European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 Befc;>re You Begin

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European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

Befc;>re You Begin

This is the third simultaneous chapter: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and European explorations and conquests were all happening at roughly the same time. As you read this chapter, look for the overlaps or the influences of the Renaissance and the Reformation 011. the motives for the explorations.

This chapter begins by laying out the non-European empires, kingdoms, and city-states in the. eastern hemisphere. Western Europeans had been almost completely isolated from these powerful and wealthy areas from the time of the collapse ofthe Western Roman Empire until the Crusades. Crusaders brought back luxury goods from their adventures, and late medieval and early Renaissance Italian merchants saw new trading opportunities. There were three well-established trade routes into which the Europeans wanted to insert themselves: the so-called Silk Roads, the Indian Ocean Basin network, and the Gold-

\ .

Salt and Trans-Saharan African routes.

At the peak of the Renaissance; Europeans were receiving luxury goods, technology, and scholarship from their newly discovered neighbors. Western European maritime explorations relied heavily on these contributions. Merchants and consumers desired more access goods at cheaper prices, and when access was threatened by the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire, first the Portuguese and then everyone else began looking for a way around the Ottomans to get access to the Indian Ocean Basin and Silk Roads trade zones.

The western Europeans were the last in a long line of eastern hemisphere maritime explorers; Arabs, Indians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans had interlocking trade networks for millennia. It would only be in the late fifteenth century that the western Europeans would finally join the group. Unfortunately, the western Europeans had little to offer in terms of trade. What the Chinese, in particular, wanted was bullion. Ming China had one quarter of the world's population and needed silver and gold to mint into coins to keep their enormous economy functioning. Half the silver mined at Potosi went to Spain; the other half went through Manila to China. Finally, the Europeans had something the Chinese wanted.

If the merchants didn'thave bullion, they used gunpowder weapons to force people to trade with them. The first gunpowder weapons, cannons, were invented in China, and were brought to the MiddleEast with the Mongol invasions ofthe thirteenth century. Cannons spread t~rough the Middle East until the Crusaders encountered them and brought the technology into western Europe. Europeans manufactured the first handheld gunpowder weapons and were the first to mount cannons on ships. With gunpowder weapons, first the Portuguese and then the Dutch forced themselves into the Indian Ocean Basin trade networks and established trading-post empires. the Spanish used gunpowder weapons to enable their conquest of the Americas and to establish land-based empires.

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Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 29

Historian Alfred Crosby coined the term "Columbian Exchange" to describe the global exchange of biological materials that began in 1492. As you read, pay close attention to what plants, animals, people, and disease~ were transported where because of European global maritime explorations. The other network to watch carefully is the development of an Atlantic economy, tying the Americas, western Europe, and Africa together in a network based primarily on the sugar plantation economy. Western European maritime explorations inaugurated the first global age in the history of the world, however, Europeans did not become the dominant economic power in the world for several more centuries. Access to powerful Eurasian markets was still the main motivation of the Europeans in this era.

Learning Objectives

After reading and studying this chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the Afro-Eurasian trade world of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, and explain how and why the western Europeans' connection to it changed over time.

  2. Explain why Europeans undertook ambitious voyages of expansion that ushered in a new era of global contact.

  3. Analyze the effect that overseas expansion had on conquered societies, on enslaved Africans, and on world trade.

  4. Describe European cultural and artistic responses to the newly expanded worldview.

Chapter Key Points

With the age of discovery, Europeans came to dominate the Afro-Eurasiantrade world. This new era of globalization brought Europeans greater wealth and power and new forms of cultural exchange.

  1. World Contacts Before Columbus: Columbus's expedition must be understood in the context of a world trading system that linked the products and people of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

  2. The Trade World of the Indian Ocean: Prior to Columbus, the Indian Ocean was the center of both world trade and cultural exchange. Unlike western women, Southeast Asian women enjoyed economic autonomy and power. Central to the Indian Ocean trade was the economic powerhouse of China, which opened its trade to the West. India was also vital to this trade, and a rich multicultural commercial world operated out of key port cities.

