A World of Change
Who knew about Jamestown? In 1607, There was too much else going on
By 1607, China's Ming Dynastywhich had ruled since 1368was exhausted, though it clung to power for another 37 years. Since the mid-15th century, most of its emperors had been weak. One of them, the Wanli Emperor, was more than two thirds into his 47-year reign in 1607. Once an effective reformer, he now was largely ignoring court matters, further destabilizing the dynasty. The end came in 1644, when rebels seized the capital. The Mings called on Manchu tribesman for help, but while the Manchus obliged by ousting the rebels, they decided to take over themselves. Thus was the Ch'ing Dynasty born.
In Japan, the warlord Ieyasu Tokugawa took effective control in 1600 after winning one of the country's most important battles, the Battle of Sekigahara. The resulting Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan as a feudal, militaristic dictatorship until 1868. Ieyasu managed to unify Japan after decades of bloody clan warfare and shifting alliances. Cunning and ruthless, cautious or daunting as needs required, Ieyasu climbed through a mixture of battlefield success, diplomacy, and luck.
Staying power. Though he abdicated in 1605, he remained the shogunate's true leader until his death in 1616.
For the Muslim empires, it was a golden age. The three largest were relatively stable and at or near the peak of power. "All of the regimes had opulent courts, a bit like Versailles," says Amira Bennison, senior lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Cambridge. The Ottomans, based in Constantinople (now Istanbul), lost a huge naval battle and control of the Mediterranean in 1571 to European powers, but Bennison disputes that the loss marked the start of the empire's decline. There were occasional border flareups with Hapsburg Austria, "but basically," Bennison says, "the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans agreed to disagree."
Next door in Persian Iran, the Safavid Empire was thriving under Shah Abbas the Great, who was midway through his 42-year reign. The Safavids were based in Isfahan, at the time one of the world's largest cities and renowned for its beauty. "Iran was flourishing commercially. It was the era of the silk trade," Bennison says.
Before the Safavids, Iran was a mixture of Shiite and Sunni Muslims; the Safavids were Shiite, and it was during their reign that Iran became almost totally Shiite. "It was the first strong identification of a state with a formal religion" within the Muslim world, Bennison says. Relations between the Safavids and the Ottomans were largely hostile. Abbas fought regular battles against the Ottomans and recaptured Baghdad (which had been lost to the Ottomans) around 1622. The empire itself would be conquered by the Afghans in 1722.
Elsewhere in Asia, the Moghul Empire had been created by the Timurid (Mongol) prince Babur in 1526, but it was his son, Akbar, who greatly expanded the empire to include much of India. When Akbar died in 1605, the empire came under the control of his rather ineffective son Jahangir, who had a taste for booze and opium. Yet, so stable was the realm built by Akbar that even Jahangir ruled with few problems for 22 years.
Halfway around the world, the stability of the Moghuls was long out of reach to the struggling Jamestown settlers. But around that time Spanish explorer Juan Martinez de Montoya founded another kind of town in an area just east of the Rio Grande. He called it Santa Fe, and it was the first European settlement in what would become the western United States. Another 304 years would pass before the two disparate communities would be bridged as part of one nation.