Age of Exploration and Discovery

The Age of Exploration began in the 1400s and continued through the 1600s, in parallel to the Renaissance.

The main purpose of an expedition was to make money by discovering new trade routes for the sponsoring nation. When the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople in 1453, many valuable trade routes to India and China were shut down. New expeditions tried to discover ocean routes to India and the Far East. Some expeditions became rich by discovering gold and silver, such as the Spanish expeditions to the Americas. They also found new land where colonies could be established and grow crops such as sugar, cotton, and tobacco.

The Age of Exploration began in Portugal under the leadership of Henry the Navigator. Henry sent out ships to map and explore the west coast of Africa. They went south and mapped much of western Africa for the Portuguese. In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the southern tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean.

The Spanish wanted to find a trade route to the Far East. Christopher Columbus thought that he could sail west, across the Atlantic Ocean, to China. He could not get the Portuguese to fund his expedition, so he went to Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. In 1492 Columbus discovered the New World of the Americas.

Portugal and Spain became the early leaders in the Age of Exploration. The two countries agreed to divide up the New World. Spain got most of the Americas while Portugal got Brazil, India, and Asia. Spain sent conquistadors to explore the Americas and to conquer the peoples. Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire in Mexico, and Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. They made Spain rich with gold and silver. Portugal’s Vasco da Gama found a trade route around the southern tip of Africa to India. They established a trading colony in China at Macau.

Great Britain and the Netherlands established colonies in the New World. Eventually Great Britain established the greatest worldwide empire, including thirteen colonies that became the United States.

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to circle the globe. He was killed during the expedition.

During the Age of Exploration a significant portion of the unknown world was mapped. Some areas of the world were only fully mapped or discovered well after the Age of Exploration, including Eastern Australia, the interior of Africa, the Arctic, and the Antarctic. Only in 1906 did explorer Roald Amundsen complete the Northwest Passage to East Asia.

Source: Age of Exploration and Discovery
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