How Did Europe Dominate the World?

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Really simple question that I think will probably have a really complicated answer. What do you think made Europeans the dominant people on Earth and able to essentially subjugate almost the entire world by the mid 19th century? Was it European cultural dispositions? Technology? Geography? Is there really something to this whole ubermensch thing?

If I had to make a guess on what caused European nations to eventually become the dominant force on Earth until quite recently I would say it had to be competition. The countries in Europe were locked in a near constant struggle for Dominance for hundreds of years and this caused them to seize upon anything that could give them an edge over their opponents whether it was military or economic in nature. This caused Europeans to seize upon what they thought might help them dominate their neighbors. One very obvious example may be the speed at which Europeans adopted and advanced a Chinese invention: Gunpowder. While China was content with their older designs or simply imported weapons, the Europeans (and to a lesser extent the Ottomans) were constantly advancing and trying to best their neighbors. They also tried to out trade and out explore their rivals to give them an advantage Economically. A good example of this is with the fights over who would rule the Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. These over seas colonies and trading partners made the Europeans even more wealthy.

In contrast with the Europeans, the other contenders for dominance; the Ottoman Empire and China were stagnating by the late 17th century and dd not advance as quickly or aggressively as the Europeans did. This came to a head with the advent of the Industrial Revolution which effected Europe more then the Ottomans or Chinese and helped colonize Africa and Asia, and put the economic and military boot to China's gut.

To summarize my short and dirty view; Europeans competing with each other helped make them the dominant countries on Earth for centuries. This was aided by their Geographic location lack of resources(they had to expand and get them) and the stagnation seen in other great empires in the world.

An interesting question, one of my favorite responses is from the guns germs and steel documentary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgnmT-Y_rGQ

I think it's a great documentary basically putting the genetic superiority theory to shame. He argues that it all started with position on the planet. Europe has a long east to west ratio that they dominated with plenty of fertile ground, plants, and animals. All that eventually lead to healthier populations with more time to devote to philosophy, engineering, and politics.

I would agree that competition is the main contributing factor to Europe's dominance. However it wasn't really lack of resources that led to European wars and conflict. Europe was generally quite resource rich and most industrial advancement that required more resources came as a result of technological advancement-it did not cause it. It was a culture which glorified war and expansion for its own sake, as well as religious and cultural differences that led to Europes war and conflict.

Moreover as there was no central supreme power as for instance in China(the Habsburgs where probably the closest to reaching dominance but didn't even come close), all nations needed to adobt technological advances or they would be destroyed by there rivals.

dmase:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgnmT-Y_rGQ

Someone actually quoted Jared Diamond? Awesome.

I would like to say that the Europeans Westerners should avoid patting themselves on the back. It's not like China didn't have to contend with internal problems or the Mongols. It's really thanks to geographic terrain and a bit of luck that the Europeans weren't completely crushed by the Mongols.

I strongly suggest against taking the point of view that the Europeans were able to control so much of the world, due to some sort of "racial superiority", or whatever it's called.

"Diamond argues that Eurasian civilization is not so much a product of ingenuity, but of opportunity and necessity. That is, civilization is not created out of superior intelligence, but is the result of a chain of developments, each made possible by certain preconditions.

Eurasia's large landmass and long east-west distance increased these advantages. Its large area provided it with more plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and allowed its people to exchange both innovations and diseases. Its East-West orientation allowed breeds domesticated in one part of the continent to be used elsewhere through similarities in climate and the cycle of seasons."

EDIT: The Chinese and Ottoman Empire was also pretty damn powerful at a time.

http://www.amazon.com/Civilization-West-Rest-Niall-Ferguson/dp/0143122061

Western civilization's rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries

How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? Acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts, or "killer applications": competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic-that (Christianity) the Rest lacked, allowing it to surge past all other competitors.


Yet now, Ferguson shows how the Rest have downloaded the killer apps the West once monopolized, while the West has literally lost faith in itself. Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside clashes (and fusions) of civilizations, Civilization: The West and the Rest recasts world history with force and wit. Boldly argued and teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.

Well, you've had other parts of the world that had been quite impressive in their time, Europe might just have been important when the technology existed for the foremost powers to dominate the world, if you see what I mean.

According to what I've read, if China hadn't become insular and practically sealed their borders they could have dominated the world the same way the west did. Look at how they stopped large-scale naval expeditions after Zheng He.

Personally, I think the reason might be because Europe, as a whole, had much more of a "culture of rebellion" then it's eastern neighbors. While Karl Marx may have been wrong on a lot of things, he may have been onto something when he claimed each previous "caste" overthrew the other one and put themselves into power. If you look at asia and the middle east, even today, you'll notice it's a lot more culturally important to "submit to authority" there.

I'm not trying to be racist or anything, just examine the cultural norms. In the west, there's a greater emphasis on individualism, on being yourself and fighting for what you believe in... While the attitude in the east can be summed up with an old Japanese phrase I once heard "The nail that sticks out is the first to be hammered down". This can be noted in almost all parts of eastern culture, sometimes even architecture. For example, Japanese houses, at least back in the day, were made of rather light and cheap materials; so that if something such as a storm could come along and destroy their home, they can always rebuild... While in the west (partially out of necessity, partially out of cultural significance in my opinion) buildings are built to be strong, to withstand the storm.

