Summary: The Human Web, a Bird's-eye view of world history

This Summary of The Human Web, a Bird's-eye view of world history is written in 2015

Chapter 1: The human apprenticeship


Communication has always been a key element in the creation of human history. Communications and connections between people often results in relationships, which usually influence people’s future behavior. Such relationships could be considered the source of trade, the invention of certain technologies, the evolution of ideas and much more. However, such communication between people is not always positive and also has negative connotations such as the exchange of deadly diseases.

The Source of Change

It is important to note that this process of exchange could be seen as one of the reasons for the historical creation of small communities, which later on discovered similar communities and started interacting with them. The interaction between such groups was mostly sporadic and limited to the exchange of goods and tools used to aid the members of both communities with their daily lives. On the other hand, the discovery of agriculture and the gradual change in the density of the existing communities, created the basis for the creation of even bigger groups of people. These groups of people could now gather food from the land they were living on and with that the need to resort to hunting-gathering techniques was reduced significantly. Later on, communities became even tighter and denser with the improvement of the means for exchange of goods and information. Such denser collections of people first emerged in the territory of modern day Iraq with the creation of the first urban metropolitan communities. With their creation, these communities started spreading, the process of which resulted in these communities reaching their boundaries and creating a global community, in which the circulation of ideas on an international level was now possible.

Looking at history from “The Web” perspective

Before discussing history based on web perspective, it is important to point out several significant features of this net-based representation of history. Networks of societies are mostly based on collaboration and rivalry. Collaboration is expressed in the fact that people who have specialized in a certain area can gather with others with the same set of skills for the sake of maximal production. Such a way of operation, however, tends to be the root of inequality in society Cooperation between the members of one social group often results in competitiveness with the members of others. Rivalry is one of the reasons for improvement and increasing the efficiency of the current societal structure. Collaboration in this context was only possible because of communication, which was the basis of the entire group structure. One of the issues regarding big groups, which managed to overpower others is that they had the capacity of growing so much that communication could be undermined, and with it social cohesion as well. The first reason for such growth were the advantages that living in such a group offered, the economic benefits, and last but not least the epidemiological advantages because people were more likely to become resistant to certain illnesses when they lived in big communities. The price for such benefits often included increased chances of poverty as caused by specialization of labor, insecurity, and exposure to epidemics, which made the residents more resistant. The second reason for the expansion of such communities is the personal interests of their leaders with regard to expansion. By having the societies expanded the leaders could follow their personal desire for power and prestige. Thirdly, technology also played an important role in the expansion of communities. The exchange of information was further facilitated by the invention of writing, printing, railroads, and big sailing ships. By having all of these tools for transportation communities could now actively expand their ideas.

Since societal networks included collaboration and rivalry the more members the had the tighter and more powerful they became. Furthermore, the spread of ideas within densely compacted societies was far easier, which resulted in the quick adaptation to new inventions.
The expansion of these societal networks further facilitated the transmission of inventions and ideas, which made it much easier for people to discover new things.

The beginning

It is important to understand, when trying to depict the lives of the first humans that everything that could be discovered abut them should be regarded as provisional and unconfirmed.

One of the first discoveries is that early humans lived in African savannas, grasslands with many drought-resistant trees that could have offered safe sleeping places. One of the key features of the early humans is that they were very versatile when it comes to nutrition, as omnivores they were able to eat a very large range of foodstuffs. Another important trait is the fact that our ancestors were able to use tools such as stones and sticks for protection and utility. Another important feature was the discovery of fir, which was crucial for human adaptability. It is evident that a flexible diet and the use of tools were the most essential characteristic of early humans.

The Homo Erectus’ ability to adapt

Homo erectus groups were able to travel and discover vast areas of land. They were able to venture beyond the boundaries of their usual habitat, which means that Homo erectus was able to adjust to various climates and natural conditions by molding their surroundings through tools, clothing, and shelter. Our direct ancestor, Homo sapiens, however, surpassed Homo erectus with his enlarged braincase and certain changes in his skeleton composition. By 10,000 years ago the ever growing exploration of the world by humans resulted in them spreading around the whole globe except for certain islands and ice-covered areas. The importance of communication comes back when one looks at the fact that human adaptability and exploration were only a result from it.  Communication can be regarded as the foundation of a social way of life, which without doubt must have facilitated the sharing of ideas, and this lead to the creation of different tools used by the community in the process of adaptation. The importance of language is so strongly related to the early human will to change that one can easily see, even nowadays, the existence of a discrepancy between words and reality and more importantly the desire to adapt reality to spoken language. Intelligible speech was of key importance in the creation of communities based on cooperation as it allowed the coordinated movement of a large number of individuals. The interaction between these individuals created a network of both exchange of ideas at an improved level of accuracy and range. Communication aided early humans with the exchange of ideas, but communication is often the source of misunderstandings and frictions. Therefore, a key landmark in the solving of these newly evolved issues is the creation of song and dance. Singing and dancing had a very distinct function in these communities as they had the capacity to dissolve disagreement and diminish the negative effects of rivalry, which comes as a result of cooperation.
The rapid expansion of human control over the globe in the period between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, probably led to territorial rivalry between different groups over food and shelter. In that period of massive expansion, food and shelter could be considered the main resources for further exploration and sustenance.

Communication proved to be a superior weapon as it allowed the grouping of individuals that could now take down large game, with the use of common strategy and ingenious weaponry such as bows, arrows and javelins. By inventing these weapons humans could attack beasts without the need to expose themselves to danger by approaching them. This rapid development of human experience regarding combat possibly led to the extinction of a number of animals - horses and camels in America in particular.

The Need to Adapt

Human expansion around the world stimulated the need of new tools and inventions so that our ancestors could better adapt to the ever-changing environment. Among these tools fire appears to be the most useful with its capacity to thoroughly change the landscape of a certain area while breaking down organic material into the chemical nutrients required for the faster growing of new plants. By intentionally incinerating large areas of grassland in the African savannas humans managed to improve forage for the game they were after and change vegetation for long periods of time. While Australia was most affected by fires due to its dryness, tropical rainforests were nearly devoid of ground level resources; therefore these two areas were not among the most popular for human exploration. Another extension in the human arsenal of tools and instruments was the varied and more complex use and mix of constituents. The extension of the usage of certain tools through the addition of more components further expanded the human toolkit. An important example for that is the invention of bows and arrows about 30,000 and 15,000 years ago. Bows and arrows are a perfect combination of stone, wood, feathers and fibers, which allowed humans to fire at their targets as opposed to the previously exercised melee style of hunting. While hunting was an integral part of the human diet, its versatility was further supplemented by the incorporation of plants and berries. Gathering was another popular way of finding additional nutrition. As gathering further broadened human diet it also became the reason for the invention of priced stone weights and digging tools, which aided in the process of root collection.

The Emergence of Spiritual Guidance

As humans’ language skills improved spiritual experts came into existence. The function of the spiritual world was to explain everything that happened by means of language. The concept of a spiritual world could be seen as a result of humans’ improved communications skills as they could now share their inner problems and try to interpret them by discussing them with higher transient beings. Furthermore, the creation of the spiritual world is another way of linking the yet unexplored with human knowledge at the time. As the spiritual world played a major role in everyday life there was the need of experts in the area. Such experts could now communicate with higher beings, relieve anxiety, and give advice as to what needed to be done according to the higher spirits they communicated with by learning how to assist good and appease bad spirits.

Spiritual Guidance

Even though toolmakers and communities able to communicate could be seen as existing in most communities at the time, groups still remained relatively small. A relatively frequent societal occurrence at the time was that of splitting with the group in search of food. Sometimes a single or several families would split from their group for long periods of time but they would still remain accepted members of their group. Another feature of this concept is the fact that at times humans would meet with all of the bands that have split in order to dance, marry, and communicate. Such gatherings appear to be crucial for the exchange of information between different groups since the ones that split often have contact with others, outsiders to the original community. Furthermore, it is worth acknowledging the avoidance of harmful inbreeding through such festival encounters.

By expanding their knowledge of different landscapes and environments, humans started applying their accumulated knowledge in order to extract as much positive resources from their surroundings as possible in order to satisfy their wants and enlarge their ecological function.

A typical example of humans adapting to unfriendly environment is their settlement in areas close to receding glaciers. The consequences of such settlement were significant as they resulted in people being aware of some species’ migratory instincts, which enabled surplus hunting of such animals during the respective seasons. Furthermore, humans started investing in food storage in the face of, fish weirs, smokehouses, and general storage houses. With the amassing of goods people also improved their housing conditions as they now had leisure time.

Salmon fisheries are believed to have started about 8,000 years ago but techniques in that direction have been practiced for a long time before that date. The idea behind accumulation of food is crucial at this stage as it created the conditions for the initiation of trade and food guarantee, to a certain extend. In spite of that, one should not forget that such solid sources of resources could be considered as potential reasons for conflict and rivalry.

Early Human Adaptability Achievements

About 800 C.E. in the most unwelcome environment of the Arctic Ocean, the Inuit managed to develop successful methods for whaling. They used small eight-men boats and detachable-head harpoons, which made it possible for them to pursue and tire out migrating whales. Bearing in mind that a single whale could supply a large number of people with various goods such as meat, oil and bones, whale hunters usually had a really high social standing within their communities. This amazing achievement in the field of human adaptability and environment exploitation is remarkable but it also resulted in rivalry between the Inuit and the Norse Greenlanders, who were later overpowered by the far more successful whalers.

Another famous example of human ingenuity is the Magdalenian cave which dates back to 16,000 and 13,000 years ago. The cave is an example of how food storage can be an important fact in human adaptability. The inhabitants used a nearby reindeer migrating path to secure their food supply. Furthermore, the cave includes various elements of spiritual activity and cave art. Alongside all of this, there were numerous interesting tools and instruments crafted with both precision and understanding of their practical use.
Last but not least, comes another similar example from Southwest Asia. About 15,000 years ago, human communities in the area, called the Natufian, benefited from the moister and warmer climate by using the abundance of wheat in the region. The Natufian were remarkable in the sense that they built houses around their food source and also managed to domesticate dogs. Unfortunately, about 13,000 years ago the climate changed and caused the wheat to slowly disappear, which caused the demise of Natufian urban life, they were forced to return to the migratory hunter-gatherer way of life.

In conclusion, human ability to communicate ideas was a key factor in the creation of communities that resulted in cooperation and expansion of human exploration. This rapid expansion, combined with humans’ ability to adapt to different environments resulted in the settlement in various lands around the world. The most significant achievement in terms of settlement could be seen in the example of the Natufian sites in Southwest Asia, where grain farming started to develop.

Chapter 2: Shifting of Food Production, 11,000 – 3,000 years ago

Reshaping the Environment

Bearing in mind the idea of humans extracting resources from their environment, comes the concept of improvement of such extraction methods. The most vital of these improvements is the domestication of different types of animals, which further increased the efficiency of agriculture. However, alterations did not only occur in the environment, the new way of living changed both the behavior and hereditary traits of humans and plants alike. The new sedentary lifestyle caused changes in the daily routines and the inventions needed by people.

Seeing that hunters and gatherers only spent a couple of hours in acquisition of food many would ask the question – Why would anyone want to become a farmer? The answer lies in the fact that many hunter-gatherer communities found it more convenient to settle down for most of the year since they already knew the benefits certain plants could give them such as clothing, bow strings, food, medicines, and poisons. One of the key issues with regard to farming was the property of the farms and their products. The initial idea of farming when everything produced would be shared and food would be consumed as soon as it was available was problematic as it did not leave any space for storing seed for the following year. Therefore, it is only when the idea of semi-private property emerged that farming could flourish. Another factor crucial for the evolvement of farming was that hunter-gatherer families rarely had enough resources and the physical effort to take care of more than one kid at the time. Whereas farmer societies had the capacity to produce and story a surplus of food and did not have to constantly move, which did not cause the child to be constantly exposed to hunger and exhaustion from travelling.

A fascinating example of human-created farming environment could be seen in the sowing of wheat in unusually moist or seasonally flooded areas. The earliest example of such an area is located in the Jordan Valley near Jericho, which started supporting farming about 9,800 years ago. The domestication of wheat and the experimenting of techniques of planting it caused the wheat to adjust to the human-created conditions. Such adjustment resulted in certain mutations that eventually increased food production.
On the subject of domesticated animals, protecting a herd from predators was essential the newly established connection between animals and humans. Seeing that many animals were reluctant to succumb to human leadership, herdsmen were led to kill uncooperative animals and foster docile behavior among the rest.

Such revolutionary developments led to farmers from different communities to share their accumulated knowledge with others and exchange the improved varieties of plants they have managed to produce. This exchange of inventions led to the mass planting and breeding of mutated, better adapted to humans’ needs, vegetation and domesticated animals. These strategies created an environment in which certain areas, previously unused, could now be used for sowing plants as the new sorts could withstand the elements in the area. In addition, farmers started growing grain in elevated areas and forests, certain trees had to be taken down or burned so that more space could be made for the food-producing plants such as wheat. Slash and burn was also a useful strategy for maintaining a healthy soil for food production of a nearby settlement and was developed about 4,000 years ago.

Animal Domestication

Domesticated animals were also influenced by their relationship with humans. Interesting enough certain mutations such as the wool-bearing sheep and the technique of milking goats and sheep were discovered. Milking had a big influence on the human relationship with herd animals as they gradually increased the number of herds, since lactating animals provided more food than simply slaughtering them for meat. Cattle animals provided further help in their function of pulling plows and wagons. With the help of animals people could now produce more grain and food than they needed, which was one of the main ecological reasons for the creation of cities and urbanized societies, since people could now amass the surplus of grain and use it as trade currency rather than simply food.

Rice Farming

It could be noted that it included far more human than animal labor as the whole process required diverting streams, planting by hand, and the creation of artificially leveled paddies.

Certain communities in the Indian Ocean and the Indonesian archipelago depended on fishing for sustenance. The favorable winds made it easy for them to venture as far as Madagascar and the Pacific Ocean.

