Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Age of European Exploration

Age of European Exploration – why do countries in Europe begin to venture out into the Atlantic?

I)                   Gold, Spices, and God – much of Christian Europe had been under threat of Muslim invasion before 1492  (Ottoman Empire from the east—eventually seizing Constantinople in 1453, which also gave them control of the lucrative spice trade between Asia and Europe; and the Moors from North Africa in the Iberian Peninsula,); the dislocation this caused in European countries meant that much of the knowledge and learning that had previously gone on in that area was temporarily lost, because knowledge that began with Greek sources was now distrusted.

A)    The Crusades – preceded the Dark Ages, was an attempt by Christian Europe to “reclaim” the Holy Lands for Christianity.  Provided an outlet for Christian fervor, as well as for European nobility to cover themselves in glory and loot.

1)      Failure of the Crusades – the Ottoman empire was a threat to Central Europe (then known as the Holy Roman Empire?), while Moors from Northern Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula

B)     Bubonic Plague – the so-called “Black Death”

1)      Devastates European population – during the 1340s areas in Europe lose from 1/3 to ½ of their population.  The Bubonic Plague also affects parts of Africa, because Africa is affected by many of the same diseases as Europe—which becomes very important later as diseases Europeans bring with them wipe out large numbers of Western Hemisphere natives, which are then replaced with African slaves.

2)      Consolidation of European political bodies – the devastation caused by the Plague created a great deal of social turmoil in Europe, which allowed monarchs there to consolidate their political power (the natural reaction of people in times of crisis—witness 9/11)

II)                 Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula – the ideology of the Reconquista contributed to the creation of a nationalist impulse, which also created the atmosphere conducive to expansionism in both Iberian countries.

A)    Moorish Spain – the Iberian Peninsula (present day Spain and Portugal) was completely dominated by invaders from North Africa, known as the Moors.  Moorish cultural practices (architecture, the sheltering of women, music—particularly the aud, the ancestor of today’s guitar) all have had a profound effect upon Spanish culture to this day.

B)     Moorish Portugal – Portugal came under many of the same influences, but the Moors were in control for a much shorter period of time.  Portugal became an independent monarchy early in the 15th century (the early 1400s).

1)      Reconquista of Portugal – in 1350, the House of Aviz overcame the Moors, and consolidated their control over the area that makes up modern-day Portugal.

2)      Invasion of Ceuta – in 1415, Portugal became the first European country since the Crusades to launch a successful invasion of Muslim held territory, when the army laid siege to the North African city (in present day Morocco) of Cueta.  The ostensible reason for this is to extend the reach of Christianity; however, the Portuguese also know that Cueta is a large marketplace for trading gold and silver for spices from Asia.  From intelligence gathered from sources in Cueta, the Portuguese learned of tales of gold beyond the great desert (the Sahara) in southern Africa.

III)              The Spice Trade – spices, particularly pepper, became extremely desirable in Europe during the late 14th and early 15th centuries; in the days before effective refrigeration, meat was preserved by curing it with salt, smoking it, or drying it in the air – methods which tended to remove much of the flavor.  Spices, therefore, became highly prized.

A)    Control of the spice trade – therefore became a highly prized commodity, itself.

1)      Spices’ origination – the most desirable spices originated in Asia, particularly peppers and cinnamon.

(a)    India – traders from India sailed the Indian Ocean, and sold spices from India to Muslim traders in eastern Africa; from eastern Africa, these spices were transported overland in camel caravans to the Levant (what we today refer to as Israel and Palestine and Lebanon and Syria), where they were traded for other goods (mainly gold) to traders from the Italian city-states, principally Genoa and Venice (important later, because Columbus himself was Genoese, and this was a contributing factor in the Portuguese king rejecting his plan to sail westward across the Atlantic to Asia).  These Italian merchants then distributed the spices throughout the rest of Europe.

(i)                  Price of spices – because of the transportation costs of taking the spices over land, and the fact that there was also profit taking by two groups of middlemen, the cost of spices were out of reach for all but the wealthiest Europeans.  This high cost, and the demand for spices, made it an attractive target for other Europeans outside of the Italian city-states, because they would be able to charge slightly lower prices for the spices, and still make a hefty profit.  This possibility made the spice trade attractive to the Portuguese, and to freebooters like Christopher Columbus.

