15th century

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Portal history | Portal Biographies | Current events | Annual calendar

| 13th century | 14th century | 15th century | 16th century | 17th century |
1400s | 1410s | 1420s | 1430s | 1440s | 1450s | 1460s | 1470s | 1480s | 1490s

The 15th century began on January 1, 1401 and ended on December 31, 1500 . The world population at the beginning of this century is estimated at 350 to 374 million people, while the estimates for the end of the century are between 425 and 540 million people. European societies became more and more differentiated and changed. The renaissanceand the humanism of Italy propagated a changed image of man in which the human being as an individual was at the center. The emerging money economy and increasingly differentiated economic structures shaped the economy in the numerous European empires. The associated loss of importance of natural economy and the further development of weapon technology contributed to the decline of knighthood . With the discovery of the sea routes to America and India at the end of the century, Spain and Portugal ushered in European expansion overseas. The Principality of Moscow and the Ottoman Empire on the edge of Europe also began or continued their expansion. The Roman Catholic Church did not meet the desire of many believers for change and reform.

After their great maritime expeditions at the beginning of the century, Ming China turned inward in the second half of the century and withdrew behind the Great Wall it had built . With the establishment of the Forbidden City , China got a new capital in Beijing. China and Korea were shaped by a strong central power, however, after the nin war, power in Japan was split up into numerous feudal rule in which the samurai culture was cultivated. Buddhism and Islam spread in Southeast Asia.

On the American continent, the Inca and Aztec empires rose to become major regional powers. They built large cities like Tenochtitlán and a complex infrastructure to manage their empires. Trade and tribute enabled the ruling class to live a luxurious life.


Europe around 1470

In the European context, the 15th century is a century of epochal boundaries. One part is attributed to the late Middle Ages , the following section to the early modern period . Depending on their research focus, historians place the boundary between these two epochs in the middle or the end of the century. Furthermore, the cultural epoch of the Renaissance began in Italy, which extended to large parts of Europe in the 16th century. Europe was divided into numerous Christian domains of different sizes and structures. The larger territories were centralized kingdoms, such as England, France, Burgundy , Spain, and Portugal. The Holy Roman Empire stretched across the center of Europe. The Polish-Lithuanian Union held a strong position in Central and Eastern Europe , while the Grand Duchy of Moscow expanded its position of power in Eastern Europe. Southeastern Europe was increasingly shaped by the Muslim Ottomans, who ruled Europe over a predominantly Christian population.

Central Europe

Most of Central Europe was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The areas south of the Alps and some areas in the west were only formally regarded as part of the empire. The empire was in fact an association of numerous secular and spiritual principalities, small domains and cities. These imperial estates had a high degree of autonomy, which, however, was very different in individual cases. Due to the structure of the empire and their low domestic power, the kings in the empire had very little assertiveness. In the first half of the century in particular, they hardly succeeded in mediating between the different interests of the empire. The imperial estates fought numerous wars with one another throughout the empire . The constant efforts to reform the empire only bore fruit in the last decade. The agreed eternal peace could reduce the disputes, albeit with some delay. Institutions such as the Reichstag and the Reichsgericht were also agreed to create a regulatory framework for the Reich. Nevertheless, the imperial estates retained their high degree of autonomy.

With the coronation of Albrecht II as Roman-German King in 1438, the Habsburgs replaced the Luxembourgers as the royal dynasty. From 1452 the Habsburgs and the Habsburg-Lothringers, with one exception, were the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire until its end in 1806. At the same time, their rise to one of the great powers of Europe began, which shaped the following centuries.

As in all of Europe, nationalist tendencies increased in Central Europe. The name of the Holy Roman Empire was increasingly supplemented with the addition of the German nation north of the Alps. Although it was formally still part of the empire, the Swiss Confederation, which expanded its territory to include Ticino, operated largely independently of it. In Bohemia and Moravia, too, the Hussite movement achieved extensive independence from the empire. King Sigismund's attempt to regain control of the former Bohemian power of his dynasty and to establish his beliefs in both parts of the empire failed with his defeats in the Hussite Wars . In addition to religious concerns, the Hussites promoted the position of the Czech population. The clashes between the German-speaking mostly higher-ranking minority and the Czech majority reached a climax with the departure of German-speaking professors and students from Prague University .

