Europe is one among the seven continents that exist in the world. It is the 6th largest continent on the planet earth, and it consists of forty seven countries and assorted dependencies, islands and territories. The recognized surface area is approximately 10 million sq. km. It covers about 2% of the entire earth’s surface. Europe is divided from Asia continent from its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and the black seas, the waterways connecting the black sea and the Aegean seas. It is bordered by Arctic Ocean and other water bodies to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mediterranean Sea to the south and the black sea with other connected waterways to the south eastern part. It is 3rd country with a high population after Asia and Africa with a population approximating to 733 million. It is said to be the origin of the western culture (Stevens, 1997).
Age of discovery
The age of discovery also called the age of exploration in Europe was a period in history which started in the early 15th century and continued until early 17th century. During this period, the Europeans engaged in intensive exploration of the world, establishing direct contacts with other continents like Africa, Americas, Asia, Australia and Oceania and mapping the planet so as to search for trading partners, new goods, new technology and new trade routes. It was in this age that the European sailors and ships left the coastal waters of the Old World and embarked on their adventure on the vast green sea of darkness. This age was very helpful to the Europeans because they gained new information that helped them to expand geographical knowledge.
The age of exploration or discovery can be said to act as a bridge between the middle Ages and the modern era, along with its contemporary renaissance movement, triggering the early modern period and the rise of European nation-states (Duiker & Spielvogel, 2007).
End of the age of discovery
After the introduction of the many new ideas, technology and new products to the world by the explorers the age of discovery came to an end in early 17th century. The age of discovery left behind several things that have remained historic to date. There was increased communication network and trade that improved drastically along the low areas of the areas which were discovered hence there was no need to continue searching for new trading routes. Although the age of discovery came to an end at this particular time, some of the areas like the eastern part of Australia had not yet discovered by then. This area remained unexplored until 1770 with some of the arctic and Antarctic areas which were not discovered until 19th century (Flowers, 1999).
Lampros, 1990 lists some of the famous explorers their accomplishments, achievements and voyages of discovery
There are several explorers who were involved in the age of discovery. These included the following:
The famous European explorers – these explorers came from various countries that included England, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France. The voyages that these explorers undertook were motivated by various factors including:
Wealth which was from gold, silver and spices from Asia and other countries.
Trading opportunities that increased as the exploration age went by.
The spreading of the Christian religion to most parts of the world motivated the European explorers to continue with the exploration.
Again there was a lot of empowerment from the European countries. This motivated them to explore on other parts of the world.
Some of the European explorers were Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Hernando Cortes, John Cabot and Samuel de Champlain among others.
Famous Canadian explorers – these explorers discovered some of the great lakes in the world. The discovery of the new world led to the establishment of new colonies and settlements in Canada. One of the most famous Canadian explorers was Louis Joliet who made a discovery of the Mississippi river and great lakes in the world.
iii. Famous Spanish explorers – these explored parts of Caribbean and South America. A few of these explorers conquered the millions of people who made up Incas and the Aztecs. Some of these explorers are Hernando Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando De Soto, Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Juan Ponce de Leon.
Famous English explorers – these explorers embarked on the discovery voyages during the reigning period of during the Elizabethan reign of Queen Elizabeth I. they were nicknamed as privateers and pirates by their enemies. Some of these included Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher and Sir John Hawkins.
Famous Portuguese explorers – this is the group that led the other explorers during the exploration period. They were Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Bartholomeu Dias and Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real.
Famous French explorers – they included Jacques Cartier, Jacques Marquette and Samuel de Champlain.
Motives behind the age of discovery
According to Hale 1966, the Europeans had some several motives as to why they began this in their continent. There are various motives behind the age of discovery which have been discussed below.
Trade and desire for wealth: Before the age of discovery came to be trade was controlled by Muslim traders and hence the European group was not able to get their achievements. It is during this age that the Europeans wanted to avoid the Muslim and the Italian group of people in order to get things like silk, spices, and other luxury items in Asia.
Advancement in technology: during this time, there were new developments. Therefore, this age of discovery was meant also to advance the technology especially in ship construction and also in the aids that were used in navigation.
There was a new compass that was discovered during this period which overthrew the use of the old magnetized needle used in the earlier centuries. The astrolabe that was used to determine longitude and latitude before was found to be less accurate. Therefore, this pushed the need for a new discovery.
Spread of Christian religion: The Europeans were dominated by the Christian religion which is a missionary religion and with this age of discovery they had an intention to spread Christianity to the rest of the world. This is because the Europeans were too religious hence they wanted to convert everyone to a Christian.
