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How did the Crusades spur European exploration?

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The Crusades led to exploration by Europeans in that they encouraged the development of trade between East and West. On their travels, Crusaders became acquainted with goods such as fine silks and spices that were unavailable at home. This led to a dramatic increase in international trade as well as further global exploration by Westerners.

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Whatever their original motives, the Crusades gave Westerners a taste for foreign goods. Items unavailable at home such as fine silks, spices, and precious metals were eagerly snapped up by the Crusaders on their travels. Once the Crusades ended, the opportunity was taken to develop trade routes between East and West that would allow a greater influx of luxury goods into Western Europe. In turn, this would stimulate the export of Western goods to the East.

Over time, however, the substantial gains from trade were not enough to satisfy the demands of a growing population. The buccaneering spirit that had animated the Crusades found a new outlet in the exploration of far-flung corners of the world. It is no accident, for example, that Marco Polo's epic voyage to China took place after the failure of the Ninth, and final, Crusade.

The energies that had previously gone into retaking the Holy Land from Muslims were instead channeled into a very different kind of conquest. The Crusades may have been a failure from a military standpoint, but in the long run they were a huge cultural and economic success for the West in that they opened up vast new vistas of opportunity for traders, explorers, and merchants alike.

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In what could be viewed as a perfect storm of stabilization, Alexander the Great and the contemporaneous rulers of Imperialist China began simultaneous programs of fortification, building across opposite sections of Asia following periods of meteoric expansion. Intending to secure their trade and supply routes, revenue sources, and subjects, both empires essentially created a spine across the largest continent on Earth which, when fleshed out, eventually developed into the Silk Road (Frankopan, 2015).

Almost a millennia and a half later, the famous route along which goods, people, ideas, and culture flowed until it (metaphorically) stopped dead as it reached Europe. Until Pope Urban II sent out his fateful clarion call to righteous bloodshed and promised eternal salvation, Europe was insular in a number of important ways.

Returning merchants and warriors brought back ancient and unknown texts by Greek and Roman writers, new foods, textiles, fashions, spices, and so on. European demand for such goods remained essentially constant from their introduction onward. Therefore, the promise of a potentially faster way to India, namely a sea route, catalyzed a race among various European powers, all desperate to be the first to find it.

Much has been written on the fact that, and the manner in which, the Crusades led, both directly and indirectly, to the eventual demise of the eastern European empire. More commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, when it did eventually fall, it was to the Ottoman Turks.

The Ottomans were Muslim, and though they allowed Christians to trade within their borders, the traders did so at a considerable price. Motivated by their desire to avoid paying Ottoman sanctions and tariffs, Europeans began to search ever more incessantly for a faster, cheaper route to the East. In fact they were so motivated, they even began to look West...

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When the First Crusade was declared at the end of the eleventh century, Europe was a very insular place. Very few Europeans had ever left their immediate region, let alone left the continent. The Crusades presented them with an opportunity to explore places that few Europeans had ever been to before.

One way that the Crusades led to European exploration was through the discovery of new markets, consumer goods, and resources. As crusaders traveled into the Arab world, they came across goods such as silks from East Asia and rare woods from India. These fueled a desire for more exotic luxury goods in Europe. Enterprising merchants, mostly from Italy, went about establishing trade routes with the Far East. This led to the revival of the Silk Road, which more and more Europeans, such as Marco Polo, began traveling throughout the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Additionally, the Crusades led to several important improvements in the technology needed for increased long-distance exploration. Europeans learned about the triangular sail from the Arabs. This maritime technology allowed them to build ships that could sail much more efficiently than square-rigged ships. They also learned navigating techniques that would allow European explorers to sail far beyond the sight of land, using Arab and Asian devices like the compass and astrolabe. It is possible that without these improvements in technology, Europeans would never have been able to sail around Africa or across the Atlantic.

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When Pope Urban II declared a holy war on Islam in 1095 there was no way of knowing the chain of events that he spurred on in Europe and the rest of the world. One of the more relevant corollary effects of the eight crusades was the exploration of lands in the New World. The holy war set in place the ability and desire of Europeans to leave their continent to pursue economic opportunities in far away places.

Because of the large numbers of soldiers that were mobilized during the Crusades, it became necessary to improve transportation systems. During the Crusades, improvements were made in shipbuilding in order to transport soldiers. Shipbuilding became a very important industry and the technology was made available to travel long distances by sea. This made it possible to travel the Atlantic Ocean by the 15th Century.

The introduction of new trade goods from the Middle East was another reason the Crusades led to exploration. Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought valuable goods back to Europe that were not readily available in Europe. These luxury goods included perfumes, spices, and silk. Food items were also introduced and included rice, spices, sherbet, and coffee. These items spurred a remarkable trade network between Europe and Asia that could be improved with better navigation of the seas.

The introduction of new trade goods was the primary motivation for explorers that were attempting to find western routes to India and Asia.

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