Portugal was the first European kingdom to make a serious commitment to tapping foreign trade in the fifteenth century. The Portuguese crown, having strengthened its navy in an effort to ward off raids by pirates, began exploration and conquest of the Atlantic islands and strategic points on the north coast of Africa as early as the mid-fourteenth century, and by the early fifteenth century, they established a trade fortress at Ceuta, in modern-day Morocco.
Portuguese traders sought to tap into the rich gold trade that made its way through the Sahara, and in so doing explored further down the Atlantic coast throughout the fifteenth century. As they did so, they increasingly became involved in trading for slaves with African leaders along the coast. Additionally, Portuguese explorers found and conquered the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. The Portuguese desire to control trade with the Indian Ocean led them around the Cape of Good Hope and to the Indian subcontinent itself by the end of the fifteenth century.
Portugal became the first European nation to sustain a major trade with the East Indies, with who they traded for spices and other items that were highly desirable on European markets. Over the next century and a half, other European nations, first Spain and then others, including a newly independent Netherlands, as well as France and England, sought to expand their trade and territory overseas. In short, the Portuguese hunger to control trade was a major factor contributing to the period of global exploration and colonization that began in the late fifteenth century.