In a sense, this desire to challenge the Status Quo, the established authority, is what lead to Europe's dominance. The old aristocracy was challenged by the much more progressive Bourgeoisie, which was in turn challenged by the working class. Old sciences and beliefs were challenged by newer ideas, meanwhile the east's stagnation in technology can be thought of as the result of just not really needing much more technology. Europe had plagues, imperialism, crusades, class warfare, revolutions, and a hell of a lot of intrigue. If you look at China, the only neighbors that truly threatened them were the mongols, who weren't really advancing technologically either, thanks to their tribal society. They didn't have to worry about mass disease, because most Asian countries had greater hygiene then Europe. Finally, there wasn't much of a need or desire for "revolution". China's lower classes, despite how unlikely it seemed, could always rise out of their position if they showed merit on a government provided test, they focused more on passing that test then overthrowing "the corrupt upper class". Japan, despite being "technically" an empire, was more or less ruled by a warlord at almost all points before meeting the west, it's nobility were more busy with each other rather then the peasants. Finally the rest of asia was more or less worried about whether china or the mongols would rule them next.

Witty Name Here:
Personally, I think the reason might be because Europe, as a whole, had much more of a "culture of rebellion" then it's eastern neighbors. While Karl Marx may have been wrong on a lot of things, he may have been onto something when he claimed each previous "caste" overthrew the other one and put themselves into power. If you look at asia and the middle east, even today, you'll notice it's a lot more culturally important to "submit to authority" there.

I'm not trying to be racist or anything, just examine the cultural norms. In the west, there's a greater emphasis on individualism, on being yourself and fighting for what you believe in... While the attitude in the east can be summed up with an old Japanese phrase I once heard "The nail that sticks out is the first to be hammered down". This can be noted in almost all parts of eastern culture, sometimes even architecture. For example, Japanese houses, at least back in the day, were made of rather light and cheap materials; so that if something such as a storm could come along and destroy their home, they can always rebuild... While in the west (partially out of necessity, partially out of cultural significance in my opinion) buildings are built to be strong, to withstand the storm.

In a sense, this desire to challenge the Status Quo, the established authority, is what lead to Europe's dominance. The old aristocracy was challenged by the much more progressive Bourgeoisie, which was in turn challenged by the working class. Old sciences and beliefs were challenged by newer ideas, meanwhile the east's stagnation in technology can be thought of as the result of just not really needing much more technology. Europe had plagues, imperialism, crusades, class warfare, revolutions, and a hell of a lot of intrigue. If you look at China, the only neighbors that truly threatened them were the mongols, who weren't really advancing technologically either, thanks to their tribal society. They didn't have to worry about mass disease, because most Asian countries had greater hygiene then Europe. Finally, there wasn't much of a need or desire for "revolution". China's lower classes, despite how unlikely it seemed, could always rise out of their position if they showed merit on a government provided test, they focused more on passing that test then overthrowing "the corrupt upper class". Japan, despite being "technically" an empire, was more or less ruled by a warlord at almost all points before meeting the west, it's nobility were more busy with each other rather then the peasants. Finally the rest of asia was more or less worried about whether china or the mongols would rule them next.

I think one could look at the constant wars and changing of borders and empire as to why European culture became more accepting of change then it's Eastern counterparts. The constant shift in power, borders, kings, and religions made people more accepting of the idea that what is must not always be. In China you had hundreds of years at a time with comparatively stable government, a consistent religion that didn't change, ect. This made the idea of permanence more....rational to Easterners. This is backed up by the ideas of Confucius.

However this doesn't explain Japan all that much as if my history is correct they fought each other quite a bit and change happened fairly often yet they stuck to very strict tradition and ways. Though I may be mistaken about their history of conflict.

Shock and Awe:

I think one could look at the constant wars and changing of borders and empire as to why European culture became more accepting of change then it's Eastern counterparts. The constant shift in power, borders, kings, and religions made people more accepting of the idea that what is must not always be. In China you had hundreds of years at a time with comparatively stable government, a consistent religion that didn't change, ect. This made the idea of permanence more....rational to Easterners. This is backed up by the ideas of Confucius.

However this doesn't explain Japan all that much as if my history is correct they fought each other quite a bit and change happened fairly often yet they stuck to very strict tradition and ways. Though I may be mistaken about their history of conflict.

You raise a good point, that may explain the rapid industrialization Japan made compared to it's other neighbors, and the absolute chaos that period of time is looked upon these days.

Though I'd also like to point out that in many cases "To Submit" was seen as perhaps the most heinous thing to do in European history. Hell, in Ancient Rome they didn't even care about rape that much so much as you weren't on the bottom, if you were the one being raped, you would be criticized for submitting to your attacker. It's brutal, but it sort of feeds into that idea that Europeans as a whole really really hated the idea of someone ruling over them.

