Fifteenth Century Expansion and Exploration
The move by European nations and empires beginning in the fifteenth centuries had many precursors leading up to it. The expansion was mostly the result of a quest for wealth however. New technology and new knowledge of the earth and ways to navigate it were a great assistant to mariners, and thus gave the success for riches a higher probability for success. Those reasons were only further enabled by the goal of spreading Christianity.
Wealth has arguably been the motive behind most of man’s efforts throughout time.
European exploration is certainly no exception. The riches of Asian and Indian goods introduced to the Europeans during the crusades provided just the treasure to motivate the Europeans. The Arab and other foreign merchants who served as middlemen in the Asian trade caused for a tremendously high price for the consumer once the products reached Europe. Thus, ways to bypass those merchants were sought, and competition amongst the Europeans to find such a method resulted.
Not only would a nation be better off financially by ridding themselves of high prices, but that nation would also be able to sell those goods for considerable profit.
While the motives of each individual explorer differ slightly from those of another, it is accurate to say that most explorers were of course in search of wealth. Bartholomew Diaz explained his reasons for embarking on such a daring voyage as “…to serve God…and to grow rich as all men desire to do so.” (McKay p484) Da Gama and Cortez also admitted that they were in search of gold. Columbus was in search of a new water route to Asia by way of sailing west, and thought that he would become rich with the rewards from Ferdinand and Isabella. He did indeed receive a great sum from them, however his real riches cam from the enslavement of the native peoples he found on the new places he landed. The Spaniard Francisco Pizzaro went to Peru for the purpose of gaining wealth through his viceroyship and profited from silver mining. French and English explorers like Cabot and Cartier sailed to find a Northwest Passage, in hopes of profiting from the Asain trade. Those explorers who believed they would encounter native peoples in their travels also cited the conversion of pagans to Christianity.
Improved technology provided a way for explorers to increase their chances of success through defense weapons and through navigational techniques and tools like the astroglobe. New ship designs were invented that would be powered by wind rather than by manual labor, which resulted in bigger and sometimes faster ships. New astrological, landmass, and depth charts made it easier for ship captains to navigate.
The spice trade, man’s quest for power and money, belief in the supremecy of their religion, and technological advances all helped to promote the expansion of European empires in the fifteenth century.
mckay, history of western society
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