Factors leading to geographical discoveries
One of the most significant historical events of the 15th and 16th centuries was the discovery of territories previously unknown to Europeans through maritime exploration. Several historical factors in Europe provided the motivation to explore:
Gold and silver were needed to make coins, and Europe was highly dependent on products such as spices and silk imported from Asia. When Byzantium was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the traditional trade route to obtain spices was blocked, so alternative routes had to be found.
After the population crisis of the Late Middle Ages, the population grew and there was a higher demand for precious metals and products from Asia.
Political and religious factors
There was a significant rivalry between Islamic and Christian states. Islam was greatly strengthened by the Ottomans. This rivalry was particularly relevant in the Iberian kingdoms, where the spirit of the Crusades remained, but it also affected the rest of Europe’s Christian kingdoms.
These factors were associated with the Renaissance and the desire to learn and explore. Books, such as Marco Polo’s description of his travels to China (The Travels of Marco Polo), also helped to encourage exploration.
Scientific and technical factors
There were scientific and technological advances in navigation, such as new types of boats called carracks and caravels. Furthermore, many geographers believed that the world was round, not flat, as had been commonly believed previously.
PORTUGAL AND PRESTER JOHN
One of the reasons why Europeans had such a desire to explore was the legend of Prester John. He was believed to be a Christian king residing somewhere beyond the lands of Islam, in Asia or Africa.
In reality, the myth was derived from Christian peoples that still exist today: the Nestorians, in India and Iran, and the Copts, in Ethiopia, who created the Kingdom of Abyssinia. During the 15th century, Portugal sent expeditions to Africa to contact Prester John. When they reached Abyssinia, they believed that the Abyssinian king was Prester John.
WHY WERE SPICES SO IMPORTANT FOR EUROPEANS?
The spice trade was important because spices were not produced in Europe and they were very useful for seasoning and preserving food, and adding variety to a monotonous diet of cereals and pulses. The most well-known spices were cinnamon, clove, pepper, nutmeg and ginger