Although another source of conflict could be that, even in your own country, you weren't necessarily ruled by someone who was culturally similar to you. Hell, during the hundred years wars The English Royalty was almost more french then the french royalty. I mean, Napoleon barely spoke French during his earliest years, yet he's credited as the creator of French Nationalism of all things. Being told what to do by someone who probably didn't even speak the same language as you is a great way to build conflict. While, as far as I can tell, the lack of a massive amount of cultural mingling and only minor cultural differences usually lead to less conflict. The Chinese were still being ruled by the Chinese, the Japanese by the Japanese, and so on... While if we look at a country like Vietnam, we see that it has attitudes much more similar to the west simply because [i]throughout most of it's history it was being passed back and forth between conquerors.. Ho Chi Minh seemed to even [i]look up to the U.S. as at one point, and apparently was even basing North Vietnam's constitution around the U.S. one in the beginning.

We had plenty of coal and iron, we had the need for more resources, we had the gunpowder, we knew there was stuff around that the Ottomans were keeping from us and so we started looking for alternate routes. Sorta lucky really, you'd have thought the Chinese would have dominated but they didn't have coal and iron in decent quantities outside of Manchuria. Doesn't change much though, technologically we have the same tools, same gravity, same atmosphere etc. so results wont wary too much depending on where things start.

Shock and Awe:
snip

Personally, I'd say religious humanism.

Take a generic medieval person. He probably sees the world not as a physical phenomenon, but in terms of a great battleground of spiritual forces, forces which are not far away and distant on some other plane of reality but immanent, happening around and even within him. The day to day happenings of life, good fortune and bad fortune are not random circumstances but evidence of an unseen reality which has to be placated. If a person becomes sick, or exhibits signs of mental illness, if a person commits a crime, if a person dies from being hit by falling masonry, if a person enjoys a good or bad harvest, all can be in some way attributed to these greater spiritual battles.

Religious humanism proposes a very different understanding of the universe, that God and all these spiritual forces around him are not here intervening in our everyday lives but are in fact somewhere out there on another world far away from our human experience. That fundamentally changes how we see our world, no longer is it this incomprehensible battleground of invisible agents in which humans are simply thrown around, but a place in which humans are the primary agents. Large areas of the world which could previously only be engaged with spiritually become subject to human inquiry and, ultimately, human control.

That makes the development of systemic knowledge possible, and ultimately makes modern science possible, particularly the kind of instrumental science which ultimately gave Europeans such a distinct edge over many other cultures.

Overall though, it's very important not to overstate the effectiveness of European colonialism. Yes, theoretically large portions of the globe were subject to Queen Victoria at one point, but the actual mechanisms for administering that territory were often barely existent. We're not talking about "domination" here, at least not in most cases, so much as hegemony.

Call me unoriginal but i'll go with the Guns, Germs and Steel hypothesis.

To highlight some details which haven't been bought up yet: Yes the climate of Europe is fertile, but Europe's success was more than just having a fertile climate. (I mean, much of China's fertile, but it wasn't Chinese gunboats sailing up the Thames) Europe has a somewhat boring climate, and its reflected in the indigenous food stuffs of Europe- the only natural flavorings in Europe i can think of are salt and honey, so things like spices were worth their weight in gold and bought from huge distances away.

That's why Columbus decided to sail West to Asia- he wanted to cut out the middle man (the Ottoman Empire) and export the spices himself back to Spain. Instead he discovered America. Now, geographically speaking, America is far away from Europe but not so far that it was impossible to cross with pre-industrial technology. (I mean, the Vikings managed it easily enough). This in a way gave Europeans to ability and motivation to colonise other corners of the planet, to find and take other commodities like cotton, tobacco, sugar, coffee and tea.

Europe is, in a sense both resource rich and resource poor. We can have all the milk, bread, pork, beef, carrots, leeks and broccoli we can eat- but if you want something exiting on your dinner table you need to go beyond Europe and into the wider world. So, i think a lot of it is to do with commodities. Individuals could become very wealthy by sailing to the New World, or elsewhere, and selling these commodities back to their home countries in Europe.

And this ties into the competition aspect some people have raised here. In the 15th-18th centuries, European states were mercantile- they aimed to export more than they imported, so they would generate a cash surplus, and that cash surplus would be used to raise armies to guard against their neighbors- or go to war against them. Hence there was a strong political incentive to seize control of these resources abroad- it was a matter of "national security" that you controlled more colonies abroad than your rivals.

dmase:
An interesting question, one of my favorite responses is from the guns germs and steel documentary.

This, quite a lot. Diamond may be a mono-explanation, but his explanation gets closest of all single-cause explanations.

To his story I'd also add that said dominance is a lot less than people often think. Pretty much all of Africa and a lot of the eastern parts of Asia may have been colonised, but 'on the ground' that often made little of a difference. For instance the barbary pirates in present day Morocco and Algeria have long preyed on Europeans for their slave trade, and it took quite a lot of military action to stop it. It took untill well into the 19th century when France overran and colonised the region before the trade truly stopped, and that was taking place at Europe's very borders. It wasn't really dominance, it was just being the region that was on average most capable of projecting power on the globe. Most of the planet however never saw any 'European dominance', unless you happened to have something that was needed, like a spice trade harbour.

