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Cantino planisphere 1502, earliest surviving chart showing the explorations of Columbus to Central America, Corte-Real to Newfoundland,Gama to India and Cabral to Brazil. Tordesillas line depicted, Biblioteca Estense, Modena

The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration was a period in history starting in the 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century, during which Europeans and their descendants intensively explored and mapped the world. Historians often refer to the 'Age of discovery' as the period of Portuguese and Spanish pioneer oceanic explorations, between the 15th and 16th centuries,[1][2] that established links with Africa, Americas and Asia in search for alternative trade routes to "the Indies", moved by the trade of gold, silver and spices. These explorations in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands, who explored the Portuguese and Spanish trade routes into the Pacific Ocean, reaching Australia in 1606 and New Zealand in 1642. European exploration spanned until accomplishing the global mapping of the world, resulting in a new world-view and distant civilizations acknowledging each other, reaching the most remote boundaries much later.[3]

The Age of Discovery marks the passage from the feudal Middle Ages of the 15th century to the Early Modern Period with the rise of European nation-states [4] in the 16th century. Along with the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, it was an important driver for the start of Modern era, ushering in a new age of scientific and intellectual inquiry.[5] European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, with the contact between the Old and New Worlds producing the Columbian Exchange[6], involving the transfer of plants, animals, foods, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, in one of the most significant global events concerning ecology, agriculture, and culture in history.


Medieval expeditions by land

The Silk Road and Spice trade routes later blocked by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 spurring exploration to find alternative sea routes
Marco Polo travels (1271-1295)

European medieval knowledge about remote Asia was sourced in partial reports, often obscured by legends, dating back from the time of the explorations of Alexander the Great and his successors. Another source were Arab reports from the time of Christian occupation of Palestine and Crusader states. Little was known beyond the lands of Anatolia and the Caspian Sea, the most remote boundaries of the last known Christians. Africa was only partially known, and its southern limit unknown, or even if there was such a limit. There were reports of great African kingdoms beyond the Sahara, but the factual knowledge was limited to the Mediterranean coasts and little else, since Arabic blockage did not allow in-depth explorations. Knowledge about the Atlantic African coast was remote and derived mainly from old maps and reports of a strange and distant time when the Romans went to explore Mauritania. The Red Sea was barely known and only trade links with the Maritime Republics- the Republic of Genoa and Republic of Venice especially- real exploration of the area began.

The prelude to the Age of Exploration was a series of European expeditions crossing Eurasia by land in the late Middle Ages.[7] Although the Mongols had threatened Europe with pillage and destruction, the Mongol states also unified much of Eurasia and, from 1206 on, the Pax Mongolica allowed safe trade routes and communication lines stretching from the Middle East to China.[8][9] A series of Europeans took advantage of these to explore eastwards. These were almost all Italians as the trade between Europe and the Middle East was almost completely controlled by traders from the Maritime Republics. The close Italian links to the Levant created great curiosity and commercial interest in countries which lay further east. The first of these travelers was Giovanni de Plano Carpini who journeyed to Mongolia and back from 1241–1247.[8] The most famous traveler, however, was Marco Polo who wrote of journeys throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295 in which he described being a guest at the Yuan Dynasty court of Kublai Khan. His journey was written up as Travels and the work was read throughout Europe. From 1325 to 1354, a Moroccan scholar from Tangier, Ibn Battuta, journeyed from North Africa, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, having reached China. After return, he dictated an account of his journeys to a scholar he had met in Granada, the Rihla ("The Journey"),[10] the only source of information on his adventures. In 1439, Niccolò Da Conti published an account of his travels to India and Southeast Asia and later, in 1466-1472, a Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin of Tver travelled to India, which he described in his book A Journey Beyond the Three Seas.

These journeys had little immediate effect. The Mongol Empire collapsed almost as quickly as it formed and soon the route to the east became far more difficult and dangerous. The Black Death of the fourteenth century also blocked travel and trade.[11] The land route to the East was controlled by Mediterranean commercial interests and Islamic empires that both controlled the flow and price of goods. The rise of the aggressive and expansionist Ottoman Empire further limited the possibilities of European overland trade.

Oceanic exploration in the Atlantic

From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice and neighboring maritime republics held the monopoly of European trade with the Middle East. The silk and spice trade, involving spices, incense, herbs, drugs and opium, made these Mediterranean city-states phenomenally rich. Spices were among the most expensive and demanded products of the Middle Ages, used in medicine[12] that fought wars and diseases, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery, as well as a food additives and preservatives[13]. They were all imported from Asia and Africa: Muslim traders dominated maritime routes throughout the Indian Ocean, tapping source regions in the Far East and shipping for trading emporiums in India westward to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. From there overland routes led to Europe. Venetian merchants distributed goods to Europe until the rise of the Ottoman Empire, that eventually led to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, barring Europeans from important combined-land-sea routes.

Genoese (red) and Venetian (green) maritime trade routes in the Mediterranean and Black Sea

Forced to reduce their activities in the Black Sea, and at war with Venice, the Republic of Genoa had turned to north African trade of wheat, olive oil (valued also as energy source) and a search for silver and gold. Europeans had a constant deficit in silver and gold[14], as coin only went one way: out, spent on eastern trade that they were now cut off. European mines were exhausted,[15] the lack of bullion leading to the development of a complex banking system to manage the risks involved in trade.[16] Sailing also into the ports of Bruges (Flanders) and England, Genoese and Florentine communities established then in Portugal, who profited from their enterprise and financial experience.

