HIST 1112 Shift from Mediterranean to the Atlantic

This is Western Civilization; my name is Dr. Long. This video is entitled, the shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic world. Now the shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic world was a major change in world history from the 15th through the 17th century CE, and this change had a very dramatic impact on the world – on the human web, as historian William McNeil puts it, or on the world system, as scholar Immanuel Wallerstein describes, world links. Now world history often focuses on large geographic areas that link different civilizations in trade and in cultural interactions. One of these large areas is the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is one of the largest seas in the world. The Romans gave the Mediterranean Sea its name; in Latin the term ‘Mediterranean’ means the sea in the middle of the earth. Because the Roman Empire included all the territories along the Mediterranean, they also called it Mari Nostrum or Our Sea. The Mediterranean Sea touches, and thus links, three different continents: Europe; Asia; and Africa. The Mediterranean region is known for a climate of rainy, mild winters, and hot and dry summers. The history of the Mediterranean Sea has long fascinated historians; this has especially been the case for a group of French historians known as the Annales School, named after the main journal in which they published their ideas. Annales school historians focus on total history, or big-picture history. They deal with themes such as social groups, mentalities, change over the long term, and the role of geography in history. Now the Annales School of historiography has been very influential and in part has shaped Immanuel Wallerstein’s idea of world system. Two historians from the Annales School were especially influential in analyzing the history of the Mediterranean. The first was the French-speaking Belgium scholar, Henri Perrin, who lived from 1862 to 1935. Now Perrin was a medieval historian, as previously noted – at its height, the Roman Empire controlled all the territories along the Mediterranean Sea, bringing unity to the Mediterranean region. In the 4th and 5th centuries CE, Germanic tribes invaded and overran the western half of the Roman Empire, with the empire in the west coming to an end in 476 CE. Now most historians prior to Perrin assumed that the end of the Western Roman Empire was what marked an end to unity in the Mediterranean region, unity that the Romans had brought to the Mediterranean. However, Perrin challenged this view in his 1937 book, Muhammad and Charlemagne. Instead, Perrin argued that what really divided the Mediterranean and in process influenced the development of European civilization was the rise of Islam. In the one-hundred years after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, Arab armies conquered a number of lands along the Mediterranean Sea, including Syria; Palestine; Egypt; North Africa; and much of Spain – and even briefly invading France. Arab forces were a major threat to Europe during the Middle Ages, with Arab pirates raiding places in Europe such as southern France and Italy. According to Perrin, it was thus the rise of Islam that divided the Mediterranean, cutting off old Roman trade routes and making contact between the kingdoms of Western Europe and the eastern Roman Empire, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire, more difficult. This isolated also dramatically influenced the cultural and political development of Frankish lands, for instance, under the rule of Charlemagne. The Perrin thesis, as it has been known, was controversial and caused a great deal of debate among medieval historians. What everyone thinks about the Perrin thesis is one of the first major historical arguments to focus on the Mediterranean. The next historian, also of the Annales School, to focus on the Mediterranean region was Fernand Braudel. Braudel is especially famous for his 1949 book, The Mediterranean and The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. In this book, Braudel contests the idea that the Mediterranean was ever one united region. Instead he argued that it was always diverse – geographically and culturally. Braudel stressed the large geographical and historical forces that gave rise over the long run to a series of rise and falls of empires, as well as cultural and religious changes in the Mediterranean region. Braudel’s ideas on the Mediterranean region are a good segue into the idea of the shift – of a shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic worlds between the 14th and 17th centuries CE. Now hostility between the Christian states of Western Europe on one side of the Mediterranean and Muslim states in the Middle East on the other side of the Mediterranean – certainly continued during the Middle Ages. The Crusades is a good example of this. However, from the 11th through the 15th centuries, even during the Crusades, trade between Western Europe and the Islamic world continued, and the main routes for this trade went across the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean was the highway of trade between Western Europe and the Islamic world, even while they were fighting the Crusades. The population and economies of Western European nations were growing in this period. This in turn stimulated the demand for luxury goods from the Byzantine Empire in the Islamic world, such as textiles. More importantly, it stimulated demand in Western Europe for luxury products from China and India, such as silk; porcelain; and spices. Now all of these products went overland