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The First Global Age (1450-1700)

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  • Category: Discovery

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            The Age of Discovery (also known as the Age of Exploration) was a period which transformed Europe’s knowledge regarding the rest of the world. Before 1400, Europeans had a very limited and erroneous idea of what lay beyond their own shores. Long-distance voyaging and feats of maritime discovery by Europeans of the 15th and 16th centuries, however, increased Europe’s geographical knowledge. In the process, European trade and territorial control rapidly expanded (Arnold, xi).

            The circumstances that led to the Age of Discovery were “a combination of coincidences and events” (Love, 6). Developments such as the restoration of trade in the Mediterranean, the growing taste for the spices and the luxury goods of Asia and the written accounts of Marco Polo and his fellow travelers whetted Europeans’ interest in distant lands. The collapse of the Mongol Empire in the late 14th century and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, meanwhile, had a detrimental effect on trade between Asia and Europe (Love, 6). Prices of goods and costs of trade increased – Muslim merchants from the Middle East, who did business exclusively with Italian middlemen from Venice and Genoa, became the only source of products from Asia. A need to seek new routes to the sources of silk and spices in Asia therefore emerged (Love, 7).

            Portugal was the first European country who attempted to address this need. Prince Henry the Navigator, for one, established a navigation school and funded the first expeditions to the west coast of Africa. Progress, however, was slow – sailors during the 1400s were fearful of boiling hot water in the Equator and sea monsters. Despite this setback, Portugal went on to stage successful voyages. Bartholomew Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, while Vasco de Gama was the first European explorer to sail around Africa and travel to India through the Indian Ocean (Nussbaum, n. pag.).

            Spain soon superseded Portugal in terms of explorations. This competition started when Portugal refused to finance Christopher Columbus’ expedition to find the shortcut to the Indies. In response to this rejection, Columbus sought the assistance of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. After three months in the Atlantic Ocean, Columbus finally reached the island of Hispaniola on October 12, 1492. He thought that he had finally arrived in Asia, but he actually landed on North America (Nussbaum, n. pag.).

            The Spanish Crown soon acquired territories in North and South America, as well as in Asia. Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands, meanwhile, resulted in his arrival to the Philippines in 1521 (The Maritime Discovery, n. pag.). Hernando Cortes claimed Mexico for Spain by crushing the Aztec empire. Francisco Pizarro led a bloody campaign against the Incas in order to invade the entire South America. Captured natives were either killed or forced into slavery and conversion to Christianity (Nussbaum, n. pag.).    England, France and Holland eventually conducted their own expeditions. Jacques Cartier’s explorations of North America led to French claims to much of the north Atlantic coast and Canada. The first settlement of England in the New World, meanwhile, was established in Roanoke Island, North Carolina (Nussbaum, n. pag.). England likewise commissioned explorers such as Henry Hudson to search for a water route to the East (U-S-History.com, n. pag.). Since 1600, Holland has been sending ships to India and Indonesia in order to obtain spices and other highly-priced goods (World History at KMLA, n. pag.).

            It would be fair to say that the Age of Discovery is the first global age. During the Age of Discovery, Europeans did not confine themselves to their own shores and culture. They ventured into unknown lands and dealt with cultures that were so much different from their own. In the process, they were able to attain economic and political advancement.

Works Cited

Arnold, David. The Age of Discovery, 1400-1600. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

“Henry Hudson.” n.d. U-S-History.com. 22 February 2009


Nussbaum, Greg. “Age of Exploration.” 2006. MrNussbaum.com. 21 February 2009


Love, Ronald S. Maritime Exploration in the Age of Discovery, 1415-1800. Santa Barbara:         Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

“The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic.” 28 October 2007. World History at KMLA.

            22 February 2009       <http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/lowcountries/dutrep16091650.html>.

“The Great Age of Discovery – 15th Century.” n.d. The Maritime Discovery. 22 February

            2009 <http://www.sevenoceans.com/MaritimeDiscovery/


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