World History Advanced Placement  


CHAPTER 13 The Worlds of the Fifteenth Century

Learning Targets

Big Picture Questions

1. Assume for the moment that the Chinese had not ended their maritime voyages in 1433. How might the subsequent development of world history have been different? What value is there in asking this kind of “what if ” or counter-factual question?

2. How does this chapter distinguish among the various kinds of societies that comprised the world of the fifteenth century? What other ways of categorizing the world’s peoples might work as well or better?

3. What would surprise a knowledgeable observer from 500 C.E., were he or she to make a global tour in the fifteenth century? What features of that earlier world might still be recognizable?

4. What predictions about the future might a global traveler of the fifteenth century reasonably have made? Would it depend on precisely when those predictions were made?

Margin Review Questions

  1. In what ways did the gathering and hunting people of Australia differ from those of the northwest coast of North America?
  2. What kinds of changes were transforming West African agricultural village societies and those of the Iroquois as the fifteenth century dawned?
  3. What role did Central Asian and West African pastoralists play in their respective regions?
  4. How would you define the major achievements of Ming dynasty China?
  5. What political and cultural differences stand out in the histories of fifteenth-century China and Western Europe? What similarities are apparent?
  6. In what ways did European maritime voyaging in the fifteenth century differ from that of China? What accounts for these differences?
  7. What differences can you identify among the four major empires in the Islamic world of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?
  8. What distinguished the Aztec and Inca empires from each other?
  9. How did Aztec religious thinking support the empire?
  10. In what ways did Inca authorities seek to integrate their vast domains?
  11. In what different ways did the peoples of the fifteenth century interact with one another?

Key Terms

Aztec Empire: Major state that developed in what is now Mexico in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; dominated by the seminomadic Mexica, who had migrated into the region from northern Mexico.

Benin: Territorial state that emerged by the fifteenth century in the region that is now southern Nigeria; ruled by a warrior king who consolidated his state through widespread conquest. (pron. be-NEEN)

 “chosen women”: Among the Incas, girls who were removed from their homes at a young age, trained in Inca ideology, and set to producing corn beer and textiles; they later were given as wives to distinguished men or sent to serve as priestesses.

Columbus, Christopher: Genoese mariner (1451–1506) commissioned by Spain to search for a new trading route to Asia; in 1492 he found America instead.

Constantinople, seizure of (1453): Constantinople, the capital and almost the only outpost left of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the army of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” in 1453, an event that marked the end of Christian Byzantium.

 “firestick farming”: A manipulation of their environment by the Paleolithic peoples of Australia that involved controlled burns to clear underbrush.

Fulbe: West Africa’s largest pastoral society, whose members gradually adopted Islam and took on a religious leadership role that led to the creation of a number of new states. (pron. FULL-bay)

Gama,Vasco da: Portuguese explorer (ca. 1460–1524) whose 1497–1498 voyage was the first European venture to reach India by circling the tip of South Africa. (pron.VAS-coe dah GAHM-ah)

Huitzilopochtli: Patron deity of the Aztec empire, associated with the sun. (pron. wheat-zeel-oh-POSHT-lee)

Hundred Years’ War: Major conflict between France and England (1337–1453) over rival claims to territory in France; the two states’ need to finance the war helped encourage their administrative development.

Igbo: People whose lands were east of the Niger River in what is now southern Nigeria in West Africa; they built a complex society that rejected kingship and centralized statehood and relied on other institutions to provide social coherence. (pron. EE-boh)

Inca Empire: The Western Hemisphere’s largest imperial state in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries; built by a relatively small community of Quechua-speaking people (the Inca), the empire stretched some 2,500 miles along the Andes Mountains, which run nearly the entire length of the west coast of South America, and contained perhaps 10 million subjects.

Iroquois League of Five Nations: Confederation of five Iroquois peoples in what is now New York State; the loose alliance was based on the Great Law of Peace, an agreement to settle disputes peacefully through a council of clan leaders. (pron. IR-oh-kwoy)

Malacca: Muslim port city that came to prominence on the waterway between Sumatra and Malaya in the fifteenth century C.E.; it was the springboard for the spread of a syncretic form of Islam throughout the region. (pron. mah-LAH-kah)

Mexica: Seminomadic people of northern Mexico who by 1325 had established themselves on a small island in Lake Texcoco, where they built their capital city, Tenochtitlán; the Mexica were the central architects of the Aztec Empire. (pron. meh-SHE-ca)

Ming dynasty: Chinese dynasty (1368–1644) that succeeded the Yuan dynasty of the Mongols; noted for its return to traditional Chinese ways and restoration of the land after the destructiveness of the Mongols.

Mughal Empire: One of the most successful empires of India, a state founded by an Islamized Turkic group that invaded India in 1526; the Mughals’ rule was noted for their efforts to create partnerships between Hindus and Muslims. (pron. MOO-guhl)

Nezahualcoyotl: A poet and king of the city-state of Texcoco, which was part of the Aztec Empire (1402–1472). (pron. nes-ah-wahl-koh-YOHT-l)

Ottoman Empire: Major Islamic state centered on Anatolia that came to include the Balkans, the Near East, and much of North Africa.

Paleolithic persistence: The continuance of gathering and hunting societies in substantial areas of the world despite millennia of agricultural advance.

pochteca: Professional merchants in the Aztec Empire whose wealth often elevated them to elite status. (pron. poch-TAY-kah)

Renaissance, European: A “rebirth” of classical learning that is most often associated with the cultural blossoming of Italy in the period 1350–1500 and that included not just a rediscovery of Greek learning but also major developments in art, as well as growing secularism in society.

Safavid Empire: Major Turkic empire of Persia founded in the early sixteenth century, notable for it efforts to convert its populace to Shia Islam. (pron. SAH-fah-vid)

Songhay Empire: Major Islamic state of West Africa that formed in the second half of the fifteenth century. (pron. song-GAH-ee)

Tenochtitlán: The metropolitan capital of the Aztec Empire, with a population of 150,000–200,000 people. (pron. the-noch-TIT-lan)

Timbuktu: Great city of West Africa, noted in the fourteenth–sixteenth centuries as a center of Islamic scholarship. (pron. tim-buk-TOO)

Timur: Turkic warrior (1336–1405), also known as Tamerlane, whose efforts to restore the Mongol Empire devastated much of Persia, Russia, and India. (pron. tem-EER)

Triple Alliance: 1428 agreement between the Mexica and two other nearby city-states that launched the Aztec Empire.

Yongle: Chinese emperor (r. 1402–1422) during the Ming dynasty who was a key figure in the restoration of China to greatness and who commissioned an enormous fleet to spread awareness of Chinese superiority to much of Asia and eastern Africa. (pron. yoong-LAW)

Zheng He: Great Chinese admiral (1371–1433) who commanded a fleet of more than 300 ships in a series of voyages of contact and exploration that began in 1405. (pron. jung huh)