In 1297, with the reconquista completed, king Denis of Portugal took personal interest in exports to European countries and in 1317 he made an agreement with Genoese merchant sailor Manuel Pessanha (Pesagno), appointing him Admiral, with the goal of defending the country against (Muslim) pirate raids.[17] Outbreaks of bubonic plague led to severe depopulation in the second half of the fourteen century . Only the sea offered alternatives, with most population settling in fishing and trading coastal areas.[18]. Between 1325–1357 Afonso IV of Portugal encouraged maritime commerce and ordered the first explorations.[19] The Canary Islands, already known to Genoese, were claimed as officially discovered under patronage of the Portuguese, but in 1344 Castile disputed them, further propelling the Portuguese navy efforts.[20]

For the first oceanic exploration Western Europeans used the compass, progressive new advances in cartography and astronomy and sailing ships, the most important being the creation of the caravel and, later, carrack designs. It was not until the caravel was developed in Iberia that Western Europeans seriously considered Asiatic trade and oceanic exploration.[21] These vessels evolved from medieval European designs from the North Sea and both the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean. They were the first ships that could leave the coastal cabotage navigation and the relatively placid Mediterranean, Baltic or North Sea, and sail safely on the open Atlantic


First Portuguese Atlantic expeditions (1419–1489)

Saharan trade routes circa 1400, with the modern Niger highlighted
Voyage of Bartolomeu Dias (1487–88)

In 1415, Ceuta was occupied by the Portuguese aiming to control navigation of the African coast. Young prince Henry the Navigator was there and became aware of profit possibilities in the Trans-Saharan trade routes. For centuries slave and gold trade routes linking West Africa with the Mediterranean passed over the Western Sahara Desert, controlled by hostile Muslim states of North Africa.

Henry wished to know how far Muslim territories in Africa extended, hoping to bypass it and trade directly with West Africa by sea, find allies in legendary Christian lands to the south[22] like the long-lost Christian kingdom of Prester John[23][24] and to probe whether it was possible to reach the Indies by sea, the source of the lucrative spice trade. He invested in sponsoring voyages down the coast of Mauritania, gathering a group of merchants, shipowners and stakeholders interested in new sea lanes. Soon the Atlantic islands of Madeira (1419) and Azores (1427) were reached.

At the time, Europeans did not know what lay beyond cape Non (Cape Chaunar) on the African coast, and whether it was possible to return once it was crossed.[25] Starting in 1421, systematic sailing overcame it, having reached the difficult Cape Bojador. In 1434 one of Prince Henry's captains, Gil Eanes, passed this feared obstacle. European sailing had been primarily close to land cabotage, guided by portolan charts. These charts specified proven ocean routes guided by coastal landmarks: sailors departed from a known point, followed a compass heading, and tried to identify their location by its land features. Nautical myths warned of oceanic monsters or an edge of the world, but Prince Henry's navigation challenged such beliefs. A major advance was the introduction of the caravel in the mid-15th century, a small ship able to sail windward more than any other in Europe at the time.[26]

Using the caravel, systematic exploration continued ever more southerly, advancing on average one degree a year.[27] Senegal and Cape Verde Peninsula were reached in 1445 and in 1446, António Fernandes pushed on almost as far as present-day Sierra Leone. From 1455 on, Papal bull Romanus Pontifex granted Portugal the sailing and trade monopoly for the newly discovered lands beyond Bojador, starting a mare clausum policy in the Atlantic.[28] In 1456, Alvise Cadamosto reached some of the Cape Verde islands. In the next decade, Diogo Dias and António Noli, captains in the service of prince Henry, discovered the remaining islands of the archipelago.

Replica of caravel ship introduced in mid-15th century for oceanic exploration

The Gulf of Guinea was reached in the 1460s. After the death of Prince Henry, as a result of meager profits, exploration of the Gulf was commissioned to merchant Fernão Gomes, who in 1469 had to explore 100 miles each year for five years.[29] With his sponsorship, explorers João de Santarém, Pedro Escobar, Lopo Gonçalves, Fernão do Pó, and Pedro de Sintra made it even beyond the hired. They reached the southern Hemisphere and the islands of the Gulf of Guinea, including São Tomé and Príncipe and Elmina on the Gold Coast in 1471[30]. There, a thriving alluvial gold trade was found among the natives and Arab and Berber traders and in 1481, the recently-crowned João II decided to build São Jorge da Mina fort and factory. In 1482 the Congo River was explored by Diogo Cão[31], who in 1486 continued to Cape Cross (modern Namibia).

The next crucial breakthrough was in 1488, when Bartolomeu Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa, which he named "Cape of Storms" (Cabo das Tormentas), anchoring at Mosselbay and then sailing east as far as the mouth of the Great Fish River, proving that the Indian Ocean was accessible from the Atlantic Soon the cape was renamed by king John II of Portugal "Cape of Good Hope" (Cabo da Boa Esperança), because of the great optimism engendered by the possibility of a sea route to India, proving false the view that had existed since Ptolemy that the Indian Ocean was land-locked. Simultaneously Pêro da Covilhã, sent traveling secretly overland had reached Ethiopia, having collected important information about the Red Sea and Quenia coast, suggesting that a sea route to the Indies would soon be forthcoming.[32]

The "West Indies": Columbus Central America and Cabral's Brazil (1492-1500)

The four voyages of Christopher Columbus 1492-1503

Portugal's rival Castile (predecessor of Spain) was somewhat slower to begin exploring the Atlantic. Only in late fifteenth century, following the unification of the crowns of Castile and Aragon and the completion of the reconquista, Spain became fully committed in searching new trade routes and colonies overseas. The crown of Aragon had been a maritime potentate in the Mediterranean, controlling territories in eastern Spain, Southwestern France, major islands like Sicily, Malta, and the Kingdom of Naples and Sardinia, with mainland possessions as far as Greece. In 1492 the joint rulers conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, which had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute, and decided to fund Christopher Columbus' expedition hoping to bypass Portugal's lock on Africa to the Indian Ocean, reaching Asia by traveling west.[33] Twice, in 1485 and 1488, Columbus had presented the project to king John II of Portugal, without success.

