The 18th century begins with a world population of 600 millions of inhabitants, ending in 1799 with 900 millions. Population in Europe was duplicated from 100 millions at the start of the period to 200 millions on the last years. It was a century of a huge demographic explosion. It began in its first decades with a strong regime of absolute monarchies and it ended with revolutions of independence and democratic systems. It began with a world of agricultural hand-made tasks and it ended with another one introduced in the Industrial Revolution. It started with a majority of rural populations and it ended with people concentrating themselves in the main cities. It began with maritime or land transportation and it finished with flights in baloon aircrafts. It began with a high mortality rate by infectious diseases and it ended with the discovery of vaccination. It started with peaceful sovereigns keeping a good European balance, and it finished with the roar of Napoleon's cannons. It began with the Cartesian doubt and it finished with the Reason, as the main source of authority.  


It was a century of wars.

But not the kind of wars of one whole nation trying to conquer another; they were fought with small professional armies, in which, for instance, France and Britain, -the great rivals of the century- were still doing trade and cultural exchanges. Both countries fought their most important war, the Seven Years War (1756-1763) in North America, while Europe was engaged in the Polish Succession War and in the War of the Austrian Succession. Prussia acquired in this century a very important role of military power. In France, Louis XV, was advised by his great-grandfather Louis XIV, before he died, "to not follow his example and to not make the war, only in case of extreme urgency, because wars are the ruin of the countries". In this respect, the eighteen century was more civilized than the other centuries has been.

Death of the French General Montcalm in 1795 in Quebec, 7 Years War >

In 1728, who years later was Director of The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in Great Britain, James Bradley, makes an optical demonstration of the translation of the Earth around the Sun, and Galileo's theory is scientifically a proven fact. In consequence, in 1741 the Pope Benedict XIV deleted from the Index of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office Galileo's works and allows their Imprimatur. At the middle of the century, it's already a fact that our planetary system is heliocentric and astronomical researches will grow and develop very fast. Sir Isaac Newton had already established the Universal Gravitation Laws. They had, at that time, a new vision of the world and of the Universe surrounding it.


"The Universe puzzles me, and I cannot imagine how this clockwork can exist without a clockmaker".

(François Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire)



The discovering of new populations in America, Polynesia, Africa, because of the explorers' travels around the world, brought around a new vision of the human being. They found whole populations organized and living in a very different way than the Europeans. With no royal absolutism, without inequalities, without religious intolerance, without excessive ambitions of profits. Coinciding this with the philosophers' passion about Natural Laws, the "Myth of the Noble Savage" showed up in the scenario, as a pure being in contact with the Nature, not contaminated by the modern society. Voltaire defends strongly that kind of society, and Rousseau, classifies it as a utopic ideal, far from the reality. Then was debated the whole structure of the European society, based in a system ruled by the Church and by the Kingdom, and all its rules and moral concepts, considered until that time as absolutes, were seriously discussed and critized. The Reason, the freedom of thought, banished forever all the absolutist ideas.


That what was called "Enlightenment" (in French "Les Lumières", in German "Aufklärung" and in Spanish "La Ilustración") and motivates to call the century, the "Century of Light", was a philosophic movement fed by different philosophic expressions in fashion at that time, and not all of them coinciding in the same way of thought. But there was some common proposals between them, what made an homogeneous movement in some of its aspects: the Reason, as the only source of legitimacy and authority; the ideals of liberty and democracy; the suppression of all despotic authority, whether they came from the King or from the Church; the principles of respect and religious tolerance, the relativization of moral costumes and a profound necessity of change, in the government and in the society. It was, by means of the ascent of a new social class, every day more important, of rich and wealthy bourgeois, an urgent demand of transformation of all the political and social structure. The repeated travels to America were generating a new class of wealthy traders, where the social ascension and the fortune were now based in personal merits and not in a heritage by blood. Likewise, the development of the Industrial Revolution brought, since the second half of the century, a new prosperity, based in the serial production, leaving the handwork in a transition towards a production by machines and steam engines. A new world order started to appear and little by little all the ancient structures were loosing strength before the new world proposals. At the end of the century, all this theory walking around the intellectual circles became a tangible reality: the Independence of the United States of America and the French Revolution, 13 years later, gave a very specific shape to the new thought, conceived by the Enlightenment. The first modern republics were born.