I'd also add that the times were quite simply opportune: There were no other empires or forces that could seriously threaten the various European countries. Like before that era you had the Ottoman Empire occupying much of eastern Europe and the invasion of Spain. The era we're talking about, those forces were all in decline so it only makes sense that the group their traditional adversaries belonged to flourished.

I'll also say Diamond has a lot of explanatory power in Guns, Gems and Steel. This is particularly true comparing Eurasian civilizations to the American ones.

One thing people forget is that, at different points, different parts of Eurasia dominated. The middle east, China, Mongolia, Eastern europe, Western Europe - so it wasn't a clear cut "Europeans are so much more advanced). China, in fact, ran into a lot of trouble when it became, not just insular, but had an emperor declare that no new technology could be invented.

Eastern and Western Europe faced a similar problem and were well behind the Middle-eastern and Asian countries after the pagan Roman empire became Christianized. The spread of Christianity quite literally stopped scientific progression as it was considered against scripture. We know today that some of the roman thinkers were already coming up with the idea of a solar system, germ theory and developing some complex surgeries. All of this was halted by the church.

ElectroJosh:
The spread of Christianity quite literally stopped scientific progression as it was considered against scripture. We know today that some of the roman thinkers were already coming up with the idea of a solar system, germ theory and developing some complex surgeries. All of this was halted by the church.

This is a popular myth, but it remains a myth. Without the Church even more of the knowledge of the Romans and Greeks would have been lost after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This is because nearly all the literate people in Europe were clergy. It was also the clergy who managed most libraries in this time as well. The church did hold back science many times, but to act like the advent of Christianity was a boot in the gut of science is foolish. If you want to blame something you should look to the fall of the Roman Empire and the security that it gave with it.

Shock and Awe:
This is a popular myth, but it remains a myth. Without the Church even more of the knowledge of the Romans and Greeks would have been lost after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This is because nearly all the literate people in Europe were clergy. It was also the clergy who managed most libraries in this time as well. The church did hold back science many times, but to act like the advent of Christianity was a boot in the gut of science is foolish. If you want to blame something you should look to the fall of the Roman Empire and the security that it gave with it.

That's actually not the full story either. The church was significantly more complicit in the destruction of competing knowledge (including competing christian writings).

While its true that lots of the writings were preserved by the church it is also true that the Church did go out of its way to destroy writings that they considered heretical. We know about the purges and we know, from preserved texts, that there are many which we will never be able to read.

But one thing to bear in mind is that the writings that were preserved were often done so by illiterate scribes who had no understanding of their significance. We know this when we compare a lot of the older documents with the newer and discover errors in mathematical formulas and tables. In other words: the works were preserved but not understood or used. It is also a fact that a lot of technology that existed for the Romans stopped being used and disappeared for centuries.

Basically a few monks and scribes preserving writings they didn't use or, often, understand doesn't make that idea a myth. The idea that it is a "myth" is something perpetrated by christian apologists who think this one small detail puts Christianity on the side of science.

A good reason could be we inherited Roman/Greek ideas of exploration - we wanted to go see what there is out there and spread out. By comparison the Eastern equivalent, the Chinese empire, had an idea that China was the best place on Earth, why would you leave? So there could be a reason for greater European culture spread compared to others.

Then consider that Europe is great for agriculture; more food means people can begin to focus on other things. In Africa for example the amount of work needed to ensure a decent food supply would hold down population and mean you can't spare someone to become an artisan. Europe could produce enough to meet demand and people could focus on more intellectual pursuits (your philosophers, sculpters, etc.) rather than be stuck in a field all day.

As the OP said add in war, which is a great driver of innovation and you can see Europe constantly forced itself to advance, with old ideas quickly falling out of favour as new technology renders it obsolete.

And finally add in the massive wealth from the Americas and it makes sense why we were able to overtake societies with similar technology levels - we could afford to outspend them.

The question is why did Europe overtake the rest of the world? Up until the ~16th century Europe was miles behind the Muslim world and the Chinese, what caused us to shoot past? A possible reason could be we didn't stagnate; China and the Ottoman empire often stuck with technology that was 'good enough' rather than look for an alternative (China and glass is a good example). It's also possible that the lack of equal opponents meant some countries didn't have to improve their arsenals; again using China I can remember loads of amazing inventions from the time when China was forming and the Mongol invasions but after that, when China has a period of peace, not so much.

Nickolai77:
Europe has a somewhat boring climate, and its reflected in the indigenous food stuffs of Europe- the only natural flavorings in Europe i can think of are salt and honey

No. Just no. As someone who has taken a fair interest in traditional Swedish cuisine I can tell you that we've got plenty of spices in Europe, most of them just lack the distinct strength of the Asian spices like pepper. But spices like anise, tarragon, dill, coriander, basil and loads of others herbs and spices all exist in Europe and has been used for a long time to flavor our food.