On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships; one larger carrack, Santa María, nicknamed Gallega (the Galician), and two smaller caravels, Pinta (the Painted) and Santa Clara, nicknamed Niña.[34] Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, which were owned by Castile, where he restocked for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean. Land was sighted on 12 October 1492, and Columbus called the island (now The Bahamas) San Salvador, in what he thought to be the "West Indies". Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba (landed on 28 October) and the northern coast of Hispaniola, by 5 December. He was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind.

Replicas of Niña, Pinta and Santa María at Palos de la Frontera, Spain

Columbus left 39 men and founded the settlement of La Navidad in what is now present-day Haiti.[35] Before returning to Spain, Columbus also kidnapped some ten to twenty-five natives and took them back with him. Only seven or eight of the native Indians arrived in Spain alive, but they made quite an impression on Seville.[36]

Columbus and other Spanish explorers were initially disappointed with their discoveries - unlike Africa or Asia the Caribbean islanders had little to trade with the Spanish ships. The islands thus became the focus of colonization efforts. It was not until the continent itself was explored that Spain found the wealth it had sought in the form of abundant gold. In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires that were as large and populous as those in Europe. However, small bodies of Spanish conquistadors, with large armies of indigenous Americans groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst the conquered states were the Aztec empire in Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca empire in modern Peru (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of European disease such as smallpox devastated the indigenous populations. Once Spanish sovereignty was established, the Spanish focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver.

The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)

The 1494 Tordesilhas Treaty meridian (purple) and the later Moluccas antimeridian (green), set at the Treaty of Zaragoza, 1529

After Columbus arrival at the "West Indies", a division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict between Spanish and Portuguese.[37] This was resolved in 1494, with the Treaty of Tordesillas that "divided" the world between the two powers.

In 1493 the Catholic kings had got from Pope Alexander VI a bull stating that all lands west and south of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands should belong to Spain and, later, all mainlands and islands then belonging to India. It did not mention Portugal, which couldn't claim newly discovered lands not even east of the line. King John II of Portugal was not pleased with the arrangement, feeling that it gave him far too little land — preventing him of reaching India, his main goal. He then negotiated directly with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to move the line west, allowing him to claim newly discovered lands east of it.[38]

In Tordesillas Treaty, the Portuguese "received" everything outside of Europe east of a line that ran 270 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands; this gave them control over Africa, Asia and eastern South America (Brazil). The Spanish received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be mostly the western part of the American continent plus the Pacific Ocean islands.

A New World: the Americas

Detail of 1507 Waldseemüller map showing the name "America" for the first time.

Very little of the divided area had actually been seen by Europeans, as it was only divided via the treaty. Soon after Columbus first voyage a number of explorers headed in the same direction. In 1497, John Cabot, also a commissioned Italian, got letters patent from King Henry VII of England. Sailing from Bristol, probably backed by the local Society of Merchant Venturers, Cabot crossed the Atlantic from a northerly latitude hoping the voyage would be shorter [39] and made a landfall somewhere in North America, possibly Newfoundland. In 1499 João Fernandes Lavrador was licensed by the King of Portugal and [40] together with Pêro de Barcelos they first sighted Labrador, which was granted and named after him. After returning he possibly went to Bristol to sail in the name of England.[41] Nearly at the same time, between 1499-1502 brothers Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real explored and named the coasts of Greenland and also Newfoundland.[42] Both explorations signaled in 1502 Cantino planisphere.

In 1500, Portuguese navigator, Pedro Álvares Cabral while on route to India, discovered by accident the easternmost part of is today called Brazil, then granted to Portugal. Some historians contend that Portuguese knew of the South American bulge before, while sailing the volta do mar technique, so his landing in Brazil may not have been an accident.[43] At the invitation of king Manuel I of Portugal, Florentine Amerigo Vespucci participated as observer in these exploratory voyages to the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502 and the expeditions became widely known in Europe after two accounts attributed to him, published between 1502 and 1504.

It was soon understood that Columbus had not reached Asia, but rather found what was to Europeans a new World: the Americas. America was named in 1507 by cartographers Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, probably after Amerigo Vespucci,[44] who was the first European to suggest that the newly discovered lands were not India but a "New World".

Exploration in the Indian Ocean

Portuguese Indian Ocean expeditions (1498-1513)

Path of Vasco da Gama's 1497 travel to India (black), the first navigation around Africa. Previous travels of Pêro da Covilhã (orange) and Afonso de Paiva (blue), and their common route (green)

Protected from direct Spanish competition by the treaty of Tordesillas, Portuguese exploration and colonization continued apace. Twice, in 1485 and 1488, Portugal officially rejected Christopher Columbus's idea of reaching India by sailing westwards. King John II of Portugal's experts rejected it, for they held the opinion that Columbus's estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was undervalued.[45], and in part because Bartolomeu Dias departed in 1487 trying the rounding of the southern tip of Africa, therefore they believed that sailing east would require a far shorter journey. Dias's return from the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, and Pêro da Covilhã travel to Ethiopia overland indicated that the richness of the Indian Sea was accessible from the Atlantic. A long-overdue expedition was prepared.

