Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Artists that Changed the World
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.



African State Building and Colonization



At the turn of the 19th century, Africa was hardly colonized at all, apart from the coasts. The European outposts became unprofitable after the slave trade was banned at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815; African states on the west coast and the East African sultanate of Zanzibar, however, lived off the slave trade until well into the 19th century. The states formed in Africa were often kept under the "protective rule" of European countries. However, many independent African states were able to assert themselves until the Europeans pushed into the interior and divided Africa among themselves at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.


State Building in the 19th Century

In both West and East Africa, which were shaped by the slave trade of the preceding centuries, states were founded that outlasted the colonial period.


During the Vienna Congress of 1814-1815, the European colonial outlawed the 1, 4 slave trade, though not the ownership of slaves, which had been a source of great wealth for West African states such as Ashanti, Dahomey, and regions of present-day Ghana, as well as the East African sultanate of 5 Zanzibar.

1 British soldiers deliver the message
to the African people that the slave
trade has been abolished, c
olored etching, 19th century

4 Slave hunters attack a village to capture villagers,
wood engraving, 1884

5 American and British trading ships in the
harbor of Zanzibar

In the course of the 19th century, numerous African states were newly reestablished or expanded.

In 1822, freed slaves from the United States founded the settlement of 3 Liberia, which became an independent republic in 1847.

3 Emblem of Liberia:Sun, sailing boat, dove with a letter in
its beak, palm leaves and a plow

An Arabic trading empire in the eastern Congo region was founded by Mohammed bin Hamad (Tippu Tib) in 1870 for purely economic reasons.

In Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Ras Kassa reunited the empire in 1853 after the governors of the provinces had strongly curtailed the power of the emperor in the 18th century. He ruled as Emperor Tewodros II until 1868 and was replaced by John IV, who was helped by the British. During his reign, John successfully repelled attacks by Egyptian military units.

His successor 2 Menelik II allied with Italy, which exercised its influence over Abyssinia.

2 Menelik II, Emperor of Abyssinia

Menelik II, Emperor of Abyssinia

When the Abyssinian empire terminated this alliance, the Italians declared war.

In the 6 Battle of Aduwa, Menelik's troops triumphed, and in the peace of Addis Ababa in 1896, the independence of the country was secured.

In West Africa at the beginning of the 19th century, Usman dan Fodio called for a jihad or holy war against the Muslims of the Hausa city-states in present-day northern Nigeria. With his forces' victory, dan Fodio began to set up a great Islamic empire. A few years later, his son Mohammad Bello created a caliphate that was divided up into emirates. With conquests as far as the land of the Yoruba and victory over Adamawa (present-day northern Cameroon), he ruled from Sokoto over the Fulani Empire. Even as a British protectorate, the emirs did not lose their power, and the empire outlasted the colonial era.

6 Battle of Adwa, tapestry



South Africa between the Boers and the British

In South Africa, the warrior state of the Zulus emerged and soon came into conflict with the Boers. Great Britain, despite great resistance, conquered the Boer Republic.


In South Africa, 7 Shaka founded the state of the 11 Zulu, which he ruled as king until his murder in 1828.

7 Zulu king, King Shaka

He practically became master of South Africa from the Cape Colony to the Zambesi river. He supported his power within the empire on a strict organization and administration of the nation. His military reforms, the introduction of a new battle order, and the deployment of a new throwing spear for close combat provided the success of the Zulus in their campaigns. Through the conquest of large territories, the Zulus put the Bantu people, particularly the Herero and the Matabcle, to flight. Shaka's half-brother and successor continued his policies, yet soon came into conflict with the Boers, the descendents of Dutch settlers in the Cape Colony. In 1806 the Boers had come under British rule. Due to internal tensions, particularly resulting from the banning of the slave trade, which, following the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Boers believed was biblically ordained, around 5000 Boers set off from the Cape Colony in 1837 on a "Great Trek" into the interior of the country, where they came upon the Zulus. The Zulus killed Piet Retief, the leader of the Boers, but in the ensuing battle in 1838 under Andries Pretorius, the Boers killed more than 3000 Zulus. After the victory, the Boers founded the Republic of Natal in 1839, but this too was annexed by the British in 1843.

