The early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages of the post-classical era. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the post-classical age (c. 1500), known as the Middle Ages, through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions (c. 1800) and is variously demarcated by historians as beginning with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the Renaissance period in Europe, the Muslim conquests in the Indian subcontinent, and with the Age of Discovery (especially with the voyages of Christopher Columbus beginning in 1492, but also with Vasco da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India in 1498), and ending around the French Revolution in 1789.
Historians in recent decades have argued that from a worldwide standpoint, the most important feature of the early modern period was its globalizing character. New economies and institutions emerged, becoming more sophisticated and globally articulated over the course of the period. This process began in the medieval North Italian city-states, particularly Genoa, Venice, and Milan in the west, and in India's Bengal in the east. The early modern period also included the rise of the dominance of the economic theory of mercantilism.
The European colonization of the Americas began during the early modern period, as did the establishment of European trading hubs in Asia and Africa, which contributed to the spread of Christianity around the world. The rise of sustained contacts between previously isolated parts of the globe, in particular the Columbian Exchange that linked the Old World and the New World, greatly altered the human environment. Notably the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of Native American peoples began during this period.
In the Islamic world, the Ghurid dynasty, Delhi Sultanate, Ottoman, Suri, Safavid and Mughal empires grew in strength. Particularly in the Indian subcontinent, Mughal architecture, culture and art reached their zenith, while the empire itself is believed to have had the world's largest economy, bigger than the entirety of Western Europe and worth 25% of global GDP, signalling the period of proto-industrialization.
By the 16th century Asian economies under the Ming dynasty and Mughal Bengal were stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch, while Japan engaged in the Nanban trade after the arrival of the first European Portuguese during the Azuchi–Momoyama period.
The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and economically. Feudalism declined in Europe, and the old order was further destabilized by the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation sparked the disastrous European Wars of Religion, which included the especially bloody Thirty Years' War and ended with the establishment of the modern international system in the Peace of Westphalia. Along with the European colonization of the Americas this period also contained the Commercial Revolution and the Golden Age of Piracy.
Other notable trends of the early modern period include the development of experimental science, increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics, accelerated travel due to improvements in mapping and ship design, and the emergence of nation states. Historians typically date the end of the early modern period when the French Revolution of the 1790s began the "late modern" period.
Early modern timeline
- Dates are approximate. Consult particular article for details.
- Early modern themes Other