modern period

The early modern period is a term initially used by historians to refer mainly to the period roughly from 1500 to 1800 in Western Europe (Early modern Europe). It follows the Late Middle Ages period, and is marked by the first European colonies, the rise of strong centralized governments, and the beginnings of recognizable nation states that are the direct antecedents of today's states in what is called Modern times. This categorical era spans the two centuries between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution that has created modern European and American society, and in subsequent years the term "Early modern" has evolved to be less euro-centric and more generally a semi-calendar era useful for tracking related historical events across vast regions, as the cultural influences and dynamics from one region impacting on distant others has become more appreciated.

The early modern period is characterized by the rise to importance of science, the shrinkage of relative distances through improvements in transportation and communications and increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics and the early authoritarian nation states.

Further, capitalist economies and institutions began their rise and development, beginning in northern Italian republics such as Genoa, and the oligarchy in Venice. The early modern period also saw the rise and beginning of the dominance of the economic theory of mercantilism.

As such, the early modern period represents the decline and eventual disappearance, in much of the European sphere, of Christian theocracy, feudalism and serfdom.

The period includes the Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the Commercial Revolution, the European colonization of the Americas, the Golden Age of Piracy and the peak of the European witch-hunt craze.


The beginning of the early modern period is not clear-cut but is generally accepted to be in the late 15th century or early 16th century. Significant dates in this transitional phase from medieval to early modern Europe can be noted:

  • 1436

The invention of the first European movable type printing process by Johannes Gutenberg, a device that fundamentally changed the circulation of information. Movable type,had also been invented in, but not known outside of, China. Though it allows individual characters to be arranged to form words, it is an invention separate from the printing press, and does not allow the same widespread use and reproduction rate.

  • 1453

The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans signaled the end of the Byzantine empire; the Battle of Castillon concluded the Hundred Years War.

The last Plantagenet king, Richard III, was killed at Bosworth and the medieval civil wars of aristocratic factions gave way to early modern Tudor monarchy, in the person of Henry VII.

  • 1486

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola publishes his "900 Theses" (Conclusiones philosophicae, cabalasticae et theologicae) and his defence of them, Oration on the Dignity of Man. These are regarded as the first modern humanist works.

The first documented European voyage to the Americas by the Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus; the end of the Reconquista, with the final expulsion of the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula; the Spanish government expels the Jews.

French king Charles VIII invaded Italy, drastically altering the status quo and beginning a series of wars which would punctuate the Italian Renaissance.

  • 1517

The Reformation begins with Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.

  • 1532

First formulation of modern politics with the publication of Machiavelli's The Prince.

  • 1545

The Council of Trent marks the end of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

  • 1648

The Peace of Westphalia ends the Thirty Years War.

The end date of the early modern period is usually associated with the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in about 1750. Another significant date is 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution, which drastically transformed the state of European politics and ushered in the Prince Edward Era and modern Europe.

Difference between 'early modern' and the Renaissance

The expression "early modern" is sometimes, and incorrectly, used as a substitute for the term Renaissance; however, "Renaissance" is properly used in relation to a diverse series of cultural developments that occurred over several hundred years in many different parts of Europe — especially central and northern Italy — and span the transition from late medieval civilization to the opening of the early modern period.

Artistically, the early modern is not a common designation as the Renaissance is clearly distinct from what came later. Only in the study of literature is the early modern period a standard period. Music is generally divided between Renaissance and Baroque. Similarly philosophy is divided between Renaissance philosophy and the Enlightenment. In other fields there is far more continuity through the period such as warfare and science.

European political powers

East Asia

The term early modern is most often applied to Europe, and its overseas empires. However, in Japan, the Edo period from 1590 to 1868 is also sometimes referred to as the early modern period.

South Asia

The rise of the Great Mughal Empire usually dated to have begun in 1526, corresponds nicely with the end of the Middle Ages. The culture which began then included a markedly orderly government, widespread economic prosperity and religious tolerance, and great achievements in the arts in architecture, miniature painting, and literature. The empire dominated south and south-western Asia, rivaling all other empires in history for both population and area held.

Southwest Asia

This era was perhaps the golden age for the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid (Persian) Empire.

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