European History

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How did European exploration impact trade and commerce in Europe?

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Several changes necessitated European exploration. The decline of the Mongolian Empire threatened the ability of Europe to get products through land routes previously controlled by the Mongols. Entry of new forces also compromised the ability of Europe to access products through different sea routes. This situation forced European countries to consider exploring new routes, so they would gain control of trade routes and ensure unfettered access.

At the time, Italy was relying on the older land routes that gave them a trading monopoly in Europe. However, exploration by the Portuguese managed to break the trade monopoly especially with regards to contact with the East. Access by the Portuguese was later extended to the French, English, and Dutch, immensely benefiting these countries with regards to trade with the rest of the world.

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Though trade and commerce in Europe had escalated in the period of the Crusades, it was during the Age of Exploration in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that it really responded to European encounters with non-European cultures.  First and foremost, contact with peoples in the New World opened the European world to goods completely outside of the European realm of experience.

The novelty of those items brought from the New World created a very strong demand.  Having goods from the New World was a status symbol.  Only the most connected people could have them.  Perhaps the most notable of these goods is tobacco, a favorite at the court of James I.  The popularity of tobacco in England quickly spread elsewhere and it accelerated trade between the New World and Europe.  In addition, the New World proved to be a valuable avenue for gold, a commodity much less valued in the New World than it was in Europe.

The access to new products and new access to known products most certainly accelerated the pace of trade and commerce in Europe.  Possession of and access to these commodities served as status symbols and demand thus increased for them.

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