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Portuguese expansion and colonialism in the 16th century Essay

It can be argued that if Europeans did not discover America, but instead discovered the ocean, it had a great impact. The discovery of the ocean certainly led to the discovery of new lands. The 15th Century was certainly a great time for European exploration. The location of European countries played a huge part as far as trade and even the expansion of their territories was concerned. According to Mastanduno, Portugal was among the first countries in Europe to spearhead trade and colonialism in the 15th century. Spain was also part of this trend.

Portugal possessed certain characteristics that helped in its colonization, expansion and even trade endeavors. First of all there was political stability which means the people could afford to concentrate their efforts on other things such as trade. (2008) In addition Portugal has a strategic geographical location and a maritime experience other countries would be envious of. (Prestage, 1933) For instance, Portugal is bordered to the South and the West by the Atlantic ocean. (Encyclopedia of nations, 2007) This has important ramifications.

For one, it means that Portugal possesses a large coastline and therefore had accessibility to the ocean. This is the reason that the Portuguese became the first Europeans to be able to make their way to Asia via Africa. The Portuguese were keen on trade and specially spice trade. For this reason they set up trading posts along coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean, hence the term transatlantic trade. The Portuguese transversed all the way to the Americas, Asia and even Africa through the Atlantic ocean. In other instances, they set up fortresses and with time established colonies.

As a result the Portuguese were able to establish a monopoly on the eastern trade route. (Mastanduno, 2008) But the fact that Portuguese could easily access the sea and even travel to distance lands for trade was a reason for conflict with other European countries such as the Dutch and the English. These countries were not really happy that Portugal had established a monopoly over the trade routes and had also extensively expanded its empire. By this time, the Portuguese empire covered Africa, the America and even India.

For this reason a conflict ensued that resulted in the Dutch establishing their control over some areas hitherto occupied by the Portuguese such as the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and in the process drove out the Portuguese. (Acemoglu, Johnson & Robinson, 2002) The conflict was between the Dutch East India Company and the Portuguese empire. The sea played a huge part in this conflict. First of all it was the through the sea that the Portuguese were able to travel away from home, to dominate trade and even establish colonies abroad.

It was through their own ingenuity that they were able to make full use of the sea to their advantage. However, Portugal was still a small country and thus did not have enough troops to effectively protect its interests hence the conflict with the Dutch resulted in the loss of some of its interests (Mastanduno, 2008) Geographical location did contribute to Portugal becoming a trade powerhouse. This is because of the simple fact that she was strategically located and could access new areas easily. Having a harbor makes shipping trade and transportation far much easier.

However, resources also contributed immensely to trade as well as territorial expansion. For instance, the discovery of the Americas by the Portuguese (Christopher Columbus) also resulted in the discovery of new trading products that were not produced back home. These included sugar and tobacco. (Blackburn, 1998) Initially, Columbus had landed in America in the search of gold. He had been looking for a new route to China. This shows that the search for resources resulted in the discovery of new trading routes. From Africa they could obtain spices.

It was important that Portugal and Europe as a whole discover new areas from where they could access cheap products and even labor for their growing populations and industries back home. (Acemoglu, Johnson & Robinson, 2002) This way trade could have been expanded with the aim of exchanging these goods for those that they did not have. In addition, it provided an opportunity for these countries to extend their hegemonies, as did Portugal, by taking control of these distant lands and making them colonies. According to Blackburn, trade and business by capitalists was responsible for the growth of slave trade in the Atlantic.

The slave trade in turn resulted in the growth and success of plantations hence the introduction of plantation slavery. (1998) There was a ready market for the slaves in Europe and this contributed to further growth of the slave trade. The slaves were employed to grow rice, cotton, coffee, tobacco and sugar. They provided cheap reliable labor to their owners. (Berlin &Morgan, 1993) Sea and air currents of the Atlantic ocean played a considerable part in the development of trade. Wind and pressure patterns, ocean currents plus magnetic fields especially in the Atlantic Ocean were used by the Portuguese in navigation.

This way they were able to chart; which was an important element of their navigation. For instance, Columbus used the northeast trade winds to carry him westwards across the Atlantic. From there the westerly winds helped him dock back home in Spain (Case & Odell, 1963) The Portuguese had good knowledge of astronomy and of mathematics. They used this knowledge to navigate their ships to lands that could potentially become fortresses for trade. Astronomy means that they could easily make use of the stars for navigational purposes. For instance, the Portuguese used the Pole star and the compass to guide than to Canaries.

The captains and the pilots of the ships and boats were skillful astronomers using the Pole and the stars as route guides. The Portuguese man, Henry the navigator, used his knowledge on the observation of latitudes as a guide; sometimes calculated using the height of the sun at noon. (Prestage, 1933) In addition, they were well aware of the ocean and the ocean winds and currents that could also be used to take them to their destination. The Portuguese were well aware that the South winds would blow them towards the Americas. (Pike, 2005) This coupled with the fact that they were excellent boat and ship makers made all the difference.

The Portuguese had already established themselves in trade which required therefore that they build harbors on which their merchant boats and ship could dock as they brought home the spices and even the slaves from Africa. The Portuguese definitely discovered that the ocean had immense advantages and therefore exploited it to their advantage. Through the use of the sea they traveled to distant lands in search of resources and to trade. In addition, they were able to establish their influence on those lands converting them into colonies where they sourced for materials and cheap labor.


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