..."The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before."...

THE SOCIAL CONTRACT : ..."At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will. This public person, so formed by the union of all other persons formerly took the name of city, and now takes that of Republic or body politic; it is called by its members State when passive. Sovereign when active, and Power when compared with others like itself. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State. But these terms are often confused and taken one for another: it is enough to know how to distinguish them when they are being used with precision".

..."Equality is deemed by many a mere speculative chimera, which can never be reduced to practice. But if the abuse is inevitable, does it follow that we ought not to try at least to mitigate it? It is precisely because the force of things tends always to destroy equality that the force of the legislature must always tend to maintain it."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social, 1762.


A century of Rationalism, before the faith and the superstition .

  1700 - The Great Northern War. 1701- War of the Spanish Succession. 1703 - Foundation of Saint Petersburg. 1709 - Bartolomeo Cristóforo invents the piano.

1715 - Death of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France.

1733 - The Polish Succession War.


It's crowned his great-grandson , Louis XV.

The conflict started between the Russian Empire and Sweden for the supremacy of the Baltic Sea. Together with Sweden were the Ottoman Empire, Poland, and the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp. Allied with Russia were Denmark, Norway, Saxony, Prussia and Hanover. It lasted until 1721 and it finished with the Treaty of Nystad, when Sweden held Finland but ceded to Russia, Livonia, Estonia and the province of Ingra.

The King Charles II of Spain , who also ruled on Milan, Naples, the Low Countries and the Spanish Colonial Empire, died at his 38 years without heirs. The possible successors could have been the sons of Louis XIV of France or those of the Emperor Leopold I of Austria. It lasted until 1713 (Treaty of Utrecht) and it cost 1 million of lives. It was fought by France, Spain and Bavaria against England, Austria, Portugal and the Duchy of Savoy.

The Tsar Peter the Great of Russia founded the city of Saint Petersburg, which will be the capital of Russia by two centuries, until 1918.

1707 - United Kingdom of Great Britain. - The kingdoms of England and Scotland were officially united, becoming the United Kingdom, under the rule of Anne, the last of the Stuarts. Since that moment the kings of Britain will also be kings of Ireland.

1712 - Newcomen invents the first steam engine.

1724 - Gabriel Fahrenheit invents the mercury thermometer.

It was a war between the Bourbons and the Hasburgs. At the death of August II was crowned August III, and he found the opposition of Poland with France, Spain and the Duchy of Savoy against other part of Poland, Russia, Austria and Saxony. It lasted until 1738 and it ended with the Treaty of Vienna.



  1736 - Anders Celsius confirms the Earth's shape. 1740 - War of the Austrian Succession. 1748 - Montesquieu publishes The Spirit of the Laws. 1755 - Lisbon was struck by a big earthquake. 1756 - The 7 Years' War. 1760 - George III is crowned as King of Great Britain.



On November 1st of 1755, at 9:20 AM, a magnitude 9 earthquake caused near total destruction of the city, exactly in the All Saints' Day. It lasted almost 6 minutes, causing fissures of 15 feet wide, and it was followed by a tsunami with waves as tall as 66 feet and fires for 5 more days. The mortality was around 100,000 people. 85% of the buildings were destroyed. It also affected several populations in Southern Spain, as Huelva. It also reached the coast of Maroc. In all the Kingdom of Portugal the destruction was devastating.



