Chat with us, powered by LiveChat How does Buonaiuti describe the plague and its ferocity? What details does he report to support that description? While Buonaiuti may not directly assert an explanation for t | Wridemy

How does Buonaiuti describe the plague and its ferocity? What details does he report to support that description? While Buonaiuti may not directly assert an explanation for t


How does Buonaiuti describe the plague and its ferocity? What details does he report to support that description?

While Buonaiuti may not directly assert an explanation for the causes of the plague, what are some indirect indicators for what those experiencing the plague thought were its causes?

What are the effects of the plague on family? On religion? On the economy? On the population?

 Describe the European economic situation in the latter part of the fifteenth century. 

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  • 456 CHAPTER 11 Crises and Recovery in Afro-Eurasia, 1300-1500



Crisis and Recovery in Afro-Eurasia


Copyright © 2021, W. W. Norton & Company

The spread of the Black Death and the collapse of the Mongol Empire sets off crises across Afro-Eurasia.

Continuity in religious beliefs and cultural institutions accompanies changes in political structures in Europe, the Muslim world, and China.

In central Eurasia, new rulers replace the Mongols following the Black Death, using a blend of religion, military expansion, administrative control, and cultural tolerance.

In western Christendom, new monarchies establish political order, and the Renaissance brings a cultural rebirth to societies devastated by plague.

In East Asia, the Ming dynasty replaces the Mongol Yuan dynasty, using an elaborate Confucian bureaucracy to oversee infrastructure and long-distance exchange.

Global Storyline

What were the nature and origins of the crises spanning Afro-Eurasia during the fourteenth century? What was the impact of the Black Death on China, the Islamic world, and Europe?

What role did religious belief systems play in rebuilding the Islamic world, Europe, and Ming China in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries?

How similar and different were the ways in which regional rulers in post-plague Afro-Eurasia attempted to construct unified states? What were the extent and nature of their successes?

How did art and architecture reflect the political realities of the Islamic world, Europe, and Ming China after the Black Death?

What were the similarities and differences between the ways that Islamic dynasties, Iberian rulers, and Ming rulers extended their territories and regional influence?

Focus Questions


Mongol invasions devastated polities, ravaged trade routes, unleashed the bubonic plague

Germs more devastating than conquest

The Black Death

Societies rebuilt by preserving cherished elements from the old order while sometimes embracing radically new ideas

China looked to long-standing dynastic institutions

Ottoman Empire  

Christian conquest of Iberian Peninsula


Crises and Recovery in Afro-Eurasia

The Mongol invasions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries caused widespread destruction. While regimes collapsed and trade routes fragmented, the most devastating consequence of this wave of conquest was the spread of the bubonic plague.  

As the societies most damaged by plague and conquest rebuilt, they reexamined old social and political orders, preserving what was cherished, discarding what was deemed no longer useful, and sometimes embracing radically new ideas. In Ming China, rulers looked to long-established dynastic institutions for a way forward. In Muslim regions, the Ottoman Empire took shape. In Europe, Christian campaigns on the Iberian Peninsula gradually forced Muslim rulers to retreat. In southern Europe especially, a rediscovery of the Greco-Roman past prompted an outburst of cultural activity known as the Renaissance. 

Despite the appearance of new ideas, many elements of the old order remained, especially religious beliefs and institutions.


The Black Death

The Black Death was the most significant historical development of the fourteenth century.

The plague caused a staggering loss of life, with a death rate between 25 and 65 percent. 

Populations already weakened by Little Ice Age

Rodents and humans transmitted the plague, and the disease spread through Afro-Eurasia along land and sea trade routes.

Plague in China

Undermined Mongol authority

Led to outbreak of rebellion

Plague in the Islamic world

Plague caused similar devastation and political chaos

Collapse and Consolidation

The Black Death killed millions and caused political turmoil. While many began to question the legitimacy of ruling groups, elites used the chaos to consolidate the power of dynastic states.