Under new king Manuel I of Portugal, on July 1497 a small exploratory fleet of four ships and about 170 men left Lisbon under command of Vasco da Gama. By December the fleet passed the Great Fish River - where Dias had turned back - and sailed into unknown waters. On 20 May 1498, they arrived at Calicut. The efforts of Vasco da Gama to get favorable trading conditions were hampered by the low value of their goods, compared with the valuable goods traded there. Two years after departure, Gama and a survivor crew of 55 men returned in glory to Portugal as the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India.

In 1500, a second larger fleet of thirteen ships and about 1500 men was sent to India, under command of Pedro Álvares Cabral they sighted the Brazilian coast; later, in the Indian Ocean, one of Cabral's ships reached Madagascar (1501), which was partly explored by Tristão da Cunha in 1507; Mauritius was discovered in 1507, Socotra occupied in 1506, and in the same year Lourenço de Almeida visited Ceylon.

Replica of Frol de la mar carrack housing the Maritime Museum of Malacca

On the Asiatic mainland the first factories (trading-posts) were established at Cochin and Calicut (1501) and then Goa (1510). In 1511 Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca to Portugal, then the center of Asian trade. East of Malacca, Albuquerque sent Duarte Fernandes as the first European envoy to the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand).

Getting to know the secret location of the so-called "spice islands" - the Maluku Islands, mainly the Banda, then the single world source of nutmeg and cloves, main purpose for the travels in the Indian sea- he sent an expedition led by António de Abreu to Banda, where they were the first Europeans to arrive in early 1512.[46] Abreu then left for Ambon Island while his vice-captain Francisco Serrão sank off Ternate, where he obtained a license to build a Portuguese fortress-factory: the Fort of São João Baptista de Ternate, which founded the Portuguese presence in the Malay Archipelago.

In 1513 the Portuguese reached China. Although Jorge Álvares was the first to land on Lintin Island in the Pearl River Delta in May, it was Rafael Perestrello—a cousin of the famed Christopher Columbus—who became the first European explorer to land on the southern coast of mainland China and trade in Guangzhou in 1516, commanding a Portuguese vessel with a crew from a Malaysian junk that had sailed from Malacca.[47][48] Fernão Pires de Andrade visited Canton in 1517 and opened up trade with China, in 1557 the Portuguese were permitted to occupy Macau.

In the Red Sea, Massawa was the most northerly point frequented by the Portuguese until 1541, when a fleet under Estevão da Gama penetrated as far as Suez. Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, was seized by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1515, who also entered into diplomatic relations with Persia. In 1521, a force under Antonio Correia conquered Bahrain ushering in a period of almost eighty years of Portuguese rule of the Gulf archipelago[49]

Exploration in the Pacific Ocean

Vasco Núñez de Balboa's travel to the "South Sea", 1513

In 1513, about 40 miles south of Acandí, in present day Colombia, Spanish Vasco Núñez de Balboa[50] heard unexpected news of an "other sea" rich in gold, which he received with great interest. With few resources and using information given by caciques, he journeyed across the Isthmus of Panama with 190 Spaniards, a few native guides, and a pack of dogs. Using a small brigantine and ten native canoes, they sailed along the coast and made landfall. On September 6, the expedition was reinforced with 1,000 men, fought several battles, entered a dense jungle and climbed the mountain range along the Chucunaque River from were this "other sea" could be seen. Balboa went ahead and, before noon September 25, he saw in the horizon an undiscovered sea, becoming the first European to have seen or reached the Pacific from the New World. The expedition descended towards the shore for a short reconnaissance trip, thus becoming the first Europeans to navigate the Pacific Ocean. After traveling more than 110 km (68 mi), Balboa named the bay where they ended up San Miguel. He named the new sea Mar del Sur (South Sea), since they had traveled south to reach it. Balboa's main purpose in the expedition was the search for gold-rich kingdoms. To this end, he crossed through the lands of caciques to the islands, naming the largest one Isla Rica (Rich Island, today known as Isla del Rey). He named the entire group Archipiélago de las Perlas, which they still keep today. In 1515-1516 Juan Díaz de Solís sailed as far as Río de la Plata, which he named, having died trying to find a passage to the "South Sea" in South America at the service of Spain.

First world circumnavigation by Ferdinand Magellan (1519-1522)

Map of Ferdinand Magellan voyage around the world (1519-1522)

Since 1516, several Portuguese conflicting with king Manuel I of Portugal gathered in Seville, at the service of the newly crowned Charles I of Spain. Among them were explorers Diogo and Duarte Barbosa, Estevão Gomes, João Serrão and Ferdinand Magellan, the cartographers Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, the cosmographers Francisco and Ruy Faleiro and the Flemish merchant Christopher de Haro. Ferdinand Magellan - who had sailed in India for Portugal until 1513, when Maluku Islands were reached, and kept contact with Francisco Serrão living there [51][52] - developed the theory that the islands were in the Tordesillas Spanish area, supported on studies by Faleiro brothers. Aware of the efforts of the Spanish to find a route to India by sailing west, Magellan presented them a plan to get there.

The Spanish king and Christopher de Haro financed Magellan's expedition. On August 10, 1519, departed from Seville a fleet of five ships - flagship Trinidad under Magellan's command, San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago and Victoria, the first being a caravel, and all others rated as carracks or "naus" - with a crew of about 237 men from several nations, with the goal of reaching the Maluku Islands by traveling west, trying to reclaim it under Spain's economic and political sphere.[53]

Magellan's Victoria, the only ship of the fleet that completed the first world circumnavigation. Detail from a map by Ortelius, 1590.

