Why Did Europeans Expand Into America, Africa and Asia Between 1415 and 1715?

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During the sixteenth century expansion became a key theme across the face of Early Modern Europe; this caused the sixteenth century to acquire the retrospective name of the Age of Expansion or Age of Discovery. According to the historian Richard Mackenney the cause of European expansion during this period can be explained in terms of three major symptoms: overseas discovery, population growth and price inflation all of which are tied together in a complex multiplicity making in difficult to isolate one symptom from the others. Alongside these three key factors is another two factors, Emperor Charles Habsburg’s (Charles V) call for expansion of Christendom by converting the natives of the New World and the desire for economic power through monopolising on the trading of specific commodities, mainly spices although this also including fabrics, foodstuffs, basic resources and curiosities. Exploration had not been an entirely new concept to the world of Early Modern Europe. During the Middle Ages exploration had been overland and eastward, mostly dominated by tales of the Italian Marco Polo and his establishment of embassies with trading posts such as Constantinople and Samarkand along the illustrious Silk Road, which stretched all the way from Venice to China via Asia Minor, Persia and India. Come the turn of the fifteenth century, due to the advent of new navigational science replacing the dated classical geography of Ptolemy, discovery turned westward towards yet to be discovered America and south into what Ptolemy had called on his maps terra incognita, or lands unknown, which turned out to be the unchartered regions of Africa. Both these directions of exploration were partly in search of a viable sea-route in the Orient in order to break Venice’s iron-grip on the import of spices, silks and others goods from Africa and Asia. These projects were heavily dominated by Portugal and Spain since France was currently busy dealing with conflicts of both internal and external nature, Italy content with its monopoly over the Mediterranean sea-routes and imports brought in from the Silk Road and convinced that no other viable route were possible decided to sit out of overseas expansion. Finally the powers of England and the Netherlands attempts failed until the seventeenth century when they rose up to take over where Portugal and Spain were beginning to falter through lack of resources. In 1415 Portugal captured the Moroccan city of Ceuta under King John I providing a strong post for exploration along the unknown African west coast, the promise of fame and fortune for being the first to chart the terra incognita filled King John’s son Henry with “inspiration which was to mould his whole life” , this venture was about to take Henry “down the African coast, even around Africa to India” via the Portugal’s discovery of the Cape of Good Hope. However whilst in Ceuta Henry learned from Moroccan Muslims about the riches waiting along the Gold Coast, ripe and ready, for whoever was first to discover them, thus Henry’s voyages were not entirely based on finding fame through discovery and exploration but partly on for gaining his nation financial benefits. By 1500 Portugal had also begun to turn its eye westward across the Atlantic to see what lay beyond the unknown waters and during this year, after hearing tales of the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus, Portugal sent several fleets in search of new lands and to Portugal’s success soon arrived upon Brazilian shores discovering the Incan Empire. Although this provoked disagreement with Spanish explorers who under the conquistador Hernando Cortés had worked south from Yucatan to conquer Peru, a disagreement that was settled by the Treaty of Tordesillas which declared that all lands further than “370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands” belonged to Portugal and everything less belonged to Spain. Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) envisioned a way to reach the Moluccas faster than...