European Exploration in the Renaissance

The most powerful motivation that encouraged European exploration around the world was based on trade.  Trade was the currency of the age, and the ability to trade world-wide, receive luxury goods along with necessary ones and foster colonization around the globe allowed European powers to gain wealth, making them formidable forces on a global scale.  Countries that were landlocked relied on food and material goods that came from trading, and trade was essential for economic reasons.  While exploration and colonization did carry some serious advantages for Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England, it carried serious consequences as well.

Sea voyages into the Indian Ocean resulted in an abundant spice trade, which was a highly valued commodity.[1]  Silver, agricultural and animal products could be carried from the New World back to Europe, and many crops and animals made their way across the ocean between Europe and the Americas, which became known as the Columbian Exchange.[2]  As agricultural production, mining and plantations took hold in the New World, the need for labor increased.  Although the Spanish initially had some luck with forced labor of the indigenous people in the Americas, the rampant spread of disease killed off large portions of the Indian population who had no immunity to European diseases.[3]  The need for labor ultimately resulted in the mass surge of African slaves that were acquired from explorations to Africa, trading goods including guns to African leaders for slaves.  Other slaves were kidnapped and stolen to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and South America.[4]

While Spain and Portugal succeeded in monopolizing the resources of the New World initially, they soon found themselves in competition with both the Dutch and British explorers under the banners of huge trading companies such as the United East India Company and the English East India Company.[5]   These companies encouraged shareholders who would share in the profits and provide monetary support for further exploration, trade expansion and colonization.[6]

[1] Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pg 241.

[2] Ibid, pg. 267.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, pg. 502.

[6] Ibid.

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