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Amazing Bible Timeline True or False Questions

The changing season brings a return to school and a whole new year of learning possibilities!  To kick off the school year, we’re offering this free True or False worksheet download based on the Amazing Bible Timeline.  You can print this page or download our handy PDF (linked below) that includes the answer key.  The questions we came up with are listed below.  What would you add?  Post your own questions in the comments or email us with your suggestions!

1. The Amazing Bible Timeline covers events from both the Old and New Testaments. T/F

2. Seth, son of Adam, lived to be 612 years old. T/F 

3. The Great Flood, as described in the Bible, is positioned on the timeline around 2300 BC. T/F 

4. The birth of Jesus Christ is represented on the Amazing Bible Timeline around 4 BC. T/F

5. The timeline shows the approximate time of the construction of David’s Temple in Jerusalem. T/F 

6. The apostle Paul’s missionary journeys are marked on the timeline during the 1st century AD. T/F

7. The conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity is placed on the timeline around the 4th century AD. T/F

8. The Babylonian Exile of the Israelites is placed on the timeline during the 6th century BC. T/F

9. The Protestant Reformation led by King James is positioned on the timeline around the 16th century AD. T/F

10. The timeline provides a visual representation of both biblical and secular historical events in relation to each other. T/F

This item is geared toward upper elementary or junior high students and can be accessed by clicking the link below (answer key included).

Amazing Bible Timeline True or False Questions and Answer Key

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Paul, Son of Catherine, Reigns 1796

Paul, son of Catherine the Great and Peter III, started his reign in 1796. Born in 1754 and raised by his great-aunt Elizabeth, the young prince never had an affectionate relationship with his own mother. Young Paul always fell short of his mother’s expectations and was almost bypassed in favor of his own sons. Paul started his short and tyrannical reign upon Catherine’s death in 1796, but his reign was mostly overshadowed by the First and Second Coalition Wars waged against the expanding French Republic.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during this time period.

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Early Years and Accession

Catherine, Empress of Russia, gave birth to her son on September 20, 1754. The baby was named Paul (Pavel) and was kidnapped several minutes later by the childless Empress Elizabeth. Grand Duke Peter, the boy’s father, was busy drinking himself into a stupor somewhere in the palace while the empress was taking the child away from his mother.

Any form of affection failed to grow between mother and son as Paul was raised by Empress Elizabeth in her own household. He rarely saw his own mother, and he was entrusted early on to a tutor named Nikita Ivanovich Panin. Elizabeth died in 1762 and was soon succeeded by her nephew, the Grand Duke Peter. Emperor Peter III, however, did not reign long. Catherine, his own wife, deposed him in a coup just five months after he acceded the throne. After sending her husband to Ropsha, she then crowned herself Empress of Russia in Moscow.

Although the Empress did not neglect him altogether, Paul’s relationship with his mother worsened as the years passed. In 1773, she arranged his marriage to the Prussian princess Wilhelmina Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. She knew that she would have to leave the throne to him after her death, so she allowed him to attend the meetings of the Council to give him some training.

Paul’s first wife died in 1776 after giving birth to a stillborn son, so Catherine once again arranged his marriage to another Prussian princess. This time she picked the lovely Sophia Dorothea of Wurttemberg, and the two were married in September 1776. What was initially a marriage of convenience turned out to be a good match when Paul and Maria Feodorovna (Sophia Dorothea’s Orthodox name) fell in love. She gave birth to their son Alexander I in 1777, and the heir was soon followed by nine more children.

Paul was also infatuated with military drills—a quirk that irritated his mother as it reminded her of her dead spouse. He also inherited his father’s temper, impulsiveness, and cruelty. He terrorized his family with his fits of rage, so his wife was often forced to calm him down. The Empress and her court often scoffed at him and considered him mad.

Catherine and Paul’s relationship worsened when the Empress insinuated that she would bypass him and elevate her grandson Alexander to the throne instead. When his third son Nicholas was born, Catherine persuaded Maria to convince her husband to renounce his claim to the throne in favor of their sons. Maria refused, and Paul’s resentment of her mother only worsened.

 Catherine came down with a stroke on November 17, 1796. When he heard that his mother fell, the forty-two-year-old Paul immediately traveled from his estate in Gatchina to his mother’s palace at Tsarskoye Selo. But it was the desire to secure his succession and not affection nor worry from his part that made him hurry to be by her bedside. When he arrived, he immediately ordered his mother’s ministers to surrender her papers to him. The grandees and soldiers who were loyal to him soon arrived and gathered around the Tsarevich as Catherine lay dying. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia for thirty-five years, died at 9:45 PM on the same day. She was sixty-eight.

The Mad Emperor

Emperor Paul I of Russia reigned for four years before he was assassinated.

Paul became Emperor of Russia as soon as his mother breathed her last in 1796. His priority was to consolidate power and ensure the loyalty of his courtiers. Then it was time to settle old scores. The new Emperor had his father’s remains exhumed from the Nevsky Monastery. He then ordered Orlov and Bariatinski (the ringleaders of Peter’s assassination) to lead the funeral procession. When she was alive, Catherine had insinuated that Paul was the son of her first lover Saltykov and therefore was not a true Romanov. Paul never forgot this slight, and he had Peter buried with her as revenge.  

So great was his hatred of Catherine that the Emperor started his reign by erasing his mother’s legacy. He forbade the troops from wearing the simpler and more practical uniform introduced by Catherine’s favorite and former lover Grigory Potemkin. He favored the Prussian style uniforms (with matching wig and powder) which he soon reintroduced to the army. He had General Alexander Suvorov (one of Catherine’s favorites) dismissed and sent to his estate when the general defied him by rejecting his reforms. Paul and his wife also formulated a decree which forbade a female offspring of the House of Romanov from inheriting the throne.

Apart from military parades, he also liked to bend people to his will with or without the use of violence. Members of the nobility needed to submit to corporal punishment, and they were required to adhere to the strict hierarchy he created for them. He was not above to beating soldiers who offended him. Banishment to Siberia as punishment for petty sins was also common so that soldiers assigned in the capital resorted to padding their coats with cash just in case they were suddenly sent into exile.

His volatility and pettiness confused and terrified his courtiers. He was gracious with people whom he favored but severe with people who fell from his grace. He drove out his mistress Yekaterina Nelidova and the Kurakin family when he got tired of their scheming. He also elevated his barber, valet, and occasional pimp Ivan Kutaisov to the position of count.

The Coalition Wars

Paul spent much of his reign trying to contain the expansionist ambitions of the newly created French Republic. The French Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte embarked on the Italian campaign in the year of Paul’s accession to the throne. Bonaparte and his troops easily took Savoy, Piedmont-Sardinia, Ferrara, Romagna, and Bologna during the War of the First Coalition (1792-1797). Austria, a haven for French royalists and enemy of France during much of the war, was forced to sue for peace on April 1797. Napoleon Bonaparte and his Austrian counterpart signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 18, 1797.

The treaty left Austria’s former ally Britain out in the cold as it was only between Austria and France. Bonaparte was eager to attack Britain, but he was doubtful that a French invasion of the island would ever succeed. He then decided that it would be wiser to weaken Britain first by disrupting the British commerce. To this end, he decided to block the Mediterranean route taken by British ships to India and establish French domination in Egypt. Napoleon and his fleet then sailed to Egypt but stopped mid-way in Malta to besiege the island.

News of the fall of Malta to the French in 1798 enraged Paul. He had been elected as Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and he considered this distant island his jurisdiction. To his delight, however, Bonaparte and his fleet were later routed by Captain Nelson’s navy in the Battle of the Nile. Despite the defeat at sea, the French were still victorious on Egyptian land. French troops successfully captured Cairo and soon were spreading their tentacles into Syria.

Alarmed at the expansion, the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger traveled to St. Petersburg in 1799 to convince the Emperor to form the Second Coalition that would counter France. Paul agreed to join the coalition and sent Russian soldiers to attack the French troops in the Batavian Republic (former Dutch Republic), Italy, Piedmont-Sardinia, Savor, and Switzerland along with British and Austrian troops.

The Austrian and the Russian armies (under the command of General Suvorov) was able to route the French army in Italy. Despite this victory, the relationship between the Austrian and the Russian troops soon floundered. Suvorov and his men later marched to Switzerland to fight the French forces, but they were soon abandoned by the Austrians. The Russians were forced to fight their way out of Switzerland to survive. To Paul’s dismay, the troops he sent to Holland to work with the British forces fared no better. Enraged at his allies’ ineptitude and unreliability, he formally withdrew his troops from the coalition on October 22, 1799.

Coup d’etat and Death

Two men held sway over Paul during his reign. First was the pro-British Count Nikita Panin whom Paul appointed as vice-chancellor. Panin’s more powerful rival was the president of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs Feodor Rostopchin who was known to advocate pro-French policies. Frustrated with Paul’s inept foreign policies, Count Nikita Panin soon planned to have the Emperor deposed and elevate his son Alexander instead. He met with Alexander, but the terrified heir neither agreed to the plan nor breathed a word to his father about the plot.

Bonaparte, meanwhile, had overthrown the French Directory in a coup in November 1799 and soon became the country’s First Consul. In the same year, Paul granted Rostopchin the title of count and soon made overtures to Napoleon. Nothing could have made the First Consul happier. To secure Paul’s goodwill, he released 7,000 Russian prisoners of war and sent them back to their homeland in 1800. He also agreed to evacuate French troops from Malta and let Russian troops occupy the island. The British navy, however, got there first and promptly captured the island which they then refused to hand over to the Russians. Paul responded by planning an attack on British-held India together with Bonaparte.