  3. Africa: Playing a key role in pre-Columbian trade, Africa developed several large empires known for their prosperity and culture. Key products from Africa included gold, salt, and slaves. Africans also played a vital role in the spread of Islam.

  4. The Ottoman and Persian Empires: With its strategic location, the Middle East served as a crossroads for trade, utilizing both overland and sea routes. The interdependent yet rival Islamic empires of'the Turkish Ottomans and Persian Safavids dominated the region. The Muslim Middle East tolerated Christians and Jews. While Islam offered a common commercial law and culture, it did not unify the Muslim peoples in the region.

  5. Genoese and Venetian Middlemen: During the Middle Ages, the western end of the world trade was Venice and Genoa. The Venetians grew rich trading luxury goods and slaves. Venice's rival, Genoa, became economically powerful during the Crusades, controlling the northern route to Asia through the Black Sea. In the fifteenth century, the Genoese shifted their focus to finance. The experience of both Genoa and Venice proved valuable to the rising Iberian states.

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30 Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

II. The European Voyages of Discovery: Even though Europeans had long been involved in world trade, their involvement was minimal, especially after the Black Death and the Mongol attacks led to a commercial collapse. As Europe recovered,. however, Iberian explorers began new voyages of discovery that helped lay the foundation for the modern world.

  1. Causes of European Expansion: The multiple causes of European expansion included a growing demand for trade goods, religious fervor to spread Christianity, the desire for glory; the urge to discover the unknown, a lack of opportunity at home, and the enablement of more powerful governments.

  2. Technological Stimuli to Exploration: Crucial to the voyages of exploration were the new developments in shipbuilding, primarily the caravel, a light, three-masted ship that required fewer sailors; weaponry, particularly the cannon; and navigation, such as better cartography, the magnetic compass, and the astrolabe.

  3. The Portuguese Overseas Empire: Though a poor nation, Portugal had long been involved in seafaring and navigation. Prince Henry the Navigator: encouraged the study of geography and navigation. European exploration actually began with Portugal's 1415 conquest of the Moroccan city of Ceuta. Rewarded with new access to gold, the Portuguese continued to expand their trading empire. Voyages by Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama, along with milit~ry force, opened up trade with India ..

  4. The Problem of Christopher Columbus: Drawing from Genoese tradition, Columbus was a capable seaman seeking a westward passage to the Indies to fulfill religious, material, and secular goals. Funded by the Spanish Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus's first voyage reached San Salvador and Cuba. Even after subsequent voyages, Columbus continued believing that he had reached islands near Japan.

  5. Later Explorers: Columbus's discovery led to other voyages of exploration. Amerigo Vespucci identified the discoveries as a separate continent. In the Treaty of Tordesillas, the pope divided the New World discoveries between Spain and Portugal. Magellan's Spanish expedition became the first to circumvent the earth and revolutionized Europeans' understanding of the world. As Spain focused more on the riches of the New World, the Dutch, English, and French claimed land in the New World.

  6. New World Conquest: In the early sixteenth century, Spanish troops led by Hernando Cortes took advantage of Aztec internal weakness, local opposition, and Aztec attitudes about war

to conquer the Aztec Empire in Mexico. The Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro, also .

defeated the Incas.

III. Europe and the World After Columbus: By increasing global contacts, the American discoveries dramatically impacted European society and culture.

  1. Spanish Settlement and Indigenous Population Decline: Spanish immigrants to the New World became a ruling class using the encomienda system to exploit Amerindians for work on ranches, plantations, and mines. Due to violence, disease, forced labor, and related factors, the Amerindian population rapidly declined, leading the Spanish to turn to African slaves for labor.

  2. Sugar and Slavery: White slaves, primarily from eastern Europe, were common until the 1453 fall of Constantinople cut off that trade. Slave traders then turned to sub-Saharan Africa, where slavery was entrenched. The need for laborers for the highly profitable sugar plantations increased the demand, motivating the Portuguese to import African slaves into the New World. Inhumane conditions for slaves on the Atlantic passage resulted in high death rates.

C .. The Columbian Exchange: Perhaps the most important changes from New World settlement were biosocial because a tremendous exchange of plants and animals between Europe and the Americas changed the eating habits and lifestyles of both peoples.

