Age of Discovery

The Age of Discovery or Age of Exploration was a period from the early 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century, during which Europeans explored the world by ocean searching for trading partners and particular trade goods. The most desired trading goods were gold, silver and spices. Western Europeans used new sailing ship technologies to seek a viable trade route to Asia for valuable spices which would be uncontested by Mediterranean powers. In terms of shipping advances, the most important developments were the creation of the carrack and caravel designs in Portugal. These vessels evolved from medieval European designs from the North Sea and both the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean. They were the first ships that could leave the relatively placid and calm Mediterranean, Baltic or North Sea and sail safely on the open Atlantic.

Exploration by Land

The prelude to the Age of Exploration was a series of European expeditions crossing Eurasia by land in the late Middle Ages. While the Mongols had threatened Europe with pillage and destruction, the Mongol states also unified much of Eurasia creating trade routes and communication lines stretching from the Middle East to China. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 328] A series of Europeans took advantage of these to explore eastwards. These were almost all Italians as the trade between Europe and the Middle East was almost completely controlled by traders from the Italian city states. The close Italian links to the Levant created great curiosity and commercial interest in countries which lay further east. Christian leaders, such as Prince Henry the Navigator, also launched expeditions in hopes of finding converts, or the fabled Prester John.dubious There were many different types of causes and effects on the Age Of Exploration.

The first of these travelers was Giovanni de Plano Carpini who journeyed to Mongolia and back from 1241–1247. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 328] The most famous traveler, however, was Marco Polo who wrote of journeys throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295 in which he described being a guest at the Yuan Dynasty court of Kublai Khan. His journey was written up as "Travels" and the work was read throughout Europe. In 1439, Niccolò Da Conti published an account of his travels to India and Southeast Asia. In 1466-1472, a Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin of Tver described travels to India in his book "A Journey Beyond the Three Seas".

These journeys had little immediate effect. The Mongol Empire collapsed almost as quickly as it formed and soon the route to the east became far more difficult and dangerous. The Black Death of the fourteenth century also blocked travel and trade. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 329] The land route to the East was controlled by Mediterranean commercial interests and Islamic empires that both controlled the flow and price of goods. The rise of the aggressive and expansionist Ottoman Empire further limited the possibilities of European overland trade.

Exploration begins in Portugal

It was not until the carrack and then the caravel were developed in Iberia that Western Europeans seriously considered Asiatic trade and oceanic exploration. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 332] In recent years, Economists and Historical economists of the Monetarism school have put forth the belief that the main reason the Age of Exploration began was because of a severe shortage of bullion in Europe. The European economy was dependent on gold and silver currency, but low domestic money supplies had plunged much of Europe into a recession.dubious [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 330] In contravention, spice and silk trade resulted in a net export of bullion to both the near and far east, which would have exacerbated the shortfall in the money supply. Another more likely factor was the lack of Christian European access to the spice and silk trade, for the eastern trade routes had become controlled by the Ottoman Empire after the Turks took control of Constantinople in 1453, and they barred Europeans from those trade routes, as they did through North Africa and the historically important combined-land-sea routes via the Red Sea. Both spice and silk were big businesses of the day, and arguably, spices which were both used as preservatives and used to disguise the taste of poorly preserved foods were something of a necessity—at least to those Europeans of better than modest means.

The beginnings 1419-1498

The first great wave of expeditions was launched by Portugal under Prince Henry the Navigator. European sailing practices before Prince Henry had been primarily coastal. Voyages out of sight of land relied on proven routes detailed in a portolan chart. Portolan charts showed details of geographic land features, allowing navigators to identify their departure point, follow a compass heading, and on landfall identify their position and drift from the newly presented land features. Due to the risks involved in this process, European sailors avoided sailing beyond sight of land for extended periods. A number of nautical myths explained these risks in terms of oceanic monsters or an edge of the world. Prince Henry's navigation challenged this belief. The Madeira Islands were discovered in the Atlantic ocean in 1419, and in 1427 the Azores. The Portuguese settled these islands as colonies.

Henry the Navigator's primary project was exploration of the West Coast of Africa and development of useful portolan charts. There were commercial, regal and religious motivations for Henry's endeavor. For centuries the only trade routes linking West Africa with the Mediterranean world were over the Western Sahara Desert. These routes bringing slaves and gold were controlled by the Muslim states of North Africa, long rivals to Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese monarchy hoped that the Islamic nations could be bypassed by trading directly with West Africa by sea. It was also hoped that south of the Sahara the states would be Christian and potential allies against the Muslims in the Maghreb. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 333] In 1434 the Portuguese explorers surmounted the obstacle of Cape Bojador. In the bull Romanus Pontifex the trade monopoly for newly discovered countries beyond Cape Bojador was granted to the Portuguesecite book
last=Daus|first=Ronald |authorlink= |coauthors=
title=Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus
publisher=Peter Hammer Verlag |date=1983
location=Wuppertal/Germany|pages=p.33 |url= |doi= |isbn=3-87294-202-6
] .

