E07: European Exploration

From the time of the Middle Ages, Europeans had discovered that pepper, cloves, nutmeg and other spices not only made their food taste better, but were essential preservatives. Thus, there developed a demand for trade with the so-called “Spice Islands” of Southeast Asia that, in those days, was probably as great as our demand for oil today. For hundreds of years, the spices were transported overland across thousands of miles of China and central Asia, but in 1453 the Turks took Constantinople and incorporated the city into the Ottoman Empire. The land bridge from Europe to Asia was closed to the infidel, who was forced to find new routes east. Thus began a period spanning approximately two hundred years from 1450 to 1650 that Parry has called, “The Age of Reconnaissance” – a period of movement, not only of discovery and trade, but also of sea-borne migration [3]. This migration was mostly westwards, across the Atlantic, and therefore outside the scope of this paper.

The closure of the land bridge to the East represented a serious problem to the Europeans who began to look for other ways of acquiring spice. They sought new sea routes by voyages of exploration. Thus we could argue that the future discovery and development of the entire world was brought about by this European need of spice, although the ever-present search for gold and the spread of religion were other major driving forces.