In the Sub-Saharan part of Africa, about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, the climate changed and became significantly drier, making it more difficult to grow plants, which caused the people there to rely more on cattle herding. In the African grasslands, on the other hand, farming tried to exploit lake environments.

In Central America, farmers mainly planted corn, beans and squash, while sunflowers were more widespread in the north. South America provided a good environment for root crops such as cassava and potatoes. An unusual fact is that, llamas, which were the domesticated animals in the area, were neither used for milking nor for plowing.
The final effect of this new way of getting food was a rapid increase in populations, which could be considered a major success on the side of farmers and herdsmen in their capacity to cooperatively and actively change and adapt to their surroundings.

The price for success was in the face of the garbage, which had to be dealt with and could no longer be abandoned, as done by hunter-gatherer communities. Settled societies also suffered from herd diseases such as influenza, smallpox, and measles. Furthermore, robberies also became more widespread as societies grew; therefore farmers started building walls and defensive structures in order to defend their property.
The development of agricultural settlements spread on a large scale and changed the way in which people adapted to their environment. Sedentary communities slowly replaced hunters and gatherers where the density of human communication and specialization was far more advanced. In spite of that, people gradually realized the potential dangerous of this way of life and started aiming at improving the situation through technological, religious, economic, and other types of adjustments.

Chapter 3: Webs and civilizations in the old world, 3500 B.C.E. – 200 C.E.

With the rise of the newly created city civilizations certain connections were established among people. These connections refer to one’s necessity to have chief trade relationships and everyday deals with people, who were essentially a part of the same civilization but remained unknown.

Furthermore, the rise of the civilized world gave people the opportunity to extract more food and energy from nature and thereby expand rapidly at the expense of individual autonomy. An important feature of early civilizations is the separation between a privileged elite and villagers, who served the former in various ways.
The first civilizations

The earliest groups settled near the arable land near the rivers in the Mesopotamia region, the Nile, and the Indus. There were also similar gatherings of people near the Huang He River about 3000 B.C.E. in China. In South America, the Peruvian coast and the Humboldt Current provided the population with a rich diet of fish and the opportunity to grow food such as roots, beans, and squash.

Even though information about the societal structure that kept the civilizations of South America and the Indus Valley remain quite limited, there is abundant information about the ones that emerged in Mesopotamia. The texts, written on clay tablets, provide limited information about how the world’s oldest civilization came into being. What is known on the subject is that about 3500 B.C.E. people started building houses along the lower course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The area was populated by several thousand people, who use the Sumerian language, and fed on food that was grown on the fields along the riverbanks. As time passed and the population grew walls were built around the settlements to protect them from external attacks. There are three well-defined characteristics of Sumerian cities.

  1. The most distinct of which was the presence of divine households, or temples. These were much larger than private ones but the distribution of duties and income was similar.
  2. The second characteristic was the existence of a group of privileged citizens who were the ones farming the irrigated land and had at their disposal a staff of dependent filed workers and slaves.
  3. Finally, the riverbank accommodated merchants, caravan personnel, and sailors who were responsible for the bringing in of precious materials, while exporting manufactures in exchange.

Divine Households

The divine households pastured their own sheep in the fields that were cultivated by the workers. The priests, who were the god’s servants, then used significant amounts of the produced grain to thank the gods by performing various rituals. Such rituals were performed in often spectacularly built temples. The splendor of the temple was a necessity since the Sumerian people believed that a god might be displeased with the beauty of a temple, which could result in floods, famine, epidemics, etc. Since each city had its own gods, gods were not all-powerful. For that reason Sumerian priests believed that a council of the seven great gods could decide what the year would bring. Such ideas had a significant effect on public affairs and common action. One has to keep in mind that religion played an important role in the creation of communities and bringing people together. It could be speculated that cities originated when people, who worked on the fields, performed religious rituals together with others to assure divine protection.

This gathering of people and communities resulted in the creation of a network of communication, which gave birth to various important inventions such as canals, plows, wagons and sailing ships. All of which were created because of the newly established society’s necessities as suggested by the Sumerian cities’ key features.


Around 3000 B.C.E. the farming communities of the Mesopotamian floodplain were threatened by the rise of the pastoral societies of the vast Eurasian steppe. Once these societies managed to learn how to move flocks of herd animals from north to south and from lowland to highland they were able to quickly cover and exploit available pasture. This available pasture was also the irrigated land on which the Sumerian people lived and therefore this gave rise to a conflict and the enhanced role of the military in both of these communities.

The advantage of the city dwellers, in such military conflicts, came from their use of superior weapons and military formations. However, such professional approach to fighting brought tension inside the city as soldiers tended to use their weapons in what would otherwise be a peaceful situation. A typical example is a direct confrontation between a soldier and a tax collector, where the balance between them to be maintained for the sake of societal order within a city.

Another possible use of the military in that period could have been to seize rare materials such as timber and metals. Seeing that the city dwellers depended on such materials, the pastoral communities learned how to gain them and trade with cities in order to benefit from city-made weapons and goods. This stage in history gave the incentive of pastoral chieftains to protect merchant caravans. Thereby allowing non-urbanized communities to use urban goods, which by itself resulted in the further spread of the benefits of urban ideas and way of life.
Even though the Sumerian way of life strongly depended on the management of water and riverbanks, they were not the ones to bring the greatest innovation in the field. Looking at the civilization that was created in the Indus river valley one can see that it started the greatest breakthroughs in the field of water and river control. There are many scholarly and religious texts from the area that emphasize the importance of waterworks in the community. Therefore, the Indus people were the first ones to bring it to a high art by separating drinking from wastewater. This segregation led to the creation of the first sewage system that effectively prevented the spread of disease.

Egyptian Civilization

Although the Sumerian civilization in the area was successful with regard to extracting energy from nature and sustaining an urban lifestyle, the civilization of the Nile Valley is also worth noting. Having deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs, archaeologists can now analyze the innovations brought by the Egyptian civilization in a more accurate way. One of the findings is that early Egyptian architecture, which included pyramids, was greatly influenced by the Sumerian style of building. However, the Egyptians were keener on using stone rather than mud bricks. Another discovery is that the hieroglyphic way of writing is very similar to the cuneiform writing of the Sumerian civilization but is much clearer and complete. All of this could be evidence of the inter-civilizational communication between these two societies, which brings us back to the idea that urban life style leads to innovation through communication between communities.
Having unified Egypt under his authority, the Pharaoh, could concentrate on adapting and innovating the current means of food production and cultural enhancement to the newly conquered territory. By bringing a large number of people into one community, the Pharaoh created the necessary environment for the spread of ideas not only within the boundaries of Egypt but also around the Mediterranean, Nubia, Asia, etc. Egyptian culture expanded so rapidly that it led the seclusion of its people. Although the Egyptian people were so prosperous, their civilization started limiting their communication with the outside world. This isolation is dangerous as could be seen in the example of the Hyksos, who managed to overrun the Egyptian civilization with the use of their superior weaponry.

Developments in China

The developments in the Huang He Valley were a lot different from the Sumerian and Egyptian examples. First of all one of the main differences  was the number of people involved.
The Sumerian and Mesopotamian cultures had one thing in common and that was the agricultural frontiers between them that were also intensified by different deities, all of which led to political and ritual separation. As a consequence this tension between different political and religious entities led to various military confrontations.
In China, however, such a large degree of military tension never occurred. One reason for that is the fact that many of the villages were way too distant from each other and did not compete for key resources such as arable land. This distance between the villages led to the diversification of art forms, which brought a further enrichment of spiritual life.

Rise of Bureaucratic Empire

The change towards a bureaucratic and imperial type of government and the emrgence of far-reaching alliances between pastorialist and grassland societies was a more effective way of waging war. These alliances increased the level of communication among the societies that were in them. This increased interaction led to the diversification of advanced weaponry within the bureaucratic empires.

  • The first cornerstone in this improvement of arms is the invention of the chariot. The chariot revolution first took place in the lands of Mesopotamia but managed to spread across most of Eurasia. The chariots from about 1700 B.C.E. were a major innovation in the sense that they combined the mobility of a horse with the firepower of an archer, as they could carry both of them at the same time.
  • The second major transformation of warfare was the increased democratization within the newly created big armies. Increased egalitarian ways of warfare led to the gathering of huge armies at the expense of reducing the cost of the used weaponry. Local states sacrificed weapon quality for number of soldiers.
  • Another major invention was the discovery of iron in Cyprus and Anatolia about 1200 B.C.E. and its spread throughout Europe, India, and China just 600 years later. The abundant ores allowed for farmers to purchase large amounts of iron at a low price. This popularization of iron along with its utility led to a major breakthrough in the farming sector. Farmers could now improve their tools at a low price, which by itself led to the creation of an entirely new sector of iron tool making that also revolutionized weapon making.
  • The fourth major change happened during the seventh century B.C.E. when Eurasian herdsmen learned how to keep their seat while using both of their hands to shoot arrows, while riding. Such horsemen were specifically known for their speed and endurance as their horses could use the grass from the steppes to feed on. The cavalry of the urbanized states, on the other hand, was far inferior in the sense that there was only a limited amount of grass there. Therefore, the number of cavalry was also limited as feeding horses with grain was expensive. All of this lead to a significant shift in the political environment and caused new tensions between pastoral and civic societies.

The increased number of steppe confederations led to the rapid increase of size of pastoral societies in the area. About 200 C.E. these herdsmen controlled most of the land between the Mediterranean to the Yellow sea, limiting any existing networks, until they fused them together into the Old World Web.

This shift in power relations led to the creation of several key urban innovations such as a bureaucratic government, alphabetic writing, and congregational religions.

The bureaucratic system of government allowed a single individual to carry out the orders of a person with superior authority, simply because he or she was appointed by the latter. This structure was especially effective in long-distance tax collection and law enforcement.

Furthermore, the developments in the area of transport and communication further extended the range of social interaction. The most important of which were the invention of a written alphabet, the improvement of chariot and wheel designs, and specifically constructed military roads and ships.

Portable, Congregational Religions

In addition to the innovations discussed so far, the phenomenon of congregational religions is also a crucial one. The term congregational religion refers to the unifying and encompassing religions, which could bring larger populations together. Judaism and Zoroastrianism were probably the first congregational and both of them used written texts that provided rules of a superior god, whose jurisdiction included the whole world. This religious way of unifying people made the inherent societal inequality more tolerable, which made urban life more stable.

Indian civilization

The Aryan charioteers who reached and later on conquered India in about 1500 B.C.E. has a huge effect on its societal and religious structure. First of all the case system was introduced, segregating society into distinct groups based on birth and occupation. The people’s justification of the existence of such a system was based on the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation was based on one’s karma, and the possibility of one to be reborn according to one’s spiritual value. The case system strongly limited interaction among people from different castes. In addition, Indian rulers struggled to reestablish urban way of life and to back it up with the help of Hinduism. Both Hinduism and the reemergence of cities as concepts further reinforced and justified the caste principle.

Chinese Civilization

The rice terraces of the Zhou era brought significant changes to Chinese civilization. The terraces were built along the Yellow river Valley. The transformation was caused by the large-scale engineering projects initiated by territorial princes. Furthermore, the terraces caused a major improvement when it comes to the efficacy of the bureaucratic state. The way in which this was achieved is because the irrigational canals were built along the terraces and were also used by tax collectors, who maneuvered their boats in order to cover a larger area for shorter periods of time. Another innovation with regard to the bureaucratic state power is Confucius’s philosophy, which propagated a doctrine about the proper way of life. These teachings established the obedience by the lower class just as well as the canal tax collection boats. On the subject of the steppe rider threat from the north, the Chinese could do very little. Cavalry upkeep was expensive as grass was scarce so the only thing the Chinese could do is build various defensive fortifications along the northern border. This strategy was not very effective as keeping a well-equipped force stationed at these wall fortifications was also quite costly.

Greek and Roman Civilization

The utilization of chariots and ships by the Greek cities improved communication and contributed to the establishment of an urban way of life. The urban way of life constituted in the creation of the polis, which was the Greek city-state, where the division of rich and poor had already been established. One of the curious things about it is that power was based on elections, which meant that there was constant negotiation between leaders and citizens, as the former could only act with the consent of the latter. Citizenship was only granted to adult males who also had the privilege of fighting in the Iliad-praised phalanx formation, where the image of the collective hero was created. This improved interaction among people a cause for the expansion of the Greek cities along the Mediterranean coast.

Furthermore, the introduction of coinage was an important innovation as it further facilitated economic transaction among people. As the societal structure of the polis promoted interaction and the coinage eased trade negotiations production became more and more successful. This economic prosperity led to the creation of marvelous works of art and literature. Literature was seen as a conscious pursuit of fame, the aspirations towards which could stimulate further developments in drama, poetry, history, and philosophy, all of which were essential to the good life of a Greek. Moreover, such artistic developments inevitably led to improvements within in the religious circles of a polis. Where rituals were carried out for the sake of a spectacle and for the enjoyment of the people rather than because of a codified doctrine.

By expanding the Greek Empire Alexander the Great also brought the new aspects of Greek life to Asia. The empire spread the superficial aspects of Greek culture such as athletic games, theater performances, and whine drinking. Furthermore, the coinage system was in important feature and a great improvement of the trade in the lands newly conquered by Alexander, as it further facilitated interaction among other communities and other empires.

The rise of the Roman Republic continued the Greek polis policy to a large degree, with several variations. First of all patrician politics were way more effective in representing the will of the people than Greek aristocracy had done before them. The biggest difference, however, was the military innovation of Rome. Roman legionary training and equipment proved to be far more flexible than the Greek phalanxes. With the establishment of the Roman Empire by Augustus in 30 B.C.E. the reality of active citizenship disappeared and power was taken from the citizens’ hands. After the crucifixion of Jesus, however, Christianity gave rise to a new movement, which enabled the poor an equal participation in church affairs. That combined with the wave of deadly epidemics in the period of 165-180 B.C.E. gave rise to the Christian church’s importance.

