March 21, 2023

Philippines: Europe and the Far East about 1400 A.D.

Manila Philippines Map 1
Manila Philippines Map
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Europe and the Far East about 1400 A.D.

The Mediæval Period in Europe.—Length of the Middle Age.—By the Middle Ages we mean the centuries between 500 and 1300 A.D. This period begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and the looting of the Imperial City by the rude German tribes, and ends with the rise of a new literature, a new way of looking at the world in general, and a passion for discovery of every kind.

These eight hundred years had been centuries of cruel struggle, intellectual darkness, and social depression, but also of great religious devotion. Edward Gibbon, one of the greatest historians, speaks of this period as “the triumph of barbarism and religion.”

The population of Europe was largely changed, during the first few centuries of the Christian Era, as the Roman Empire, that greatest political institution of all history, slowly decayed. New peoples of German or Teutonic origin came, fighting their way into western Europe and settling wherever the land attracted them. Thus Spain and Italy received the Goths; France, the Burgundians and Franks; England, the Saxons and Angles or English.

These peoples were all fierce, warlike, free, unlettered barbarians. Fortunately, they were all converted to Christianity by Roman priests and missionaries. They embraced this faith with ardor, at the same time that other peoples and lands were being lost to Christendom. Thus it has resulted that the countries where Christianity arose and first established itself, are now no longer Christian, and this religion, which had an Asiatic and Semitic origin, has become the distinguishing faith of the people of western Europe. For centuries the countries of Europe were fiercely raided and disturbed by pillaging and murdering hordes; by the Huns, who followed in the Germans from the East; by the Northmen, cruel pirating seamen from Scandinavia; and, as we have already seen, by the Mohammedans, or Saracens as they were called, who came into central Europe by way of Spain.

Character of the Life during this Period.—Feudalism.—Life was so beset with peril that independence or freedom became impossible, and there was developed a society which has lasted almost down to the present time, and which we call Feudalism. The free but weak man gave up his freedom and his lands to some stronger man, who became his lord. He swore obedience to this lord, while the lord engaged to furnish him protection and gave him back his lands to hold as a “fief,” both sharing in the product. This lord swore allegiance to some still more powerful man, or “overlord,” and became his “vassal,” pledged to follow him to war with a certain number of armed men; and this overlord, on his part, owed allegiance to the prince, who was, perhaps, a duke or bishop (bishops at this time were also feudal lords), or to the king or emperor. Thus were men united into large groups or nations for help or protection. There was little understanding of love of country. Patriotism, as we feel it, was replaced by the passion of fidelity or allegiance to one’s feudal superior.

Disadvantages of Feudalism.—The great curse of this system was that the feudal lords possessed the power to make war upon one another, and so continuous were their jealousies and quarrelings that the land was never free from armed bands, who laid waste an opponent’s country, killing the miserable serfs who tilled the soil, and destroying their homes and cattle.


Europe about 1400 AD.

There was little joy in life and no popular learning. If a man did not enjoy warfare, but one other life was open to him, and that was in the Church. War and religion were the pursuits of life, and it is no wonder that many of the noblest and best turned their backs upon a life that promised only fighting and bloodshed and, renouncing the world, became monks. Monasticism developed in Europe under such conditions as these, and so strong were the religious feelings of the age that at one time a third of the land of France was owned by the religious orders.

The Town.—The two typical institutions of the early Middle Age were the feudal castle, with its high stone walls and gloomy towers, with its fierce bands of warriors armed in mail and fighting on horseback with lance and sword, and the monastery, which represented inn, hospital, and school. Gradually, however, a third structure appeared. This was the town. And it is to these mediæval cities, with their busy trading life, their free citizenship, and their useful occupations, that the modern world owes much of its liberty and its intellectual light.

The Renaissance.—Changes in Political Affairs.—By 1400, however, the Middle Age had nearly passed and a new life had appeared, a new epoch was in progress, which is called the Renaissance, which means “rebirth.” In political affairs the spirit of nationality had arisen, and feudalism was already declining. Men began to feel attachment to country, to king, and to fellow-citizens; and the national states, as we now know them, each with its naturally bounded territory, its common language, and its approximately common race, were appearing.

