In our history class last semester, Professor P... carefully stressed the importance of watershed events in history; literally events that changed the course of history. Today, in the second half of the sequence, Professor G.... casually remarked that the Battle of Lepanto was the watershed event in European history. Now, to me, that's a pretty bold statement about the sweep of history and the tides of men's affairs. But consider the facts:
- Islam was the controlling force for religion and government in the world, possibly excepting China, which was very self contained. It provided a unifying force that tied cultures, languages, races, and mercantile goods to a huge swath of the global population.
- The Islamic empires, either the Caliphate, or its heirs, the Ottomans, Mughals, and Safavids controlled the crossroads of the world, and thus controlled access to the riches of the Orient (spices, precious stones, etc) demanded by the growing populations of Europe. The ability to control that access caused enormous wealth to flow into the coffers of those empires.
- The European nations, forced to travel long distances for goods from the Orient, turned to the seas as an alternative to overland travel. In looking for the Orient, they unintentionally discovered the Americas. The wealth, in raw materials, of the Americas gave the Europeans equal footing with the Islamic empires in terms of purchasing and spending power.
- Had the Ottoman Turks defeated the European coalition (see, they used to be able to fight together, at least in the short term), the Turks would have been able to control the Mediterranean. From there, they would have been able to move into the Atlantic. Had that happened, argues Professor G..., the Islamic navies would have been in a position to interfere, if not control the Atlantic trade routes.
Pretty neat stuff.