Ashistory progressed from a hunter-gatherer era into an agrarian era,communication between societies became more complex and diverse. Prior to themiddle of the fifteenth century, this communication was separated until thegrowth of maritime opportunities. Additionally, hierarchies took a more centralrole in society.
While nomadic peoples still existed, more stable agrariansocieties grew. Trade of people, things, and ideas were expanding. In StephenMorillo’s Frameworks of World History,the study of these encounters are termed networks, and the frame of the worldparts of a house. The networks represent the intricate parts of the house thatestablish the house as sustainable by incorporating a useable system (i.e.electricity and water). During the Late Agrarian Era (more commonly termed theEarly Modern era), the emergence of a truly global network in thefourteenth-sixteenth centuries fueled the political-military expansion ofempires. Morillo points out that the “…continued growth of maritime networkscreates the beginning of the first truly global network.
“1 Examples of these networkscan be seen through the undertaking of multiple societies and cultures. Theexpansion of seafaring exploits led to discovery of new places, such as Columbusand Cortés in their travel to the New World. Additionally, the growth and powerin Asia of some nations, such as Portugal, led to many conquests and increasein power as well as eventual defeat and loss of power. And other missionsdisplayed the importance of not only primary centers of a country, but alsosecondary cities, exemplified by Suakin, Sudan. WhenColumbus entered the Americas, the effects reached far beyond the physical ones,causing disease to extinguish a large part of the indigenous population. “Theimpact was also and at least as importantly cultural, and it operated in bothdirections.”2While economic possibilities were considered when pursuing the conquest of theislands in the Americas, pursuits extended beyond economic potential.
“Thefirst fifty years of Spanish conquests in the Americas had produced meagrebenefits, insufficient even to cover the military costs.”3 If economic gains were meagre,then what could be the additional reason for further pursuance? The fourteenththrough sixteenth centuries were a time where conquests moved beyond economyand military might. Religion and culture rose to equal importance.4 Indigenous peoples welcomedthe visitors, not anticipating the resulting outcome. Cultural frame played animportant role for Columbus and those in Europe who invested into his travel. Eitherthe indigenous peoples were innocent and their lands a Paradise or the peopleswere barbaric and the lands a wilderness.5 This new networkdiscovered by Columbus led to more resources for European countries, which ledto additional land and power. As Morillo points out, the “…positive andnegative images of native peoples said more about European attempts to make theNew World meaningful for themselves than they did about the realities of nativeAmerican societies.
“6 In Indigenous Assistance in the Establishment of Portuguese Power in Asiain the Sixteenth Century, G.V. Scammell points out that Spain used similartactics that Portugal had used in Asia.
After the conquest of the Americas bySpain, indigenous peoples were persuaded to assimilate to more Europeanbehaviors and beliefs. Cortés,another adventurer from Spain, took advantage of a situation in Mexico, whichwas important in conquests at that time, and proved beneficial for both Cortésand the indigenous people of Tlaxcala. The “use of cochineal for dying was restricted to ceremonial robes amongthe elites of the Aztec Empire.
“7 Cortés allied himself withthe peoples of Tlaxcala, who were at odds with the Aztec Empire. “Then theTlaxcallans, allying themselves with Hernán Cortés and his band of adventurers,overthrew the Aztecs in 1519; this victory brought them not independence but aprivileged position in the new Spanish Empire in Mexico.”8 This arrangement workedwell for both the Tlaxcallans and Cortés, which in turn benefitted Spain in theform of tribute. Obtaining assistance from those who know the land and thosewho live there gave an incredible advantage to Cortés, whose numbers were smallin comparison to those he wished to conquer.Asnoted earlier, Portugal had been employing this tactic in Asia. Maritimeimprovements had led to a greater presence by Portugal in Asia, and allowed forsocieties to establish rules on who could navigate within certain waters.