Western and Southern Europe

Joan of Arc ( miniature painting by an unknown painter, second half of the 15th century)

At the beginning of the century, the Hundred Years War that the French and English had been fighting for the French royal crown since the previous century had come to an end. After Henry V took over the English crown from his weak predecessor, he resumed the conquest of France. The English victory at the Battle of Azincourt was the prelude to a great wave of conquests in northern France, which the weak French king could do little to counter. The British triumphal march was favored by their alliance with the Burgundians. Their dukes were relatives and formally the most important vassals of the French king. Because of their differences with the French royal family, they supported the English passively and then actively. In 1429 the English were weakened by the death of Henry V. At the same time, Jeanne d'Arc , a French peasant girl, strengthened the position of the French crown and motivated the French troops with their religious visions. From this point on, the French recaptured the territories occupied by the British. The French triumphal march was strengthened by the change of sides between the Burgundians and the French in 1435.

The Duchy of Burgundy, which had previously acquired Flanders and Brabant, failed in the 1470s when attempting to expand its territory through wars. The Habsburgs acquired the Duchy of Burgundy through a marriage contract. After violent disputes with the French kings, the Habsburgs got Flanders and Brabant, while the French kings got a large part of the other areas of Burgundy. The Habsburg expansion on the French border was at the root of the Franco-Habsburg conflicts that had a major impact on European politics in the centuries that followed. The power of the French kings was strengthened by the acquisition of Provence.

In England, after the lost Hundred Years War, disputes over the throne broke out, which were fought militarily between the noble houses of Lancaster and York and their allies. The disputes, called Wars of the Roses because of the coats of arms of the warring factions , ended with the enthronement of the first king of the Tudor dynasty , who represented both warring factions. Whereas at the beginning of the century the English parliament had a very strong position vis-à-vis the king, the monarch gained significantly more power by the end of the century.

In the 14th century, Naples and Milan were the great regional powers on the Italian peninsula. Their importance declined at the beginning of the century due to the weakness of the ruling houses and military defeats against Florence and Venice . From the middle of the century, five main powers - Milan, Venice, Florence, the Papal States and Naples - determined the conditions on the peninsula. In most of the cities of northern Italy, which were previously organized purely as a republic, a family prevailed. In addition to the use of force, they consolidated their position of supremacy by showing their power with representative buildings and art. At the beginning of the century the Popes were weakened by the Great Western Schism and their dispute with the conciliar movement in the Church. After they had overcome this weakness in the first half of the century, they placed a strong emphasis in their administration on maintaining power in and expanding power in the Papal States. Their means of violence, nepotism and splendor did not differ from those of the other rulers of Italy. In the second half of the century in particular, there was an equilibrium between the Italian powers. The century of relative Italian independence ended for several centuries in 1494 with the French invasion.

Replica of the ships of Columbus

The Iberian Peninsula was dominated by the kingdoms of Portugal, Castile and Aragon . Since Portugal did not consider it favorable to expand on the Iberian Peninsula, it directed its expansionist urge to Africa. It acquired the exclusive rights for this route through a contract with Castile. Over the course of the century, Portuguese ships continued south along the West African coast and established trading posts there. The discovery of the sea route to India by the Portuguese Vasco da Gama at the end of the century finally established Portugal's status as a world trading power in the 16th century.

The kingdom of Aragon, located in the northeast of the peninsula, dominated the western Mediterranean in the 15th century, helped by his rule over the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as the temporary rule over the kingdom of Naples. In Castile, which was in the middle of the peninsula, the kings prevailed against the nobility in the course of the century. The marriage between the Castilian Queen Isabella and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 finally led to the unification of the empires and laid the foundations for the Spanish state. Both regents conquered the last Muslim exclave on the Iberian peninsula, Granada , in 1492 , thus completing the Reconquista . In the race with Portugal to discover the sea route to India, they promoted the sea voyages of Christopher Columbus , who first made the sea route to the American continents known to the Spaniards and then to all Europeans.