B)     Henry the Navigator – member of the royal family in Portugal, part of the invading party and one of the Portuguese heroes at Cueta.  With part of the booty from the haul at Cueta, Henry set himself up on an estate in the far southeast corner of Portugal (show location on map).  From this location, Henry set up a school of navigation and maritime trades (although known as Henry the Navigator, he did no actual sailing himself), where he was able to attract talented map makers, and the best and brightest from around Europe in navigation, as well as a number of younger sons of noblemen in Portugal who saw the opportunity to sail to faraway lands as a means of gaining wealth and status that were denied them should they remain in Portugal (explain importance of primogeniture in inheritance).

1)      Development of ocean going vessels – because of its physical location (the country furthest west in Europe, without a good port on the Mediterranean Sea), the Portuguese fishing boats had always sailed into the Atlantic to fish.  They were always refining this technology, and therefore had experienced shipbuilders to call upon when Henry set up his school of navigation

(a)    The Caravel (draw picture) – important, because it was the first European ship to be three masted, which allowed more sail area, which meant that a larger ship could be moved through the water efficiently.

2)      Explorations of the Portuguese

(a)    West Coast of Africa – as Henry’s school refined its map making and ship building, they also began exploring down the African coast.

(b)   Portuguese “factories” – fortified establishments on the African coast, from which the Portuguese traded with local Africans.

(i)                  1444 the Portuguese traded for the first African slaves, which were then returned to Lisbon and made life long servants.  Slavery was not unique to Africa; it was an ancient means of controlling labor, and was in fact used throughout the world (including North and South America before the arrival of the Europeans).  The Slavic people, in fact, were so named because other Europeans believed that they made the best slaves.  As Christianity spread, strictures against enslaving other Christians in Europe began to be applied—a practice copied from Muslims, who did not enslave co-religionists (although they did enslave Christians)

(c)    1487 Bartholomew Dias rounded the Cape of Storms (renamed by the king of Portugal the Cape of Good Hope, to encourage financiers to invest in voyages around the southernmost cape of Africa; this proves that Africa does end (there had been speculation that it did not), and leads to the Portuguese determination to sail around Africa to Asia (India in particular).  This information is kept secret by the Portuguese, however.

3)      Christopher Columbus – Genoese sailor and adventurer, who was in Lisbon to gather intelligence officially, but the government in Lisbon had kept a tight lid on their explorations (other nations were aware, however, that ships were regularly sailing from Lisbon into the Atlantic.

(a)    Columbus becomes enamored with the idea of sailing to the west to reach India, and pitches this idea to the king of Portugal, who turns him down (as do the kings of England and France, as well).  By this time the Portuguese probably figure they have too much time and money invested in sailing around Africa (which they know will work), rather than sailing west into “unknown” territory (the Portuguese, in fact, may have already gathered enough information from voyages into the Atlantic to know that there was a large land mass that was not Asia at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean).

C)    Reconquista in Spain

1)      1492 – Castille was united with Granada, which to that time had been held by the Moors; this allowed Ferdinand to unite all of the provinces outside of Portugal into one united kingdom

(a)    Spanish Inquisition – also begins at this time; fidelity to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church become an early manifestation of Spanish nationalism, and Muslims and Jews who remained in Spain were forced to convert (the so-called “New Christians”)

2)      Voyage of Columbus – financed by Spain at the insistence of Queen Isabella; the favorable terms that Columbus was able to negotiate were indicative of the confidence of the Spanish government in the likely success of his voyage (meaning, not very much).

(a)    Made landfall in the Bahama Islands, and brings back two captives that he calls “Indians,” because he believed that he had discovered India (this belief he later questions, but he never figured out to the day he died that what he indeed discovered was a whole new hemisphere.

D)    Papal Bull of 1493 – the Pope divided the world into two spheres of influence between Spain and Portugal (another indication that the Portuguese were already aware of the new land mass at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean, since they were able to negotiate the division to a longitude that gave them a foothold in the western hemisphere in present day Brazil); this cuts out both France and England, however.