The fleet sailed further and further south, avoiding the Portuguese territories in Brazil, and become the first to reach Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the Americas. On October 21, starting in Cape Virgenes, began an arduous trip through a 373-mile (600 km) long strait that Magellan named Estrecho de Todos los Santos, modern Strait of Magellan. On November 28, three ships entered the Pacific Ocean - then named Mar Pacífico because of its apparent stillness.[54] The expedition managed to cross the Pacific. Magellan died in the battle of Mactan in the Philippines, leaving the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano the task of completing the voyage, reaching the Spice Islands in 1521. On September 6, 1522 Victoria returned to Spain with only eighteen crew members, thus completing the first circumnavigation of the globe. Of the men who set out on five ships, only 18 completed the circumnavigation and managed to return to Spain in 1522,[55][56] led by Elcano. Seventeen other arrived later in Spain: twelve captured by the Portuguese in Cape Verde some weeks earlier and between 1525–1527, and five survivors of the Trinidad. Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and traveler who had asked to be on board and become a strict assistant of Magellan, kept an accurate journal that become the main source for much of what we know about this voyage.

This round-the-world voyage gave Spain valuable knowledge of the world and its oceans which later helped in the exploration and settlement of the Philippines. Although this was not a realistic alternative to the Portuguese route around Africa [57] (the Strait of Magellan was too far south, and the Pacific Ocean too vast to cover in a single trip from Spain) successive Spanish expeditions used this information to travel from the Mexican coast via Guam to Manila.

Westward and Eastward exploration met (1525-1543)

View from Ternate to Tidore islands in the Maluku were Portuguese Eastward and Spanish Westward explorations ultimately met and clashed in 1525

Soon after Magellan's expedition, in 1525, Charles V sent an expedition led by García Jofre de Loaísa to colonize the Maluku Islands, claiming that they were in his zone of the Treaty of Tordesillas. The fleet of seven ships and 450 men included the most notable Spanish navigators: Juan Sebastián Elcano and Loaísa, who lost their lives there, and the young Andrés de Urdaneta. The expedition reached the islands, docking at Tidore. The conflict with the Portuguese established in nearby Ternate was inevitable, starting nearly a decade of skirmishes.

As there was not a set eastern Tordesillas limit, in 1524 both kingdoms organized meetings in Badajoz-Elvas to resolve the issue. To find the exact location of the antimeridian of Tordesillas, which would divide the world into two equal hemispheres, each crown appointed three astronomers and cartographers, three pilots and three mathematicians. Lopo Homem, Portuguese cartographer and cosmographer was in the board[58], along with cartographer Diogo Ribeiro on the Spanish delegation. The board met several times, without reaching an agreement: the knowledge at that time was insufficient for an accurate calculation of longitude, and each group gave the islands to its sovereign. The issue was settled only in 1529, after a long negotiation with the Treaty of Zaragoza signed between Spain and Portugal.

Portuguese carrack in Nagasaki, Nanban art attributed to Kano Naizen, 1570-1616 Japan

Between 1525 and 1528 Portugal had sent several expeditions around the Moluccas. Gomes de Sequeira and Diogo da Rocha were sent by the governor of Ternate Jorge de Meneses to the north, being then the first Europeans to reach the Caroline Islands, which they named "Islands de Sequeira "[59][60]. In 1526 Jorge de Meneses docked on Waigeo island, in Papua New Guinea.

In 1543 three Portuguese traders, accidentally became the first Westerners to reach and trade with Japan. According Fernão Mendes Pinto, who claimed to be in this journey, they arrived at Tanegashima, where the locals were impressed by firearms, that would be immediately made by the Japanese on a large scale.[61].

The eastbound route to the Philippines was first sailed by Alvaro de Saavedra in 1527. The westbound return route was harder to find, but was eventually discovered by Andrés de Urdaneta in 1565.[62] Finally, the Spanish established a presence in the Pacific with the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi that sailed from Acapulco, New Spain in 1565. Thus, a cross-Pacific route was established, between Mexico and the Philippines. For a long time these routes were used by the Manila galleons, thereby creating a trade link joining China, the Americas, and Europe via the combined trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes.

Northern European involvement (1600s)

In 1570 (May 20) Gilles Coppens de Diest at Antwerp published 53 maps created by Abraham Ortelius under the title Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, considered the "first modern atlas". Three Latin editions of this (besides a Dutch, a French and a German edition) appeared before the end of 1572; the atlas continued to be in demand till about 1612. This is the world map from this atlas.

Nations outside Iberia refused to acknowledge the Treaty of Tordesillas. France, the Netherlands and England each had a long maritime tradition and had been engaging in privateering. Despite Iberian protections, the new technologies and maps soon made their way north.

In 1568 the Dutch rebelled against the rule of Philip II of Spain leading to the Eighty Years' War. War between England and Spain also broke out. In 1580 Philip II became King of Portugal, as rightful heir to the Crown. The combined empires were simply too big to go unchallenged by European rivals.

Philip's troops conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent. Antwerp, then the most important port in the world, fell in 1585. Protestant population was given two years to settle affairs before leaving the city.[63] Many settled in Amsterdam. Those were mainly skilled craftsmen, rich merchants of the port cities and refugees that fled religious persecution, particularly Sephardi Jews from Portugal and Spain and, later, the Huguenots from France. The Pilgrim Fathers also spent time there before going to the New World. This mass immigration was an important driving force: a small port in 1585, Amsterdam quickly transformed into one of the most important commercial centers in the world. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 there was a huge expansion of maritime trade.