Celsius was a Swedish astronomer, who, besides of have invented the scale of thermometer which takes his name, travelled near the North Pole, to measure the lenght of a degree along a meridian and comparing it with other measures in Peru, confirmed that the Earth is an ellipsoid flattened at the poles.

It was a war which involved almost all Europe and was extended to North America and the India. There were fighting France, Prussia, Spain, Bavaria, Saxony, Naples and Sicily, Genoa and Sweden against Great Britain, the Kingdom of Sardinia, Russia, the Dutch Republic, Hanover, Saxony and Austria. It ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

Charles Louis de Secondat, Barón de Montesquieu, (1689-1755) published in Geneva a work what will have a strong influence on the politic thought of the epoch and will be the base of organization of all the future states. It established the system of separation of politic powers.


It cost more than 1.400.000 lives. There were fighting Prussia, Great Britain, Portugal, Hanover, and other small German states, the Iroquois Confederacy in Canada, against France, Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Saxony and Sardinia. It finished with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. France ceded all her colonies in North America and part of India.

1762 - Accession to the throne of Catherine the Great as Empress Regnant of Russia.  

1762 - Lord Montagu creates the sandwich. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and First Lord of the British Admiralty, to could eat and simultaneously take care of other tasks, ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. Probably was not his invention but anyway it took his name.

1767 - Expulsion of Jesuits from Spain.

By means of the "Pragmática Sanción", Charles III confiscated all the properties of the order and expulsed the Jesuits from Spain and of the American colonies. They were already expulsed by France (1763) and Portugal (1760)


1772 - Partitions of Poland.

From 1772 to 1795 Poland was partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria. It will last for123 years, until 1918, when it recovers the status of a sovereign nation.


1772 - Denis Diderot publishes the Encyclopédie.

It was a work of 35 volumes and 71.818 articles. It's the symbol of the Enlightenment, contributed by all the great thinkers of that time: D'Alembert, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.

1774 - Death of Louis XV of France.

At his 64 years died Louis XV, affected by a small pox illness, and he is succeeded in the throne by his grandson Louis XVI.


1776 - Independence of the United States of America.

The 4th of July of 1776 United States of America proclaims its independence from the British Crown .





1768 - Consumption of sugar becomes popular in Europe.



1781 - First American Revolution in Peru.

On May 18th, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, Túpac Amaru II, who conducted the first Native American rebellion against the Spanish Colonial Empire, is executed in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco.


1789 -The French Revolution.

On June 20th 1776, at the Real Tennis Court, 578 deputies of the Third Estate agree not to separate until having a French Constitution.


1790 - France is the first nation adopting the Metric Decimal System.

The meter was adopted as the base unit of length, which will be later established as one tenth million of a terrestrial meridian.

1796 - Edward Jenner makes the first small pox vaccination.

The small pox was killing more than 100 thousand people per year until Jenner could make the first vaccination, definitely immunizating an 8 years old child.


1798 - Napoleon starts the Egyptian Expedition.

 That year Napoleon invades Egypt to close the path to the Indias to Great Britain. It was an expedition with 167 scientists who left important archaeological discoverings, like the Rosetta Stone, deciphered by Champolion. In 1799, at his return, he will make a coup of state and will be proclaimed First Consul of France.

1799 - Alessandro Volta invents the electric battery.

Piling up cells of copper and zinc discs, separated by cardboard soaked in brine, as electrolytes, Volta got a direct electric current. The unit of electromotive force was called "volt" in his honour.






An 80% of the European society during almost the whole 18th century was mainly agricultural, settled on rural lands. Especially in England, at the end of the century, there was a strong movement of the people toward the cities, due to the benefits of the Industrial Revolution. But in France, Spain, the Italian peninsula, Prussia, Austria, Poland, Russia, it was not changed until the nineteenth century.


