10 Events That Changed History

The Invention of Gunpowder

Ironically, it was a quest for immortality that led to the invention of the deadliest weapon before the arrival of the atomic bomb. Experimenting with life-lengthening elixirs around A.D. 850, Chinese alchemists instead discovered gunpowder. Their explosive invention would become the basis for almost every weapon used in war from that point on, from fiery arrows to rifles, cannons and grenades.

Daily Life in the Agora

It was the heart of the city -- where ordinary citizens bought and sold goods, politics were discussed and ideas were passed among great minds like Aristotle and Plato. Who knows where we'd be without the "agoras" of ancient Greece. Lacking the concept of democracy, perhaps, or the formula for the length of the sides of a triangle (young math students, rejoice!).

The Council of Nicea

When Constantine became the first Christian leader of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, his vast territory was populated by a hodgepodge of beliefs and religions. To quell the controversy, in A.D. 325, he brought together 318 bishops from across the empire to the town of Nicea to find common ground on issues plaguing the new religion. It was the first ever worldwide gathering of the Church. The Christianity we know today is a result of what those men agreed upon.

The Black Death

By the time the tornado-like destruction of the 14th-century bubonic plague finally dissipated, nearly half the people in each of the regions it touched -- and 75 million people total -- had succumbed to a gruesome, painful death. The Black Death especially ravaged Europe, leading to immediate social changes, from increased wages to mistrust of the church.

Discovery of Sugar

It's unlikely that many candy lovers in the United States think about history while each sucks down an estimated 100 pounds of sugar per year, but sweet stuff once played a major role in one of the sourest eras in modern times. White Gold, as British colonists called it, was the engine of the slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas beginning in the early 16th century. Profit from the sugar trade was so significant that it may have even helped America achieve independence from Great Britain.

The Declaration of Independence

When he penned the Declaration in 1776, Thomas Jefferson had an inkling of the consequences it held for the 13 colonies, who were announcing their intention to break free from the shackles of British rule. What he may not have anticipated, however, were the widespread effects his powerful words would also have around the world. The Declaration of Independence didn't just change the course of American history, but created a ripple effect that nudged a host of other nations toward independence, making a revolutionary poster boy of Jefferson in the process.

A Monk and His Peas

Working in the solitude of an Austrian monastery, one 19th-century holy man managed to unravel the basic principles of heredity with just a handful of pea species that he bred and crossbred, counted and catalogued with monastic discipline. While plant and animal genes were Gregor Mendel's original focus, his ideas later made sense of our complex human workings, too, kicking off the scientific discipline of genetics.

A Trip to the Galapagos

Boobies and lava gulls and giant tortoises, oh my! The Galapagos Islands host a faunal freak show of rare animal species endemic only to those volcanic specks isolated in the Pacific Ocean. While still very interesting to ecologists today, in the 19th century the life there proved key in Charles Darwin's seminal evolutionary theory of the origin of species. It was the fantastic menagerie of the Galapagos that ultimately lit the fire under the theory and its mechanism of natural selection, which changed biology forever.

12 Seconds in the Air

The pioneering, 120-foot flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, may have gone off with little fanfare that day in 1903, but it would soon have enormous implications that wrapped, very literally, around the world. Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright did not invent flight, but they became the Internet of their era with their invention of the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air and (to some degree) controlled-flight aircraft, bringing people and ideas together like never before.

Test-Tube Babies

Just over 30 years ago, a baby girl came screaming out of the womb much like any other. It was how she got in there in the first place that was far from average. As the first "test tube" baby born using in-vitro fertilization methods, England's Louise Brown tested the way we looked at life and science, sparking intense debates that continue to stir controversy. Though fertilization treatments existed before and have since become quite commonplace, that moment in 1978 marked a profound switch in biological medicine.

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