15th century

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Christopher Columbus arrives in America by Gergio Deluci (1893).
Millennium: 2nd millennium
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The 15th century was the century which spans the Julian years 1401 to 1500.

In European history, the 15th century is seen as the bridge between the Late Middle Ages, the Early Renaissance, and the Early modern period. Many technological, social and cultural developments of the 15th century can in retrospect be seen as heralding the "European miracle" of the following centuries. In religious history, the Roman Papacy was split in two parts in Europe for decades (the so-called Western Schism), until the Council of Constance. The division of the Catholic Church and the unrest associated with the Hussite movement would become factors in the rise of the Protestant Reformation in the following century.

Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, falls to emerging Ottoman Turks, marking the end of the tremendously influential Roman Empire and, for some historians, the end of the Middle Ages.[1] The event forced Western Europeans to find a new trade route, adding further momentum to what was the beginning of the Age of Discovery, which would lead to the global mapping of the world. Explorations by the Spanish and Portuguese led to the first European sightings of the Americas (the New World) and the sea passage along Cape of Good Hope to India, in the last decade of the century. These expeditions ushered in the era of the Portuguese and Spanish colonial empires.

The fall of Constantinople led to the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy, while Johannes Gutenberg's invention of mechanical movable type began the Printing Revolution. These two events played key roles in the development of the Renaissance.[2][3]

The Spanish Reconquista leads to the final fall of the Emirate of Granada by the end of the century.

The Hundred Years' War end with a decisive French victory over the English in the Battle of Castillon. Financial troubles in England following the conflict results in the Wars of the Roses, a series of dynastic wars for the throne of England. The conflicts ends with the defeat of Richard III by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field, establising the Tudor dynasty in the later part of the century.

In Asia, under the rule of the Yongle Emperor, who built the Forbidden City and commanded Zheng He to explore the world overseas, the Ming Dynasty's territory reached its pinnacle. Tamerlane established a major empire in the Middle East and Central Asia, in order to revive the Mongolian Empire.

In Africa, the spread of Islam leads to the destruction of the Christian kingdoms of Nubia, by the end of the century leaving only Alodia (which was to collapse in 1504). The formerly vast Mali Empire teeters on the brink of collapse, under pressure from the rising Songhai Empire.

In the Americas, both the Inca Empire and the Aztec Triple Alliance reach the peak of their influence.


Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl, directly influenced the result of the Hundred Years' War.
Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the greatest engineers and architects of all time.




The renaissance king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. His mercenary standing army (the Black Army) had the strongest military potential of its era.




Modern painting of Mehmed II marching on Constantinople in 1453
Detail of The Emperor's Approach showing the Xuande Emperor's royal carriage. Ming Dynasty of China.
File:Henry Seven England.jpg
King Henry VII, (1457–1509), the founder of the royal house of Tudor
  • 1456: The Siege of Belgrade halts the Ottomans' advance into Europe.
  • 1456: Girindrawardhana, styled Brawijaya VI becomes ruler of Majapahit.[5]


The seventeen Kuchkabals of Yucatán after The League of Mayapan in 1461.
The Siege of Rhodes (1480). Ships of the Hospitaliers in the forefront, and Turkish camp in the background.




Significant people

Visual artists, architects, sculptors, printmakers, illustrators

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See links above for Italian Renaissance painting and Renaissance sculpture.


Musicians and Composers

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Science, invention and philosophy

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Inventions, discoveries, introductions

List of 15th century inventions

Important personages


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  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, Renaissance, 2008, O.Ed.
  3. McLuhan 1962; Eisenstein 1980; Febvre & Martin 1997; Man 2002
  4. Modern interpretation of the place names recorded by Chinese chronicles can be found e.g. in Some Southeast Asian Polities Mentioned in the MSL by Geoffrey Wade
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Ricklefs (1991), page 18.
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  7. Mueller, Peter O. (1993) Substantiv-Derivation in Den Schriften Albrecht Durers, Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-012815-2.
  8. also sometimes in contemporary documents Barthélemy de Cler, der Clers, Deick d'Ecle, d'Eilz – Harthan, John, The Book of Hours, p.93, 1977, Thomas Y Crowell Company, New York, ISBN 0-690-01654-9
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  10. Tolley
  11. Brigstocke, 2001, p. 338
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Decades and years