The emergence of Dutch maritime power was swift and remarkable: for years Dutch sailors had participated in Portuguese voyages to the east, as able seafarers and keen mapmakers. In 1592, Cornelis de Houtman was sent by Dutch merchants to Lisbon, to gather as much information as he could about the Spice Islands. In 1595, merchant and explorer Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, having traveled widely in the Indian Ocean at the service of the Portuguese, published a travel report in Amsterdam, the "Reys-gheschrift vande navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten" ("Report of a journey through the navigations of the Portuguese in the East").[64] This included vast directions on how to navigate between Portugal and the East Indies and to Japan. That same year Houtman followed this directions in the Dutch first exploratory travel that discovered a new sea route, sailing directly from Madagascar to Sunda Strait in Indonesia and signing a treaty with the Banten Sultan.

Dutch and British interest fed on new information led to a movement of commercial expansion, and the foundation of English (1600), and Dutch (1602) chartered companies. Dutch, French, and English sent ships which flouted the Portuguese monopoly, concentrated mostly on the coastal areas, which proved unable defend such a vast and dispersed venture.[65]

North American coastal explorations (1524-1611)

Map of Henry Hudson's 1609-1611 voyages to North America for the Dutch East India Company (VOC)

The 1497 English expedition led by John Cabot was the first of a series of French and English missions exploring North America. Spain put limited efforts into exploring the northern part of the Americas as its resources were fully stretched by its efforts in Central and South America where more wealth had been found[citation needed]. These expeditions were mainly hoping to find an oceanic Northwest Passage to Asian trade.[citation needed] This was never discovered, but other possibilities were found and in the early seventeenth century colonists from a number of Northern European states began to settle on the east coast of North America.

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian sailing at the service of king Francis I of France- who was motivated by the "insolence" of the division of the world between the Portuguese and the Spanish- made the first recorded European to visit the Atlantic Coast of the present-day United States, having explored the coast from South Carolina to Nova Scotia, and islands such as Newfoundland. In the same year Estevão Gomes, a Portuguese cartographer who had sailed in the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan, explored Nova Scotia province sailing South through Maine, where he entered New York Harbor, the Hudson River and eventually reached Florida in August 1525. As a result of his expedition, the 1529 Diego Ribero world map outlines the East coast of North America almost perfectly. From 1534 to 1536 French explorer Jacques Cartier, believed to have accompanied da Verrazzano to Nova Scotia and Brazil, was the first European to travel inland in North America, describing the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which he named "The Country of Canadas", after Iroquois names, claiming what is now Canada for Francis I of France.[66][67]

Europeans explored the Pacific Coast beginning in the mid sixteenth century. Francisco de Ulloa explored the Pacific coast of present-day Mexico including the Gulf of California, proving that Baja California was a peninsula,[68] but in spite of his discoveries the myth persisted in Europe that California was an island. His account provided the first recorded use of the name "California". João Rodrigues Cabrilho, a Portuguese navigator sailing for the Spanish Crown, was the first European to set foot in California, landing on September 28, 1542 on the shores of San Diego Bay and claiming California for Spain.[69] He also landed on San Miguel, one of the Channel Islands, and continued as far as Pt. Reyes. After his death the crew continued exploring as far north as Oregon.

Henry Hudson's ship Halve Maen in the Hudson River

In 1608, Hudson made a second attempt, trying to go across the top of Russia. He made it to Novaya Zemlya but was forced to turn back. The English Francis Drake sailed along the coast in 1579 somewhere north of Cabrillo's landing site - the actual location of Drake's landing was secret and is still undetermined[70] - and claimed the land for England, calling it Nova Albion. The term "Nova Albion" was therefore used on many European maps to designate territory north of the Spanish settlements.[71]

Between 1609-1611, English Henry Hudson, after several voyages on behalf of English merchants to explore a prospective Northeast Passage to India, explored the region around modern New York City while looking for a western route to Asia under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He explored the Hudson River and laid the foundation for Dutch colonization of the region. Hudson's final expedition ranged farther north in search of the Northwest Passage, leading to his discovery of the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. After wintering in the James Bay, Hudson tried to press on with his voyage in the spring of 1611, but his crew mutinied and they cast him adrift.[72]

Dutch reach Australia and New Zealand (1606-1644)

The route of Abel Tasman's the 1642 and 1644 voyages in New Holland (Australia) at the service of the VOC (Dutch East India Company)
Duyfken ship replica, Fremantle, Western Australia

Terra Australis Ignota (Latin, "the unknown land of the south") was a hypothetical continent appearing on European maps from the 15th to the 18th centuries, with roots in a notion introduced by Aristotle. It was depicted on the mid-16th-century Dieppe maps, where its coastline appeared just south of the islands of the East Indies; it was often elaborately charted, with a wealth of fictitious detail. The discoveries reduced the area where the continent could be found; however, many cartographers held to Aristotle's opinion, like Gerardus Mercator (1569) and Alexander Dalrymple even so late as 1767[73] argued for its existence, with such arguments as that there should be a large landmass in the south as a counterweight to the known landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere. As new lands were discovered, they were often assumed to be parts of this hypothetical continent.

Juan Fernandez, sailing from Chile in 1576, claimed he had discovered the Southern Continent.[74] Luis Váez de Torres, a Spanish or Portuguese navigator working for the Spanish Crown, proved the existence of a passage south of New Guinea, now known as Torres Strait. Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, another Portuguese navigator sailing for the Spanish Crown, saw a large island south of New Guinea in 1606, which he named La Australia del Espiritu Santo. He represented this to the King of Spain as the Terra Australis incognita.