It was a society, in general, strictly divided into classes: clergy, nobility, and the rest of the population. This "rest of the population" was an 80 or 90% of all the inhabitants, a great mass of people, and amongst them there were rich bourgeois, financial traders, bankers, landlords, in the high class; notaries, lawyers, merchants, in the middle class, and the majority of the people were artisans or poor peasants. In general these classes didn't mix between them by marriages; it existed a great fixed gulf between groups within a society, being this less frequent in protestant countries like Britain and Netherland, countries with a more flexible social system, but rigid and inflexible in the rest of Europe.


The average of life duration in Europe is today 78 years. But in the 18th century, the life conditions were quite different. The rate of births in Europe was very high: 6 or 7 per household, and the rate of infant mortality reached the 50% of all the births. It was pretty similar in every social class, because of the health conditions at that time. People used to die of small-pox, for instance. The king Louis XV of France died of a small-pox complicated with septicemia and lung infections, when he was 64 years old, in 1774. There was not vaccination until the end of the century. They also died of tuberculosis, small-pox, chickenpox, dysentery, intestinal infections, peritonitis, because they did not have antibiotics or vaccination. As the water was not potabilized by the cities, it need to be boiled at the households, and, before the first negligence, it was easy to get an intestinal infection because of the contaminated water. Surgery was at that time far from what is today: they didn't have good anesthesia, cures were made with bleedings and enemas. Wars made real disasters, coming back the troops to their homes bringing and spreading pests and epidemic diseases amongst the population.

Nevertheless, at the 18th century the general conditions of life were better than in the 17th century, which provoked a huge demographic explosion. The seventeenth century was a century of draughts, and the 18th century had a weather change very beneficial for the agriculture. New plants brought by America were introduced, like the corn, causing a general improvement in the harvests and an increase of the cattle heads. In 1720 huge mines of gold were discovered in Brazil, and it brought a great reactivation of the European economy. At the end of the century, the expansion of the industry and the arise in the employment allowed a stronger and healthier population, with better alimentation and with more defenses to the illnesses.

Women were under the custody of their fathers or their husbands, having little access to the instruction, and generally they passed 15 years of their lives giving birth to their children, until they were exhausted. In general they were treated like minors. They didn't have rights or legal responsibility, being always subject to the administration of the man in the household, whether he was her father or some elder brother.




Very few streets were paved with cobblestones. When it rained, the streets were like big paddles plenty of mud, very difficult for the pedestrian transit. The excellent gravure of Philibert-Louis Debucourt gives us an exact idea about how was to walk by those streets.

Usually the streets were scarcelly illuminated and it was a risk to take a walk at the nigh time, because of the assaults and robberies around every corner.

In the cities was living the high nobility, who resided near the palaces or the royal courts. Their houses were surrounded of poorer districts, where there were stores, banks insurance companies, and houses of the middle or lower classes.


Probably it was one of the most relevant aspects of the century : in societies chiefly ruled by the Church, controlling all the civil acts, who did not belong to the "official religion" (Catholics in France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Lutherans in Prussia, Anglicans in the United Kingdom) didn't exist for the civil life. For instance, the Jews, if not converted, were not baptized, not having a civil identity, so they couldn't receive heritages. The same happened with the Protestants in catholic nations. Yet in England and in Netherland conditions were more flexible, having more tolerance to the religious plurality. But in all the countries the Church was strongly attached to the State, with a very important influence in the political and social life.

But, the eighteen century was, before all,

It was a real civilization, superior to those of Greece and Rome, to which the eighteenth century compared itself. There were persons of position, wealth and influence, settled down to completely enjoy it. Never in Europe do we see men and women so elaborately artificial, so far removed from their natural appearance. The men wore wigs, which had to be curled every day, gaily colored and lace-trimmed satin coats and waistcoats, silk stockings and buckled shoes. The women wore immense coiffures of powdered hair and enormous hooped-skirts, and were carried to their parties in sedan chairs. An evening party in high society, taking place in a room lit with hundreds of candles, must have been an astonishingly impressive spectacle. We know today all that magnificence through the pictures, in museums, in furnitures at the interior of the houses and in the domestic utensils they used. The domestic architecture, with the styles Louis XV, Chippendale and Sheraton has probably never been equaled. (J. B. Priestley, "Adventures in English Literature").

