor of the massacres, told of the violence:

“Tutsis charged us with spears and pangas [machetes] … We ran away with
my family. But many of us were killed, including my grandfather, father, mother,
aunt and my three children.” (Marie Kaboinja, quoted in “Burundi Still Bleeding”,
The Economist).
Rwandan genocide

The remains of several hundred Tutsi civilians who were massacred during the country’s 1994 genocide were exhumed and reburied as a memorial to the victims of genocide in Kaduha in 1995. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandan children died as a result of genocide and war. Those who survived have lived through unspeakable atrocities.  

In 1994 an estimated 500,000 Rwandans were killed. Most were Tutsi slaughtered by Hutu. The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. Within hours of the attack, a campaign of violence spread from the capital throughout the country, and did not subside until three months later when the Tutsi army then captured the capital of Rwanda. About 2 million people fled to refugee camps in Zaire and in other neighboring countries. Many refugees died of disease and starvation. The killing in Rwanda continued.

The presence of so many Rwandan refugees destabilized Zaire. In 1995 the government stood by as Hutu refugees forcibly expelled Tutsi whose ancestors had settled in the eastern Congo as early as the 1700s. The Tutsi responded with force.
It was feared that the Tutsi-Hutu conflict would engulf the entire central African lakes region. The Tutsi rebels were joined by forces who opposed Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. The Tutsi and the anti-Mobutu forces, led by Laurent Kabila, marched on the capital city of Kinshasa. In May 1997 they forced Mobutu to flee the country. Kabila renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He promised to rebuild the country and halt foreign interference. After Kabila was assassinated in a failed coup attempt in 2001, his son Joseph took his place as head of the government.

2. Explain how ethnic conflicts contributed to problems in the independent countries of Africa.
3. What triggered the clash between ethnical and regional groups in Nigeria in 1966?
4. What were the events that caused the conflicts in Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire?
5. How might ethnic conflict have been reduced in Africa?

Economic and Environmental Problems

Almost all new African nations experienced economic difficulties. Their colonial economies had been tied to their imperialist rulers. After independence, they lacked the balance between agriculture and industry that is needed for economic stability.

Limited economies. Many new African nations depended on a single crop or mineral resource. For example, Ghana depended on cocoa, Zambia on copper, Sudan on cotton, Zaire on cobalt, and Nigeria on oil. All these products were subject to large price swings in the world market. Dependence on one product puts an economy at risk. When prices for that product drop, the whole economy -and therefore the nation -suffers. This is what happened in Ghana when cocoa prices dropped.
A similar situation occurred in Nigeria. By 1979 Nigeria had returned to a democratically elected civilian government. Because of the country’s oil wealth, Nigerians had the chance to escape the poverty that threatened most other African nations. Industrialization looked promising. Then in the1980s the international price of oil dropped. Oil had accounted for 95 percent of Nigeria’s export revenues. With the drop in oil prices, the country’s economy faltered. As in Ghana, the military took over in 1983 and introduced strict new measures to try to turn the economy around. In 1985 this government was itself overturned by Major General Ibrahim Babangida. He introduced bold reforms to restore economic and political stability. Babangida renegotiated the country’s foreign loans and applied for assistance from international financial organizations. In the 1990s he and other generals tried to return the country to civilian rule.

Like Nigeria, many new African countries turned to international organizations such as the World Bank for loans. However, bad planning, poor management, and corruption often left the countries worse off than before. Soon most African countries were deeply in debt. In addition, their economies remained highly vulnerable to changes in the global economy. Rising prices often forced Africans to pay huge amounts for imported goods.

Population and environment. Under colonial rule improvements in health care, disease control, and nutrition led to population growth. After independence this growth continued. To provide food farmers overused their land and planted crops on dry areas where fierce winds stripped away the topsoil. Acres of trees were cut down for firewood. The combined effect of these practices was desertification – the spread of the desert. In addition, severe droughts have brought starvation to millions.
Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, new diseases emerged and new strains of viruses appeared. AIDS, for example, spread rapidly through many regions of the African continent. In 1995 the deadly Ebola virus struck in Zaire, causing the government to close the borders of an entire province in an effort to halt the disease’s spread.

Superpower Rivalries

As African nations pursued peace and stability, they soughtHorn of Africa assistance from both the Soviet Union and the United States. The Cold War between these two superpowers added to Africans’ problems.
When civil war broke out in Angola after independence in 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba rushed military support to the rival factions.

 The Horn of Africa      

For the next 12 years, Angola became a battleground, or “hot war:’ for the Cold War. When tensions between the two superpowers eased, attempts were made to end the Angolan civil war. A regional agreement linking the independence of Namibia to the withdrawal of Cuban troops was reached in 1988. In 1991 the rival sides agreed to hold free elections the following year.

