In the late sixteenth century, Europeans found that they could indeed travel through the Atlantic and they made that a priority.

The medieval Europeans were excellent at building off past societies ideas and inventions and either improving them or putting them to better use. Examples of this include their paper-like product (learned from the Muslims) that was successful worldwide, printing (learned from the Chinese and Koreans) along with the use of ink that started the rise of books and literacy in Europe, and gunpowder was first invented by the Chinese, yet no one used it better then the Europeans as it was critical in fueling their weapons and thus their surge to building successful colonial empires. The Europeans global exploration at the end of the fifteenth century also would not have been possible had it not been for their improvements in navigational instruments, rope, and sailcloth.

Portuguese Explorations

Portugal led the way in European Atlantic expansion and exploration. In 1415, Prince Henry “the Navigator” won Portugal the Muslim port of Ceuta, which was a huge gain for Portugal because it gave them another way to access the Mediterranean. Henry later played an important role once again as he was a major sponsor of voyages that went out on Atlantic exploration and led to many new discoveries.

The Portuguese original goal was to discover gold, but they soon found numerous other valuables that had nothing to do with gold. They discovered the Atlantic Islands around 1432 and found that they were a very good place to grow sugar and therefore enslaved people from Africa to work on the sugar plantations. Later in 1498, a man named Vasco Da Gama sailed around the tip of Africa and charted a sea route from Portugal to the port of Calicut by way of going through the Indian Ocean. But Vasco Da Gama was not done contributing yet, as he stunned the European markers when he returned to Portugal with numerous spices which allowed the Portuguese to successfully compete with merchants.

Once again the Europeans showed their ability to copy others, yet do it better. Vasco Da Gama was not the first to sail around Africa’s tip, as the Arab’s, Chinese, and possibly even the Carthaginian’s did so before him. The Chinese were also very close to discovering all that the Portuguese did, except they would have done it years earlier. However China never did explore as the plan to do so was terminated.

Spanish Explorations

A familiar explorer to Americans is seen here, as a Genoese sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus comes into the picture. Columbus was an expert at the time when it came to geographical information; however his expertise was based on faulty information which made Columbus greatly underestimate the size of the world. Yet oddly enough, his misinformation allowed Columbus to become the great “discoverer” of the America’s and the Pacific Islands, which he had absolutely no idea were even there. After Portugal said no to Columbus’ desired exploration ideas and after a delay in Spain, Columbus finally got to go forth with his dream of traveling to the Far East in 1492 (and thus came this catchy poem). As stated, his destination was supposed to be the Far East and he thought he could reach it the quickest way by going across the Atlantic. It was a pure accident that he just happened to stumble upon the America’s and the Pacific Islands. If it had not been for their existence, Columbus and his crew would have died as ships in that time period would not have been able to hold up from Europe all the way across the world.

Columbus’ discovery of land and furthermore valuable goods on that land caused England’s King Henry VII to send out explorer John Cabot to go forth and find land with goods on it as well, as England was greatly in economic need of them at the time. Cabot hit islands near Canada in 1497, but because he found nothing of value except for fur, further explorations were slow to develop as there was not a great many goods there as originally thought.

Amerigo Vespucci was the first to suggest that what the people were exploring was not India at all, but a “New World” and as it became apparent that what they had found was not India, geographers who used his reports gave him credit, labeling the newly penciled in place “the discoveries of Amerigo” which later was put as America.

The desire for gold and wealth overwhelmed and the greed caused the explorers abandon the task of trying to discover their own, as they decided to just take it from the natives. It began with Hernan Cortes in 1519 when he took the treasures from the Aztec empire in Mexico and in 1529 Francisco Pizarro overthrew the empire of Peru’s Inca and took their treasures. While both of these men and their fleets were grossly outnumbered by the natives, the Europeans had better weapons, the use of horses at their disposal, and they unknown yet extremely powerful weapon of biological, or germ, warfare. Diseases such as the small pox, chicken pox, and the measles wiped out or greatly weakened the natives and made it that much easier for the invaders to take over.

In 1494, the pope drew a longitudinal line, called the “Line of Demaration,” that divided the world into two parts and the territories on one the eastern half of the sphere was claimed as Portuguese territory on anything on the western half of the sphere was declared as property of Spain.


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  1.    naltikri on October 30, 2009 2:43 pm

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