Visual History of the World




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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Southeast Europe



With the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries, numerous, often short-lived states developed in southeast Europe. Only the Bulgars and Serbs enjoyed periods of supremacy in the Balkans. The region was above all a zone of influence and a military thoroughfare for the neighboring major powers. The last of these was the 1 Ottoman Empire, which by the 16th century controlled most the region.

1 Ottoman bridge in Mostar, Herzegovina, built in the 16th century

The Adriatic Coast

With only a few exceptions, the entire west and northwest of the Balkan Peninsula came under Ottoman or Habsburg control at the end of the Middle Ages.


The Southern Slavic Croats were ruled first by the Byzantine Empire and then by the Franks.

In 925 an independent Croatian kingdom emerged, united with Hungary in a personal union from 1102 to 1918, which was ruled by a viceroy called 3 Ban.

After King Demetrius Zvonimir was crowned by the pope in 1076, Croatia aligned itself with the Roman Catholic Church.

The 6 Ottomans' endeavors to conquer Croatia were successfully repelled.

By the 15th century, Venice had conquered Dalmatia, the Croatian coastal region, as it came to dominate the Adriatic.

The city-republic of 5 Ragusa, today's Dubrovnik, was able to maintain its independence for centuries, until it was occupied by Napoleon's armies between 1806 and 1808.

Bosnia was initially part of the Byzantine Empire but fell to Hungary in the twelfth century. Viceroy Stephen Kotromanic (Turtko) also conquered the region of Herzegovina. Following additional territorial gains, he named himself king of Serbia and Bosnia in 1377. The kingdom did not survive long after his death, however; the Ottomans occupied Bosnia in 1463 and Herzegovina in 1483.

Of the Slavic territories of the Balkans, only small Montenegro was able to maintain its autonomy against the Ottomans, because the inhabitants had inaccessible mountain fortresses from which they could hold out.

From 1528, the Orthodox bishops of Cetinje headed a polity that consisted of loosely bound clans, who were at odds with each other. Toward the end of the 17th century, Peter I was able to make the office of bishop hereditary in his family.

3 Miklos Earl Zrinyi,
Ban of Croatia,
wood engraving,
16th century

6 The Ottomans besiege Agram (Zagreb),
the Croatian capital

The old town of Ragusa, present-day Dubrovnik


4 Nicholas I king of Montenegro

2 Prince George Kastnoti,
known as Skanderbeg

In 1852, Montenegro became ŕ 4 secular principality and in 1910 a kingdom that lasted for a mere eight years.

The Albanians, who are not of Slavic descent and are thought by some to be descended from the ancient Illyrians, were also able to resist the Ottomans for a long time.

In 1443, 2 George Kastrioti, also called Skanderbeg, was trained by the Ottomans and fought for them for many years.

He later returned to unite the Albanian tribes. In alliance with Naples, Venice, and Hungary, he negotiated a ten-year cease-fire with the Ottomans in 1461. When Skanderbeg broke the agreement after only two years, his allies deserted him, although the Ottomans were not able to conquer the area until his death in 1468.


Greece and Romania

By the 17th century the Ottomans had conquered Greece. They appointed governors from the leading noble families in the Romanian principalities.


After the capture of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, a large number of independent 11 dominions developed in present-day Greece alongside the 7 Venetian strongholds.

11 Ruins of the Byzantine castle in Mistra
in the Pelopennesus, 13th—15th ń

7 Venetian fortress near Heraklion on the island of Crete

Often these consisted of only a small island or city and were ruled over by Greek, French, or Italian noble families. The most significant territory was the duchy of Athens, where the reigning French dukes were driven out in 1311 by Catalonian pirates, who were themselves ousted in 1388 by the Florentine Acciaioli family.

In 1458, the Ottomans took Athens; the Ottoman conquest of the rest of 10 Greece was not complete until into the 17th century.

10 Siege of Rhodes, Greece, by the
Ottomans in 1480, book illustration,
end of the 15th century

The territory of present-day Romania was the home of the Vlachs, a people descended from the Romanized natives and the Gothic, Slavic, Hun, and Bulgarian invaders.

Hungary's expansion in the eleventh century and the increasing number of 8 German settlers pushed many of them out of Transylvania into the Carpathian Mountains and beyond, further south and east into Walachia and Moldavia.

8 Marketplace in the German town of Schassburg
in Transylvania, colored lithograph, 20th century

Out of the Hungarian border provinces, independent states under local princes—the voivods—developed in the 14th century.