The connection between the state and the Catholic Church was consolidated in all Iberian empires. The Spanish Church built an educated and dedicated clergy. Furthermore, the Inquisition , which was directed primarily against Jews and former Muslims, was reinforced. The title “Catholic Kings”, which the Pope bestowed on the Spanish kings, showed a strong mixture of political and religious mandates from the rulers.

Eastern and Southeastern Europe

The Polish-Lithuanian Union was an important regional power in East Central Europe . They put increasing pressure on the Teutonic Order , whose core area was on the Baltic Sea. After the victory in the Battle of Tannenberg and further military victories, Poland-Lithuania annexed large areas of the order by the middle of the century. Furthermore, this had to recognize the Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty. In the second half of the century, the nobility gained increasing power over the king. An expansion of the royal power to Bohemia and Hungary remained a brief episode at the end of the century.

The dominance of the Grand Dukes of Moscow under the Russian principalities was consolidated . After overcoming a long war of succession to the throne, Moscow under Ivan III. conquer or otherwise take possession of many surrounding Russian principalities. The most important achievement was the conquest of the Novgorod Republic . In this way a centralized Russian Empire emerged , a new great power in Eastern Europe that was able to shake off the centuries-old supremacy of the Tatars while standing on the Ugra in 1480. As the keeper of Orthodoxy, the new empire claimed the cultural and political heritage of the Byzantine emperors ( Third Rome ), but also those areas of the former Kievan Rus that were ruled by Lithuania. The Battle of Wedroscha in 1500 allowed it to grow considerably to the south and southwest at the expense of Lithuania.

The Golden Horde went through numerous internal conflicts in the 15th century and split into several states. In addition to the Great Horde that emerged Crimean Khanate , the Khanate of Kazan , the Astrakhan Khanate and the Khanate of Sibir . The supremacy over Russia could no longer be obtained. The Khan of Crimea soon established himself as an influential vassal of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire consolidated and expanded its power in south-eastern Europe and Anatolia. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople , which was last a small enclave in his empire, and made it the capital of his empire. After Constantinople, Trebizond was the last Byzantine city ​​to come under Ottoman rule. Through further campaigns the Ottomans conquered the Crimea, the Principality of Wallachia and secured their rule in Bosnia and Serbia. Domestically, the sultans built the Ottoman Empire into a central state and strengthened their new capital. The former church of Hagia Sofia was rededicated by the Ottomans into a mosque and numerous schools, madrasas , were attached to it. Since many of the former residents of Constantinople had fled to Italy or perished, the sultans encouraged immigration to Constantinople through both concessions and coercion. The city got an Islamic character. They also expanded their central power by weakening the powerful families of Anatolia. Although the financing of the Ottoman army was based on a variant similar to the feudal system, the regular change of tenants prevented them from building a regional power.


In almost all regions of Europe, the nobility was the closed ruling class into which, with a few exceptions, one could only be born. The highest political leadership positions were occupied by nobles. The aristocracy was distinguished from the rest of the population by the aristocratic way of life, public image and ritual ceremonies. Nevertheless, there were upheavals in this century, especially among the lower nobility and knighthood. The declining economic importance of agriculture, the economic base of many aristocrats, and the increasing importance of infantry and long-range weapons forced many aristocrats to make changes. Some made their living by robber barons, others signed up as mercenaries.

The largest stratum were farmers and farm workers. The peasants were dependent on the aristocratic landowners through leases and often through power. Strong increases in taxes led to local uprisings, but the supremacy of the nobility remained unchallenged. Although the vast majority of the population remained in the countryside, numerous people across Europe migrated to the cities. These promised them more freedom and opportunities for development. The cities housed large parts of handicrafts and trade. Although the city granted its residents more freedom, the city government was in the hands of a small layer of craftsmen and, above all, long-distance traders. This oligarchic group became increasingly closed during this century.

