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The Age of exploration was a period starting in the early 15th century and lasted until the 17th century. The Europeans mostly explored Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. There were several factors that led to the Age of Exploration, but the most significant event was the fall of Constantinople. The trade routes by land were severed, which forced the Europeans to take to the seas in order to find new trade routes. There were numerous expeditions across multiple unknown bodies of water and land that led to the discoveries of the New World.
The major regions of exploration were the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the Inland Spanish exploration.
These explorations, as well as the Northern European involvement, led to new trade routes and had other significant global impacts. The Atlantic Ocean explorations led to the discoveries of many new and uncharted territories. One of the first and most famous explorers of this time is Prince Henry, the Navigator.
He wanted to know how far Muslim territories in Africa extended. He was hoping to pass by them and trade indirectly with West Africa by sea and find allies in the legendary Christian lands to the south, such as the long lost Christian kingdom of Peter and John. (History of Portugal, Anderson)
Henry reached the Atlantic island of Madeira in 1419 and Azores in 1427. Europeans did not know what lay beyond Cape Non on the African coast and whether it was possible to return once that point was crossed. Prince Henry’s navigation challenged such beliefs as oceanic monsters and myths such as the edge of the world.
(History of Navigation, Locke) After Prince Henry’s death, a crucial breakthrough was reached in 1488 when Bartolonev Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa proving that the Indian Ocean was accessible from the Atlantic. The Cape was later renamed Cape of Good Hope for the optimism that was achieved from the possibility of a sea route to India, which would prove wrong the assumption that the Indian Ocean was land-locked. The king and queen approved and financed Christopher Columbus’s expedition across the Atlantic Ocean.
The goal of the expedition was to challenge Portugal’s monopoly on the West African sea routes and also to reach the Indies by traveling west. They departed on August 3, 1942 from Spain with three ships. It was a 5-week voyage across a part of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Sargasso Sea. Land was sighted on October 12, 1492 on an island now known as the Bahamas. Originally, this land was thought to have been the Indies but it turned out to be South America. He also explored the Northeast coast of Cuba and northern Hispaniola by December 5th. Columbus left 39 men with the native Cacique Guacanagari. They founded the settlement of La Navidad, which is now called Haiti. (Lost fort of Columbus, Smithsonian)
A treaty was reached in 1494 that would divide all the known territories into two powers. This is known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. The Portuguese received everything outside Europe east of a line and west of the Cape Verde islands. The Spanish received everything west of this line. Most of this territory was still completely unknown. Because of the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Portuguese land was protected from the Spanish, which helped the Portuguese eastward exploration. Twice, Portugal rejected Columbus’s idea of reaching India by sailing westwards. However, King Manuel I of Portugal ordered a small exploratory fleet of four ships and about 170 men to be under the control of Vasco de Gama to explore more on the Indian Ocean.
In December, Gama passed the Great Fish River, where Dias had previously turned around, and started sailing into unknown waters. They arrived in Calicut on May 20, 1498. Two years after Gama had left on his voyage, he and the surviving 55 members of his crew were welcomed back in excitement to Portugal for being the first voyage to sail directly from Europe to India. (Renaissance Europe, Jensen) Vasco Nunez de Balboa, of Columbia, heard of “another sea that” was rich in gold and became very interested in 1513. Only having limited resources, Nunez traveled across the Isthmus of Panama with only 190 Spaniards, a pack of dogs and a few native guides. They used a small brigantine and ten native canoes to sail across the coast and made landfalls.
In September 1000 men, who then fought several battles and traveled into a dangerous, dense jungle and climbed the mountain range along the Chucanaque River in order to find this “other sea”, backed Nunez’s expedition. 19 days after the start of the expedition, Nunez saw the horizon of an unknown body of water and became the first European to be to see the Pacific Ocean. (Explorer of the Pacific, Steven) Rumors of the undiscovered land Northwest of Hispaniola reached Spain in 1511. Kink Ferdinand II of Aragon became very interested in exploring this area of land further.
Gold, Silver and other valuable resources sparked the Spanish investment in the exploration. The explorers came from a variety of backgrounds including artisans, merchants, clergy, lesser nobility and freed slaves. Usually, the explorers supplied their own instruments in exchange for a share in profits and almost none of the men had any military training. Once in the Americas, the Spanish found multiple empires that were large enough to be a European colony. The Spanish managed to conquer the natives in the Americas. During this time, pandemics from Europe, such as small pox, devastated the indigenous populations. Once the Spanish had taken the control, the main focus was gold and silver extraction. Hernan Cortez committed mutiny against Velazquez and went ahead his voyage. He took 11 ships, 500 men and 13 horses and sailed on to Yucatan, which was in Mayan territory.
