In the three centuries BCE, several states flourished around the Mediterranean: Athens, Macedonia, Egypt, Carthage, Phoenicia and Rome. Yet only one of them, Rome, was able to create and efficiently manage a vast empire, for over 300 years, eventually extending from England to Persia and surrounding the whole Mediterranean (see Chapter 2). What caused Rome to become such a vast, encompassing and stable empire for so many centuries?
In the thirteenth century, a self- made leader from Mongolia, Genghis Khan, united disparate tribes and built an empire that stretched from Eastern China across Asia to Russia, Hungary and the Eastern Mediterranean (see Chapter 3). How did people from a relatively poor and technologically backward country of Mongolia come to overpower and rule so many rich, established kingdoms all over Asia and Eastern Europe?
In the early fifteenth century, China was the world's greatest navigational power. At its peak, its navy, under Admiral Zheng He, had over 300 ships, which were up to 400 feet long, with a crew of 37,000. It made multiple expeditions to the Far East, India, Middle East and Africa (see Chapter 4). Yet, when still at its peak, China abruptly stopped these expeditions, closed in on itself and fell behind. Many nations surpassed China as navigational powers. What caused China to fall behind these other nations?
In the fifteenth century, the city- state of Venice amassed great wealth and became the dominant power in the Mediterranean and probably the richest political entity in Europe. It monopolized trade between Europe and the East, especially the spice trade. In contrast, Portugal was a small, relatively backward country. Yet by the end of the fifteenth century, Portugal, and not Venice, discovered the sea route to India and the East that triggered the rise of the Portuguese empire and the eclipse of Venice as a naval and trading power (see Chapter 6). What led to the rise of Venice and subsequently that of Portugal?
In the seventeenth century, the relatively poor lowlands that now constitute the Netherlands united to form a great empire that at its peak controlled territories in the Americas, Africa, South Asia and East Asia (see Chapter 8). What led to the rise of the Netherlands?