France and England were, of these states, the two most advanced politically just previous to the fifteenth century. At this distant time they were still engaged in a struggle which lasted quite a century and is known as the Hundred Years’ War. In the end, England was forced to give up all her claims to territory on the continent, and the power of France was correspondingly increased. In France the monarchy (king and court) was becoming the supreme power in the land. The feudal nobles lost what power they had, while the common people gained nothing. In England, however, the foundations for a representative government had been laid. The powers of legislation and government were divided between the English king and a Parliament. The Parliament was first called in 1265 and consisted of two parts,—the Lords, representing the nobility; and the Commons, composed of persons chosen by the common people.

Germany was divided into a number of small principalities,—Saxony, Bavaria, Franconia, Bohemia, Austria, the Rhine principalities, and many others,—which united in a great assembly, or Diet, the head of which was some prince, chosen to be emperor.

Italy was also divided. In the north, in the valley of the Po, or Lombardy, were the duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice; south, on the western coast, were the Tuscan states, including the splendid city of Florence. Thence, stretching north and south across the peninsula, were states of the church, whose ruler was the pope, for until less than fifty years ago the pope was not only the head of the church but also a temporal ruler. Embracing the southern part of the peninsula was the principality of Naples.

In the Spanish peninsula Christian states had arisen,—in the west, Portugal, in the center and east, Castile, Aragon, and Leon, from all of which the Mohammedans had been expelled. But they still held the southern parts of Spain, including the beautiful plain of Andalusia and Grenada.

The Mohammedans, in the centuries of their life in Spain, had developed an elegant and prosperous civilization. By means of irrigation and skillful planting, they had converted southern Spain into a garden. They were the most skillful agriculturists and breeders of horses and sheep in Europe, and they carried to perfection many fine arts, while knowledge and learning were nowhere further advanced than here. Through contact with this remarkable people the Christian Spaniards gained much. Unfortunately, however, the spirit of religious intolerance was so strong, and the hatred engendered by the centuries of religious war was so violent, that in the end the Spaniard became imbued with so fierce a fanaticism that he has ever since appeared unable properly to appreciate or justly to treat any who differed from him in religious belief.

The Conquests of the Mohammedans.—In the fifteenth century, religious toleration was but little known in the world, and the people of the great Mohammedan faith still threatened to overwhelm Christian Europe. Since the first great conquests of Islam in the eighth century had been repulsed from central Europe, that faith had shown a wonderful power of winning its way. In the tenth century Asia Minor was invaded by hordes of Seljuks, or Turks, who poured down from central Asia in conquering bands. These tribes had overthrown the Arab’s power in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor only to become converts to his faith. With freshened zeal they hurled themselves upon the old Christian empire, which at Constantinople had survived the fall of the rest of the Roman world.

The Crusades.—The Seljuk Turks had conquered most of Asia Minor, Syria, and the Holy Land. A great fear came over the people of Europe that the city of Constantinople would be captured and they, too, be overwhelmed by these new Mohammedan enemies. The passionate religious zeal of the Middle Age also roused the princes and knights of Europe to try to wrest from the infidel the Holy Land of Palestine, where were the birthplace of Christianity and the site of the Sepulcher of Christ. Palestine was recovered and Christian states were established there, which lasted for over a hundred and eighty years. Then the Arab power revived and, operating from Egypt, finally retook Jerusalem and expelled the Christian from the Holy Land, to which he has never yet returned as a conqueror.

Effects of the Crusades.—These long, holy wars, or “Crusades,” had a profound effect upon Europe. The rude Christian warrior from the west was astonished and delighted with the splendid and luxurious life which he met at Constantinople and the Arabian East. Even though he was a prince, his life at home was barren of comforts and beauty. Glass, linen, rugs, tapestries, silk, cotton, spices, and sugar were some of the things which the Franks and the Englishmen took home with them from the Holy Land. Demand for these treasures of the East became irresistible, and trade between western Europe and the East grew rapidly.

The Commercial Cities of Italy.—The cities of Italy developed this commerce. They placed fleets upon the Mediterranean. They carried the crusaders out and brought back the wares that Europe desired. In this way these cities grew and became very wealthy. On the west coast, where this trade began, were Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, and Florence, and on the east, at the head of the Adriatic, was Venice. The rivalry between these cities of Italy was very fierce. They fought and plundered one another, each striving to win a monopoly for itself of this invaluable trade.

Venice, finally, was victorious. Her location was very favorable. From her docks the wares could be carried easily and by the shortest routes up the Po River and thence into France or northward over the Alps to the Danube. In Bavaria grew up in this trade the splendid German cities of Augsburg and Nuremberg, which passed these goods on to the cities of the Rhine, and so down this most beautiful river to the coast. Here the towns of Flanders and of the Low Countries, or Holland, received them and passed them on again to England and eastward to the countries of the Baltic.

