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Zeller & Scheidell 1

Thea Zeller & Stephen Scheidell

Dr. Yamamoto
HIST 105
6 February 2009
Medieval and Early Modern Societies
After the Black Plague, many new rulers started to establish empires throughout
the world, including the Ming Dynasty and three Islamic Empires, the Ottomans, the
Safavid Empire, and the Mughals. Though a person may only agree with one empires
ways of existing and thriving, it is valuable to look at all of them with the intentions of
understanding why each empire existed in the way it did.
Relations to transcendent reality
By performing multiple rituals and sacrifices, the state used religion to create
community. The Ming emperor also made official cults that were distinguished into civil
or military, great, middle, or minor, and celestial, terrestrial or human. Yet, these cults
often clashed with traditional faiths, which led to problems between the people and the
government. However, state religion always trumped local religion, according to state
law. It is understandable how rulers would want a state religion to bond people, because it
brings an overall feeling of community to the empire.
Though the Safavid Empire in Persia rested its legitimacy on the Islamic faith,
there was a big difference in how religion was enforced between the Ottoman Empire and
the Safavid Empire. Shiism was the official religion of the area, and it was enforced in a
very single-mindedly way. Those who did not follow were persecuted, and Islam
assumed an extreme, militant form. Leaders ruled directly with theocratic authority and a
sacred purpose. Safavids did not tolerate diversity, unlike the Ottomans; therefore, their

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empire was never much expanded. This may provide for Christians a good example that
without forgiveness and loving others, your empire may die off!
As Timurs conquests fragmented the Delhi Sultanate area, many religious
revivals followed. Religious dissent stood in the way of creating powerful state
structures. Therefore, when Babur attacked Delhi, he succeeded in part because of the
weakened structure by the many religions. At this point, the Mughal Empire began to rule
the area. They were much more lenient with religion than other rulers before, and most
likely had to be because of the many religions in the area
Treatment of the individual and her relation to broader society
The individual person in both the Ottoman Empire and Ming ChinaI becomes part
of systematic unit; in other words, the emperor pursues the advancement and well-being
of the empire, while all subjects become in way or another utilized for the health of this
larger organism. The emperor serves as the brain, controlling and guiding the empire;
government officials, warriors, and bureaucrats carry out the emperor's orders and
constitute the government's structure the central nervous and skeletal systems; finally,
the peasants and merchants provide the blood the labor force and economic structure.
As each class worked as commanded, the empire thrived.
Both the Ottoman Empire and the Ming dynasty needed their heads from which to
control their respective organisms. Mehmed II ordered construction on Topkapi Palace in
Istanbul, and once it was completed, sultans broke from their former role among the
warriors and only left the palace for high ceremonies, spending their time administrating
the bureaucrats who now effectively ran the empire under direct orders. Likewise, in

I will be combining the discussion of the individual in relation to self and the individual in relation to
broader society. In preparing for this, I found that much of the understanding of self came via
understanding of society. Thus, the following can be more explained more succinctly in discussing the
two simultaneously.

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China Zhu Di moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing and ordered the construction of
the Forbidden City, which served many of the same functions of the Topkapi Palace.
The bureaucrats, then, became the central structure feature for the two empires.
The Ottoman Empire and Ming China both strategized to balance local and imperial rule
through a hierarchy of official from direct contact with the ruler to the village official.
No polity lasts without revenue; enter the peasants and merchants. In these
primarily agricultural societies, income flowed steadily from crops sold in local markets
and luxury goods sold at home and abroad. Porcelains, silk, and other goods, however,
needed merchants to move from sellers to buyers. As these merchants gained income, the
empires also gained in taxes.
Engagement of the natural world
In the fourteenth century, China began to regain its economic stability lost during
the Black Plague mostly through production and trade. Chinese silk, cotton textiles, and
fine porcelains were the most coveted for trade. Agriculture and handicraft production
also became very important, and a cotton boom made spinning and weaving cottons a
large industry a century later. Maritime trade surged in the fifteenth century because of
Chinas improvements and new technology in boat construction. The Ming dynasty also
reconstructed the Grand Canal, which aided trade and showed their power. The Ming
were technologically advanced compared to other empires during their time. They
obviously put importance in continually advancing whether it be in agriculture, trade, or
The three Islamic post-Mongol empires, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires all
developed the rich agrarian resources of the land, and used the sea and land for trade. For
example, the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur, brought horsemanship, trained

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artillerymen, gun powder and field cannons from central Asia and integrated them
heavily into his own Empire. They also used land routes and rivers to trade many things
with other lands; they were engaging the land to achieve better travel and trade. For these
cultures, nature existed to serve humankind's interests.
In conclusion, we find in these cultures a certain understanding of the hierarchy as
found in Genesis: humankind governs the natural world; societies govern humans as
individuals; they are not themselves in communion with God; the transcendent reality
governs the affairs of societies. These however are distorted. We do not see in these
cultures stewardship of the natural world. These empires operate, not for human thriving,
but for imperial strength. Last but certainly not least, The Ming emperors and the Islamic
Sultans assumed roles beyond their actual grasp. No one human, political or religious
leader, can function as a sole mediator between the spiritual and natural realms.