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The Renaissance brought an array of changes to the European continent. New innovations in the fields of science, math, arts, and literature were sparked during this time period. With the growth of humanism, secularism, and individualism, a spirit of curiosity and adventure developed amongst Europeans. As new innovations and ideas were forming during the Renaissance, it gave humans the ability to explore and travel to other parts of the world. The development of the compass, the lateen, and the astrolabe, coupled with a better understanding of the geography of the world, allowed Europeans to better navigate the oceans.
With the development of gunpowder, humans were also able to protect themselves as they traveled. The advancement of technology played a key role in the Age of Exploration, however, the primary factors that started the surge were due to religious, economical, and social pursuits of power. An important factor for the surge in exploration in Europe can be linked to the desire to spread Christianity.
The monarchs of both Spain and Portugal financed their expeditions with the goal of spreading Catholicism to the New World. The foundation of Catholicism is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even Columbus himself had religious ideals while making his journey to find new lands. Columbus “believed he was a divine agent: ‘God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new Earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John…and he showed me the post where to find it’ “ (McKay 499). Explorers Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama also had religious aspirations as they searched for a trade route to India.
On every expedition, several missionaries were brought along in order to help convert the natives of the land to the Christian faith.
It was not only curiosity that led to the exploration of the new world, but instead dreams of riches, lands, and commerce. After the Black Death that decimated the population of Europe, Europe began to see a huge population growth across the continent. For instance, in France alone the population doubled in the period from 1450 to 1550. As the population grew, so did the need for goods and resources. The demands for spices such as pepper, cinnamon, and cloves were increasing amongst the European population.
The desire for silks, precious gems, gold and silver, and other luxuries led to a need to increase trade in Europe. As Europeans tried to obtain more goods, they looked towards other countries to fulfill their demands. For example, explorers Vasco da Gama and Bartholomew Dias both sailed in order to find a much faster trade route to India that would avoid traveling through the Ottoman Empire. Columbus also set sail to find a faster trade route to Asia before accidentally landing in present-day North America.
By finding a direct trade route to Asia, Europeans were also able to accumulate more profit while trading. They were able to eliminate Italy as the “middle man” and had the opportunity to receive direct pricing from Asian countries. As a part of this exploration process, slavery started to expand as well. Slavery, up to this point, was not a common practice amongst Christian Europeans because they did not believe in enslaving other Christians. As the explorers discovered new lands, the natives became a new source for slaves such as, Western Africa.
Slavery was not a primary motive at the start of the surge in exploration; however, it boosted the economy and later became an integral part of the labor force, which spurred on further exploration. The pursuit of glory was another goal in the Age of Exploration. Exploration provided an opportunity to gain honor for one’s country and king. As Europeans came to realize the amount of undiscovered lands and territories available, they started to become very interested in growing their empires by colonizing foreign lands.
Land is a very important resource alone but many of these new lands had natural resources that would provide an economic boom for their countries, as well as increase their country’s world presence and power. These new lands provided opportunities for all citizens, even the poor who looked for a new start. With the invention of the printing press, stories of successful voyages spread throughout Europe. News of exploration sparked the curiosity of citizens who were looking for adventure, wealth, and opportunities to change their world while Monarchy’s would use exploration to increase their domain of power.
Exploration was a dangerous undertaking. The threat of drowning, disease, attack, and starvation loomed at every turn. The rewards had to outweigh the risks involved. Since exploration was a costly endeavor, a motivated explorer had to find the backing of a powerful monarchy or government to finance their voyage. It is understood that an explorer had to have the technology to explore other continents, however, the ability to explore alone is not the main impetus in the Age of Exploration.
China, for instance, had many of these technologies before Europe, however did not see the need to colonize foreign lands, increase their nation’s wealth, or convert foreigner’s to their religion. Europeans, on the other hand, were highly motivated to explore for the purposes of economic expansion, Christian conversion, and increasing power and prestige through colonization. Works Cited McKay, John P, et al. A History of Western Society. New York, New York. HoughtonMifflin Company, 2008. Print.
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