Economy and technology

Portrait of Luca Paciolis , the inventor of double entry bookkeeping , painted by Jacopo de 'Barbari

In the 15th century the economic structures of Europe changed. The money economy became more and more important for the European economies. With it, the share of trade and handicrafts in economic output grew at the expense of agriculture. Farming concentrated on high-yielding soils and diversified, with growing vegetables. In some regions, the pasture economy increased, so in Spain and England increasingly sheep were kept to meet the demand of the increasing textile production. The consumption of meat and luxury goods also increased. In addition to the aristocrats, these products could be afforded by the craftsmen and traders in the cities, who were the winners of the money economy. Banking continued to develop particularly in Italy. As traders and later as bankers, individual families, such as the Fuggers from Augsburg and the Medici from Florence, also gained great political power. When economic regions such as Flanders, southern Germany and northern Italy rose to new heights, the Hanseatic League saw the beginning of its decline. The Hanseatic League's merchants could do little to counter the multitude of political changes in the Baltic Sea region and new competitors such as the Netherlands.

The more and more difficult to reach mineral deposits promoted the organization of mining in large companies. The increased use of technology, such as the crushing of the rock by water-powered stamp mills , required an ever greater use of capital, which was made available by wealthy townspeople in the form of mining shares. The invention of the vane spinning wheel helped the textile industry to meet increasing demand. The advancement and spread of clocks, the first table clocks were developed, shaped the higher urban society. More and more innovative firearms, essentially cannons, were used on the battlefield. Some territorial lords encouraged inventors by placing their inventions under protection in their territory.

Religion and church

Council meeting in the Konstanzer Münster (from the Chronicle of the Council of Konstanz by Ulrich Richental )

The Christian religion played a crucial role in the lives of many Europeans. The Roman Catholic Church remained the mediator of the faith, but this century it was in a deep crisis. As of the previous century, the Church had been split into the followings of two competing popes. Many Christians wanted to resolve this split, called the Great Western Schism , through an assembly of bishops, a council. After the first attempt with the Council of Pisa led to the intensification of the split, the Council of Constance was able to end the split in the 1410s. A fundamental reform of the church, which some participants strived for, could not be implemented either at this or at the subsequent Basel Council .

An important item on the agenda of the councils was the confrontation with the Hussite movement . The ecclesiastical movement that went back to Jan Hus and was limited regionally to Bohemia and Moravia had different views on theology and ecclesiastical rite in some points. After the attempt to forcibly suppress the movement through the burning of its founder and the Hussite Wars failed, the Hussites were tolerated by the rest of Christianity in the second half of the century.

In the 15th century there was a piety that concentrated on religious rituals as such and was less interested in their theological content. The veneration of saints, the cult of relics and the sale of indulgences reached an unprecedented level. The increasing demand for salable healing products by the faithful met with an increasingly differentiated offer from the church. Religious exaggeration and political calculation led to severe persecution of Jews and heretics, especially in Spain. Furthermore, towards the end of the century the Church supported the increasing persecution of witches , which a few centuries earlier she had condemned as heretical. The systematization of the processes developed in the previous centuries was perverted by the massive use of torture. The church grievances caused increasing general criticism of the church. The invention of printing with movable type met the growing need to read the Bible.

Art, culture and science

The Vitruvian Man , study of proportions by Leonardo da Vinci

As in the 14th century, more and more lay people continued their education in the 15th century . The educational lead of the clergy increasingly melted. As the number of people with literacy skills increased, so did the number of documents and books. The spread of the paper mills north of the Alps and the invention of printing with movable type promoted this development. Many documents were now written in the languages ​​of the individual countries instead of Latin. The wave of founding universities that had already begun in the 14th century continued in the 15th century. The teaching activity was increasingly taken over by free scientists and laypeople. There were numerous general education schools run either by the towns or by the parishes. Adults were taught by private tutors. Even if it grew strongly, the educated class remained a minority.