across Asia up through the Silk Road to ports in the Middle East. What this meant was that most of the luxury products that Western Europeans wanted ultimately came to Western Europe from the Middle East along trade routes in the Mediterranean. In Europe, the Italian city-states were heavily involved with this trade, competing with each other commercially and militarily, and overall serving as middlemen between Northern Europe and the East. Unfortunately, disease also spreads along trade routes. When China and other countries in Asia were hit with an epidemic of the Bubonic plague in the 14th century, the plague spread from Asia to Italy and then much of the rest of Europe – thus Italy and its Mediterranean trade connections played a key role in the outbreak of the Bubonic plague in Europe. In spite of the plague, from the 11th through the 15th centuries, the Italian city-states saw both strong economic and population growth. Italy was the most urbanized place in Europe from the 11th through the 15th centuries, with a number of cities that had a population of over a hundred-thousand people – including Milan; Venice; Florence; Rome; and the South of Italy, Naples. Other cities in Italy had populations of over fifty thousand, such as Pisa; Genoa; and Bologna. Now by way of comparison, London – in 1350, only had a population of about twenty-five thousand people – much smaller than the cities of Italy. The size and the wealth of the Italian city states also had cultural ramifications. Indeed it was no accident that the Renaissance began in Italy. The Renaissance, an artistic and literary movement in Western Europe that focused on man and sought to return to the cultural sources of ancient Roman and Greece came about in Italy, which was prosperous because of its Mediterranean trade. So events in the Mediterranean had an impact on the Renaissance. Also, the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire was overrun by the Ottomans in the 14th and 15th centuries, with the Byzantine Empire finally coming to an end in 1453 when the Ottomans captured the Byzantine city of Constantinople – renaming it Istanbul. The downfall of the Byzantine Empire brought an influx of Greek-speaking scholars to Italy, whose cultural contributions helped the Renaissance. Towards the end of the Renaissance, in the late 15th century, things began changing in the Mediterranean world. First, Spain was completely reunified in 1492, when the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, the kingdom Granada, fell to Christian forces. This was the end of a series of wars known as the Reconquista or the Re-conquest. The end of the Reconquista left Spain both unified, and militantly Catholic, as the wars of the Reconquista were wars between Catholics and Muslims. Muslim powers in North Africa continued to attack Spain after 1492. The Spanish writer, Miguel Cervantes, author of the famous, influential, and very funny novel, Don Quixote, was kidnapped and enslaved for a few years by Muslim pirates, and this is just one prominent example. While the novel Don Quixote is mainly a work that deals with fantasy and social satire, the continuing Islamic threat is also a theme of Don Quixote. Now next door to Spain, France – which is also a Mediterranean country, was a rising power in the 15th and 16th centuries. France had a growing population and a strong monarch. In 1494, France invaded Italy and Spain did the same shortly thereafter. Wars in Italy involving both Spain and France, after 1494, lead to Italy’s decline. Even more importantly, another factor that contributed to Italy’s decline over time were the European voyages of discovery and exploration. The Portuguese first began sending out explorers around Africa, culminating in Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer sailing around Africa all the way to India in 1498. Now da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498 was very important because it mean the Portuguese had found a trade route to Asia that bypassed the Mediterranean entirely. In addition, in 1492 Spain sent out Christopher Columbus westward across the Atlantic in search of a different trade route to Asia. It was no accident that Columbus was an Italian, a ship captain from the city of Genoa, which is located along the Mediterranean. Columbus, of course, did not find a new trade route to Asia. Rather, he discovered new continents – the Americas. In the decades after Columbus, the Spanish conquered vast territories in the Americas and set up a colonial empire. Spain became incredibly wealthy during the 16th and 17th centuries, especially from its silver mines in South America. Spain also came to control the Philippines in Asia in this period. The ruling family in Spain, the Habsburg family, also controlled other territories in Europe – such as in Austria; Bohemia; the title of the Holy Roman Empire; the Netherlands; and some Italian states. This made Spain under 16th-century monarchs – such as Charles the Fifth, who ruled from 1500 to 1556, and his son, Philip the Second, who ruled from 1556 to 1598 – extremely powerful. Charles the Fifth and Philip the Second had had a vast empire and vast resources at their disposal. However, the 16th century also saw major religious changes in Europe, particularly the Protestant Reformation and the creation of several new Protestant churches in Northern Europe. In addition, the Ottomans were a major threat to Europe in this time period. They invaded and conquered much of Eastern Europe and in 1529 put the Austrian capital of Vienna, which was Habsburg territory and deep in Europe, to siege. The Ottoman siege of Habsburg Vienna failed in 1592, but they remained a major threat and again, put the city of Vienna to siege in 1683 – a siege that once again failed to capture Vienna. From the beginning, the Ottomans were an empire based on conquests and territorial expansion. Once the Ottomans stopped expanding, the Ottoman Empire would begin to decline. At the same time, the Ottomans who were Sunni Muslims fought a bitter series of wars with the Safavids in Persia, or Iran, who are Shia Muslims. Now for their part, the Habsburgs were devout Catholics. They made it their mission to beat back both Protestants and the Islamic Ottoman Empire. