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1453: the modern era begins

The Byzantine Empire fell to the Muslims in 1453.
The Byzantine Empire fell to the Muslims in 1453.

The fifteenth century transitioned Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the modern period. The transition began in 1453 and culminated with Columbus in 1492. In 1453, the Hundred Years’ War came to a close ending the Medieval conflict that spanned several generations, helped perpetuate the plague, and witnessed the end of the old noble order. Additionally, the printing press emerged allowing ideas to be copied and spread despite government or church censors. Lastly, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Muslims finally ending the old Roman Empire. These three events signaled the end of the Middle Ages and the onset of the modern world.

The Hundred Years War actually lasted 116 years. It began as a territorial dispute between the kingdoms of England and France, birthed the modern nation state, and ended in French victory. By conflict’s end, both England and France had become states as opposed to kingdoms. The people rallied around England and France as opposed to the monarchy or noblemen. Feudal armies gave way to professional troops to compensate for the war’s length. The king could not afford for his troops to head home to farm at the end of campaign season any longer. It helped increase monarchical power in relation to his nobles. The king did not have to look to his nobles for troops. A standing army, loyal to the king, helped to dramatically weaken the nobility. The war allowed the Black Death to promulgate through the countryside. The conflict devastated the French population. In the end, France emerged victorious and England had been almost completely expelled from the continent.

While England and France became nations, the Byzantine Empire collapsed. The Western Roman Empire fell in the fifth century while the eastern empire remained vibrant. In the eleventh century, the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire began to contract in the wake of Muslim conquest. By 1453, the empire consisted of the capitol city of Constantinople and the immediate vicinity. The Ottoman Turks arrived at the walled city with cannon and determination. Constantinople fell to the Turks after a nearly two month siege. The Ottoman Empire emerged in the aftermath. The Ottomans continued to spread into the seventeenth century when they were finally defeated at Vienna. The empire existed until the twentieth century. However, in 1453, the Muslim victory shocked Christian Europe. As a result, some called for a crusade against the Turks. However, European monarchs were more concerned with their own fledgling nations. In response to Constantinople’s fall, many European countries began looking for alternate routes to the Far East and India to circumvent the Muslims controlling the road to Asia. This search led Columbus to sail westward.

Eventually, people could read accounts of the Ottoman victory printed on the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg created the first press the same year as the Fall of Constantinople and the end of the Hundred Years War. The invention allowed printers to produce up to 3,600 pages a day. By the end of the century, printing presses had led to over 20 million books. This figure increased exponentially in the following centuries. The press allowed information sharing and undercut the authorities. It allowed Martin Luther to launch the Protestant Reformation. In the past, the church could undercut and silence critics. They could silence a few dissenters, but not Europe’s printing presses. The invention led to the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and American Revolution. These events could never have occurred without mass media. The printing press made ideas a consumer product.

By the end of the century, Columbus adventures appeared in print. His journey of exploration might not have occurred had the Ottomans not captured Constantinople. Meanwhile, the Spanish nation emerged following the Reconquista in the same way the French and English nations emerged after the Hundred Years’ War. The Spanish monarchy used the battle against Islam and reconquest of their nation as a rallying point for nationalism. The events of 1492 all derived from the end of the Hundred Years’ War, invention of the printing press, and Fall of Constantinople. 1453 began the transition away from Middle Ages and to the modern era.