Renaissance is a French word for rebirth and the term is used to describe the economic and intellectual changes occurring in Europe between the 14th to 16th Centuries. During this era, Europe came out from economic stagnation to experience a period of financial growth. Exploration was not common before Renaissance, but noteworthy voyages before the renaissance were that of Eric The Red, which saw him travel to Greenland in 982, and that of Leif Ericsson to Nova Scotia in 1000. The shaping of the modern world was largely influenced by the renaissance Voyage. The urge to discover new lands outside Europe between 1420 and1620 led to an increase in knowledge about the planet earth. The rise and fall of the nation in Europe were highly influenced by the discovery and colonization of settlements outside Europe. There was a new direction in art, science, and politics. People discovered new ways of doing things, new products, and new opportunism were discovered leading to the creation of new Nations.
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The 15th century shows the resumption of population growth, the living conditions had now improved, there were a higher number of people in the financial system which resulted in a shrink production requirement, and this caused an urgent need to look for other territories to expand. Silk and sugar supply was low compared to the demand. The emerging economic structure of Mercantilism was pushing the rising Nations into looking for new sources of precious metal to advance the production of Currency. German silver mines could not meet the current demands and the gold deposits in Europe were exhausted. Commerce expansion was not possible without money. Gold bars were not just wealth but were also a means to acquire more wealth.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, Voyages were not an Individual affair. Besides sponsorship by major trading companies, the state came to be part of the big picture. This is demonstrated when Spain’s King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyage to India in 1491. The desire for cheaper spices also played a major role. Lack of refrigerators meant the only preservation method was through salting and to make the meat edible and conceal the taste of meat that had gone bad, spices were necessary. Peppercorns, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace were some of the much-needed spices from Asia. With a bad road network and an Overland trip between Europe and Asia cut when the Turks fought and defeated the Byzanite Empire in 1453, a sea route had to be found to link Europe to Asian countries like India. The navigator of Portugal Prince Henry encouraged sailors to explore the coast of Africa by setting up a school for sailors. His effort came to bore fruit later in 1486 when Bartholomeu Dias leading his crew reached the southern coast of Africa. Due to the unwillingness of the Dias crew not to travel further, the voyage was cut short and returned to Portugal. Later in 1496, Dias assisted Vasco Da Gama plan another voyage to India through Africa.
The passion to spread the gospel was also a major factor that contributed to Voyaging. Much European government and people believed that it was their responsibility to spread the gospel of Christ to the people around the world and convert the Infidels, there was a close co-operation between the Portuguese state’s leaders and the Vatican to the extent that Roman Pontiff gave the Portuguese leader permission to subdue and enslave any Muslim or Pagan whom they came across in their voyage.
The building of ships capable of long sea voyages contributed towards the voyages of discovery. Sea travels vessels were named caravels; these strong ships were known for being reliable and easy to control. Unlike old ships, the caravels had sails powered by oarsmen. Weighing between 50 to 100 tons and about 30 meters long, the ships could carry large cargo and over 40 crew. To keep the course, a compass was used. With a lead lowered into the water to measure the depth of the sea. This major invention in building hardy ships gave sailors confidence in their voyage unlike in the past when they were propelled by rowing.
European invention of gun powder motivated voyage as ships could carry cannons for defense. This meant that there were relatively secure when at sea or when attacked by Chinese vessels which depended on ramming and boarding tactic to conquer. Europeans established fixed positions and forts to serve as defense posts from where they could launch the military scheme.
Another chief factor that motivated voyages during the renaissance was that life was relatively short. Though sailors had less than 30% chance of returning from sea voyage his chances of living to the age of 30 in European Cities was also very slim. furthermore, the voyage was mostly financed by state and wealthy people, the sailors aboard a ship on the voyage had a much higher salary than that of a sailor on a simple voyage doing trade on the Mediterranean sea.
The evolving states forming Europe conglomerate i.e. Portugal. Spain. France etc were jealous of each other and each state was determined to be the pioneer of the modern economy and lead in the race for wealth. Portugal and Spain had an upper hand. This competition bred a generation of people who were both aggressive and expansionist.
The Voyages of discovery exposed an amazing tendency on the Europeans part to enslave the national culture which they dominated. Slavery was a thing of the past in Europe in the renaissance, but the new culture of conquering and taking control of a nation was a form of slavery in disgusts.
Christianity as opposed to paganism was another concept that bestowed Europe. Together with the concept of Savage, Europeans had this feeling of superiority toward non-n Christians, to the extent that non-Christians would be killed and maimed by the Christians. The same idea was carried across to America and Africa, with Americans of Indians origin being enslaved by the Spanish. The issue of civilized and uncivilized was brought about by the concept of savage. This spelled out and drew clear guidelines on the expected behavior of a civilized person.
- Anthony Parr (2000) the Travels of Three English Brothers, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
- Bartolome De Las Casas (1992) Destruction of the Indies, Penguin publishers, UK.
- Richard Eden, Pietro Martire d’ Anghiera (1555) The Decades of the Newe Worlde or West India, Powell publishers, America.