The Emperor’s stifling paranoia increased during the last year of his life. He trusted no one (not even his own sons) and often sent people to exile for tiniest offenses. His heir—the perceptive and liberal Alexander—bore the brunt of his tyrannical tendencies. He saw threats all around but suspected Alexander more than the others.

Men who served Paul (even those who were loyal to him) often found themselves dismissed from their jobs when they fell from grace. One of these men was Count Nikita von der Pahlen who was appointed, dismissed, reappointed and dismissed once again as governor of Livonia. In 1800, Pahlen finally had enough of Paul’s volatility. He approached Alexander and slowly began to suggest the idea of ousting Paul in favor of his son. Alexander, terrified or deeply filial, refused to go along with Pahlen.

In early 1801, Pahlen finally convinced Alexander to join his allies in forcing his father to abdicate. Ever the devoted son, he asked for Pahlen’s assurance that Paul would remain alive and that he would only be retired to the Mikhailovsky Palace. Pahlen agreed but knew that he would not be able to keep his promise to Alexander. Now all he had to do was to find someone who did not mind to having his hands stained with blood.

By some stroke of luck, Pahlen was able to convince Paul to recall Prince Nikolay Zubov from exile. Zubov, one of Catherine’s favorites, had been Paul’s nemesis. Upon his mother’s death, the Emperor immediately had him and his brother Platon (Catherine’s lover) exiled. Levin Bennigsen, one of Catherine’s most prominent generals, was also exiled in 1798 but was pardoned by Paul along with Zubov. Some 200 soldiers soon joined in on the plot after some their fellow soldiers were sent into exile.

Paul retreated to the Mikhailovsky Castle as his paranoia deepened. He knew that something was up and it was only a matter of time before someone deposed or worse, killed him. He once confronted Pahlen on the news of a conspiracy which reached him, but the latter only reassured the Emperor that it would not succeed. Pahlen decided to play along. He told the Emperor that his wife and elder sons were planning to oust him, and advised him to plan a counter-coup.

He then betrayed the Emperor by telling his son of the plot and advised him to be ready to strike. Unaware of the whole plot, Paul then gave his wife and elder sons a dressing down for plotting against him. He had his sons placed on house arrest, but Alexander remained in contact with Pahlen.

Pahlen and his men surrounded the Mikhailovsky Palace during the early morning hours of March 23, 1801. Meanwhile, a group of drunk and angry soldiers led by Prince Platon Zubov, his brother Nikolay, and Bennigsen stormed into the palace. Alarmed at the noise, Paul got out of his bed and hid behind a screen. The assailants soon found him and dragged him from behind his hiding place. Bennigsen then declared him deposed and elevated Alexander as the new Emperor. A ruckus ensued as the disbelieving Paul struggled against his captors.

Nikolay Zubov then took a heavy snuffbox and hit the emperor’s face with it. Several officers also joined the melee and started beating and choking him. Another officer took the Emperor’s sash then looped it around his neck while Paul begged for mercy. None was spared for him that night.

 Paul died soon after, but the officers continued to beat and kick his corpse for several minutes. Bennigsen stopped the assailants and ordered them to put the Emperor’s body on his bed. Nikolai Zubov then went downstairs and informed Alexander of his father’s death. The new Emperor broke down in tears upon hearing that his father had died. He felt betrayed and guilt since fully expected that the coup plotters would spare the life of his father. Pahlen arrived to admonish him for his remorse and bade the rueful Emperor to start his reign.


Picture by: Vladimir Borovikovsky, Public Domain, Link

Breunig, Charles. The Age of Revolution and Reaction: 1789-1850. New York: Norton, 1977.

Lieven, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 2. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521815291.

McGrew, Roderick E. Paul I of Russia, 1754-1801. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.







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First Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774)

The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire fought the First Russo-Turkish War between 1768 and 1774. The conflict stemmed from the Russia’s intervention in Polish-Lithuanian politics, particularly Empress Catherine II’s support for the election of Stanislaw Poniatowski as king of the Commonwealth. This was opposed by the officials of France who supported a Saxon candidate.

The Ottoman Empire was dragged into the conflict because of its alliance with France and its support for rebel Polish nobles. The First Russo-Turkish War was a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. The Turks suffered heavy losses in the Mediterranean, Crimea, and the Danube fronts at the hands of the Russians. Finally, the Ottoman Empire was forced to sue for peace in 1774.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Rise of Russia

A depiction of Catherine’s victory over the Turks by Stefano Torelli

The Ottoman Empire was only a shadow of its former self during the late 16th century and well into the 18th century. It was forced to concede large sections of territory to its enemies in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1699) and the Treaty of Belgrade (1739). The economy was in bad shape, while rebellions flared up every now and then in its territory. Austria, the Ottoman Empire’s long-time enemy, was not doing  well either. Russia, on the other hand, enjoyed a period of prosperity and military domination during the reign of Empress Catherine II.

However, the peace between Russia and the Ottoman Empire would be broken during the latter half of the 18th century. In October 1763, the Polish king Augustus III died. His heir, Frederick Christian, followed more than two months later. Now that the Commonwealth’s throne was vacant, Empress Catherine II of Russia pushed for the election of her former lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski, as the new king.

This was countered by France, Austria, and Prussia whose officials wanted an elector from Saxony on the throne. Despite the opposition, Catherine still managed to have Stanislaw Poniatowski elected as king of the Commonwealth in 1764. The Russian intervention did not sit well with some Polish nobles, so they formed a group (confederacy) to counter the Russians.

The problem, however, was that the group was disorganized and had no clear plans to shake off Russian influence in the Commonwealth. The Ottomans were dragged into this war with Russia when this Polish group appealed to them (as well as France) for help. The Ottomans were also eager to wage a new war with Russia as it threatened their domination in Crimea. The Turks responded by issuing an ultimatum to the Russians to recall their troops from the Commonwealth. The Russians, however, refused to leave Poland. In 1768, the Ottomans declared war against its powerful northern neighbor.

The First Russo-Turkish War was an ill-advised venture for the Ottomans. They suffered heavy losses at Khotyn in 1769 and at Kagul in 1770. In the same year, a Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic and into the English Channel. The fleet sailed past the Gibraltar, entered the Mediterranean, and sailed into the Aegean. The fleet’s goal was to dock in the Balkans and encourage the Orthodox Christians who resented the Ottomans to rebel against their rulers. This was an easy task, and before the Ottomans realized what they were up against, rebellions had flared up in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro. The Russians also assisted the Christian rebels in the Peloponnese Peninsula.

The Ottomans scrambled to assemble a fleet to help the Turkish defenders in the Peloponnese. Led by admiral Husameddin Pasha, the Turkish warships sailed to the peninsula to engage the Russian navy, but it was just too strong. The Ottoman ships sailed to Cesme in the Anatolian coast to seek refuge, but the Russians followed closely behind. A major naval battle ensued, so the Ottomans were forced to sail deeper into the coast.

The Russians were still hot on their heels, and they later set the Ottoman ships on fire when they finally caught up. Around 5,000 Ottoman seamen died in the battle, and only one ship managed to sail back to Istanbul. The Ottomans were luckier in the Peloponnese as the Muslim locals resisted the invaders and the rebels.

The Russians attempted to negotiate with the Ottomans, but the latter refused. The Ottomans made an alliance with Austria, but they were forced to give up territory to the Habsburgs in exchange for military support. Unfortunately, this military assistance did not materialize as negotiations were abandoned in 1772.

Things worsened for the Ottomans when the Russians invaded Crimea in 1771. Unable to resist, the khan of the Crimean Tatars agreed to turn his domain into an “independent” state that was under the domain of Russia. It also included the vast steppe in southwestern Ukraine and the Kuban steppe.

In July 1772, Austria, Russia, and Prussia finally agreed to partition Poland. It was clear to the Turks that the odds were not in their favor after they experienced a couple more losses in Danubian front in 1774. Once again, they were forced to negotiate with Russia. In July 1774, the two parties finalized the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (Kaynardzha).

In this treaty, Crimea became a part of Russia, and it pushed the Russian border further south in the coastal areas of the Black Sea. Russians ships could now sail freely in the Black Sea and enter the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus. The treaty also allowed the Russians to set up a consulate anywhere in the Ottoman Empire, as well as set up a permanent embassy in the Ottoman capital. For the first time, the beleaguered Ottoman Empire was also forced to pay war compensation to an enemy.


Photo by: Stefano Torelli – former image source [1]; current image source [2], Public Domain, Link

Lloyd, Christopher, and M.S. Anderson. The New Cambridge Modern History: The American and French Revolutions 1763-93. Edited by A. Goodwin. Vol. VIII. Cambridge University Press , 1965.

Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3. Cambridge U Press, 2006.

Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.

Kia, Mehrdad. The Ottoman Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Shaw, Stanford Jay. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey : Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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China Invades Tibet 1950-1951

The Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, was the first to establish relations with China after his marriage to a Tang Dynasty princess. The Qing Dynasty intensified the efforts to bring Tibet into its fold, but it was distracted by internal problems during the latter half of its rule. Between 1950 and 1951, however, China invaded Tibet and finally drove its ruler, the Dalai Lama, into exile. This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Origins and Early Years

Nestled between the towering Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun Mountains in the north is the vast Tibetan plateau. The western portion is bordered by Jammu and Kashmir, while the east is bounded by the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan. At its center is the city of Lhasa, Tibet’s administrative center and revered by its people as a holy place in Buddhism.

According to their creation myth, the Tibetans descended from the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteśvara, who was reincarnated as a monkey in Sothang in the Yarlung Valley. This creature mated with the ogress of the rocks who then gave birth to the first Tibetans. As the years passed, their descendants came to call the region they inhabited as “Bod” (Bö/Bön). The Chinese called them “Fan” or “barbarians” (although the term is applied to all non-Han peoples), and the word later evolved into “T’oufan.” Sogdians and Turks called them “Tüpüt,” while Arab merchants and writers used variants such as “Tibbat” and “Tübbet.”