Scammell notes that freedom “…to navigate the Indian Ocean, maintained João deBarros, the chronicler of Portuguese triumphs, was properly denied by hiscompatriots to those ignorant of Christianity and Roman Law.”9 A determination to prevailis seen by Portugal as its maritime strength was a fraction of that in Asia. Theimportance of Henry the Navigator’s exploits was his preparation (utilizingcartography provided by Italy), his maritime organization, and his success inAsia. Portugal was “…small, poor, and isolated on the southwestern-most cornerof the Iberian Peninsula…”10 Economically, Henry”returned an almost immediate profit on the investment in terms of gold andslaves…”11Portugal did utilize the assistance of indigenous peoples. One example is thatof Alfonso de Albuquerque, who captured “Goa, the future capital of the Estadode India-who there pressed into service all from local dancing girls andmusicians to war elephants and mercenaries.
“12 The aim of Portugal’sconquests was not solely economic. In the sixteenth century, Portugal engagedin its first international conquest in Morocco. Its aim was “…to establish anoverseas presence in order to further trade, proselytize for the Catholicfaith, and promote exploration. A similar grand strategy influenced allPortuguese maritime expeditions.”13 After this conquest, theexploration of African islands led to colonization. Morocco was not an economicgain for Portugal, but served as an important “link in the chain connectingPortugal to its Eastern Empire.
“14 Portugal did not investsignificantly in Morocco which led to more defeat in that area. However, theydid have success in India, and “defeated Ottoman squadrons at Diu in 1538 andat Ormuz in 1507 and 1554.”15 The imbalance ofinvestments in Morocco and India could be seen in the results of conflict.
Portugal was successful far away, but not successful in areas closer to home.Thesecondary cities around the coast of Africa were home to multiple outposts.Portugal had influence in the Azores Islands, the Canaries, Madeira, the CapeVerde Islands, the mouth of the Senegal River, and they16 “sent back the firstshipments of gold and slaves to Portugal” These outposts were significant intheir ability to provide resources for Portugal between the country and itsoutlying territories in India.
Unfortunately, these areas were notsignificantly maintained by Portugal. Sebastian I was killed when he returnedto the region of Tangier 1578, which led to the acquisition of Portugal byPhilip II of Spain. Secondarycities were important acquisitions for conquest by a country and reinforced thestrength of the primary center in which they represented. Secondary cities were”…the webs of commercial ties that linked small cities to other small cities,to larger cities, and to the great world cities that formed the centers ofgravity of regional and eventually global trade systems.”17 One example of asecondary city is Suakin, in Sudan. While some secondary cities were ruled, orat least influenced, by their primary centers, Suakin is an example of asecondary city that was independent of its primary center. Geographically, itwas an island, which may have been part of the reason why it could maintain itsindependence.
It is important to note that Suakin’s role was primarilyeconomic, with commitment “…to the practice of commercial capitalism…”18 Evidence of its independencewas its mainland neighbors, Ethiopia and Sinnar. They “were autarchic agrarianeconomies in which trade of any sort played a subordinate role.”19 The location of Suakin toits primary center was of importance politically as well. “Favorable geographiclocations for major trade routes were likely to have corresponding strategicadvantages from political-administrative and military perspectives. While thecity itself relied on economics, overall, the network went beyond trade,viewing these cities as extensions of power and political advantage.
Suakin wasunique as its hierarchal structure was patriarchal rather than a complexpolitical hierarchy. Although it was independently ruled, it did maintain acertain level of assimilation due to immigration. Diplomacy was a much largerfactor in how these societies worked with one another. “These imperialconnections also made possible new forms of travel such as diplomacy andpilgrimage, in which city-states such as Suakin were destined to figureprominently.”20The ability for Suakin to act independently and diplomatically with others asits own entity separate from its primary center is key in Suakin’s importancein global communication. Regardingits role with Egypt, the city of Aydh?b was defeated by Suakin in 1426. Suakinstruck a fatal blow on the city. The lord ofSuakin, aided by Turks armed with firearms and bows, inflicted on them thepeople of ‘Aydh?b a heavy defeat, so that in one encounter over 4,000 werekilled out of these rascals who go naked.