But I think you are essentially right when you suggest that Europe's large focus on trade gave the individual states an edge. The city-dwellers and the upper class were constantly exposed to new ideas (particularly if you lived in one of the Italian city states like Venice) which in turn promoted a curiosity that fueled scientific advancement. That's really the biggest difference between European nations and most others, that the European ones were actively seeking out new trade and new things that could be useful, pretty or just curious.

You know there is an entire book dedicated to this right?
It's called Guns, Germs and Steel.
Good read.

Frission:

dmase:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgnmT-Y_rGQ

Europeans Should stop patting themselves on the back

OP is American.

Cheapshot.

Shock and Awe:
This is a popular myth, but it remains a myth. Without the Church even more of the knowledge of the Romans and Greeks would have been lost after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This is because nearly all the literate people in Europe were clergy. It was also the clergy who managed most libraries in this time as well. The church did hold back science many times, but to act like the advent of Christianity was a boot in the gut of science is foolish. If you want to blame something you should look to the fall of the Roman Empire and the security that it gave with it.

Your claim doesn't disprove his however. Christianity can have smothered science in the Roman empire and be the keeper of a little of the knowledge already gained at that point.

And to name example, a Christian mob for instance lynched the philospher and mathematician Hypatia, after Christian monks inflamed what had before been a minor political skirmish between a governor and a powerhungry bishop. Well, so much for whatever she would've invented, because a woman practising science? Sacriligious...

Not just that, but like you mention, in the dark ages everybody except the priests were illiterate. How come? Because the church had banned teaching reading and writing to non-priests. That meant people could read the bible by themselves, and that meant heresy. So, reading was pretty much banned by the church by making learning to read nearly impossible. Before that during Roman times, there were middle class writers and administrators, and obviously a lot of the rich upper class could read. Not just that, but remains of writing found in Roman towns like Pompeii suggests that reading and writing skills were surprisingly prevalent among the common people during the pagan times of the Roman republic/empire.

I found this excellent explanation of the whole discussion, pretty balanced stuff:
http://richardcarrier.blogspot.nl/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html

Blablahb:

Not just that, but like you mention, in the dark ages everybody except the priests were illiterate. How come? Because the church had banned teaching reading and writing to non-priests. That meant people could read the bible by themselves, and that meant heresy. So, reading was pretty much banned by the church by making learning to read nearly impossible.

This is just not true.

There's plenty of evidence that in many places - particularly what is now Italy, France and Spain - the Western nobility retained decent levels of literacy throughout the medieval era, and probably also plenty amongst the middle classes of the day. The church did not have a total strangehold on literacy: lay schooling or tutoring existed. And besides, any noble who wanted could easily coerce his household priest to teach literacy, no matter what official church policy was.

The myth of Dark Ages illiteracy comes from the fact that - outside the church - there are relatively few records of things written down. Literacy almost certainly declined, but for many reasons including the free abandonment of it by the invading Germanic tribes, who had a strong sense of oral tradition. Aesthetic use of literacy particularly collapsed - stories, history, philosophy: culture was transmitted by minstrels/bards, and intellectual pursuits unmanly for a feudal warrior caste. This left practical uses of literature, although even that was reduced without a large, centralised, bureacratic empire with complex trade and laws which needed vast record-keeping.

However, there's plenty of evidence that all manner of legal documents (laws, treaties, trade transactions, etc.) were written down, and although priests may have been the scribes, most laypeople using such documentation could read it. For much of the peasantry, obviously, there was little need for reading.

It's a complex question, with many different answers depending on the exact question being asked/hypothesis being examined.

The decentralized nature of Europe after the Roman collapse, the rivalry between dynasties and (later) states might be the engine that fuelled constant innovation that lead to state formation.

But one interesting tidbit is the de facto separation of state and church that emerged in medieval times, and the (contrary to popular opinion) rather desinterested attitude towards science by the Catholic Church.

In a nutshell, European history from the practical collapse of the Western Roman Empire until the 18th Century is a story of increasing differentation and fragmentation, eventually resulting in the unification of distinct countries.

Frission:

dmase:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgnmT-Y_rGQ

Someone actually quoted Jared Diamond? Awesome.

I would like to say that the Europeans should avoid patting themselves on the back. It's not like China didn't have to contend with internal problems or the Mongols. It's really thanks to geographic terrain and a bit of luck that the Europeans weren't completely crushed by the Mongols.

I strongly suggest against taking the point of view that the Europeans were able to control so much of the world, due to some sort of "racial superiority", or whatever it's called.

"Diamond argues that Eurasian civilization is not so much a product of ingenuity, but of opportunity and necessity. That is, civilization is not created out of superior intelligence, but is the result of a chain of developments, each made possible by certain preconditions.

Eurasia's large landmass and long east-west distance increased these advantages. Its large area provided it with more plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and allowed its people to exchange both innovations and diseases. Its East-West orientation allowed breeds domesticated in one part of the continent to be used elsewhere through similarities in climate and the cycle of seasons."

Hey, the Poles, Hungarians and Russians were pretty good at keeping those Mongols at bay! I don't see people thanking them for that.... and there's also the issue of inappropriate grasslands that can't sustain the Mongol's horses - But still! Poles and Hungarians. They rocked.

