What caused the early European voyages of exploration?

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Most of the earliest European voyages of exploration were carried out by the Portuguese. One of the key people behind this movement was Prince Henry, "the Navigator." Beginning around the year 1418, Henry began funding expeditions south along the western coast of Africa. Part of the motivation of Henry and others like him was to learn more about the Muslims who lived in the region. As the Crusades in the Holy Land increasingly became failures for the Christians, there were many in Europe who hoped to conquer Islam in West Africa and spread their religion to that area. Many missionaries sailed alongside other European explorers with the hope of bringing their faith to new lands.

Perhaps the primary motivation for early European exploration was to further trade. The ancient Silk Road across Asia was becoming increasingly expensive and unpredictable to use. Spices, silks, and other luxury goods from the Far East could bring great wealth to the Europeans who could secure them. Many Europeans hoped to establish their own direct trade routes by sea to Asia so that they could control the entire supply route and thus cut out all the middlemen who made trade more complicated, slow, and expensive. That is why most of the voyages of exploration throughout the 15th Century were aimed at finding a way around Africa and across the Indian Ocean.

In addition to the above-mentioned causes, pure curiosity must also be acknowledged. It is no coincidence that the Age of Exploration coincided with the Renaissance. This was a time of reawakened interest by Europeans in the greater world. Many began looking far beyond their own shores in an attempt to understand other cultures as well as Humanistic ideas of achieving full human potential. It is natural that this helped motivate many Europeans to set sail for parts unknown.

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The European Age of Exploration began in the early fifteenth century and was fueled by competition between various evolving empires and the quest for economic, intellectual, and religious growth. 

Because European were cut off from travel to the "Far East" by the conquering of large portions of North Africa, the Mediterranean, France, and Spain in the eighth century, explorers set off by sea to find new trade routes that would allow them to trade with Asia in the pursuit of luxury goods. 

This time period also saw the growth of Humanism and curiosity about the rest of the world, as European understanding of geography (and the discovery of the Americas) began to evolve and reveal the true scale of the planet. Explorers who encountered new animals and plant life on their journeys were able to provide detailed descriptions of them, leading to later natural and scientific discoveries and inventions. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church encouraged the role of conversion and the spread of Christian beliefs, which led many missionaries to accompany explorers on their travels to various "savage" lands in order to "save" the natives. 

So, we might ultimately say that early European exploration began out of a desire for economic conquest and continued as a means of making intellectual discoveries and spreading religious ideals. 

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Early European exploration voyages began during the 1400s as they lost access to normal overland trade routes across Asia. The Mongolians had allowed Europeans to travel overland to trade, mostly for spices, but as the Turks took over, the overland routes were denied to them.

Further, Muslims refused to trade with Europeans and the Mediterranean was controlled by Islams so goods such as silks and spices were no longer available. A search began for new sources of such luxury items by searching Atlantic coast lands. The Europeans branched out, undertaking voyages of exploration to farther away lands in search of riches and luxury items such as silk and spices. As the voyages continued, the Europeans also sought to convert souls to their religion, take control of other countries and gain personal fame.

Initially however, the voyages began as a means of locating goods such as spices and silks through opening up new routes of trade since their overland trade routes were restricted.

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The major cause of the earliest European voyages of discovery was economic.  The Europeans were searching for sea routes that would allow them to engage in more direct trade with Asia. 

By the time of the Age of Exploration, the spices that came from Asia were a very valuable commodity.  They could not be gotten anywhere else and they were very important to Europeans.  The spices generally came to the Europeans through Muslim traders in the Middle East.  This, of course, raised prices and made the Europeans dependent on those traders.  For these reasons, Europeans wanted to find their own way to trade with Asia. 

This was the motivation, for example, of the voyages of Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama.  They were trying to find the way around Africa.  If they could get around Africa, they could sail their own ships to Asia and trade directly with the people who had the spices.  In 1492, Columbus was trying to reach Asia by sailing west.  He, too, wanted to get to Asia in order to trade.  Thus, we can see that the main cause of the voyages of exploration was economic.

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