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In May of 1498, da Gama and his men reached India. It is said that an Arab merchant who knew how to speak Spanish asked them what had brought them to India. They are said to have replied “Christians and spices.” This is, in essence, what motivated the voyages of da Gama.
Part of the reason why da Gama and other Europeans explored was a desire to spread the Christian faith. This was a much more universally religious time and Christians tended to believe that anyone who did not share their faith was going to be damned for all eternity. They felt it important to try to save others from that fate.
The other half of the equation, though, was economic. Europeans needed spices and the only source for these spices was Asia. The spices came to Europe via the Middle East and Italy. This meant that Muslims and Italians controlled the spice trade. Portugal and Spain, in particular, wanted to trade directly with the areas that had the spices so they (instead of the Muslims and Italians) could profit. There was a tremendous amount of money to be made. That is much of why da Gama explored (and why Columbus sailed as well).
So, “Christians and spices” is a pretty good way to sum up the motivations for da Gama’s exploration.
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