Population, Environment, and Disease
The constant growth of human communities led to certain transformations of the environment. Extensive farming often led to the exhaustion of the land, which made it necessary for people to clear new land through deforestation. Soil erosion, however, was not the only threat to urban populations. As human webs tightened human health was uncertain. Both the Roman and the Han empires were struck by deadly epidemics in 200 C.E., which reduced their populations, power and influence. The deterioration of human health within big empires was perhaps one of the reasons for their fall.

It can be concluded that by 200 C.E. epidemiological adjustment, in large density populations was far from complete and was still a threat to the expansion of urban societies. Furthermore, it could be established that contact with city-made goods was bound to cause societal changes. For instance a local lord, who strived for civil goods had to inevitably give up certain local rights and customs. All of these tensions were key to urban societies and existed wherever it spread. In spite of that and all the limitations that urban way of life brought, the power and wealth that came along were enough to keep the system operational. Moreover, elites saw a powerful remedy for public distress in the face of religion that was a useful tool for maintaining the civil way of life.

Chapter 4: The Growth of Webs in The Old World and America, 20-1000 C.E.

The already established links by sea and land in the Old World ensured the communication between societies in the region. This communication led to three main changes: first, India and Southwest Asia’s prosperity and wealth grew rapidly, second, the urbanized way of life of the Old World was further expanded to Asia, Africa, and Europe, third, the common religions expanded in Eurasia and Africa. A similar network was also established in the New World but it was far less successful because of the weaker communications factor, which impeded human effort for common purposes.

Shifts in Relative Wealth and Power

After the fall of the Roman and the Han empires both Europe and China entered in a period of a withered influence of cities and population decline. Another reason for the decline of these two empires was the constantly shifting military balance, which made the pastoral societies of the steppes more and more power. These societies were forced to push towards the east and the west since the Parthians, in modern day Iran, managed to invent an effective local system for defense against large-scale cavalry attacks.


The Parthian kingdom played a crucial role in northern Iran (247 B.C.E. - 224 C.E.)
The power of the rising Parthian kingdom came from its heavily armored Parthian cavalry archer army. The creation of such an army was only possible after the invention of alfalfa hay, which could be sown on grain fields. The key importance of alfalfa was in that its harvesting and cultivation did not diminish the food supplies of the civil Parthian society. Therefore, the combination of a civil society with its arsenal of advanced weaponry and the upkeep of a strong cavalry force was able to overpower the lightly cavalry of the Eurasian herdsmen. The cultivation of this newly invented way of feeding horses was possible even in the winter periods when extra irrigation was necessary. The irrigation was realized with the help of underground tunnels, which watered the dry Iranian soil. This shift in development also caused a massive shift in power and led to the concentration of power in the hands of the Parthians. This period, however, was only for a limited amount of time as the Parthians waged numerous indecisive and resource wasteful wars with the East Roman Empire, which proved to be a worthy opponent.


India under the Gupta dynasty (320 – 535 C.E.) also entered into a period of massive development and economic expansion. Intensified agriculture in the face of a huge buildup of rice paddies and an improved irrigation system secured the food supply. The economic security was further increased through commercial agriculture and the growing of spices like pepper and cinnamon for export. India’s economic stability also led to an expansion in its religious affairs as it numerous wandering Buddhist and Hindu priests roamed the lands from Japan to Central Asia, further increasing India’s overall influence in the region.


China, after the unification under the Sui dynasty in 589 became an important actor in the area. With the economically powerful South and the newly established centralized government, China was able to build and improve its roads and ship systems. The building of canals such as the Grand Canal gave birth to easy and cheap means of transportation which not only improved the resource income and economy but also the tax collection and control structure. The imperial government was further supported by Confucian philosophy, which provided the spiritual background for justifying its actions and the support of the educated class. Bearing all of this in mind and especially the grand economic growth of China, the imperial government now had the resources to arm huge armies to deal with the northern threat.

The Creation of a Muslim Empire

After 634 a new civilization started emerging in the world theater of civilizational networks. This empire was established with the use of an entirely new religion, which incorporated many of the elements of Jewish, Sassanian, Greco-Roman, and Indian traditions. Islam, as it was called, expanded rapidly and its empire unified vast territories in northern Africa and the Middle East. Even though its expansion was stopped at the walls of Constantinople in 718, the empire still managed to take over most of modern day Spain and prove itself in the face of the already established powers at the time. This heavy reliance on religion for unification gave birth to a new way of shaping civilization. Islam was a relatively unified religion and with its daily prayers and codified Sacred Law became a strongly binding doctrine. Furthermore, the obligation to learn Arabic for religious purposes gave another incentive for people to unite – a common language. Another distinct feature of Muslim society was the respect for merchants, which sustained Mecca’s trade and coin generation for centuries. Since Muhammad, the prophet, was a merchant himself many believers protected caravans for merely religious purposes.

The spread of Islam was slow in newly conquered territories as it tolerated other religions as long as they agreed to pay a head tax, therefore Muslim leaders did not have the incentive to resort to population conversions. One of the main challenges to Muslim unity was the remains of what was the Sassanian state before 651. Its population was now driven further into the lands of the Muslim leaders because of their collapsing land-managing system. Another danger was Abbasid leadership in North Africa. In 909 a man claimed to be descended from Fatima, the prophet’s daughter. This movement caused a rupture in the religious unity of Islam and was a major reason for a number of rebellions in the region.

Expanding and Thickening the Old World Web

The newly improved means of transportation in Eurasia and Northern Europe expanded the significance of technical capability in the area. The Vikings in the north and the Baltic ventured to Iceland, Greenland, and for a brief moment to Newfoundland in the period between 800 – 1000 C.E. In the Pacific Polynesian voyagers managed to invent improved dugout canoes and explore the islands in the region. This new exploration enabled trade between the different actors and thus expanded their networks. The previously isolated people of Southwest Asia used camels as a means of trade; their caravans were a cheap and effective way of connecting with other civilizations.
This rapidly increasing capacity to travel gave the incentive of an even more extensive interaction between distant empires. Therefore civilization began expanding rapidly and contributed to the further exchange of crops, manufactures, ideas, diseases, and every other positive and negative aspect of urban life.

Among these great changes that the improved communication and trade brought were the rice paddies in southern Asia. Their spread caused major innovations in food production and tax collection, in terms of the irrigation canals that could be utilized by tax collecting boats. However, rice paddies meant more food and consequently more work. This work was mainly consisted in adapting the environment to the new style of food production by deforestation and building of irrigation canals.

The spread of rice paddies only reached Japan in 300 B.C.E. and became sufficiently well-developed to support its population after 250 C.E. Along with the rice paddies, Japan was also introduced to Buddhism by wandering priests from Korea in 552, and in 593 the Japanese court decided to adopt the newly introduced religion.


In Africa, as seafaring trade had long been established by the Egyptian Pharaohs, people turned towards camel caravans, which affected a much larger geographical area in the period between 200 and 1000 C.E. The improved caravan and sea trade in Africa not only started the flow of rare goods such as ivory and others but also led to the spread of Christianity and Islam. Along with religion came the written alphabet, which was mostly Arabic due to the Muslim influence in particularly North-eastern Africa, whose merchants travelled all the way to the savannas to the south, further spreading the newly acquired inventions.

The African interior, however, remained to a large extent a hunter-gatherer and herding based civilization. Despite that, human settlement brought new technologies such as iron tools, new variations of crops, and an expanded arsenal of camel caravans and cattle. Seeing this rapid development towards a civil society brings evidence that Africa had become a frontier of the Old World Web. Africa remained a frontier for a long period of time mainly because of the unwelcoming environment, which further obstructed human settlement. Previously unknown types of parasites, diseases, and geographic constrains restrained the population growth required for the firm establishment of an urbanized society. This impossibility to expand the population and geographical trade constraints were among the lead reasons for African isolation from the global network that was in full swing.


In the north of Eurasia, in the great steppe, there were still numerous pastoral societies who also benefited from city made goods. Their chieftains made arrangements with settled populations to grant protection for their merchants in exchange for quality goods. The civilized rules on the other hand benefited from unrestricted trade and tax collection from their territories. This mutually beneficial relationship was not permanent, however, as there was often a conflict of interests and various power shifts.

The often-disruptive trade-tribute arrangements caused brought the two types of societies closer to each other, which led to tension and eventually the nomad conquest of civilized societies when the Toba confederation, led by Turkic-speaking nomads led an invasion. This incursion affected the lands from northern China all the way to the Hungarian plains. Which forced the Germanic people living along the eastern border of the Roman Empire to start invading it.

Another important aspect of this period was the granting protection of trade caravans with the introduction of protection fees. These fees remained low enough to sustain long-distance trade and the spread of civilized ideas such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions and written scripts.

Once the Roman Empire had fallen, Germanic settlers pushed the Latin-speaking populations further west of the Rhine and began establishing their own civil societies. Western Europe started evolving into a very productive and predominantly grain-growing land. This was done with the utilization of the newly introduced pool-based natural drainage system and the improved oxen-pulled heavy plow.

This expansion of Germanic peoples gave the incentive for European weapons improvement. The European civilized armies depended on a strong range of heavy cavalry, armored spearmen and archers. The Byzantine cataphracts were among the best in that regard, equipped with heavy armor and spears they could charge in a tight formation and cause devastation to the infantry-based Germanic armies. Byzantine armies and defensive fortifications allowed the Empire to survive the many attacks from the north. As the Byzantine Empire managed to defend itself, it also managed to sustain the progress and importance of Christianity, which started attracting the newly arrived invaders, namely the Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic peoples.

New Roles for Religion

The role that religions started taking in civilized society became prominent after 200 C.E. Daily routes took an entirely new character when the idea of a possible afterlife was introduced. Along with the variances in people’s routines new forms of art came to life, these artistic innovations included elements from Indian, Iranian, Jewish, and Hellenistic traditions. Furthermore, a very practical function of religion was the easing of the lifes of those less-fortunate. Since there were a number of inherent injustices that come along civil life, religion had the task of making them more bearable by creating the duty to help the poor and the sick. Seeing that this increasing role of religion in sustaining order was very successful it required the cooperation of rulers. This interplay gave birth to religious institutions, which bound all people in an area to the same religious and moral rules.

One of the first examples of this interaction between state and religious power was in the face of the Sassanian religion of Zoroastrianism, which withered after 651. Zoroastrianism was one of the first religions that had an effective role in state making and was therefore widely propagated in the Middle East.

Christianity on the other hand was far more eye-catching. Emperor Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert and to endorse Christianity, which he favored personally. Christianity became the legal religion of the Roman Empire and with that managed to spread eastward towards China and into Africa. Christianity in Europe also prospered as many of the newly arrived Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic peoples showed interest in conversion. Christian ideals also spread the Christian government, which expanded the power of the local rulers and improved administration by means of the clergy and the introduction of literacy.

Buddhism on the other hand was far wider reaching as it travelled both by land and sea. It was brought to China, Korea, and Japan. The large-scale conversions that took place were then followed by an innovative architecture in the face of the beautifully built Buddhist temples. In China, however, Buddhism faced a serious setback when in 845 Confucians managed to persuade the tang emperor to close many Buddhist temples and confiscate their extensive landholdings. Chinese Buddhists were then were widely suppressed and remained underground until their numbers further waned.

Hinduism, which was one of the few non-missionary faiths, never expanded beyond the subcontinent and the sporadic enclaves of migrant Indians abroad. Therefore its influence on state building was only limited.

When Islam appeared in the picture it started treating Hindu religions as an abomination, which further limited its influence. Islam was also a conversional religion, which helped to its conquest-seeking leaders. The conversion was also practiced peacefully since Muslim merchants carried their faith with them on their long journeys in Eurasia and Africa.

Government-religious Relations

Such a shift in the government-religious relations made the ties even stronger. Religion proved to be a mutually beneficial factor in the sense that it appeased the population, for the benefit of the ruler, and granted the people with hope and charity. These key reasons made the expansion of religion another important element of civilized life.

Religion also brought the idea of accountability, as it judged who would go to heaven or hell. Moreover, it treated male and female souls equality, which granted women more opportunity in civil society. Women could now perform charitable acts and would sometimes acquire new rights, such as inheritance.

Another important feature of religion was the link between rulers and ruled as it treated both classes alike. All religions had the element of public worship that provided powerful means of unity. Such rituals benefited directly the priests and clergy responsible for their arrangement, thereby further strengthening the union between religion and state. In order to further foment this interrelation between them religion reworked older traditions of art and thought, as it indoctrinated a common meaning. Religion also promoted literacy and familiarity of its sacred texts.

The religious development in the period between 200 and 1000 spread four main religions that became one of the cornerstones of civilizational expansion. With its soothing features and uniting rituals religion became an important tool in the arsenal of state building.

Emergence of an American Web

Another big change in the period between 200 and 1000 was the ever-growing influence of societal networks in the Americas. The civilizations that played the biggest role in this process were the ones of Mexico and Peru, which started to interact between each other. The biggest issue with the exchange of goods and ideas between the two communities was the inefficient transportation in the region. The main means of land transportation were llamas, which were far less efficient than camels, in terms of carrying capacity, and were also confined to the Andean regions. Another way of traveling, according the limited archaeological findings from the region, was the use of rafts and canoes, which were the most effective way of bringing these societies together. Even though there is no archaeological evidence of sea immigration from Asia to America, there are many examples where wanderers have managed to reach Pacific islands such as the Easter Island about 400 C.E.

There is archaeological evidence that the earliest signs of tropical gardening, which was a key element of American sedentary lifestyle, occurred in the northwest part of South America. The evidence includes pottery fragments and various cultivated grains of manioc, yams, and maize, all of which dating from 5000 to 7000 years ago. Furthermore, fishing supported American sedentary lifestyle, since fish was abundant in the area. Such gardens and fishing, however, were not enough to support a permanent population.
Recent archaeological evidence shows that there has been a long process of domesticating maize in Mexico in the beginning of 4000 B.C.E. Even though corn plants had to readjust and adapt to changing environment, this new type of maize spread in all directions and managed to flourish. Maize in combination with beans and squash became the main diet of the North and South American civilizations.