Tibet would not stay in obscurity for long. During the early 7th century AD, the gyelpos (chieftain) of Yarlung named Namri Songtsen embarked on a series of conquests against chieftains of other Tibetan clans. After defeating them, Namri Songtsen declared himself the first king of the Tibetan empire. He died in AD 620 and was succeeded by his son Songtsen Gampo.

Tibet and China

During Songsten Gampo’s reign, ties were solidified between Tibet and China.

Ties between China and Tibet were solidified during Songtsen Gampo’s reign (c. AD 620-649). He led the Tibetan army in attacking China’s western frontier, forcing the Tang emperor Taizong to request an alliance with him. China’s alliance with Tibet was cemented with the marriage of the Tang princess Wencheng to the Tibetan king. Apart from the practice of heqin (marriage alliance), the two empires also sealed the friendship by signing the “Treaty of Uncle and Nephew” between AD 821-823.

Buddhism arrived in Tibet during Songtsen Gampo’s reign. It supplanted animism long practiced by the people, and monasteries soon cropped up all over the region.   

Songtsen Gampo’s dynasty crumbled after his death, and it was later followed by the collapse of the Tang Dynasty. Tibet maintained its independence and isolation during the rule of the Khitan Liao Dynasty and the Jurchen Jin Dynasty. This was also the case when the Western Xia Empire of the Tanguts dominated the north. They also remained isolated during the rule of the Song Dynasty, but this isolation was broken during the reign of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Despite their reputation for ruthlessness, the Mongols allowed the Tibetans greater autonomy after they were                                                                brought into the fold.

Godan Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, appointed the Buddhist scholar Sakya Pandita as ruler of the Tibetans after the Mongol invasion. Even after the Mongols were driven back to the steppes and the Ming Dynasty rose, lamas (priests or monks) remained as rulers of Tibet. China and Tibet maintained little contact during the reign of the isolationist Ming Dynasty.

Ties between China and Tibet resumed during the reign of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the Fifth Dalai Lama. With the encouragement of his supporter, the Mongol leader Güshi Khan, the Fifth Dalai Lama traveled to China to establish relations with the Qing emperor. Although Tibet still had a king, the Dalai Lama served as the people’s spiritual and political leader.

Relations between China and Tibet soured when Kangxi Emperor interfered with the selection of Seventh Dalai Lama. For the first time in Tibet’s history, 2,000 Chinese troops were stationed in its territory. A Qing military governor, meanwhile, was installed to supervise the region and counter the influence of the Dzungars of the north. Ambans (Qing high officials) traveled to Tibet and served as Chinese ambassadors.

Eager to undermine the Dalai Lama’s authority, Qing officials tried to pit him against the Panchen Lama (the second-highest person in the Tibetan theocracy). To the Tibetans’ relief, the Panchen Lama refused to be enticed into this power game. The murder of the Tibetan prince Gyurme Namgyal in 1750 only intensified their opposition to Chinese interference. Qianlong Emperor then scrapped Tibetan monarchy and elevated the Dalai Lama as the ruler of Tibet. During the late 1700s, China tightened its hold on Tibet and sought to isolate it from other nations.

Tibet in the Age of Imperialism

Despite the Qing officials’ efforts to isolate Tibet, intrepid European adventurers, Christian missionaries, and British officials still managed to slip into Tibet in the early 1800s. Wars and rebellions also kept China distracted, making the entry of European explorers easier than expected. In the 1880s, Russia started to stake a claim on Tibet under the pretext that the region was a part of the Mongol empire it then held.

But its rival, Britain, preempted Russian occupation and invaded Tibet in 1904. Sir Francis Younghusband led the British contingent into Lhasa and easily overcame the Tibetan army. Tibet was forced to sign the Convention Between Great Britain and Thibet [sic], giving Britain access to the kingdom and other privileges at China’s expense. Tibetans were initially optimistic, but it did not take long for them to realize that they were nothing but pawns for the two empire builders. In 1906, Britain signed the Anglo-Chinese Convention in Beijing, thereby acknowledging Chinese authority in Tibet.

China then built military outposts, roads, and telegraph lines within Tibet. 2,000 Chinese troops traveled to the region to assert China’s authority, but the Tibetans considered this an invasion. Their army, led by 13th Dalai Lama, fought the Chinese, but their outdated arms were simply no match for Chinese artillery. The Tibetan army was decimated, and the 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India where he and his supporters established a government-in-exile. Despite their appeals for help to the outside world, their pleas largely fell on deaf ears. Britain—whether out of respect for the treaty it signed with China or it underestimated China’s strength—did not intervene in the conflict.

Tibet was given a brief respite when the administration changed hands from the Qing Dynasty to the Kuomintang. Troops sent by the new Chinese government were later repulsed by Tibetan soldiers. Chinese soldiers stationed in Lhasa, meanwhile, returned to China on their own or were driven out by the Tibetans. The 13th Dalai Lama returned from exile and soon declared his country’s independence. As expected, this declaration was only ignored by China.

Over the years and as the negotiations continued, the status of Tibet’s independence remained in limbo. Thinking that Britain is the key to Tibet’s independence, the 13th Dalai Lama made moves to cement an alliance by allowing British companies to enter and do business in the domain. This move, however, became unpopular with his people, so the Dalai Lama distanced himself from the British from then on. Tibet would suffer another blow when the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933.

After many years of searching, Tibetan monks finally found the 14th Dalai Lama in the Amdo region. The 13th Dalai Lama was reincarnated in the body of a young Tibetan boy named Lhamo Thondup who was to be renamed Tenzin Gyatso.

China Invades Tibet

As the Second World War raged outside the borders of Tibet, its government tried to remain neutral. Its administrators refused the construction of Chinese supply route through its territory for fear that this would later give the enemy a foothold inside the country. Britain and the United States both stepped in and pressured Tibet to give in. Tibet had no choice but to concede.

Tibet’s leaders were anxious to reach out to the outside world when the war ended. It established relations with neighboring nations, moving especially closer to India. India soon became Tibet’s primary (if ambiguous) ally when Britain finally left the subcontinent in 1947.

In 1949, Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party overcame the Nationalists and finally drove them out to seek refuge in Taiwan. In October 1950, the People’s Liberation Army crossed Tibet’s borders and easily defeated the outnumbered Tibetan army. Chinese soldiers then proceeded to slaughter thousands of Tibetans between 1950 and 1951.

The young Dalai Lama immediately lodged a protest to the United Nations, but it was in vain as the Tibetan state was not a member. The international community was quick to condemn the invasion but made no solid action to help Tibet. To the Tibetans’ dismay, India recognized Chinese authority over them. In 1951, the Dalai Lama was forced to sign the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet which gave China sovereignty over the state.

As the years passed, China ushered Tibet into the 20th century. But this modernization was not at all benevolent as China’s communist leaders gradually tried to curb the Dalai Lama’s power and reduce the importance of Buddhism in the Tibetans’ life. During the early 1950s, relations between China and Tibet gradually improved. The Dalai Lama visited Beijing in 1956 where he was welcomed by Mao Zedong himself. But there was no doubt about China’s intention when during one dinner, Mao famously remarked to the Dalai Lama that “religion is poison.” The Dalai Lama returned to his territory, but the situation of the Tibetans only worsened as the years went by.

Under the communists, the land was taken from wealthier Tibetans and redistributed to the poor peasants. Monasteries were destroyed, while monks were pressured to return to secular life. The Tibetans organized resistance, but they suffered harsh reprisals from Chinese troops. In 1958, Chinese authorities invited the Dalai Lama to a meeting, but his supporters steadfastly refused to let him go.

Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, was nearly hit by artillery shells in 1959. This alarmed the Tibetans who rallied behind their ruler in Lhasa. A Chinese general then renewed the invitation to the Dalai Lama but laid out a condition that he should come alone and unarmed. The Tibetans sensed an ambush, so they dissuaded the Dalai Lama from coming and convinced him to leave Tibet instead. The Dalai Lama agreed, and a crowd of Tibetans surrounded Norbulingka while he made his way out of the palace in disguise on March 17, 1959. He and his companions then made the dangerous trek to the Himalayas. They arrived in India two weeks later, to the relief of his people and his supporters in the international community.

The exiled Dalai Lama still lives in India, while many Tibetan refugees live in neighboring countries such as India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Other refugees have been resettled in Europe, North America, and Oceania.


Picture by: User:Dr. Blofeld, Public Domain, Link

Kelly, Petra K. The Anguish of Tibet. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991.

Shakabpa, Wangchuk Deden. One Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet. Translated by Derek F. Maher. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

Stein, Rolf Alfred. Tibetan Civilization. Translated by J.E Stapleton. Driver. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972.

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Qing Dynasty 1644-1912

In 1644, the Manchu people swept into China from their homeland in the northeast, wrested power from the Ming Dynasty, and proceeded to rule the empire as the Qing Dynasty. The Manchus had a talent for expanding the empire and went on to rule China for more than 200 years. The arrival of Western nations, however, would disrupt and weaken Qing rule.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Resurgence of the Jurchens

In AD 1234, the Mongols overran China and drove the Jurchens of the Jin Dynasty back to their homeland in the region that is now Jilin and Heilongjiang. Their descendants later paid tribute to the Ming rulers, but they did not remain in obscurity for long. In 1599, they emerged from obscurity after they were organized into a colored banner system. This system was headed by the Jianzhou chieftain named Nurhaci (1559-1626). Over the next few years, the ambitious Nurhaci cemented alliances with neighboring Mongol tribes and Han Chinese. He incorporated them into the banner system through a mixture of subjugation and marriages.

