When he became emperor in 1658, Aurangzeb attempted a radical “Islamification” of Mughal India, imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law and implementing reforms that he thought would benefit Muslims more than adherents of other religions. Repudiating his great-grandfather Akbar’s vision of religious transcendence and harmony, while Aurangzeb stopped short of forcible conversion, he offered incentives to non-Muslims to convert, destroyed many of their temples, and reimposed the hated jizya tax. This tax on Hindus had been abolished by Akbar in 1564, and its reinstatement by Aurangzeb in 1679 triggered mass protests and violent reactions from authorities in the many cities. Revolts among Sikhs and among Hindus left the Mughal Empire weakened and in decline by the time of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. An excerpt from his proscriptions is offered below.
Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483–1530) was born a prince of Fergana in Transoxiana (modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), a region that had been conquered (briefly) by the army of Alexander the Great in the 320s BCE and more recently by Babur’s ancestor Timur-i Lang, or Tamerlane (r. 1370–1405). Driven from his homeland, Babur conquered neighboring kingdoms and moved south into Afghanistan, capturing Kabul in 1504. By 1519, he stepped up his raids into northern India, and his highly mobile, if vastly outnumbered, army defeated Sultan Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526. Victory at Panipat was followed by the conquest of the Lodi capital of Agra and further defeats of Hindu leaders in northern India. Babur’s dynasty would become known as the Mughals (from “Mongols”), but his legacy can also be gauged from the success of his memoirs, the Baburnama. Composed and reworked throughout his life, the Baburnama is the first true autobiography in Islamic literature, and it can be read for insights into his own character as well as the military tactics he employed on the battlefield.
The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, trans. and ed. Wheeler M. Thackston (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 328–329, 330, 331.
In October 1553, the extraordinarily gifted Spanish scientist Michael Servetus was executed with the approval and the strong support of John Calvin and his followers in Geneva. The charge was heresy, specifically for denying the existence of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, and the method of execution—burning at the stake—elicited commentary and protest from across Europe. One of the fullest and most sophisticated protests against this execution was issued by Sebastian Castellio, a professor of Greek language and New Testament theology in the Swiss city of Basel. His book De Haereticis is a collection of opinions, drawn from Christian writers, from both before and after the Protestant Reformation and across 15 centuries. It is more than an academic exercise, however, as this dedication of the Latin work to a German noble demonstrates.
Sebastian Castellio, Concerning Heretics, Whether They Are to Be Persecuted and How They Are to Be Treated, A Collection of the Opinions of Learned Men Both Ancient and Modern, trans. Roland H. Bainton, (New York: Octagon, 1965), 132–134.
In the course of the fifteenth century, the Aztecs conquered an empire centered in the Valley of Mexico (present-day Mexico City, after the drainage of most of the valley) but encompassing Mesoamerica from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting state, far more centralized than the preceding Teotihuacán and Toltec city-states, commanded a large extent of territory and thrived on the trade in raw materials that were brought in from both coasts of their empire. Bernal Díaz, born in 1492 in Spain, would join the Spaniards in the “conquest” of Mexico, but he also left behind vivid eyewitness accounts of occupied Aztec society in the sixteenth century. Among them is this description of the market in Tlatelolco, one of the central cities at the heart of Aztec imperial power.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J. M. Cohen (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963), 232–234.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540) was a wealthy lawyer with good political connections. Like many such figures in the Renaissance, he also had cultural and intellectual ambitions. In his later years he wrote a brilliant History of Italy that was one of the first works of history to combine the use of extensive archival records and a critical attitude toward political motivations and intentions. His History of Florence, however, is the work of a young man trying to feel his way in an unfamiliar discipline. Its most incisive passage is translated below and provides a closely observed portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492), who ruled Florence from 1469 until his death. (Guicciardini, of course, did not know Lorenzo personally, being only nine years old when the ruler died.)
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
This one-act puppet play is one of the first fictionalized (though only thinly disguised) treatments of a famous event that occurred in Tokugawa Japan in 1701–1703. The historical incident began with a knife attack by the daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori on an imperial official named Kira Yoshinaka. Whatever the justice of the provocation, Asano had committed a serious breach in conduct and was forced to pay the most severe penalty. Even though Kira had suffered only a minor wound to his face, Asano was commanded to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. When he did so, his 47 samurai vassals were left leaderless (rōnin), but they swore to avenge Asano’s memory by killing Kira.
In January 1703, the 47 rōnin entered Kira’s home, chasing him and killing several of his retainers and wounding others, including Kira’s grandson. When they finally trapped and overcame Kira, the rōnin cut off his head and brought it to their master’s grave. However, they then decided to turn themselves in to the authorities and commit seppuku themselves, true to their code until the bitter end. In order to elude the censors, Chikamatsu altered the names, condensed some of the main details, and offered a judge that was more sympathetic to the rōnin cause. The essential story would reemerge repeatedly in popular culture (both Japanese and non-Japanese) down to the present day.
Jacqueline Miller, “A Chronicle of Great Peace Played Out on a Chessboard: Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Goban Taiheiki,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46 (1986): 221–267, 263–267.
The Janissaries constitute the most famous and centralized of the Ottomans’ military institutions. A feared and respected military force, the Janissaries were Christian-born males who had been seized from their homes as boys, converted to Islam, and then trained as future soldiers and administrators for the Turks. Under the direct orders of the sultan and his viziers, the Janissaries were equipped with the latest military innovations. In the early fifteenth century, these units received cannons and matchlock muskets. The muskets continued their evolution in the Janissaries’ hands, becoming the standard equipment for Ottoman and other armies.