Another type of interaction could be seen in the case of the Olmec civilization. The Olmecs built many different structures along the Caribbean coast of Mexico about 1300 B.C.E. Most of these structures were religious and impressed other civilizations so much that subsequent Mayan and inland Mexican civilizations adopted many of their motifs and themes. This is one of the few examples of civilizational interaction in South America; another one is the spread of raised fields in the production of agricultural products.

These raised fields were built in damp areas like swamps along lakeshores by building islands with narrow canals between them. The moisture in the area combined with the timely digging for soil from beneath the water ensured the rich harvests from such fields even in areas with a harsh climate such as the Andean altiplano. These raised fields could be associated with the rice paddies of monsoon Asia. Both of these methods of agriculture altered the natural shape of the land, both of them rerouted surface waterways, and both produced abundant crops. In addition, in the Peruvian deserts on the coast, where raised fields were not an option, people built irrigation canals such as the ones in ancient Mesopotamia.

Months of drought also created the incentive for the building of such canals in the Mayan territory. The Mayans irrigated their crops by storing large quantities of water in artificial reservoirs and then delivering the water with the help of an elaborated canal system.
Other important features of the Mayan civilization are their system of writing and their calendric system.

In the beginning of the 10th century the Mayan system remained uncertain due to its vulnerability to unpredicted drought. Drought could lead to political disorder and a sudden depletion of food and resources. Therefore these are believed to be the biggest reasons behind the abandonment of the Mayan lowlands during that period in history. Having lost their cities, people from Mayan descent continued living as slash and burn farmers, without an established civil hierarchy.

Similar unstable societies also existed around the shallow lake that once existed in central Mexico. These communities were also vulnerable to sporadic changes in the environmental and political environments. The city of Teotihuacán prospered in the period between 100-700 C.E. and included much of the territory of modern-day Mexico and also included the Mayan cities. However, in the period between from 800 to 1050 the Toltecs took the imperial role in the region and plundered Teotihuacán.

North American Civilizations

There are examples of modest ceremonial centers in Northern America and mainly in the Mississippi Valley. The earliest is located in Louisiana and dates from about 1000 B.C.E. The constructions include elaborate earthen mounds, built along the banks of the Ohio River in the period between 500 B.C.E. and 500 C.E. These constructions were built by societies, which depended heavily on fishing, hunting, gathering, and cultivating crops such as maize. In addition the presence of rare resources such as copper, obsidian, and galena in the region attest to an omnipresent interaction between the different communities. The use of similar crops also indicates the existence of a connection with Mexico and Mesoamerica.

These mounds were abandoned around the 5th century when invaders from the North, using bows disrupted the ill-protected societal order. These bows were available to North Americans from their interaction with the Inuit communities four centuries before the invasion. Even though bow warfare was introduced to the communities in modern-day Mexico, they rejected its use as it made it impossible for them to take prisoners. Taking prisoners was essential and was in the heart of their warfare as they sacrificed the prisoners in the name of the sun god. Bearing in mind that ranged warfare made this impossible; the communities of modern-day Mexico preserved hand-to-hand combat but did not limit their interaction with the northern tribes in any other way.

In South America, there were a lot of developments, which were very similar in nature. In the beginning of 2000 B.C.E. the communities in the region resorted to building huge irrigation canals and tapping rivers that flow down the Andes, which allowed the emergence of ritual and cultural centers along the Peruvian coast. The resources in the Andes were very different from the ones in Mexico as every altitude had its own climate, water regime, flora and fauna. As a result these communities’ diet was a mixture of potatoes, quinoa, manioc, and various root crops. The abundance of cultivated cotton supplied fiber, which was later on combined with hair from alpacas and llamas. This combination allowed Peruvians to turn weaving into a high art.

From the Andean altiplano to the upper Mississippi, the American network of relations started evolving in the end of the 10th century. Even though roads were not well developed, waterborne transport was possible. Even though written accounts and evidence about this network are rare and generally unclear there is plenty of information to relate these civilizations to the Mesopotamian and Chinese ones and still find plenty of similarities.

Conclusion: Common Patterns

Both the civilizations of the old world and the new one were established when local elites started organizing agricultural and artisanal effort to create and control divine displeasure. This attempt to manage the spiritual life led to the creation of the priest class, which was later on subordinated to the military one, who extended their lordship over ever increasing territories. At the same time interaction between distant territories ensured the exchange of goods and familiarized societies with the civil way of life.

Similarities between the old and the new world could easily be made when looking at the parallel need of priests and warriors to help farmers supply food for a certain community. The priest class created two types of rituals. The first ones included the glorification of heavenly bodies, which allowed the priest class to determine the appropriate, planting seasons. The Second type were rituals such as feasts, sacrifices, and festivals.

In addition to that many people were donating food to priests in exchange for divine protection that ensured the availability of food during periods of drought and epidemics, which made societies more resilient to such calamities.
Warriors replaced priests for several reasons:

  • When priests succeeded in creating surpluses of resources, robbery became a widespread way of life. Therefore this allowed for professional fighting men to monopolize violence in return for protection.
  • Specialized weaponry, discipline, and training gave such warriors gave warriors an advantage over most raiders, allowing the warriors to collect taxes from farmers.
  • Therefore, warriors managed to compel priestly elites to accept subordination in exchange for protection.

These similarities present evidence that human societies evolve in a similar manner even in the absence of a direct contact. The growing of the interaction networks and the tightening up of those networks grew and resulted in broadly similar historical outcomes. 

There is, however, one major difference between the new and the old worlds. That difference is the limited selection of domestic animals in the new world made both plowing and pastoralism impossible, which is one of the reasons why the Old World Web generated far more wealth than the New one.

Chapter 5: Thickening Webs: 1000-1500


Civilization and agriculture both expanded rapidly in the period between 1000 and 1500, but their expansion started to slow down because of the fact that most of the agriculturally favorable regions had already been claimed. The period could be identified with an increased interaction between Eurasia and Africa due to improved water transport and the spread of trade practices. In the Americas the Andes and Mesoamerica remained the chief centers of civilization. This period in history could be associated with the stabilization and strengthening of the already established networks.
In the old world, the changes and the effects regarding the consolidation of the pre-established networks resulted in greater productivity and major advancements in technology. These improvements in technology and production led to an increasing population. However, the increasing of the webs caused lethal infections, which halted the rapid population boom.

The Increasing Importance of Trade

One of the big changes in this period is that farmers started introducing the civil way of life to the countryside by buying and selling goods on a regular basis. However, this caused a divide within village life as some of the families benefited directly from the buying and selling and others lost out and had either to work for wages in someone else’s fields or find other types of income.

An interesting point on that is the fact that all major religions in Eurasia have sought to restrain rulers, merchants, and bankers in their pursuit of gain. However, the religious effort was not enough to keep their unbridled greed. Furthermore, the largeness of the Old World Web included many isolated societies, which further hampered the effort to mobilize common effort for deliberate purposes.

Improvements of transportation further intensified the long-distance exchange of goods and ideas between civilizations. The Chinese’s principal way of transportation was via canals and rivers, both of which were a major reason for societal and economic transformations in the period between 1000 and 1500. In the European scenario, canals and rivers were not as widely used. Western Europeans expanded their capacity of salt-water sailing by building sturdy and big vessels.

Developments in the Area of Trade

Overland transport on the other hand did not go through any major improvements. Caravans continued to operate in the Muslim heartlands, in Central Asia, and in the African interior.

Numerical calculation led to a greatly improved precision. The Arabic numerals that started being used further facilitated the keeping track of large sums of money and huge quantities of goods. These numbers were spread throughout Eurasia and Europe.

This key improvement led to major developments in the field of trade and especially the trade in the Indian Ocean coastlines, from where ancient spices and cotton were transported all around the Old World Web.


China also played an important role in the regional trade, as Chinese manufactures like silk and porcelain were exported on a large scale in the beginning of the 11th century.

The northeastern part of the area, the Japanese islands developed an effective mechanism for fishing and further improved their merchant fleet. These seafaring improvements led to the increased exports of metals in the import of silks and luxury goods.


In Europe, Italian sailors managed to open trading routes that penetrated the Black sea in the beginning of the 13th century. Further on, with the crusades in the Baltic trade flourished between the North and Baltic ports, which were later on connected to the lengthy navigable rivers of Northern Europe. During the 15th century, Europeans largely expanded their salt-water sailing capacity, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1492.

Russia and Siberia

In Russia and Siberia, people used boats and sleighs to reach urban contact in the south. The northern forestlands provided a large selection of timber, furs, and slaves, all of which were exported for gold, ivory and other goods from the South.

All of these gains, however, were counterbalanced as the gap between the ones who benefited and the ones who did not grew into an increasing level of inequality. This divide between rich and poor provoked sporadic riots and violent protests in local communities. Furthermore, this interconnectedness of the markets brought instability to local trade and irregular supply disruptions.

The Black Death (1346-1352)

The Black Death in Europe brought widespread disaster just as the epidemics in the 2nd century in the Roman Empire. It reduced the population of Europe by a quarter. It struck almost at the same time as the Little Ice Age (1300-1850) when the onset of cooler climate inflicted serious crop damage.

The Americas also experienced a number of disasters. To be precise, the Cahokia (Illinois) and the Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) civilizations started their decline in the 13th century. The Aztecs and the Incas created their respective empires and transformed the political map once more.

How China Became the First Market Society

In the early 7th century China’s growing interconnectedness became increasingly intense. Under the Tang dynasty, Chinese monks imported various authoritative Buddhist texts from India and then transformed them to readjust them to Chinese mentality. Chinese culture also benefited from the ever-increasing number of Christian and Muslim merchants, by means of showing them the secrets of bazaar trading.

This acceptance of the market behavior had several significant effects. When Chinese coinage was introduced, buying and selling goods became more and more commonplace. Resulting from that, Chinese economy under the Song dynasty (960-1279) changed and became extremely commercialized as taxes were now collected in cash rather than in kind. This change in taxation required the people to buy and sell even more goods, which pushed city way of life and improved artisan skills.
Agriculture was also intensified as urban lifestyle expanded. China started producing two crops a year, which enabled them to double their harvest at the cost of prolonging hard work in the fields.

Agriculture and Food

New commercial crops were also introduced. Crops such as cotton and tea were introduced. The changes that tea brought was that it reduced microorganisms when water was boiled before drinking. Cotton provided people with more comfortable clothing; they no longer wore the coarse hempen clothes of the past.

What made the market in China so effective were the rivers and canals, which improved transportation and facilitated tax collection. The cheap prices for transport were a reason for people to compare prices more effectively as they could now import cheaper goods from farther distances.

Military advancements

In military matters, the Song officials still struggled to defend the northern borders from Nomad invasions. The large confederations of nomads in the north made it more and more difficult for the Chinese to withstand these large-scale incursions. When the nomads learned how to capture walled cities with the use of siege engines the balance of power was once again in favor of the pastoral societies. This shifting balance of power became evident in the 12th century when the first Chinese cities were conquered. Furthermore, rapid ship warfare innovation featured heavy catapults and gunpowder cannons, making the capture of city walls even easier.

Despite the heavy resistance of the Chinese and the river-wall defense they introduced in the late 13th century, the Mongol Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, managed to conquer all of China by 1279. He also attempted to take control of Japan but his plan failed because of a typhoon, which destroyed his whole fleet. These large-scale conquests brought Europe and China closer than before. Facilitating interaction, trade and cultural exchange.

Independence from the Mongols

The Mongol control of China waned early in the 14th century as a result of fractions in the previously centralized power, epidemics, and inflation of the paper currency. Chinese rebels therefore eventually prevailed and after decades of conflict Yuanzhang came to power and ruled China in the period between 1368 and 1398. With the reestablishment of native control, distaste for everything of foreign origin became a chief principle among Ming-dynasty officials. The Ming government therefore continuously repudiated the commercial expansion of foreign countries such as that of the Portuguese in to the Indian Ocean at the end of the 15th century.

After the stabilization of Chinese economy, the northern border was secured and the export of silk, porcelain, and other commodities increased rapidly. Once the economy was stable the Ming dynasty abandoned the initial aggression but still remained vigilant of foreign values and goods.

Altogether, The Ming dynasty managed to contribute to the successful recovery of China after the Mongol invasion. This, however, was done at the cost of closing the borders and implementing a highly conservative policy, which resulted in the separation of China from Western Europe.

The Transformation of Islam, 1000-1500

In the Arab world, the Nile supported large-scale irrigation projects, which produced large surpluses of grain. Muslim governments in the region invented various ingenious ways to improve caravan trade, which was the lifeblood of their trade. Certain caravans were exempted from taxation for religious reasons, which was one of the ways to further foment that specific kind of trade. Even though camels could not carry a lot of weight they were very effective in crossing deserts and transporting luxury goods over large distances.

War and politics were very important when it comes to trade in this region. Excessive camel trade attracted raiding parties, which damaged both the trade routes and agriculture.

The Islamic world underwent certain transformations after the accelerated Turkic infiltration of the Muslim world. This Turkic influence in the region led to the cross-cultural interaction between Persian, Arab, and Turkic civilizations. The Turkic invasion depended almost entirely on the mastery of cavalry, horse-archer warfare, and steppe archer infantry. The Turkish advanced in two main waves. The first one was when the Seljuk tribesmen invaded the Muslim heartlands of Iran, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia, and settled in the area. The second one was when the Seljuk Turks converted to Sunni Islam and were therefore welcomed by the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad.

The Turkic influence in the region further reinforced the interdependence between nomadic and townsfolk warriors, and reestablished an alliance between them. This led to a shift in power from the religious hold of Mecca’s temples to the warrior’s sword of the Seljuk Turks.

After the victory over Byzantium at Manzikert 1071, the Seljuk settled in the bigger part of Anatolia. Later on, a massive conversion of Greek-speaking villagers to Islam ensued and the peninsula quickly became Turkish-speaking.

A similar unification of nomads and urban dwellers arose in North Africa with the rise of the Almoravids (1056-1147). They were a Berber tribe, which had recently mastered camel warfare, and with this new military knowledge started conquering the surrounding territories of Ghana, Niger, and proceeded to pushing back the Christians in Spain.