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Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 31

  1. Silver and the Economic Effects of Spain's Discoveries: The importation of New World silver turned Spain into a major economic and political power in the sixteenth century. Negative impacts included a price revolution marked by severe inflation that strained the Spanish government and spread to the rest of Europe. Chinese control of the world silver market compounded problems.

  2. The Birth of the Global Economy: The age of exploration created new commercial empires.

The Portuguese dominated the sea route to India, plus the slave and sugar trade. The Spanish, using the Philippines as a base, developed a rich trade in the Pacific. The Dutch controlled a monopoly on the spice trade.

  1. Spain's Global Empire: Adding to their vast European empire, the Spanish created a global empire that included territory in the Pacific and the Americas. Governing this large empire proved problematic for King Philip II, whose focus on religious issues partially motivated his failed invasion of England in 1588. Even though Spain rebuilt its navy and the war dragged on for years, the defeat of the Spanish Armada stopped Philip II from forcing Catholicism on western Europe ..

IV. Changing Attitudes and Beliefs: A flowering of artistic expression in this period reflects. the changes in culture, which was inspired by the new discoveries.

  1. New Ideas about Race: Until this period, slavery had never been associated with race. Both Christian th€ological speculation and negative Arab stereotypes about sub-Saharan Africans influenced European racial ideas. Such views were used to defend the enslavement of Africans.

  2. Michel de Montaigne and Cultural Curiosity: Through his Essays, Montaigne encouraged a growing spirit of skepticism and cultural relativism among Europeans.

  3. Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature: The Elizabethan and Jacobean periods saw tremendous literary creativity in England that included the poetry of Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, the plays of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and the King James translation of the Bible.

Review Questions

Check your understanding of this chapter by answering the following questions.

  1. Describe the economic impact and cultural vitality of the Indian Ocean trade world. What was the status of women in this world? What was the role of China and India?

  2. What role did Africa play in world trade prior to Columbus's voyages? In what ways did Africa extend its cultural influence?

  3. Why was the Middle East so vital to world trade? What roles did both the Turkish Ottomans and Persian Safavids play in this trade? What was their relationship with Christians and Jews? In what ways did Islam create unity in the Middle East, and in what ways did it prevent it?

  4. How and why did Venice and Genoa become economic powerhouses? What was the long-term impact of their influence?

  5. Discuss the primary causes of European expansion in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

6~ What role did technological advancements play in fostering exploration?

  1. Why was Portugal, traditionally a poor nation, able to lead the way in exploration? What were the

results for Portugal and international trade? .

  1. Why do historians see Christopher Columbus as a problematic figure? What were his goals and accomplishments?

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32 Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

  1. What were the major accomplishments and consequences of the sixteenth-century explorers who

followed Columbus's discovery? Discuss the Treaty of Tordesillas.

  1. How did the Spanish conquer the Aztecs and the Incas?

  2. Why did the native populations of the New World decline so rapidly after Spanish conquest?

  3. What was the importance of sugar to European trade? What was the relationship between the growing demand for sugar and the growing demand for African slaves? Why were African slaves preferred over people native to the Americas?

  4. What was the Columbian Exchange? How did it affect the populations of Europe and the Americas?

  5. How did the influx of silver impact Spain in the sixteenth century? What was the price revolution and what were its causes?

·15. How did the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch each establish commercial empires.?

  1. What problems did Philip II face in governing his global empire? How did his personal goals create problems? Why did he decide to invade Englan!1 in 1588 and what were the long-term results?

  2. What factors influenced European attitudes about race in the sixteenth century? How did race

become closely associated with slavery? '

  1. What is skepticism? Why did faith and religious certainty begin to decline in the first part of the seventeenth century? Who was Michel de Montaigne? What were his primary literary and philosophical contributions?

  2. What were the major literary masterpieces of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age? What were the

themes of Shakespeare's plays? '

Multiple-Choice Questions

  1. The predominant economic power in the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was

  1. Portugal.

  2. Spain.

  3. Persia.

  4. Inca.

e. China.