He claimed the land for the Spanish crown. He then moved on to Tabasco and won that battle against the natives. In July, Cortez took his men over to Veracruz and took orders strait from the new king of Spain, Charles the V. From Veracruz, Cortez took his men over to Cholula, which is the second largest city in Mexico. He and his men massacred thousands of unarmed members and partially burned down the city. Cortez and his men ended the Aztec empire and claimed the city for Spain, which was renamed Mexico City. (Adventures D’Hernan Cortez, Grunberg)
Three Portuguese traders accidently became the first westerners to reach and trade with Japan in 1543. They reached Tanegashima, where the locals were so impressed by the firearms that they immediately decided to have the Japanese make them on a large scale. The Cross Pacific Spanish route was established between Mexico and the Philippines. For a while these routes were used by the Manila galleons, which created a trade link joining china, the Americas and Europe through the combined trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic route. (Technology in World Civilization, Pacey) Nations outside of Iberia refused to acknowledge the Treaty of Tordesillas. England, France and the Netherlands have a long maritime tradition and had been engaging in privateering.
New technologies and maps soon made their way north despite the Iberian protection. In 1568, the Dutch rebelled against the rule of Phillip II of Spain, which led to the 80-year war. War had broken out between England and Spain. In 1580, King Philip II became King of Portugal. This combined empire was just too big to not be challenged by European Rivals. (Voyage to Goa and Back, Linschoten)
The Age of Discovery and Exploration had a tremendous impact, not only on Europe but on the rest of the world as well. Contact between the Old and New World resulted in the Columbian Exchange. This involved the transfer of goods from one hemisphere to another. Europeans brought cattle, horses sheep and slaves to the New World and received tobacco, potatoes, sugar cane and cotton from the Americas. All these items were previously unknown to the Europeans. The new connections between Europe and the New World led to the Age of Imperialism, in which European colonial powers dominated most of the world.
Driven by the demand to trade territory, commodities and slaves, many European countries exploited the natives of the lands they controlled. In North America, Australia, and parts of South America, the indigenous were abused, driven off their land or enslaved. The native populations were especially vulnerable to diseases carried by the Europeans because they had never been exposed to them before. In some areas, 50-90% of the population was wiped out. (Born to Die, Cook) The effects of explorations by the Portuguese in the 1500’s were far reaching, extending to China. Trade with the European powers brought in huge amounts of silver to China. This precious metal replaced copper and paper bank notes as the medium of exchange in China.
When the flow of silver into China ceased, it nearly destroyed the Ming economy. It also had political consequences, leading to a rebellion against the Ming Dynasty. New crops from the Americas that entered Asia through the Spanish colonizers increased Asia’s population growth. Sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts could be grown in lands where traditional Chinese crops, such as wheat and rice, could not grow. These crops reduced the starvation rates in china, and therefore increased the population.
The Age of Discovery and Exploration had a tremendous economic impact in Europe. The economic power center moved from the Mediterranean to Western Europe. The Dutch city of Antwerp became the center of the world economy and the wealthiest city of Europe. During the “Dutch Golden Age”, hundreds of ships would leave Antwerp each day, while ships from Portugal would unload cinnamon, pepper and other spices that were considered luxuries in Europe. Antwerp became an international city, with merchants and traders from coming from countries throughout Europe.
The major exports from China were silk and porcelain. The Europeans had such high regard for Chinese porcelain, that in English, the world China was used as a synonym for porcelain. Soon craftsmen in Florence were making porcelain to rival that of the Chinese. This European porcelain continued to be produced into the mid 18th century. The huge amounts of gold and silver coming into Spain from the New World brought about a severe cycle of inflation, not just in Spain but in the rest of Europe as well. In the 1500’s Spain had the equivalent of $1.5 trillion US dollars in gold and silver. He reckless spending of this silver in European wars caused widespread inflation. Rising prices together with low salaries hurt local industry and Spain became dependent on revenues coming in from their empire and the Americas. These factors led to Spain’s first bankruptcy in 1557.
The rise in prices led to the growth of the middle class in Europe, known as the bourgeoisie, which eventually influenced the politics and culture of many countries in Europe. The impacts of the explorations were both negative and positive with the majority of the effects being positive. The inflation created many problems; however, the benefits of the gold and silver revenue plus the new trade routes established outweigh the negative inflation caused by the Age of Discovery and Exploration. The Columbian exchange brought many new things to the Americas, which also had its positives and negatives with diseases and slavery. The positives were introducing new crops to Europe and Asia and helped increase the populations. With all the new trade routes created new, more accurate maps that would help the future of travel. Overall the global impact of the Age of Discovery and Exploration were positive and helped create the world, as we know it today.
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