Tensions still result in breakouts of hostility, however. Soviet-American rivalry was even more complex in the Horn of Africa, the area that includes Ethiopia and Somalia. The Horn borders the Red Sea as well as the Indian Ocean sea-lanes to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. When Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974, a Marxist regime came to power. The Soviet Union provided military aid. Ethiopia’s traditional enemy, Somalia, was also a socialist country supported by the Soviet Union. When Somalia invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia. Somalia was defeated by Cuban troops with Soviet weapons.
African nations, however, often sought aid for practical reasons rather than ideological beliefs. A worldwide relief effort tried to help Ethiopia during a severe drought in 1984. Somalia, also devastated by drought, called on its Arab neighbors as well as the United States for aid.
In 1991 after the Cold War had ended, the military dictatorships in both Somalia and Ethiopia collapsed. Somalia descended into civil war as different clans and rival warlords fought for power. The fighting prevented aid from reaching victims of the drought. In 1992 a United Nations force intervened. Unable to stop the bloodshed, it withdrew in frustration in 1995. Although warring factions reached agreement in 1998, fighting continued. Many Somalis have sought refuge in other countries.

6. What economic and environmental challenges did some of the newly independent African countries face?
7. What are some reasons that the world’s powerful nations have taken an interest in Africa?

The Colonization of America

•December 20, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Two examples of Spanish Colonization: Mexico and Peru

Throughout the 1500´s, Spain was the most powerful nation in Europe, with the largest overseas empire. Beginning with Columbus, Spaniards explored the West Indies, Central America, and parts of North and South America. At first, they believed these lands were in the East Indies. However, the natural resources fond on the Americas provided riches other than spices and jewels.

The Conquest of the Aztecs.

The first settlers stayed primarily on the Caribbean islands. Soon, however, the Spaniards desire for gold led them to the mainland, where they encountered the rich Aztec and Inca states. Many of the Spanish Conquistadors – conquerors – were sons of aristocratic families. They came to the Caribbean seeking fame, gold, land and adventure. Some were motivated by religious reasons as well. Many were very brave and daring, they were also willing to use any means to achieve their ends.
CortesHernando Cortés was a typical conquistador – courageous, charming, ruthless. With 11 ships, he sailed from Cuba to the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 1519. Cortés had an army of 508 soldiers, 2 priests, 16 horses and several small cannons.

Hernan Cortés

News of these white- skinned, bearded strangers, who rode unfamiliar beasts and had thundering weapons, astonished the Aztecs. Their ruler, Montezuma, believed that European might be gods or messengers from the god Quetzalcóatl (Aztecs priests had predicted that Quetzalcóatl would return every year).
Although his warriors could easily have overcome Cortés’s small army, Montezuma sent ambassadors with gifts of gold and featherwork. Unsure of the Spaniard’s aims, Montezuma hoped the intruders would take the gifts and leave. The gold, however, only made the Spaniards eager to find its source.

Cortés decided to march inland. To prevent his outnumbered soldiers from turning back, Cortés ordered the ships sunk behind them. Malinche, an Aztec noblewoman who had been sold into slavery, aided Cortés in dealing with local rulers. Quick to learn Spanish, she acted as both interpreter and informer. Her knowledge and influence helped Cortés make alliances with other tribes and keep track of Aztec spies.

Cortés’s army and allies crossed the mountains to Technotitlán. There they spent several months as Montezuma’s guests. Some of the Aztec nobles, however, suspected the Spaniards of wanting to take over the empire. In a fierce battle, they drove the Spaniards out of the Aztec city, killing or wounding more than half of Cortés’s small army.
Undiscouraged, Cortés began a siege of Technotitlán. The Aztecs resisted until most of their warriors had been killed or captured or had come down with smallpox. Meanwhile, Montzuma had died, probably from being stoned by an angry crowd of Aztecs. The Aztec resistance was now led by Cuahtémoc, nephew of Montezuma. Cuahtémoc valiantly defended the Aztec city against a three- month Spanish siege, but Technotitlán finally fell to Cortés. The Spanish conqueror captured Cuahtémoc and had him executed. Cortés would later take control of the rest of Mexico.

Conquest of Mexico

The conquests of the Incas.

The Great Inca empire lay south of the Aztec lands, in what is now Peru. The Spaniards´ conquest of the Incas was quicker than the defeat of the Aztecs, but equally dramatic. Francisco Pizarro gained permission from Spain’s ruler, emperor Charles V, to attempt the Conquest of the South American Coast. When Pizarro arrived in 1532, the Inca rulerPizarro Atahualpa met him cordially but was immediately taken prisoner. In the fighting that followed, the Inca warriors, armed with spears, war clubs and bows and arrows, were no match for Spanish cannons, steel swords and mounted soldiers. Not one Spaniard died in the fighting that killed hundreds of the Inca people. Pizarro promised to get Atahualpa free on the payment of a great ransom – a room full of gold. After the gold had been collected from throughout the empire, though, Pizarro ordered Atahualpa strangled. One fifth of the ransom was sent to the king of Spain, the rest was divided among all Spaniards, who soon began to fight among themselves. Pizarro himself was assassinated. Unrest continued until 1555 when the Spanish king’s representative, called a viceroy, established order in Peru.

