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State Consolidation and Imperial Expansion (1450-1750 CE)


The Spanish Empire in 1598.  Map by Trasamundo on Wikimedia Commons
The Spanish Empire in 1598. Map by Trasamundo on Wikimedia Commons

I. Rulers used a variety of methods to legitimize and consolidate power.


How did empires attempt to administer the new widespread nature of their territories?
European powers tended to install officials in the areas that they ruled who were of European descent.

For example the Spanish appointed creoles to political offices in Latin America and some parts of South America.


How did the role of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe develop in this new -world-wide political order?
  • Africa supplied the labor force (slaves) for empires in some colonies
    • the Americas became the site of new colonies of the Spanish and British Empires
      • Asia-In the seventeenth century Chinese and Japanese citizens participated in the growing opportunities as colonists. Site of European trading empires.
        • Europe- Great Britain and Spanish civilizations had empires (most of lareg size was colonial). Portugal and the Netherlands had more of a trading empire in Southeast Asia., French intended to establish a fur trading empire in the form of a cresent, overlapping the St. Lawrence river valley and the Mississsippi River Valley. French had a close realtion to natives compared to the British and Spanish.

rotating gif.gifThe Age of Exploration and Early Colonization.

The Portuguese and the Spanish led the way for European imperial expansion.
  • Portuguese merchants wished to bypass the Muslim monopoly on trade with Africa. Starting in the mid 1300's Portuguese explorers began slowly sailing down the western coast of Africa,
    • increasing their pace in the 1400's. As they went along they brought with them missionaries to convert African leaders to Christianity.
      • There are multiple interpretations as to why they did this:

1.) Some believe that the bringing of missionaries was a civilizing mission and that the Portuguese truly thought that they were salvaging the lives of the "barbaric pagan" Africans by introducing them to Christianity.
2.) Skeptics argue that Christian conversion was mainly a tool to conduct mercantile business with Africans to better exploit the resources found on the western coast of Africa.
3) Regardless, many Africans converted and many more did not.

external image Diaz_on_his_voyage_to_the_cape.jpg
Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to sail around the horn of Africa and into the Indian Ocean (1488) and the Portuguese built trading posts along the spine of Africa.

Following Dias, Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail to India (1498).

The map shows the path of Vasco da Gama heading for the first time to India (black) as well as the trips of Pêro da Covilhã (orange) and Afonso de Paiva (blue). (Portuguese)

The monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean made it much easier for the Portuguese caravels to travel up and down the eastern coast of Africa in comparison to the western coast.

The Portuguese set up trading posts in existing Muslim cities along the African coast and conducted trade through them, somewhat peacefully.

external image Caminho_maritimo_para_a_India.png
Columbus was the first European to "discover" America in 1492.
  • Columbus believed he had accomplished what he set out to do: discover a western route to India. After touring the Caribbean, Columbus and his men captured Natives and returned home to report his findings.
  • He was NOT the first European to set foot in America, although he WAS the first do so with a large fleet and the first to make prolonged and permanent influence on large populations of Native Americans.
  • Viking explorers had likely discovered Greenland around 1000 CE and set up a colony there that lasted for several centuries, and there are yet-unproven claims that they explored as far south as modern day Maine and as far east as North Dakota.


The Spanish, after the "Inter caetra" papal mandate of 1493, were given all of the territory of the Americas south of the longitudinal location of the Canary Islands (excluding the easternmost tip of Brazil (which is why Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country today)) and thus an early monopoly on all the exploration to be conducted in the Western Hemisphere.

primary_sources.PNGPapal Bull Inter Caetera, 1493

  • After the pioneering discovery missions of the Spanish and Portuguese, the Americas and Far East were set for colonization by other European powers: England, France and the Netherlands. England and France each set up sugar colonies in the Caribbean - England's main plantation colony was Jamaica and France relied on Haiti - and the Dutch set up mercantile trading posts throughout the Far East and along the North American coast.
  • Jamaica was Great Britain's most important colony in the Caribbean because they set up large slave plantations which grew sugar and coffee - hot commodities in Europe.
  • England set up its first permanent colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Their presence did not go unnoticed to the Native Americans who initially aided the early colonizers but would later hostilely reject them.
  • The early American Colonies produced cash crops in the form of tobacco and cotton which were grown on large slave plantations in the south and traded north into port cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
  • The British employed a mercantile economic system throughout the early colonial period and utilized trading laws to exclude other empires from trading with their American Colonies.
  • Because they had large colonies in the Caribbean and along the North American coast, and were the leading exporters of slaves from west Africa during the 17th and 18th centuries, the British conducted what is known as the Triangular trading system:


File:Triangular trade.jpg
File:Triangular trade.jpg

Triangle Trade and the Middle Passage


Raw materials were farmed in the Caribbean and American south, sent to New England and other northern colonies where they were processed, and then across the Atlantic where they were traded for slaves and other African resources.

The slave trade, known as the Middle Passage, was incredibly harsh and devastating to African population and culture.

The British also formed the East India Company which conducted trade throughout the Indian Ocean system starting in the early 1600's and continuing into the mid 1800's.

France set up trading outposts throughout the North American mainland and in the Caribbean, and they directly competed with England in trade. Saint-Domingue, today known as Haiti, was the major French Caribbean territory and it exported as much as 40% of the entire worlds sugar throughout the 1700's. The French employed a similar mercantile system to the British, including their own triangular trading system.



map-ancient-rome-2.jpgA map showing the European conception of the known world after the Papal Bull of 1493.

- This map was made in 1502. Note the well defined and explored coastlines of Europe and Africa compared to the abstract conceptions of the Americas and the Indian Ocean systems.

