What factors led to Europe's increased exploration and discovery of the New World?

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The Age of Exploration (in most history textbooks, this term is used to refer to a period from the fifteenth century until the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century) was enabled by a number of technological advancements in Europe. Many of these advancements in navigational tools, weapons, and shipbuilding are seen as products of the Renaissance, but it is important to note that, in some cases, the Europeans adapted technologies originally invented elsewhere.

Why did the Europeans take to the seas? Historians agree on a set of key factors:

1. The Ottoman Empire blocked land routes to Asia. In order to keep trading with Asia, the Europeans realized they would have to find a water route. European merchants felt that trade with Asia was a necessity, as losing those trading partnerships would allow Arab merchants to outstrip them. European merchants were interested in a number of luxury goods, but perhaps nothing was more valuable to them than spices. Spices were valued not only for use in food, but also for use in medicine.

2. The Age of Exploration coincided with the rise of what many history textbooks call "New Monarchies," or monarchies that were more centralized and independent of the Roman Catholic Church. Examples include France, Spain, and England. The new monarchs were anxious to gain prestige and build reputations, and patronizing successful, aggressive exploration was a way to accomplish that.

3. In some cases, there was a missionary element to exploration. In other words, the Europeans wanted to convert people to Christianity. Although we tend to associate this behavior with the Catholic Spanish, both Catholic and Protestant Europeans worked to convert non-Europeans.

4. Some historians believe the general spirit of intellectual curiosity that marked the Renaissance motivated some European explorers.

As we know, the New World was discovered by Europeans (though of course it was already known to those who lived there) because Christopher Columbus was attempting to discover a western sea route to Asia. A western route was an attractive alternative to the long and sometimes dangerous routes that were previously available: either around the entire continent of Africa by sea or through the Mediterranean Sea and then over land.

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What factors helped lead to the beginnings of the European Age of Exploration?

This is a great question. Let me give you a few reasons, but let me start with a little historical context.

It is important to set the dates for the age of exploration. Most people would agree that the age of exploration started in the 15th century and lasted until the 17th century.  There were several reason for this new desire for exploration (other than the innate desire of human to explore). 

First, exploration was based on needs. When the Ottoman Turks took over Constantinople, new routes were needed for the spice and silk trades. Hence, people were looking for alternate routes. Needs and desire for money are great motivators. 

Second, with the growth of nationalism, nations were in competition to beat others in the race to acquire lands and commodities, such as silver and gold. Competition, therefore, was another great reason for the growth of exploration. 

Third, with the renaissance, there was a mental shift in worldview. There was a feeling that there was a surpassing of the past. There was a new confidence that people could excel the ancients. This led to daring on the seas. 

Finally, of course, with more people sailing, there was more knowledge and greater growth in nautical technology. 

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What led to to the European Era of Exploration?


The Age of Exploration was a period of extensive overseas travel which began in Europe in the fifteenth century. Historians have identified a number of reasons for this sudden interest in exploration, beginning first with the Christian desire to save souls. This had really started with the Crusades, which began in the eleventh century, but was driven further by the idea of Prester John. He was allegedly a Christian king with lands in the East who urged those in the West to come and join him in converting the non-believers. While Prester John did not actually exist, it encouraged many Europeans to try and find him, especially the Portuguese.

Economically, the Europeans wanted to explore because they believed that faraway lands, particularly in the East, were places of vast wealth and riches which they wanted to claim. This was a strong motivating factor for the Spanish who became very preoccupied with the idea of finding gold and silver.

Finally, another reason for European exploration is the growth of imperialism. The desire to create an empire was at its height in the fifteenth century. Moreover, thanks to improved naval technology, the Europeans were physically able to go out and conquer new lands, just like their Ancient Roman and Greek predecessors.

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What were the main factors leading to the origin of the age of explorations?

Some major factors leading to the Age of Exploration were the rise of the Ottoman empire, improvements both in shipbuilding and navigational technology, and a desire for goods from the Orient—most importantly, spices. Exploration was also driven by religion: Marco Polo had recorded the desire of the Mongols to learn more about Christianity. European rulers remembered the Crusades, a historical precedent, if unsuccessful, for attempting to spread Christianity to other cultures. Marco Polo had also mentioned unknown lands, such as the island of Japan, that the Europeans became hungry to find and explore.

When the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, it cut off Europeans from traditional trade routes to the East. North Africa was also controlled by Muslims who were in conflict with Spain and Portugal and blocked their access to southern trade routes. Land routes were available but both dangers from bandits and the high tariffs paid to cross them made these routes unprofitable. Yet Europeans were desperate for spices, which they used for medicinal purposes as well as to flavor foods. This pushed them to find alternative routes.

A growing Renaissance consensus that the earth was round rather than flat inspired people to abandon their fears of sailing off the edge of the earth. Further, the Portuguese developed a more navigable sailing ship called the caravel, which allowed sailors to more safely travel longer distances (sea travel was still by no means safe, but safer). The Portuguese also began building bigger merchant ships armed with cannons meant to deter pirates. The Portuguese had already done a good deal of sea exploration, so they had some idea where to head when they finally made it around the Horn of Africa and to India. When they arrived in India they could buy many desired spices, and sell them at a huge profit.

Desire for profit was the biggest motivation behind exploration. Europeans realized there was a vast world outside of Europe, full of gold and other natural resources that could bring in immense wealth. As explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Magellan made successful voyages, European leaders became wildly interested in the profits to be gained from exploring uncharted lands.

Additionally, improvements in navigational technology, such as in the compass and the invention of the astrolabe, aided travel. Being cut off by the Ottoman Empire, improvements in sailing vessels, a desire to spread Christianity, and the desire for wealth drove Europeans to take on the very risky venture of exploration.

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