Age of Enlightenment

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The Age of Enlightenment (or often just The Enlightenment) is a rough period from about 1600-1650 to 1800 in which Europe rose in prominence, strength and especially in knowledge. Roughly speaking it was when ideas and events that were forming in the Renaissance came into their own. Maritime trade steadily improved thanks to steady improvements in the art of shipbuilding and navigation as well as new ideas on how to get a voyage off the ground as joint stock companies began to grow. Instead of a ship's captain financing a long voyage or having a patron who funded it, both of whom could be ruined by failure, hundreds of people could invest in a company with a fleet of ships spreading the risk about. This coincided with an increase in the population due to the introduction of New World Crops and other such improvement in agriculture. Both of which led to the growth of cities and the rise of literacy and the merchant classes. People to whom education was of a paramount import both for practical reasons (writing contracts, keeping inventory, managing a business empire, keeping track of world events that they could capitalize on, having a career in law) and because this could be a way of accessing the nobility who could overlook commonerhood in one with a pile of money and could act in accordance with their increasingly complex fashions and etiquette which often involved studying the Classical Period.

The result of which was that there was a growing class of wealthy people that had been politically sidelined around Europe reading up on the latest developments, sharing their ideas through letters, meetings and books and responding to others. Many of them began to question the established order of things and old dogmas such as the notion that the path to knowledge was through revealed truth and submission to religious and monarchical authority simply because they were in power. From the classical age they drew upon ideals of reason, logic and discussion but rather than just blindly accepting the words of Aristotle or Plato or replicating the "pure discussion/rhetoric" form of philosophical discourse and began backing up their claims with systematic observation and review by their peers. From their works and experiments gradually saw a new surge in Natural Philosophy which would gradually give rise to Modern Science and breakthroughs in in engineering.

Their efforts generated useful results in a variety of fields, which got them more patronage from the established powers. Many of the Monarchs of the time were keen on this whole Science thing and wanted in on it for practical and political gains. Who would not want to have an Enlightened Monarch with a keen eye to modernization? That said, the Merchant class was also extending its reach into the political sphere and promoted the idea that everyone (for a certain value of everyone) had rights. In England due to political dealings and dynastic squabbles the House of Commons rose in prominence in the British Government (though they did build on the precedents of previous times) by 1689. These ideas would be taken further a century latter in England's colonies during the American Revolution and further still in the French Revolution.

This has been a rather rosy description of this period so far, though there is a fair deal that should not be overlooked. Spain and Portugal both ruled over huge chunks of South America setting up garrisons, missions, mines, plantations and ports and little else to suck the regions dry of resources while the Dutch did similar horrible things to monopolize spice production. The notion of Racial Slavery arose as well as racial psuedosciences as a formalization of prejudices continuing trends starting in the Renaissance. The assholish racism due to arbitrary differences thing started here, rather than the entirely practical resource related hatred. Nations got into wars specifically to impose bullshit tariffs on each other to screw each other over.

Notes[edit]

  • This period in military history has been called "the Age of Lace Trimmed Warfare". Between muskets and field cannons, armor was gradually discarded by most soldiers while the idea of giving every soldier in your army clothes that are all the same gradually caught on. The fancier the better. Big blocky formations gave way to lines of soldier two or three ranks deep at most which could bring as many muskets to bare as possible supported by cavalry and pistols.
  • During this period was fought the Seven Years' War, the first global conflict which saw fighting on every continent save Australia and Antarctica.
  • Pretty much everywhere on the world would be effected in some way by European powers by end of the Age of Enlightenment. India would fall under the control of the East India Company, China's economy would become reliant on western silver, Africa would be effected by the Slave Trade and the Americas and eventually Australia would be colonized and settled. Even Japanese who closed themselves off adopted a surprising amount of western ideas through the Dutch in what's known as Rangaku.
  • In England and France at this time few engineers are looking into more effective ways of producing thread, making cloth, casting iron for cannons and sowing seeds with various contrivances. One particular issue they had to deal with in England in particular was the matter of fuel. Wood was becoming scarce during the Enlightenment as more people were burning it and more ships were being built. To save on wood, people began burning coal in large quantities instead, but their mines had a nasty tenancy of flooding. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen made an machine which burned coal to pump them out, which James Watt would refine and improve on fifty years latter.
  • Crops that originated in the New World include the potato, tomato, corn, pineapple, pumpkin, peppers, tobacco, vanilla and chocolate (among others). While not a crop, all but one species of cactus (which doesn't even look like a cactus) are native to the new world. If you see these in something set before this era or cactus in a European/Asia/African desert, call someone a hack.

The appeal of the Age of Enlightenment[edit]

The Age of Enlightenment is a prelude to the modern world. It's basic ideas were taking shape and growing but are not quite there yet, are still largely overshadowed by the Ancient Regime (the old order of things with Kings, Nobles and the Church) and they were still constrained by many limitations which had been the case since the Bronze Age. Scientists were uncovering the world's secrets and making important discoveries in the areas of biology, astronomy and physics while kings set their sights on building empires on which the sun would never set and you had grand financial chicanery such as the South Seas Company but people still relied on guys with ox carts to bring in their daily grain and take away their crap, law enforcement was handled by gangs of thugs hired out by rich people to keep the riff-raff away from their properties and in many places when people built buildings they still used literal rule of thumb.

As for a specific of the era this was a high point for the idea of Absolute Monarchy. Realms where power had been consolidated in thrones to be distributed for good service to among nobles which had become less subordinate rulers and more components in the apparatus of government. With this came the idea of the Enlightened Monarch, an educated and cultured man or woman who'd be up to date on natural philosophy with the strength and power to rationalize his/her kingdom, do away with superstition and bring in a new age of elegant humane efficiency.

This is also the height of the Age of Sail. Of tall ships of the line bristling with cannons, fast frigates and pirate ships raiding merchantmen it out on the high seas with all the action and swashbuckling there-in. It's also a time of global reach, where a poor farmer's son might travel to burgeoning colonies, the ports of rival nations and to distant foreign parts with strange ancient civilizations if he spends time on a ship. The battles of the day with their line infantry, cuirassiers with a brace of pistols and sabers and field artillery are distinctive.

Enlightenment inspired Games, Factions and Settings[edit]

While not set in our world but the Age of Sigmar, the lore of the Kharadron Overlords follows a certain pattern which catters to the Age of Enlightenment, with the coming of Chaos and the abandomnent of their gods and allies being something akin to the religious wars, plagues and social strife which ravaged Europe during the late medieval ages, many duardin were forced to migrate to new territories, like the europeans of the early modern age these refugees were forced to reevaluate their beliefs and culture, and, like them, they made a titanic intellectual leap, putting their faith no longer in traditional religious systems and absolute monarchs, but in technological development and plutocratic meritocracy. During the five centuries of the Age of Chaos the Kharadron Overlords not only survived the onslaught of the Dark Gods but thrived, building sky-cities and floating ports, developing scientific weaponry and tools based on the sustance known as aether-gold and stablishing tradelines among them, by the beginning of the Age of Sigmar they are arguibly the most technologically advanced race of the setting, with energy-projected weaponry, armoured airships and a set of laws which allows them to pull back from doomed battles and democratically choose or demote, without shame or blood, their own leaders.

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Historical Time Periods
Premodern: Stone Age - Bronze Age - Classical Period - Dark Age - High Middle Ages - Renaissance
Modern: Age of Enlightenment - Industrial Revolution - The World Wars - The Cold War - Post-Cold War