1300 CE

World About A. D. 1300.—Before the middle of the thirteenth century the vast Mongol Empire, under Ghengis Khan, had stretched out from China to Poland and Hungary, over all Asia except India and Asia Minor—an empire which far surpassed in extent any that had yet been known on the surface of the globe.

ABOUT A.D. 1300

The great Mongol expansion forced the removal of the Ottoman Turks, who retreated from the steppes east of the Caspian to the mountains of Armenia. Othman or Osman, a chief of the tribe, on the destruction of the Seljuk power, obtained possession of Bithynia, attacked the Asiatic portion of the sinking Byzantine empire with success and founded there (1299) the subsequently great empire of the Ottoman or Osmanli Turks, as they are named from him.

In the course of his conquest Genghiz Khan had carried off multitudes of western Asiatics as slaves. Twelve thousand of these, mostly Turks and Circassians, were bought by the Sultan of Egypt (a successor of Saladin), who formed them into a body of troops. From being servants these well-armed slaves rose to be masters in Egypt, and placed one of their own number in the sultanate (1254), thus founding the Mameluke (or slave) dynasty in Egypt, which lasted for nearly three centuries, bringing the country again into great prosperity and power.

Thus, about the year 1300 the once great Mohammedan Empire had been restricted to its original seat, and to the western region of north Africa, all else having fallen into the hands of the Turks. The Calif of Bagdad had taken refuge under the protection of the Mamelukes of Egypt, retaining his spiritual power only; the Ommiade califate in Spain had long fallen.

The English, under Edward I., had incorporated Wales after ten years' contest; Scotland was fighting for independence, led by Wallace and Bruce; and long wars engaged England and France, leading finally to a great increase in French territory and power. Denmark, Sweden and Norway were separate states. In central Europe, Poland and Hungary had been brought to the verge of ruin by the Mongol invasions, which had swept away for the time the divided principalities of Russia. In the south, the old Greek Empire was fast sinking through the assaults on it by the Turks.

The German Empire in this century both loses and gains territory, without material change.

Italy is still divided into independent commonwealths, which more and more fall under the power of princely families or tyrants.

In the Spanish Peninsula there are few geographical changes in this century, but Spain is steadily consolidating into a great power.

The Venetian, Marco Polo, the greatest of medieval travelers, passed seventeen years in exploring the kingdoms of Asia, and opened up to accurate knowledge not only the vast region of the central Asiatic continent, but also the disclosure of the existence of Japan, which he called Zipangu. While Venice opened up new paths to commerce towards the east, Genoa looked westward, sought to open up a new road to India by sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar and round the southern extremity of Africa. It was Genoese who first, in modern times, ventured upon the Atlantic; discovered the Canaries, Madeira, and the Azores; and who first felt their way along the west coast of Africa.