Muslim politics underwent another shift when pagan Mongols started ravaging the lands around Baghdad and finally sacked it in 1258 and also battered the complex irrigation system in the region. The Mongol khanate, however, fractured after 1353.

Renewed Muslim expansion between 1000 and 1500 in terms of conversions and general territorial expansion after 1353 has a central place in the Old World Web. It resulted in various cultural, commercial, and military innovations, which did much to affect the vast population in the region. The Muslim world, however, had one big deficiency and that was the reduced agricultural output due to poor irrigation. This deficiency could not have been compensated for, even with the Ottoman military success and the Turko-Mongol cultural and religious advancements.

Christendom’s Thickening Web

In the year 1000, most of Western Europe was predominantly rural. The powerful Byzantium Empire and the Orthodox Church mostly ruled the Eastern part. The ever-expanding Ottoman state, surprisingly, did not cause Christendom to crumble.

The Franks in the West profited greatly from the circulation of their ideas within the Old World Web. The main challenges were the devastations caused by the Black Death (1346-52) and the Hundred Year’s War (1337-1453), both of which were a cause for a fresh start.

In the early years of the 11th century the Western knights managed to mobilize large numbers of people to cultivate vast areas in the Loire and Elbe valleys, which resulted in a rapid increase in agricultural output. This was the core that made the massive expansion of Latin Christendom possible. The mild winters of Northern Europe made it possible for peasant villagers to establish a sustainable style of farming that employed labor almost throughout the whole year. This new way of farming enabled more than one annual harvest. Farmers also learned how to divide arable land into three sections.

  • The first one was sown in autumn and was harvested in late spring
  • The second one was sown in spring and was harvested in late autumn
  • The third one was left fallow to be plowed (weed control) in summer time.

This innovative regime allowed a single plowman’s share of land to amount to more than thirty acres.

The Benefits from the Christian Planting methods

This amount of land enabled these farmers to equip large numbers of fighting men who had self-interest in protecting the farmers.

With the agricultural boom of Western Europe the networks tightened and export was also improved. This export created the incentive for Western Europeans to interact with far more sophisticated and highly skilled peoples. This interaction was beneficial for both sides as they exchanged both skill and weapons. The Europeans, however, had a far more stable economy and religion, both of which safeguarded them while they benefited from foreigners’ knowledge and skill.

This European superiority led to a rapid population growth and intensive colonization of land. This land was often reclaimed from forests, swamps, and sea and was used to further stabilize European economy by means of agriculture.

This increase in population in 1315 and 1322 was rapidly stopped and was replaced by a sudden decline in population growth when the Black Death followed just a generation later. In combination with bad harvest, the Black Death claimed the lives of almost one third of the population in Europe.

The Political Side of the Merchant Class

European merchants and bankers gained more and more political control in economically unstable areas. Since they were on a constant lookout for profit, political, economic, and technological innovation was quick to spread wherever there was an opportunity for them to intervene. Over time the local interests and old-fashioned ways were gradually replaced by the politically backed monetary system, which constantly introduced something new. This model was further strengthened by the fact that Europeans were keener on entering into business relationships with a larger number of people. In other words, even though there a lot of similarities between the ways in which the Chinese, Muslim, and European societies managed their economies, the key difference is that Chinese and the Muslim communities were often reluctant to perform business transactions with previously unknown people.

In 1346, Genoese investors created a stock company to organize a fleet for the purpose of raiding and trading in the Mediterranean. When they conquered the Aegean island of Chios, they transferred into a headquarters and managed to control Mediterranean trade for 200 years until the Ottomans seized it in 1566.

This system of self-government was highly effective and was applied to a number of common enterprises leading to the creation of large-scale private undertakings. Shipbuilding and mining became exceptionally important in the field, as a result the supply of metals in Europe far surpassed the one in other parts of the world.

Overall European townsfolk became exceptionally flexible in the face of such large-scale private enterprises and voluntary ad hoc corporations. Even though their main goal was the making of money they also had other purposes, such as – religious, charitable, and intellectual. Such a multitude of tasks by one entity gave birth to an increasing degree of trust among people in Europe, which further facilitated private transactions and moneymaking. 

Every society, in every region in the world had its own peculiarities, but few of them as critical as this key European one. The prevailing pattern of nuclear families extended bonds outside the family, and created the opportunity for other forms of civic relationships to flourish. This was one of the reasons for the flexibility in European social relations, which made the exchange of ideas within the European community way easier and rapid. All of this, however, came at the price of security and human warmth, provided by extended families.

European Fragmentation

Fragmentation, as discussed in the section on Islam, Europe experienced several threats to its unity in the face of the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire and the decreased authority of the Pope. The increased number of city-states after the collapse of the Empire led to the subsequent consolidation of national kingdoms in France and England who bargained for money taxes, in exchange for protection from knightly harassment, which allowed the internal townsfolk of these city-states to conduct their internal affairs as they pleased.

All of these changes in the political environment resulted in various transformations of warfare. European warfare became more and more commercialized from 1300 onward, when crossbowmen and pikemen started replacing the heavy knights of the 10th century. Military campaigns in Europe were becoming more and more complex as there was the need for equipping and training various troop types such as pikemen, crossbowmen, artillery, and using all of them together, rather than a simply heavy cavalry charge as done before.

Bureaucratic Developments

These innovations presented a challenge for European administration and economy as it was getting harder and harder to control these vast armies. The bureaucratic system was becoming more and more important by making sure that hired fighting men were sufficiently equipped and trained and were kept obedient. Among these strategies was regular pay, purchase of arms, supplies, and regular inspections. All of them were conducted by means of precise calculations for maximum output.

Gunmaking, in that period in history, was becoming a widely used means of warfare. Like mining and shipbuilding, Gunmaking was also in the hands of private companies, therefore rulers who wanted to purchase guns had to pay market prices and compete with other buyers. As a result, European rulers became entangled in commerce and finance as they started to rely on private companies for the provision of weapons for their armies. European rulers were experiencing more and more trouble finding the funds necessary to equip their troops; therefore they looked at banks for support.

This way of commercialization of European communities led to diverse innovations like double-entry bookkeeping, alphabetic printing, musical notation, precise geometrical perspective in painting, and advanced mechanical clocks. These innovations had an extraordinary effect on human communication and efficiency. With the greater precision that they allowed, human activity was becoming more efficient. This efficiency, however, came at a price, since many peripheral regions had to resort to forced labor in order to bring their goods to the global market and still generate profit. Whereas the wages on the labor market in urban centers prevailed.

Market behavior was one of the most important features of European society in the period between 1000 and 1500 as it generated ever-increasing amounts of wealth. This wealth, however, often led to poverty, as some societies were unable to adapt to the global market. In other words change was not in the hands of any type of authority but in the hands of private entrepreneurs.

The Old World Web’s Pacific Flank

As shipping and trade improved, Western European societies started looking at the Atlantic flank as a potential expansion point. A similar thing could be observed on the Pacific side where Chinese fishermen and sailors played a key role in the discovery of new islands and trade routes. State building became more and more associated with trade and raiding, as literacy made it possible for Buddhist and Islamic propaganda to contribute to the very process of state building.

Along the pacific coast, Korean, Japanese, and Annam societies managed to resist Chinese expansion and to build their own states. Even though they resisted politically and militarily, Chines technology became more and more used mainly in the face of rice paddies. Korea, Japan and Annam sometimes submitted to Chinese innovation in exchange for an increased agricultural output.

Japan had to repel many invasions launched from China, the first one being by the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in 1274 and another one in 1291.

Koreans became increasingly more influenced by Chinese communities both culturally and politically.

Even though all of these countries were involved in seafaring trade, China was always the one to dominate the seas along the Pacific flank of the Old World Web.

Southern and Northern Frontiers of the Old World Web

On the southern and eastern parts of the pacific flank, there were the vast states of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia, which also initiated a frontier expansion. Muslim sailors, looking for trade opportunities were remarkably successful in propagating Islam in the area, which further facilitated their involvement in Indian Ocean commerce.

The more isolated Polynesian communities from the central Pacific took over New Zealand in the beginning of the 14th century. Their settlement in this new area required them to look for new ways of producing food, as the new climate did not allow the growing of the tropical plants they had relied on for sustenance before. The islands they colonized, however, were rich in supplies such as wood, which was an essential source of fuel and boat-building materials.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, networks became more and more tightly entangled in the Old World Web. This tightening resulted in the multiplication of connections and the rise of new powerful states, which profited from long distance trade.

In West Africa, Islam helped forge key trade ties to the Old World Web. Therefore, commercial transactions and caravan trade could now be initiated. The area had various resources to offer such as saddles, stirrups, and skilled cavalry soldiers. When the trade routes in the area started to flourish the local rulers did so as well. However, it led to the increased power of local rulers and the reduced authority of centralized institutions. This led to their empires being less powerful and short-lived. 

The north remained marginal, since the large number of hunters, fishers and gatherers pursued their traditional ways. In Siberia, where temperatures were milder than in the Arctic, people started using slash-and-burn techniques in the forests, supplemented by hunting and gathering. The far-ranging network of rivers in Russia provided a cheap and effective means of transportation. The goods that were exported from the region were mainly furs and not grains, in addition to portable items and tools like metal axes and traps.

The American Webs

In the Americas, there was a rise of new powerful military empires in Mexico and Peru, both of which rapidly expanded their networks in the region through trade and war.
Massive numbers of laborers were mobilized for the construction of grand structures such as the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which was founded in 1325. Such grand designs were only possible because of various religious and military innovations. Furthermore, the high demand for luxury goods maintained long-distance trade routes and inter-civilizational interaction.

Religious centers have existed in the Americas ever since the beginning of the new era, and even though there were many new discoveries in the fields of technology and architecture, many fundamental features did not alter significantly.


The events that took place in the period between 1000 and 1500 could best be described with the examples of China, the Muslim world, and Europe and the tightening of the already created networks. This period can be categorized with the rapid advancements in agricultural production, intensified mobilization of human effort, and rising instability. This instability was caused by the ever-growing importance of markets in world economy.

Chapter 6: Spinning the Worldwide Web, 1450-1800

In the beginning of the 15th century, the world was anything but one community. There were nearly 400-million people speaking several thousand languages. Despite the many years of civilization, international trade, and empire building they did not prove to be an efficient tool in building a sense of community as diversity still prevailed.

The early process of modern globalization was often painful and often included forcing people to accept it. People were frequently forced to abandon their languages and traditional ways in order to find their place in the market economy. All of this contributed to the creation of a semi-homogenous area within Eurasia and Africa.

The World’s Webs as of 1450

The Old World Web

By the middle of the 15th century the Old World Web spread to encompass more than three-fourths of the world population and land. It’s territory spread from West Africa all the way to Britain and Scandinavia, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Chinese seas, but also included vibrant participation from the civilizations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The Old World Web was a force, which homogenized societies, however, there were a lot of restricting factors such as nature and climate. For instance geography did not allow sorghum to grow in Sweden, nor rye in Bangladesh.

Nevertheless, trade and inter-societal interaction continued and contributed to the improvement of commerce and the linking of empires in other ways. This increasingly globalized trade, however, came at the expense of the danger of epidemics such as the bubonic plague.
Trade was divided in two main sections.

  • By land – the many empires that were created after the fall of the huge Mongol state facilitated the creation of numerous trade routes between them, all of which linked them with communities from Africa to Europe.
  • By sea – The main sea route was from Korea and China to Europe. It was used for the transportation of luxury goods such as rare metals, porcelain, and silk.

The Rise of links within The Old World Web

The gradual thickening of the Old World Web brought the frontiers of East and West closer and closer to each other that resulted in shared advances throughout the entire web, all of which led to different developments. In the West, ships were generally used for seafaring trade and the expansion of markets outside the borders. In the East, however, due to the well-developed river navigation system, many of the ships were used for in-country trade and tax collection.

These different usages of transportation had their effects on the gradual development of both of these huge parts of the Web.

The Pacific Web

In another part of the world, there were two other less developed networks – the Pacific and the American ones. Out of all the discussed webs the Pacific one was the least developed even though the superior maritime skills and equipment of the Polynesians helped them take hold of New Zealand, Easter Island, and Hawaii. The main issue with the Pacific web was that it was very loosely concentrated. It was mainly composed of islands, which only utilized one type of transportation – by sea, and failed to benefit further from inland commerce.

The American Web

The American web, on the other hand, included a far larger population and was much tighter than the Pacific one. In 1450 the American web contained about 50 million people. This web had two main centers, which were the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru. The interaction between them was efficient but less so than in the Old Web again for the reason that inland transportation was difficult. Inland commerce was limited to the use of llamas, which were inefficient in comparison to camels. America as a whole was never one tight network, since most of the peripheral territories were very detached from the center. Such territories were the Arctic North and the peoples living in the Amazon jungle. For these reasons the American Web remained less influential than the Old World Web.

Fusing and Extending the World’s Webs, 1450-1800

Many regard Columbus’s voyage to the Americas in 1492 as on of histories greatest endeavors. From the perspective of World Webs it was rightfully so. This journey managed to link the Old World Web with the new one, which created the incentive of these two to link together and create an even bigger network of communication.

Revolutions in Ship Design and Navigation

Bearing in mind all the technological exchange between societies from within the Old World Web, it is important to discuss the crucial role of shipbuilding in the further expansion of this network. In time people started building several types of ships, ones small, light, and maneuverable, and the others heavy, sturdy, and able to carry enormously big cargos.

These innovations in ship design were one of the main tools for the further expansion of trade routes. As the inland trade routes have already been discovered, within the Old World Web, there was a desperate need to find new trading partners outside of it, and this was done by sea.

Having the natural incentive to seafaring exploration, Spanish and Portuguese sailors took the initiative and started exploring new lands. One of the first discoveries was that of the Canaries in 1420, which was followed by the finding of the Azores. By 1488 sea exploration was taken to the southern borders of the Old World Web – namely the African continent. By 1498, the Portuguese sailor, Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) and his carrack managed to discover a seaway to India. With this discovery Europe could now trade with the Far East by means of camel caravan trade and seafaring trade, the latter of which was far cheaper and faster.