Cortes and Atahualpa

Francisco Pizarro and Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, in 1532, drawing by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, c. 1600.

Spain’s empire in the Americas

Centralized government. The Spaniards moved quickly to set up a strong centralized government in the Americas. They divided their lands into provinces, and the king appointed a viceroy to carry out his policies in each province.
The Spanish government believed that the colonies existed only for the economic benefit of Spain. The king claimed one fifth (1/5) of all the gold and silver mined in the Americas. Spain also controlled trade of the colonies, encouraging the export of raw materials and discouraging the development of manufacturing. In this way, the colonists were to buy finished goods from Spain.

Indian laborers. The Spanish government gave huge pieces of land in the colonies to conquistadors and other royal favorites. These settlers believed it was below their dignity to work their lands.
From the Spanish government, therefore, settlers received “Encomiendas” – land grantsEncomienda that entitled them to demand labor and taxes from the Indians who lived on their lands.

Picture of an Encomienda

Although the Spanish government passed laws to make sure that Indian workers would not be mistreated, local officers did not enforce the laws. The Encomienda system was, in practice, a brutal system of slavery. Thousands of Indians died during the 1500´s of harsh working conditions.

Spanish missionaries. In the late 1500´s, as part of the missionary effort o the Counter Reformation, the Catholic Church sent many missionaries to the Americas to convert the Indians. In order to preach, the friars learned Indian languages. They wrote accounts of the Indian customs and set up schools to teach them new skills.
Missionaries in AmericaOne of the most important missionaries was Bartolomé de las Casas. He is remembered as one of the people who began a lifelong campaign to protect Indians from colonists who were interested only in the profits to be made from their labor. His appeals to the king resulted in new laws passed in 1542 forbidding the further enslavement of Indians.

Missionaries in America

Question 1. What factors helped Cortés conquer the Aztecs? What helped Pizarro conquer the Incas?
Question 2. According to the Spanish government, what purpose were their colonies supposed to serve? How did they tried to establish a strong, centralized government?
Question 3. What is an Encomienda? Why was it considered a brutal system of slavery?
Question 4. What was the purpose of the Spanish missionaries in America?


Missionary efforts also played an important role in the settlement of Brazil by the Portuguese. In 1500, following the same route as Da Gama, the fleet of Pedro AlvaresCabral Cabral made a wide arc into the western Atlantic and landed on the coast of Brazil. Cabral immediately claimed this territory for Portugal. Eventually, the Portuguese claimed the east coast of South America as far south as present- day Uruguay.

Pedro Alvares Cabral

Most of the settlements in Brazil were started by wealthy nobles who received large grants of land from the Portuguese king. Unlike the Spanish kings, however, the Portuguese colonies attracted settlers from all classes of society. By the mid- 1500´s there were about 15 fortified towns on the Brazilian coast. Jesuit missionaries pioneered the exploration of the interior, where they started schools and mission churches for the Indians. Portuguese settlers followed the missionaries inland. Some were farmers looking for good grazing land. Others were adventurers looking for gold or slaves.Like Spain, Portugal gained power and prestige from its American colonies. Other European monarchs were slow to take advantage of the opportunities for colonization. In the late 1500´s and early 1600´s, however, they began to enter the competition.

DUTCH, ENGLISH AND FRENCH COLONIESThe Netherlands, England and France played only a small part in the early voyages of exploration, for religious conflicts and civil wars focused their interests at home. By the late 1500´s these countries were ready to join the search for new lands. Both Spain and Portugal had already claimed (under the Treaty of Tordesillas) all undiscovered territories. Ignoring this treaty, the Netherlands, England and France began their own explorations.

Dutch and English trading empires. By the mid- 1500´s, the Netherlands had come under Spanish control. When the people of Netherlands revolted against their Spanish rulers in 1568, their ships could no longer enter either Spanish or Portuguese ports. Undiscouraged, the Dutch decided to take over the Portuguese trade routes and set up their own trade ports in India and the East Indies.By the early seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company had gained control of nearly all the Portuguese ports in Asia. The Netherlands also became the only European country allowed to trade with Japan. By the mid- 1600´s the Dutch had a near monopoly on the Asian trade.
Similarly, the Dutch West India Company, founded in 1621, soon controlled much of the slave trade and other shipping in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Unlike the Spanish and Portuguese, the Dutch (who were Protestants) sent no missionaries to their American colonies. Their main interest was profitable trade.Triangular trade in America
Map describing the Triangular trade made between European countries and

 its colonies

Like the Netherlands, England concentrated on developing its trade and its strength at sea. To trade in Africa, India, or the Americas, however, the English had to fight both rival traders and pirates from other countries. Traders of the English East India Company, fought the French to gain trading posts in India. Privateers – private ships authorized by the government to attack enemy ships- were used by England to capture Spanish treasure ships and bombard ports in South America.