The educational movement was a factor in the emergence of the Renaissance , which, after its beginnings in the 14th century, flourished in Italy this century. The culture that spread in the dense urban landscape of Italy was clearly distinguished from the previous Middle Ages. She found her inspiration in the discovery of antiquity, going far beyond the reception of antiquity in the Middle Ages. The representation and development of the human being as an individual was of central importance for the followers of the Renaissance. Free-standing sculptures of naked people were created and painters painted pictures with a central perspective for the first time . Observations of nature as well as topics from the world of ancient legends became topics of art. Religious motifs that dominated medieval art fell behind, but were still significant. The artists who created these works emerged as creators for the first time. Their names became public and their creativity was celebrated. The educational movement of humanism developed in parallel with the Renaissance . Since many refugees from Constantinople brought extensive ancient literature to Italy, the humanists had a wider range of ancient literature than the scholars of the Middle Ages.

Independent cultural developments took place north of the Alps. One focus of the architecture was in southern Germany, where numerous churches and houses were built in the late Gothic style. Painting flourished in the rich regions of Flanders and Brabant. From the origins of Burgundian manuscript painting, the independent style of realism developed, which combined elements of medieval Gothic and Renaissance. In music, polyphony was cultivated and expanded, especially in Brabant.


In the 15th century, the economic and political situation in North West Africa was increasingly influenced by the activities of European powers. Portugal expanded its influence on the African Atlantic coast ever further south. It secured this expansion both through the establishment of numerous bases and through the papal confirmation of its monopoly on this part of the world. Portugal exchanged manufactured goods such as textiles for gold and slaves. One of its most important trading partners was the Mali Empire . Its strong rulers of the 14th century were followed by less assertive rulers. The Songhai , in particular, exploited this weakness and pushed the empire from the Niger region to the west. Mali, which retained access to large gold deposits, continued to turn to Portugal. This cooperation in turn weakened the western Trans-Saharan trade and with it the Moroccan Merinids . Before they could not prevent the capture of many seaports by Portugal, the economic weakness led to the fragmentation of the empire into numerous local rulers. Further to the east, the Tunisian Hassafids expanded their empire to the west, but they were unable to counter the conquest of their Mediterranean ports by Castile

Sankore Mosque (Timbuktu)

In the area of ​​the Niger Arc , the Songhai established a powerful trading empire in the second half of the century. With his well-organized army, their leader, Sonni Ali, managed to conquer large areas around Niger. This included the major trading cities of Gao and Timbuktu . The Islamic rulers of the Songha Empire exercised their power directly over the central parts of the country, while they only ruled indirectly over other areas. They base their direct rule on a hierarchical administration with them at the top. So they were able to develop a variety of sources of income. Their support resulted in the creation of a class of scholars in the trading centers, especially in Timbuktu, who enjoyed a high reputation in the entire Islamic world.

Egypt was ruled by a group of Mamluks who also controlled Syria and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Mamluks, former Circassian military slaves, agreed on a sultan as head of state, who ruled the country until his death. After a period of weakness in the first half of the century, in which the tribes of Upper Egypt acted relatively autonomously, the Mamluks gained control of the entire country in the second half of the century and created stability.

Since the descendants of the Mamluks were excluded from the ruling class, historians speak of a one-generation aristocracy. The ruling Mamluks were also military leaders who clearly differed and demarcated themselves ethnically from the rest of the population. The Mamluks often provided their descendants with administrative posts in religious foundations, many of which they established. Many of these foundations had madrasas . These schools attracted numerous Islamic scholars from all over the world, making Egypt the leading country of Islamic scholarship. Even if Orthodox teachings had a strong position, the Mamluks also promoted Sufism and Islamic mysticism.

Due to the many plague epidemics, agriculture, which played a very important economic role in the previous centuries, was weakened. The Mamluks profited from the spice trade across the Indian Ocean. This gained importance because the trade routes over the Asian mainland came to a standstill in this century due to wars.


West and Central Asia

In 1405 Timur died , who during his lifetime had conquered an area from the Euphrates to the Hindu Kush. His son and successor Sahrukh ruled the Timurid Empire in the first half of the century. While his rule was safe until the 1430s, he then fought off attacks by various nomad groups in the east of his empire. After his death, no Timuride was able to assert himself in the entire empire. Internal and external armed conflicts determined politics.