Ships and Politics

As the importance of ships increased in the field of trade and economy empires started investing in the protection of sea trade routes. One of the first major improvements in the area was the installation of cannons on board of ships, which led to the first significantly big naval battles in the beginning of the 16th century, the first of which was between the Portuguese and the Indians near the port of Diu.

The expansion of naval trade also meant the amassing of huge amounts of money in the hands of sea merchants. This money often attracted bandits and rebels, therefore states had to look at the protection not only of the trade routes but also of the wealth generated by the trade itself.

Shifting the main political field from land to sea was also an important step. As seafaring trade and warfare became the primary source of income and political power, states started arming their navies way more vigorously, which resulted in even greater power struggles between them.

Chinese ships

The Chinese were able to control much larger fleets in comparison to their European competitors. In the period between 1405 and 1433, Zheng He (1371-1435), a Chinese admiral, led six armadas in the Indian Ocean, which is one of the biggest fleets ever assembled and sailed some 5,000 miles away from home.
The Chinese voyages’ main profit generating features such as increasingly accurate geographic knowledge and information about the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian waters. Even though the Ming government was trying to limit this knowledge to sate officials, the information circulated in the hands of private individuals, which led to the constant refinement and improvement of the maps.

Expanding the Web in Africa

The expansion of the Old World Web in Africa was mainly due to the fact that most of the trade to India was redirected towards the newly discovered sea route around the western African coast. Many private entities such as the Dutch East India Company, known as the VOC, had their coastal contact zones on the coast so that ships could stop and resupply on their journey to India.

The cities where these contact zones were located started adapting to the needs of the seamen by purchasing large amounts of wheat, meat, and wine to satisfy their needs and make profit.

Along with the Dutch sailors along the coast, Dutch culture, language and Calvinism also expanded. By 1700, there were more than 25,000 people in Cape Town who spoke Dutch and dressed with European clothes.

The Slave Trade

This inclusion of Africa in the Web resulted in the willingness of the Africans to try to benefit even more from the trade opportunities. This caused the emergence of slave trade. In many African communities, at that time power was measured in the number of people one controls and not land, which was ubiquitous. Many of these African chiefs had slaves and sold most of them for personal profit. In African culture, women and children were the ones expected to do agricultural work, and therefore African chiefs had little use of male slaves. The Europeans, on the other hand preferred male slaves, as they were more efficient in working in the American plantations. Another reason for the large number of slaves in Africa were the frequent wars between tribes and the fact that the warriors were male, many of which were captured and then sold for coin.

The slave trade in Africa did not cause major demographical changes, as diseases claimed far more lives than slave merchants. On the other hand, slave trade influenced the balance of wealth in the continent. Many chiefs who decided to sell slaves to Europeans became rich quickly and with that contributed to the extension of wealth inequality, which led to economic instability in the region.

Fusing the American and Old World Webs

The already existing empires of the Aztecs and the Incas firstly facilitated the fusion of the New and Old World Webs after Columbus’s voyage to America. This fusion led to the adoption of certain models of labor from the hands of the Native Americans to the Spanish colonizers, who used them to extract gold from the mountains of Peru.
On the other hand, the fact that the rest of the Americas were not unified less than one central authority made it difficult for societies to benefit from the interaction.
Furthermore, the lack of unity in their communities led to the weakening of the Native Americans’ immune system, as there was little variety of pathogens, and therefore a limited amount of immunity genes. This led to the almost colossal numbers of people who died because of the diseases that the Europeans brought with them. The Europeans had immunity because of the vast area, which their Web covered, and therefore they had more contact with the rest of the world, which further diversified their DNA and immune system genes. By the late 18th century most of the Americas were mainly populated with Europeans.

Expanding the Web in Siberia and the Subarctic

In the 16th and 17th centuries, even though seafaring trade slowly started uniting the whole world into one expanding Web, the northern regions of the Eurasian region were not able to take part in it.

The powerful Russian Stroganov family unified Siberian dwellers and their strong monopoly over salt trade in the region. Furthermore, the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible managed to conquer a lot of the Southern steppe societies such as the Cossacks and the Tartars. The expansion of the Russian state brought many riches to its markets, such as wood, metals, furs, etc. Using the many navigable rivers in the area mainly transported these riches. The fur trade was taken so seriously that many of the Cossacks resorted to asking for a fur tax from the townsfolk. Later on, the Cossacks built numerous trading posts, from which they tried to control the growing empire.

The conquest of Siberia was mainly economic but also a cultural process. The conquered Cossacks learned to speak Russian, and many of their native languages vanished. Even though it took many of them months to travel to Moscow, the center of the empire, they still managed to improve land-based trade in its peripheries.

Expanding the Web in Australia and the Pacific

The seafaring invaders quickly replaced the separated from the Old World Web communities in Australia and the Pacific. The pattern that was followed was similar to the one in the Americas with the only difference that the diversity and connectedness of these societies was even smaller, which facilitated further the replacement.

The World the Web Made, 1500-1800

The increased unification of the world transformed it in many different ways. This transformation brought both negative and positive changes. For instance, there were many societies, which vanished along with their traditional ways and languages. But on the other hand, the vibrant life in the World Web made it possible of many discoveries to spread and benefit greater numbers of people. The changes could be identified in several sections:

  • Intellectual and cultural – the unification helped drive major challenges to existing patterns of thought and religion, which led to reformations and revolutions
  • Political – the world became increasingly divided between a few huge empires and the gap between weak and strong was becoming bigger as the unification went on.
  • Economic – the unification of the World Web benefited mainly the merchant classes all over the world, as they managed to make use of the increasingly strong atmosphere of commercialization and globalization.
  • Social – in general population increased rapidly and was structured in more complex social hierarchies.
  • Ecological – biological exchanges were one of the main features of the unification of communicational networks, along with the equalization of flora and fauna and the diseases.

Intellectual and Cultural Currents

Even though most of the intellectual and cultural currents were started in Europe, they were felt all over the world as the tightening of the World Web made questioning of current ideas and existing intellectual, religious, and cultural norms possible.

Information and Communication

The main improvements concerning communication were the ever-increasing literacy rates and the increased enhancement of speed and volume of communication. The European-invented printing press further reduced information costs and the political monopoly over information.

In combination with the revolutionary ideas, the ability to print books at an increased speed made it possible for these ideas to spread all over the pre-established network.

Religions and the Web

The printing press and the ease with which information and ideas were spread caused major transformations in the field of religion. As private individuals could now spread their ideas, many expressed their own views on political, economic, social, and religious topics all over the World Web. Although many of these ideas disappeared, the ones that best related to the current situations took root. This spread of ideas offered a greater scope for individuals to change and fashion their interpretations on big topics such as life, society, and god.

On the other hand, as previously described religion had an order-keeping function in urbanized societies. With the spread of individual ideas and the lack of institutionalization of such views, disorder came into place.

In the intellectual and religious worlds from China to Europe, printing was used to further spread the already pre-established ideas, which also led to economic and cultural ties with the ones endorsing them.

Religious Clampdowns

The expansion of the major religions created an environment, which led to clashes between them. These clashes occurred on the frontiers such as the reformulation of Japanese Buddhism and Shinto and the adaptation of certain Christian principles in India. This free flow of religious ideas created a more homogenous and less divided population around the Web.

Religious toleration became one of the leading policies in strong and well-established empires such as the Indian and the Chinese ones. In Europe, however, there was a major grapple between the newly emerged Protestant movement and Catholicism.


The reduced power of local authorities to control private ideas, combined with the availability of books on different subjects led to rapid improvements in the field of scientific research and experimentation. Scientists from all over the World Web compiled various sources of knowledge, written in different languages, created in different parts of the world.

Even though the scientific revolution was key to this period in history it mostly occurred in Europe and there are two main reasons for this.

  • European universities – the creation of universities in Europe in the 12th and the 13th centuries facilitated the free flow of ideas among scholars, centuries before the scientific revolution.
  • Finding contradicting information – with the exploration of Africa and their voyages to China and the Middle East, Europeans were exposed to many, often conflicting, sources of information. These sources were then compiled and collected. These sources of information could later be spread with the help of the printing press at a rapid rate.

Political Currents

As previously discussed the availability of information made it possible for people to spread their own individual ideas in the institutional hiatus. This, however, led to increased levels of disorder and disobedience to local governments, which demanded new means of centralization of power.

This centralization was mainly achieved through the threat to use force or the actual use of force. This increased importance of force in domestic politics demanded a restructuring of state armies. The four main components of a modern army were:

  • Powerful oceanic navies
  • Widespread cannon usage and fortifications
  • Close order-drilled disciplined standing armies
  • Carefully managed logistics that allowed the support of huge armies
  • When combined together, these four elements were the cause of a military revolution.

The Military Revolution

Many of the big empires of the time such as the Ottoman, the Chinese, and the Mughal started building huge military navies, with the help of which they attempted to gain control over sea trade. The ships in these navies, however, were not sturdy enough to carry cannon, as did the European ones. This gave the Atlantic European powers a huge military advantage over the rest.

Artillery was become more and more widely used both in naval and land warfare. The new cannon type of warfare had an effect on fort-building and fort-keeping strategies. Forts and city wall fortifications had to be built in a specific way that required a change in civil architecture. Fortresses had to be rather big, slow to build, and usually had about 2,000 men garrisoned inside. These fortresses were also well equipped with cannon on their own.

Another key element of the military revolution came in the middle of the 16th century and was related to the widespread use of muskets. Musketeers became the favorite infantry unit of the vast European empires. The main reason for that is the fact that they were extremely versatile and could both shoot and defend themselves against a potential cavalry charge. Furthermore, additional drills provided the opportunity of musketeers to arrange in certain formations that allowed them to perform differently in different situations.

In addition, logistics were as important as the soldiers themselves. That is why empires invested huge amounts of money in road building and hiring additional experts in the field in every army.

All of these changes in warfare led to a massive rise in the expenses of waging war. Warfare was becoming more and more industrialized as war became directly linked to the economy of a country. As military planning became a huge part of state building, establishing an effective tax collection system was vital to the success of every military campaign.

Effects of the Military Revolution

This rapid industrialization of military campaigns, however, was not universal as it was only available to urban societies. Pastoral communities, for example could not build cannon or fortresses to protect themselves. Furthermore, there were also ecological drawbacks such as the lack of certain resources like wood and metal those were necessary for the building of such highly technological weapons.

Most of the developments in the area took place in Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Developments such as artillery fortresses, firearms, and field cannon spread very quickly all over Europe. The Dutch created military manuals, which showed exactly how to supply and manage such a new army. Therefore they were translated in a number of languages due to the low cost of printing and the high demand for such armies and weapons.

The ultimate effects of military revolution were:

  • Concentrated power in the hands of the sovereign
  • State building by force
  • Gave rise to European Empires and prepared their way to be the most formidable in the world
  • Destroyed nomad power for ever
  • The Ottoman Empire – was one of the main players in the military revolution. By creating one of the world’s best logistical apparatus and building fortified cannon citadels all across their borders, the Ottomans were among the innovators in this new way of waging war. Furthermore, their financial system relied heavily on capture and booty from sacked towns, supplemented by taxation. Ottomans did not rely on banks for finances. In addition, the Ottomans were well informed about the developments in Europe from books, migrants, and scholars who flocked to Istanbul.
  • The Mughal Empire – mainly relied on muskets, cavalry, and cannon. One of the main problems they faced was the fractionalized bureaucratic system, where armies often followed the general rather than the ruler. Their power was quick to wane when this major limitation proved destructive during the rebellions in India.
  • The Qing Empire – was a stable empire that adopted cannon in 1644. Even though their armies incorporated many steppe-fighting techniques, they managed to adapt to the new cannon fighting principles, all of which resulted into creating a very flexible military power. The Qing armies paid special attention to artillery and the science behind it and made cannon-building a mass-produced form of art. In addition, like the Ottomans, the Qing armies moved quickly from place to place because of their steppe-like soldiers. This mixture between steppe fighting and cannon proved to be an innovative and yet effective military strategy.

Economic and Social Currents

The changes in the economic world were mainly related to the further globalization of the economy. This period was the most crucial in that respect as it united the whole world into one single Web. In addition, long distance trade, cities, and merchants assumed larger roles, which was one of the leading causes for the increased dynamics around the shores of the Atlantic and the Western Pacific.

Another important change in terms of the globalization of trade was the availability of sea trade along the coast of Africa, and more specifically the Cape of Good Hope route around the Southern coast. The transportation of goods became cheaper and cheaper, which gave producers from all over the world the incentive to join the market and further contribute to the expanding system of global commerce.

In addition, global economy had the need for a universal currency. Since barter made economies terribly inefficient, gold and silver became the universal currency for market goods.

Once a universal currency for market goods was established, Imperial powers started competing for markets all over the globe. This competition, in combination with the newly improved armies and navies led to market wars mainly between Europeans and Chinese armies.

In a different part of the globe, the Atlantic Europeans established control of the Atlantic economy and kept it to themselves. With their powerful fleets they could intrude on the commerce of the Indian and Pacific economies like no other.

Ecological shifts and Biological Exchange

This massive unification of World Webs into one also caused changes in the ecological and biological realms. The most crucial one is the fact that creatures from different parts of the world were transported to new places where they had never existed before. This exchange of flora and fauna was a major reason for the change of people’s diet and the adaptation of different species to various environments for the sake of an increased output. The main crops, which were massively spread around the world, were:

  • Maize – it grows fast and is able to withstand drought fairly well, it is also easy to store. The high caloric value gave a huge incentive for the North African countries to grow it on a massive scale.
  • Cassava or manioc – is native to Brazil and is able to flourish in almost all tropical environment, be it wet or dry, mountainous or seaside. Cassava is also a good source of calories, which is equal to rice and maize. It first arrived in Central Africa but was also transported to the tropical parts of Asia, where it gradually became staple food.
  • Potato – the huge yields in particularly sandy soils made it become staple food in Ireland and Northern Europe. Later on it became really popular in Russia, where it had a serious impact on the local cuisine.

