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The Ase
of Explor1tion
A Resource to AccomPanY
History Alive! The United States
Through Industrialism
Teachers' Curiculum Institute
I n this reading. t'ou will learn about thc Age ol'
I Explorzrtion. Thrs period ol't.liscorery lastetl
from about 1418 to 1620. During this time,
European explorers made many daring voyages
that changed world history.
A major reason for these voyages lvas the
desire to find sea routes to east Asia, which
Europeans called the Indies. When Christopher
Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean.
he was looking lbr such tt route. Instead. he landed in the Americas. Columbus thought he had
Why clid expiorers brave such dangers? In
this reading, you will discover some of the reasons for the Age of Exploration. Then you wili
learn about the voyages of explorers from
Portugal, Spain, tind other European countries.
You rvill also leam about the impact of their
discoveries on Europe and on the lands they
reached the Indies. In time, Europeans would
realize that he had found what they called the
"New World." European nations soon rushed to
claim lands in the Americas for themselves.
Early explorers olten suffered terrible hardships. In 1520, Ferdinand Ma-sellan set out with
three ships to cross the Pacific Ocean from South
America. He had guessed, correctll', that the
Indies lay on the other side of the Pacilic. But
Magellan had no idea how vast the ocean really
was. He thought his crer.v would be sailing fbr a
few rveeks at most. Instead. the crossing took
threc months. While the ships rvere still at sea,
the crew ran out of food. One sailor wrote about
this terrible time. "We ate biscuit... swarming
with worms. ... We drank yellow water that had
been putrid [rotten] for days... and often we ate
sawdust from boards."
Reasons for the
Age of Exploration
fl j;li,:iH: 1.;iIr,:;HLli :: j:...
stand out. Fi.rst, Europeans of this had several motives for exploring the world. Second,
advances in knor.vledge anci technology helped
make voyages of discoverv possible.
Motives for Explotation For early explorers. one
of the main motives lbr exploration r'vas the
desire to find nerv trarle routcs to Asia. Bv the
1400s, merchants and crusaders had brought
many goods to Europe from Africa, the Micldle
East, and Asia. Demarrd lbr these goods
increased the desire for trade.
Europeans were especially interested in spices
from Asia. They had learned to use spices to help
preserve food during winter and to cover up the
taste of fbod that was no longer fresh.
Trade with the East. hou'ever^ wes expensive
and difticult. Muslims and Itaiians controlled thc
f1ow of trade. Muslim traders carried goods to
the east coast of the Mcditerranean Sea. Italian
rnerchants then brought the goods to Europe.
Problems arose when Muslim rulers sometimes
closed tire trade routes liom Asia to Europe.
A1so, the goods u,ent through nan,v hands, and
eaclr trading party raised their price.
Eulopean monarchs and merchants wallted to
trreak the hold that Muslirns and Italians had on
trade. One way to do so r,vas to find a sea route to
Asia. Portugr.rese sailors looked for a route that
went iuound Africa. Christopher Columbus tried
to reach Asia b-v sailing wcst across the Atlantic.
Other motives also came into play. Many
people were exc,ited by the opportunity tbr new
knowledge. Explorers saw the chance [o earn
f'ame and glory as well as wealth. Some craved
adventure. And as new iands were discovered.
nations wanted to clairn the lands' riches for
A final motive for exploration was the desire
to spread Christizrnity. Both Protestant ancl
Catholic aations were eager lo make new converts. Missionaries followed the path blazed by
explorers, sometimes using force to brirtg native
peoples into their faiths.
Advances in Knowledge and Technology The
Age of Exploration began in the midst of the
Rcnai)\ilncr. ir timc of new lcarning. A nunrber
of advances macie it easiel lbr explorers to venture into the unknown.
One key advance was in cartography, the art
and science of mapmaking. In the early 1400s, an
Italian scholar translated an ancient book called
Guide to Geographl,fron.r Greek into Latin. The
book had been 'a,ritten by Ptolerny in the second
century C.E. Printed copies of the book inspiled
new interest in cartography. European rnapmakers used Ptolemy's work to draw more accurate
Discoveries by explorers gave mapmakers
new infbrmation to u'ork with. The result was a
dramatic change in Europeans' viell' of the world.
By the 1-5t)0s, globes shou,ed E:rth as a sphere.
or bal1. In 1507, a German cartographer made the
first map that clearl-v sholved North and South
America separated from Asia.
In turn. better maps helped expiorels by
making navigation easier. The most importailt
Renaissance geographer. Gerardus Mercator, created n.raps using improved lines of longitude and
Iatitude. Mercator's mapmairing techniquc was a
,sreat help to navigators.