The Black Death emerged in the 1340s from Inner Asia and caused devastating loss of life. As it moved between China, the Muslim world, and Europe, mostly bypassing the Indian subcontinent, it killed between 25 and 65 percent of the populations infected. These populations were already weakened by the effects of the Little Ice Age, which had shortened growing seasons and reduced crop yields in the decades prior to the outbreak.

Land and sea trade routes were the main conduits for the plague. Beginning in southwestern China in 1320s, from there it spread across central Asia to Crimea. Then, it followed Black Sea shipping routes to the Mediterranean and the Italian city-states.  

The Black Plague was so devastating because many of the populations it struck had no immunities to it. Carried by rodents, the disease spread to humans and caused terrifying symptoms in its victims, who often died soon after infection.

In China, the plague was devastating to its major cities, and it undermined the Mongols’ still recent claim to the mandate of heaven. This led to the emergence of dissident groups and popular religious movements, namely the Red Turban movement, which drew on China’s diverse traditions. The plague similarly tore across Southwest Asia and into the Muslim Mediterranean. 

In Europe, it traveled northward from the Iberian Peninsula, killing 50 million of Europe’s 80 million people in the four years after 1347. It would return periodically for the rest of the century, keeping the population in decline.


Nearly two-thirds of the population died between 1346–1353

Plague returned periodically for the rest of the century


Pleasure seeking

Scapegoating of Jews

Individual forms of piety


Food shortages

Regimes collapsed

Plague in Europe

In Europe, nearly two-thirds of the population died between 1346–1353. Over the next century, the plague returned periodically.  Although it killed people from all social classes, people in cities—especially the poor—were particularly vulnerable.

People responded in numerous ways. Some sought pleasure in defiance of previous norms and taboos. Others turned their rage on the Jews, whom they blamed for the outbreak. Still others turned to individual forms of piety, believing the church had lost God’s favor. A group of devotees called the Flagellants whipped themselves publicly in atonement for human sins. 

The plague was devastating economically and politically as well. Food shortages contributed to instability and caused regimes everywhere to collapse. 


Map 11.1 | The Spread of the Black Death

MAP 11.1 | The Spread of the Black Death

The Black Death was an Afro-Eurasian pandemic of the fourteenth century.

• What was the origin point of the Black Death? How far did it travel?

• Which trade routes did the Black Death follow? Which trade routes did the Black Death appear not to have followed? What do you think accounts for the difference?

• Where was the earliest instance of the Black Death? Where did it occur latest? What hypotheses can you assert about the Black Death based on the dates on the map?


The basis for political legitimacy and power was the dynasty or the hereditary ruling family passing power from generation to generation.

Power derived from the divine: “mandate of heaven,” or “divine right”

Clear rules of succession

Consolidates or extends power through conquest, alliance, or laws and punishment

Regimes that emerged in the wake of the Black Death drew on older traditions

Rebuilding States

As the normal functioning of life broke down, one impact of the plague was to severely undermine rulers’ claims to legitimacy, which they only exacerbated by attempting to reinforce their authority. To rebuild their civil administrations, militaries, and general capacity to rule, rulers employed different tools to revive confidence in them. 

The political institution of the dynasty served this end, as it allowed rulers to claim divine authority to rule and to pass this on to their offspring for generations. This took the form of the mandate of heaven in China and divine right in Europe. In the Islamic world, the Ottoman warrior-princes claimed the mantle of Islam and expanded their power base. In addition to granting legitimacy, the clear method—at least in theory—of passing control to one’s offspring was intended to avoid conflicts of succession. Rulers then focused on extending their power through conquest, alliance, and the application of laws and punishment.

In Europe, China, and the Islamic world, regimes emerged that drew on older traditions to rebuild the social and political order, laying foundations for centuries to come.


The Black Death and Mongol invasions brought an end to the old political order for the Abbasid Empire

Three new Islamic states emerged




The Islamic Heartland

Following the Mongol invasions of the Muslim world and the destruction of the Black Death, the former Islamic center of power in the Arab world shifted to non-Arab states. After the sack of Baghdad, the Abbasid Empire’s capital, the new Islamic states controlled by the Turkish Ottomans, the Persian Safavids, and the Mughals dominated the larger region between Anatolia and India. Each of these states had its distinctive qualities. 