The Jurchens watched closely as Ming rule collapsed in China. They soon took advantage of the empire’s disarray and started raiding its northern frontiers in early 17th century. These raids, however, stopped when Ming soldiers started using Portuguese cannons to drive them back. Nurhaci died in 1626 and was succeeded by his son Abahai (Hong Taiji). He continued his father’s conquests and soon turned the Koreans into tributaries and the Mongolians into allies.

It was during his reign that the Jurchens transformed themselves from a confederacy into a cohesive state. As descendants of the Jin Dynasty, Abahai believed that China was his people’s inheritance and made it his goal to reconquer it. He knew that if he wanted to gain a foothold in China, he and his people would need to assimilate, so he used the Han people in his court to acquire knowledge on and adopt the Ming system of governance. The greatest skill the Han people taught the Jurchens was how to replicate the Portuguese cannons of the Ming soldiers.  Abahai later dropped the “Later Jin Dynasty” used by his father and transformed it to “Qing” (“clear” or “pure”). In 1635, he changed his people’s name from “Jurchen” to “Manchu.” Abahai died in 1643 and was succeeded by his young son (the later Shunzhi emperor) with his brothers Dorgon and Jirgalang as regents.

The Manchus’ Road to China

By the early 17th century, China was seething with rebellions and the Ming rule was disintegrating. In 1643, the popular rebel leader Li Zicheng from Henan declared the Chongzhen emperor deposed and crowned himself as China’s new ruler. He announced the creation of a new dynasty and proceeded to take Beijing. On April 24, 1644, Li Zicheng and his troops stormed Beijing and took it from the Ming. The desperate Chongzhen emperor hanged himself from a tree on the same night.

The Ming Dynasty faded, but the fight for supremacy was not yet over. Eager to crush Li Zicheng, the Ming general Wu Sangui asked the Manchus for help in retaking Beijing. The idea of asking a foreign power for help in quelling a rebellion became a fatal mistake as the Manchus, under the leadership of Dorgon, took advantage of the situation and took over China as soon as they defeated the rebels in 1645. The people rebelled against their new Manchu overlords, but any resistance was always ruthlessly crushed (such as the case of the ten-day massacre in the city of Yangzhou). The new rulers then ordered all males to adopt the Manchu queue as a sign of their submission. Men who refused to wear the queue were sentenced to death.

Ming holdouts fled to southern China, but they were also pursued and tracked down by the Manchus. Guangdong held out until 1649, but the Ming loyalist-pirate Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) continued his fight against the Manchus in Xiamen. He attacked Nanjing in 1659 but failed to take the city. Zheng Chenggong died in Taiwan in 1662 after seizing the island from Dutch colonists.

The Qing Dynasty

The Kangxi Emperor ruled for 61 years, the longest reign in Chinese history.

Dorgon appointed Han Chinese to government posts but ensured that only Manchus would occupy the plum positions. One exception was the collaborationist Wu Sangui who was granted the title of “prince” and rewarded with a large fief in the province of Yunnan. The distrustful Manchus had a policy of removing landowners and farmers from their lands and replacing them with Manchu bannermen or other loyal vassals. Kangxi Emperor then ordered Wu Sangui (and three other feudal lords) to abandon their lands in the south and move to Manchuria. Incensed at this decision, Wu Sangui immediately launched a rebellion in 1673. This revolt, however, garnered few sympathies from the Han people as they considered the general a traitor. Wu Sangui’s doomed Revolt of the Three Feudatories continued even after his death in 1678 and lasted until 1681. The fall of Taiwan into Manchu hands soon followed in 1683.

Kangxi Emperor was one of the most remarkable and longest-serving rulers of Qing Dynasty. In 1689, he and a Jesuit advisor were able to negotiate a common border with Russia in Siberia in the Treaty of Nerchinsk. This treaty also gave China the possession of the Amur river. After securing peace with Russia, he campaigned against and successfully subdued the Dzungars.

The emperor cautiously welcomed European Jesuit friars in his realm. He retained the missionaries in his court where they worked as astronomers, diplomats, mathematicians, and architects. The Jesuits received his respect when they helped the emperor recover from malaria with the introduction of quinine. He allowed them to evangelize freely in China, but they soon fell from grace when the pope and the emperor could not agree on the issue of ancestral worship. The Jesuits were forbidden to proselytize some time after Kangxi Emperor’s death in 1722, and Christianity was officially banned in 1724.

Kangxi Emperor’s fourth son Yongzheng succeeded his father. His accession to the throne, however, was tainted with scandal as he was named emperor while his father was on his deathbed. Rumors also spread that he gained the throne after poisoning Kangxi Emperor which made him nothing but a usurper.

With this reputation, Yongzheng Emperor knew that his hold on the throne was shaky and that his brothers were only waiting for the perfect time to strike. Upon his accession, he curbed the power of his brothers by placing the Eight Banners under his direct control. He replaced most of the 24 personnel with his own trusted men and took away most of the bannermen’s privileges. He also decreased the number of troops under the bannermen’s supervision to prevent them from launching a rebellion.

The emperor also decreed that he himself would choose his successor. He departed from the Chinese custom which favored the eldest son of an empress, as well as the Manchu way which was rooted in merit and influence. The name of emperor’s chosen successor would be written in a document which would be then hidden away. The document would only be taken out after the emperor’s death.

The treasury that Yongzheng Emperor inherited from his father was drained, so he was hard-pressed to carry out tax reforms. The system used by Kangxi Emperor was the head tax. However, it was vulnerable to tax evasion as cunning landlords schemed with yamen clerks to help them conceal their assets and incomes from the central government. The emperor realized that the head tax put most of the burden to the peasants who did not have the knowledge nor means to evade taxes. To ease the peasants’ plight, the emperor decided to merge the head tax into the land tax.

Another reform Yongzheng Emperor implemented to combat corruption was the legalization of the “meltage fees.” Qing farmers and landowners usually used silver taels to pay their taxes. Before the revenues could be transported to the central treasury, the local officials needed to have the taels melted into ingots. The meltage fee was shouldered by the taxpayers, and to the government officials’ delight, this surcharge would often reach as high as 50 percent of the tax collected.

The benevolent Kangxi Emperor then made this surcharge illegal. Local officials, however, continued to keep a portion of the meltage fees for themselves to cover some of their expenses. Although he had his misgivings, Yongzheng Emperor knew that the “meltage fee” was a practical way to increase revenue. He legalized the surcharge and allowed the local administrators to keep a part of it. He believed that the money would serve as a motivation for local officials to be honest. But corruption was deeply rooted in the system, and exploitation continued during and even beyond his reign.

China under Yongzheng Emperor was stable and prosperous. He died in 1735, and he was succeeded by his fourth son, the Qianlong Emperor. During his reign, China was able to solidify its presence in Tibet and the empire’s northwestern frontiers. He launched a genocidal campaign against the Dzungars of Central Asia and was able to wipe them out from their homeland. He then resettled the area with Han, Manchu, Hui, and Uighur peoples. The Joseon Dynasty of Korea, meanwhile, continued to be a tributary and Qing ally.

China reached the zenith of prosperity and stability under Qianlong Emperor’s reign. He inherited his ancestors’ distrust of foreign influences, so he issued an order for his administrators to monitor the sea trade closely. In 1760, he ordered the closure of all ports to foreign ships and limited foreign merchants only within the port at Guangzhou. The British East India Company, meanwhile, was the empire’s main trading partner after supplanting the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders during his reign.

A patron of the arts and a poet himself, Qianlong Emperor commissioned scholars to curate and compile thousands of Chinese literary works. However, this task was actually censorship as he ordered the scholars to destroy any work critical of the Manchus.

The Beginning of the End

Discontent was also growing among China’s disenfranchised. Qianlong Emperor’s reign saw the resurgence of the mystical White Lotus Society, the harbinger of doom of the previous dynasty. In 1774, Wang Lun, the sect’s leader in Shandong, led an uprising in the city. It was promptly quashed, but the uprisings continued to flare during the emperor’s reign.

The people’s discontent finally boiled over when the White Lotus sect launched a widespread rebellion starting in 1796. Henshen, the Manchu bannerman who was Qianlong’s personal favorite, led the campaigns against the rebels. Upon Qianlong Emperor’s death in 1799, the Jiaqing Emperor had Heshen arrested after discovering that he had diverted the army’s funds to his own pockets. The emperor allowed him to commit suicide after he was arrested.


Pictures by: Anonymous Qing Dynasty Court PainterRoyal Academy of Arts, part of the The Three Emperors, 1662 – 1795 exhibition which ran from 12 November 2005 – 17 April 2006 in London. Website might be taken down at some point in future., Public Domain, Link

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge (Mass.): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994.

Peterson, Willard J., ed. The Cambridge History of China. The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800. Vol. 9. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Roberts, J.A.G. A Concise History of China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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Catherine the Great Takes Over Rule 1762

On July 28, 1762, Catherine, the Empress of Russia, deposed her husband through a coup d’etat. With the support of the military and ordinary Russians, she then took over as sovereign of Russia.  This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Prussian Princess

Princess Sophie Augusta Fredericka was born in the city of Szczecin in Pomerania on August 21, 1729. She was the eldest child of Prussian Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst by Princess Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Her parents nicknamed her Figchen, and her birth was followed by the family’s heir William. Johanna favored her son more than her daughter, while her middle-aged father doted on her.

Sophie’s family was not entirely wealthy, but her parents hired the best tutors for her to make her more enticing to any prince on the lookout for a wife. It was just as well as their bargaining chip was intelligent and soaked up every word of her tutors like a sponge. Her favorite tutor was the Huguenot governess Mademoiselle Elizabeth Cardel from whom she learned to speak French fluently. She also received lessons from teachers of the German language, religion, and music. But it was Cardel whom she spoke fondly of for the rest of her life.