Dutch navigator and colonial governor, Willem Janszoon was the first European known to have seen the coast of Australia. Janszoon sailed from the Netherlands for the East Indies for the third time on December 18, 1603, as captain of the Duyfken (or Duijfken, meaning "Little Dove"), one of twelve ships of the great fleet of Steven van der Hagen.[75] Once in the Indies, Janszoon was sent to search for other outlets of trade, particularly in "the great land of Nova Guinea and other East and Southlands." On November 18, 1605, the Duyfken sailed from Bantam to the coast of western New Guinea. Janszoon then crossed the eastern end of the Arafura Sea, without seeing the Torres Strait, into the Gulf of Carpentaria. On February 26, 1606, he made landfall at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York in Queensland, near the modern town of Weipa. This is the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent. Janszoon proceeded to chart some 320 km of the coastline, which he thought was a southerly extension of New Guinea. In 1615, Jacob le Maire and Willem Schouten's rounding of Cape Horn proved that Tierra del Fuego was a relatively small island.

In 1642-1644 Abel Tasman, also a Dutch explorer and merchant in the service of the VOC, circumnavigated New Holland proving that Australia was not part of the mythical southern continent. He was the first known European expedition to reach the islands of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand and to sight the Fiji islands, which he did in 1643. Tasman, his navigator Visscher, and his merchant Gilsemans also mapped substantial portions of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

See Major explorations after the Age of Discovery for later exploration.

Global impact of the Age of Discovery

New World crops. Top left: 1. Maize (Zea mays) 2. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) 3. Potato (Solanum tuberosum) 4. Vanilla (Vanilla) 5. Pará rubber tree? (Hevea brasiliensis) 6. Cacao (Theobroma cacao) 7. Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica)

European overseas expansion led to the contact between the Old and New Worlds producing the Columbian Exchange[6], named after Columbus. It involved the transfer of goods unique to one hemisphere to another. Europeans brought cattle, horses, and sheep to the New World, and from the New World Europeans received tobacco, potatoes and maize. Other items becoming important in global trade were the sugarcane and cotton crops of the Americas, and the gold and silver brought from the Americas not only to Europe but elsewhere in the Old World.

The new trans-oceanic links and their domination by the European powers led to the Age of Imperialism, where European colonial powers came to control most of the planet. The European appetite for trade, commodities, empire and slaves greatly affected many other areas of the world. Spain participated in the destruction of aggressive empires in America, only to substitute for its own and forcibly replaced the original religions. The pattern of territorial aggression was repeated by other European empires, most notably the Dutch, Russian, French and British. New religions replaced older "pagan" rituals, as were new languages, political and sexual cultures, and in some areas like North America, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, the indigenous peoples were abused and driven off most of their lands, being reduced to small, dependent minorities.

Portuguese Nanbanjin arriving at Japan much to the surprise of locals, detail from Nanban panel by Kano Domi, 1593-1600

Similarly, in coastal Africa, local states supplied the appetite of European slave traders, changing the complexion of coastal African states and fundamentally altering the nature of African slavery, causing impacts on societies and economies deep inland. (See Atlantic slave trade).

Aboriginal Peoples were living in North America at this time and still do today. There were many conflicts between Europeans and Natives. The Europeans had many advantages over the Natives. They gave them diseases that they had not been exposed to before and this wiped out 50-90% of their population. (See Population history of American indigenous peoples.)[76]

Since being introduced by Portuguese in the 16th century,[77] maize and manioc have replaced traditional African crops as the continent's most important staple food crops.[78] Alfred W. Crosby speculated that increased production of maize, manioc, and other American crops "enabled the slave traders drew many, perhaps most, of their cargoes from the rain forest areas, precisely those areas where American crops enabled heavier settlement than before."[79]

During the 16th century Chinese economy, under the Ming Dynasty, was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. China became involved in a new global trade of goods, plants, animals, and food crops known as the Columbian Exchange. Trade with European powers and the Japanese brought in massive amounts of silver, which then replaced copper and paper banknotes as the common medium of exchange in China. During the last decades of the Ming the flow of silver into China was greatly diminished, thereby undermining state revenues and indeed the entire Ming economy. This damage to the economy was compounded by the effects on agriculture of the incipient Little Ice Age, natural calamities, crop failure, and sudden epidemics. The ensuing breakdown of authority and people's livelihoods allowed rebel leaders such as Li Zicheng to challenge Ming authority.

1675 Chinese astronomer with an elaborate armillary sphere. Chinese astronomers collaborated extensively with Jesuit scholars, who brought the Copernican and Tychonic systems from Europe.

New crops that had come to Asia from the Americas via the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century contributed to the Asia's population growth[80]. Although the bulk of imports to China were silver, the Chinese also purchased New World crops from the Spanish Empire. This included sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts, foods that could be cultivated in lands where traditional Chinese staple crops—wheat, millet, and rice—couldn't grow, hence facilitating a rise in the population of China.[81][82] In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), rice had become the major staple crop of the poor;[83] after sweet potatoes were introduced to China around 1560, it gradually became the traditional food of the lower classes.[84]

The arrival of the Portuguese to Japan in 1543 initiated the Nanban trade period, with the Japanese adopting several technologies and cultural practices, like the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships, Christianity, decorative art, and language. After the Chinese had banned direct trade by Chinese merchants with Japan, the Portuguese filled this commercial vacuum as intermediaries between China and Japan.[85] The Portuguese bought Chinese silk and sold it to the Japanese in return for Japanese-mined silver; since silver was more highly valued in China, the Portuguese could then use Japanese silver to buy even larger stocks of Chinese silk.[85] However, by 1573—after the Spanish established a trading base in Manila—the Portuguese intermediary trade was trumped by the prime source of incoming silver to China from the Spanish Americas.[86][87]

Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), was the first European allowed into the Forbidden City, taught the Chinese how to construct and play the spinet, translated Chinese texts into Latin and vice versa, and worked closely with his Chinese associate Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) on mathematical work.

