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1600s: Eastern Colonial Ambitions Realized
The 1600s was a time of considerable technological progress, dwarfed only by the progress made in the subsequent centuries. For the first time ever, it seemed that every generation inherited a significantly more modern life than the previous one. The modern world was beginning to dawn. The scientific method came to be embraced across much of the world, and breakthroughs in the sciences - particularly in astronomy, physics, medicine, mechanics, printing, and armament - led to rapid societal progression. Partly since most of these discoveries hailed from the Orient, the Asian empires were able to increasingly dominate the globe. By the end of the 17th century, this Asian domination would spread even to Western Europe.
Yodderick in the 1600s
Yodderick (the Americas) was still being colonized. The coastal outposts were more and more spreading their influence to the hinterlands, and so Japanese and Chinese (and, to some extent, Korean) power was pushed over wider and wider swaths of the New World. Many native societies had already fallen. The chaos of rampant disease had, by and large, dissipated. The native population was indeed starting to rebound. What replaced the chaos differed, depending on the community. For most societies, there was a sense of dread - a sense that the culture was living on borrowed time, and that sooner or later, Japan or China would be at the door. However, some of the largest cultures prospered.
The main indigenous languages of Yodderick were Quechua, Nahuatl, Aymara, Guarani, Tupi, and Muisca (standard Chibcha). These were largely standardized by the end of the century, and indeed grew throughout. Various language familes (such as Mayan or Algonquian to name only two) were also widespread, but the languages in each group differed substantially and were many in number, and thus harder to standardize and put forth as lingua francas. Tawantin Suyu (the Quechua-speaking Incan Empire) especially prospered, as it gained trade links across the Pacific. China never imposed its government in the area, but instead demanded tribute in the form of incredibly high taxes from exports. Even with this system in place, however, Tawantin Suyu prospered.
Meshiko (Mexico) was another matter, as all last vestiges of the Aztec empire had been completely destroyed by the Chinese over a century earlier. Human sacrifice had sickened the invading Chinese, and they massacred the priests and royals, thus winning favor with the Aztecs' neighbors. In later decades, Buddhism was forcibly introduced, and by 1650, Meshiko had the largest number of Buddhists of any New World colony. The Japanese were less willing to treat the native populations as trading partners, and instead generally displaced them from the most desired land under Japanese control. Helping the Japanese further with their colonization efforts was the fact that, unlike in Chinese-controlled tropical Yodderick, the native population was a lot thinner - due to the lack of major native empires like the Aztecs or Incas.
In Yodderick, three kinds of writing were used for the native languages. In Chinese-dominated areas, native languages came to be written down completely in hanzi (Chinese characters), or completely in Western characters (which the Chinese found could come in handy for pronunciation). Meanwhile, the Japanese tried a mix of Chinese characters and Japanese "kana" characters used to write syllables.
Overall, the 1600s saw stabilization of relations with the major native groups, and further whittling away at the smaller native groups, or perhaps consolidation with a major group.
Native African States
Sri Vijaya's technology and culture made a lasting impression in some parts of Africa. The Wolof Empire had already been around for a few centuries by this time, but it was in the early 1600s that Wolof became a significant force in the continent. Wolof came to have close ties with Sri Vijaya, and this relationship definitely increased its strength in relation to its neighbors and rivals. Besides just weapons and other modern objects unheard-of before outside contact, the Wolof King at the time became a major patron of Sri Vijayan culture. He studied philosophy and religions, and was especially keen on Hinduism. Sri Vijaya let the Wolof Empire prosper without any threat of colonization, as it was already an important ally in the region. Over the course of the century, the Wolof Empire grew in West Africa, and with it, Hindu and Buddhist ideas. These ideas were spread far past Wolof's borders, and in doing so, were partially merged into the religions of each area, creating hybrid religions.
Another regionally powerful state was Oyo (a Yoruba kingdom), which started to grow at around the same time. Besides these two states, and the territories populated by Malayan peoples, Sub-Saharan Africa continued to be tribal. In 1629, two Sri Vijayan emissaries were killed in Oyo (ostensibly for insulting the king). This started a war between them and Sri Vijaya, which ultimately led to the former's downfall. In 1631, Oyo was defeated by Sri Vijaya and added to the empire.
