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16.1 Asia, North Africa, and Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century

The fourteenth century was a time of profound political change across Afro-Eurasia. From the rise of the Yuan dynasty to the emergence of the Il-Khanate, the Mongol Empire began the fourteenth century in a period of growth and expansion. By the end of the century, however, plague, revolts, rebellion, and crises of authority had led to the decline of the once-massive empire. Elsewhere in Europe, conflict between England and France and the fragmented political structure of the Holy Roman Empire led to a deeply divided continent ready for change.

16.2 Famine, Climate Change, and Migration

The field of historical climatology has enabled historians to combine analyses of written sources with data about the ecological environment of the past. Thus, we know that at the beginning of the fourteenth century, a prolonged period of temperate climate was followed by a devastating period of lower temperatures and substantial changes in precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere that wiped out crops and led to widespread droughts and famines. Many were forced to migrate in search of the basic necessities of life.

16.3 The Black Death from East to West

From the 1340s to the 1350s, the Black Death unleashed a wave of death and devastation across Afro-Eurasia. This global pandemic of bubonic plague not only resulted in significant population loss, but it also led to profound social and economic transformation. The formerly thriving cities of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt quickly deteriorated, and in Europe, the psychological toll of the plague’s trauma led many to question the traditional privileges of the clergy and nobility. Although afflicted regions of Afro-Eurasia eventually recovered from the plague’s devastating impact, the Black Death radically altered the course of human history.

16.4 The Long-Term Effects of Global Transformation

The challenges and crises of the fourteenth century generated many social and cultural changes as the societies of Afro-Eurasia sought to recover and rebuild. The Ming dynasty represented an era of introspection during which traditional practices and beliefs such as Confucianism were reestablished to shed China of Mongol influence. Islam continued to expand across central Asia and North Africa, incorporating many new cultural traditions and regions into the community of believers. In Europe, growing anxiety about the church’s leadership led to further stirrings of reformation that crystallized in the sixteenth century. While England and France squared off in the battles of the Hundred Years’ War, peasants acquired some status and power as feudalism declined across western Europe. In each of the regions of Afro-Eurasia, the challenges of the fourteenth century created a climate of change that laid the foundations of the modern world.

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