The Ottomans embraced Sunni Islam while adapting Byzantine modes of governance, enabling them to rule diverse groups of people. The Safavids, who promoted Shiite Islam, rooted their identity in Persian traditions, and were less successful in expanding beyond their regional base. The Mughals maintained a wealthy but decentralized domain that remained vulnerable to internal dissent.


Turk warrior nomads transformed themselves into the rulers of a highly bureaucratic empire.

Under Osman (r. 1299–1326), the Turks consolidated their power by attracting artisans, merchants, bureaucrats, and clerics.

Ottomans became champions of Sunni Islam

By the mid-fourteenth century, the Ottomans created a vast multiethnic, multilingual empire in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia

Ottomans created a large bureaucracy with the sultan at the head

The Ottoman Empire

Operating between the Christian power to the west and Mongol forces expanding to the east, the Ottoman Turk warrior bands emerged on Anatolia as the leaders of a settled state. This demonstrated the success of both military conquest and a sophisticated bureaucratic system to rule this land.

Their chief, Osman, who ruled from 1299 to 1326, led the Ottomans to become the champions of Sunni Islam, which helped to integrate a vast, multiethnic and multilingual empire stretching between southeastern Europe, the southern Mediterranean, and Southwest Asia. To manage this huge and diverse territory, the sultan stood atop a complex bureaucracy that asserted control and drew tax revenue from these populations.


Map 11.2 | The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1566

Map 11.2 | The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1566

This map charts the expansion of the Ottoman state from the time of its founder, Osman, through the reign of Suleiman, the empire’s most illustrious ruler.

• Where did the Ottoman Empire originate under Osman? Into what regions did the Ottomans expand between the years 1326 and 1566?

• What were the geographic limits of the Ottoman Empire?

• What governments were able to resist Ottoman expansion?


The conquest of Constantinople

The empire’s spectacular expansion was due to its mighty military power, which also generated vast financial and administrative rewards. 

The most spectacular triumph of Mehmed the Conqueror (r. 1451–1481) was the 1453 conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the Roman/Byzantine Empire, which he renamed Istanbul.

Emigrés fleeing Constantinople brought cultural and intellectual enrichment to western Europe

The Conquest of Constantinople

Military power and conquest were primary features of this expansion. It allowed the Ottomans to recruit new subjects by promising wealth, and then to offer the conquered privileged administrative positions within the sprawling bureaucracy.

The most famous of these sultans was Mehmed the Conqueror, who ruled for three decades between 1451 and 1481. In 1453, he accomplished a goal that had eluded Muslim leaders for centuries: the defeat of the strategically and symbolically important Byzantine capital in Constantinople, which he renamed Istanbul. From there, Ottoman military expansion continued westward with the conquest of European cities in southeastern and eastern Europe.

Christians fleeing the defeated Constantinople sought refuge in western Europe, where they introduced forgotten or unknown classical and Arabic manuscripts, helping to revive interest in classical antiquity.  


Incorporated Byzantine elite families and administrative practices

Gained control of Eastern Mediterranean sea-lanes

Under Suleiman (r. 1520–1566), Ottomans reached the height of their territorial expansion with 20–30 million subjects. 

Ottoman dynastic power fused the secular with the sacred.

Sultans called themselves the “shadow of God” on earth.

Sultans became defenders and protectors of the faith, constructing mosques and supporting Islamic schools.

The Tools of Empire Building

The Ottomans incorporated the administrative practices of the Byzantines and many of their leading families. In the following century, they expanded and sought to consolidate rule. Ottoman navies gained a footing in the sea-lanes of the Eastern Mediterranean, inserting themselves between European traders and the lucrative caravan trade. 