Animals were also transported around the world. Among these were cattle, horses, pigs, goats and sheep, all of which came to America after the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Sheep became a main herding animal in the Andes and Mexico. Cattle provided useful help in the plowing of fields and were also widespread in grasslands.

Effects on World Population

With the possibility of expanding the food supply, communities grew even more rapidly, reaching more than 900 million in the period around the 17th century.

The growing of the population, however, meant more diseases, which had a devastating effect in the Americas, Australia and the Pacific. But even with these occurring epidemics population was still rapidly growing and reached its peak in Africa and Europe by the end of the 19th century.


In the period between 1450 and 1800 the World’s Webs fused into one huge network of communication and only a small proportion of people remained outside of this enormous Web.

The process of fusion and global trade interaction changed the world entirely. From the transportation and spread of plants and animals, to the rapid growing of the population and the world market this period was one of the key ones in history.

As market became more and more important for the world economy, superpowers started competing for foreign markets, which led to the creation of huge industrialized and modernized armies and fleets. These improvements in the military were a cause for grand land and naval battles, which proved to be more destructive than ever before. Yet even with the existence of such a threat on the political level such as large-scale commercial wars both world population and economy thrived and expanded rapidly.

Chapter 7: Breaking Old Chains, Tightening the New Web, 1750–1914

With the coming of the 18th century humanity broke lose from many long-standing constraints. The newly created global economy could effectively deal with problems related to food supply, mobility, economic output, etc. This period, however, is best identified with the Industrial Revolution, which improved an all that had been achieved before that.

The Industrial Revolution also contributed to the homogeneity of resources by focusing on the demand for fossil fuels. Fossil fuels were used by new modern machinery and were therefore needed worldwide. Bearing in mind this global demand for one single resource, one can see how global commerce contributed to the further extension and tightening of the World Web.

Breaking loose from the old constraints, however, meant the inevitable creation of new ones such as the dependence on long distance trade. Long-distance trade is one of the main features of a market economy and is directly related to the universalization of demand that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries. Market economy made local societies very unstable in the sense that they were no longer responsible for their own sustenance but only produced one single product, which they could export in order to earn enough money to purchase everything else that they needed. This concentration on one single component of the world economy led to the regional specialization and the creation of production routines.

The Web’s Persistent Nature

Even with these negative sides of the World Web, there was no going back, since it had already been spread on a massive scale and was in full swing. The benefits of being in the web greatly outweighed the negative sides. Being in the web meant the availability of the latest technological advancements in various fields, which by itself was a source of power. Another reason for being in the web was the fact that being left out meant that one was stripped of this kind of power, and therefore appeared globally weak.

The Progress of the Web

The main progresses and technological advancements were related to the replacement of animal-pulled machinery to steel and steam engine-powered one, which was a huge boost for the efficiency of agricultural production. Even though there were various technological advancements within the Web, the Web itself did not actually expand geographically as much as before. It was becoming tighter and with that it was improving from within, without spreading anymore.

The Enlarging Web

After the colonization of Australia, there were only a small number of isolated and excluded, from the Web, societies around the world. These communities lived mainly in the Arctic North and in the Amazonian jungle. The key problem they experienced was an actual encounter with people coming from within the Web. Such invaders were usually technologically superior and more resistant to diseases. Therefore, many of these isolated societies disappeared shortly after contact with the Web.

The Polynesians, for instance, managed to expand over the Pacific and conquer Easter Island, along with New Zealand but once their expansion stopped they became self-sufficient and reduced contact with the outside world for a long period of time. This isolation limited their incentive to trade with foreigners and they were therefore left out of the Web.

The Dangers of the Expanding Web

The expansion of the web was one of the main causes for the extinction of isolated societies and its main tool was market economy. In the Amazon, the Web’s market economy engulfed the previously left out people there and created the incentive for them to produce large quantities of rubber, for export. This overproduction of rubber forced these people to abandon their traditional ways of self-sustenance and commit themselves to the production of rubber alone. As they joined the market, they could no longer control their own local economy, which forced them to enter into a world of massive competition and profit-generation.

Tightening of the Web

As the Web could no longer expand territorially it started evolving from the inside. Improved communication started bringing the peripheries closer and closer to the center. Early in the 18th century, the main innovations of communication were the advanced Persian road system and post-horses. Both of these were imitated all over the world and were also further supplemented by hilltop fires and beacons.

During the French revolution, the French managed to build a system of communication, which allowed them to send and receive messages over large distances. This system was called le télégraphe and was a key improvement in the world of communication. Even though the telegraph was firstly used for state rather than commercial interests, it was still very effective in bringing the peripheries and the center closer together than ever before. However, there were some serious limitations to the early version of this long distance means of communication such as bad weather and human error.

In 1844 the telegraph was used to successfully link together Baltimore and Washington. The success of the telegraph as an instrument for improving communication was further supplemented by the invention of the Morse code, which made it possible for people to send extensive and complex sentences over large distances. In 1851 submarine cables were used to link Britain to Continental Europe and in 1866 an underwater cable was used across the Atlantic to link Britain to America.

The main political use of telegraph cables was the management of empires. Managing a big empire from one point of the world, namely the capital, was a difficult task. With the help of the telegraph government officials could now get better information, as to what the situation in the peripheries was and possibly make a better decision. A typical example for that was the link between London and India.

Igniting the Population Explosion

Population growth was slow in the first years of the World Web. Nonetheless, even after the unification of world trade relations into one Web population grew but not at the expected rates. The main reason for that were the massive epidemics that resulted from the bringing of large numbers of people together.

The expansion of the World Web led to the widespread increase of agricultural output and with this there was a surplus of food available. This availability of food contributed to the high birthrates worldwide. However, the unification and expansion of the web also brought diseases and epidemics. These epidemics were responsible for the rapid decrease of population. Bearing in mind both of these factors, it is not surprising that human population in the 18th century did not grow as rapidly as expected.

The initial disease shock from unifying the World Web was later followed by a process of gradual adaptation to the diseases. As people started building immunity to the epidemics their numbers could slowly but steadily increase. Furthermore, the circulation of ideas and writings of famous biologists contributed to the adaptation to diseases. Important innovations in the area such as the inoculation for measles and other fatal diseases resulted in the saving of many lives.
The uneven and rapid population growth brought new changes to society. For instance, it promoted movement to cities and therefore challenged the influence of smaller and weaker countries as their populations were attracted by the opportunities that were presented by the big empires.

New Foundations for Politics

When the first state-like entities were established 5,000 years ago, power was usually put in the hands of one individual, who claimed the right to rule, usually on a hereditary basis and the approval of the gods. However, the political environment changed when the free flow of information was available and merchants became stronger and stronger. With the growing influence of the merchant class in state affairs and their unwillingness to pay high taxes, republics came into being once more. With the spread of literacy and ideologies, combined with the increasing power of private individuals such as merchants, the divine power of kings gradually diminished.
An important development in the political theater was the French revolution. The French revolution brought many ideas about popular sovereignty, governance by consent, the importance of the commercial class and last but not least civil rights. Such ideas were dangerous to the already existing monarchies, whose populations were also affected by such believes because of the easy flow of information. The destabilization of monarchical population that the French revolution caused was mostly felt in the Spanish colonies where it was the leading cause for the many wars of independence in Latin America.


This increase of the importance of the population of a state led to the creation of new movements such as nationalism. Nationalism played an important role in the French revolution and the wars that were to follow, as it led to the creation of the new concept of a “nation-in-arms”. This new style of fighting allowed the amassing of huge armies, these huge armies, however, operated at the expense of skill and experience, since the recruits lacked the professional training of the smaller monarchical forces.

Even though nationalism had the capacity to undermine big empires, it could also reinforce the creation of a new homogenous type of state. With the downfall of multicultural empires came the rise of nationalistic ones. Typical examples of both types were Germany and Austria-Hungry. Germany in the beginning of the 20th century successfully benefited from the rise of nationalism by implementing it in the active policies. Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was different as it tried to keep its status quo and operate as a multicultural empire. The effects of these decisions led to the increased power of the German Empire and the gradual downfall of Austria-Hungry as more and more people from within it started independence movements.

Imperialism and Self-Strengthening

Imperialism changed a lot after the Industrial revolution. The first change was the fact that huge naval empires were no longer effective in sustaining themselves. Therefore, industrialization gave light to a new type of empire – the industrial empire. As previously noted early industrialization started linking a state’s economy to warfare. The Industrial Empire of the late 19th century further continued this gradual process of linking an empire’s industrial economy to the ways in which it waged war.
An important empire to look at from this period is the British one. As the British had already conquered a huge part of the globe during the previous pre-industrial stage, it was easy for them to continue with the developments in the area and the transition to the fully industrialized empire was swift and smooth. Inventions such as factories, deadly multi-shot weaponry, mass production, interchangeable parts, all played a major role in the industrialization of the concepts of both war and empire.

The smooth British transition, however, was one of the few examples where an empire kept its status quo. The rapid industrialization caused the imbalance of power to increase even more, since not every empire had the resources or the capacity to upgrade its entire economy and army.

This rapid development on the side of the British was a cause for racism to spread as many believed that British people, and generally Europeans who reached the stage of the industrial empire were inherently superior. This was mainly shown in British India.

Social Changes

Industrialization was also a cause for many social changes, which mainly occurred in the most industrialized parts of the world. However, due to the fact the Web was so interconnected and tightened, this led to changes all over its peripheries. There were several chief changes that occurred in the social sphere:

  • Large-scale urbanization – many villages and peripheral towns were flocking with young people, who were desperate in their search for opportunities. The rapidly industrializing cities in the center were in need of more people to work in the factories, and therefore provided jobs for more village folk.
  • The invention of new ideological creeds – these shifting norms gave the incentive for the creation of new ideologies. The most famous from the period is Marxism. This ideology appealed to intellectuals who were dissatisfied with the status quo and looked for a change in terms of equality and harmony.
  • Christianity branched off into several new sects – among these sects were the Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Science, and American Fundamentalist Protestants who were also interested in ideas related to the bringing of equality to the world.
  • Industrial workers formed trade unions – trade unions were created so that workers could protect themselves as a community. Their hard lives, unpleasant work conditions, and low wages bonded workers together; such unions often caused unrest and riots.

Abolition of Slavery

Before Industrialization slavery was an effective means of increasing the output from plantations and farms. Slavery had been used for the past 5,000 years but it had its production limits. Even though slavery was very effective in the stage of the pre-industrialized empires, especially in the production of sugar, cotton, and tobacco in the Americas things started to change as population started to rapidly grow and technology was also advancing at a quick pace. Before the technological advancements of the 19th century, slave labor was able to produce enough food and goods to cope with the demand. However, as population grew, technology made it possible for farms to produce much more without the use of slaves. Furthermore, the intellectual and social pressure with regard to respect for human dignity also pushed such advancements, which was key for the period after the French revolution.

For the above stated reasons, the abandonment of slavery was only possible after the full industrialization of a country so that it could ensure a sufficient supply of goods for its people. As mentioned above industrialization around the world was highly uneven, which was also one of the leading causes for the different dates of the abolishment of slavery.

Highly industrialized countries such as Britain abolished slavery early in 1833, while many other countries, which were less industrialized maintained the practice. As Britain had managed to reach a stage where it did not need slavery for its sustenance it attempted to force other nations to eliminate it. While bearing in mind the relation between industrialization and slavery, it is important to note here that if a country had not yet reached the stage of industrialization the abolishment of slavery could be a huge blow for its economy, thereby further increasing the gap between industrialized and non-industrialized states.

Ecological Change

The rapidly and often violently expanding industrial World Web often destroyed ecosystems. This destruction of ecosystems was also facilitated by the disregard for the maintaining of clean air, water, and soil. Pollution was in full swing as the newly discovered petrol-running machines further contributed to the destruction of the environment.

The increasing population in the Web also demanded more land for the production of food and other agricultural commodities. For that reason many people started deforesting large regions for the building of farms. These changes were generally perceived as positive, and therefore they were implemented on a large scale.

Another key change that occurred was the increased importance of irrigation systems. As farming became more and more industrialized, natural means of watering crops were becoming less efficient in comparison to the available technology. Therefore, large irrigational projects were started in order to further increase the agricultural output so that it could meat the ever-increasing demand.

Spread of Disease

This quick expansion of production and population, combined with the highly developed means of transportation were also causes for the spread of epidemical diseases all around the globe. Even though they were not as destructive as the ones from the time of Columbus, these epidemics still took the lives of a huge part of the world population. New diseases such as Tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid were the main ones. 

It was only in the period between 1880 and 1910 that the situation regarding these particular diseases improved. This was due to the “sanitary revolution” that took place in Northern Europe and North America. The newly discovered benefits from separating drinking from wastewater made a huge difference in both hygiene and health.
Conclusion: Lock-In

The inner tightening of the already stretched Web in the period between 1750 and 1914 caused a huge demographic boom, more representative forms of politics, large-scale industrialization, and the new nationalist ideology. All of these factors spread power and resources very unevenly around the globe and therefore the much-wanted stability was replaced by tumult and uncertainty.

The world of London and Paris, cities in the center of the industrial revolution, was very different from the one in the peripheries. The stable, well managed, and orderly life in the center only seemed an illusion to the people living in cities that had not yet been industrialized. This uneven benefit from industrialization was one of the main causes for the multitude of tension that was to follow in the years after 1914.

Chapter 8: Strains on the Web the World Since 1890

While the World Web before 1914 was expanding,  tightening, and integrating, the one to follow was one that could be identified with disintegration promoted by the popular political movements of the time. Migration, trade, and capital flow all plunged rapidly due to the military conflicts and the separation of most of the world into two conflicting blocks. This disintegration of the center of the Web, combined with the rise of the United States led to a new period in globalization, which often appears as Americanization.

Communication and Ideas

The developments in terms of communication were mainly related to the sudden decrease of prices of transportation and information extraction technologies. Inventions such as the telegraph gradually evolved to the telephone and later on, the Internet. Innovative creations such as the airplane added an entirely new dimension to the travel and transport possibilities.