The Ottomans were also pretty powerful, but they had a relatively self-contained system that hurt it in the long run. When the feudal system was thrown out the window and later when you had better religious and national identities in Europe, the Ottomans weren't that advanced in these avenues. They also failed to gain from trading since the route around africa was found by the Europeans. Their Christian Orthodox (Greek?) vassals hated them (Janissary rebellions and coups) and local forces in Egypt wanted to take control over themselves. I can spot the decline of the Ottomans in the Oriental Crisis, after which the poor Caliph became the punching bag of Europe, but the internal issues of the Ottomans also troubled it. Their taxation systems were backwards and so was their military organization. It was even worse than Austria's multi-national armies, with German NCO's shouting at their Hungarian troops with Romanian riflemen mumbling what the hell they're all talking about... and don't even mention the Czechs . With the development of local identities and fermenting dissent, along with the general decentralized aspect of the administration, the Ottomans were doomed since the 19th century.

Just so you'd know, those Muslims knocked on the gates of Vienna and made all of Europe tremble in fear of its awesomeness in the 16th century. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Glasgow:

Hey, the Poles, Hungarians and Russians were pretty good at keeping those Mongols at bay! I don't see people thanking them for that...

Inasmuch as we need to thank anyone for just happing to be in the firing line before us, I guess. All three were crushed by the Mongols, and the Rus were occupied vassals for centuries.

Their Christian Orthodox (Greek?) vassals hated them (Janissary rebellions and coups)

The Janissaries were Muslims. Although taken from Christian families as young children (until the 15-16th century when born Muslims were admitted), they were thoroughly indoctrinated into Islam.

The Janissary revolts were political. They stemmed from the fact that the Janissaries amassed more and more power for themselves, developing from an elite military corps into a whole social class, with enormous control over the economy and civilian government. The revolts and coups were all internal power struggles between the Sultans and the corps.

The Ottomans were not the only great European nation to decline rapidly after the 17th century: Spain and Portugal also did, and yet they retained vast trade empires and incomes. I suspect the problems in all were powerful conservative elements (such as the Janissaries) suppressing reform, leading to a very unproductive populace.

Agema:

Glasgow:

Hey, the Poles, Hungarians and Russians were pretty good at keeping those Mongols at bay! I don't see people thanking them for that...

Inasmuch as we need to thank anyone for just happing to be in the firing line before us, I guess. All three were crushed by the Mongols, and the Rus were occupied vassals for centuries.

Their Christian Orthodox (Greek?) vassals hated them (Janissary rebellions and coups)

The Janissaries were Muslims. Although taken from Christian families as young children (until the 15-16th century when born Muslims were admitted), they were thoroughly indoctrinated into Islam.

The Janissary revolts were political. They stemmed from the fact that the Janissaries amassed more and more power for themselves, developing from an elite military corps into a whole social class, with enormous control over the economy and civilian government. The revolts and coups were all internal power struggles between the Sultans and the corps.

The Ottomans were not the only great European nation to decline rapidly after the 17th century: Spain and Portugal also did, and yet they retained vast trade empires and incomes. I suspect the problems in all were powerful conservative elements (such as the Janissaries) suppressing reform, leading to a very unproductive populace.

...That was mean-spirited... The Poles and Hungarians were awesome! Their armies broke the Mongol's advance. That, and the terrain wasn't that great for the Mongol army to advance... but still, great heavy cavalry!

I should have put the Janissary comment in another place. It looked like I called them Christians.

Blablahb:

Shock and Awe:
This is a popular myth, but it remains a myth. Without the Church even more of the knowledge of the Romans and Greeks would have been lost after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This is because nearly all the literate people in Europe were clergy. It was also the clergy who managed most libraries in this time as well. The church did hold back science many times, but to act like the advent of Christianity was a boot in the gut of science is foolish. If you want to blame something you should look to the fall of the Roman Empire and the security that it gave with it.

Your claim doesn't disprove his however. Christianity can have smothered science in the Roman empire and be the keeper of a little of the knowledge already gained at that point.

And to name example, a Christian mob for instance lynched the philospher and mathematician Hypatia, after Christian monks inflamed what had before been a minor political skirmish between a governor and a powerhungry bishop. Well, so much for whatever she would've invented, because a woman practising science? Sacriligious...

Not just that, but like you mention, in the dark ages everybody except the priests were illiterate. How come? Because the church had banned teaching reading and writing to non-priests. That meant people could read the bible by themselves, and that meant heresy. So, reading was pretty much banned by the church by making learning to read nearly impossible. Before that during Roman times, there were middle class writers and administrators, and obviously a lot of the rich upper class could read. Not just that, but remains of writing found in Roman towns like Pompeii suggests that reading and writing skills were surprisingly prevalent among the common people during the pagan times of the Roman republic/empire.