Under Suleiman, who ruled from 1520 to 1566, their empire reached its territorial peak, ruling over 20–30 million subjects. Under his and others’ rule, this dynasty fused secular and sacred power, its sultans styling themselves as the “shadow of God” on earth. They took on the role of protecting the faith, which included defending its holy cities and patronizing the construction of mosques and Islamic schools throughout their territories.


Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace reflected the splendor, power, and wealth of the Ottoman Empire.

Topkapi Palace was the command post of empire and a place where sultans could retreat into mystery.

Bureaucratic offices and training school

Thousands of women in the sultan’s harem

Sultan’s mother and favorite consorts at the top; the bottom were enslaved people

Istanbul and the Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was intended to incarnate the splendor, power, and wealth of this empire. Its architectural majesty housed the imperial household at its center. As the sultan increasingly retreated from the battlefield and behind these walls, it was also the command post of the empire. The grand vizier, the empire’s head administrator, worked there, and bureaucrats also received their training at the palace.  

Thousands of women lived in the Sultan’s harem, where they were organized into a hierarchy of rank and prestige. As the empire consolidated, the political influence of these women grew. 


The Ottoman ability to control diverse populations allowed it to endure into the twentieth century.

Although Turkish was the official language of the administration, the Ottomans promoted a flexible and tolerant language policy.

Regional autonomy allowed, where local appointees could keep a portion of taxes for Istanbul and for themselves

In order to limit local autonomy, Ottomans created a corps of infantry soldiers and bureaucrats with direct allegiance to the sultan, called janissaries.

Christian boys between the ages of eight and eighteen were conscripted from Europe, called devshirme.

Recipients of the best Islamic education in the world in Ottoman military, religious, and administrative techniques

Diversity and Control

To manage the diversity of this empire, the Ottomans allowed local identities to persist. For instance, although Turkish was the official language of administration, Arabic remained the language of Arab provinces and European languages in Europe. In politics and administration, newly conquered lands were administered by local appointees, who kept some tax revenues for themselves before sending the rest to Istanbul.

However, to keep these local power bases in check, the Ottoman rulers developed loyal and highly trained corps of janissaries, who were infantry soldiers who owed allegiance directly to the sultan. This group was conscripted mainly from Christian European youths in Ottoman territories, in a process called the devshirme. Each village would give a number of boys between ages eight and eighteen based on their physique and looks, who would then be converted to Islam, learn Turkish, and receive physical and military training. This led to a highly trained and loyal group with no local allegiance who could then serve the sultan.


Emerged from the dissolution of the Chagatai khanate

Sufi brotherhood led by Safi al-Din (1252–1334) gained support

Successors, called Safavids, embraced Shiism

The Safavid Empire in Iran

The Safavid emerged in the wake of the Mongol conquests. Unlike the Ottomans, who championed Sunni Islam, the Safavids promoted Shiism.  

When the Chagatai khanate declined in the thirteenth century, numerous parties in central Asia competed for power. At the same time, populist Islamic movements gained a hold on the population. Safi al-Din, the leader of a Sufi brotherhood, gained broad support and rose to preeminence. However, his successors, called the Safavids, embraced Shiism. 


Safavids emerged from Turkic Sufi groups pushed eastward by Ottoman conquests

Eventually gave up Sufism for Shiism

Safavid empire became devoted to Shiism

Did not tolerate diversity

Ismail (r. 1501–1424) made Shiism official state religion

Threatened Sunnis who refused to convert with death

Revived Persian idea that rulers were ordained by God

Did not have as expansive an empire as the Ottomans

A Religious Shiite State

The Safavids emerged from Turkic Sufi tribes pushed westward by the Ottoman conquests. On the Iranian plateau, these peoples gained political authority, but also adopted Persian ways and embraced Shiism.  

The Safavid Empire soon became a devout promoter of Shiism. Unlike the Ottomans, the Safavids did not tolerate religious diversity. The shah Ismail established Shiism as the official state religion in the early sixteenth century and threatened to kill Sunnis who refused to convert.  

At the same time, the Safavids revived the Persian idea that kings were ordained by God, claiming that the shahs were divinely chosen.

