Modern Empires - descriptions

approximate dates (AD)

years in leadership

Civilization (location)




Italian Renaissance 1. Venice

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Venice was a vassal of the Byzantine Empire until the 10th century. Beginning with control of a trading route to the Levant, it emerged from the Fourth Crusade (120204) as ruler of a colonial empire which included Crete, Euboea, Cyclades, the Ionian Islands, and footholds in Morea and Epirus. In 1381 it defeated Genoa after a century-long struggle for commercial supremacy in the Levant and eastern Mediterranean. In the 15th century, with the acquisition of neighbouring regions, the Venetian Republic became an extensive Italian state. It gradually lost its eastern possessions to Ottoman Turks, with whom Venice fought intermittently from the 15th to the 18th century.




Italian Renaissance 2. Florence

Florence was founded as a Roman military colony in the 1st century BC, then controlled in turn by the Goths, Byzantines, and Lombards. A leading city of Tuscany by the late 12th century, it was ruled after 1434 by the powerful Medici family. It became a republic under religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola, after whose downfall the Medici were restored as dukes of Florence (1531). Florence's vernacular became the Italian language, and from the 14th to the 16th century Florence was among the greatest cities of Europe, preeminent in commerce, finance, learning, and the arts. Many notables flourished there, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Filippo Brunelleschi, Dante, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Galileo.




Italian Renaissance 3. Rome

Michelangelo brought the Italian Renaissance in art to Rome. He left Florence in 1492 after the death of his patron Lorenzo de'Medici, In Rome, Michelangelo's Bacchus (149697) established his fame and led to a commission for the Pietà (now in St. Peter's Basilica), the masterpiece of his early years. The greatest art patron of all the popes, Julius II (r. 1503 - 1513) was a close friend of Michelangelo, from whom he commissioned the sculpture of Moses and the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. (150812). He also commissioned Raphael's Vatican frescoes. Michelangelo devoted his last 30 years largely to the Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel, to writing poetry (he left more than 300 sonnets and madrigals), and to architecture. He was commissioned to complete Rome's huge St. Peter's Basilica, begun in 1506 and little advanced since 1514. Though it was not quite finished at Michelangelo's death, its exterior owes more to him than to any other architect.





The Spanish empire attained its greatest power, extent, and influence during the lifetime of King Philip (b.1527 d.1598). The son of Emperor Charles V, Philip received from his father the duchy of Milan (1540), the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily (1554), the Netherlands (1555), and Spain and its overseas empire (1556). He ruled from the Netherlands from 1555 and waged a successful war against France in 1557. From 1559 he ruled from Spain, where he built the palace of El Escorial and encouraged Spain's literary golden age. He was a champion of the Counter-Reformation but failed to put down rebellions in the Netherlands (from 1568) and to conquer England, suffering the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588). He gained a victory in the Mediterranean with the defeat of the Ottoman offensive at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and unified the Iberian Peninsula by also reigning as king of Portugal from 1580.





The reign of Elizabeth I was generally a time of great prosperity for England. Highly intelligent and strong-willed, Elizabeth inspired ardent expressions of loyalty, and her reign saw a brilliant flourishing in the arts, especially literature (Shakespeare and others) and music. And after defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588, England became the most dynamic country in Europe, including the restoration of Protestantism.. Though her later years saw an economic decline and disastrous military efforts to subdue the Irish, Elizabeth's reign had already seen England's emergence as a world power, and her presence had helped unify the nation against foreign enemies. After her death, she was succeeded by James I. As ruler in Scotland, he unified it with England. He quickly achieved peace and prosperity by ending England's war with Spain and authorized preparation of a new translation of the Bible, the King James Version - both in 1604.





The Dutch developed prosperity from trade, fishing, shipbuilding, and beer brewing, which laid the foundation for Holland's remarkable 17th-century cultural leadership.. This was the period of Jan van Eyck, Thomas à Kempis, and Desiderius Erasmus. The religious Calvinism and Anabaptist doctrines attracted many followers. In 1581 the seven northern provinces, led by Calvinists, declared their independence from Spain, and in 1648, following the Thirty Years' War, Spain recognized Dutch independence. The 17th century was the golden age of Dutch civilization. Benedict de Spinoza and René Descartes enjoyed the country's intellectual freedom, and Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer painted their masterpieces. The Dutch East India Company secured Asian colonies, and the country's standard of living soared. But in the 18th century Dutch maritime and military power declined, and eventually fell to French expansion.





Culturally, France has enjoyed a significant role in the world from the early Middle Ages. Louis XIV helped to raise monarchical absolutism to new heights. Patron of the arts, Louis protected writers and devoted himself to building splendid palaces, including the extravagant Versailles, where he kept most of the nobility under his watchful eye. In 1667 he invaded the Spanish Netherlands and again in 1672 in the Third Dutch War. The Sun King was at his zenith; he had extended France's northern and eastern borders and was adored at his court. Fear of his expansionism led to alliances against France during the War of the Grand Alliance (168897) and the War of the Spanish Succession (170114). France continued to dominate Europe through the 1700's. In 1789 the French Revolution proclaimed the rights of the individual and destroyed the ancien régime. Napoleon ruled from 1799 to 1814, conquering most of Europe. One of the most celebrated figures in history, Napoleon revolutionized military organization and training and brought about reforms that permanently influenced civil institutions in France and throughout Europe. The metric system and Napoleonic Code of laws are two examples.





The Napoleonic Wars brought about the end of the Holy Roman Empire (1806) and the creation of the Austrian Empire. In 1809 Francis I of Austria (see Emperor Francis II) appointed Count von Metternich as minister of foreign affairs, a position he would retain until 1848. He helped promote the marriage of Napoleon and Francis's daughter Marie-Louise. By skillful diplomacy and deceit, he kept Austria neutral in the war between France and Russia (1812) and secured its position of power before finally allying with Prussia and Russia (1813). As the organizer of the Congress of Vienna (181415), he was largely responsible for the policy of balance of power in Europe to ensure the stability of European governments. During the Congress, leaders from all over Europe participated in the cultural refinements of Vienna, particularly the music of Beethoven, Mozart, and other composers who had worked there.





Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, and it remained the world's foremost economic power until the late 19th century. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Britain's colonial expansion reached its zenith, though the older dominions, including Canada and Australia, were granted independence (1867 and 1901, respectively). The United Kingdom entered World War I allied with France and Russia in 1914, but the allies needed the entry of the United States into the war in order to defeat Germany and the Axis powers.

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The 20th century has been termed "the American Century" because of that nation's overriding influence on the world. The US became a center for innovation and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving include the telephone, television, computer, the Internet, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, aviation and aeronautics. The United States led the victors in two World Wars and in the peacemaking afterwards. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US emerged as the world's only superpower (From

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