I found this excellent explanation of the whole discussion, pretty balanced stuff:
http://richardcarrier.blogspot.nl/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html

You're citing a blog from a noted anti-theist who has made a significant deal of money basically just finding new ways to point at how silly and bad Christianity is. An unbiased source this is not. In this case I'd rather vouch for Wikipedia then listen to someone who obviously as an Agenda on the issue. Things you have said such as banning the teaching of reading/writing is simply false as it goes against everything we know for fact.

GriffinStallion:
You know there is an entire book dedicated to this right?
It's called Guns, Germs and Steel.
Good read.

Never read to book to be honest, but the Documentary was posted here and if its representative of the book I would agree with a lot it has to say. However Diamond looks at it from a Biologist's perspective and seems to stick to that view. He does not look at the Culture or the other factors that had effects on Europe's power. He also ignores(in the Doc, can't speak for the book) China and the Ottomans almost entirely and gives no explanation for why they did not become as powerful as Europe.

ElectroJosh:

Shock and Awe:
This is a popular myth, but it remains a myth. Without the Church even more of the knowledge of the Romans and Greeks would have been lost after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This is because nearly all the literate people in Europe were clergy. It was also the clergy who managed most libraries in this time as well. The church did hold back science many times, but to act like the advent of Christianity was a boot in the gut of science is foolish. If you want to blame something you should look to the fall of the Roman Empire and the security that it gave with it.

That's actually not the full story either. The church was significantly more complicit in the destruction of competing knowledge (including competing christian writings).

While its true that lots of the writings were preserved by the church it is also true that the Church did go out of its way to destroy writings that they considered heretical. We know about the purges and we know, from preserved texts, that there are many which we will never be able to read.

But one thing to bear in mind is that the writings that were preserved were often done so by illiterate scribes who had no understanding of their significance. We know this when we compare a lot of the older documents with the newer and discover errors in mathematical formulas and tables. In other words: the works were preserved but not understood or used. It is also a fact that a lot of technology that existed for the Romans stopped being used and disappeared for centuries.

Basically a few monks and scribes preserving writings they didn't use or, often, understand doesn't make that idea a myth. The idea that it is a "myth" is something perpetrated by christian apologists who think this one small detail puts Christianity on the side of science.

What you are saying is simply not true. The Church was not only made up of quite literate clergy(how do you have an illiterate scribe) but they also sponsored/ran many colleges in Europe that pretty much had a monopoly on Science and Education for quite awhile. The drop in learning, architecture, and scientific knowledge was due to the stagnation and collapse of the Roman Empire, not by the Church. If you look at the East you still see quite a bit of learning and advancement despite the presence of the Catholic Church and the very similar Orthodox Church afterwards. This is because the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire still lived.

Agema:
The Janissary revolts were political. They stemmed from the fact that the Janissaries amassed more and more power for themselves, developing from an elite military corps into a whole social class, with enormous control over the economy and civilian government.

Pretty much this..

This is actually why I really don't like using "competition" as an explanation for technological and social advancement. War has tended to bring about changes in military tactics and organization, but it also leads to military governments based around a warrior elite, people who not only tend to be conservative when it comes to things like scholarship and trade, but also very committed to a particular way of waging war because it's competence in that form of warfare which sustains their power. In the end, it's kind of self defeating.

Glasgow:
...That was mean-spirited... The Poles and Hungarians were awesome! Their armies broke the Mongol's advance.

Not really.. they were saved by the fact that the supreme Khan of the Mongol Empire (Ogedei) died, which meant that all the leaders of the Empire had to return to Mongolia. The invasion of Europe was kind of postponed and noone ever really got round to resuming it.

The first outright defeat of the Mongols was at Ayn Jalut, at the hands of a very different kind of heavy cavalry force (which also ended up causing a lot of problems).

the renaissance happened and never really stopped. basically i believe its a combination of things but the huge explosion of trade and ideas, not to mention the discovery and rediscovery of alot of scientific principles helps immensly

Gethsemani:

Nickolai77:
Europe has a somewhat boring climate, and its reflected in the indigenous food stuffs of Europe- the only natural flavorings in Europe i can think of are salt and honey

No. Just no. As someone who has taken a fair interest in traditional Swedish cuisine I can tell you that we've got plenty of spices in Europe, most of them just lack the distinct strength of the Asian spices like pepper. But spices like anise, tarragon, dill, coriander, basil and loads of others herbs and spices all exist in Europe and has been used for a long time to flavor our food.

Maybe that's why Sweden was never that much of a colonial power? You were just that good at cooking you never needed an empire! Unlike Britain of course, a nation mocked by the rest of Europe for its poor culinary skills. No wonder our national dish is curry.

***

Here's another suggestion as to why Europe dominated the world: In the Renaissance there was a resurgent interest in the ancient world, in particular the writings and philosophies of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the 15th century, the writings of the ancient philosophers was regarded virtually as gospel truth, until after some investigation it was found that these ancient philosophers were, in many cases wrong. For instance, Columbus showed Ptolemy's maps to be inadequate, the Dutch anatomist Vesalius found Galens anatomical drawings to be incorrect, and perhaps most significantly Copernicus and Galileo proved that the Aristotelian theory of the universe, developed by an infusion between Aristotle's philosophy and Christianity was incorrect. This led to a crisis in natural philosophy which led to the development of the scientific method by thinkers such as Descartes and Sir Francis Bacon who sought to find new ways to acquire knowledge about the universe, Once that was established, you had the groundwork for the Enlightenment, and the European empires that followed.