An improved ship design also helped explorers. By the 1400s, Portuguese and Spanish shipbuiiders werc making caravcls. These ships u'ere
small, fast, and easy to maneuver. Their shallow
bottoms rnade it easier for explorers to travel
u'as not deep.
along coastlines v,4tere the
saiis, an
Caravels also used lateen
idea borrou,ed frorn N1uslim ships. These sails
Reasons for the
Age of Exploration
could be positioned to take advantage of the wind
no matter which way it blew.
Along with better ships, new navigational tools
helped sailors to travel more safely on the open
seas. By the end of the 15th ceiltury, the compass
was much improved. Sailors used compasses to
find their bearing, or direction of travel. The astrolabe helped sailors figure out their distance north
1. What were some key motives lbr Europeans
during the Age of Exploration'?
2. Which motive do you think was the strongest
for encouraging European exploration? Why?
-1, What key advances in knowledge and technology allowed Europeans to explore these new
or south from the equator.
Finally, improved weapons gave Europeans a
huge advantage over the people thel' met in their
explorations. Sailors could lire their cannons at
targets near the shore without leaving their ships'
On land, the weapons of native peoples often were
no match for European guns, armor, and horses.
4. Which advance do you think was the most
important? Why?
Portugal Begins the Age
of Exploration
T he .Agc ol'Exploretion hegrn in Porlugul. Thi'
I .n,rii countr\ i< lrrcetct.l ott thc tortthit estern
tip of Europe. It, ,,.r1.r, sent explorers first to
and then around the world.
Key Explorers Tlie key figule in early Portuguese
exploration was Prince Henly. t}.re son of King
John I. Nicknamed ''the Navigator," Henl.v was
not an expiorer hims.-lf. Instead. he encouraged
exploration and directed manv important
In 1500. Pedro Cabral set sail lbr India wtth a
fleet ol 13 ships. Cabral tirst s;riled soulhu'est to
avoid (areas where there are no wincls to fill
sails). But he sailed so far west that he reached the
east coast of presetrt-day Brazil. After claiming
this lant1 for Portugal. he sailed east and rounded
Afi'ica. Arriving in Calicut' he established a trad-
ing post and signed trading treaties He returned
to Portugal in June 1501 allcr battling several
Nluslim ships.
leam their trades. His cartographers made new maps
basecl on the information captains brought back'
Henry's eariy expeditions focused on the west
The lmpact of Portuguese Exploration Portugal's
cxplorers changed Europeans' unclerstanding of
the worid in several lvays. They explored the
coasts ofAfrica ancl brought back gold and slaves'
They also foun<l a sea route to India. From India'
explorers brought back spices like cinnamon and
coast of Africa. He wanted to continue the crusades against the N{uslims, find gold. ancl take
jewels, and silk.
Bcginning in about 1418, Henry scnt explorers
to sea almost everY year. He also started a school
of navigalion where sailors and mapmakers could
in trade.
Gradually, Portuguese explorers made their way
farther anrl farthel south. In 1488, Bartolomeu
Dias became the filst European to go :uound the
southern tip of Africa. Later, Dias dicd in a storrr
at sea.
In July 1497. Vasco da Gama set sail with four
ships to chart a sea route to India. Da Gama's
ships rounde<l Atiica's southern tip and then sailed
up the east coast of the continent. With the help of
a sailor who krew the route to India, they crossed
the Indian Ocean.
Da Gama arrivecl in the port of Calicut, India'
There hc obtained a ioad of cinnamon ancl pcppcr. On the retur-n trip to Portugal,
da Gama lost half of his ships. I\{any of his crc"vmembcrs diecl of hungcr or diseasc' Still, the valuable oalgo he brought back paid for the voyage
N4a.v 1498.
many tintes over. His trip made the Portuguese
even motre eager to trade directll' u'ith Indian
pepper aud goods such as polcelain, incense.
Ailer Cabral's voyage, the Portuguese took
control of the eastern sea routes to Asia. They
seized the seaport of Goa in India and built fbrts
there. Thcy attackcd towns on the east coast of
Aliica. They also set thcir sights on the Nlolucclrs,
or Spice Islands, in what is now lndonesiii' In
151 I. they attackecl the maln port ol the islands
and killecl the Muslim det-enders' The captair.r of
this expeciition erplained what was at stake' Il
Portugal could lake the spice trade away from
Muslim traders, he wrote. then Cairo and Nlakkah
"u,ili be rr-rined." As for Italian merchants, "Venice
will receive no spices unless het' merchants go to
buy thcm in Portugal."
Portugal's control of the Indian Ocean broke
thc hold of Muslims and Italians on Asian trade '
The prices of Asian goods likc spices and fabrics
clropped, and morc people in Europe could allord
to buy them.