Development of Modern Language.—Thus commerce and trade grew up in Europe, and, with trade and city life, greater intelligence, learning, and independence. Education became more common, and the universities of Europe were thronged. Latin in the Middle Age had been the only language that was written by the learned class. Now the modern languages of Europe took their form and began to be used for literary purposes. Italian was the first to be so used by the great Dante, and in the same half-century the English poet Chaucer sang in the homely English tongue, and soon in France, Germany, and Spain national literatures appeared. With this went greater freedom of expression. Authority began to have less weight.

Men began to inquire into causes and effects, to doubt certain things, to seek themselves for the truth, and so the Renaissance came. With it came a greater love for the beautiful, a greater joy in life, a fresh zest for the good of this world, a new passion for discovery, a thirst for adventure, and, it must also be confessed a new laxity of living and a new greed for gold. Christian Europe was about to burst its narrow bounds. It could not be repressed nor confined to its old limitations. It could never turn backward. Of all the great changes which have come over life and thought, probably none are greater than those which saw the transition from the mediæval to the modern world.


Routes of Trade to the Far East

Trade with the East.—Articles of Trade.—Now we must go back for a moment and pursue an old inquiry further. Whence came all these beautiful and inviting wares that had produced new tastes and passions in Europe? The Italian traders drew them from the Levant, but the Levant had not produced them. Neither pepper, spices, sugarcane, costly gems, nor rich silks, were produced on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Only the rich tropical countries of the East were capable of growing these rare plants, and up to that time of delivering to the delver many precious stones. India, the rich Malaysian archipelago, the kingdom of China,—these are the lands and islands which from time immemorial have given up their treasures to be forwarded far and wide to amaze and delight the native of colder and less productive lands.

Routes of Trade to the Far East.—Three old sailing and caravan routes connect the Mediterranean with the Far East. They are so old that we can not guess when men first used them. They were old in the days of Solomon and indeed very ancient when Alexander the Great conquered the East. One of these routes passed through the Black Sea, and across the Caspian Sea to Turkestan to those strange and romantic ancient cities, Bokhara and Samarkand. Thence it ran northeasterly across Asia, entering China from the north. Another crossed Syria and went down through Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean, A third began in Egypt and went through the Red Sea, passing along the coast of Arabia to India.

All of these had been in use for centuries, but by the year 1400 two had been closed. A fresh immigration of Turks, the Ottomans, in the fourteenth century came down upon the scourged country of the Euphrates and Syria, and although these Turks also embraced Mohammedanism, their hostility closed the first two routes and commerce over them has never since been resumed.

Venetian Monopoly of Trade.—Thus all interest centered upon the southern route. By treaty with the sultan or ruler of Egypt, Venice secured a monopoly of the products which came over this route. Goods from the East now came in fleets up the Red Sea, went through the hands of the sultan of Egypt, who collected a duty for them, and then were passed on to the ships of the wealthy Venetian merchant princes, who carried them throughout Europe. Although the object of intense jealousy, it seemed impossible to wrest this monopoly from Venice. Her fleet was the strongest on the Mediterranean, and her rule extended along the Adriatic to the Grecian islands. All eager minds were bent upon the trade with the East, but no way was known, save that which now Venice had gained.

Extent of Geographical Knowledge.—The Maps of this Period.—To realize how the problem looked to the sailor of Genoa or the merchant of Flanders at that time, we must understand how scanty and erroneous was the geographical knowledge of even the fifteenth century. It was believed that Jerusalem was the center of the world, a belief founded upon a biblical passage. The maps of this and earlier dates represent the earth in this way: In the center, Palestine, and beneath it the Mediterranean Sea, the only body of water which was well known; on the left side is Europe; on the right, Africa; and at the top, Asia—the last two continents very indefinitely mapped. Around the whole was supposed to flow an ocean, beyond the first few miles of which it was perilous to proceed lest the ship be carried over the edge of the earth or encounter other perils.

Ideas about the Earth.—The Greek philosophers before the time of Christ had discovered that the world is a globe, or ball, and had even computed rudely its circumference. But in the Middle Ages this knowledge had been disputed and contradicted by a geographer named Cosmas, who held that the world was a vast plane, twice as long as it was broad and surrounded by an ocean. This belief was generally adopted by churchmen, who were the only scholars of the Middle Ages, and came to be the universal belief of Christian Europe.