Because the Safavid empire did not tolerate diversity, it was never able expand like the Ottomans. Safavids tended to rule directly, rather than granting local autonomy. However it did succeed in transforming Iran into a Shiite stronghold. 


The Mughal empire emerged in South Asia.

Built on the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate

Invasions of Timur paved way for the Mughals

Rivalries, religious revival, and the first Mughal emperor

Timur led the Barlas tribe from Central Asia to defeat the Delhi Sultanate.

Religious revival followed in the wake of political disintegration.

Sufism, new forms of Hinduism, Sikhism

Babur (Timur’s great grandson) completed the conquest of the Delhi Sultanate and consolidated power in South Asia

Three Islamic empires

Sunni Ottomans

Shiite Safavids

Relatively tolerant Mughals

The Delhi Sultanate and the Early Mughal Empire

Soon after the Safavids consolidated power in Persia, the Mughal Empire emerged in South Asia. Built on the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate, the centuries of Mughal rule would leave a lasting imprint. 

Although South Asia was spared from the Black Death and Mongol conquests, nomadic invasions led by Timur paved the way for the Mughal regime.

Timur was the head of Barlas tribe from central Asia, which waged wars of conquest from the Caspian Sea to India. The Delhi Sultanate, already weakened by infighting, mounted a defense but ultimately collapsed. This political disintegration was followed by a wave of religious revival which saw communities in South Asia embrace Sufis and new brands of Hinduism, as well as the rise of a new religion, called Sikhism, which criticized the caste system and preached a doctrine of equality. 

Following Timur’s victory, the Delhi Sultanate was badly weakened, and its influence ceded to a number of competing regional powers. Timur’s great-grandson Babur amassed power in northern India and finally destroyed the Delhi Sultanate.

In the sixteenth century, three new empires emerged in Islamic world: the Sunni Ottomans, their rivals the Shiite Safavids, and the Mughals, whose brand of Islam was generally more tolerant and open to the traditions of South Asia. All three empires, however, consolidated power through military conquest, religious backing, and loyal bureaucracy. 


High Middle Ages (1100–1300) experienced growth in prosperity, population, and cultural achievements

The plague in Europe

Created lasting psychological, social, economic, and political changes

The Catholic Church, reactions, and revolts

Struggled to reclaim its power as it faced challenges from the top and from below

Increased persecution of heretics, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, prostitutes, and “witches”

Also expanded its charity, giving alms to the poor

Began selling indulgences to raise funds

Peasant revolts challenge the existing order

Western Christendom

Following the great increases in population, economic growth, and technological and intellectual achievements in the High Middle Ages in Europe, from 1100 to 1300, the Black Death was a devastating setback. The plague caused lasting psychological, social, economic, and political changes.

The devastation of the Black Death prompted people to raise questions about the Catholic Church. The church’s response to dissident groups and dissatisfaction was to persecute various out-groups and those deemed heretics: Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, prostitutes, and “witches.” Meanwhile, the clergy also sought to expand its charity work to the beleaguered and to improve its bureaucratic functions, such as recording births and deaths. They also sought to align themselves secular powers in order to bolster themselves, such as by endorsing kings’ claims to rule by divine right. The church also began selling indulgences to raise funds, a practice which would have momentous consequences in later centuries. 

While the church was finding new sources of revenue, people at the lower end of society resisted the impositions of kings and clergy.  Revolts in France and England challenged the prevailing order as peasants demanded an end to serfdom. Although these challenges were ruthlessly suppressed, gradually a free peasantry emerged. 


Map 11.3 | Western Christendom, 1400–1500

Map 11.3 | Western Christendom, 1400–1500

Europe was a region divided by dynastic rivalries during the fifteenth century. Locate the most powerful regional dynasties on the map: Portugal, Castile, Aragon, France, Burgundy, England, and the Holy Roman Empire.

• Using the scale, contrast the sizes of political units in this map with those in Maps 11.2 (Ottoman Empire) and 11.4 (Ming China). Explain the significance of the differences.

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