European Exploration of America

Start Free Trial

How did Christopher Columbus' voyages change the world of exploration?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Not long after Columbus set sail with his three ships in 1492, a number of other explorers, particularly from Portugal, set out on their own voyages. Spain and Portugal led the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the number of explorers that each nation sponsored.

From 1497 to...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Not long after Columbus set sail with his three ships in 1492, a number of other explorers, particularly from Portugal, set out on their own voyages. Spain and Portugal led the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the number of explorers that each nation sponsored.

From 1497 to 1524, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama opened up a sea route from Europe to the East after sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of South Africa. The cape had first been sighted by fellow Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias, who led the very first expedition around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and opened up a sea route to Asia via the Atlantic and Indian Oceans four years before Columbus's first journey to find a direct route west from Europe to Asia.

These explorers journeyed further than Columbus did, and, unlike him, they were relatively successful in reaching their intended destinations. Columbus's discovery had less to do with his being a pioneer in navigation—arguably, he was not, given that he got lost—than with his accidental sightings of Dominica and Hispaniola. These sightings, and particularly the reports of the natives who lived on these islands, made other explorers curious about the mysterious lands west of Europe and about the mysterious people who inhabited them.

The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci toured South America and the Caribbean under the sponsorship of the Spanish and then the Portuguese between 1499 and 1502. He is notable for being the first explorer to realize that he was on a separate continent, which is why both North and South America are named after him. In 1503, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator who sailed for Portugal, made the first circumnavigation around the world.

Succeeding explorers focused more on conquest than on exploration. These included Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Inca Empire in Peru, and Hernan Cortes, a conqueror of Mexico's Aztec Empire and the capturer of its capital, Tenochtitlan.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One way that the voyages of Christopher Columbus changed European exploration of the world was by creating interest in further voyages of exploration. Following Columbus's voyages, and upon receiving his descriptions of the lands and people that he encountered, the monarchs of Spain sponsored further voyages, including by Columbus himself. While he never discovered the water route to Asia that he sought, his voyages were primarily significant to the process of exploration because others followed him.

Unfortunately for the people who inhabited the lands that Columbus encountered, his voyages also established a pattern of conquest that would be emulated by many future expeditions. Abetted by disease, armed with superior weapons, and cynically exploiting local rivalries and alliances, European conquerors, especially in what would become Latin America, conquered and enslaved thousands of Indian people. They exploited them for their labor and extracted silver and other precious metals as well as cash crops. This was a process that changed little in form from what Columbus had done on the island of Hispanola and in his other conquests.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team