The Renaissance revived the knowledge of the writings of the old Greek geographers who had demonstrated the earth’s shape to be round and had roughly calculated its size; but these writings did not have sufficient circulation in Europe to gain much acceptance among the Christian cosmographers. The Arabs, however, after conquering Egypt, Syria and northern Africa, translated into their own tongue the wisdom of the Greeks and became the best informed and most scientific geographers of the Middle Age, so that intercourse with the Arabs which began with the Crusades helped to acquaint Europe somewhat with India and China.

The Far East.—The Tartar Mongols.—Then in the thirteenth century all northern Asia and China fell under the power of the Tartar Mongols. Russia was overrun by them and western Europe threatened. At the Danube, however, this tide of Asiatic conquest stopped, and then a long period when Europe came into diplomatic and commercial relations with these Mongols and through them learned something of China.

Marco Polo Visits the Great Kaan.—Several Europeans visited the court of the Great Kaan, or Mongol king, and of one of them, Marco Polo, we must speak in particular. He was a Venetian, and when a young man started in 1271 with his father and uncle on a visit to the Great Kaan. They passed from Italy to Syria, across to Bagdad, and so up to Turkestan, where they saw the wonderful cities of this strange oasis, thence across the Pamirs and the Desert of Gobi to Lake Baikal, where the Kaan had his court. Here in the service of this prince Marco Polo spent over seventeen years. So valuable indeed were his services that the Kaan would not permit him to return. Year after year he remained in the East. He traversed most of China, and was for a time “taotai,” or magistrate, of the city of Yang Chan near the Yangtze River. He saw the amazing wonders of the East. He heard of “Zipangu,” or Japan. He probably heard of the Philippines.

Finally the opportunity came for the three Venetians to return. The Great Kaan had a relative who was a ruler of Persia, and ambassadors came from this ruler to secure a Mongol princess for him to marry. The dangers and hardships of the travel overland were considered too difficult for the delicate princess, and it was decided to send her by water. Marco Polo and his father and uncle were commissioned to accompany the expedition to Persia.

History of Marco Polo’s Travels.—They sailed from the port of Chin Cheu, probably near Amoy, in the year 1292. They skirted the coasts of Cambodia and Siam and reached the eastern coasts of Sumatra, where they waited five months for the changing of the monsoon. Of the Malay people of Sumatra, as well as of these islands, their animals and productions, Marco Polo has left us most interesting and quite accurate accounts. The Malays on Sumatra were beginning to be converted to Mohammedanism, for Marco Polo says that many of them were “Saracens.” He gained a good knowledge of the rich and mysterious Indian Isles, where the spices and flavorings grew. It was two years before the party, having crossed the Indian Ocean, reached Persia and the court of the Persian king. When they arrived they found that while they were making this long voyage the Persian king had died; but they married the Mongol princess to his son, the young prince, who had succeeded him, and that did just as well.

From Persia the Venetians crossed to Syria and thence sailed to Italy, and at last reached home after an absence of twenty-six years. But Marco Polo’s adventures did not end with his return to Venice. In a fierce sea fight between the Venetians and Genoese, he was made a prisoner and confined in Genoa. Here a fellow captive wrote down from Marco’s own words the story of his eastern adventures, and this book we have to-day. It is a record of adventure, travel, and description, so wonderful that for years it was doubted and its accuracy disbelieved. But since, in our own time, men have been able to traverse again the routes over which Marco Polo passed, fact after fact has been established, quite as he truthfully stated them centuries ago. To have been the first European to make this mighty circuit of travel is certainly a strong title to enduring fame.

Countries of the Far East.—India.—Let us now briefly look at the countries of the Far East, which by the year 1400 had come to exercise over the mind of the European so irresistible a fascination. First of all, India, as we have seen, had for centuries been the principal source of the western commerce. But long before the date we are considering, the scepter of India had fallen from the hand of the Hindu. From the seventh century, India was a prey to Mohammedan conquerors, who entered from the northwest into the valley of the Indus. At first these were Saracens or Arabs; later they were the same Mongol converts to Mohammedanism, whose attacks upon Europe we have already noticed.

