| Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650
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> Chapter 15
Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

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Chapter Outline

  • World Contacts before Columbus
  • The Trade World of the Indian Ocean
  • The center of the pre-Columbian world trade network was the Indian Ocean.
  • Since Han and Roman times, seaborne trade between China, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe had flowed across the Indian Ocean.
  • Merchants congregated in port cities with diverse populations.
  • China played a key role in the fifteenth-century revival of Indian Ocean Trade.
  • Admiral Zheng He led seven voyages of exploration between 1405 and 1433.
  • India was the crucial link between the Persian Gulf and the South-East and East Asian trade networks.
  • Africa
  • Africa played an important role in world trade before Columbus.
  • Cairo was a hub for Indian Ocean trade goods.
  • Most of the gold that reached Europe in the fifteenth century came from Africa.
  • Slaves were another key African commodity.
  • Legends about Africa played an important role in the European imagination about the outside world.
  • The Ottoman and Persian Empires
  • The Middle East was crucial to the late medieval world trade system.
  • The Silk Road linked the West to the Far East.
  • The Turkish Ottomans and the Persian Safavids dominated the region.
  • Turkish expansion badly frightened Europeans.
  • The Safavids opposed Ottoman regional ambitions.
  • Genoese and Venetian Middlemen
  • Europe was the western terminus of the world trading system.
  • Venice grew in importance with the creation of the crusader kingdoms and reached the height of its power in the 1400s.
  • Venice specialized in luxury goods and slaves.
  • Genoa was Venice’s ancient rival.
  • The Genoese focused on finance and the Western Mediterranean.
  • The Genoese were active in the slave trade.
  • The European Voyages of Discovery
  • Causes of European Expansion
  • A revival of population and economic activity increased demand for Eastern luxury goods.
  • Religious fervor was another important catalyst for expansion.
  • Curiosity and a desire for glory also played a role in European expansion.
  • Political centralization in Spain, France, and England helps explain their expansion.
  • Technological Stimuli to Exploration
  • Developments in shipbuilding, weaponry, and navigation provided another spur to expansion.
  • The Portuguese Overseas Empire
  • Portugal led the expansion, seeking to Christianize Muslims, import gold from West Africa, find an overseas route to India to obtain Indian spices, and contact the mythical Christian ruler of Ethiopia, Prester John.
  • Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) played a leading role in the early phases of Portuguese exploration.
  • Beginning in 1415, the Portuguese sent their ships further down the west coast of Africa until they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached India in 1497–1499.
  • The Portuguese reached Brazil in 1500.
  • The Portuguese fought Muslim rulers to control the Indian Ocean and won.
  • The Problem of Christopher Columbus
  • Columbus was an extremely religious man.
  • Columbus was very knowledgeable about the sea.
  • Columbus aimed to find a direct sea route to Asia.
  • Columbus described the Caribbean as a Garden of Eden.
  • When he settled the Caribbean islands and enslaved their inhabitants, he was acting as “a man of his times.”
  • Later Explorers
  • News of Columbus’s voyage quickly spread throughout Europe.
  • The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal.
  • The search for profits determined the direction of Spanish exploration and expansion.
  • In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan, working for Spain, rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific Ocean, eventually circumnavigating the globe.
  • The Dutch East India Company expelled the Portuguese from many of their East Indian holdings in the first half of the seventeenth century. The Dutch West India Company established outposts in Africa, Spanish colonial areas, and North America.
  • In 1497 John Cabot, working for England, explored the northeast coast of North America.
  • From 1534–1541, Frenchman Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River region of Canada.
  • New World Conquest
  • From 1519–1522, Hernando Cortés sailed from Hispaniola to Mexico and crushed the Aztec Empire of central Mexico.
  • Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire of the Andes between 1531 and 1536.
  • Europe and the World after Columbus
  • Spanish Settlement and Indigenous Population Decline
  • In the sixteenth century, 200,000 Spaniards immigrated to the New World, altering the landscape and bringing with them disease.
  • The Spanish established the encomienda system, giving conquerors the right to employ groups of Amerindians.
  • Disease, malnutrition, overwork, and violence led to catastrophic drops in the indigenous population.
  • Missionaries sought to convert Amerindians to Christianity.
  • The decline in the Amerindian population created a labor shortage in the Americas.
  • Sugar and Slavery
  • Before the 1400s, virtually all slaves in Europe were white.
  • The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople cut off slaves from the Black Sea region.
  • With Portuguese voyages to West Africa and the occupation of the Canary and Madeira islands, slavery hooked up with sugar culture.
  • Native Americans did not survive long under conditions of slavery and forced labor.
  • The Spaniards brought in enslaved Africans as substitutes.
  • The Atlantic slave trade reached its peak in the eighteenth century.
  • The Columbian Exchange
  • The most important changes brought by the Columbian voyages may have been biosocial in nature.
  • Flora, fauna, and diseases traveled in both directions across the Atlantic.
  • New World foods became Old World staples.
  • Domestic animals were brought to the New World.
  • European diseases ravaged Amerindian populations.
  • Sailors and settlers brought syphilis back with them to Europe.
  • Silver and the Economic Effects of Spain’s Discoveries
  • During the 1500s and 1600s, there was a huge influx of precious metals into Spain from its American colonies.
  • Population increase in Spain and the establishment of new colonies created greater demand for goods in Spain. The economy could not meet the demands. Together with the influx of specie, this led to inflation.
  • Inflation caused the Spanish government to go bankrupt several times.
  • Payment of Spanish armies in bullion created inflation throughout Europe, which greatly hurt nobles on fixed incomes.
  • Chinese demands for payment in silver for its products and taxes shaped the world silver trade.
  • The Birth of the Global Economy
  • The new intercontinental seaborne trade brought into being three successive commercial empires: the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch.
  • In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese enjoyed hegemony over the sea route to India.
  • Portuguese Brazil produced most of the sugar consumed in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • The Spanish established a land empire in the New World and a seaborne empire in the Pacific.
  • The world experienced a commercial boom from about 1570 to 1630.
  • In the second half of the seventeenth century, the Dutch seaborne trade predominated.
  • Spain’s Global Empire
  • Spanish expansion in the New World and Asia was combined with Spanish expansion within Europe itself.
  • Philip II inherited a vast, but unwieldy empire.
  • Philip’s intense religiosity bred political inflexibility.
  • Philip backed a plot to replace Elizabeth I with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.
  • When the plot failed and Mary was executed, Philip assembled a vast fleet to invade England. The Spanish Armada sailed on May 9, 1588.
  • A combination of factors led to the total destruction of the Spanish Armada.
  • While Spain quickly recovered, the defeat of the Armada prevented Philip from reimposing religious unity on Western Europe by force.
  • Changing Attitudes and Beliefs
  • New Ideas about Race
  • There was no particular connection between race and slavery in the Ancient world.
  • European settlers brought their ideas about race with them to the Americas.
  • Medieval Christians and Arabs shared negative views of blacks.
  • Slavery in the new world contributed to the dissemination of more rigid notions of racial inferiority.
  • Michel de Montaigne and Cultural Curiosity
  • Montaigne (1533–1592), a French nobleman, created the essay as a means of clarifying his own thoughts.
  • Montaigne was a skeptic; that is, he rejected the notion that any single human being knew the absolute truth. He also rejected the notion that any one culture was inherently superior to any other.
  • Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature
  • Literature and drama flowered in England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I (r. 1603–1625).
  • William Shakespeare’s plays
  • The King James Bible


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