Achievement of geographical knowledge of the world: this was one of the main reasons that made the Europeans start the exploration of the world. The Europeans did not know much about the world. The reason for this is that, the early centuries’ maps still remained inaccurate and that the European map only contained few continents like Europe, Asia, and the top of Africa hence most Europeans did not have any knowledge of outside Europe.
Again, the explorers who explored the world and added some geography knowledge were still limited. Therefore, the Europeans had to take the position and carry out an exploration so as to increase the geography knowledge.
Desire for new products like gold, silver and precious stones: Some of these things had a lot of value in the world. Therefore, the Europeans decided to explore the world so as to get rich and gain more wealth through gold. They also explored the world because they needed precious stones that they could sell to earn income.
In search of great and larger empires: the Europeans wanted to claim as much big land as they could manage. Therefore, they had to explore the world in order to get all natural resources and make slaves from the people in those areas.
In search of spices: Spices like pepper were used for covering taste in food products after preservation like salting was done because refrigerators could not be found in any part of the world. These spices were only found in some of the continents, but could not grow anywhere in Europe. Therefore, the Europeans explored the world in search of such spices. Nonetheless, these spices were very expensive to be moved to Europe from continents like Asia. The Europeans could not use the land route because it was cut off by the Turkish Empire which they used to fight against. The only they could use was the sea route.
In such of animal fur: Lastly, Europeans explored the world so that they could get animals fur. This fur could not be ound in their continent. Groups of people, like the French, had discovered that animal fur was very valuable in Europe. Therefore, they had to look for this fur in order to sell it for money.
Contributions of the age of exploration to European dominance
The beginning of age of exploration caused several changes to the world because when it began the world began to change. The age of exploration is what has made the world in to what it is today. The spread of religion, trade and many other effects, the economy of Western Europe began to raise hence had a great advantage over other countries in the world. This spreading belief gave many other ideas other than the church. As it continued, the age of discovery or exploration in the 16th century had a great influence to Europe with the trading ideas with other countries (Arnold, 2002).
The people also believed it was spreading at a high rate in the world. During the 16th century, people in most of the countries obtained money by means of trade which was meant to cause economic growth in a certain country.
Exploration by the Europeans found out a faster route which made trading easy and transportation to other foreign countries also became cheap. As a result, the Europeans was the only continent that grew stronger in its economy because the exploration of Asia to Europe route during the search for spices and other precious products made easy access of goods at fair prices hence the growth of the economy in the European continent. Due to the increasing spread of trade religion also grew faster where denominations like the Catholic as the most significant denomination began to emerge which dominated Western Europe. This drew people in other countries closer to the Europeans because it gave them ideas and points of view of other people and other countries. This made other people know their rights and air their views when there was need instead of listening to what one person said (Newton, 1970).
All these benefits kept their countries strong and raise the economic growth and had great influence to countries especially the Western Europe. This made Europe to become an advantageous continent over other continents. All this contributed to European dominance over most of the countries.
Problems faced by explorers during the age of discovery
During exploration by the Europeans, there were several challenges that they faced in an attempt to explore the world. Some of these challenges arose from the people in the countries they explored. In addition, some other challenges were from amongst the Europeans themselves.
This depended on the country which they were exploring. Some of the challenges included the following:
Poor maps and poor navigation systems which they used misled them to the places where they had not intended to explore. They needed better equipment in order to make the navigation easy and tracing of positions hence lead them to the right place of exploration. Due this poor navigation system exploration was not easily done hence causing a lot of delay and even some of the countries were not explored. A good example of such countries is the African countries.
Diseases and lack of the food was one of the major challenges the European people faced as they explored the world. Some of the countries they visited had no food. This caused starvation which could lead to death. Again, diseases were common in some countries. This was a major challenge to the explorers because they were not resistance to such diseases. Some of these diseases could cause death hence some of the areas were not explored successfully.
iii. Another major challenge was fear of the unknown. Since the Europeans were exploring foreign countries, they had a lot of fear. This is because they could be attacked and get killed by people in the foreign countries that they explored. For example during the exploration of Australia and japan, it was not easy for the Europeans to explore these countries because of attacks from the aboriginal tribes.
Inadequacy in supplies was also major challenges that led to delay during the exploration age. This also made some of the countries be left unexplored where exploration was done later. A good example is Africa which remained unexplored until the 19th century and some other African countries were also unexplored in 20th century.
Lastly was piracy which was also a major challenge.
Effects of the age of discovery
This age of discovery had a lot of effects which were both positive and negative especially on the continents that the Europeans explored (Jackson & Weidman, 2006). Some of these include:
One of the motives of this age of exploration was to search for great empires around the world. Most of the people during this period were made slaves. Most of the American tribes were oppressed by the European people and the land on which they dwelt was taken hence they remained landless. Others in these countries also lost their lives due to wars that emerged during this period.