So, indirectly Europe's empires are down to Europe's Greco-Roman heritage, the Catholic Church which preserved this ancient knowledge- but ultimately it was in the Renaissance when scholars found flaws in this ancient knowledge which led them to develop new ways of understanding the world.

Personally i still think the Diamond hypothesis is more convincing, but i certainly wouldn't rule out the Renaissance.

Shock and Awe:
You're citing a blog from a noted anti-theist who has made a significant deal of money basically just finding new ways to point at how silly and bad Christianity is.

And money well-earned if you look at the quality of his arguments. You can't just "But he disagrees with me, so he must be wrong". I'm the only one who's allowed to do that, as I'm always right.

What the point is the things he mentioned are returning themes. There's a ton of destruction of culture and science going on during early Christianity. Kind of like the Taliban blowing up Buddhist statues, anything that wasn't Christian had to go, that, and the church's obscurantist attitude towards technology and science caused a complete standstill.

Because a lot of things were moving in a forwards direction in those times. Merely from what I know from historical geography, between the 12th and 15th century, what's now the Netherlands changed from a few tribes on riverbanks, to a nearly fully inhabited country. But science didn't advance, as the church suppressed it.

Blablahb:

Shock and Awe:
You're citing a blog from a noted anti-theist who has made a significant deal of money basically just finding new ways to point at how silly and bad Christianity is.

And money well-earned if you look at the quality of his arguments. You can't just "But he disagrees with me, so he must be wrong". I'm the only one who's allowed to do that, as I'm always right.

What the point is the things he mentioned are returning themes. There's a ton of destruction of culture and science going on during early Christianity. Kind of like the Taliban blowing up Buddhist statues, anything that wasn't Christian had to go, that, and the church's obscurantist attitude towards technology and science caused a complete standstill.

Because a lot of things were moving in a forwards direction in those times. Merely from what I know from historical geography, between the 12th and 15th century, what's now the Netherlands changed from a few tribes on riverbanks, to a nearly fully inhabited country. But science didn't advance, as the church suppressed it.

Alright, after reading his post I have to admit I was wrong on the content, its fairly well rounded and and he brings forward ideas that support that Christianity didn't have much of an effect either way with a few negatives here and there. However he fails to mention that Christian institutions often formed the basis for. You say there was a "ton of destruction of culture and science" going on in early Christianity, like what? From my knowledge of post-Roman Europe a vast majority of the damage was done by essentially "the barbarian horde" and the disorder after the collapse of Rome. A crude term but effective seeing as most of the loss of knowledge and culture was due to; to put it bluntly; shit getting bananas.

"How Did Europe Dominate the World?"

the cunning use of flags.

Shock and Awe:

Alright, after reading his post I have to admit I was wrong on the content, its fairly well rounded and and he brings forward ideas that support that Christianity didn't have much of an effect either way with a few negatives here and there. However he fails to mention that Christian institutions often formed the basis for. You say there was a "ton of destruction of culture and science" going on in early Christianity, like what? From my knowledge of post-Roman Europe a vast majority of the damage was done by essentially "the barbarian horde" and the disorder after the collapse of Rome.

Weird - you responded to me way back and I didn't get an alert. Either way the conversation has moved on.

I think one thing to bear in mind is that I am not saying the church suppressed all knowledge and learning - it only had to fit within what was considered okay (not heretical). A lot of science and technology didn't make the cut because it was "pagan" or contradicted scripture outright (at least their definition of scriptural teachings). There was also the very anti-science view that revelation through scripture was to counted as the highest form of knowledge.

The Medieval Universities bear this out as they concentrated their studies around set books and weren't interested in research. Theological considerations weighed heavily as did acquiescence to the works by approved ancients. So things could not contradict the Bible or Aristotle (for example) because knowledge was considered revealed and set.

This isn't to say that architecture, literature and art didn't flourish. Nor were there no inventions (the printing press, for example, was a big one) it's just that the science side of things got held back quite a bit by the church. The reformation helped change attitudes not because they agreed with scientific endeavors specifically (some groups were pro- some anti) but they did hold different scriptural interpretations to the existing church. So ideas that, under the RCs, would always have been suppressed might have a chance in a Lutheran or Calvinist region instead. This, then, made some of the RCs have theological re-considerations and so on. For a modern analogy - during the 1990s stem cell research was highly restricted in the US so a lot of scientists left for Europe and Asia to conduct research.

The collapse of the Roman Empire is a bit of red herring imo. The western roman empire did lose its control but this didn't mark a descent into chaos as the "barbarians" (a term which comprises so many different groups) were, in many cases, feeling that the roman leadership failed them and demanding their rights. Essentially these places just became their own nations/principalities not some outright anarchy.*

*This is simplifying things a lot but I'm no longer at uni writing essays on medieval studies or ancient history.

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