The Age of Exploration Overview
The Age of Exploration focuses on the European discovery and exploration of new lands from 1400 to 1800. During this time, Europeans learned about – and sometimes destroyed – other civilizations. Europeans colonized and spread their culture in the Americas. They also formed colonies in India, Africa, and Asia. The European explorers opened new trade routes and took over old ones. They charted seas and rivers, and mapped lands that they never knew existed.
The Golden Age of Exploration began in the 1400s. At that time, Europeans were trying to find a way to reach the East, the source of spices, silk, cotton, and precious gems. Up to this time, they had depended on Arab traders for these goods. By finding a way to get the goods themselves, Europeans would be able to avoid paying high prices to the Arab traders. Europeans also wanted to open new markets for their own trade goods, find natural resources and gold and claim new land.
In the 15th century, Europeans did not have a clear idea of where the land of riches they knew as “the East” was or how to get there. They could not follow the known land routes to the East, such as the one traveled by Marco Polo two centuries before. The Ottoman Turks and the Mongols had conquered the lands between Europe and China. These Asian peoples would not let Europeans pass through their territory. For this reason, Europeans set out to find an ocean passage to the East, at a time when very few seamen had ever sailed out of sight of land.
Spain and Portugal were nations that looked out on the Atlantic Ocean, not inward to the smaller and more peaceful Mediterranean Sea. These nations were ready to venture into the Atlantic and find a route to the East at the same time that new ways of building ships, navigation, stable governments, wealthy kings and queens and growing populations made such voyages...