Economic and cultural impact of the Age of Exploration on Europe

The world map from Johannes Kepler's Rudolphine Tables (1627), incorporating many of the new discoveries of the Age of Exploration.

As a wider variety of global luxury commodities entered the European markets by sea, previous European markets for luxury goods stagnated. The Atlantic trade largely supplanted pre-existing Italian and German trading powers which had relied on their Baltic, Russian and Islamic trade links. The new commodities also caused social change, as sugar, spices, silks and chinawares entered the luxury markets of Europe.

The European economic center shifted from the Mediterranean to Western Europe. The city of Antwerp, part of the Duchy of Brabant, became "the center of the entire international economy[88], and the richest city in Europe at this time.[89] Centered in Antwerp first and then in Amsterdam, "Dutch Golden Age" was tightly linked to the Age of Discovery. Francesco Guicciardini, a Venetian envoy, stated that hundreds of ships would pass Antwerp in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. Portuguese ships laden with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo. With many foreign merchants resident in the city and governed by an oligarchy of banker-aristocrats forbidden to engage in trade, the economy of Antwerp was foreigner-controlled, which made the city very international, with merchants and traders from Venice, Ragusa, Spain and Portugal and a policy of toleration, which attracted a large orthodox Jewish community. The city experienced three booms during its golden age, the first based on the pepper market, a second launched by American silver coming from Seville (ending with the bankruptcy of Spain in 1557), and a third boom, after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, in 1559, based on the textiles industry.

Despite initial hostilities, by 1549 the Portuguese were sending annual trade missions to Shangchuan Island in China.[90] In 1557 they managed to convince the Ming court to agree on a legal port treaty that would establish Macau as an official Portuguese trade colony.[90] The Portuguese friar Gaspar da Cruz (c. 1520 - February 5, 1570) wrote the first complete book on China and the Ming Dynasty that was published in Europe; it included information on its geography, provinces, royalty, official class, bureaucracy, shipping, architecture, farming, craftsmanship, merchant affairs, clothing, religious and social customs, music and instruments, writing, education, and justice.[91]

Delftware depicting Chinese scenes, 18th century. Musee Ernest Cognacq

From China the major exports were silk and porcelain, adapted to meet European tastes. The Chinese export porcelains were held in such great esteem in Europe that, in English, china became a commonly–used synonym for porcelain. Kraak porcelain (believed to be named after the Portuguese carracks in which it was transported) was among the first Chinese ware to arrive in Europe in mass quantities. Only the richest could afford these early imports, and Kraak often featured in Dutch still life paintings.[92] Soon the Dutch East India Company established a lively trade with the East, having imported 6 million porcelain items from China to Europe between the years 1602 to 1682.[93][94] The Chinese workmanship impressed many. Between 1575 and 1587 Medici porcelain from Florence was the first successful attempt to imitate Chinese porcelain. Although Dutch potters did not immediately imitate Chinese porcelain, they began to do it when the supply to Europe was interrupted, after the death of Wanli Emperor in 1620. Kraak, mainly the blue and white porcelain, was imitated all over the world by potters in Arita, Japan and Persia— where Dutch merchants turned when the fall of the Ming Dynasty rendered Chinese originals unavailable[95]—and ultimately in Delftware. Dutch and later English Delftware inspired by Chinese designs persisted from about 1630 to the mid-eighteenth century alongside European patterns.

Antonio de Morga (1559–1636), a Spanish official in Manila, listed an extensive inventory of goods that were traded by Ming China at the turn of the 17th century, noting there were "rarities which, did I refer to them all, I would never finish, nor have sufficient paper for it".[96] After noting the variety of silk goods traded to Europeans, Ebrey writes of the considerable size of commercial transactions: In one case a galleon to the Spanish territories in the New World carried over 50,000 pairs of silk stockings. In return China imported mostly silver from Peruvian and Mexican mines, transported via Manila. Chinese merchants were active in these trading ventures, and many emigrated to such places as the Philippines and Borneo to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities.[81]

Jan Davidsz. de Heem, detail of silverware from "A Richly Laid Table with Parrots", c. 1650

The increase in wealth experienced by Spain coincided with a major inflationary cycle both within Spain and Europe, known as price revolution. Spain had amassed large quantities of gold and silver from the New World[97] In the 1520s large scale extraction of silver from Mexico's Guanajuato began. With the opening of the silver mines in Zacatecas and Peru's Potosí in 1546 large shipments of silver became the fabled source of wealth. During the sixteenth century, Spain held the equivalent of US$1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver from New Spain. Being the most powerful European monarch at a time full of war and religious conflicts,[98] Philip II squandered wealth in arts and wars across Europe. "I learnt a proverb here", said a French traveler in 1603: "Everything is dear in Spain except silver".[99] The spent silver, suddenly spread throughout a previously cash starved Europe, caused widespread inflation.[100] The inflation was worsened by a growing population but a static production level, low salaries and a rising cost of living. Increasingly Spain became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas, leading to Spain's first bankruptcy in 1557 due to rising military costs.[101]. Philip II of Spain, defaulted on their debt several times, had to declare four state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1575 and 1596, becoming the first sovereign nation in history to declare bankruptcy. The increase in prices as a result of currency circulation fueled the growth of the commercial middle class in Europe, which would come to influence the politics and culture of many countries.

See also



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