Despite their efforts, the emperors at Constantinople could not reconquer the West and thus reconstitute the Roman Empire of Augustus. Indeed, theological controversy, reflecting internal political strain, and combined with Persian and Arab aggression, cost the Empire Syria and Egypt. The internal structure was modified to meet the new situation.
Religion governed Byzantine life from birth to death. The church governed marriage and family relations and filled leisure time. Religion also dominated the arts and literature, economics and politics, and intellectual life.
The thriving maritime trade changed public taste, as it brought a variety of new produce into the British and Continental markets. Dramatic examples are the rise of the coffeehouse and the drinking of tea at home.
Humanism both aided and impeded the advance of science. The Renaissance was less a dramatic rebirth of science than an age of preparation for the scientific revolution that was to come in the seventeenth century. The major contribution of the humanists was increased availability of ancient scientific authorities, as works by Galen, Ptolemy, Archimedes, and others were for the first time translated from Greek to Latin.
Our knowledge of all periods of history is changing rapidly, though not equally so.
It may seem strange that our concepts of the distant past are changing much faster than our concepts of the periods closer to us in time. But when we consider the means by which we know about the past, we can quickly see that this is entirely natural.
Like literature, the arts also gradually moved away from the standardized Roman forms toward newer achievements that introduced as the barbarians merged their arts with of the lands they settled. The early great churches of important imperial cities as Milan or Trier were still secular structures taken over from the secular of the Romans, but innovations were tried former Christian structures, especially baptisteries, detached from the main church. Some were square, others many-sided; rich mosaic decoration became common.
Nor could the largest and most populous of the Western democracies avoid instability even though it was to provide the leadership for the Western alliance and was clearly a superpower in trade and military terms.
Though racked by social tensions at times, the United States was markedly prosperous and politically stable for much of this period.
Nonetheless, significant new elements were introduced to the American sense.
Of all the eighteenth-century rulers, Frederick II, the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, appeared best attuned to the Enlightenment. As a youth he had rebelled against the drill-sergeant methods of his father, Frederick William I. An attentive reader of the philosophes, he exchanged letters with them and brought Voltaire to live for a time as his pensioner in his palace at Potsdam, near Berlin.
Divine-right monarchy was not peculiarly French, of course, nor was the mercantilism practiced by the France of Louis XIV. But like divine-right rule, mercantilism flourished most characteristically under the Sun King. Mercantilism was central to the early modern effort to construct strong, efficient political units.