One thousand were taken back toSuakin and slaughtered there by Suakinese women and children.21Although Suakinwas an island, separated by culture and water from its primary center in Egypt,it was a force to be reckoned with militarily. Later, in the sixteenth century,political currents “…were destined to strip the Hadaraba of their modestlyimperial ambitions and reduce Suakin to the status of a tributary city-stateagain.”22 When the Ottomon Empireovertook the area, it included Suakin. The role of a secondary city in theoverall hierarchy of a society was a of source of contention. Morillo pointsout that there was pressure “due to their prosperity and the demands placed onthem by their intensive localized role in a hierarchy. Put another way, thiswas a tension between economic and political roles…between egalitarianparticipation in a hierarchy.”23 In this way, secondarycities were vital to the success of the primary center, if properly alignedwith their primary cities.
As shown above, networks grew, whichled to the complex changes within hierarchies. Maritime improvements were crucialin these developments. Seafaring adventures called Columbus to find a route toIndia. Instead, he found a New World in which many resources, including goldand slavery, were exploited. Economy did not play a major role, as itbankrupted Spain. The acquisition of land and the assimilation of indigenouspeoples to the approved religion proved to be equally important. Cortésutilized diplomacy and the strengths of indigenous peoples and their disputeswith others within the hierarchy, used commonly in Portugal’s pursuits in Asia,to gain power in Mexico. This arrangement not only benefitted the primary powercenter, it also included benefits for those being exploited.
In Portugal, itsinferior size, location, and economy did not keep those determined to gain morefrom increasing its maritime presence. Portugal had success on the coast ofAfrica, which was significant in its dealings with India. The use of theAfrican coast was to spread the Catholic faith as much as it was toeconomically sustain its missions to the East. As the coast of Africa exemplifies,as well as the island city of Suakin, secondary cities proved important to theprimary centers that they represented and supported.
Without these extendednetworks, the military-political expansion of empires would not have beenpossible. If Columbus had not attempted to find a different route to India, theresources and land acquisition of the New World would not have occurred to furtherSpain’s agenda. Without the exploitation of indigenous peoples by Cortés, the profiteeringof Mexico may not have benefitted Spain, as the use of the African coast citiesto Portugal. Suakin assisted the primary centers in Egypt, yet kept itsautonomy, while still representing the culture of its primary center. 1Stephen Morillo. Frameworks of WorldHistory.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 421.2Ibid., 531.3Kelly DeVries. “Warfare and the International State System.” In: European Warfare, 1350-1750. Ed.
FrankTallett and D.J.B. Trim (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).4Ibid.5Stephen Morillo.
Frameworks of WorldHistory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 532.6Ibid.
, 532.7Ibid., 455.8Ibid., 455.9G.
V. Scammell. “Indigenous Assistance in the Establishment of Portuguese Powerin Asia in the Sixteenth Century.” ModernAsian Studies 14, no. 01 (1980): 1. Doi:10.1017/s0026749x00012130, 110Stephen Morillo.
Frameworks of WorldHistory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 444.11Ibid., 444.12G.V. Scammell.
“Indigenous Assistance in the Establishment of Portuguese Powerin Asia in the Sixteenth Century.” ModernAsian Studies 14, no. 01 (1980): 1.
Doi:10.1017/s0026749x00012130, 2.13Kelly DeVries.
“Warfare and the International State System.” In: European Warfare, 1350-1750. Ed.
FrankTallett and D.J.B. Trim (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).14Ibid.
,15Ibid., 16Ibid.,17Kenneth R. Hall, ed. Secondary Cities andUrban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c. 1400-1800. Rowman andLittlefield, 2008.
Frameworks of World History.New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 253.