Sophie first met her future spouse, Grand Duke Peter Ulrich of Holstein, in 1739 when she and her family visited Kiel. He was the son of Duke Charles Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp by Anna Petrovich, daughter of Peter the Great. The boy’s father died in 1739, so the orphan was left behind to live in a military barracks. A Prussian military official raised him, but he would often beat and verbally abuse the child left in his care.

With the encouragement of her mother, Sophie dreamed that she would be chosen as Peter’s wife. She did not mind that he was ugly, sickly, and more interested in military drills than in learning. Figchen and her mother overlooked these flaws and started to think about the possibility of a marriage with this possible heir to the Russian throne.

The events of late 1741 brought mother and daughter several steps closer to their dream. On December 6, Tsarevna Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s younger daughter, became Empress of Russia. She then summoned her nephew Peter to St. Petersburg and declared him her heir. Sophie’s ambitious mother was delighted. She commissioned the painter Antoine Pesne to paint a portrait of her daughter and sent a copy to St. Petersburg. There it joined the portraits of other European princesses from whom Elizabeth could then choose a spouse for her nephew.

The Bride

To their delight, the family received a letter from Elizabeth’s minister on January 1, 1744. The empress had summoned Johanna and Sophie to appear before her in St. Petersburg. Sophie’s father was at first hesitant to send his daughter because of the volatility of the Russian court. Russian courtiers could easily rise to dizzying heights, but one mistake could also easily lead them to prison, exile, or death.

The ambitious Johanna, however, was adamant. She wanted the privilege and honor of becoming the future Emperor’s mother-in-law—nevermind that her daughter would be subjected to court intrigues and that her life would always be in danger. She told her husband that the marriage would finally bring peace between Prussia and Russia—something that King Frederick of Prussia and his allies so desired. Johanna’s nagging proved too much for her husband, so he finally relented several days after they received the Empress’s letter.

Sophie and her parents made a brief stop in Berlin on January 10, 1744, to inform the Prussian king of their decision and to attend a celebration in her honor. After the festivities, Sophie, her mother, and some servants left the city and traveled east to St. Petersburg. Sophie tearfully said goodbye to her father and promised him that she would not abandon the Lutheran faith in which she was raised. It was the last time she saw her father.

The journey east to St. Petersburg was difficult and cloaked in secrecy to protect them from Elizabeth’s anti-Prussian ministers. After making a quick stop in Riga, they continued to St. Petersburg and finally arrived at the Winter Palace on February 3, 1744. The Empress had left for Moscow, but the princesses were welcomed warmly by Russian courtiers and ministers who stayed behind.

Johanna soon befriended Marquis de la Chetardie and the French physician Jean Armand de Lestocq. They advised her to make a good impression and follow the Empress and the Grand Duke to Moscow in time for the latter’s birthday. The excited Johanna forced herself and her daughter to travel to Moscow in the dead of winter. After a mishap, they arrived in Moscow on February 9 just in time for Peter’s birthday.

The Grand Duke soon arrived and welcomed them warmly in the German language. Sophie knew that the prince was far from handsome, but he had become uglier since the last time they had seen each other. The Prussian princesses then paid their respects to Empress Elizabeth when she arrived. The formidable Empress interviewed Sophie and was pleased to find that she made the right decision in choosing the intelligent girl as a bride for Peter. But not everyone was happy with her arrival. Count Alexei Bestuzhev, diplomat, and leader of the pro-Austria faction, cast angry glances on Sophie for ruining his plans.

As the months wore on, the deeply perceptive Sophie got to know her fiance. She discovered that he was childish and crass. He still played with toy soldiers and wasted his time holding mock drills instead of studying. His first language had been German and he was not interested in learning Russian at all. He rejected the Orthodox instructions his aunt’s priests gave him and clung tightly to Lutheranism. Sophie, on the other hand, desperately sought the acceptance the Russians by becoming one of them. She soon overtook Peter in her fluency of the Russian language. She also discarded Lutheranism and started studying the Orthodox faith.

Sophie fell ill with pneumonia and nearly died several months after her arrival in Russia. She recovered from illness but to her dismay, her fiance was as childish and simple-minded as before. She also found that her mother had been busy scheming in court and had grown unpopular. Johanna loved intrigue, but she did not have the talent for discretion or stealth. Count Bestuzhev had intercepted Chetardie’s letter to Johanna wherein they plotted to have him removed from power. He handed these letters over to Elizabeth who then had Chetardie expelled from Russia. Johanna received a dressing down but was allowed to stay by her daughter’s side thanks to Elizabeth’s fondness for the young princess.

 Sophie was baptized into the Orthodoxy on the 28th of June, 1744, and had to cast off her old name in favor of one that suited her new identity. Naturally, she chose “Sophia”—the Russified version of her own name. But memories of her Aunt Sophia led the empress to choose the name of her own mother: Catherine. Elizabeth discarded the name of Sophie’s father and gave the princess the Slavic patronymic Alexeyevna.

The baptism was followed by an elaborate betrothal ceremony and her elevation as “Grand Duchess of Russia.” The empress showered Catherine with lavish gifts. For the first time in her life, she also received her own allowance. Her mother, on the other hand, was on her own downward spiral. Idle and jealous of her daughter’s success, she embarked on a risky affair with the handsome and younger Count Betsky. Her indiscretion embarrassed Catherine and scandalized the Empress and her court.

Grand Duke Peter’s his relationship with his equally snappish future mother-in-law did not improve. He then came down with measles and recovered, but it was not long before he contracted the deadlier smallpox. The Empress rushed to his side and cared for him while he was in quarantine. Catherine and her mother, meanwhile, stayed in Moscow so they would not contract the disease.

Mother and daughter worried about his health as their fates depended on Peter’s recovery or death. The Grand Duke survived his illness, but he had grown thinner and his face bore the marks of illness. He had not been handsome, but the scars so disfigured his face that Catherine fled and fainted.  

Despite Catherine’s misgivings and Peter’s altered appearance, the couple was married on August 21, 1745, in the Kazan Cathedral. The wedding was grand, but the honeymoon was dismal. Peter spent more time drinking with his valets than with her and soon fell beside her on the bed in a drunken stupor. His indifference in the days after their wedding took its toll on her self-esteem. The isolation she felt became complete when her disgraced mother finally returned to Prussia. She was well and truly alone in Elizabeth’s court.

It would be a long time before an heir to the Russian throne could be conceived. Peter was busy flirting with other women, while Catherine—though stung—pretended that she did not care. The Empress’s attitude to Catherine and Peter also changed. Fearful of plots against her, she dismissed the couple’s loyal servants and replaced them with her lackeys. Nine months after the wedding, Elizabeth summoned Catherine and asked her why the expected heir failed to materialize. She blamed Catherine for this failure and began to verbally abuse her. The Empress then accused the younger woman of being loyal to Prussia and of plotting to bring her down.      

Peter and Catherine were nothing more than prisoners of Elizabeth’s iron will for during the early years of their marriage. The Empress gave the couple staff who spied on the couple’s behavior. With the encouragement of Bestuzhev, Elizabeth sent Catherine a new companion, her cousin and noblewoman Maria Semenovna Choglokova. The older lady not only served as a companion to Catherine but also as a spy who was eager to report any misbehavior—even trivial ones. The Empress forbade her to write her own letters to her family, and she had to sign cold and impersonal letters written by Elizabeth’s officers on her behalf.

 During the early of her marriage, Catherine took a crash course in the realities of Russian life. It was true that the nobility had adopted Western European culture and dressed in French fashion, but their minds were still stuck in the 15th century. Few of Elizabeth’s grandees knew how to read. The superficial and equally illiterate ladies of her court spent the hours of the day gossiping each other. Catherine saw Russian serfs as Elizabeth’s court traveled from one palace to another, and she was struck by how miserable their lives were.

It seemed life in Russia was not as she had expected. After mourning for her father who died in 1747, she went back to the balls and ceremonies which she found boring. Court life no longer charmed her, and the monotony would only be broken by Elizabeth’s petty or cruel whimsies. Peter was hardly a source of comfort and his immaturity only heightened the loneliness she felt. He continued to play with his toys and was increasingly cruel to his servants and his dogs.

She became an accomplished equestrian and read voraciously during her free time. She read anything she could get her hands on—from novels to history to philosophy. But her most important lesson was how to behave and safeguard herself in Elizabeth’s volatile court.

Catherine was still young, lonely, and unloved, and these which made her easy pickings for any womanizer at court. In 1752, she finally gave in and started an affair with the chamberlain Sergei Saltykov. Peter and the adulterous Madame Choglokova pretended not to notice the affair conducted under their noses. Desperate times call for desperate measures so the Empress tolerated—even encouraged—the affair if only to beget an heir for Russia.  

She suffered two miscarriages but was able to carry a child full term on her third pregnancy. Paul, son of Catherine, was born on September 20, 1754. Whether Paul was the son of Peter or Saltykov only Catherine knew. For the Empress, however, it would do. Elizabeth took the baby right after birth, and it would be a long time before his own mother would see him.

The supposed father, meanwhile, was drunk by the time his wife had given birth. Catherine, for her part, was compensated for her efforts with money, but Elizabeth took the amount back from her to pay Peter for “doing his part.” Her sadness deepened when the empress sent her lover, Saltykov, as an envoy to Sweden. It was just as well as the womanizer had lost his affection for her.

Despite the rejection and humiliation she suffered, Catherine dusted herself off and busied herself with festivities at court. She read the works of Montesquieu and Voltaire while Peter was busy drinking with his servants and pining for Prussia. He was growing more unpopular among Russians, while Catherine was starting gain more influence and power.