Watching today in a museum the domestic utensils they left behind, we will realize with what style they lived:

Nevertheless, only a small minority lived with that style, waited upon by servants who were waited upon by humbler servants. The mass of the people did not were wigs (they were too expensive), or satin coats, they didn't sit on Chippendale chairs, nor drink out in silver tankards. They wore their own hair, as it was, they drunk out in cups maybe broken long ago, and they dressed plainly. The painter William Hogarth (1697-1774) has left valuable testimonies, with an exact realism, about how those social classes lived.

In this detail of a painting of a street of London, by Hogarth, from 1751, we can see at the back a lady transported in a hand chair by servants, fish merchants with their baskets on their heads, fat men drinking beer, with work tools, walls shored up with woods, public selling of books and journals, which is, exactly, a panorama of the life at that age. William Hogarth; Beer Street, 1751.



In general, clothes were quite expensive, por lo cual la gente común sólo tenía dos o tres mudas de ropa. Era tejida a mano, por las mujeres de la familia, en telas de lino o algodón. La gente con mayor poder adquisitivo se hacía hacer su ropa por sastres. La ropa no se lavaba tan seguido como hoy. Los sacos se lavaban muy pocas veces, o quizás nunca. Debido al precio alto de la ropa, era común emparcharla o remendarla. El cabello tampoco se lavaba tan frecuentemente, y ésa es la razón por la que los peinados se ajustaban en la nuca con rodetes o lazos. Obviamente la calidad y cantidad de ropa variaban según las diferentes clases sociales, pero había modos de vestimenta que en general eran común a todos:

Men used to wear long shirts. The underpants didn't exist at that time,so they rolled their shirts below their breeches like pampers. Usaban medias altas, hasta arriba de la rodilla. Solían usar chalecos largos con muchos botones. Los pantalones eran cortos, y se abrochaban en la rodilla. Para ajustarlos se usaban ligas o lazos de cuero o tela pues aún no se conocían los elásticos. Los zapatos no se fabricaban derecho o izquierdo, sino iguales, y los hombres usaban un taco medianamente alto.
Las mujeres usaban vestidos largos. Los hombros, los codos o las rodillas no debían ser jamás expuestos, sino quedar ocultos dentro de la ropa. Usaban medias altas, que se ajustaban con ligas o lazos de tela o cuero por encima de la rodilla, en el muslo. Tampoco era costumbre usar ropa interior, excepto corpiños o corsets. Las mujeres de mejor posición usaban altas pelucas empolvadas diariamente y aros para ampliar la falda de los vestidos; las de menor recursos, pequeñas pelucas, o el pelo al natural. Era costumbre llevar siempre abanicos. Los zapatos eran pequeños, rectos y con taco, y tampoco tenían derecho o izquierdo.




Quizás el aspecto más trascendente, en lo social, del Siglo de las Luces fue, aparte de su contenido, la forma abierta a todo el público en que fue transmitido su mensaje cultural. El siglo comienza con una explosión de material impreso; libros, periódicos, panfletos. Y la lectura de todo ese material se difunde en cafeterías, donde se discuten los temas del día, y bibliotecas públicas. Las cafeterías se ponen de moda como un lugar no sólo de esparcimiento y consumo de bebidas, sino de verdadero intercambio de opiniones entre los concurrentes sobre los temas más actuales. En las bibliotecas públicas -que no eran gratuitas, sino que había que pagar una membresía-, se tomaban libros prestados, y esto aumenta la participación de las mujeres a la lectura.