England’s American colonies

Reasons for settlement. Many English settlers came to the Americas to escape religious conflicts in their home country. They wanted to live in a place where they could freely practice their religion.
The founders of Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, were Puritans. Puritans were Protestants who were persecuted because they believed that the Church of England had not gone far enough in reforming or purifying its doctrines and ceremonies. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers, another Protestant group that faced discrimination in England. Maryland began as a refuge for Roman Catholics fleeing England.
Other colonies were settled by people who came to the Americas mostly for economic reasons. In 1607 a group of aristocratic Englishmen made a settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, expecting to find a fortune in gold. Their hopes fell flat, and many starved to death their first winter because they had not bothered to store food.
Later colonists had more realistic ideas about the kind of wealth to be found in the colonies. For the most part, that wealth was lands, which was free for the taking.

The colonial economies.
Throughout the English colonies, most people lived on small farms. In the south, however, plantations dominated the economy. To supply the labor needed on their tobacco and rice plantations, thousands of slaves were bought and imported from Africa.
As the colonial population grew and soil became less fertile from overuse, settlers moved to the frontier, where they could carve out new farms. Because this expansion often forced the Indians out of their traditional lands, many wars were fought between Indians and settlers.

A land of opportunity. The abundance of land in America gave English colonists a great deal of economic opportunity and political freedom. First, by owning and working their own farms, settlers could earn an independent living much more easily than in Europe. Even colonists who had little money could prosper.
Second, owning land carried with it the right to vote. In Europe small groups of nobles held most of the political power because they held most of the land. In England’s American colonies, however, a large number of men owned property and thus had a voice in government.

The French in North AmericaFur trading was the primary source of wealth for French settlers. At scattered outposts around the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, French traders bought the valuable furs collected in the wilderness by French and Indian trappers.
Attempts at farming were less successful. The king granted large territories in the valley of St. Lawrence River to French lords. Yet there was shortage of farm labor. The French government had refused to let Protestants settle in New France for fear that they would spread Protestantism. Only Catholic peasants could emigrate, and those who did had the opportunity to start farms on their own.
Many French people preferred to settle in French- owned islands in the West Indies. The large sugar plantations on these islands were extremely profitable. France’s colony of St. Domingue, today Haiti, was at one time regarded as the richest colonial possession in the world.

Conflict over Colonies

Since both England and France wanted to expand their possessions in North America, they soon came into conflict. The struggle for overseas colonies became mixed up with other disputes among European nations. Between 1689 and 1763, while various conflicts were going on in Europe, English and French colonists in North America fought four different wars for the control of the continent.The final showdown between England and France came in the “French and Indian War”, which began in 1754. The two sides, each with Indian allies, clashed over lands around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence river. English victories at Quebec in 1759 and Montreal in 1760 meant the end for New France, and Britain’s superiority at sea was a decisive factor in the outcome of the war. In the Treaty of Paris of 1763, France was forced to surrender.

French and Indian war

The treaty cost France all of its North American colonial possessions. French lands in Canada went to Britain, while French territory west of the Mississippi went to Spain. The treaty did allow France to keep its sugar rich colonies in the Caribbean, but French power in the continent had been broken.

Question 5. How did Netherlands become an important commercial power?
Question 6. For what reasons did English settlers come to America?
Question 7. Why was America considered a “land of opportunity”?
Question 8. What were the main economical activities of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British and French colonists?
Question 9. What were the causes and effects of the French and Indian War?

The Roman Empire and Its Decline

•December 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment


Conflicts at home

As Rome expanded, many wealthy Romans neglected their civic duties. They thought only about gaining even more power and wealth. This increased the differences between rich and poor. As a result, the threat of uprisings grew.

Reform fails. Reformers tried to relieve these problems. They wanted to break the huge estates and give land to the poor. But the wealthy landowners in the Senate felt threatened. They opposed the reforms and had the reformers killed.

Civil War. At the same time, generals who had conqueredRoman civil war other lands became ambitious for power at home. They hired poor farmers to serve under them as soldiers. Increasingly, these soldiers shifted their loyalty from the Republic to their general. The general’s desire for power led to conflict.
Eventually, civil war broke out. A civil war is an armed conflict between groups within the same country. On one side were the generals who supported the cause of the generals. On the other were generals who were backed by patricians and senators.
A general named Marius fought for the plebeians. While a general named Sulla fought for the patricians. The struggle went on for years. Finally, in 82 B.C., the patricians won. Sulla took power and became a dictator.

Question 1. What led to conflict in Rome?
Question 2. Who fought in the civil war and why?

Julius Caesar

After Sulla died, other generals rose to power. One of them was Julius Caesar. Caesar was born around 100 B.C. into an old noble family. He was a man of many talents and great ambition. But to achieve real power, he knew he had to win in the battlefield.