All of this, however, was not available to everyone due to the previously establishment inequality among nations. The different resources and wealth and their unequal distribution were one of the leading reasons why everyone could not make use of these important communication improvements.

The key communication improvements came in three waves:

  • The first wave started with the invention of the telephone in 1870, the automobile in the 1890s, and the radio around 1900. All of these important inventions were then popularized in the 1920s.
  • The second wave took place in the period between the 1940s and 1950s, when television (invented in the 1930s) and the availability of commercial aviation became a common place in the United States.
  • The third wave originated in the 1960s but also continued in the early 1990s. This final stage could be identified with sudden general improvements of the inventions mentioned in the first and second waves.

The massive availability of all of these media and communication instruments also created the incentive for political leaders to use them on a large scale to promote their ideas. Daily newspapers, radio, movies, and TV in general were among the main tools for conveying political information.
Cultural Expansion

Mass communication media such as newspapers and television combined with the availability of commercial flights made it possible of culturally isolated communities to know more about one another. For instance many Chinese had been culturally isolated in the sense that they had never met people from a non-Chinese background, and now they had the affordable opportunity to explore and learn more about the unified World Web and its communities. In Europe, for instance, the Irish were a typical example of a people who had not met someone who was not Christian, and now they were also given the chance to reshape their worldviews.

This willingness to travel, along with the possibility to do so, resulted in a cultural shakeout. This shakeout improved cross-cultural communication as it promoted respect for foreign languages, foreign culture, and customs. Such local customs were often so well accepted that they became mainstream, which contributed to the preservation of marginalized cultures. Popular examples are Brazil’s samba, and West African music rhythms.

Religious Developments

Religion was also affected by the new age’s technological advancements. The main improvements with regard to religion were the ways in which religious views were spread. Mass communication media allowed for cheap and effective means of spreading a particular ideological message, a characteristic used by both missionaries and politicians.

Scientific Progress

On the subject of science and its developments in the period after 1890 there were several key features:

  • The 17th century approaches to science were continued. This meant that scientists continued to put emphasis on observation and experimentation. Many prominent scientists acquired worldwide authority even in distant lands such as China.
  • Science abandoned the principles of timelessness, previously propagated by religion and adopted evolutionary models with regard to the natural world.
  • The evolutions in commerce also had their effects on scientific research, as they gradually became more expensive.


The most significant feature of population growth during the 20th century was the role that science played in the reduction of deaths per capita from diseases. For the first time in history the World Web had a type of human-made resistance to diseases, the lack of which used to be the main reason for population decrease. 

With the help of mass media communication and advanced scientific research, effective public health systems were developed. These health systems included programs for vaccinations, antibiotics, and sanitation measures. These simple, at first glance, measures managed to cut death rates everywhere around the globe.
Another factor that led to the population growth in the 20th century were state policies, which provided incentives for childbearing. Such policies were implemented by Hitler and Stalin and usually offered baby bonuses.


Once state policies had managed to increase population sizes it was important to find occupation for the newly enlarged population. As from the 18th century, cities were considered a main point of attraction for young people seeking opportunities and employment. Therefore, cities remained centers that offered the following:

  • Upward social mobility
  • Excitement for the young, in terms of job opportunities
  • Better access to education
  • Health care
  • Clean water
  • Electricity

Retreat from Globalization

War and Depression, 1914-41

Globalization before 1914 made many believe that the concept of a potential all-out war was outdated and far from sight. Yet in 1914 World War I broke out and shattered such hopes. The vigorous nationalism that had been taking place way before the war itself further contributed to the global divide. In addition it made war an easier concept to accept, since it implied that there was a natural divide between nations and also established the idea that certain nations were superior to others.

As more and more resources and men were poured into the manslaughter of the First World War, governments came to the conclusion that they had to mobilize every single unit they could in order to gain an advantage over the enemy. This concept is similar to the increasing link of war to a nations economy as observed in the early-industrialized armies of the 18th century. The main difference, however, is the idea of an absolute “total war”. This implied that even civilians were now actively used by governments to contribute the war effort.

The end of the war caused large-scale destruction across Europe. The loss of the axis powers also led to the fall of their respective governments. In Russia, for example “total war” led to such a hatred aimed towards the government that it led to the Communist revolution of 1917 and the fall of the whole imperial regime in the country.

This political turmoil also caused major disturbances in the global market. Since Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary were all major actors, when the war ended they could no longer meet the commercial demand. This inability to contribute to the global market led to massive inflation and a rapid rise in prices all over the world. In order to safeguard their own economies many countries issued quotas and tariffs for foreign goods, lowering spending and closing their borders. This was a major reason for disturbances within the World Web and a sudden downfall of the previous economic boom.

  • This closing of the borders and forced isolation was further continued during the conflicts to follow. World War II, the most destructive conflict in history, led to changes such as the implementation of long-term spending plans and economic conservatism.
  • The Cold war was another interesting phenomenon as it divided the previously established World Web into two separate ones. This isolation was yet another reason for the reduced economic output worldwide.

The Long Boom

In the onset of the 20th century there was a sudden population, production, and scientific boom. The major boom, however, was in the world economy, which resulted from the abovementioned three. The main reasons for this economic boom were the following:

  • Women started having fewer children – by doing so they could now enter the paid labor force in unprecedented numbers.
  • Farmers left their land in search for urban jobs – the economic boom also triggered another wave of urbanization, which further contributed to the boost in economic growth.
  • The spread of modern electrified factories – factories reduced the number of people needed to fulfill a task and therefore contributed to the overall efficiency of the labor force.


The growth in local economy caused unusual returns to specialization and export. The main institutional driving forces behind the return of the market economy were the US markets that exported goods to Europe and East Asia. Re-globalization further intensified competition among firms, which was the cause for new innovations that dramatically raised productivity.

Trade was another important factor in the global economic boom. In 1950, In the US and Europe the share of goods produced for export was twice the size of the goods for local economies. The trans-Pacific trade underwent huge improvements in terms of seafaring trade with the introduction of container goods. Containers were easy to transport and therefore reduced the time it took for goods to get from New York to Hong Kong and vice versa, which made participation in East-Asian economy much more efficient and preferable.

With the newly restored large-scale generation of wealth, the proportion of income designated for food decreased. The export of food from countries of Latin America, Australia, Canada, and the United States increased so rapidly that a sudden drop in the export often caused huge fluctuations in the whole global market.

The generation of wealth gave other incentives for long-term plans such as the Marshall Plan. As foreign capital moved quicker than ever in the 1950s and 1960s much of it was dedicated to foreign investment. Opening factories in different countries and subsidizing foreign enterprises led to the creation of multinational corporations or MNCs.

“Financialization” of the World Economy

In the late 1970s the world economy faced certain drawbacks in the face of a slower growth, higher unemployment levels, and inflation, all of which were mainly caused by the tripling of oil prices. This essentially political matter required a political solution. This solution came with the intellectual and policy shift toward liberalization of governmental regulations, regarding capital flows beginning in the United States, the United Kingdom, and later followed by Chile. These new developments made it easier to generate money from trade and finance rather than production and trade. In other words a tiny change in interest rates could now shift huge chunks of the global market prices.

Electrification of the Cosmopolitan Web

The 20th century economic boom hugely depended on the availability of cheap energy and a positive population growth. It was further supplemented by new technology, especially in the field of information and communication. Transportation mattered much less than in the period from 1870 to 1913, in contrast to technological advancements related to the recently developed concept of financialization. Financialization required technological advancements in the field of information and communication so that bank transactions and decisions concerning market prices could be executed effectively and in a timely fashion. Furthermore, electrification was the key to improving communication and information technologies, therefore by 2000 there were over 1 billion telephones, several hundred million computers, and 1,6 billion web pages, all of which contributed to the success of financialization.

This focus on the information intense service sector diverted the attention from the manufacturing and agricultural ones. In addition, financialization required more educated professionals, which were stimulated by various educational rewards.

In terms of communication, the most important development was the increased positive status of English, which soon became a global business language. This further facilitated communication between international trade partners and reduced the time necessary for striking a deal.

The Emergence of a Digital Divide

From its early days industrialization started causing a divide between rich and poor due to the universalization of demand. This gap was significantly widened in the period from 1800 to 1850 but its size was normalized in the 1970s.

In this context, the concept of digital divide was developed and refers to the uneven redistribution of the newly developed technology. Digitalization did not benefit the whole globe equally simply because not all countries had reached the stage of financialization of capital. While some states still struggled to expand their agricultural output, others had already completely abandoned the sector.


The cosmopolitan World Web after 1890 did little to expand geographically, however, it grew tighter and tighter as communication and information technology flourished. The wave of globalization between 1870 and 1914 generated new inequalities between rich and poor, which were a cause of resentments and grievances that made war a likely outcome.

The war of 1914-1918 caused a big blow to nationalism, caused the implementation of economic plans, and was also responsible for the partial closing of market borders. The depression that followed the end of World War I made it seem as if self-sufficiency was a sensible policy, which lead directly to World War II. After the Second World war and the Cold war, market economy was reestablished and experienced another serious boom.

This boom led to the renewed flow of knowledge and distribution of scientific research. The global economy became increasingly dependent on the supply of cheap energy and the availability of communication and information technology, all three of which were key to the generation of wealth in the late 20th century.


This summary was written in the year 2013-2014.

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WorldSupporter Resources
Summary of A history of the modern world (Palmer, 2006)

Summary of A history of the modern world (Palmer, 2006)

I. Het moderne Europese statenstelsel en opkomst grote mogendheden (1648-1740)

I.1 The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648: The Disintegration of Germany

The Holy Roman Empire was the economic centre in Europe in the Middle Ages. Most of the people spoke German, but religion was more important than language. The Empire was divided in terms of religion. It’s possible that there were even more Protestants than Catholics in the Empire. Because the trade shifted to the Atlantic-coast and the Lutherans were culturally isolated, the Empire was in severe decline.

I.1.1 Background of the Thirty Years’ War

First of all, because of The Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which said that each state could choose his own religion, the Lutherans were making gains, something the Catholics didn’t like. Besides that both the Catholics and Lutherans didn’t like the growing Calvinism. The Catholics turned to Spain while the Protestants were negotiating with the Dutch Republic, England and France for help.

Secondly the Spanish Habsburgs wanted to crush the Dutch, so that they could create a strong borderline in central Europe. In third place, the Austrian Habsburgs couldn’t wait to crush Protestantism in Germany and thereafter create a strong German national state. France was even more scared of the plans of the Austrian Habsburgs than the plans of the Spanish Habsburgs.

As you can see, the war was a mishmash of clashes, and therefore complex:

  • a German civil war between Protestants and Catholics’
  • a German civil war over sovereignty between the Emperor and German princes;
  • an international war with France against the Habsburgs, the Spanish against the Dutch and the Swedes and Danish who helped the Protestants in Germany;
  • personal ambitions, call them soldiers of fortune, fighting for themselves.

I.1.2 The Four Phases of the War

The Bohemian Phase (1618-1625): the Bohemians wanted to keep their Protestant liberties, so they got rid of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias. Frederick V got elected by the Bohemian people, but the new Emperor Ferdinand crushed the Bohemians in the Battle of the White Mountains. Result: victory for the Catholics, Protestantism crushed away in Bohemia and Spain gained control over the Rhineland.

The Danish Phase (1625-1629): the King of Denmark, a Protestant supported by the Dutch, English and Richelieu, got attacked in the name of the Emperor by Albert of Wallenstein’s personal army. Result: Denmark lost, Counter Reformation goes further and further.

The Swedish Phase (1630-1635): The King of Sweden, the Protestant Gustavus Adolphus, was alarmed by the victories of Catholicism and went to war with his modern army. He made big victories in Germany, but got killed. At the same moment the Swedish-allied Saxons signed a peace agreement with the Catholics and the Swedes were isolated in Germany. It looked like the end of the war, but both France and Spain didn’t want any peace in the Empire.

The Swedish-French Phase (1635-1648): the last phase of the war wasn’t that much a civil war, but more an international struggle on German ground. German states got involved with both French and Swedes, but developed a feeling of national resentment against foreign invasions.

I.1.3 The Peace of Westphalia, 1648

There were a lot of outcomes of the Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Augsburg was revised with the addition of Calvinism; the Dutch Republic and Switzerland got recognized as independent states; all the 300 German states became sovereign; Germany lost a third of its population. This meant the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Peace of Westphalia was the first modern diplomatic congress, thereby indicating a new political order in central Europe. This new political order was based upon the concept of a sovereign state. Europe was understood as a continent with a large number of sovereignties with their own laws, rules, interests, shifting balance of power, etc.

I.2 Britain: The Civil War

At the beginning of the 17th century England pulled back from the continent. It had no role in the Thirty Years War nor in the Treaty of Westphalia. Simply because England was involved in religious and civil war, fought between the Puritans and the Anglicans and between the Parliament forces and the forces of the king. The wars were relatively calm, but the conflicts between England and Catholic Ireland were fierce and savage.

I.2.1 England in the Seventeenth Century

England made great achievements in the 17th century. It had about 5 million English-speaking inhabitants. Furthermore groups had emigrated to the American colonies, the West Indies and Northern Ireland. Big names of that time were Shakespeare, Milton and Francis Bacon. Although England was inferior to Holland in shipping, it had a larger and more versatile economy and a more productive homeland.

I.2.2 Background to the Civil War: Parliament and the Stuart Kings

Stuart James I had a major conflict with the Parliament for several reasons:

  1. he believed in royal absolutism;
  2. he supported the Anglican Archbishop Laud that asked religious conformity at the time that the Parliament was Puritan;
  3. his Scottish origin;
  4. his pedantic ways;
  5. his constant need of money for the war with Spain and his spending-money-habit.

The English Parliament was unified without any provincial units such as in the Netherlands. The House of Lords was dominated by aristocratic landowners, the House of Commons by nobility plus representatives of the merchants and the cities. Still the Parliament was generally unanimous in social interest and wealth.

Charles I Stuart decided to govern without Parliament in 1629. This would probably succeeded, if there weren’t some major problems. First

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