Advertisement Close

What Brought the Age of Enlightenment to Europe?

posted on: Apr 25, 2022

What Brought the Age of Enlightenment to Europe?
“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” Napoleon Bonaparte

By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/Arab America Contributing Writer

Ever since the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe fell into a deep dark age, where ignorance and illiteracy prevailed. For the longest time, European dynasties struggled both externally and internally to press their claims as to the real rulers of Europe. However, with the passage of time, Europe was a series of events that released Europe from the Dark Ages into the path of enlightenment, which is why it was referred to as the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the events began, as early as the mid 15th century when a young empire was beginning to step into the world stage.

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was a state that controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Turkoman tribal leader Osman I. Although initially, the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature, and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror. It was then that many Byzantine refugees escaped the already perished empire into Central and Western Europe. The fall of the Empire was not a shock to the world as most of Europe opposed it due to sect-centered differences. The Catholic Church did not ally itself with orthodoxy. Even, the Russian church separated itself from the Byzantine. In the end, the fall of Constantinople was the beginning of a transformation for Europe.

The Byzantine refugees brought much of the old discoveries that initiated a period of Renaissance. The Renaissance was a fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political, and economic rebirth following the Middle Ages. Generally described as taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, the Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature, and art. Some of the greatest thinkers, authors, statesmen, scientists, and artists in human history thrived during this era, while global exploration opened up new lands and cultures to European commerce. The Renaissance is credited with bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and modern-day civilization. During that time, the Ottomans levied heavy taxes on European merchants, which caused Christopher Columbus to embark on a trip with the intention of going around Africa. However, it led to the discovery of a whole new world which provided Europe with the resources to begin a new era of enlightenment.

What Brought the Age of Enlightenment to Europe?
“When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white men came, an Indian said simply ‘Ours.'” Vine Deloria Jr.

Colonialism and the Printing Press

With the discovery of the new world, so came the birth of colonialism. The age of modern colonialism began about 1500, following the European discoveries of a sea route around Africa’s southern coast and of America. With these events, sea power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and to the emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France, and England. By discovery, conquest, and settlement, these nations expanded and colonized throughout the world, spreading European institutions and culture. The main purpose of this exploration was to establish a trade route for the importation of spices from India. It was through that the balance of power shifted gradually from the Middle East and Eastern Europe to Western Europe. These Empires lasted until the end of the Second World War. The Ottoman Empire’s actions in the region impacted this motion and is responsible for the rise of Western Colonialism.

In contrast, the printing press had a different effect on literacy and religious authority. In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. Modeled on the design of existing screw presses, a single Renaissance printing press could produce up to 3,600 pages per workday, compared to forty by hand-printing and a few by hand-copying. Gutenberg’s newly devised hand mold made possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies.

What Brought the Age of Enlightenment to Europe?
“Reformation, like education, is a journey, not a destination.” Mary Harris Jones

The Age of Enlightenment 

In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication, which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and revolutionary ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation, and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. Across Europe, the increasing cultural self-awareness of its peoples led to the rise of proto-nationalism, and accelerated by the development of European vernacular languages, to the detriment of Latin’s status as lingua franca. In the 19th century, the replacement of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses allowed printing on an industrial scale. Thus, allowing the age of enlightenment to settle in Europe and all across.

Science played an important role in Enlightenment discourse and thought. Many Enlightenment writers and thinkers had backgrounds in the sciences and associated scientific advancement with the overthrow of religion and traditional authority in favor of the development of free speech and thought. Scientific progress during the Enlightenment included the discovery of carbon dioxide by the chemist Joseph Black, the argument for the deep time by the geologist James Hutton and the invention of the condensing steam engine by James Watt. In addition, many other scientists such as Newton and Calculus and those who proceed with him. In the end, it was a simple event of invading one city and raising trade taxes. It is unfortunate to see that when the dark clouds began to lift over Europe, they began to descend across the Arab world. For the longest time, a civilization that survived a millennium has descended to a little over twenty states in total confusion, corruption, and chaos.



Check out Arab America’s blog here!