The Timurids awarded the tax revenue of certain areas to family members and loyal followers who had to do military service. In this century, the tenants acquired additional administrative and judicial powers over their territory. While the military administration was carried out by officials of Turkish origin, civil administration was in the hands of civil servants of Iranian origin.

The population adhered to a heterogeneous Islamic popular belief, mediated by various dervish communities . The Orthodox Sunni scholars could not oppose the many heterodox and Shiite religious communities. At the end of the century, the Shiite movement of the Safawiyeh gained increasing importance. In the following century these took over power and made the Twelve Shiah Islam the leading religion of Iran, which it remains to this day.

The Timurids promoted culture and science in their most important cities, Samarkand and Herat. The magnificent Ulugbek Madrasa in Samarkand, built by craftsmen from all over the empire, attracted numerous scholars.

The Indian subcontinent

Bara-Gumbad and Mosque in the Lodi Gardens , Delhi

With the sack of Delhi in 1399, the rule of the Delhi Sultanate was destroyed for several years. In the first half of the century, several sultans of Delhi began to rebuild a modest power base. The sultanate only regained greater importance under the dynasty of the Lodi sultans. Through several military campaigns they rebuilt the Delhi Sultanate in the second half of the century to become an important regional power in northern India. The Lodis built the famous Lodi Gardens in Delhi.

To the south of the Delhi Sultanate, several sultanates extended into central India, of which the Bahmani Sultanate was the most powerful. This had split off from the Delhi Sultanate in the previous century. As in the other sultanates, a Muslim upper class, mostly made up of immigrants, ruled over a majority of Hindus . A culture that combined Indian and Persian elements developed at the courts of the sultans. The sultans promoted painting and the development of the Indian regional languages. The Hindu lower class paid for the splendor of the Muslim upper class with great poverty and privation.

In addition to the Muslim empires, two Hindu empires also developed on the subcontinent. The south was ruled by the Kingdom of Vijayanagar . This promoted the further development of Hindu culture.


View of the Forbidden City

The largest and most powerful empire on the East Asian mainland was the Chinese Empire, even if at four million km² it was much smaller than today's People's Republic of China. It was headed by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty throughout the century . At the beginning of the century, the emperor's uncle overthrew his nephew from the throne. An important role in the politics of the new emperor, who called himself Yongle , played the securing and legitimation of his rule, since he had won it through an overthrow and not through a legitimate succession. He moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. There he built a large imperial palace in the city center, the Forbidden City . Military campaigns against the neighbors, the Mongols in the north and the Vietnamese in the south also served to secure his rule. To legitimize the Ming rule, the eunuch Zheng He organized and commanded seven voyages of an imperial fleet with numerous ships. These trips led through the Indian Ocean to the coast of East Africa. With gifts and threats of violence, the Chinese turned numerous rulers into mostly only formal tributary vassals. This confirmed the emperor as regent of the Middle Kingdom. Due to the considerable burden of the trips on the state budget, the trips were stopped in 1433 and the fleet was scrapped.

The subsequent emperors were not as strong as the first Ming emperors. While Yongle still managed the essential affairs of government himself, his successors left the affairs of government largely to a group of advisors and officials. In 1449, the Chinese army suffered a devastating defeat against the Mongols. The increasing threat from their northern neighbors prompted the Chinese emperors to build a stone protective wall from 1470, which today characterizes the image of the Great Wall of China .

At the beginning of the century, China was heavily influenced by the Confucian ideas of the first Ming emperor. The administration of the empire was carried out by a hierarchically organized civil service. It was made up of candidates who had passed the highly selective civil service exams. The content of the exam was the neo-Confucian teachings of Zhu Xi . A land reform in favor of smallholders and a tax reform that gave preferential treatment in kind and labor to cash benefits expanded China's agricultural sector. In contrast, trade and handicrafts shrank as a result of government regulations. By restricting money transactions to paper money, the emperors wanted to keep money transactions under their control.