© INTERFOTO / Alamy
The Jesuit Relations are the most important documents attesting to the encounter between Europeans and native North Americans in the seventeenth century. These annual reports of French missionaries from the Society of Jesus document the conversions—or attempted conversions—of the various indigenous peoples in what is today the St. Lawrence River basin and the Great Lakes region. When they arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence in 1625, French Jesuits were entering a continent still very much under control of First Nations peoples, who were divided by their own ethnic and linguistic differences. Even the catch-all terms “Huron” and “Iroquois” masked their nature as confederacies, composed of several distinct nations, who had joined together prior to the arrival of Europeans.
When the Jesuits made headway with one group, they usually lost initiative with the group’s rivals—and sometimes found themselves in the midst of a conflict that they could barely understand or appreciate. This section of the Relations concerns the torture and murder of Jean Brébeuf, who had lived among the Hurons at various points from the 1620s through the 1640s, observing their culture and systematically attempting to convert them to Catholicism. However, when an Iroquois raiding party invaded his settlement, the depth of the Hurons’ Christian commitment—and his own—would be tested.
Paul Ragueneau, “Relation of 1648–49,” in Allan Greer, ed., The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin–s, 2000), 112–115.
Between 1405 and 1433, a series of naval expeditions were sent out by Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, under the command of the remarkable Zheng He (1371–1435). The largest of Zheng’s ships were over 400 feet long and were thus more than four times the length of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria. His voyages took Zheng to the coasts of southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, Arabia, and East Africa. In 2010, marine archaeologists attempted to find remains of one of Zheng’s ships off the coast of Kenya, near Malindi, a site Zheng visited in 1418. This photograph shows a model of one of Zheng’s ships, compared with a model of the Santa Maria. The model is displayed in a shopping mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Up until the modern era, Muslim soldiers wore talismanic shirts designed to protect them in battle and ensure victory over their enemies. This tunic, from Safavid Persia from about 1600 CE, was worn next to the warrior’s skin and embroidered with verses from the Quran.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
With a handful of untrained and poorly equipped soldiers, Hernán Cortés overthrew the powerful Aztec civilization between 1519 and 1520. Born in Spain around 1485, Cortés decided to inform the king of Spain (and Holy Roman emperor) Charles V of his achievements, in a series of written updates. Despite their ostensible purpose, these “letters” were designed for more than the edification and delight of the emperor. Like Julius Caesar’s dispatches from the Gallic Wars of the 50s BCE—in which at least one million Gauls were killed and another million enslaved—these accounts were designed for broad public consumption. Each letter was sent to Spain as soon as it was ready, and it seems likely that Cortés’s father, Martín, arranged for their immediate publication. Over the course of these five published letters, although Cortés developed a persona for himself as a conquering hero and agent of imperial power, he also exposed the ruthlessness and brutality of his “conquest” of Mexico.
Hernán Cortés, Letters from Mexico, ed. and trans. Anthony Pagden (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 72–74.
Thomas the Eparch and Joshua Diplovatatzes
The siege and conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II (r. 1451–1481) was one of the turning points of world history. Unfolding over two months between April 5 and May 29, 1453, the siege exposed the inability of the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI to withstand a sustained and massive attack. Outnumbering the defenders 11 to 1, the Ottomans battered Constantinople’s walls with heavy cannons and took advantage of the natural weaknesses of the city’s geography. This account, told by two survivors and (self-proclaimed) eyewitnesses to the siege and its aftermath, details some of the specific stages of the defeat—and the suffering for Christians that came as a result.
trans. William L. North from the Italian version in A. Pertusi, ed., La Caduta di Constantinopoli: Le testimonianze dei contemporanei (Milan: Mondadori, 1976), 234–239, available online at https://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/mars/assets/Thomas_the_Eparch_and_Joshua_Diplovatatzes_for_MARS_website.pdf.
In the seventeenth century, the Manchus crossed the Great Wall, captured Beijing, and founded a new regime, the Qing, or “pure,” dynasty. Some Ming loyalists fled to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), off the Chinese coast, where they expelled the Dutch. The Europeans had established a trading base on the island, and the document below demonstrates the negotiated surrender of this fort to Koxinga.
William Campbell, Formosa under the Dutch (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1903), 455–456.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
The best Spanish source on the Aztec–Spanish encounter was written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, an old campaigner from Cortés’s army. Born and raised in a poor family in Spain, Díaz began his military career as a common soldier. In 1514, he went to America to serve with the Spanish forces opening up the “New World,” and he made two previous expeditions to the Yucatan prior to the one led by Hernando Cortés in 1519. According to his own accounts, he took part in over one hundred battles and was present at the surrender of Tenochtitlan in 1521. After having read a published account of the conquest that he considered a distortion, Díaz set about writing his own account during the 1560s, when he was already an old man. He finished it when he was seventy-six years old. Though he had sent a copy to Spain, the work was not published until the next century, well after his long and eventful life had ended in 1581. The drama of the events and the intimacy and novelty of his observations make this a remarkable historical source.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, vol. 1, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIII (London, 1908), 132–35; vol. 2, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIV (London, 1910), 4–18, 37–38, 39–40, 44, 55–58, 59–60, 69–79, 84–88.
Alexandre de Batz
Abstract and Keywords
In the first half of the eighteenth century the French and British empires fought a proxy war in what is today the southeastern part of the United States. Three large Indian nations dominated this region—the Choctaws in east-central Mississippi, the Chickasaws in northern Mississippi, and father east, the Creeks in present-day Alabama and western Georgia. The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations held the key to controlling access to the Mississippi River, with the Chickasaws siding with the British and the Choctaws allying with the French. French colonial officials provided the Choctaws with muskets and encouraged them to scalp captured Chickasaws. This watercolor below, painted by Alexandre de Batz in the 1730s, is entitled “Choctaw savages in war paint carrying scalps”.