Event 73

Beginning 1400 AD

Columbus Map
This is the map that Christopher Colombus used to navigate to the New World. It was created in Lisbon, Portugal at the workshop of Bartolomeo and Christopher Colombus, c. 1490. Bibliotheque Nationale de France (CPL GE AA 562 RES)
Credit: Image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Think of our planet. Conscious and intelligent life has emerged, and eventually complex societies have developed. But, even after the beginning of complex societies thousands of years ago, different populations and cultures were developing in different continents in isolation from each other. Then all of that suddenly ended – only a few hundred years ago. When some civilizations developed ways of traveling quickly and abruptly into new lands, especially by sea, societies that had been separated or even isolated for much of their development suddenly found themselves shoulder to shoulder with others – visitors, intruders, colonizers, plunderers (take your pick of labels!) coming to their borders or their shores – with their own cultures, ways of life, languages, and objects of desire – things to exploit or to trade.

The Age of Exploration (or the Age of Discovery) started in the 1400’s and continued into the 1800’s. During the 1400’s, various European nations, especially the Portuguese, Spanish, English, Dutch, and French, went voyaging into the oceans of the world, to India, Africa, China, and eventually into the Americas, looking for new lands, places where they could trade, especially new places with very desirable goods such as gold, silver or spices. This led to an unprecedented contact between cultures, a clash of very different technologies, and the formation of long-lived colonial empires among some European nations. It also led to settlement inland even colonization of these lands by these voyaging nations. European slave trade became part of and altered the exitising slave trade routes established by Arab nations centuries earlier.

“Christopher Columbus arrives in America” painting by Gergio Deluci, 1893.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Earlier trade routes had been established in the world, a very extensive one for instance along the “Silk Route,” a set of overland trade route linking cultures from eastern Asia to the Mediterranean, starting about 100 B.C. in the Han Dynasty of China, and building and growing for nearly 2000 years. This Silk Route was a conduit for silk, slaves, spice, and perfumes as well as the dissemination of all sort of cultural ideas and technologies (including possibly, gunpowder). Travelers such as Marco Polo’s had exploited the ancient silk route connections as early as the late 1200’s, but the Black Death epidemic of the 1300’s was a great setback that hinderd further development of ties between these regions. Trade along these earlier trade routes between Asia, Europe and beyond had been somewhat gradual, carried out from one place to another over land, with merchants from one region dealing with the next and transactions carried out under the terms of the local culture in each place. Starting with the seafaring explorers of the 1400’s, however, this changed. European expeditions led to expeditions to Africa, the “discovery” of the Americas, colonization of much of the Pacific, and edges of Asia. Now, the agents of each nation were dealing with the various foreign cultures they encountered.




This phase of exploration by European cultures started tying the entire world together in a new and different way and laid the groundwork for the interconnected world we live in today. This phase of human development started stitching together the disparate human cultures that had been developing in different parts of the world, with consequences to all involved, which are still unfolding. It eventually led to population movements and settlements by European nations in various part of the world, including Africa, Asia, and the Americas, with long-lasting consequences and repercussions.




This website is about the Elizabethan era and the age of Exploration.

This is a Metropolitan Museum of Art site about the Age of Exploration, includes a lot of pictures.

This is a video about the possibility that the Chinese navy explored the American continent in 1421.





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