  1. Look at map 15.1 in your textbook. Western Europe isn't shown on the map because

  1. Admiral Zheng He and the enormous Treasure Fleets didn't get to western Europe.

  2. Western Europe was not an integral part of the Eurasian trade routes in the fifteenth century.

  3. Western Europe is not considered part of the Indian Ocean Basin.

  4. Western Europe is not considered part of Eurasia.

e. Western Europe produced no spices that anyone else wanted to buy in the fifteenth century.

  1. For Europeans in the fifteenth century, the most important reason for closer trade connections with the west African kingdoms, Ghana and Mali in particular, would mean a reliable a source of

  1. slaves.

  2. ivory.

  3. gold.

  4. cotton cloth.

  5. sugar.

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Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 33

  1. The Ottoman Turkish conquests of Constantinople, the Balkan Peninsula, (i.e. the entire Byzantine Empire), Egypt, and Hungary lent all of the following motivations to the western European maritime explorations except

  1. missionary fervor to Christianize peoples in other lands.

  2. a need to find an alternate route to access Indian Ocean Basin goods.

  3. mercenary soldiers, who had learned to fight the Ottomans, could also be used for other purposes.

  4. a'desire to beat the Muslim Ottomans to the conquest of the Americas:

e. a need to find new access to African gold supplies.

  1. In order to pay Indian, Persian, Ottoman, or other merchants for exotic luxury goods, the Venetians and Genoese had to

  1. increase taxes on their own populations to raise the required revenues.

  2. charge such high prices for the luxury goods that only extraordinarily wealthy western

Europeans could afford them. '

  1. sell guns to and buy slaves from African kingdoms to raise enough cash to pay eastern merchants.

d. arrange for large shipments of wool, copper, and glass to be sold in eastern markets. '

e.' use their superior navies to threaten merchants with harm if they didn't trade with the Europeans at greatly reduced prices.

  1. Why were strong governments necessary prerequisites to organizing maritime explorations?

  1. Strong rulers were needed to recruit people to undertake dangerous voyages for the national good.

b. Explorations were expensive, and governments needed to be able to collect enough tax



  1. Only strong governments could set up the necessary schools for skilled workers and technicians.

d. Because of the Reformation crises, the Catholic Church didn't have enough money to fund

. the expeditions themselves.

e. Strong governments usually had strong desires to proclaim the glory of their realms.

7. The technological innovations that enabled European maritime explorations had which of the

, following in common?

a. They were all produced at the school of Prince Henry the Navigator.

b .. They were all based on the work ofthe Hellenistic Greek geographer Ptolemy.

  1. They had allbeen invented elsewhere and had finally made their ways to the western European base of knowledge.

  2. They had all been invented directly after the crises and disasters of the fourteenth century.

e. They were all innovations in the field of navigation.

  1. The long-term economic significance of Magellan and his crew's claiming the Philippine Islands for Spain was that

  1. Spain used Manila as an entrepot to use Spanish American silver to buy Chinese silk.

  2. Spain was able to compete with Portuguese sugar production in Brazil.

  3. Spain was able to break the Treaty of Tor de sill as' arrangements. '

  4. Spain was able to challenge the Dutch for access to the lucrative spice trade of Southeast Asia.

  5. Spain used Filipinos as their main sailors in their Indian Ocean trading endeavors.

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34 Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

  1. All of the following were part of the, Columbian Exchange except

  1. plants.

  2. animals.

  3. people.

  4. diseases,

e. silver.

  1. Which of the following is an appropriate'characterization of the Portuguese and Dutch empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

  1. They were based on conquest of already existing kingdoms and empires.

  2. They were predicated on the strength of the national armies to maintain control of the colonies.

  3. They were based on the possession of key port cities.

  4. They sent large numbers of European-born settlers to the colonies to establish a loyal population base.

  5. They employed large number of enslaved peoples to work plantations for the most lucrative crops, such as spices and sugar.

Essay Questions Artistic

  1. Look up seventeenth-century still-life paintings by Maria Meriam, Breughel's Fall of Icarus, and Rembrandt's group portraits. Analyze the paintings as statements of the new global economy.


