Iberian nautical sciences, 1400–1600
Throughout the early age of exploration, it became increasingly clear that the residents of the Iberian Peninsula were experts at navigation, sailing, and expansion. From Henry the Navigator’s first adventures down the African coast to Columbus’s fabled expedition resulting in the discovery of the new world, the figures that catalyzed the European appetite for expansion and imperialism heralded from either Spain or Portugal. However, merely a century earlier, nautical travel for most peoples was resigned to keeping within sight of a coastline and very rarely did ships venture out into deeper waters. The period’s ships were not able to handle the forces of open ocean travel and the crewmen had neither the ability nor the necessary materials to keep themselves from getting lost. A sailor’s ability to travel was dictated by the technology available, and it wasn’t until the late 15th century that the development of the nautical sciences on the Iberian Peninsula allowed for the genesis of long distance shipping by directly effecting, and leading to the creation of, new tools and techniques relative to navigation.Christopher Columbus’s famous expedition, which crossed the ocean in 1492, was arguably the first contact the civilized world had with the newly discovered continent. Financed and sponsored by Queen Isabella of Spain, his journey would open the door to new trading lanes, imperialist appetites, and the meeting of cultures. Portugal and Spain became the world’s foremost leaders in deep water navigation and discovery because of their sailing expertise and the advancement of nautical sciences benefiting their ability to sail further, faster, more accurately, and safer than other states. Vast amounts of precious minerals and lucrative slaves were poured into Iberian treasuries between the late 15th and mid to late 17th centuries because of Spanish and Portuguese domination of Atlantic trade routes. The golden age of Spain was a direct result of the advancements made in navigation technology and the sciences which allowed for deep water sailing.To the population of Europe, trans-oceanic navigation was an almost inconceivably huge idea, yet the world would never be the same because a man with the simplest of tools managed to plot his way across the second largest body of water on the planet. Without those rudimentary yet extremely critical instruments, the ambitions of Columbus, along with his sponsoring state, would have been crushed. The development of nautical sciences, including the augmentation of pre-existing techniques and tools, on the Iberian Peninsula generated new technology and had a direct, visible, and lasting effect on long range ship board navigation.