Military leader. Caesar first saw military action in Asia Minor – part of present- day Julius CaesarTurkey – and Spain. But he proved himself to be a great general in Gaul, the area known as France.
The Gauls were fierce fighters. But in a brilliant military campaign, Caesar defeated the Gauls and captured the entire region. His conquests won new lands and great wealth for Rome. The victories also won fame and fortune for Caesar.

Dictator for life. In addition to his military skills, Caesar was also a good politician. He gained a reputation as a reformer who supported the common people. This, plus, his military fame, made him popular with the plebeians. When Caesar returned for Gaul, the Senate ordered him to break up his army. Instead, he led his soldiers into Italy and began fighting for control of Rome. After several years, Caesar emerged victorious. In 46 B.C. he returned to Rome, where he had the support of the people and the army. That same year, the Senate appointed him the sole ruler. In 44 B.C., Caesar was named dictator for life.

Caesar´s reform. Caesar governed as an absolute ruler, but started a number of reforms. He expanded the Senate by including supporters from Italy and other regions. He also enforced laws against crime and created jobs for the poor. Despite these reforms, some Romans feared that Caesar would make himself king. Not only would he rule for a lifetime, but his family members would also rule after him.

Assasination and legacy. Concern over Caesar’s growingDeath of Caesar power led to his downfall. Caesar was assassinated in 44B.C. by a group of senators. The leaders of the conspiracy were eventually killed or committed suicide. Caesar’s rule and his death would bring an end to the Republic.

Question 3. Who was Julius Caesar and how did he get to power in Rome?

Question 4. What were some of the reforms made by Caesar?

Question 5. Why was Caesar killed?


After Caesar’s death, several leaders struggled to gain power. One of these men was Caesar’s great nephew and adopted son, Octavian.
This struggle led to civil war, which lasted for years. The war destroyed what was left of the Roman Republic. Eventually, Octavian defeated his enemies. In 27 B.C., he became the unchallenged ruler of Rome. In time, he took the name of Augustus, which means “exalted one”, or person of great rank and authority.

Augustus rebuilds Rome. Augustus was the first emperor of Rome, but he didn’t useAugustus that title. He preferred to be called “first citizen”. He restored some aspects of the republican government. Senators, consuls, and tribunes once again held office. But Augustus held power over all of them.
Augustus governed well. He brought the provinces under control and strengthened the empire’s defenses. He also began a civil service. A civil service is a group of officials employed by the government. The Roman civil service collected taxes, oversaw the postal system, and managed the grain supply.
Augustus also rebuilt and beautified Rome. He built grand temples, theaters and monuments. He replaced many old brick buildings with structures in marble. Under Augustus, Rome became a magnificent imperial capital.

The Pax Romana. The reign of Augustus began a long period of peace and stability in the Roman empire. This period is called the “Pax Romana” or Roman peace. The Pax Romana lasted for about 200 years. During this time, the empire grew to its greatest size, about 2 million square miles (3.218.695 km2). Under Augustus, the Roman army also became the greatest fighting force in the world. Around 300000 men served in the army. They guarded the empire´s frontiers. They also built roads, bridges and tunnels that helped tie the empire together. In addition, Augustus created a strong Roman navy that patrolled the Mediterranean Sea.

A Strong economy. The Pax Romana continued long after Augustus dies in 14 A.D. Many other emperors ruled after Augustus. Some were good rulers, while others were not. But the government begun under Augustus was so effective that the empire continued to do well.

Roman trade

– Agriculture and trade. Agriculture and trade helped the empire prosper. Farming remained the basis of the Roman economy, but industry also grew. The manufacture of pottery, metal goods, and glass increased. So did the production of wine, olive oil, and other food products.
The empire fostered economic growth through the use of trade routes. Traders sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, Africa, and Western Asia. They also traveled by land to Gaul and other parts of Europe. Through trade, Rome acquired valuable goods not available at home. Traders brought back grain, ivory, silk, spices, gold and silver, and even wild animals. Much of this trade relied on the quality of Roman roads. It also relied on the security provided by the Roman military.

– Currency. The Roman economy was also united by a common currency, or money. In Augustus´ time, a silver coin called denarius was used throughout the empire. A common form of money made trade between different parts of the empire much easier. Traders could buy and sell without having to change their money into another currency.
Rome’s expanding economy largely benefited those who were already wealthy. As a result, the division between rich and poor deepened.

Question 6. What happened to Rome after Caesar´s death?
Question 7. Who was Augustus and how did he change Roman government?
Question 8. What is the Pax Romana?
Question 9. How did the following factors helped encourage economic growth during the Pax Romana:
a. Roman army
b. Roman navy
c. Farming and Trade
d. Use of a common currency


After the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D., a series of problems began to weaken the empire. These economic and political problems were difficult to solve.