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain spent much of its wealth trying to subdue Protestant states in Northern Europe and beat back the Ottomans. Now they had some success with this. For example, during the reign of Philip the Second, a combined Spanish and Venetian fleet – in 1571 – inflicted a huge defeat on the Ottomans at the naval battle of Lepanto, fought in the Mediterranean. Many Catholics in Europe saw the battle of Lepanto as a miracle, and after the battle of Lepanto the Ottomans were never again a major naval threat to the Habsburgs in the Mediterranean. However, the Habsburgs had less success with Protestant states and with France, which despite being predominantly Catholic, for geographical reasons was a major rival of the Habsburgs. This all ultimately culminated in a very bloody and destructive war – the Thirty Years War, which razed across much of Europe from 1618 to 1648, and this was a war that the Habsburgs ultimately lost. All the wars that the Habsburgs engaged over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries – against Protestant states, against the Ottomans – all these wars were very expensive and they went on for years, ultimately ruining Spain economically. Despite massive amounts of silver coming from the Americas, and high taxes in Spain, the Habsburgs spent much of this money on wars, and they even went bankrupt four times from 1596 until 1647. By the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, Spain’s economy had been severely weakened, and by that time Northern European powers – such as England; the Netherlands; and France – were on the rise. Also, in the 16th and 17th centuries, other European powers – such as Portugal; France; the Netherlands; and England – also sent out explorers and established new colonies in the Americas. This led to a new economic system known as the Atlantic economy, a triangular trading system between European powers in Europe; the colonies in the Americas; and African nations. Products such as tobacco, coffee, and sugar came to Europe from the American colonies. In addition, by the 17th century European powers had well-established trade routes to Africa and to Asia. The Portuguese, for their part, had several trading ports in India. The Dutch also had a colony along the coast of what’s now South Africa and controlled the East Indies, present-day Indonesia. Products such as silk; tea; and spices came to Europe from these new Asian trade routes. Now between the growing importance of the Atlantic economy and the new trade routes to Asia, Europeans increasingly began bypassing trade through the Mediterranean that went to Asia. The old Mediterranean trade routes that had once linked Europe to Asia through the Middle East became obsolete. The Italian city states, which had been so important in Europe – because of this trade route, declined economically. Also, between 1648 and 1700, Amsterdam in the Netherlands was the most important port city in Europe as well as a major center of banking in the stock-market trade. Now Amsterdam is a northern city along the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean. Likewise, London and Paris – also in the north, also focused on the Atlantic – were on the rise in this period as well. Moreover, by the 17th century, Spain and the Ottomans – the two big military powerhouses of the Mediterranean – were both declining powers. They both had fought multiply enemies in a series of long, expensive, and ultimately inconclusive wars. Also, both the Spanish and Ottomans began to have internal problems in their own governments. All of this weakened them over time. While Northern European powers, which were more Atlantic, focused and their economies growing because of the Atlantic economy, grew stronger both militarily and economically. In short, from the 14th through the 17th centuries, the Mediterranean went from a place of central importance in the global system – both in terms of trade and military importance – to a backwater. A few conclusions are now in order. First, as a region, the Mediterranean has long fascinated historians as central to events of importance in world history. Henri Perrin and Fernand Braudel are good examples of historians who focus on the Mediterranean. Second, as a region, the Mediterranean rose in importance when it could serve as a connecting point between Western Europe and Asia; it declined in importance when it no longer could serve that purpose as a connecting point between Western Europe and Asia. With Immanuel Wallerstein’s idea of global systems in mind, this meaning the areas that are core and areas that are periphery – less important, can change over time. Finally, the Mediterranean’s decline was also linked to the European voyages of discovery. These voyages both discovered new trade routes between Europe and Asia, and new continents that gave rise to an entirely different trading system – the Atlantic world. Well, that’s all for this video. Thanks for watching.

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