I couldn’t decide on one so I chose three.
1.) The mistake that lost Constantinople
In 1453, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans because a guard accidentally left one of the gates open. The Ottoman army noticed the mistake and immediately proceeded to capture the gate, thus allowing the rest of their forces to enter the city.
The fall of Constantinople is arguably one of the most important events in European history, and for it to be caused by such an insane mistake is quite painful.
Don’t get me wrong, the city was probably going to fall anyway; but falling because a door was left open only adds insult to injury.
2.) The failed Mongol invasions of Japan
In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire under Kublai Khan built a massive fleet of ships and attempted to launch an invasion of the Japanese archipelago. They met with some mixed success, but quickly found the Japanese to be far more powerful than expected. They determined that they would withdraw their forces and return with more troops. As they retreated, they were hit by a typhoon that destroyed much of the fleet and army.
The loss of the fleet was devastating and no doubt delayed the return of the Mongols, however, as promised, they did return 7 years later. This time they had an army of over 100,000 soldiers and sailors, more than enough to devastate much of Japan. However, as they struggled to find a landing point along the coast, they were hit by another typhoon. This time it had catastrophic effects, killing thousands of men and sinking much of the Mongol fleet. With this horrible loss, the Mongols abandoned plans to invade Japan and turned their attention to the West.
The Japanese were relieved that the typhoon destroyed the Mongols and so named it the “divine wind”, which is Japanese for Kamikaze.
I’m sure many people have heard this term before, as it was used some 700 years later to describe a strategy employed by the Japanese to once again destroy an enemy fleet.
(Above is a World War II kamikaze attack in the fall of 1944)
3.) The Voyages of the Chinese Treasure Fleets
In 1405, nearly 100 years before Columbus, a Ming dynasty fleet under the command of Admiral Zheng set out from China on a voyage around the known world. They stopped at ports throughout South and Southeast Asia stretching from Java to India. In the following decades, more fleets would be sent to visit places as far away as Mogadishu in East Africa.
While the fleet was used partially for exploration, it was also sent, perhaps more importantly, to secure Chinese interests abroad.
They defeated a pirate fleet in the Strait of Malacca, and on a second expedition, forcibly intervened in Javanese political affairs after Chinese diplomats were killed in a civil war. The fleet forced the Javanese to pay tribute to China and threatened to invade if they did not comply.
In a third expedition, the Ming fleet invaded the Sinhalese kingdom of Kotte in present-day Sri Lanka. As the kingdom of Kotte had been hostile to both the Ming and their allies, Zheng He and his fleet helped to overthrow the ruling party and install a new King who was friendlier to the Chinese.
In other expeditions, the fleet continued to intervene in the political affairs of Southeast Asia, while also exploring regions further afield, such as the Middle East and Africa. At the height of these explorations, the Ming court had diplomats from dozens of countries residing in China. China’s business interests spread throughout Asia, and friendly Ming dynasty leaders were in power throughout the region.
The Africa Expedition returned to China with African artifacts, ivory, and even a giraffe. With each expedition, the fleet went further and further, and if exploration continued, they may have reached Australia, South Africa, and even Europe.
Can you imagine how the European powers would react if a massive fleet of warships arrived at their ports? I’m sure it would have created some problems, and it certainly changed history as we know it.
Due to the changing political circumstances in China, the fleets stopped being sent, but it is quite possible that the Chinese really started the age of exploration if they had continued to send fleets.