Within two decades of Portuguese exploration, the barrier of the Sahara had been overcome and trade in slaves and gold began in what is today Senegal. A trading fort was built at Elmina. Cape Verde became the first sugar producing colony. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 334] In 1482 an expedition under Diogo Cão made contact with the Kingdom of Kongo. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 335] The crucial breakthrough was in 1487 when Bartolomeu Dias rounded (and later named) the Cape of Good Hope and proved that access to the Indian Ocean was possible from the Atlantic. In 1498 Vasco da Gama made good on this promise by reaching India me pelas la verga.

A New World?

Portugal's rival Castile had been somewhat slower than its neighbour to begin exploring the Atlantic, and it was not until late in the fifteenth and Castile and the completion of the "reconquista" that the large nation became fully committed to looking for new trade routes and colonies overseas. In 1492 the joint rulers of the nation conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, that had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute, and they decided to fund Christopher Columbus' expedition that they hoped would bypass Portugal's lock on Africa and the Indian Ocean reaching Asia by travelling west. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 341]

Columbus did not reach Asia, but rather found what was to the Europeans a New World: America. In 1500, the Portuguese navigator, Pedro Álvares Cabral explored the land that is today called Brazil. For the two European monarchies a division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 345] This was resolved by Papal intervention in 1494 when the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the world between the two powers. The Portuguese "received" everything outside of Europe east of a line that ran 270 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands; this gave them control over Africa, Asia and eastern South America (Brazil). The Spanish received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be mostly the western part of the American continent plus the Pacific Ocean islands.

Columbus and other Spanish explorers were initially disappointed with their discoveries - unlike Africa or Asia the Caribbean islanders had little to trade with the Spanish ships. The islands thus became the focus of colonization efforts. It was not until the continent itself was explored that Spain found the wealth it had sought in the form of abundant gold. In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires that were as large and populous as those in Europe. However, small bodies of Spanish conquistadors, with large armies of indigenous Americans groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst the conquered states were the Aztec empire in Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca empire in modern Peru and Ecuador (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of European disease such as smallpox devastated the indigenous populations. Once Spanish sovereignty was established, the Spanish focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver.

In 1519 the Spanish crown funded the expedition of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan. The goal of the mission was to find the Spice Islands by traveling west, which would place the islands in Spain's economic and political sphere. [Jensen, De Lamar (1992), "Renaissance Europe 2nd ed." pg. 349] The expedition managed to cross the Pacific Ocean and reach the Spice Islands, and was the first to circumnavigate the world upon its return three years later. Magellan died in the Pacific, leaving the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano the task of completing the voyage. The expedition was a failure in the sense that its route was impractical. The Strait of Magellan was too far south and the Pacific Ocean too vast. It was not a realistic alternative to the Portuguese route around Africa. [cite book |last=Fernandez-Armesto |first=Felipe |title=Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration |year=2006 |publisher=W.W. Norton & Company |pages=p. 200 |isbn=0-393-06259-7] The Spanish were able to establish a presence in the Pacific, but not based on Magellan's voyage. Rather, a cross-Pacific route was established, by other explorers, between Mexico and the Philippines. The eastbound route to the Philippines first sailed by Alvaro de Saavedra in 1527. The westbound return route was harder to find, but was eventually discovered by Andrés de Urdaneta in 1565. [cite book |last=Fernandez-Armesto |first=Felipe |title=Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration |year=2006 |publisher=W.W. Norton & Company |pages=p. 202 |isbn=0-393-06259-7] For a long time these routes were used by the Manila galleons, thereby creating a trade link joining China, the Americas, and Europe via the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes.

Decline of the Portuguese monopoly

Portuguese exploration and colonization continued despite the new rivalry with Spain. The Portuguese became the first Westerners to reach and trade with Japan. Under the King Manuel I the Portuguese crown launched a scheme to keep control of the lands and trade routes that had been declared theirs. The strategy was to build a series of forts that would allow them to control all the major trade routes of the east. Thus forts and colonies were established on the Gold Coast, Luanda, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Mombassa, Socotra, Ormuz, Calcutta, Goa, Bombay, Malacca, Macau, and Timor.

