Thematic Timeline, 500 - 1500



Age of Arab Scholarship and Innovation (800 - 1200)

800 - 1200

With Baghdad as the center of the scholarly world, Arab scholarship reached a “golden age”. Medical technologies improved, as the Arabs were the first to theorize the existence of “germs”. During this time, many ancient Greek texts were translated into Arabic, which could then be translated into other vernaculars. This is significant because with more texts in vernacular languages, literacy became available to a wider range of people

Gunpowder Invented in China (1000)


The Chinese invention of gunpowder, though used by the Chinese for fireworks rather than weapons, was revolutionary in terms of military matters. Though the Europeans later expanded upon gunpowder’s full military uses, this technological innovation completely changed military warfare globally

Europeans "Caught Up" (1500)


Before 1500 it was clear that western Europeans were less developed than their counterparts in the east. Europeans were backwards and “brutes”. However, Europeans soon learned to adopt and adapt others’ technologies and innovations. Among other adaptations, they took gunpowder from the Chinese and adapted it for artillery purposes and the windmill from the Persians and converted it into a highly effective water-driven mill. This, combined with their own inventions and breakthroughs, allowed western Europeans to “catch up” with their contemporaries and then exceed them in the following centuries as the dominant world power.


Life of Muhammad (570 - 632)

570 - 632

During Muhammad’s lifetime, he received twelve revelations from the prophet Gabriel. The holy book of Islam, the Quran, is made up of these revelations, which are said to be the exact word of Allah. Muhammad’s life is significant because within 100 years of his death, Islam was a global religion and remains so today.

Arabia under Islamic Control (632)


From Medina, Islam quickly spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The idea of an Islamic community, or “umma”, was appealing to many who were tired of the continuous warfare between feuding tribes. With nearly all of Arabia under the control of an Islamic state and a common religion, the Arab people were able to initiate an extensive empire.

Split in Islam - Shia Islam Established (656)


After Muhammad’s death in 632, a division surfaced over who should be his successor. On one side were the Sunnis who believed that a leader or king, known as a Caliph, as chosen by the Islamic community, should be Muhammad’s successor. The Shia faction felt that Islamic leadership should directly descend from Muhammad’s bloodline. This faction, merely political at first, has led to fundamental, and sometimes violent, conflicts that still resonate today.

Conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity (988)


Rus, a diverse and developing region of the world at the time, adopted Christianity as a means to unify the Rus people and link the Rus economy with other prosperous empires. As a turning point in Russian history, the conversion of Keivan Rus to Christianity would eventually leave Moscow as the final “protector and defender” of Orthodox Christianity.

First Crusade to Jerusalem (1095)


The first Crusade launched in 1095 as authorized by the Pope initiated some of the bloodiest holy wars ever. The goal of the Crusades was to capture Jerusalem, and bring the city under Christian control to protect the holiest Christian sites. The Crusades did not have a lasting religious effect in the Middle East, but served to increase the European sentiment that Christianity was a superior religion

Gender Roles

Foot Binding Becomes Common Practice under Tang Dynasty (618 - 907)

960 - 1279

Foot binding, an incredibly painful and deforming practice of breaking young girls’ feet to prevent growth and mimic a lotus flower, gained prevalence under the Tang dynasty. As a sign of beauty, foot binding kept woman essentially immobile and restricted to the house. Bound feet enhanced a girl’s chances of marriage, an essential duty for girls in China as they were expected to bear many sons for their husband. This process would continue in China into the 20th century.

Improved Women's Rights in Europe (11th - 13th Centuries)

1000 - 1200

During the period known as the High Middle Ages, new opportunities for woman emerged thanks to economic growth and urbanization. Women could find employment weaving, brewing, milling grain, midwifery, retailing, laundering, spinning, and prostitution. There were even all-female trade guilds. However, by the 15th century, many of these opportunities were gone as women were restricted or banned from certain jobs.


Silk Road Revival (7th - 8th Centuries)

600 - 700

Flourishing under the Byzantine Empire and then the Mongol Empire, the Silk Road as an economic entity connected the eastern and western ends of Eurasia, facilitating an extensive exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures spanning thousands of miles.

SIlk Road Revival (13th - 14th Centuries)

1200 - 1300

Beginning of Chinese Maritime Expeditions (1405)


During the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Yongle, a fleet of more than 300 ships was established to explore distant oceans and lands. These expeditions were not imperial in nature; the Chinese did not settle new lands or spread their culture. They were intended to bring new nations into the tribute system to provide access to exotic goods and ideas.

China Stops Expeditions (1433)


After Emperor Yongle’s death, Chinese officials ended the expeditions that they viewed as a waste of valuable resources. The Chinese also believed their culture to be a superior one, and that others should bring them what they desire, rather than the Chinese searching for the goods themselves.

Colombus Crosses the Atlantic (1492)


Backed by the Spanish monarchy, Christopher Columbus and his three ships sailed across the Atlantic hoping to find wealth and encountered land he believed to be India. In reality, he had entered the Americas, an encounter that would lead to the Atlantic slave trade, destruction of Native American people and their culture, increase in global population, Industrial Revolution, and eventual European global dominance.

Vasco da Gama begins his Travels (1497)


Such expeditions like da Gama’s were launched to find exotic and desirable goods, brining great wealth to those who financially supported the voyage. These types of missions can therefore be considered a financial investment. Vasco da Gama’s voyage around South Africa, along the East African coast and across the Indian Ocean to India was the first European voyage to sail directly from Europe to India. He was able to complete such a feat, in part, because he was not competing with the enormous Chinese fleet that had halted all expeditions years earlier.

Global Oceanic Trade System Begins (Post 1500)


The events from the years 500 to 1500 are responsible for the creation of a global oceanic trade system. Without the Silk Road, conversion to Christianity or Islam, expeditions led by the Chinese, da Gama, or Columbus, or many more, the entrance into the modern age would have been quite different. Global trade means different goods, ideas, and cultures are exchanged and with the intermingling of vastly different peoples comes an array of developments, both good and bad. Either way, the global trade system after 1500 can easily be traced to the events from 500 – 1500.


Reunification of China under Sui Dynasty (589 - 618)

589 - 618

After the collapse of the Han dynasty, China was left vulnerable to nomadic invasions and was politically fragmented. Under the Sui dynasty, order and stability was restored through strict and ruthless rule. The following dynasties, the Tang and the Song, ushered in a “golden age” for China that was only possible thanks to the reunification under the Sui.

Temujin Recognized as Chinggis Khan (1206)


With the recognition of Chinggis Khan as the supreme leader of the unified Mongols, Chinnggis Khan led the Mongol army in carving out the largest land-based empire in history. Though the Mongols are now largely based in Mongolia, their conquests had lasting effects in China, Persia, and Russia.

Plague Erupts in N.East China (1331)


Originating in Central Asia, the plague spread across Eurasia via Mongol trade routes and eventually killed about half of Europe’s population. The plague reached western Europe by 1347. The political ramifications of this event led to conflict between the rich and the poor and fostered a brief period of improved opportunities for women, as well as technological innovation. Perhaps the most significant political result of the plague was the demise of the great Mongol empire.

Turks Capture Constantinople (1453)


The Ottoman seizure of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of Christian Byzantium. Constantinople became an Islamic city and the Turks now viewed themselves as the heirs to the Roman Empire.