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Empires and Other Political Systems Review for AP World History (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Spanish American Society

Spanish American society took on a hierarchical structure. Four basic classes emerged:

  • Peninsulares—colonists born in Europe. The penisulares initially held the most powerful positions in colonial society.
  • Criollos (creoles)—colonists born in the Americas of European parents. Generally well-educated and financially secure, the creoles would eventually become colonial leaders and organizers of colonial independence movements.
  • Mestizos—people of mixed European and Indian ancestry.
  • Mulatos (mulattos)—people of mixed European and African ancestry. The mestizos and mulatos occupied the lowest political and social positions in Spanish American society.

Families in the Spanish and Portuguese American colonies were patriarchal. Women were expected to devote themselves to traditional household and childbearing duties. Lower-class women worked in the fields and sometimes managed small businesses. Women could control their dowries, however, and also could inherit property.

Portugal's Empire

The Portuguese colony of Brazil became the first colony based on a plantation economy. Founded by Pedro Cabral in 1500, Brazil was settled in 1532 by Portuguese nobles. Sugar plantations using Indian labor arose; when the Indians died of European diseases, slaves were brought from Africa. Labor in Brazilian gold mines also was supplied by Indians and African slaves. Society in Brazil followed a hierarchy similar to that of the Spanish colonies, and Roman Catholicism was introduced by Jesuit missionaries. In addition to Brazil, the Portuguese Empire included colonies and trade outposts in Africa and Asia.

The Ottoman Empire

The Mongol invasion of eastern Anatolia in 1243 led to the collapse of the Seljuk Turks and the subsequent rise of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans migrated into Anatolia to fill the vacuum left by the Seljuks. Named after their leader Osman Bey, the Ottomans established an empire centered around Anatolia. By the late fourteenth century, much of the Balkans were added to the Ottoman Empire.

In 1453, the Ottomans completed their conquest of the city of Constantinople. The Christian church of Hagia Sophia was converted into an elaborate mosque, palaces were constructed in the city, and the defense system of Constantinople was repaired. After the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans united most of the Arab world by adding Syria, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa to their empire. In the fifteenth century, they became a major naval power until they suffered a decisive defeat by a combined Venetian and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. As late as 1688, the Ottomans threatened the Austrian capital of the Hapsburg dynasty. This siege was not as devastating, however, as a previous siege against Vienna in 1529.

The Ottoman Empire was focused on warfare. Beginning in the middle of the fifteenth century, its armies were largely composed of soldiers called Janissaries. Janissaries were Christian boys who were captured and enslaved. Sometimes the boys were turned over to the Ottomans by their own parents in the hope that the education given to them would lead to a prominent position in the Ottoman Empire. The selection process for the Janissaries was called devshirme; it placed the boys with Turkish families to learn their language and the teachings of Islam.

Women in Ottoman society maintained a subordinate role to their fathers and husbands. Although some women in lower classes became involved in trade and small businesses, Ottoman women as a whole were given very little opportunity to acquire an education or participate in politics. Instead, Ottoman women, especially those in elite classes, were restricted by the wearing of the veil and, in some cases, seclusion within the harem.

Ottoman Decline

By the late seventeenth century, the vast Ottoman Empire was so difficult to administer that it fell into a gradual decline. As opportunities to add new territories ran out because of the strengthening military power of other Muslims and of Christians, the Ottomans lost their ability to maintain their large army and bureaucracy. Taxes charged to the lower classes were raised as Ottoman rulers became more and more corrupt. The inflationary trend that affected Europe as a result of the influx of gold and silver in Spain also produced inflation within the Ottoman territories. The Ottomans fell behind in warfare technology because of their reliance on huge weaponry intended for siege tactics. Ignoring the value of Western technological innovations, the Ottomans also disregarded the growing power of Western Europe, a policy that hastened its decline.

Mughal India

In 1526, Babur, a descendant of Mongols and of Turks, migrated from the steppes of central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. The founder of the Mughal dynasty had lost his kingdom in Central Asia; by 1528, he had used his superior gunpowder technology to conquer a large portion of northern India and had founded a dynasty that would last to the mid-nineteenth century.

The greatest leader of the Mughal dynasty was Akbar (ruled 1560–1605). Throughout his reign, he brought more of northern and central India under his control, established a bureaucracy, and patronized the arts. He encouraged cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in India.

Akbar also broke with Hindu and Muslim tradition regarding the treatment of women in society. He encouraged widows to remarry and outlawed sati, the practice among Hindu elite classes of burning women on their husband's funeral pyre. Akbar also encouraged merchants to arrange market days for women only so that those following the practice of purdah, or confinement in their homes, would have an opportunity to participate in public life. By the declining years of the Mughal Empire, however, the improvements in the position of women had largely been discontinued.

Mughal art and architecture often blended Muslim styles with those of other societies. Mughal artists were known for their miniatures, some of which included Christian religious subjects. Mughal architecture blended the white marble typical of Indian architecture with the arches and domes of the Islamic world. Probably the most well-known architectural structure of the Mughal era was the Taj Mahal, constructed by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The cost of warfare and defensive efforts to protect the northern borders of the Mughal Empire contributed to its decline. Later Mughal rulers failed to bridge the differences between Muslims and Hindus. Centralized government broke down as India returned to numerous local political organizations. The decline of centralized authority opened doors for the entrance of foreign powers, especially the British.

Monarchies in France and England

In the sixteenth century, European monarchies expanded their power dramatically. Characteristics of these monarchies were:

  • The maintenance of strong armies.
  • The establishment of elaborate bureaucracies.
  • High taxes to support the frequent wars on the European continent.

In France, a system of absolute monarchy arose as monarchs stopped convening the Estates-General, the medieval parliament. In addition to the characteristics of monarchs listed above, absolute monarchs believed in a concept called the divine right of kings. Divine right held that monarchs were granted their right to rule by God. Territorial expansion was a goal of the strong military that the absolute monarchies assembled. The most noteworthy of European absolute monarchs was Louis XIV of France (1643–1715), who not only adhered to the doctrine of divine right but also lived extravagantly in his palace at Versailles outside Paris. Keeping with absolutist tradition, Louis XIV also spent huge sums on the military in order to carry out numerous wars to expand French territory.

The prevailing economic theory of the day, called mercantilism, encouraged nations to export more than they imported and promoted the founding of colonies. Colonies provided raw materials and ready markets for the manufactured goods produced by the mother country.

The English developed a different model of monarchy in the seventeenth century: parliamentary monarchy. Although ruled by a centralized government, England limited the power of its monarchs with a parliament in which they shared power with representatives chosen by voters from the elite classes. The English Civil War (1642–1649) and the Glorious Revolution of 1689 placed the power of parliament over that of the king. The English parliament met regularly without the consent of the monarch and also retained the authority to tax and appropriate tax revenues.

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