  1. Which European social groups or occupational groups benefited from the European encounters with the lndiaI1 Ocean Basin and the Americas?

  2. Explain how Europeans chose and then justified the use of African slave labor in the Americas.

  3. What effect did the social makeup of the conquistadors and encomienderos have on the types of relations that developed with Native Americans?


  1. What political circumstances and institutions needed to be in place before a country could launch into maritime exploration?

  2. Explain and analyze the different types of empires set up by the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch.

  3. Analyze the reasons for the relative ease with which Cortez and Pizarro conquered the Aztec and lncan empires.

  4. What other advanced societies launched maritime explorations before 1492? What would have happened if the Portuguese fleet had met the Chinese fleet led by Zheng He?


  1. What attributes of the Renaissance and Reformation fed the enthusiasm for maritime exploration in western Europe?

  2. What intellectual debt(s) did the western Europeans owe to maritime technologies developed in­other regions of the world? You will need to refer to outside sources, in addition to your textbook, to fully answer this question.

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Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 35

  1. "Sometimes it is better to be lucky than right." Evaluate this statement in relation to Columbus's first voyage.

  2. Montaigne and Shakespeare are considered to be Renaissance authors. What attributes of their work make them so?


  1. Analyze the religious motivations on the part of rulers, explorers, and the Church in participating in the maritime explorations and subsequent conquests.


  1. What were the economic incentives to begin maritime explorations by European busine~smen, political leaders, and conquistadors? '

  2. What were the effects of the flow of silver from Spanish America on the global economic system?

  3. Analyze the central role of the sugar plantation economy in creating a new Atlantic economy and social organization.

  4. Compare and analyze the labor systems in use in western Europe with those that were developed in the Americas by the Spanish and the Portuguese by about 1650 ..

  5. Discuss and analyze the reasons for and the effects of the so-called Commercial Revolution in western Europe.


Use Outline Map 15.1 to answer the following questions.

  1. On Outline Map 15.1 below, and using Map 15.2 in the textbook as a reference, mark the exploration routes of da Gama, Columbus, and Magellan. Indicate the areas held by the Spanish and by the Portuguese ..

  2. On Outline Map 15.1, and using information found in the textbook, indicate the transmission routes of the various goods, animals, and diseases of the Columbian Exchange. What were the effects of the exchange?

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36 Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650

Outline Map 15.1

o ,0,






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Chapter 15: European Exploration and Conquest, 1450-1650 37

Map Features

Using Map 15:4 in the textbook and infonnation found in the text, answer the following questions.

  1. What were the dominant trading empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? What geographic factors may have contributed to their dominance? What were the primary products

involved in each of their trade routes? .

  1. What were the main sources of slavery and the main areas where slaves were sold? What role did slavery appear to play in the overall world economy?

  2. While global trade linked most parts of the world, there were still areas that were excluded. What areas of the world were not part of this worldwide trade? What explanation can you suggest for

their exclusion? .

Answers to Multiple-Choice Questions

  1. e. China. (See page 484.)

  2. b. western Europe was not an integral part of the Eurasian trade routes in the fifteenth century.

(See pages 486 and 492.)

  1. c. gold. (See page 488.)

  2. d. a desire to beat the Muslim Ottomans to the conquest of the Americas. (See page 489.)

  3. c. sell guns to and buy slaves from African kingddJ!ls to raise enough cash to pay eastern merchants. (See page 491.)

  4. b. Explorations were expensive, and governments needed to be able to collect enough tax monies. (See page 493.)

  5. c. They had all been invented elsewhere and had finally made their ways to western European base of knowledge. (See page 495.)

  6. a. Spain used Manila as an entrepot to use Spanish American silver to buy Chinese silk. (See pages 506 and 510.)

9. e. silver. (See page 508.)

10. c. They were based on the possession of key port cities. (See pages 495, 498, and 501.)

Thinking Ahead

The maritime explorations and subsequent encounters and conquests were built on the roots of Renaissance and Refonnation experiences. As you move into the next chapter, watch how the monies from these newly-acquired colonies was used by governments to fund their ambitions within Europe itself, and how those monies were used by the merchants and middle-class investors to enrich and empower themselves.

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