In the1850s Britain recognized the independence of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State—Boer republics founded shortly after Natal. However, when diamonds were found in the border regions between the Cape Colony and the Boer areas and gold was found near Johannesburg, the British once again increased the pressure on the Boers. After the annexation of Transvaal in 1877, the Boers rose up and defeated the British.

In the following years, 8 Cecil Rhodes, prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890, encircled the Boer republics with the conquest of Rhodesia and Bechuanaland.

With the deployment of troops, the British provoked the president of Transvaal, 9 Paul Kruger, to declare war in 1899.

In the Boer War, the British lost initial battles against generals 10 Smuts, Botha, and Hertzog in Natal and the Cape Colony.

8 Cecil Rhodes

9 Paul Kruger

10 Jan Christiaan Smuts,
later Prime Minister of South Africa, 1910

However, in 1900 British troops captured the capital of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein; Johannesburg fell in May and Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal, in June.

Kruger fled to Europe, but the Boers began a guerrilla war. For two years they resisted the British attacks, until Lord Kitchener defeated them. He allowed the destruction of Boer farms and the internment of women and children in  concentration camps. In 1902 Transvaal and the Orange Free State were declared British colonies with administrative autonomy. The Boer states were integrated in the Union of South Africa in 1910 and became dominions of the British Empire.

11 Zulu women dancing at a wedding, 1970




a nation of Nguni-speaking people in KwaZulu/Natal province, South Africa. They are a branch of the southern Bantu and have close ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties with the Swazi and Xhosa. The Zulu are the single largest ethnic group in South Africa and numbered about 9 million in the late 20th century.

Traditionally grain farmers, they also kept large herds of cattle on the lightly wooded grasslands, replenishing their herds mainly by raiding their neighbours. European settlers wrested grazing and water resources from the Zulu in prolonged warfare during the 19th century, and, with much of their wealth lost, modern Zulu depend largely on wage labour on farms owned by individuals of European descent or work in the cities of South Africa.

Before they joined with the neighbouring Natal Nguni (see Nguni) under their leader Shaka in the early 19th century to form a Zulu empire, the Zulu were only one of many Nguni clans; Shaka gave the clan name to the new nation. Such clans continue to be a basic unit of Zulu social organization; they comprise several patrilineal households, each with rights in its own fields and herds and under the domestic authority of its senior man. Paternal authority is so strong that the Zulu may be called patriarchal. Polygyny is practiced; a man’s wives are ranked by strict seniority under the “great wife,” the mother of his heir. The levirate, in which a widow goes to live with a deceased husband’s brother and continues to bear children in the name of the dead husband, is also practiced.

The genealogically senior man of each clan is its chief, traditionally its leader in war and its judge in peace. Headmen (induna), usually close kin of the chief, continue to have charge of sections of the clan. This clan system was adopted nationwide under the Zulu king, to whom most clan chiefs are related in one way or another. When the Zulu nation was formed, many chiefs were married to women of royal clan or were royal kinsmen installed to replace dissident clan heads. The king relied on confidential advisers, and chiefs and subchiefs formed a council to advise him on administrative and judicial matters.

Boys in this highly organized military society were initiated at adolescence in groups called age sets. Each age set constituted a unit of the Zulu army and was stationed away from home at royal barracks under direct control of the king. Formed into regiments (impi), these men could marry only when the king gave permission to the age set as a whole.

Traditional Zulu religion was based on ancestor worship and on beliefs in a creator god, witches, and sorcerers. The king was responsible for all national magic and rainmaking; rites performed by the king on behalf of the entire nation (at planting season, in war, drought, or famine) centred on the ancestors of the royal line. Modern Zulu Christianity has been marked by the growth of independent or separatist churches under prophets, some of great wealth and influence.

The power and importance of the king, chiefs, and military system have declined substantially, and many of the young men leave KwaZulu/Natal to seek work elsewhere in South Africa. Knowledge of and strong pride in traditional culture and history are, however, almost universal among contemporary Zulu.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


















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