Portugal had difficulty expanding its empire inland and concentrated mostly on the coastal areas. Over time the Portuguese state proved to simply be too small to provide the funds and manpower sufficient to manage and defend such a massive and dispersed venture. The forts spread across the world were chronically undermanned and ill-equipped. They could not compete with the larger powers that slowly encroached on its empire and trade. The days of near monopoly of east trade were numbered. In 1580 the Spanish King Philip II became also King of Portugal, as rightful heir to the Crown after his cousin Sebastião died without sons (Philip II of Spain was grandson of Manuel I of Portugal). The combined empires were simply too big to go unchallenged. The Dutch, French and English explorers ignored the Papal division of the world. The principle of a free seafaring trade was justified in the concept of "Mare Liberum" by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius whose practical application of the principles of international law drew on the work of Spanish theorists such as Fernando Vazquez and the School of Salamanca.Fact|date=May 2008 During the 17th century as the Dutch, English and French established ever more trading posts in the east, at the expense of Portugal, the wealth gained added to their military might while Portugal's weakened as it lost trading posts and colonies in West Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Bombay was given away to the English as a marriage gift. Some, like Macau, East Timor, Goa, Angola, and Mozambique, as well as Brazil, remained in Portuguese possession. The Dutch attempted to conquer Brazil, and at one time controlled almost half of the occupied territory, but were eventually defeated.Fact|date=May 2008

Northern European involvement

The nations outside of Iberia refused to acknowledge the Treaty of Tordesillas. France, the Netherlands, and England each had a long maritime tradition and, despite Iberian protections, the new technologies and maps soon made their way north.

The first Northern European mission (1497) was that of the English expedition led by the Italian, John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto). It was the first of a series of French and English missions exploring North America. Spain put limited efforts into exploring the northern part of the Americas as its resources were fully stretched by its efforts in Central and South America where more wealth had been found.Fact|date=May 2008 In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano became the first recorded European to visit the East Coast of the present-day United States. The expeditions of Cabot, Jacques Cartier (first voyage 1534) and others were mainly hoping to find an oceanic Northwest Passage to Asian trade.Fact|date=May 2008 This was never discovered, but in their travels other possibilities were found and in the early seventeenth century colonists from a number of Northern European states began to settle on the east coast of North America.

It was the Northern Europeans who also became the great rivals to the Portuguese in Africa and around the Indian Ocean. The Dutch, French, and English sent ships which flouted the Portuguese monopoly. They also founded trading forts and colonies of their own. Gradually the Portuguese and Spanish market share declined.Fact|date=May 2008 The Northern Europeans also took the lead in exploring the last unknown regions of the Pacific Ocean and the North-American west coast. Dutch explorers such as Willem Jansz and Abel Tasman explored the coasts of Australia while in the eighteenth century it was English explorer James Cook who mapped much of Polynesia. Cook travelled as far as Alaska, leaving his mark with place names on Bristol Bay and Turnagain Arm in Alaska.

End of the Age of Exploration

The Age of Exploration ended in the early seventeenth century.Fact|date=May 2008 By this time European vessels were sufficiently well built and their navigators competent enough to travel to virtually anywhere on the planet by sea. European naval exploration continued. The east coast of Australia was first explored in 1770. Arctic and Antarctic seas were not explored until the 19th century. It took much longer for Europeans to explore the interiors of continents. Africa's deep interior was not explored by Europeans until the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries, due to a lack of trade potential in this region, and to serious problems with contagious tropical diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.Fact|date=May 2008

Global impact of the Age of Discovery

:"Main History of colonialism"The new trans-oceanic links and their domination by the European powers led directly to the Age of Imperialism, where European colonial powers came to control most of the planet. The European appetite for trade, commodities, empire and slaves greatly affected many other areas of the world. Spain participated in the destruction of wealthy oppressive empires in America, only to substitute their own brutal rule. (See Spanish colonization of the Americas) New religions were forced onto people, as were new languages, sexual and political cultures. In areas of the Americas where states did not exist, but the land was perceived by Europeans to be desirable; Europeans ethnically cleansed the local inhabitants, traded with their new neighbours, and set off economic changes which impacted deep within the continent.

Similarly, in coastal Africa, local states supplied the appetite of European slave traders, changing the complexion of coastal African states and fundamentally altering the nature of African slavery, causing impacts on societies and economies deep inland. (See Atlantic slave trade).

Aboriginal Peoples were living in North America at this time and still do today. There were many conflicts between Europeans and Natives. The Europeans had many advantages over the Natives. They gave them diseases that they had not been exposed to before and this wiped out 50-90% of their population.(See Population history of American indigenous peoples)

Economic and cultural impacts of the Age of Exploration on European powers

As a wider variety of global luxury commodities entered the European markets by sea, previous European markets for luxury goods stagnated. The Atlantic trade largely supplanted pre-existing Italian and German trading powers which had relied on their Baltic, Russian and Islamic trade links. The new commodities also caused social change, as sugar, spices, silks and chinawares entered the luxury markets of Europe. Additionally, the increase in wealth experienced by Spain coincided with a major inflationary cycle, both within Spain and within Europe generally. Within a few decades American mines were outproducing European mines. The increase in prices as a result of currency circulation fueled the growth of the commercial middle class in Europe, which would come to influence the politics and culture of many countries.

ee also

* Age of Sail
* Chinese exploration
* Colonialism
* Exploration
* History of the west coast of North America
* Muslim age of discovery
* Naval history
* Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
* Columbian Exchange
* Transformation of culture

References

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