These structures changed over the course of the century. Politically, both the eunuchs at the imperial court and the local elites gained greater weight. After the death of Emperor Yongle, the eunuchs and groups around the imperial family increasingly took over the affairs of state, but were often in opposition to the civil service. Since the administration at the local level was poor, local landowners, merchant families and other elites obtained more and more extensive privileges. As a result, economic inequality increased sharply. On the other hand, trade and handicrafts were strengthened and the economy became more and more labor-sharing. Strong economic growth was fueled by rapid population growth. The imperial ban on shipping reduced maritime trade, but it remained an important factor in the economies of coastal cities.

East and Southeast Asia

At the head of Korea were the kings of the Joseon Dynasty . They ruled over an impermeable class society, where the class was determined by birth. Although the positions were filled through an examination system, the class affiliation determined the access to the examinations. The restriction of freedom of movement of the lower classes, among whom the large group of slaves had the fewest rights, was reinforced by a system of identification tags. The upper class was in a constant power struggle with the kings, with one side or the other taking turns gaining the upper hand. The Neo-Confucianism propagated by large parts of this group pushed back the importance of Buddhism strongly. Her relatives cultivated literature and philosophy, which blossomed with numerous writings. A strong impetus for literacy came from the development of the Korean script towards the end of the century.

Kakegawa Japanese Castle

The most powerful rulers on the Japanese islands at the beginning of the century were the Shouguns of the Ashikaga family. With their seizure of power in the previous century, the family founded the Muromachi period. The emperors, on whom it was formally dependent, had disempowered it. The shougunes rely on the local provincial governors, but they have been only partially loyal. With the opening of trade to the Chinese Empire, Japan was restructured into a monetary and market economy. The associated social upheaval led to the weakening of the Shougune. The Ashikaga family eventually perished in the Ōnin War , which their disputes over the throne sparked in 1467. This ten-year war between two vassal families led to great population losses and destruction. Its end marks the beginning of the Sengoku period , when the Japanese islands were split up into numerous small domains. These were ruled by feudal lords, daimyos , who rely on their land holdings and local military power.

The upheavals that began in the previous century continued in Southeast Asia. Here was Hinduism in part to the mainland by the Buddhism on the other on the islands by the Islamic displaced from a few enclaves. On the mainland, the two Burmese empires were consolidated in the west and the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya expanded further east . The latter was a strong trading power and rivaled the Sultanate of Malacca . The easternmost regional power Vietnam was able to maintain its position at the beginning of the century with a military victory against the Chinese. Then the Vietnamese armies conquered the southern kingdom of Cham and advanced further into what is now Laos. In maritime Southeast Asia, Malacca became the most important trading center because the port was well protected, liberal law prevailed and there was adequate access to drinking water. The conversion of the Malaysian population to Islam was the beginning of a wave that created numerous Islamic sultanates on the islands. The Islamic merchants who had settled on the islands in the previous centuries were a mainstay of the missionary work. The Majapahit thalassocracy, located on Java, remained the last significant Hindu empire in maritime Southeast Asia.


On the American continent, two empires, the Aztecs in Mexico and the Inca in South America, expanded to become major regional powers. The rest of America was home to many small communities from sedentary farmers to nomads.


The expansion of Aztec domination in the 15th to the beginning of the 16th centuries under the individual regents.
  • Itzcóatl (1427-1440)
  • Moctezuma I (1440-1469)
  • Axayácatl (1469–1481)
  • Tízoc (1481–1486)
  • Ahuízotl (1486–1502)
  • Moctezuma II. (1502-1519)
  • In the Valley of Mexico, the Aztec Empire began to rise in 1427 with the merger of the cities of Tenochtitlán , Texcoco and Tlacopán. The warlike Aztecs expanded through violence. Usually they did not rule the subject areas directly, but instead established loyal rulers and consolidated their rule through marriage. They pressed tributes from the conquered peoples, which flowed into the three capitals. At the height of the Aztecs, their largest city Tenochtitlán grew to 300,000 inhabitants. At the head of Tenochtitlán was a monarch who came from the high nobility. He had great fortune and had certain privileges. Often dependent farmers worked for him. The lowest class were the unfree slaves, whose status was not hereditary.


