The Maritime Revolution, to 1550
I0. Global Maritime Expansion Before 1450
A0. The Pacific Ocean
10. Over a period of several thousand years, peoples originally from the Malay
Peninsula crossed the water to settle the islands of the East Indies, New Guinea,
the Melanesian and Polynesian islands, the Marquesas, New Zealand, and other
Pacific islands out to Hawaii.
20. Polynesian expansion was the result of planned voyages undertaken with the
intention of establishing colonies. Polynesian mariners navigated by the stars and
by their observations of ocean currents and evidence of land.
B0. The Indian Ocean
10. Malayo-Indonesians colonized the island of Madagascar in a series of voyages
that continued through the fifteenth century.
20. Arab seafarers used the regular pattern of the monsoon winds to establish trade
routes in the Indian Ocean. These trade routes flourished when the rise of Islam
created new markets and new networks of Muslim traders.
30. The Chinese Ming dynasty sponsored a series of voyages to the Indian Ocean
between 1405 and 1433. The Ming voyages were carried out on a grand scale,
involving fleets of over sixty large “treasure ships” and hundreds of smaller
40. The treasure ships carried out trade in luxury goods including silk and precious
metals as well as stimulating diplomatic relations with various African and Asian
states. The voyages, which were not profitable and inspired opposition in court,
were ended in 1433.
C0. The Atlantic Ocean
10. During the relatively warm centuries of the early Middle Ages, the Vikings,
navigating by the stars and the seas, explored and settled Iceland, Greenland, and
Newfoundland (Vinland). When a colder climate returned after 1200, the
northern settlements in Greenland and the settlement in Newfoundland were
20. A few southern Europeans and Africans attempted to explore the Atlantic in the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Voyagers from Genoa in 1291 and from Mali
in the 1300s set out into the Atlantic but did not return. Genoese and Portuguese
explorers discovered and settled the Madeiras, the Azores, and the Canaries in
the fourteenth century.
30. In the Americas the Arawak from South America had colonized the Lesser and
Greater Antilles by the year 1000. The Carib followed, first taking over Arawak
settlements in the Lesser Antilles and then, in the late fifteenth century, raiding
the Greater Antilles.
II0. European Expansion, 1400–1550
A0. Motives for Exploration
10. The Iberian kingdoms sponsored voyages of exploration for a number of reasons,
including both the adventurous personalities of their leaders and long-term trends
in European historical development: the revival of trade, the struggle with Islam for control of the Mediterranean, curiosity about the outside world, and the
alliances between rulers and merchants.
20. The city-states of northern Italy had no incentive to explore Atlantic trade routes
because they had established a system of alliances and trade with the Muslims
that gave them a monopoly on access to Asian goods. Also, Italian ships were
designed for the calm waters of the Mediterranean and could not stand up to the
violent weather of the Atlantic.
30. The Iberian kingdoms had a history of centuries of warfare with Muslims. They
had no significant share in the Mediterranean trade, but had advanced
shipbuilding and cannon technology. They were open to new geographical
knowledge, and had exceptional leaders.
B0. Portuguese Voyages
10. The Portuguese gained more knowledge of the sources of gold and slaves south
of the Sahara when their forces, led by Prince Henry, captured the North African
caravan city of Ceuta. Prince Henry (“the Navigator”) then sponsored a research
and navigation institute at Sagres in order to collect information about and send
expeditions to the African lands south of North Africa.
20. The staff of Prince Henry’s research institute in Sagres studied and improved
navigational instruments including the compass and the astrolabe. They also
designed a new vessel, the caravel, whose small size, shallow draft, combination
of square and lateen sails, and cannon made it well suited for the task of
30. Portuguese explorers cautiously explored the African coast, reaching Cape Verde
in 1444 and learning how to return to Portugal faster by sailing northwest into
the Atlantic in order to pick up the prevailing westerly winds that would blow
them back to Portugal.
40. The Portuguese voyages were initially financed by income from the properties
held by Prince Henry’s Order of Christ. In the 1440s, the voyages began to
produce a financial return, first from trade in slaves, and then from the gold
50. Beginning in 1469 the process of exploration picked up speed as private
commercial enterprises began to get involved. The Lisbon merchant Fernao
Gomes sent expeditions that discovered and developed the island of Sao Tome
and explored the Gold Coast. Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama rounded the
tip of Africa and established contact with India, thus laying the basis for
Portugal’s maritime trading empire.
C0. Spanish Voyages
10. When Christopher Columbus approached the Spanish crown with his project of
finding a new route to Asia, the Portuguese had already established their route to
the Indian Ocean. The King and Queen of Spain agreed to fund a modest voyage
of discovery, and Columbus set out in 1492 with letters of introduction