Mircea the Old, the voivod of Walachia, made Bucharest his capital in 1385, and in order to avoid being deposed he accepted Ottoman suzerainty in 1396. His grandsons formed shifting alliances with Hungary and the Ottomans, which allowed them room to maneuver, but this was ultimately an unsustainable policy.

The kings met grisly ends: Mircea was buried alive in 1442, 9 Vlad III Dracul "Tepes" (known as "Vlad the Impaler") was beheaded in 1476, and Radu Cel Frumos became a hostage of the Ottoman sultan.

Their successors then proved loyal vassals of the Ottomans.

9 Vlad III Dracul, "The Impaler," painting, 16th century

12 Stephen the Great, voivod of Moldavia from 1457 to 1504, had more success in playing his neighbors off against each other, though in 1513, Moldavia was compelled to recognize Ottoman suzerainty.

13 Michael the Brave, voivod of Walachia, together with the Moldavians, was the last to rise up against the Ottomans, but he was murdered in 1601.

From the 17th century on, the Ottomans appointed nobles from different families as governors of the Romanian principalities.

12 Monastery of Voronet,
built in 1488 on the orders of
Stephen the Great, St. George,
its patron saint

13 Michael the Brave is slain by a jealous
comrade in arms, copper engraving,
17th century


Woodblock print of Vlad the Impaler
attending a mass impalement

Count Dracula

Vlad III and Dracul Tepes were both 15th-century voivods of Walachia.

Vlad III was notorious for his preference for executing the condemned by impalement.

The Irish author Bram Stoker created the literary figure of Count Dracula at the end of the 19th century by combining these historical figures with popular vampire tales from Transylvania.

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Vlad III Dracul Tepes dining during
executions wood engraving, 1500



Vlad III

ruler of Walachia
in full Vlad III Dracula, also called Vlad the Impaler, Romanian Vlad Țepeș

born 1431, Sighișoara, Transylvania [now in Romania]
died 1476, north of present-day Bucharest, Rom.

voivode (military governor, or prince) of Walachia (1448; 1456–1462; 1476) whose cruel methods of punishing his enemies gained notoriety in 15th-century Europe. Some in the scholarly community have suggested that Bram Stoker’s Dracula character was based on Vlad.

Vlad was the second of four brothers born into the noble family of Vlad II Dracul. His sobriquet Dracula (meaning “son of Dracul”) was derived from the Latin draco (“dragon”) after his father’s induction into the Order of the Dragon, created by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund for the defense of Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire. Vlad moved to Tîrgoviste, Walachia, in 1436 when his father assumed leadership of the Walachian voivodate (principality). In 1442 Vlad and his younger brother were sent to the court of Ottoman Sultan Murad II as collateral to assure the sultan that their father, in a reversal of his previous position, would support Ottoman policies. Vlad returned in 1448, having been informed of the assassination of his father and older brother at the hands of Walachian boyars (nobles) the year before.

Vlad then embarked upon the first of a lifelong series of campaigns to regain his father’s seat. His opponents included the boyars as well as his younger brother, who was supported by the Ottoman sultan. He emerged briefly victorious in 1448 but was deposed after only two months. After an eight-year struggle, Vlad again claimed the voivodate.

It was during this period of rule that he committed the atrocities for which he was best known. His penchant for impaling his enemies on stakes in the ground and leaving them to die earned him the name Vlad the Impaler (Romanian: Vlad Țepeș). He inflicted this type of torture on foreign and domestic enemies alike: notably, as he retreated from a battle in 1462, he left a field filled with thousands of impaled victims as a deterrent to pursuing Ottoman forces. That year, he escaped Ottoman capture only to be intercepted by Hungarian forces and imprisoned by Matthias I of Hungary. Vlad regained his seat in 1476 but was killed in battle the same year. He remained a folk hero in the region for his efforts against Ottoman encroachment.

It often has been thought that Stoker based the title character of Dracula on Vlad. Though Stoker’s notes for the novel do include mentions of “Dracula,” the historical account from which the notes were taken mentions only the appellation, not the deeds for which its bearer was known. Some scholars have speculated that Stoker’s conversations with a noted historian, Hermann Bamburger, may have provided him with information on Vlad’s violent nature, though there is no concrete evidence to support that theory.

Richard Pallardy

Encyclopaedia Britannica


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