Economic problems. The empire could no longer feed its many people. Some farmlands had been destroyed by warfare. Bu the biggest problem was improving farm production. With many slaves to do the work, plantation owners chose not to develop more-productive faming technology. As a result, the land wore out and harvests did not increase. Food shortages caused unrest.
The empire was low on money. Taxes were high, so many people did not pay them. Without tax money, the government could not pay the army or buy needed services.

Military problems. Rome was constantly at war with nomadic people in the north and northeast, as well as with the people who lived in its eastern borders. The empire needed large armies to respond to so many threats, so it hired foreign mercenaries. A mercenary is a soldier for hire.
Mercenaries often had no loyalty to the empire. They pledged their allegiance to an individual military leader. Having armies that were loyal to only one man created independent military powers within the empire. In addition, mercenaries were not as disciplined as Roman soldiers. This lack of discipline made the army less effective. The result was a weakened defense along the empire’s borders.

Political and Social problems. The sheer physical size of the Roman empire made it hard to govern. Government officials found it was not easy to obtain news about some regions of the empire. This made it more difficult to know where problems were developing. Also, many government officials were corrupt, seeking only to enrich themselves.
Finally, a rapidly changing series of emperors also weakened the government. During a 49- year period (from 235 to 248 A.D.), Rome had 37 emperors. Some of them were military leaders who used their armies to seize control. With emperors changing so often, the Roman people had little sense of orderly rule.
Other aspects of Roman society also suffered. Roman wealth had always been in the hands of a small part of the population. As the empire grew, the number of poor citizens increased. The division between the rich and poor contributed to social unrest. Most early Romans were stern, honest, hard- working, loyal and patriotic people who believed it was their duty to serve the government. Romans of the later empire lost their patriotism. Most took little interest in the government and lacked political honesty.

Question 10. What economic, military, political and social problems weakened the Roman empire?

Diocletian divides the empire. In 284 A.D., Diocletian took control of the RomanDiocletian Empire at a very difficult and chaotic time in the empire’s history. Diocletian realized that establishing order was necessary, and he was willing to take harsh measures to achieve that goal. For example, in an effort to unify the empire by stressing the practice of state religion, he began the persecution of Christians during his rule.
There were other reforms made by Diocletian to solve the empire’s problems. He changed the way the army operated by permanently placing troops at the empire’s borders. He also introduced economic reforms, including keeping prices low on goods such as bread, to help the poor.
During his reign, Diocletian no longer bothered to consult with the Senate. He issued laws on his own. Diocletian became an absolute ruler, one who has total power.

Splitting the empire. Diocletian soon realized that he could not effectively govern the huge empire. In 285 A.D. , he reorganized it in two, taking the eastern portion for himself. He chose this area for its greater wealth and trade, and its magnificent cities. He appointed Maximian to rule the Western half. The two men ruled for 20 years.Division of EmpireIn 306 A.D. a civil war broke out over control of the empire. Four military commanders – including Constantine- fought for control of the two- halves of the empire.Constantine continues reformsConstantineConstantine was a Western Roman military commander who fought to gain control of Italy during the civil war. In 312 A.D. he entered Rome as the new emperor of the empire’s western half. By 324 A.D., however, he had taken control of the Eastern empire as well. The empire was reunited and Constantine became the sole emperor.

A new capital. In a bold move, Constantine shifted the empire’s capital from Rome toConstantinople Byzantium. Byzantium was an ancient Greek city located in what is now Turkey. At a crossroads between East and West, the city was well placed for defense and trade. Constantine enlarged and beautified his new capital , which he renamed Constantinople. Today the city is called Istanbul.

Final Division. Constantine planned to have each of his three sons rule a portion of the empire after his death. His plan was unwise, for Constantius II, Constantine II, and Constans I created unrest by competing with one another. A period of conflict followed. In 395 A.D. the empire was permanently divided into east and west.

Question 11. What reforms did Diocletian and Constantine introduce to solve the empire’s problems?


Wealthy East. The Eastern Roman empire was much stronger than the Western Roman empire. The Eastern Empire´s capital Constantinople, bustled with traders from Asia, Africa and Europe. As a result, the eastern empire had more wealth. Also, the eastern cities were larger and better fortified. And the Black Sea was a natural barrier that discouraged invasions.

Weaker West. In contrast, cities in the Western empire were smaller and less prosperous. They were located farther away from the trade routes that provided both goods and wealth.

The cities of the west were more exposed to attack. Defense forces were widely scattered, they were often poorly paid, so they had little reason to risk their lives.

The Western Empire Crumbles

The decline of the Western empire took place over many years. Its final collapse was the result of worsening internal problems, the separation of the Western empire from the wealthier Eastern part, and outside invasions.

Germanic invasions. Since the days of Julius Caesar, Germanic people had gathered on the northern borders of the empire and coexisted in relative peace with Rome. Around 370 A.D. all that changed when a fierce group of Mongol nomads from Central Asia, the Huns, moved into the region and began destroying all in their path.