Additionally, due to introduction of trade and more ideas to people in other countries by the Europeans, the age of exploration gave a lot of power in Europe to be able to discover new trading ideas and opportunities.
The age of exploration led to change of the African culture. This is because when the Europeans came to explore the African countries, they introduced new ideas. These new ideas changed the ways of living of the African people. The Africans were affected in terms of language and religion where they were converted to Christians, while others adopted new languages.
The age of exploration benefited the Europeans and other people on the knowledge of the world where they began to realize the size and shape of the entire earth. The increased contact of the Europeans with most of the countries made them get new ideas and new products were also brought to Europe. This contributed to a high growth of the economy.
Another effect of the exploration age was that, it led to the domination of Europeans in most of the countries. After this age, most of the world countries were converted to European colonies.
The age of exploration also had a direct impact on the scientific revolution. The people who used to navigate the high seas and oceans formerly used the sky so as to understand the position in which they were. This technology was not possible during the night or during times of fog. Therefore, they needed better equipment that could direct them to the position. Therefore, the age of exploration introduced such equipment which made it easy for navigators to understand their position. This improved navigation, shipping, and associated crafts.
The age of exploration also brought the biological and cultural exchanges all over the world. Some of the biological exchanges included:
The age of exploration led to the spread of plants, animals, and diseases between the Europeans and the countries which were explored. Some of the examples of biological exchanges during the age of exploration were as follows:
The explorers brought many new plants to countries like the Americas. They brought crops like barley and rye from Europe, wheat from Middle East and such plants like sugar, bananas, yams, citrus fruit, coffee, rice, and sugarcane from Asia. The introduction of new plants created new economies especially in Americas. Other than the introduction of new crops and plants the Europeans also brought in domesticated animals like cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses. This made many people get in to cattle ranging as a way of living (Sammis, 1997).
In addition to introduction of new plants and animals, the European also brought in very deadly diseases that wiped approximately 90% of the population within the Americas. Since these people had no resistance and cure for such diseases, they fell sick and died of these diseases. Such diseases included measles, smallpox, mumps, whooping cough, influenza, chicken pox and typhus. The European people turned the Africans to slaves to work for them in their land due to high death rate recorded during this period. This had a direct impact to the Africans too.
As they explored the world and gave new plants, animals and diseases to people the Europeans also gained from other countries because they brought many native plants from the Americas back to Europe. The European people were introduced to such crops like maize (a type of corn), potatoes and sweet potatoes, beans and squashes, tomatoes, avocados, papaya, pineapples, peanuts, chili peppers, and cacao (the raw form of cocoa). These new crops from America and other countries to Europe changed both their way of leaving and farming also changed. For example, crops like the potato largely affected them in because of its nutritive value whish caused the surge of the population hence industrial revolution came to be due to increased population growth.
Cultural exchanges during this period included goods, technology, and ideas. Some of the cultural exchanges included:
The arrival of the Europeans led to destruction of the Inca and Aztec empires. They used guns which was a European technology so as to conquer these empires. The European also brought new language and religion where many of the native people learned the Spanish and the Portuguese language.
With the introduction of new language and religion, most of the people in America became Catholics and the new religion came up because people blended Christianity with their own beliefs.
To Europe and Africa
As the Europeans explored the American countries, the things they obtained like the gold silver and precious stones changed their way of life. Many luxurious items and natural resources flowed from the Americas to Europe. Other raw materials like cotton from northern America led to the growth of most manufacturing industries and trade in Europe which also made many of the Europeans gain new knowledge.
To Africa, this had a great impact to them as Europeans carried the Africans and brought them to America as slaves. It also caused the emergence of wars in Africa as the Europeans interfered with their politics as they supported chiefs in order to get slaves. In terms of language and religion, there was no much impact but some Africans became Christians and they also learned new languages like the Portuguese.
In Asia, most of the areas adopted Christianity as their religion. Christianity was spread rapidly hence new converts were made in India, China and Japan among other countries. Wars broke in countries like Japan due to the knowledge of the European guns. New commodities were also brought to Japan by the Europeans (Washburn, 1966).
The age of exploration was an ongoing project for quite a number of years. Discoveries of new things and ideas did not end until about 1700 in some countries and 1900 and 2000 in other countries like the African countries. It was very significant to the world because it contributed to much of the developments that have existed to date. It was also significant to the explorers themselves because by exploring the world, they learned new ideas and invented new technologies. These new ideas and technologies were later to be applied in their home countries. A significant percentage of European culture spread into the whole world due to this activity, and this is what people use even today.
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