She refused to pine after the fickle Saltykov and plunged into an affair with the winsome Count Stanisław Poniatowski. The 23-year old Polish count was introduced by the English diplomat Charles Hanbury-Williams (with whom she later ran into debt) to the 25-year old Grand Duchess during a ball. She found him pleasing to the eye, but she also found a kindred spirit when it came to intellect. She did not, however, made the same mistake as she did with Saltykov and kept the upper the upper hand with Poniatowski. The equally unfaithful Peter tolerated this affair. Strangely, he often joined them with his own mistress in tow.

 Catherine learned the art of survival in the Russian court. In 1756, the Seven Years’ War between Prussia (allied with England) and France (allied with Austria) flared out. Bestuzhev—by then one of Catherine’s allies—decided to make an alliance with France and Austria. Despite her Prussian heritage and her debts to Charles Hanbury-Williams, she found it prudent to follow Bestuzhev’s lead for her survival. This show of loyalty was not wasted on Bestuzhev who promised Catherine that he would support Peter’s accession to the throne once Elizabeth died. He also supported her role as co-ruler, and while she was flattered, she did not dare act on her ambition—yet. She, however, sent a letter of encouragement to Field Marshal Apraksin to attack Prussia with Bestuzhev’s encouragement.

This meddling in politics and war, of course, did not endear her to the dying and increasingly paranoid Elizabeth. The Russian troops’ initial victories were replaced with a humiliating defeat in Prussia and it put Catherine in hot water. However, she found herself pregnant for the second time so she was saved from Elizabeth’s wrath. She gave birth to a girl which the empress named after her sister Anna. Just like her brother, the Empress immediately whisked the child to her apartments. Bestuzhev and his allies, meanwhile, were arrested and tried in court for treason. Catherine quickly burned letters and any other documents which might be used against her.

As the war raged on in 1759, Catherine’s relationship with Peter and Elizabeth worsened. Elizabeth’s health had also deteriorated and her paranoia became stifling. Soon she was summoned by the Empress to explain some of her letters to Apraksin that was discovered by her agents. The terrified Catherine had the presence of mind and successfully defended herself. Bestuzhev and his allies, however, were sent to exile in Siberia, while Poniatowski was sent back to Poland.

She received another blow in the same year when both her daughter and her mother died. She grieved for their deaths, but her mind was soon occupied by the possibility of wresting the throne from Peter upon the death of Elizabeth. Peter, meanwhile, was making himself as repulsive as possible during the war. He never forgot his beloved Prussia, and rumors of him leaking information to King Frederick II via the English ambassador made him very unpopular.   

Catherine knew that the Empress would die soon, so she started consolidating allies in and out of court. One of the most important allies was Count Nikita Panin, Elizabeth’s former favorite and little Paul’s tutor. The minister Ivan Shuvalov and Princess Catherine Dashkova also became her supporters. None was more important than her lover, the dashing army officer and her of the Battle of Zorndorf, Grigory Orlov. His four brothers were also military officers and they promised to support Catherine’s accession to the throne. Elizabeth died on January 5, 1762, and the crown naturally passed on to her nephew. Disappointed but not surprised, Catherine bided her time.  

Peter III

Immature and churlish, Peter took great pains to show the Russians that he was Prussian to the core as his aunt’s body lay in state. He held balls in his palace and wore regular clothes. Catherine, on the other hand, wore black as was customary. She stayed at the foot of Elizabeth’s catafalque and shed tears as the crowd paid their respects to the former Empress of Russia. Whether she was a good actress or her grief was sincere no one knew, but it was certain that she had won the hearts and minds of the people.

Drunk with wine and power, Peter first acts as emperor of Russia sealed his fate. On September 24, 1762, he ordered the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the territories the Empire gained from his beloved Prussia. He restored these territories to his homeland and betrayed Russia’s ally Austria by switching alliances to Prussia. He then forced the army to wear the Prussian uniform and replaced high-ranking Russian officers with German ones.

A Lutheran to the core, the new Emperor launched a campaign to get rid of images of saints and forced the priests to wear Lutheran garb. He also outraged Russians by ordering his henchmen to confiscate church properties. He then summoned the officials exiled by Elizabeth back to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Russia’s coffers were already dry, but this did not stop him from declaring war against Denmark to regain Schleswig. Prussia’s King Frederick II discouraged this foolish plan, but to no avail.

Peter was unaware that his wife was once again pregnant. He had spent more time with his mistress, the crude Elizaveta Vorontzova, and had planned to marry her as soon as possible. Catherine knew that one complaint would send her packing so she bore this threat quietly. She gave birth to another son which a trusted servant soon bundled up and whisked away to safety for fear of Peter’s discovery.

In Peter’s eyes, Catherine was no longer his wife nor the Empress of Russia. Once he humiliated her in front of 400 dinner guests and then planned to have her imprisoned. One of his uncles dissuaded him from his plan, but the news had already reached Catherine. She now had no choice. She could either go to prison or wrest power away from her husband. She chose the latter.

Catherine II as Sovereign of Russia

The period of Catherine the Great’s rule, is often referred to as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire.

Her supporters were also working in secret to have her installed on the throne. Orlov had been appointed paymaster of the army, and he was not above to diverting state funds to bribe soldiers. His brothers were also busy convincing soldiers who were still on the fence to join their cause. She befriended the French ambassador Baron de Breteuil who then facilitated her request for a loan to King Louis XV. The loan, however, was denied and Catherine was forced to borrow money from England. It was approved.

On June 12, 1762, the defiant Peter III traveled west to Oranienbaum to prepare for the war against Denmark. He summoned Catherine, but she dared not join him for fear that he would have her imprisoned or killed. She stayed in Monplaisir in nearby Peterhof where she waited for the right time to strike.

She did not have to wait long. On June 27, 1762, Catherine’s ally Count Passek insulted the Emperor publicly. He was soon arrested and tortured, so Feodor Orlov, Grigory’s brother, decided to carry out a preemptive strike. He hurried to St. Petersburg and ordered Catherine’s supporter Commander Cyril Razumovsky to print the announcement of Peter III’s abdication and Catherine’s succession. Alexis Orlov then galloped to Monplaisir on the morning of June 28, 1762, and took Catherine with him to St. Petersburg to carry out their plans.

They met Grigory along the way and headed to the barracks of the Ismailovsky regiment led by Commander Razumovsky. The soldiers of regiment greeted her with enthusiasm and acclaimed Catherine the Empress and sovereign of Russia. The Semyonovsky regiment also joined them, but they encountered some resistance when they arrived in the barracks of the Preobrazhensky regiment led by Simon Vorontzhov (Elizaveta Vorontzova’s brother). After a standoff, the Preobrazhensky regiment was soon convinced to join their ranks.

Ordinary people soon joined this lively procession. Escorted by soldiers and ordinary Russians, Catherine and her supporters entered the Cathedral of Kazan where the Archbishop of Novgorod blessed her and acclaimed her the sovereign of Russia. She then went back to the Winter Palace where she was greeted by a cheering crowd. There she received the Russian grandees, members of the clergy, government officials, and merchants who bowed in front of her. Her propagandists, meanwhile, were working double time outside by distributing her manifesto to the people.

Catherine’s supporters tried to prevent the news of the coup from reaching Peter, but it was no use. The Emperor and his entourage traveled to Monplaisir to see her, but no one greeted them as they dismounted from their horses and carriages. A secret messenger then arrived and delivered the news that he was no longer sovereign of Russia. He listened to the news of Catherine’s coup with mounting panic and since he did not know how to respond to a setback, he immediately resorted to drinking alcohol. One of his advisers, General Munnich, convinced him to go to the fortress on the island of Kronshtadt to seek refuge and think about their next step. Like a child, Peter allowed himself to be escorted to a ship bound for the island.

Little did he know that Catherine’s supporters had already infiltrated the ranks of the soldiers stationed at Kronshtadt. When they arrived near the island, the admiral immediately warned Peter’s party not to disembark from the ship or they would be met with artillery. General Munnich tried to convince the Emperor to show himself and order the admiral to submit. The Emperor only fled in fright and wept with the ladies who accompanied them. Munnich had no choice but to take his pitiful charge and their companions back to Oranienbaum.

Meanwhile, the Empress had left St. Petersburg to trace her route back to Peterhof. She wore the uniform of the Semyonovsky regiment as she and her loyal troops traveled on horseback to Monplaisir. They stopped by Krasny Kabak (“Wonderful Tavern”) and soon Peter’s chancellor Vorontzhov appeared to insist on the emperor’s rights. He, however, switched to her side after the Empress confidently laughed to mock his proposal. Other negotiators sent by Peter also followed suit.

The entourage led by Catherine traveled to Monplaisir where she dictated the document of abdication that she hoped Peter would soon sign. Her envoys Orlov and Ismailov handed the document to the desolate Peter in Oranienbaum. He signed the act of abdication and was then led to Peterhof by Catherine’s soldiers. There he received the news that he was to be imprisoned at the Ropsha estate and that his mistress would be sent to Moscow. He was then stripped of his sword, uniform, and privileges as Emperor of Russia. Alexis Orlov escorted Peter to Ropsha later that night.

On June 30, 1762, Catherine and her supporters returned to St. Petersburg where she was greeted with cheers and sounds of artillery. Despite her victory, she still worried that Peter would launch a coup d’etat to depose her. Several days later she received news of Peter’s death through a letter from Alexis Orlov. In this letter, Orlov detailed how Peter died after a drunken brawl erupted between him and Prince Feodor Bariatinsky.

The news horrified her. It was true that she feared Peter and wanted him dead, but his death would surely be viewed as an assassination. Orlov and Bariatinsky’s clumsy though well-meaning move would surely be pinned on her. She announced Peter’s death on July 7, 1762, with great calm despite the anxiety that she felt inside.