North Africa and the Middle East
As Spanish power increased in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, it began to conquer North Africa, and even send some explorers to the New World to claim territory (all of which was negated by the Chinese and Japanese presence). The conquest of North Africa was partly due to Spanish frustration in the New World, partly because it was much closer and unclaimed by an Asian empire, and also partly to continue their advances against the Muslims with whom they had been in conflict with for hundreds of years by now. By 1641, the last free Muslim government in the world had been conquered (although Muslims still represented a majority of people in many areas). Subsequent to that, there was an unstoppable Christianization plan put into place that forced unconverted Muslims into hiding. Christians would actually become a majority in some parts of Spanish North Africa by the end of the century.
From the eastern Mediterranean came the Byzantine Empire, which met up with and had a stalemate with Spain in western Libya. This frustrated the Spanish because they felt the heat from another growing empire, and a non-Catholic (an Orthodox Christian) one at that. Sporadic wars erupted on the border, and the major town of New Cyrene (in Byzantine Libya) was almost taken, but held out. However, this fighting weakened the Byzantine Empire substantially, and the army from the Egyptian province rebelled, and declared independence from Byzantia. Soon, the Byzantine emperor realized that it was futile to fight Egypt (as doing so would further weaken it and leave it vulnerable to future attacks), so it accepted Egypt's independence and signed a peace treaty with the new state.
As for Mesopotamia, Byzantia was in complete control, and the region was feeling more and more Greek by the decade. Greek was now the major language throughout the area, though Arabic, Syriac (Aramaic), Kurdish, and other languages continued to be spoken - primarily in rural areas. Still, many of the speakers of other languages were fast becoming bilingual in Greek.
Persia, meanwhile, was experiencing a cultural revival after years of sectarian conflict. From the late 1100s, when Persia broke away from a splintering China, it had carried on under the radar. Ethnic Chinese kings dominated in the first few centuries, later giving way to mixed race kings and then mostly native Persian kings. However, from the 1300s, few of these kings had much power beyond their base of operations, and other ethnic groups claimed independence (which generally wasn't recognized by the outside world). Since the Chinese clamping down on Islam in the 11th century (and continuing for centuries thereafter), the people had followed an assortment of religions, generally depending on the region and language/dialect group. By 1600, the major religions of Persia were Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Manichaeism, Hinduism, and Islam, in that order. The lack of complete control of any one group led to a liberalization of thought, and as the central government became more potent, members of all major religions were found in the government structure. Also, more and more, Persia started acting as a business corridor between India and the Byzantine Empire. It also served as an ally of both nations, particularly India.
Asian Influence in Europe
The Castile-Aragon War of the 1500s was the first time that an Asian power (Sri Vijaya) intervened in a European conflict. It did so to help Aragon, a major trading partner, escape the clutches of a rabidly Christian Spain (which had started calling itself "Spain" more often than "Castile" largely in order to usurp the idea of "Hispania" - that is, Iberia, which it wanted to dominate). Relations had never improved between Sri Vijaya and Spain since the war. On the African front, Sri Vijaya was a direct rival to Spain, which wanted to explore south of the Sahara. Sri Vijaya, as mentioned, also directly helped the largely Cathar states to the north and east of Spain, posing a direct threat to Spain's well-being.
Things came to a head in 1659, when (decades after establishing firm control of both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar) the pope declared that Asian ships were no longer allowed to enter. Instead, all trade would have to be done through Spanish or Vatican (Papal States) ships. This was a repeat of what a previous pope had tried to do. To Sri Vijaya, it was an unforgivable example of haughtiness.
The Fall of the Pope
It seemed to Sri Vijaya, that the pope was again pulling the strings behind Spain, and so war was declared on Spain and the Papal States on September 15th, 1660. Sri Vijaya, aided by technological improvements in weaponry, began by pounding both sides of the Strait with explosive shells fired by high-trajectory artillery pieces (howitzers) aboard ships. This usage of new weaponry was largely ineffectual in terms of inflicting casualties, but succeeded in instilling horror into the Spanish troops. Still, the Spanish held out, and for a while, it seemed like this war would be a repeat of the Castile-Aragon War, which was not decisive. Of course, in this war, too, Aragon took part, on the side of Sri Vijaya. Tolosa, meanwhile, provided food and medical aid to Aragon and Sri Vijaya, but did not send fighting troops.