In an effort to flee from the Huns, the various Germanic people pushed into Roman lands. They kept moving and looting through the Roman provinces of Gaul, Spain and North Africa. The Western empire was unable to stop them. In 410, Germanic people overran Rome itself and plundered it for three days.

Barbarian invasions

Attila the Hun. Meanwhile, the Huns, who were indirectly responsible for the Germanic assault on the empire, became a direct threat. In 444, they united for the first time under a powerful chieftain named Attila. With his 100000 soldiers, Attila terrorized both halves of the empire. In the East, his armies attacked and plundered 70 cities. They failed, however, to scale the high walls of Constantinople.

The Huns then swept into the West. In 452, Attila’s forces advanced against Rome, but strains of famine and disease kept them from conquering the city. Although the Huns were no longer a threat to the empire after Attila’s death in 453, the Germanic invasions continued.

The Western Empire ends. The last Roman emperor, a 14 year- old boy named Romulus Augustulus, was taken from power by German forces in 476. After that, no emperor pretended to rule Rome and its western provinces. Roman power in the western half of the empire had disappeared.

The eastern half of the empire, which came to be called the Byzantine empire, not only survived but flourished. It preserved the great heritage of Greek and roman culture for another thousand years.

Question 12. In what ways was the Western empire weaker than the Eastern empire?

Question 13. Why did so many Germanic tribes began invading the Roman empire?

The Age of Discovery

•November 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Workshop 7-2: The Age of Discovery (Download if you want this info in .doc format)


By the early 1400´s, Europeans were ready to venture beyond their borders. As we haveWorld before Columbus already seen, the Renaissance encouraged, among other things, a spirit of adventure and curiosity. This spirit of adventure, along with other several important reasons, prompted Europeans to explore the world around them. This workshop describes how these explorations began a long process that would bring together the peoples of many different lands and permanently change the world.

1459 – Mauro, Fra, World before Columbus

Motives behind exploration

Europeans had not been completely isolated from the rest of the world before the 1400´s. During the Middle Ages, European crusaders battled Muslims for control of the holy land of Jerusalem. During the 13th century the Italian trader Marco Polo had reached the Imperial court of China: For the most part, however, Europeans had neither the interest nor the ability to explore lands. That changed by the early 1400´s. The desire to grow rich and to spread Christianity, coupled with advances in sailing technology, spurred an age of exploration.

1. The desire for wealth and power. The desire for new sources of wealth was the main reason for European exploration. Through overseas exploration, merchants and traders hoped ultimately to benefit from what had become a profitable business in Europe: the trade of spices and other luxury goods from Asia such as silk. Rulers in many countries saw that trade with Asia could make both them and their countries rich and powerful. The only problem that they had was that trade of goods from East to West was controlled by Muslims and Italians. Muslims sold Asian goods to Italian merchants, who controlled trade across land routes of the Mediterranean region. The Italians resold the items at increased prices to merchants throughout Europe. Other Europeans did not like this arrangement. Paying such high prices to the Italians severely cut their own profits. By the 1400´s European merchants – as well as the monarchs of England, Spain, Portugal and France – sought to surpass the Italian merchants. This meant finding a sea route directly to Asia.

Spice trade

The Silk road and Arab Sea routes followed to trade spices and luxury goods.

2. The Spread of Christianity. The desire to spread Christianity also motivated Europeans to explore distant parts of the world. Fear and hatred of Muslims continued long after the Crusades had ended. The Spanish and Portuguese particularly felt they had a God- given duty to drive Muslims out of other lands, they hoped to take Africa from the Muslims and convert the peoples of Asia.
Bartholomeu Dias, an early Portuguese explorer, explained his motives: “To serve God and his Majesty, to give Light to those who are in darkness and to grow rich as all men desire”.

3. Renaissance ideas and attitudes. The restless and individualistic spirit of the Renaissance also helped launch the Age of Exploration. Sea captains who ventured into uncharted oceans, explorers who penetrated unknown lands, soldiers who conquered vast overseas territories – all were driven by curiosity, the desire for adventure and the hope of fame. Many of them had read exciting accounts of the trips of other adventurers, such as Marco Polo.

4. Improvements in technology. While “God, Glory and Gold” were the primarySpanish caravel motives for exploration, advances in technology made the voyages of discovery possible. During the 1200´s it would have been nearly impossible for a European sea captain to cross 3000 miles of ocean and return again. The main problem was that European ships could not sail against the wind.
In the 1400´s, shipbuilders designed a new vessel, the caravel. The caravel was sturdier than other vessels. In addition, triangular sails adopted from the Arabs allowed it to sail effectively against the wind.

