Historians describe the motivation for European overseas exploration, expansion, and conquests with the phrase, “Gold, God, and Glory.”
“Gold” refers to the search for wealth through buying and selling Asian spices, African slaves, American metals, and other resources. As merchants gained influence in Europe, they convinced their governments to establish a direct connection to the rich Asian trade, leading to the first European voyages of discovery in the 1400s.
“God” refers to the crusading and missionary traditions of Christianity, characterized in part by competition with Islam and hatred of non-Christian religions.
“Glory” refers to the competition between monarchies. Some kings wanted to claim new territories to strengthen their position in European politics and to increase their power.
The Spanish and Portuguese built better ships to sail the Atlantic Ocean. They mounted weapons on ships, giving them an advantage at sea. By the late 1500s, the English also built ships that were easy to move and held the best iron cannon.
The intense competition between major European powers led to increased exploration, building of trade networks, and a scramble for colonies.
Columbus hoped to find the sea route to the silk- and spice-rich lands of China and Southeast Asia. Instead, he discovered a huge landmass to the west, to be named America.
By the late 1500s the Spanish had explored large regions of the Americas and conquered many of its peoples. The Portuguese had established claims in Brazil.
Various European states established colonies or outposts in several African regions and carried African slaves to the Americas to work on plantations growing cash crops, such as sugar, cotton, and coffee, for Europe.
American minerals supported a great expansion of the European economy. Many resources were brought from America to Europe, especially silver, gold, sugar, coffee, and spices.
Source: Gold, God, and Glory
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