Spain was a very tough nut to crack, so the decision was made to attack the Papal States. This proved easier. Howitzers were not used - the twin reasons being that they had not done much against Spain, and even Sri Vijaya was a fan of ancient Rome and desired to conquer it rather than destroy it. (Howitzers seemed to destroy property more than armies, when shot into cities.) It took only six months for the Sri Vijayan and Aragonese armies to destroy the last vestiges of papal control over the territory. The last battle was for the Vatican, itself. Finally, it was taken and the pope was captured. The pope was sentenced to publicly give up the claim of spiritual authority and papal infallibility. Confronted with imprisonment, the pope did this, but immediately, there were protests from the whole Catholic world, and the pope was seen as an impostor. A new pope was soon crowned in by a group of cardinals in Naples, vowing to enter Rome. This caused a rift in the Catholic population, with some seeing the former pope as their spiritual authority, some seeing the Napolitan pope as their spiritual authority, and some taking the former pope's words seriously and seeing no papal authority anymore. The Sri Vijayans raced to capture the new pope, which they did two years later (1663). This pope, they tried to control. Giving him nominal authority, the Sri Vijayan state told him what to say, under penalty of life imprisonment. A further two new popes sprung up in the next five years, in Spain and Sicily. Western Christendom was in a panic, not knowing what to believe, and resentful of Sri Vijaya. Some groups organized a resistance to Sri Vijayan control. Many of these rebel groups called themselves "crusaders", and instead of weakening the Malayan hold on their country, instead turned to killing innocent people deemed heretics (various Catholics who followed a different pope, included).
By 1672, Sri Vijaya had established a strong hold on the Papal States (including Sardinia and Corsica), Naples, and Sicily. Spain still held up against the onslaught, but lost some territory to Aragon, and the towns of Ceuta, Gibraltar, and Tangier were taken by Sri Vijaya and served as important forts. Sri Vijaya tried to take all of North Africa by keeping Spanish ships from crossing the waters between the continents, but it became impossible to do so, and soon a deal was struck with Spain. The former Papal States and Naples and Sicily were turned into a single puppet state. Its new name, "Rome" lent it an air of credibility that it simply didn't have.
Japan Wants In
Seeing the gains that Sri Vijaya was able to make in Europe, Japan immediately wanted a piece. It knew that the Netherlands (amongst many other states) wanted de jure independence from the Holy Roman Empire, but that the Holy Roman Empire was not ready to formally let it go. As tensions escalated, Japan vowed the Netherlands that it would fight on their behalf and not let it be subsumed into the Holy Roman Empire. At first, the Japanese were rebuffed, and a peaceable solution was attempted, but after an invasion by the Holy Roman Emperor's troops in 1683, the Netherlands appealed to Japan for help. Immediately, Japan sent a fleet of ships, loaded with soldiers and the most cutting-edge weapons of the time, from eastern Yodderick. When they heard that the Japanese were getting involved, high-up military officials told the Holy Roman Emperor to withdraw his troops, but he didn't listen. As a result, they got slaughtered by the Japanese. This was the first major usage of both the "percussion cap" and a "revolver mechanism" for handguns. This meant that guns could be fired faster each round, more reliably, and more quickly between rounds. The Holy Roman Army never stood a chance, as they were an underpowered military in the first place.
Strangely, uninterested in conquering the Holy Roman Empire, the Japanese just made them turn tail and run. Their real prize was the Netherlands, which they betrayed by annexing as a colony in 1685. The Netherlands was was very valuable, as it was a major center of trade in Western Europe. As the Japanese annexed it, they selected "Wageningen" to be their new temple. The Japanese spelled it "我が人間" ("Waga Ningen" - meaning, "My/Our People"). While the Netherlands continued to prosper, there were many small rebellions against the Japanese imperial authorities.
It turned out that the idea of taking over the Holy Roman Empire was given up because the Japanese had another plan in mind - the invasion of England.