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Explore this Fascinating Map of Medieval Europe

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Medieval Europe in 1444 map

Explore this Fascinating Map of Medieval Europe

What did Europe look like in the Middle Ages? That’s a tough question to answer since Europe’s borders and territories were (and still are) constantly in flux.

This map, shared by Reddit user /ratkatavobratka, provides a historical snapshot of Europe in 1444—a time when European society was made up mostly of independent territories that were governed by landowners rather than a centralized authority.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at some key regions on the map, and what was happening in these areas at the time.

Some Context: Why 1444?

Before we dive into the analysis, first thing’s first—what’s so special about the year 1444?

It was the year of the Battle of Varna. That’s when the Ottoman army defeated the Hungarians and allowed the Ottoman Empire to expand its reign.

It’s considered a pivotal moment for Ottoman expansion into Southern Europe. In fact, this battle is so historically significant, it was chosen as the start date for a popular video game called Europa Universalis IV.

Feudalism in Medieval Europe

One of the most immediately obvious details of this map of medieval Europe is how fragmented Western Europe was at the time.

This vast array of independent territories technically made up the Holy Roman Empire (the empire’s borders are highlighted in green on the map). But why was the Holy Roman Empire so fragmented?

holy roman fragments

The empire was subdivided into individually governed entities at the time. These independent territories were governed by nobility rather than an absolute monarch. This was possible because the empire was run by the feudal system.

For the non-history buffs reading this, the feudal system was a socio-political system largely characterized by its lack of public authority. Theoretically, it was meant to have a distinct hierarchy:

  1. Monarchs
    At the top of the feudal food chain, monarchs were meant to hold absolute power over their land. However, many lords held so much power over their manors that the monarch acted more as a figurehead.
  2. Lords and Ladies (Nobility)
    The nobility was supposed to act as middle management— they were in charge of managing the land and the peasants who worked on it.
  3. Knights
    Protectors of the land, knights followed a strict code of conduct, known as chivalry. If they failed to follow their chivalry, their title and land was taken from them.
  4. Peasants
    A majority of the medieval population was made up of peasants, who did all the work on the land so lords and knights could plan and prepare for war.

Between the 1200-1400s, battles between nobles and monarchs were almost constant, and the map shows a time when estates were largely governed by the nobility. However, it’s important to note that in the years following 1444, monarchs gradually began to regain their power.

Eventually, governing became more consolidated, and this gradual transition to absolute monarchy marked the early stages of what we now recognize as nation states.

Mighty Lithuania

One very prominent and perhaps surprising section of the map is the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which today would include large portions of Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. This snapshot depicts Lithuania at the height of its power, when their territory stretched all the way from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea, near Crimea.

Over time power ebbs and flows, and today Lithuania is a much more compact nation.

Staying Power

Europe’s borders have shifted constantly over the long history of the continent, but one area has remained remarkably consistent. On the map above, Portugal looks nearly identical to its present day form. This is because the country’s border with Spain–one of the world’s oldest–has barely shifted at all since the 13th century.

Zooming in on the South: The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

While the Holy Roman Empire was highly fragmented, other empires were much more unified.

For instance, the Ottoman Empire had a much more centralized governing system. In 1444, it was ruled by Fatih Sultan Mehmed (which is Turkish for Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror). During his reign, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), which had been ruled by the Byzantine Empire for over a thousand years before the Ottoman army seized power.

Because the Byzantine Empire was what was left of the Roman Empire, this takeover also marked the final fall of the Roman Empire.

Maps Freeze Time

Historical maps are fascinating because they provide a snapshot of the world as it once was (but no longer is).

As previously mentioned, Europe’s borders were (and still are) constantly changing. And it’s interesting to look back on previous eras to remember how far we’ve come.

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Science

Visualizing the Average Lifespans of Mammals

While smaller animals such as weasels typically live 1-2 years, larger counterparts can thrive for decades.

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Infographic depicting the average lifespans of diverse mammals.

Visualizing the Average Lifespans of Mammals

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Mammals, though comprising a small fraction of Earth’s creatures, hold vital ecological roles globally. They are crucial for maintaining ecosystem health through services like pollination, seed dispersal, and predator-prey dynamics.

In this visualization, we depict the average lifespans of mammals, using data from Discover Wildlife and the United Nations.

Human Lifespans on the Rise

Defined as warm-blooded creatures with hair or fur, mammals nurse their young with milk from mammary glands. While smaller animals such as weasels typically live 1-2 years, larger counterparts like elephants can thrive for decades, and bowhead whales can live for 200 years, or even longer.

AnimalAverage lifespan (years)
Weasel1 to 2
Hedgehog3
Wolverine12
Tiger14
Brown bear25
Lowland tapir30
Western gorilla35
Brandt's bat41
Humans (1950)47
Elephant56
Humans (2022)72
Bowhead whale200

Notably, human lifespans have experienced a remarkable surge. According to the UN Population Division, the global average life expectancy has surged from 47 years in 1950 to 72 years in 2022, marking a 25-year increase. This is attributed to advancements in nutrition, medication, and essential resources.

However, as human longevity flourishes, it can have an adverse effect on wildlife mammal populations. To put this into numbers, over the past 100,000 years, the surge in human population has precipitated an 85% reduction in wild mammal biomass.

Today, livestock dominates 62% of the world’s mammal biomass, with humans accounting for 34%, while wild mammals comprise only 4%.

Despite a decline in mammal diversity, the total biomass of terrestrial mammals has significantly increased, expanding approximately ninefold over the past 10,000 years.

Curious to learn more about mammals? Check out this graphic that shows the biomass of all the world’s mammals.

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Voronoi, the app by Visual Capitalist. Where data tells the story. Download on App Store or Google Play

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