To her relief, the people quickly shrugged off their former ruler’s death. She knew that she would not reach the throne without the support of her men, so she readily forgave Alexis Orlov and others who were involved in Peter’s suspicious death. The deceased emperor was buried hastily in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. No one was surprised when she did not attend his funeral.

Picture: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Budberg, Moura, trans. The Memoirs of Catherine the Great. Edited by Dominique Maroger. New York: Collier Books, 1961.

Madariaga, Isabel De. Catherine the Great: A Short History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.

Troyat, Henri. Catherine The Great. New York: Berkley Books, 1981.



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Emperor of Russia as Temporary Head of the Orthodox Church

In 1700, Russian Emperor Peter the Great became the temporary head of the Orthodox Church after the death of the Patriarch Adrian of Moscow. Peter’s refusal to appoint the patriarch’s successor was one of the reforms he introduced into the Orthodox church. He replaced the patriarchate with a deputy and later, a Holy Synod made up of bishops.  This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster around that time period.

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From the Rurikids to the Romanovs

Russia became the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church after the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans in 1453. In 1598, Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople traveled to Moscow to seek financial help but was forced to create a Patriarchate of Moscow in exchange for money. The Orthodox form of Christianity had been a part of the Rus’ people’s life since AD 988, but the people’s devotion to it intensified during and after the Times of Troubles. Patriarch Hermogen used the Orthodoxy to unite the Russians during a time when the existence of the state was threatened by the absence of a legitimate tsar and the invasion of the armies of Catholic Poland and Protestant Sweden.

The Times of Trouble had died down by 1613 and a distant relative of the last Rurikid tsars soon acceded the throne as Michael I. After securing peace with Poland in 1618, the Tsar had his father, Patriarch Philaret, freed from a Polish prison. Philaret then came home and resumed his responsibilities as Patriarch of Moscow. He was more than an ordinary Patriarch as he was also his son’s co-ruler. Patriarch Philaret continued to co-rule with the Tsar until his death in 1633.

Alexis I became Tsar upon the death of his father in 1645. This youthful and energetic tsar was nicknamed the “Young Monk” early in his reign because of his religious devotion. It was not long before a group called Zealots of Piety joined him in reforming the church. The group was led by the Tsar’s own confessor and included prominent members such as the priests Ivan Neronov and Avvakum Petrov, and later, the abbot Nikon Minin.

Alexis, with the support of the Zealots of Piety, banned some folk entertainments and festivals to promote religious devotion. These constricting reforms did not sit well with the Muscovites who were not above beating clerics in retaliation. In 1649, Alexis created the Monastery Chancellery and gave it the power to try clergymen and those who lived on the land of the Church. Those who lived in the domain of the Patriarch, however, remained under his power.

The abbot Nikon Minin steadily became a powerful figure in Alexis’s court after the fall from grace of his former tutor Morozov. More zealous than Alexis, Patriarch Nikon soon became high-handed in his reforms and eventually angered some members of the Zealots themselves. Avvakum, one of the most prominent leaders of the group, opposed Nikon and paid for it with his life. Nikon also lost his prestige after a falling-out with the Tsar and was soon forced to return to the life of an ordinary monk.

Alexis‘s death in 1676 was followed by a succession crisis. His sickly son Feodor inherited the throne, but the tsar died six years later without an heir. His brother Ivan, sister Anna (though unofficial and unpopular), and half-brother Peter co-ruled from 1682. Sophia ruled for some time on her own but was deposed in 1689. Peter’s mother, Natalya Naryshkina, ruled briefly as regent until her own death in 1694. Peter and Ivan V co-ruled from then on, but it was cut short when the sickly Ivan V died in 1696. His death without an heir left Peter to rule Russia on his own.

Peter the Great’s Reforms and Takeover of the Church

Peter the Great of Russia, shown here in 1838.

As a child, Peter received his education from some of the best tutors, including the Scotsmen Paul Menesius and Patrick Gordon. Thanks to his own intelligence and the Western European education he received from his tutors, Peter was able to modernize Russia and turn it into an empire. He wore Western European clothes and shaved his face. He even forbade other men from growing their beards and from wearing traditional Russian clothing. He also kept Russia up to date by ordering his people to discard the old style calendar and adopt the Julian Calendar instead.

Peter had no sympathy for the clergymen his father and grandfather so revered. He was not a religious person, and he was not above to using his power to bring the clergymen to heel. Moscow’s conservative Patriarch Adrian died in 1700, but the Tsar left the position of the patriarch empty and appointed a deputy to temporarily act as head of the church.

Russia’s hostilities with Sweden finally flared up into the Great Northern War in 1700. He restored the Monastery Chancellery in 1701 and used the office to take the church’s income which he used to fund his war. He also raised funds for the war by creating new taxes for clergymen and the church.

Peter knew that getting rid of the Orthodox Church was impossible, so what he did instead was to place himself at the top of the hierarchy. He replaced the Patriarchate in 1721 with a Holy Synod which was composed of bishops who answered to him. In 1722, the Tsar created an office and hired agents who would spy on erring clergymen. Many of his reforms, however, were abandoned by his successors when he died in 1725.


Picture by: Paul Delaroche – 1. – 4. Unknown 5. Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, object 00031228., Public Domain, Link

Bromley, J. S., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 6. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521075244.

Lieven, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 2. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521815291.

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.


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Songhai Empire, Fall of the

During the latter half of the 14th century, the Songhai state slowly eclipsed the Mali Empire. One by one, the Songhai seized neighboring territories until it, too, became an empire. It dominated a portion of northwestern Africa for the next 200 years. The Songhai Empire fell in 1591 after years of ineffective rule and the invasion of the Moroccans.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Rise of the Songhai State

The Songhai state owed its origins to the Do farmers, Gow hunters, and Sorko fishermen who occupied the southern banks of the Niger bend. These people came together and built their first town called Kukiya. During the 7th century AD, Berbers who fled persecution sought refuge in Kukiya. They were the ancestors of the Za Dynasty, and they succeeded in ruling Kukiya many years after their arrival.

During the 12th century, the Za Dynasty relocated the capital to the city of Gao. Its rulers controlled the area of Gao up to the Dendi region in the south. The state became wealthy after its rulers turned Gao into a major stop in the trans-Saharan trade. The Za Dynasty ruler Kossoi converted to Islam between 1009 and 1019, but the most of his people retained their native religion.

The Domination of the Mali Empire and the Rise of the Sonni Dynasty

Mathematics and astronomy manuscripts found in Timbuktu.

Between 1275 and 1300, the Mandinka army of the Mali Empire conquered the Songhai state and its territories. The Za king became a Mali Empire tributary, while Mandinka governors administered the territory on the Mansa’s behalf. Around 1324 or 1325, the famed Mansa Musa built a mosque in the Songhai city of Gao.

During the domination of the Mali Empire, some Za Dynasty princes fled from the Mandinka rulers and founded the Sonni Dynasty. It was probably based in Kukiya or in Gao itself, but it gradually eclipsed the Za Dynasty in power. Just as the Mali Empire was declining, the Sonni Dynasty started to emerge as a powerful force in Songhai areas.

It was during the reign of the great Sonni Ali that the Songhai state became an empire. Sonni Ali reigned from 1464 to 1492 and Muslim chroniclers considered him to be a tyrant. He conquered the ancient cities of Jenne, Macina, and Timbuktu during his reign. Sonni Ali was accused of using magic to terrify and conquer neighboring peoples. He also repressed the Muslim scholars of Timbuktu. The Songhai people, however, considered him as the greatest ruler after he conquered the Bariba, Mossi, and Dogon peoples.

During his reign, the Songhai Empire stretched from Dendi in the south to Gao in the north. It controlled the trans-Saharan trade which contributed to its prosperity. Sonni Ali died in 1492, and his son, Sonni Ber, succeeded him. A civil war ensued after Sonni Ber refused to convert to Islam. One of his father’s generals, Muhammad Ture, defeated Sonni Ber and seized the Songhai throne in 1493. He was a Soninke from the city of a Takrur in the former Ghana Empire. Muhammad Ture took the title of askiya and became the first of the Islamic rulers of the empire.

The Askiya Dynasty

Askiya Muhammad was considered to be a good Muslim ruler. He continued the expansion of the empire and was noted for his pilgrimage to Mecca. He appointed a kadi (judge) for each town and encouraged Islamic scholarship. The Songhai Empire became prosperous during his reign, and it was known as the empire’s golden age. The Askiya Dynasty’s capital at that time was at Tindirma near Timbuktu.

One of his sons overthrew Askiya Muhammad when he grew old and blind. Some of his sons then took turns in ruling the Songhai Empire after Askiya Muhammad’s deposition. The empire’s decline, however, also started during their reign. One of his sons, Askiya Ishaq I, reigned from 1539 to 1549. His reign was marked by a conflict with the Moroccans who owned the salt mines of Taghaza. The Moroccan sultan Muhammad al-Shaykh (al-Arak) asked Ishaq I to give up the salt mines, but the Songhai king attempted to intimidate the Moroccans by invading the Dara Valley.

The conflict continued during the reign of Ishaq I’s son, Askiya Dawud (1549-1582/83). The Moroccan sultan continued to press his claims to the salt mines, but it was temporarily solved when Askiya Dawud sent him large quantities of gold as payment. The Moroccans, however, were far from pacified. They invaded during the reign of Askiya Muhammad III. The king died in 1586, but his successor could not beat back the Moroccans after civil war ensued in the Songhai Empire. By 1591, the Songhai Empire had collapsed.


Picture by: UnknownEurAstro : Mission to Mali, Public Domain, Link

Conrad, David C. Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

Ohaegbulam, Festus Ugboaja. Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990.

Netton, Ian Richard. The Encyclopedia of Islamic Civilization and Religion. London: Routledge, 2008.