Duling the 1500s, Portugal also began to
establish colonies in Brazil. The nirtive people of
Portu gal Begins the Age
of Exploration
greatly as a result. The Portuguese
the native people to give up their relitried to
gion and onvert to Christianity. They also forced
them to
on sugar plantations. Missionaries
tried to protect them from abuse, but
n.rbers died from overwork and
diseases. Others fled into the interior
1. What contributions did each of these individLrals make to Portuguese exploration?
. Prince Henry "the Navigator"
. Bartolomeu Dias
of Brazil.
Thc c
nization ol Brazil also had an impact
Aliica As the native population of Brazil
the Portuguese needed more laborers.
Starting i the mid 1500s, they tumed to Afiica.
t 300 years, ships brought millions of
Over the
. Vasco da Gama
. Pedro Cabral
What impact did Portuguese exploration have
on the people of these continents?
. Afiica
. Asia
. the Americas
Africans to Braz17.
Spain's Early Explorations
t400s, King Ferdinand and Queen
of Spain were detennined to make their
por.verful force in Europe. One way to
do this w to sponsor exploratious and claim new
lands lor
The Itali
or easte
he the e
u,as Ferdinand and Isabella rvho
the voyages of Chtistopher Columbus.
-born Columbus thought that the Indies.
Asia, lay on other side of the
n. Hc believed sailing r.vest w-ould
iest route to the Indics.
betlveen Europe and Asia. One of these people
was Feldinand NIagellan, a Portuguese explorer.
Iv{agellan believed he could sail west lo the
il he founcl a strait. or channel, through
South Arnerica. The strait u'ould cotlnect the
Atlantic ancl Pacific Oceans, al1ou.'ing ships to
continue on to Asia.
Magellan won Spain's backing for a voyage to
find the strait. In August 1519, he set sail with fivc
ships and about 250 men.
Magellan looked fbr the strait all along Soutir
America's east coast. He finally found it at the
southern tip of the continent. Today it is called the
the wea
Columbus failed to win Portuguese supidea. he turnod to Spain. Ferdinand
la agreed to pay ibr the risky voYage.
ed to beat Portr,rgal in the race to control
of Asizr. They also rvanted to spread
reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1520' It
took another three months to cross the Pacific.
During the crossing, Magellan's men ran out of
1492,three ships left Spain under
's command. For the crew, venturing
food and were plagued by disease and thirst. They
reached an isiand in the western Pacilic just in
port for
They w
into the
went by,
n ocean was frightening. As the weeks
me of the men began to f'ear theY
see Spain again.
on October 12. a lookout cried "Land!"
went ashore on an islancl in the
Thinking he had reirched the
umbus claimed the islancl for Spain.
nronths. Columbus and his men
soon ca
arby islands rvith the help of native
r.vhorn the Spanish called Taino'
they were in the Indies, the Spanish
ail the local people "Indians."
149,1, Columbus alrived back in
proudly reported that he had reached
dre next 10 ye:rrs. he made tluee more
died in
saiied to
what he called the West Inclies. He
n in 1506, still insisting that he had
sl a.
Europeans, hou'ever. believed th;it
had actualiy found a iand mass that lair
Strait of Magellan.
Alter passing through the strait. Magellan
Continuing west. Magellan v:isited the
Philippines. There he became involved in a battle
betrveen two local chiett. In April 152i' N{agellan
was killed in the fighting.
Magellan's crer,l' sailed on to the Spice Islands
Three years after the expedition began' the onlv
ship to sun,ive the expedition retumed to Spain,
Ioaded rvith cloves. The 18 sailors on board were
the first people to circumnavigate the globe.
The lmpact oI Early Spanish Exploration Early
Spanish exploration changed Europeans' view of
the rvorld. The voyages of Columbus revealed the
existence of the Americas. Mirgellan's expedition
opened up a westward route to the Indies' It
sho."ved that it was possible to sail completely
around the world. And it proved that Colun-rbus
had indeecl found a "New Wor1d"-one they
hadn't realized was there.
Spain's Early Explorations
bus's voyages were the beginning of
lement in the West Indies. Spain
,wealth from its settlements. Settlers
precious minerals and started sugar
The Spanish also sent Europe new
crops, su h as sweet potatoes and pineapples.
For t native people of the West Indies,
was devastating. Priests forced
m to become Christians. Native people
many of
to work as slaves in the mines and on
ions. When the Spanislr arrived, perhaps
lor2mi ion Taino lived on the islands. Within
50 years. 'ewer than 500 were left. The rest had
ation, overw'ork, or European diseases.
died of s
l, Spain looked to West Africa for
new sou s oflaborers. From 1518 through the
, the Spanish brought millions
ans to
1. What contributions did each of these individuals make to early Spanish exploration?
. Christopher Columbus
. Ferdinand Magellan
2. What impact did early Spanish exploration
have on the people of these continents?