    In the previous centuries, the Incas had built a small empire around the city of Cusco in present-day Peru through conquests. In the first third of the century, the Inca ruler Pachacútec Yupanqui began a wave of conquests that his successors continued throughout the century. At the end of the century, the Inca ruled over an empire from present-day Chile to Colombia.

    The Inca society was divided into many kinship groups, which were arranged according to a hierarchical system. Conquered peoples were incorporated into this lower level hierarchy. The economy in the Inca Empire was mainly based on agriculture, which in contrast to the economies of Asia, Europe and Africa had no livestock. The craft was also less pronounced than on the other continents. With the Inca conquest, the diverse system of free trade was replaced by a state-controlled trading system. Surplus trade goods were handed over to central government agencies and distributed from there. To maintain this trading system, the Inca operated a bureaucracy that included a comprehensive census of the population. To promote trade, the Incas built and expanded the network of trade routes, the longest of which was over 5,000 kilometers long.

    The expansion of the Inca (green tones) and Chimú empires (yellow and ocher)


    • Joan of Arc was a French national heroine who helped the French heir to the throne to victory over the English and Burgundians. This heralded the turning point in the course of the Hundred Years War .
    • Christopher Columbus was a seafarer in the Castilian service who opened up the European routes to the American continents.
    • Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route from Europe to India, which was the basis for the Portuguese colonial empire and its trading power in the 16th century.
    • Johannes Gutenberg is considered to be the inventor of modern letterpress printing with movable metal letters and the printing press . His invention enabled a media revolution.
    • Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath . In the fields of painting and science, his achievements and discoveries were formative for the Renaissance. They influenced many artists and scientists of subsequent generations.
    • Mehmed II was an Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453 .
    • Sonni Ali led the Songhai Empire to become a regional power in Africa.
    • The Chinese Emperor Yongle moved the Chinese capital to Beijing, where he had the Forbidden City built.
    • On behalf of the Chinese emperor, Zheng He made several sea voyages with the largest fleet of his time.
    • Pachacútec Yupanqui initiated the expansion of the Inca Empire over large parts of South America.


    Web links

    Commons : 15th century  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


    1. United States Census Bureau : Estimates of the Historical World Population (English)
    2. a b c d e Erich Meuthen : The 15th century . 5th edition. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-486-71720-4 , p. 27-73 .
    3. a b Peter Hilsch: The Middle Ages - the epoch . 3. Edition. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2012, ISBN 978-3-8252-3815-5 , p. 226-235 .
    4. a b Suraiya Faroqhi : History of the Ottoman Empire . 5th edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-46021-0 , p. 18-32 .
    5. a b Erich Meuthen: The 15th century . 5th edition. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-486-71720-4 , p. 3-26 .
    6. a b c Hans-Jörg Gilomen : Economic history of the Middle Ages . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65484-8 , p. 96-123 .
    7. ^ A b Marcus Popplow: Technology in the Middle Ages . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-58782-5 , p. 88-94 .
    8. a b Erich Meuthen: The 15th century . 5th edition. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-486-71720-4 , p. 74-112 .
    9. a b c Johanna Pink: History of Egypt - From late antiquity to the present . Verlag CHBeck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-66713-8 , pp. 93-112 .
    10. Monika Gronke : History of Iran . 3. Edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-48021-8 , pp. 60-64 .
    11. ^ A b Hermann Kulke , Dietmar Rothermund : History of India - From the Indus culture to today . 2nd Edition. Special edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-60414-0 , p. 228-250 .
    12. a b c d Kai Vogelsang : History of China . 3. Edition. Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-010933-5 , p. 377-394 .
    13. ^ Tilman Frasch: particularism and cultural transfer on the range of the world - Southeast Asia . In: Thomas Ertl , Michael Limberger (eds.): Die Welt 1250–1500 . Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-85476-293-5 , p. 325-350 .