Chronological events leading to the rise and fall of superpowers of the world – 

Fall of Constantinople & Sea voyages (1453 – 1498): In 1453, the Byzantine empire of modern day Turkey ended when Ottoman Turks conquer the city of Constantinople (Istanbul). This conquest closed the land route between Europe and Asia and the superpowers of 15th Century namely Spain and Portugal were coerced to find alternative routes towards Asia. Consequently started the sea voyages of Vasco da Gama of Portugal. He sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and reached India in 1498. Thus an alternate route to Asia was discovered by the Portuguese. It was around the same time (1492), a Spanish sailor named Christopher Columbus discovered America. This lead to massive settlement of the Spanish in the new continent of America.

Vasco Da Gama
Vasco da Gama

Defeat of Spanish armada & Westphalia Peace (1588 – 1648): In the year 1588, the British navy won a decisive victory at sea by defeating the Spanish armada of more than a hundred ships and thirty thousand soldiers. This battle led to the emergence of England as a world superpower and also resulted the fall of Spanish empire.

Further, the constant wars in Europe between various European kingdoms ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This peace treaty (negotiated in Germany) lead to the formation of a nation-state system, which is the base of today’s world order.

Spanish Armada
Defeat of the Spanish Armada by British

American Independence (4th July 1776): By this time, the world order of super power had changed; England and France were the new super powers. The mid eighteenth century saw the revolt of the American colonies that were under the British rule. This revolt received full supported from Britain’s rival – France. The British surrendered in front of the American resolve and on 4th July 1776, these colonies declared their independence. A new nation was born – The United States of America.

american independence
Declaration of Independence by the American colonies

French Revolution and Decembrist Revolt (1789-1825): After provided a wholehearted assistance to Americans, the Frenchmen returned to France but not empty handed. Along with them, the American principles of of Liberty, Equality and People’s rule entered France. This eventually lead to the storming of Bastille fortress in on 14 -July 1789 and the dethroning of the French monarch – King Louis XVI. A revolution had occurred in France.

French Revolution
French Revolution

The French Revolution of 1789 gave birth to France’s famous emperor – Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon epitomized the principles of French Revolution. He later laid the a new legal framework in France known as Napoleonic Code.

Napoleon fought a series of battle with Russia that consequently led to the capture of Russian soldiers in French prisons. The Russian soldiers (Russian prisoners of wars in France) were deeply influenced by the occurrences in France under Napoleon. After a certain period, these soldiers were released from French prisons. Just like their French counterparts, the Russians returned to their homeland with the success-stories of French Revolution. The French Revolution thus laid the foundation of Russia’s ‘Decembrist Revolt’. On 26th December, 1825, Russian soldiers staged a massive military coup overthrowing the Romanov Dynasty. This revolt is famously known as Decembrist Revolt.

Russia entered the phase of Lenin-Stalin’s communalism after 1825.

Decembrist Revolt of Russia

World Wars (1914 – 1945): World War I or the Great War (as it was known earlier) had a major impact on the world order. The Great War started in 1914 and it exposed vulnerabilities of the British empire across the world and the Romanov dynasty of Russia.

The German defeat at the end of the war and the subsequent treaty of Versailles laid seeds of the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Hitler, who considered the Great War as an unfinished business and wanted to avenge the German humiliation thru Versailles Treaty. Result was World War II (1939-45).  However, this war too ended in a German defeat. And USA and USSR (Russia) emerged as the new epicentres of world’s power politics.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Forces

Cold War and the Jihad of Afghanistan (1946 – 1979): The bipolar alliances represented by NATO (under the leadership of the US) and Warsaw Pact (under the leadership of the USSR) started a new phase in world history called ‘The Cold War’. Under this new form of war, the world was divided into two poles based on the ideological leanings of the countries. The United States represented a pro-capitalist ideology and USSR (Soviet Union) represented a socialist ideology. This tug of war continued till 1979. The turning point to this ‘cold’ game came in 1979 when USSR invaded Afghanistan. The US with the help of Afghanistan’s neighbour – Pakistan fuelled a holy war called Jihad against the Soviet Union (USSR). The Afghans won an impossible victory against the Soviets just like the Vietnamese had won against the US in 1975. However, the Afghan Jihad saw the emergence of a dreaded terrorist – Osama bin Laden.

Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy

Events in Middle East and 9/11 Attacks (1979 – 2001) : In 1979, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran lost power to a cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran was changed forever. Contrary to the expectation of Americans, Khomeini refused to align with NATO. However, the Russians had no such problem in the Middle Eastern theatre. Saddam Hussein, the new dictator of Iraq was socialist by principle and hence, he had no hesitation in aligning with the Soviet Union. Russians had thus gained an upper hand in middle east. Unfortunately for the Soviets, the decade of 90s marked the failure of the socialist ideology and the end of Soviet Union. This gave way to a new world order that was Unipolar in nature. The United State of America became the world’s unchallenged superpower.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and declared it as Iraq’s territory. The United Nations authorised NATO under the leadership of the US to attack Iraq. This led to world’s first televised war and which resulted in Iraqi defeat.

War in Persian Gulf (Gulf War I)

11th September 2001; Two plane hits the towers of World Trade Center in New York. This was followed by a plane attack on Pentagon. Osama bin Laden, a former ally of the United State in Afghanistan War claimed the responsibility. This started a fresh war in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was later killed in Abbottabad in Pakistan by the US special forces.

Attack of 9/11 on WTC (NY)

Gulf War II and Rise of ISIS (2003 – 2017): In 2003, the United States of America attacked Iraq for the second time. However, this time they ended the reign of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and hanged him on 9th April 2003.

The death of Iraqi dictator lead to the formation of a guerilla force under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This eventually led to a formation of terrorist organisation known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Till today, we are yet to find a proper solution to this menace of ISIS.

ISIS terrorists with their flag

What next? Are we heading toward World War III or is the American dominance of world politics far from over? Are we heading to a clash of civilizations? Answers to these and many more such questions will be shaping for new world.

Sources: Lectures of Avinash Dharmadhikari (IAS) and