Niane, Djibril Tamsir, and Joseph Ki-Zerbo. Africa From the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century. University of California Press, 1997.

Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

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Paul II

Pope Paul II reigned between 1464 and 1471. He came from a wealthy and influential Venetian family which played a part in his rise as a clergyman. He signed the Election Capitulation, but he also defied its terms early in his reign. He was known to be a handsome and flamboyant pope whose reign was marred by accusations of immorality. He died in 1471 after he suffered a heart attack.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Early Life and Career

Pietro Barbo, the man who would later become Pope Paul II, was born on February 23, 1417. His father was Niccolo Barbo, while his mother was the sister of Pope Eugene IV, Polixena or Polissena Condulmer. The young Pietro followed the footsteps of his wealthy Venetian relatives and trained to be a merchant. However, he changed his path and pursued a religious education after his uncle, Eugene IV, became pope. He excelled in canon law and history but never paid attention to humanism (unlike some of the previous popes).

He became archdeacon of Bologna at a young age, and it was quickly followed by his appointment as bishop of Cervia and Vicenza. In 1440, he became the cardinal-deacon of Venice at the young age of 23. His family’s wealth and influence no doubt played a part in his appointment to the prominent ecclesiastical positions at such a young age. His uncles already served as cardinals during his youth. Pietro also became influential in the papal courts of Nicholas V and Calixtus. His influence waned during the reign of his predecessor, Pope Pius II.

The Election Capitulation

Pietro Barbo, the man who would later become Pope Paul II, was born on February 23, 1417.

Pope Pius died in 1464 and the College of Cardinals immediately gathered in the Vatican to elect a successor. Cardinal Pietro Barbo joined the election, and he was among those favored to succeed the deceased pope. Before the election, all but one cardinal signed the document called the Election Capitulation. The Capitulation wanted to limit the power of the pope and increase the power of the cardinals. Among those who signed the document was Pietro Barbo, and his enthusiasm in giving away most of his power proved to be shortsighted.

In the Election Capitulation, the cardinals wanted the pope to devote his time to the campaign against the Ottoman Turks who conquered Constantinople in 1453. The revenues from the alum quarries in Italy would also be used to fund the war. The pope was also not allowed to move the papal court to any other Italian cities unless the move was approved by the majority of the cardinals.

Additionally, a general council was to be held every three years to address ecclesiastical reforms. The council would also persuade the nobility to launch crusades against the Ottoman Empire. The pope would also have to limit the member of cardinals to 20 and that no one under 30 years old would qualify. Clergymen with lesser education would also not qualify as cardinals.

The Sacred College would have the exclusive right to approve the nomination of new cardinals and benefices. They also required the pope to prevent the rise of nepotism in the troops that served in the papal states. The cardinals also stated that decisions concerning the church and the papal states would also need to go through them.

As Pope

Cardinal Barbo was elected on August 30, 1464. He wanted to take the name “Formosus,” but the cardinals dissuaded him as it was the war-cry of the Venetians. He took the name Paul II instead and was crowned in the Vatican on September 16, 1464.

As a pope, Paul II was described as flamboyant and charming, yet generous and kind to the poor. He came from a rich Venetian family, so it was only natural that his favorite pastime was to collect beautiful artworks, jewelry, and coins. Before his election, he once jokingly told the cardinals that he would give each one a villa where they could rest for the summer.

He defied the Election Capitulation that he signed before his election as pope early in his reign. He alienated the senior cardinals by appointing new ones without their approval. He promoted his nephews and his former tutor as cardinals, too. Nominees closely associated with some kings of Europe were also promoted during his reign. He also tried to get rid of the College of Abbreviators which was a papal office where writers worked to prepare papal documents. The closure of the College pushed the unemployed writers to rebel against the pope.

Pope Paul II also came into conflict with the king of Bohemia, George of Podebrady, whose succession he did not support. He then deposed and excommunicated George of Podebrady. In response to his deposition, George’s prominent supporter accused the pope of immorality.

Pope Paul II died of a heart attack on July 26, 1471.


Picture by: Cristofano dell’AltissimoSource, originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here. Original uploader was Savidan at en.wikipedia, 2007-06-29 (original upload date), Public Domain, Link

Gurugé, Anura. Popes and The Tale of Their Names. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008.

Noel, Gerard. The Renaissance Popes: Culture, Power and the Making of the Borgia Myth. London: Hachette UK, 2016.

Pastor, Ludwig, and Frederick Ignatius Antrobus. The History of the Popes, From the Close of the Middle Ages. Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1969.

Williams, George L. Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004.

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Nicholas V

Pope Nicholas V reigned from 1447 to 1455. He was a true Renaissance pope who welcomed humanists and other intellectuals in his court. His reign was relatively stable so he was able to restore Rome and the Vatican to their former beauty. Unfortunately, he permitted the Portuguese raiders to capture non-Christians in Africa on the pretext of a crusade in the mid-1400s.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during this time.

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Early Life and Career

Tommaso Parentucelli was born on November 15, 1397, in the little town of Sarzana, near La Spezia. His father worked as a physician and died when Tommaso was young. Because of his father’s death and his family’s poverty, he was forced to stop his education in Bologna. He traveled to Florence where he became the tutor of the sons of the wealthy Florentine families, such as the Albizzi and Strozzi clans. It turned out to be a blessing for the young scholar. Florence was one of the centers for humanism, and the young Tomasso met many of them during his time there.

He returned to Bologna in 1419 and received his Masters in Theology three years later. The Bishop of Bologna, Niccolo Albergati, hired him as a jack-of-all-trades. However, he was most useful to the bishop as a book collector–then a popular Renaissance pursuit. He was able to visit Germany, France, and England in search of precious manuscripts. Some of his collections even survived into modern times.

Bishop Albergati died in 1444, and Tomasso succeeded him as Bishop of Bologna. However, he failed to work effectively as a bishop as Bologna was wracked with chaos at that time. Pope Eugene was so impressed with Bishop Parentucelli that he appointed him as the papal legate to the Holy Roman Empire. He was later appointed as the cardinal-priest of the church of Santa Susanna in Rome in 1446.

As Pope Nicholas V

Pope Nicholas V was born Tommaso Parentucelli on November 15, 1397.

Pope Eugene IV died on February 23, 1447, and Cardinal Parentucelli’s election as the new pope came soon after. He took the name Nicholas V to honor his mentor and patron, the deceased Bishop Niccolo Albergati. The chaos of the Avignon Papacy and the Great Western Schism led to Rome’s deterioration. The city became more stable during the reign of the previous popes. Because of this stability and the availability of funds, the new pope decided to restore Rome’s crumbling buildings, fortifications, streets, and churches.

The restorations in the Leonine City, the Vatican, and many structures in Rome became a lifelong project for Nicholas V. He first ordered that the restoration of the city walls and bridges. Many of these structures dated back to the Roman Empire era. The Aqua Virgo built by Emperor Agrippa was also restored and used again during the reign of Nicholas V. It was later renamed as Acqua Vergine.

He also had several church buildings in Rome restored. Some of the churches which underwent restoration were the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Palazzo dei Conservatori and other government buildings were also repaired thanks to the efforts of Pope Nicholas V.

Pope Nicholas was a lifelong collector of books and patron of the arts. His love for classical Greek and Roman texts carried over into his papacy. As an avid collector, he sent his men all over Europe to search for long-forgotten manuscripts. His extensive manuscript collection eventually gave way to the Vatican Library. He also commissioned scholars to translate Greek classics and sent ships to recover manuscripts from Constantinople before the siege of 1453. The ships, however, did not reach Constantinople on time. Greek scholars who fled the Ottomans later smuggled manuscripts into Italy and the rest of Europe.

Unlike the previous pope who looked at the humanists with suspicion, Pope Nicholas welcomed them into his court. Poggio Bracciolini dedicated his translation of Diodorus Siculus’ The Library of History to Nicholas himself. Pope Nicholas also appointed the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla as an apostolic secretary. The pope was known to be a generous patron of scholars.

Pope Nicholas V dissolved the Council of Basel in 1449. Pilgrims flocked to Rome after he announced a Jubilee one year later to celebrate the end of the Great Western Schism. The offerings that the pilgrims brought were added to the papal treasury. Unfortunately, the crowd that descended on Rome slowed to a trickle after an outbreak of the plague.

Pope Nicholas V and the European Slave Trade

The man who was responsible for the spread of humanism in Europe was also responsible for the misery of enslaved Africans. On June 18, 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull called Dum Diversas which he addressed to Alfonso V of Portugal. The bull allowed the Portuguese king to launch a campaign against, capture, and enslave non-Christians of Africa. The campaign was justified as a crusade. The pope also promised the remission of sins for anyone who joined this “crusade.”

Three years later, Pope Nicholas issued another papal bull titled Romanus Pontifex. The bull granted the Portuguese trade monopoly on all lands south of Cape Bojador in Western Sahara. This second papal bull reinforced the Dum Diversas’ encouragement to enslave non-Christians which included “heathens” and Muslims.

The year 1453 was not kind to the pope. The middle-aged Nicholas was sick and depressed after an unsuccessful appeal to European nobility to help the Byzantines for the last time. The rebellion and execution of the Italian humanist Stefano Porcari also took its toll on the pope. Pope Nicholas V died on March 24, 1455.


Picture by: Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Burroughs, Charles. “Below the Angel: An Urbanistic Project in the Rome of Pope Nicholas V.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 45 (1982): 94-124. doi:10.2307/750968.

Noel, Gerard. The Renaissance Popes: Culture, Power and the Making of the Borgia Myth. London: Hachette UK, 2016.

Rodriguez, Junius P. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1997.

Scannell, Thomas. “Pope Nicholas V.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 25 Jan. 2017 <>.

Strong, James. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 7. Harper, 1894.