3.1A: Land Empires Expand

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Learning Objective 3A

Explain how and why various land-based empires developed and expanded from 1450 to 1750.

Historical Development 1

China expanded west under the Ming and Qing dynasties

Historical Development 2

Islamic empires dominated North Africa, the Middle East, and North India. 

Historical Development 3

The Russian empire expanded south and to the east.


China Expanded West Under the Ming and Qing Dynasties

The Mongol Yuan dynasty collapsed in 1368. Between 1450 and 1740, two final imperial dynasties led China. The Ming would rule from 1368-1644, while the Qing would rule from 1644-1912.

The Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty came to power after defeating the Mongol Yuan dynasty.

Reconstructing China and reasserting Chinese culture

When the Ming came to power, they immediately reconstructed China from the damage and disruption caused by Mongol rule and the plague. 

  • The Ming sponsored the replanting of forests that the Mongols had cut down and converted to pasture land for their animals. 
  • The Ming also sought to eliminate Mongol culture from China and to reassert traditional Confucian cultural practices. Mongol names were discouraged, and conventional Chinese gender roles were encouraged. 
  • The Ming emperor Yongle (1402-1422) sponsored the writing of a massive 11,000 volume encyclopedia of Chinese history and knowledge. While much of the world was looking to the future, China looked to its past.

The Qing Dynasty

The Ming dynasty collapsed in 1644 following a wide-scale famine. As conditions worsened, a peasant revolt led by a minor government official, Li Zicheng, broke out. The revolters managed to capture the Chinese capital of Beijing. The Manchus from Manchuria to the North of China used the opportunity to invade and conquer China from the rebellion’s inexperienced leaders. They spent the next 40 years subduing China under their leadership. China was once again under the control of non-ethnic Chinese. However, this time, foreign rule over China endured. The Qing ruled China for over 250 years until the Chinese imperial system collapsed in the early 20th century.

Ensuring Manchu dominance over native Chinese

China’s new Manchu rulers worked to make their culture and political position dominant in China.

  • Qing emperors placed Manchus in the highest government positions. 
  • The Manchu forced Chinese men to adopt Manchu clothing styles and wear their hair in the traditional Manchu style of braided ponytails. The Manchus executed those who refused. 
  • Initially, Qing emperors forbid marriages between Manchus and native Chinese. Qing emperors later relaxed these restrictions. 
  • The Manchu adopted the Eight Banner System to distinguish themselves from commoners and non-Manchu. Under this system, all Manchu families received a designation under one of the eight banners, each with different colors. Manchu families, especially those in the three upper banners, enjoyed political and economic privileges unavailable to non-Manchus outside the banner system. The Manchu later created separate banner classes for elite native Han Chinese.

Historical trend: Rulers across history have claimed power from god. Pope’s claimed they were chosen by god to lead the Church. Christian monarchs in Europe claimed their authority from god. They called it the divine right of kings. In comparison, in China it was referred to as the Mandate of Heaven. 

The Manchu adopted certain traditional Chinese cultural practices

Historical comparison: The Manchu conquest of China put China back under the rule of foreign, non Chinese leaders. China was previously under the rule of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. 

The Manchu Qing did retain some traditional Chinese practices.

  • Confucianism remained the dominant social and governing philosophy of China. 
  • Conservative Chinese filial beliefs of the family’s importance over the individual and patriarchal views on women’s inferiority remained important in China. 
  • The Qing also adopted the native Chinese language.

The growth and expansion of the Qing empire

Under the Qing, China entered a period of westward expansion. 

  • Under emperor Kangxi (1661-1722), China conquered Taiwan, Mongolia, and areas of Central Asia. The vast region of Tibet to the southwest of China was occupied and became a Chinese protectorate. 
  • Many of these conquered areas remain in the modern Chinese state.

The Qing viewed expansion as a defensive necessity to secure China from the various nomadic groups that successfully attacked China throughout its history. Qing rulers generally showed respect for the cultures of conquered people, and Chinese settlers did not flood into conquered areas. Conquered peoples were also not forced to adopt Chinese culture.

Turkish Islamic Dynasties Dominated from North Africa to Northern India

Historical comparison: The rise of these Turkish Islamic dynasties continued Turkish dominance over the Islamic world, 

Turkish Muslim dynasties continued their dominance across the heart of the Islamic world.

The Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire (1525-1857) was the second significant Islamic power in India. Babur, a Muslim Turk who invaded India from the Northwest, established the dynasty after defeating the last Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. At its height in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the Mughal Empire encompassed nearly all of the Indian subcontinent.

