The Fruits of Civilization (23-1) Age of Discovery

Age of Discovery

The introduction of foreign technologies to Europe, as well as domestic advances, enabled the Age of Imperialism: pillaging on a massive scale; but what history books kindly call the Age of Discovery, starting in the early 15th century and continuing to the end of the 18th.

Before the Europeans set sail, Beijing was the world’s largest city and nearly all the other sizable cosmopolitan centers were in warm regions outside Europe. European explorers sought reliable routes to Asia partly because technologically advanced civilizations were there.

The Europeans saw the rest of the world not just as potential suppliers of luxury foods and industrial crops but also a source of timber, minerals, and other raw materials. The impact of these trades also produced dependent economies characterised by underdevelopment and poverty. ~ English historian Clive Ponting

Developments in navigation and shipbuilding were vital to seaborne exploration. The Chinese magnetic compass came to Europe by way of the Arabs, reducing guesswork. Cartography improved. Larger, more seaworthy ships, with more masts and better sails, and greater cargo area, enabled longer voyages.

The practical mechanics that started with clocks was applied to firearms, which were crucial for conquest when outnumbered. Like the compass, gunpowder came from trading with Muslims.

There were no major technological breakthroughs in Europe, either in industry or agriculture, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Instead, incremental improvements were enough to set sail and subdue resource-rich savages wherever they may be found.

Prior to having magnetic compasses, the Italians were ahead of others in navigation. As early as 1291, a Genoese expedition in oared galleys headed down the west coast of Africa in search of India. They were never seen again.

Among the Italians were excellent explorers who were leaders in the art of navigation; among them were Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, and da Verrazano. Italian ship designs were conservative, so their lead in the open sea was lost to the Flemish, Dutch, and Portuguese.