Europe 1453 CE

The old feudal order is beginning to give way to early modern Europe, with the Italian Renaissance and the age of exploration under way.

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What is happening in Europe in 1453CE

The previous two centuries have seen Europe on the defensive. The Crusader states have completely vanished from the Middle East, a people from central Asian have conquered a huge slice of eastern Europe, and a pandemic has killed an enormous number of people. Yet the region has made huge cultural and technological strides, and is poised for extraordinary growth.

The Mongol conquest of Russia in the mid-13th century effectively cut that huge territory off from the rest of Europe, and Mongol invasion of central Europe inflicted huge damage. The terrible Black Death may have killed a third of Europeans.

Wars and unrest

Warfare involving England, France and the Low Countries  has endured over many decades (not for nothing is it known as the “Hundred Years’ War”). Political fragmentation has continued to affect Germany and Italy; and widespread religious unrest has disturbed much of the region, especially in central Europe. Then, in this year, 1453, the great historic city of Constantinople falls to the Muslim Turks. This is a severe psychological shock to Europeans. The Turkish (or Ottoman) empire now reaches far up into the Balkans.

These wars have seen the early use of gunpowder in warfare. The capture of Constantinople, for example, was greatly helped by the huge canon the Ottoman army deployed.

The Age of Discovery and the Italian Renaissance

To counter-balance the Muslim advance in the Balkans, at the other end of Europe, the Christian kingdoms of Spain have all but completed their conquest of Muslim territory. Portuguese sailors have begun their voyages of discovery, currently probing southward down the west coast of Africa. These will lead on to the age of European exploration, and all that would flow from that.

A cultural movement which later historians will call the “Italian Renaissance” is now under way. As well as producing beautiful new art and architecture, this will lead to a transformation of European thinking by challenging many of the basic assumptions of medieval philosophy. The first European printing presses will soon be spreading new knowledge and new ideas across the continent.

Economic growth

All this is linked to the long-term economic growth of Europe, which started centuries before in the early Middle Ages. This received a sharp set-back in the mid-14th century as a result of natural calamities, especially the Black Death, but within a couple of generations it resumed again.

Reduced populations have enjoyed greater purchasing power. Trade has flourished, towns and cities have expanded, and urban elites have gained in political clout.

Political centralization

In France, centralized royal power has increased at the expense of the nobles, aided by the king’s cannons that can now make short work of previously impregnable baronial castles.  This development will soon spread to other countries in western Europe, to create strong, centralized nation-states. These will provide the political underpinnings for European expansion to come.

Next map, Europe 1648

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The Byzantine Empire

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Medieval Europe II: 1000 to 1450

Early Modern Europe 1450 to 1750

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