The Reasons Why Portugal Rose to the Forefront During the Early Period of European Exploration

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As a small nation, Portugal may have seemed to be an unlikely leader in exploration and navigational science. The location of Portugal, really helped to develop it in its rise to the forefront. Surrounded to the east and north by Spain and having no outlets on the Mediterranean, Portugal was forced to use the Atlantic Ocean as its main source of travel.

The Portuguese were aware that the Arab caravans were crossing the Sahara to bring gold, slaves, and ivory from Africa to Europe. There was talk about how King Musa controlled more gold than any other ruler in the world. The Portuguese wanted a part of this but needed to figure out how to get across the Atlantic and around Cape Bojador. There were several captains that had previously attempted this trip, but none of them returned.

There was one member of the Portuguese royal family, Prince Henry, who took on this challenge. It was in 1420 that he became the leader of the Order of Christ crusade. Prince Henry had the money to sponsor many trips along the African coast. In 1434 Gil Eannes, who was one of Prince Henry’s captains, had a successful trip. The winds and waves were in his favor, the currents carried him back to safety.

During the 15th century, Portugal was able to navigate in the high seas and were successful in defeating the non- European ships. The reason they were so successful was they began to study the designs of the Arab ships and improved them. They also were given access to several geographic sources and took advantage of these resources by using them wisely

With this new knowledge they built a ship they called the caravel. This ship could travel 3 to 12 knots and handled the head winds better than any other ship on the sea. They were able to create accurate charts and maps that were later used for navigation. Cannons were also mounted on the decks of their ships, for preparation of battling the enemy.

The Portuguese were able to explore farther along the Afican coast,...
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