1)      England – Henry VIII broke with Rome over not being allowed to rid himself of his wife, who had “failed” to produce for him a male heir—he declared himself head of the Church in England.  Henry ruled as king from 1509 to 1547.  Although wife number three did produce a male heir (Edward VI), he was a sickly child, and Henry subsequently married three more times.  The last years of his reign were spent attempting to combat the forces of the Protestant Reformation, which his own defiance of the authority of the Church had done so much to unleash. After Edward’s death, his sister, Elizabeth, succeeded him. 

2)      Authority of Pope challenged elsewhere

(a)    Martin Luther – disagreed with and challenged the selling of “indulgences” (forgiveness of sins); Luther nailed his challenge to the selling of these indulgences, known as the 95 theses, to the door of the church in Wittenberg.

(b)   John Calvin – preached that indulgences were worthless in attaining eternal salvation, as were “good works.”  Calvin believed in the idea of “predestination;” that is, God had already chosen who would be called to heaven, and nothing an individual did on earth would change that.  This idea challenged not only the authority of the pope, but eventually the authority of kings, as well.

IV)              Africa in the Age of European Discovery

A)    Social organization

1)      Economic Development – scholars in the past have long believed that the current underdevelopment of the African continent has its antecedents during the period before European exploration; however, recent scholarship has called this into question.

(a)    Manufacturing – most African societies produced goods that they needed; trade with Europeans brought them different goods.  In some areas of Africa, the manufacture of iron and steel products was as good, or better, than comparable manufactories in Europe.

(b)   Trade – trade with Europe was mainly for “luxury” goods—different kinds of textiles, for instance, or goods that were sold more cheaply by Europeans than they could obtain from fellow Africans, or some goods—like alcohol—, which were not available locally.

2)      Labor organization and slavery

(a)    The slave trade was controlled by the African people themselves; Europeans did not invade Africa and forcibly take many slaves—the “factories” that were established on the African coast stayed there, initially, because Africans in power wanted them to remain there; after slavery began to have a dehabilitating effect on African societies this control was diminished. The weaponry developed by Europeans—particularly muskets and cannon—were particularly sought after trade items (as well as less violent items like woolen cloth—a novelty item in sub-Saharan Africa—and the highly sought after

(b)   Slavery did not result from a weakness in African society—slavery had always been around, all over the world.

(i)                  A contributing factor to this was that in many African societies during this time period, land had no value as property—one had to have the labor available (mainly slave labor) to produce goods on this land to create value or wealth.

V. The Mexica and the Conquistadores
            A. Mexica culture
                        1. Hierarchical society
                        2. Human sacrafice—to appease a sun god; to ensure the continued appearance of the sun. Mostly practiced on the people the Mexica conquerored and forced tribute from—which gave the Spaniards lots of potential allies when they landed.

            B. Spanish intervention
                        1. Hernan Cortez—landed in present-day Mexico in 1518, with a small band of men (several hundred). Most of men were mounted on horses, however, and accompanied as well by a compliment of mastiff dogs, trained to attack, muskets, and cannon. Upon landing, Cortez ordered the ships beached and burned, and the lead nails  recovered for use as musket balls
                        2. Dona Mariana—a native woman, well-versed in a variety of native languages, was brought along to act as translator for Cortez.  She was instrumental in helping Cortez make allies among the  native peoples—which eventually proved to be the difference.

            C. Tenochtitlan—the capital of the Mexica empire. Cortez and his small band, accompanied by thousands of new native allies, were welcomed into the city by the rather capricious Mexica leader, Monctezuma. The Spanish were particularly impressed with the amount of gold used in the public buildings, and in order to acquire a portion, decided to hold Monctezuma for ransom. This ends disasterously, and the Spanish are forced to beat a hasty retreat with only a small portion of the gold they sought. Rather than leave behind these riches, however, Cortez rallies his men, recruits thousands of his Indian allies to throw off the yoke of tyranny imposed by the Mexica, and re-enters Tenochtitlan—only to find token resistance, because in the intervening months, the combination of microbes introduced by the  Spanish and internal problems within Mexica society had devastated the population there.

VI. Conclusion.

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