A. Rulers used the arts to display political power and to legitimize their rule.

How did political rulers legitimize and consolidate their rule?
They appointed officials that were of their own descent, hired translators in order to negotiate with the locals, and attempted to assimilate the locals into their culture and religion.

How did rulers finance their territorial expansion?
-Joint-stock company: the costs were divided amongst shareholders
-ex. Dutch East India Company
-paid for by government
Large forms of art such as public buildings were paid for by the government to show off their power, wealth and status in the world. The money to fund these endeavors came from tribute collections and tax farming. The money however was mainly used to expand territory and fund imperialist journeys.

B. Rulers continued to use religious ideas to legitimize their rule.


[Teach one illustrative example of these religious ideas, either from the list below or an example of your choice: European notions of divine right, Safavid use of Shiism, Mexica or Aztec practice of human sacrifice, Songhay promotion of Islam, Chinese emperors' public performance of Confucian rituals]

What role did religion play in legitimizing political rule?
Religion became a way for empires to justify their actions. These powers believed it was their duty to civilize and spread their religion to those they deemed “uncivilized”. Religion was part of a greater scheme of cultural assimilation of the natives. For example, converting the Native Americans into Christians alleviated the tension between them and the British Empire, allowing for easier trade between them.

C. States treated different ethnic and religious groups in ways that utilized their economic contributions while limiting their ability to challenge the authority of the state.

How did rulers make sure that their governments were well run?
Empires appointed rulers of their own descent to run the colonies. When empires felt that their power was in jeopardy of being overthrown they used violence to decimate the opponents. For example, in the Americas the local government destroyed the rebellious indentured servants in their fight for power, known as Bacon’s rebellion.
How were ethnic and religious minorities treated in various empires?
-Blacks were considered inferior in the Americas as they were slaves. This means that they were exploited as a labor force and had less rights.
-Native Americans were considered to be savages by the Europeans, which led to conflicts between the two.
-Cults in Mexico convulsed the Church. Missionaries attempted to convert the cults through peaceful and violent methods

How did the people of various empires react to their government’s methods?
These people either accepted the new rulers and complied with new leadership or they resisted the new rule. Some colonies attempted to remain neutral as well.
[Teach one illustrative example of the differential treatment of ethnic and religious groups, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Ottoman treatment of non-Muslim subjects, Manchu policies toward Chinese, Spanish creation of a separate "Republica de Indios"]

D. Recruitment and use of bureaucratic elites, as well as the development of military professionals, became more common among rulers who wanted to maintain centralized control over their populations and resources.

[Teach one illustrative example of bureaucratic elites or military professionals, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Ottoman devshirme, Chinese examination system, Salaried samurai]

E. Rulers used tribute collection and tax farming to generate revenue for territorial expansion.


II. Imperial expansion relied on the increased use of gunpowder, cannons, and armed trade to establish large empires in both hemispheres.


What was the relationship between imperialism and military technology?
As military technology increased imperialism as a result increased and also vice-versa. For example machine guns and rapid-firing rifles made imperialism possible.

A. Europeans established new trading-post empires in Africa and Asia, which proved profitable for the rulers and merchants involved in new global trade networks, but these empires also affected the power of the states in interior West and Central Africa.


How did Europeans go about creating new global empires and trade networks?
-Maritime trade routes (i.e. the discovery of the easterly winds that connect the New World to Asia)
-advancements in technology (i.e. better stream-lined ship design)
-creation of joint-stock companies which we used to finance such explorations

map-ancient-rome-2.jpgA map showing the Spanish and Portuguese empires during the late 1500's.

A British Library exhibit highlighting the formation of the Dutch EIC and the British EIC.

Multimedia.pngA documentary about the Middle Passage and it's relationship with the Triangle Trade system.

rotating gif.gifGo to Massachusetts World History I.22 to learn about the British Influence in India and the British Raj

B. Land empires expanded dramatically in size.


How did pre-existing land-based empires and new empires during this era compare to previous era’s empires?
New land empires became arenas of global trade. There was a greater connection between empires. Technology, culture, religion, art, and political ideas were easily spread and shared across great distances. There also was more diversity in animal and plant life across the globe because of the new connections made during imperialism.

[Required examples of land empires: Manchus, Mughals, Ottomans, Russians]

rotating gif.gifSee World History I.36 for information about the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries

C. European states established new maritime empires in the Americas.

French North American Empire
French North American Empire

The global exchange was accelerated by new maritime technology like improvements in ship building and navigation as well as the addition of mounting cannons on ships. This supported Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Britain and France's emergence of maritime empires.

map-ancient-rome-2.jpgA map showing the Spanish and Portuguese empires during the late 1500's.

A British Library exhibit highlighting the formation of the Dutch EIC and the British EIC.

Multimedia.pngA documentary about the Middle Passage and it's relationship with the Triangle Trade system.

III. Competition over trade routes, state rivalries, and local resistance all provided significant challenges to state consolidation and expansion.



What obstacles to empire-building did empires confront, and how did they respond to these challenges?
-hostile natives- usually dealt with by force
-changing climates
-disease-natural selection
-competing empires-attempted to find more natural resources and grow more cash crops

[Teach one illustrative example of competition over trade routes, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Omani-European rivalry in the Indian Ocean, Piracy in the Caribbean]
[Teach one illustrative example of state rivalries, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Thirty Years War, Ottoman-Safavid conflict]

[Teach one illustrative example of local resistance, either from the list below or an example of your choice: Food riots, Samurai revolts, Peasant uprisings]