The Ottoman Empire

By the 14th century, the Christian Byzantine Empire had weakened, and the Ottoman Turks on Byzantium’s eastern borders slowly began to conquer portions of Byzantine territory. By 1453 all that remained of the once great Byzantine Empire was its capital city of Constantinople. In 1453, 80,000 troops led by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed laid siege to the city. Less than two months later, on May 29, 1453, the siege ended with an Ottoman victory. The Ottomans rebuilt Constantinople as the capital of the Ottoman Empire and named it Istanbul. 

  • The Ottoman Empire became the core of the Islamic world. 
  • With their powerful navy and an army of professional elite soldiers, the Ottomans dominated Middle-Eastern politics until their defeat in World War I in 1918.
  • In the late 15th century, Sultan Mehmed II’s (ruled 1451-1481) armies moved across the Bosporus Strait and seized lands on the Black Sea’s western coast and Eastern Europe. Under Suleiman I (ruled 1520-1566), at the height of their power in the 16th century, the Ottomans conquered the holy lands, the Levant, Egypt, and coastal areas in Northern Africa and the Red Sea.

The Safavid Empire

Established in 15th-century Persia, the Safavid Empire sat between the Ottoman Empire to the west and the Mughal Empire to the east.

Culture in the Safavid empire

Like the Mughals and the Ottomans, the Safavid descended from Turkish ancestry. 

  • However, the Safavid were unique from the Ottomans because the Safavid practiced. Shia Islam while the Ottomans were Sunni.
  • The Safavid state forcibly imposed Shia Islam on non-Shia in Safavid territory.
Cultural and religious conflict with the Ottoman empire

Conflicts between the Ottoman and the Safavid were common and caused by a variety of factors. 

  • The religious divide between the Shia Safavid and the Sunni Ottoman empires was one main contributor. 
  • The Ottoman Empire was the heartland of Sunni Islam and considered the Shia Islamic practices of the Safavid heretical (against proper Islam). 
  • Territorial rivalries for control over land and trade routes in the region also stoked conflict.

This divide between Sunni and Shia powers continues to divide the modern Islamic world. 

The Russians Build an Empire

The modern Russian state resulted from interactions with the Golden Horde Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries. Through those interactions, the kingdom of Muscovy was appointed the chief tax collector for the Mongols. Through this position, the Muscovy kingdom became the dominant power in the region. In 1480 Russian Czar Ivan III refused to pay the Mongols any further tax. The Russian army and Mongol forces met 150 miles east of the Russian capital along the banks of the Volga river. However, no conflict broke out. This bloodless victory marked the official end of Mongol power in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Free from Mongol control, Muscovy embarked on 300 years of expansion. This expansion enlarged Muscovy from a few hundred miles to nearly 7000 miles from eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. Much of the conquered territory included the extensive grasslands and Siberian wilderness to the east of Moscow. Russian expansion resulted from the following factors.

Russian Expansion

Free from Mongol control, Muscovy embarked on 300 years of expansion. This expansion enlarged Muscovy from a few hundred miles to nearly 7000 miles from eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. Much of the conquered territory included the extensive grasslands and Siberian wilderness to the east of Moscow. Russian expansion resulted from the following factors.

Motivations for Russian expansion

The desire for increased security

After a long period of domination from the Mongols, Russia wanted security from nomadic pastoral peoples in Central Asia to prevent them from raiding into Russian territory.

Economic development

The Russians looked east for economic development. In the grasslands directly to Moscow’s east, vast grasslands provided millions of acres of potentially productive agricultural lands. Further to the east in Siberia, Russia looked to harvest valuable pelts of fur-bearing animals (soft gold) and various minerals.

Russia’s eastern expansion vastly reshaped the lives and cultures of the natives that lived in the areas Russia conquered.

The effects of Russian expansion

Large settlements of Russians in native lands

As Russians moved east, Russians began to outnumber natives. By the early 18th century, ethnic Russians amounted to 70% of the population in Siberia. 

Russification of native populations

Russian leadership in the region discouraged traditional ways of life, such as pastoralism. Large pieces of what had been open graving lands were closed off and privatized (made private property), preventing pastoralists from grazing their herds. In other areas, the Russian state charged taxes to cross land. Many pastoral communities had no choice but to settle down and adopt an agricultural lifestyle. As a result, natives became dependent upon Russians and the Russian economy for their survival. There were also additional pressures to convert to Russian Eastern Orthodox Christianity. While Russian authorities did not generally force conversion, tax breaks, free land, and cash payments provided incentives for non-Christian populations to convert. Muslim communities often experienced additional conversion pressures, including forced relocation and the destruction of mosques.

Forced labor from native populations

The Russian state required the payment of tribute called yasak by natives in cash or goods like furs.   

Deadly epidemics killed native populations

Epidemics of smallpox and measles accompanied Russian into new Russian territories. With little immunity to these diseases, native populations died in massive numbers as these diseases swept through their communities.