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World History: The Rise Of Europe

From the 11th to the 15th centuries AD the Holy Roman Empire in Europe launched a series of crusades against Byzantine and Islamic lands in the eastern Mediterranean, most notably the Holy Lands in the area around Jerusalem. By the late 13th century the last of the crusader strongholds in the Middle East had fallen to the Muslims. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 (already badly weakened in 1204 in a sack by western crusaders) to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantine Empire disappeared entirely.

Europe Advanced Technologically
Through a combination of factors Europe began to have a technological edge on the rest of the world by 1500, and over the next few centuries this process began to accelerate. Advancing seafaring technology allowed Christopher Columbus in 1492 to create a lasting link between the previously unconnected Americas and Eurasia. This had dramatic effects on both continents. The Europeans brought with them diseases the Americans had never before encountered, and over 90% of them were killed in a series of devastating epidemics. The Europeans also had horses, steel, and guns that allowed them to hold a decisive military advantage over the Americans.

Western Emigration
The Aztec and Incan empires were destroyed, as were many of the cultures of North America. Gold and resources from the Americas began to be shipped to Europe, while at the same time large numbers of European colonists began to emigrate to the west.

The Portuguese and Spanish Empires were at first predominant, but soon the more northern French, English, and Dutch began to dominate the Atlantic. In a series of wars fought in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars, Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. It controlled an empire that spanned the globe, controlling, at its peak, approximately one-quarter of the world's land surface.

While the Americas were the first areas to fall to the Europeans soon they also had a technological advantage over the people of Asia as well. In the 19th century Britain gained control of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and Malaya, the French took Indochina while the Dutch occupied Indonesia. The British also occupied several of the areas still populated by neolithic peoples including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and as in the Americas large numbers of British colonists began to emigrate to these areas.

The Industrial Revolution
This era also saw the Industrial Revolution, a major transformation of the world’s economies. It began in Britain and used new modes of production such as the factory, mass production, and mechanization to produce a wide array of materials faster and for less labor than previous methods. The world economy became based on coal. New methods of transport such as railways and steam ships made the world a smaller place.

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