An Astrolabe                                A Spanish Caravel

Europeans also improved their navigational techniques. To better determine their position at sea, sailors used the astrolabe which the Muslims had perfected. The astrolabe was a brass circle with carefully adjusted rings marked off in degrees. Using the rings to sight the stars, a sea captain could calculate latitude, or how far north or south of the equator the ship was. Explorers were also able to more accurately track direction by using a magnetic compass, a Chinese invention.

Question 1. What factors led Europeam mations to sponsor voyages of exploration? Expllian each one.

Question 2. Why were European nations seeking an all- water route to Asia? 

Question 3. What European countries were competing for Asian trade during 

the Age of Exploration? 

Question 4. How did the invention of the Caravel, the Astrolabe and the Compass helped 

navigation in the 1400´s? 

Portugal Leads the Way

The leader in developing and applying these sailing innovations was Portugal. Located on the Atlantic ocean at the southwest corner of Europe, Portugal was the first European country to establish trading posts along the west coast of Africa. Eventually, Portuguese explorers pushed farther east into the Indian ocean.

The Portuguese explore Africa. Portugal took the lead in overseas exploration in part due to strong government support. The nation’s most enthusiastic supporter of exploration was Prince Henry, the son of Portugal’s king. Henry’s dream of overseas exploration began in 1415 when he helped conquer the Muslim city of Ceuta in North Africa. There, he had his first glimpse of the dazzling wealth that lay beyond Europe. In Ceuta, the Portuguese invaders found exotic stores filled with pepper, cinnamon, cloves and other spices, they encountered large supplies of gold, silver and jewels.
Henry returned to Portugal determined to reach the source of these treasures in the East. The Prince also wished to spread the Christian faith. In 1419, Henry founded a Navigation school on the southwestern coast of Portugal. Mapmakers, instrument makers, shipbuilders, scientists and sea captains gathered there to perfect their trade.

Within several years, Portuguese ships began sailing the western coast of Africa. By thePortugese explorations time Henry died in 1460, the Portuguese had established a series of trading posts along Western Africa’s shores. There they traded with Africans for such profitable items as gold and ivory. Eventually, they traded for African captives to be used as slaves. Having established their presence along the African coast, Portuguese explorers plotted their next move. They would attempt to find a sea route to Asia.

Portuguese sailors reach Asia. The Portuguese believed that to reach Asia by sea, they would have to sail around the southern tip of Africa. In 1488, Portuguese captain Bartholomeu Dias ventured far down the coast of Africa until he and his crew reached the tip. As they arrived a huge storm rose and battered the fleet for days. When the storm ended, he realized his ships had been blown around the tip to the other side. Dias explored the southeast coast of Africa and then considered sailing to India. However, his crew was exhausted and food supplies were low. As a result, the captain returned home.
With the tip of Africa finally rounded, the Portuguese continued pushing east. In 1497, Portuguese explorer Vasco d agama began exploring the east African coast. In 1498, he reached the port of Calicut, on the southwestern coast of India. Da Gama and his crew were amazed by the spices, rare gems that filled Calicut’s shops. The Portuguese sailors filled their ships with such spices as pepper and cinnamon and returned to Portugal in 1499. Their cargo was worth 60 times the cost of the voyage. Da Gama’s remarkable voyage of 27000 miles had given Portugal a direct sea route to India.

Question 5. Identify the following people, and explain why they were important for Portuguese exploration?

                    a. Prince Henry

                    b. bartholomeu Dias

                    c. Vasco da Gama

Question 6.  What products did the Portuguese seek on their voyages?

Question 7. What was the result of Vasco da Gama´s voyages?

Columbus reaches America.

As the Portuguese were establishing trading posts along the west coast of Africa, Spain watched with increasing envy. The Spanish monarch also desired a direct route to Asia.

In 1492, an Italian sea captain, Christopher Columbus, convinced Spain to finance a bold plan: finding a route to Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. In October of that year, Columbus reached an island in the Caribbean. He was mistaken in his thought that he had reached the East Indies. But his voyage would open the way for European colonization of the Americas – a process that would forever change the world. The impact of Columbus’s voyage, however, was to increase tensions between Spain and Portugal.

Columbus voyages

The Portuguese believed that Columbus had indeed reached Asia. Portugal suspected that Columbus had claimed for Spain lands that Portuguese sailors might have reached first. The rivalry between Spain and Portugal grew more tense. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI stepped to keep peace between the two nations. He suggested an imaginary dividing line, drawn north to south, through the Atlantic Ocean. All lands to the West of the line, known as the Line of Demarcation, would be Spain’s. These lands included most of the America’s. All lands to the east of the line would belong to Portugal. Portugal complained that the line gave too much to Spain. So it was moved farther west to include parts of modern- day Brazil for the Portuguese. In 1494, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, in which they agreed to honor the line. The era of exploration and colonization was about to begin.

Line of demarcation

Map that shows the division of the world according to the Line of Demarcation.

Question 8. What did Columbus intend to do when he set out from Spain

 and what did he find?

Question 9. What was the purpose of the Treaty of Tordesillas? 


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