In 1398 came the furious and bloody warrior, the greatest of all Mongols,—Timour, or Tamerlane. He founded, with capital at Delhi, the empire of the Great Mogul, whose rule over India was only broken by the white man. Eastward across the Ganges and in the Dekkan, or southern part of India, were states ruled over by Indian princes.

China.—We have seen how, at the time of Marco Polo, China also was ruled by the Tartar Mongols. The Chinese have ever been subject to attack from the wandering horse-riding tribes of Siberia. Two hundred years before Christ one of the Chinese kings built the Great Wall that stretches across the northern frontier for one thousand three hundred miles, for a defense against northern foes. Through much of her history the Chinese have been ruled by aliens, as they are to-day. About 1368, however, the Chinese overthrew the Mongol rulers and established the Ming dynasty, the last Chinese house of emperors, who ruled China until 1644, when the Manchus, the present rulers, conquered the country.

China was great and prosperous under the Mings. Commerce flourished and the fleets of Chinese junks sailed to India, the Malay Islands, and to the Philippines for trade. The Grand Canal, which connects Peking with the Yangtze River basin and Hangchau, was completed. It was an age of fine productions of literature.

The Chinese seem to have been much less exclusive then than they are at the present time; much less a peculiar, isolated people than now. They did not then shave their heads nor wear a queue. These customs, as well as that hostility to foreign intercourse which they have to-day, has been forced upon China by the Manchus. China appeared at that time ready to assume a position of enormous influence among the peoples of the earth,—a position for which she was well fitted by the great industry of all classes and the high intellectual power of her learned men.


The Countries of the Far East

In the 15th century.

Japan.—Compared with China or India, or even some minor states, the development of Japan at this time was very backward. Her people were divided and there was constant civil war. The Japanese borrowed their civilization from the Chinese. From them they learned writing and literature, and the Buddhist religion, which was introduced about 550 A.D. But in temperament they are a very different people, being spirited, warlike, and, until recent years, despising trading and commerce.

Since the beginning of her history, Japan has been an empire. The ruler, the Mikado, is believed to be of heavenly descent; but in the centuries we are discussing the government was controlled by powerful nobles, known as the Shogun, who kept the emperors in retirement in the palaces of Kyoto, and themselves directed the State. The greatest of these shoguns was Iyeyásu, who ruled Japan about 1600, soon after Manila was founded. They developed in Japan a species of feudalism, the great lords, or “daimios,” owning allegiance to the shoguns, and about the daimios, as feudal retainers, bodies of samurai, who formed a partly noble class of their own. The samurai carried arms, fought at their lords’ command, were students and literati, and among them developed that proud, loyal, and elevated code of morality known as “Búshido,” which has done so much for the Japanese people. It is this samurai class who in modern times have effected the immense revolution in the condition and power of Japan.

The Malay Archipelago.—If now we look at the Malay Islands, we find, as we have already seen, that changes had been effected there. Hinduism had first elevated and civilized at least a portion of the race, and Mohammedanism and the daring seamanship of the Malay had united these islands under a common language and religion. There was, however, no political union. The Malay peninsula was divided. Java formed a central Malay power. Eastward among the beautiful Celebes and Moluccas, the true Spice Islands, were a multitude of small native rulers, rajas or datos, who surrounded themselves with retainers, kept rude courts, and gathered wealthy tributes of cinnamon, pepper, and cloves. The sultans of Ternate, Tidor, and Amboina were especially powerful, and the islands they ruled the most rich and productive.

Between all these islands there was a busy commerce. The Malay is an intrepid sailor, and an eager trader. Fleets of praos, laden with goods, passed with the changing monsoons from part to part, risking the perils of piracy, which have always troubled this archipelago. Borneo, while the largest of all these islands, was the least developed, and down to the present day has been hardly explored. The Philippines were also outside of most of this busy intercourse and had at that date few products to offer for trade. Their only connection with the rest of the Malay race was through the Mohammedan Malays of Jolo and Borneo. The fame of the Spice Islands had long filled Europe, but the existence of the Philippines was unknown.

Summary.—We have now reviewed the condition of Europe and of farther Asia as they were before the period of modern discovery and colonization opened. The East had reached a condition of quiet stability. Mohammedanism, though still spreading, did not promise to effect great social changes. The institutions of the East had become fixed in custom and her peoples neither made changes nor desired them. On the other hand western Europe had become aroused to an excess of ambition. New ideas, new discoveries and inventions were moving the nations to activity and change. That era of modern discovery and progress, of which we cannot yet perceive the end, had begun.






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