The Exploration of the World’s Oceans



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Chapter 22: Transoceanic Encounters and Global Connections

The Exploration of the World’s Oceans


  1. Intro

    • Between 1400 and 1800, European mariners launched a remarkable series of exploratory voyages that took them to all the earth’s waters

      • These were expensive affairs, yet private investors and gov’t authorities had strong motives to underwrite the expeditions and outfit them with advanced nautical technology

      • The voyages of exploration paid large dividens

        • Enabled European mariners to chart t world’s ocean basins and develop an accurate understanding of world geography

      • On the basis of that knowledge, European merchants and mariners established global networks of communication, transportation, and exchange

        • Profited handsomely from their efforts

Motives for Exploration


  1. Intro

    • A complex combination of motives prompted Europeans to explore the world’s oceans

      • Most important of the 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

        • aspiration to expand the influence of Christianity

  2. Portuguese Exploration

    • Mariners from the relatively poor and hardscrabble kingdom of Portugal were most prominent in the search for fresh resources to exploit and lands to cultivate

      • Beginning in the 13th century, Portuguese seamen ventured away from the coasts and into the open Atlantic Ocean

        • Originally sought fish, seals, whales, timber, and lands where they could grow wheat to supplement the meager resources of Portugal

        • By the early 14th century, they had discovered the uninhabited Azores and Madeiras islands

        • Could grow wheat to supplement the meager resources of Portugal

        • Called at the Canary islands, which had been visited by Italian and Iberian merchants

      • Because European demand for sugar was strong and increasing, the prospect of sugar plantations on the Atlantic islands was tempting

        • Italian entrepreneurs had organized sugar plantations in Palestine and the Med islands since the 12th century

        • In the 15th century Italian investors worked with Portuguese mariners to establish plantations in the Atlantic islands

      • Continuing Portuguese voyages led to the establishment of voyages on the Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome, Principe, Fernando Po

  3. The Lure of Trade

    • Even more alluring than the exploitation of fresh lands and resources was the goal of establishing maritime trade routes to the markets of Asia

      • During the era of the Mongol empires, European merchants often traveled overland as far as China to trade in silk, spices, porcelain, and other Asian goods

      • In the 14th century, with the collapse of the Mongol empires and the spread of bubonic plague, travel on the Silk Roads became much less safe than before

      • Muslim mariners continued to bring Asian goods through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to Cairo, where Italian merchants purchased them for distribution in western Europe

        • Prices at Cairo were high, and Europeans sought ever-larger quantities of Asian goods, particularly spices

    • By the 14th century, the wealthy classes of Europe regarded Indian pepper and Chinese ginger as expensive necessities, and they especially prized cloves and nutmeg from the spice islands of Maluku

      • Merchants and monarchs alike realized that by offering diret access to Asian markets (eliminating Muslims intermediaries), new maritime trade routes would increase the quantities of Asian goods available in Europe

        • Would also yield large profits

    • African trade also beckoned to Europeans and called them to the sea

      • Since the 12th century, Europeans had purchased west African gold, ivory, and slaves delivered by the trans-Saharan camel caravans

      • Gold was an especially important commodity because the precious metal from west Africa was Europeans’ principal form of payment for Asian luxury goods

        • Maritime routes that eliminated Muslims intermediaries and offered more direct access to African markets would benefit European merchants, as the same in Asian markets

  4. Missionary Efforts

    • Alongside material incentives, the goal of expanding the boundaries of Christianity also drove Europeans into the larger world

      • Like Buddhism and Islam, Christianity is a missionary religion

      • The New Testament specifically urged Christians to spread their faith throughout the world

      • During the era of the Mongol empires, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries had traveled as far as India, central Asia, and China in search of converts

    • The expansion of Christianity was not a peaceful affair

      • Beginning in the 11th century, western Europeans had launched a series of crusades and holy wars against Muslims in Palestine, the Med islands, and Iberia

      • Crusading zeal remained especially strong in Iberia, where the Reconquista came to an end in 1492

        • The Muslim kingdom of Granada fell to Spanish forces weeks before Christopher Columbus set sail on his first voyage to the western hemisphere

      • Whether through persuasion or violence, overseas voyages offered fresh opportunities for western Europeans to spread their faith

    • In practice, the various motives for exploration combined and reinforced each other

      • Prince Henry the Navigator, promoted voyages of exploration in west Africa to

        • enter the gold trade

        • discovery profitable trade routes

        • gain intelligence about the extent of Muslim power

        • win converts to Christianity

        • make alliances against the Muslims with any Christian rulers he might find

      • The goal of spreading Christianity became a powerful justification and reinforcement for the more material motives for the voyages of exploration
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