. Europe
. the Americas
work in their American
Later Spanish Exploration
and Conquest
Aztecs' native enemies. Third, their horses. armor,
ancl superior wcapons gave ihe Spanish an advantage in battle. The Azlecs had never seen any of
these things before. Fourth. the Spanish calried
diseases that caused deadly epidernics among the
olumbus's vo-yages, Spain rvas eager to
lands in the New World. To explore and
erv Spain." the Spanish turned to
c a1led c o nqui s lad o rs ( conquerors ).
istadors rvere allou,ed to establish setThe c
tlements nd seize the wealth of uatives. In retum.
government claimed me fifth of the
the Spani
treasures hev found.
Aztec riches inspired Spanish conquistadors to
continue their search for gold. In the 1520s,
Francisco Pizarro received permission fiom Spain
to conquer the Inca Empire in South America. The
Incas ruled an empire that lan nlong most of the
1519. Sprnislr erplot'cr Hctran
Cortes anfl a band of conquistadors set out to
explore pfesent-day N4exico. From n:rtive people,
Expl(rers ln
Andcs Mountains. By the time Pizano iurived,
however. a civil ',var had weakened the empire.
ln April 1532, the Inca emperor. Atahualpa,
greeted the Spanish as guests. Followitg Cortes's
example, Pizar-ro iaunched a surprise attack and
kidnapped the emperrtr. Although the Incas paid a
roomful of gold and silver fcrr Atahualpa's lansom.
Cortes ledrned about the Aztecs. The Aztecs had
built a tur]ge antl r,r'ealthy enrpire in Nlcrico.
With ihe help of a native woman named
Nlalinchel Cortes anJ his men reached the Aztec
c:rpital. Tfnochtitlau. The Aztec ruler, Nlontezuma,
wetrcorne{ the Spanish with great honors. Determined to lbreak the power of the Aztecs, Cortes
took Moritezuma hostage.
now controlled the Aztec capital. In
l5lr), he lelt Tenochtitlan to battlc a rival Spanish
force. While he rvas gone, a group of conquistildors attacked the Aztecs in the midst of a religious
the Spanish killed him the follou,ing year. \Vithout
theilleader, the Incas' empire quickly I'ell apat.
The Impact of Later Spanish Exploration and
Gonquest The expiorations and conquests of the
conquistadors transfbrmed Spain. The Spanish
rapidly cxpanded lirreign trade and ovetscas colonization. For a time. wealth from the Americas
made Spain one of the 'uvorld's richest and most
celebration. ln response, the Aztecs rose up
agalnst the Spanish. The soldiers had to tight their
city. Many of them were killed durway out
powerful countries.
ing the escape.
the city, aidecl by thousancls of native allies who
resented Aztec rule. The Aztecs ran out of food
Besides gold:ind silver, ships brought corn and
potatoes from the Neu,'World to Spain. These
crops gre'n, well in Eurttpe. By incleasing the food
and water, yet they fbught desperately. After ser'eral months, the Spanish captured their leader. and
Aztec resistance coliapsed. The city was in ruins.
supply, they helped spur a population boom.
Conquistadors also introduced Europcans to new'
luxury items, such as chocolate and tobacco.
The mighty Aztec Empire was no more.
Four factors contributed to the defeat of the
Azteo Empire. First, Aztec legend had told of the
coming of a rvhite-skinned god. When Cortes
appeared, the Aztecs weicomed hiru because they
thought he might be their god Quetzalcoatl.
Seconrl, Cortes rva-c able to make allies of the
In the long run, gold and silver from the
Americas hur.t Spain's economy. Intlation, or an
increase in the supply of money compareci to
goods, led to higher prices. Monarchs ancl the
w'ealthy spent their riches wastefuliy instead of
The ibllowing yeiu. Cortes mounted a siege of
builtling up Spain's industries.
The Spani-sh concprests had a maior intpact on
Later Spanish Exploration
and Conquest
the New World. The Spanish introduced new animals to the Americas, such as horses, cattle. sheep,
and pigs. put they also destroyed two advanced
civilizatidns. The Aztecs and Incas lost much of
their cultdre along r.r'ith their wealth. Many
became lziborers for the Spanish. Miilions died
from disefse. ln l\lexico, for example. there were
about 25 pillion native people in I519. By 1605.
this numller had dwindled to 1 million.
What contributions did each of these indivi.duals make to later Spanish exploration and
. Hernan Cortes
. Francisco Pizano
What impact did later Spanish exploration
and conquest have on the people of these
. Europe
. the Americas