La apertura de la cultura a todo el público trae como consecuencia que se desarrolla un alto poder de crítica de los contenidos, al estar sujetos a la opinión general. Se comienza a hablar del interés común de la cultura, y este interés común se sustenta en la libertad de pensamiento y en la preponderancia de la Razón sobre la Fé.

Hasta el momento los autores estaban bajo el patronazgo de mecenas, gente de fortuna que les permitía vivir cómodamente sólo dedicándose a escribir. Y hasta recibían patronazgos del gobierno, llamados "sinecuras". Por lo tanto, sólo escribían para una clase reducida de gente, lectores inteligentes y muy cultivados. Pero ya en las primeras décadas del siglo, los editores comenzaron a vender sus propias ediciones públicamente. La clase burguesa toma una profunda participación en la cultura, que ya no queda más reducida a un pequeño círculo. Hasta 1750, la gente sólo poseía un pequeño número de libros, que leía y releía ante pequeñas audiencias. Luego las ediciones se abaratan y el público comienza a leer y poseer más cantidad de libros, y ya por lo general los leen para ellos mismos.

L'Académie Française, en Francia, comienza a hacer concursos de postulaciones científicas abiertos al público, y son enviadas en carácter de anonimato. La Royal Society of London difunde la obra de filosofía experimental de Robert Boyle, en la cual se establece que el conocimiento se basa en la experimentación, la cual debe ser testificada por el público para ser legítima. Los círculos científicos se transforman en lugares de intercambio de ideas y amplia participación abierta. Esta apertura inicia el examen crítico público del conocimiento.


Freemasonic lodges, as secret societies of great social influence, started to organize at the end of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century. Initially labour unions of masons (maçons in French), as closed circles of the activity with their own regulations, later they were transformed in societies which, with philosophical bases, were looking for the improvement of the individual and a moral transformation of the society. Freemasonic lodges had a great influence in the whole intellectual, philosophical and political movement of the 18th century. Even though their objectives never were political, the effect of their thought was transmitted to the whole society. Noblemen, wealthy bourgeois, and renowned intellectuals and philosophers of that time were members of the lodges. They had an extraordinary coincidence with the principles of the Enlightenment: equality, fraternity and liberty. And, as they were persecuted by the Catholic Church at that time, they also had that point in common with the free-thinkers of the Enlightenment.

During the 17th century lodges were started to form in Scotland, England and Ireland, and in 1717 several of them were united to form the Grand Lodge of England. In 1715 was formed the Grand Lodge of Ireland and in 1736 the Grand Lodge of Scotland. In 1730 these lodges started to extend also to the British colonies in North America. In 1728 was founded in Paris the Grand Orient de France. Other lodges were also founded in Russia (1717), in Belgium (1721), in Spain (1728), in Italy (1733), and in Germany (1736).

In 1738 a Papal Bull of the Pope Clement XII condemns the freemasonry and rules the excommunication of all the Catholics belonging to freemasonic lodges. However, in France the Papal Bull was ignored by the Parliament and it didn't become effective, because a lot of members of the clergy belonged to freemasonic lodges. Watching the political and cultural characters of the epoch belonging to the freemasonry we can have an idea of the influence what it had on the social, political and philosophical movements: Lafayette, the French general who helped to the Independence of the United States; Rouget de l'Isle, the author of the Marseillaise; Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, the legislator who led the project of the Civil Code in France; the Earl of Mirabeau, prominent deputee of the French Revolution; Joseph Bonaparte, the Napoleon's brother who was King of Spain, was Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France; George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in USA; Simon Bolivar and José de San Martin, heroes of the South American Independence, only to mention some of them.

>>> 2nd PART, THE ART IN THE 18th CENTURY >>>


Ensemble Eighteen century: 1) Antonio Vivaldi, Allegro of Concerto Nº 8 en A minor, "L'Estro Armonico", rv 522 - 2) George Friedrich Haendel, Aria from "Ombra Mai Fu" of the Opera Xerxes - 3) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Rondeau of the Sonata para Piano in F M K 533