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What is Civilization III ?

In Brief: During Renaissance times, European culture became redirected from religion to worldly interests and pursuits such as commerce, natural science, and art. European navigators explored distant places on earth. Humanist scholars laid the foundation of secular education. This was the epoch of European colonial expansion when societies became organized at the level of the nation state. Today's educational and career system (including an appreciation of classical music and literature) is its legacy.

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Civilization III describes the European secular culture which began in the 14th and 15th centuries, A.D. This culture became territorially aggressive, and eventually "civilized" the entire world. Its seeds were sown in the period of the Italian Renaissance. Portuguese and Spanish navigators "discovered" a new continent and reached the rich lands of India and the Far East by sea.

Commercial gain was the driving force of this new civilization. Wealth as a value supplanted the Christian ideal of poverty. "Things seen" gained a new appreciation. Along with wealth went a desire for secular learning. Humanist scholars, steeped in the rediscovered classics of Graeco-Roman antiquity, educated the children of wealthy merchants. Rich individuals collected books and commissioned works of art.

The incessant wars among European princes, Holy Roman Emperors, and Popes were fought with the help of mercenary soldiers. Bishoprics and imperial elections were bought and sold. St. Peter's church was adorned with costly art. In this environment, moneylenders such as the Fugger family of Augsburg became major power brokers. The Roman church's fund raising efforts brought charges of corruption and inspired the Protestant Reformation.

Portugal and Spain enjoyed an early commercial advantage as a result of discoveries made by its navigators. In the 17th century, the Dutch gained control of the seas. A century later, the English evicted the Dutch and the French from their colonial possessions in North America and India. The British Empire, commercially oriented, became the leading power on earth. However, North American colonists gained their independence from England. A decade later, the French Revolution took place. Napoleon briefly unified continental Europe.

In the 18th century, European trade shifted away from the spices of the Orient and towards agricultural commodities that could be obtained in the Americas: tobacco, coffee, rum. A three-cornered trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas brought black slaves to the New World. The slave trade flourished when cotton was king, but was abolished in the 19th century. There were moral limits to money's power.

In the 19th century, European science and technology transformed industrial processes. The manufacturing class became wealthy. Industrial laborers learned to bargain collectively. This was a period of enormous gains in transportation and communications as the steam locomotive, telegraph, and other such inventions were introduced. National governments embraced free trade. Child labor gave way to universal education. The European powers carved up Africa into colonies and forced the Chinese imperial government to grant trade enclaves.

European political dominance was effectively ended in the suicidal warfare of World Wars I and II. Suddenly, democratic governments replaced a host of monarchies and empires. Anti-colonialist movements and labor unrest swept the world.

The third civilization is characterized by corporations, banks, and other commercial institutions and by an educational system subservient to careers. Its epoch lasted from Renaissance times until the early 20th century. Its dominant cultural technology was printing.

For a more complete history of Civilization III, read Five Epochs of Civilization, chapter 6. (Read it here.)

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