Technology during the Age of Exploration

Ever since early ages of time, the ambition to explore the unknown has been a driving force in human history. For many years before the fourteenth century, the nations of North and South American were left alone by the rest of the world because no one knew they excised. However, that all began to change when Europe entered what is known as the Age of Exploration. Throughout this age, Europeans “developed new contacts and opened up whole new worlds” (O’Connor, The Age of Exploration/ The Age of “Discovery”, Week One, 1/17/19).

This exploration was executed with good intention and ultimately encountered the knowledge and use of technology that has helped shaped our world today.

What had happened leading up to the Exploration was that many Europeans got impatient and exhausted having to travel thousands of miles over the land to trade goods with Asia. This was when in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, European explorers decided to set out by sea in hopes to find a quicker water route to Asia.

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It was in the year of 1492 when Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, was hired by Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain, to set forth on his journey to find a new route to Asia.

With Asia in sight, these explorers sailed out in every direction and upon their journey, they came across something that no one had expected. “Columbus believed that the earth was very small with a circumference of about 17,000 nautical miles” (Bentley, 356). According to Columbus, this geography suggested that sailing West form Europe to Asia, would be a better route.

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This way, Columbus intended on arriving at the “back doorstep” of Asia. However, like everyone else at the time, he has no idea that a whole other continent would lie in his way.

When he reached what is known today as the Caribbean Sea, he thought he had reached Asia. Notwithstanding, it did not take long for people to realize they were not in Asia; they were in what it came to be known, the New World. For the many other explorers in Europe, investigating this new world became a much bigger priority than finding new water routes to Asia. Therefore, full of excitement about this discovery, explorers set off to stake their claims in the new world.

So, why did they go to the New World in the first place? Explorers had several key motives for making the journey. “Most important of those motives were the search for basic resources and lands suitable for the cultivation of cash crops, the desire to establish new trade routes to Asian markets, and the aspiration to expand the influence of Christianity” (Bentley, 352). But the reality is, you can have all the desires in the world, but if you do not have the technology to actually make it a reality, it does not do you a whole lot of good. “Without advanced nautical technology and navigational skills, even the strongest motives would not have enabled European mariners to reconnoiter the world’s oceans” (Bentley, 353).

It all starts with the key motives, but it is made possible by the technology that is available; which is why technology is the most significant type of encounter to come about during this Age. Ways in which technology demonstrates its significance during this Age include knowledge, ships and sails, and navigational instruments. First, we start with something that is not necessarily a technological tool, but a system for creating explorers. Leader of Portugal and big figure during this age, Prince henry, came up with the idea to design a school that was exclusively dedicated to creating and generating explorers. Anything explorers would need to be able to go out into seas and successfully explore, would be learned at this school.

Whether it was sailing, charting ideas, repairing the ship, or calculating wind currents, water patterns, and water currents, it was learned at Prince Henrys navigation school. “European mariners’ ability to determine direction and latitude enabled them to assemble a vast body of data about the earth’s geography and to find their way around the world’s oceans with tolerable accuracy and efficiency” (Bentley, 354). As explores became familiar with the wind systems of the world’s oceans, this type of technology enabled them to travel reliable from coastline to coastline throughout the world. “Equipped with advanced technological hardware, European mariners ventured into the oceans and gradually compiled a body of practical knowledge about winds and currents” (Bentley, 355). This type of technology was critical to explorer’s knowledge in order to realistically strategize and sail the seas accurately.

Next, technology impacted the creation of the ships and sails. During the fifteenth century, the Portuguese built the new sailing ship called the Caravel. Before the Caravel, the most common ship that was used for exploring was called the Galleon. It’s not as if Galleons went out of style, they were just very big which meant they were slower, harder to manipulate, and couldn’t get close to the shore; while the Caravel was the exact opposite. Because of technology, the Caravel was very light, easy to control, extremely fast, had a rudder, and had a shallow bottom allowing it to get close to shore. “Beginning about the twelfth century, they increased the maneuverability of their craft by building a rudder onto the stern” (Bentley, 354). From the explores experiences in the rough coastal waters of the Atlantic, European sailors learned to construct ships strong enough to brave the most adverse conditions.

Additionally, they created their vessels with two types of sails: square sails and triangular latten sails. Square Sails enabled explores to take full advantage of the wind that was blowing from behind, while triangular lateen sails would catch winds from the side as well as from behind. With the combination of both of these sails, these ships were able to use whatever winds that arose to their advantage. “Their ability to tack—to advance against the wind by sailing across it—was crucial for the exploration of regions with uncooperative winds” (Bentley, 354). Without technology used to create strong, more efficient ships, explorers would not have been able to explore for new routes and lands in the ways they did.

Lastly, the most important encounter of technology, navigational instruments. “The most important navigational equipment on board these vessels were magnetic compasses (which determined heading) and astrolabes” (Bentley, 354). The astrolabe was a high-tech compass that possessed a substantial number of benefits. The most significant benefit that the astrolabe provided was that while using the device, explores would be able to calculate their position and determine the line of latitude in which they were at. Essentially, it was like having a GPS in their hand. “The astrolabe was a simplified version of an instrument used by Greek and Persian astronomers to measure the angle of the sun or the pole star above the horizon” (Bentley, 354).

While this piece of technology was a big game changer, in the late fifteenth century, Portuguese explorers encounter Arab sailors in the Indian Ocean. These Arab sailors were using “similar and more serviceable instruments for determining latitude” (Bentley, 354). With “using technology and information already out there and applying it to a new situation” (O’Connor, The Age of Exploration/ The Age of “Discovery”, Week One, 1/17/19), the Portuguese used the Arabs models for the construction of cross-staffs and back staffs. Cross-staffs and back-staffs were additional tools to determine one’s latitude. Later on, these navigational instruments allowed explores to update their maps and exhibit proper world maps. Without the technology of the navigational instruments, explorers would not have been able to explore the seas in an organized way and improve their maps, which was crucial.

In the end, The Age of Exploration brought together Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. This age of discovery and expansion was a determining factor on what the world would be like today. With the aspiration the explores had, their ambition to explore the unknown would not have succeeded without the use of technology. Ultimately, technology allowed explores to increase their knowledge, build more superior ships, and discover the world and seas with navigational instruments in a way that was impossible without the use of it. The encounter of technology during the Age of Exploration linked together the world as one.

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Technology during the Age of Exploration. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

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