The History of Exploration: The Age of Exploration
From the Silk Road on land to the Spice road at sea, the iconic Silks and Spices from exotic lands have fundamentally shaped human civilization for thousands of years.
However, the time after the peak ages of these trade routes would pale in comparison to subsequent trade volumes. Having had a taste of the exotic goods that the eastern world had to offer, Europeans set out to expand their influence and discover alternative routes for new trade.
Dubbed the Age of Exploration, many famous explorers such as the likes of Amerigo Vespucci & Christopher Columbus would be documented during this golden age. They sought out new trade routes and inadvertently gave rise to the increased adoption of colonialism as a National policy within Europe.
A direct continuation of the Silk & Spice Roads, many explorers started off simply looking for alternative routes to circumvent the heavily controlled routes of their era. But in doing so led to the discovery of new lands and new cultures never before seen for that time. If not for the few brave explorers such as Christopher Columbus who pushed the boundaries for exploration, the Americas might not be the country we know today.
Image: Abraham Ortelius, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Navigating the globe
Prince Henry the Navigator has often been touted as the key starting point for the Age of Exploration. Under his direction, new methods of maritime transportation were invented and much of the African coast was discovered. After securing a route to trade Spices with the Indies past the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, it gave rise to other explorers looking for new trade routes for their own country.
Christopher Columbus was one such explorer, believing he could reach the Indies by sailing west past the Atlantic, Christopher obtained funding from the Catholic Monarchs of Castile, setting him off on his journey to rediscover the Americas. However, the name itself “America” was named after explorer Amerigo Vespucci who realised that it was an entirely “new world”, thus starting a chain of events that gave rise to rampant colonialism by European countries.
Image: Universalis, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
New Trade Routes
The following years after the discovery and rapid colonization of the Americas, many new trade routes were established that finally connected the ends of the world through the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade routes. However, much like the discovery of the Americas, many of the initial routes were discovered through pure happenstance.
For example, the trade route past the straits of Malacca to Japan was discovered accidentally by Portuguese explorers in 1543, in which the Japanese were so impressed by the Portuguese firearms that they immediately began production on a large scale.
While the route through and fro the American continent and Philippines past the Atlantic Ocean was a gamble by a Spanish expedition as to whether trade winds would allow them to pick up enough speed to complete the journey. Many perished for this gamble but hereby initiated a viable trade link joining China, the Americas and Europe.
Image: Français : Kano Naizen (1570-1616), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
An end of an era
The Age of Exploration was brief, lasting only a couple hundred years or so till the early to mid-17th Century. Despite the many great discoveries and advancements during the Age of Exploration, its end was nothing spectacular. It was the simple result of technological advancements allowing for easy travel across the high seas as well as a lack of major discoveries for trade routes left.
Many permanent settlements and colonies were set up by this time which allows for a network of routine communication and trade. This fundamentally killed the glamour and inspiration behind major expeditions and exploration and put the final nail in the coffin for the age of exploration.
Image: Pedro Lira Rencoret, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Legacy of the Age of Exploration
The Age of Exploration served as a stepping stone for the development of geographic knowledge and allowed more people to study various areas around the world. No longer was western civilisation land locked and limited in its scope of travel.
By traveling to different regions around the globe, explorers were able to learn more about areas such as Africa and the Americas and bring that knowledge back to Europe. These discoveries give us the basis of much of the geographic knowledge that we know today.
It is however not without its controversy as many people attribute the impacts of colonisation as the reasons why many ex-colonies are now part of the “developing” world, while western civilizations hold a majority of the wealth.
Exploring the modern day
As you can see, much of the exploration of the past was as much planned as simple coincidence. People had ideas on how the world worked and took gambles to test those ideas, discovering new and unexpected territories in the process. Sometimes life is all about setting a goal and taking a risk then seeing how it plays out. If you really want to live life adventurously, don’t just wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap, figure out what you want and just go for it!
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