The rise of Europe was based on expansionism and expansionism was the outcome of several factors. It all began with the revival of long-distance trading of Western Europe with Italian ports on the Mediterranean. These contacts permitted the rediscovery of ancient knowledge and also brought wealth and power to Italian commercial cities. By the late 1400s, a zone of intercultural communication was created as ships crossed all the sea basins of the Eastern Hemisphere – the China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red and Black Seas, and the Mediterranean. At the same time, with the emergence of city-states, Western Europe’s feudal system weakened and kings soon began to reassert their political authority. Since 1291 when Marco Polo returned to Venice with tales of eastern treasures such as spices, silks, perfumes, medicines, and jewels, Europeans sought to trade with the Orient through a long eastward overland route through the Muslim world. During the new more secular age of the Renaissance, there was innovation in science, as well as in art and music. In the late fifteenth century, the age of overseas exploration began. It had two objectives- to circumvent overland Muslim traders by finding an eastward oceanic route to Asia and second to tap the African gold trade at its source, avoiding Muslim intermediaries in North Africa. In 1420, Prince Henry of Portugal sent Portuguese mariners to probe the unknown Atlantic Sea. Important improvements in navigational instruments, mapmaking, and ship design aided the sailors. The compass, and the quadrant, allowed precise measurements of star altitude necessary for determining latitude. The Portuguese also built very powerful ships that could be used for long-distance voyages to the Far East and the New World. The founder of Portuguese supremacy in the East was Albuquerque, who arrived there in 1503. He saw that to secure their interests, the Portuguese would need a permanent fleet in the Indian Ocean, with a naval base, fortresses, and a reserve supply of sailors. Thus Portugal was the first among the nation-states to lead the expansion of Europe outside its continental boundaries. The other European nations soon followed. These were the factors that contributed to the rise of Europe in the age of expansionism.
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In the ninth century, Western Europe was an economic and cultural backwater whereas Eastern Europe was prosperous and was the center of political power. Eastern Europe refers to Christian Byzantium which controlled Asia Minor, the Balkans, and parts of Italy. But then, during the period 1000 – 1600 A.D., many epic transformations took place in Western Europe as its maritime nations successfully extended their oceanic frontiers. For centuries, England had warrior aristocrats, not kings who exercise normal powers of the state: the power to tax, wage war, and administer the law. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, with the emergence of city-states, England’s feudal system fell apart. When the feudal system weakened, kings began to undertake efforts to unify their realms. One of their primary goals was to curb the power of the great feudal lords who dominated entire regions and forced lesser nobles into submission. Concurrently, in the fourteenth century, the mass of peasant people suffered greatly. Famine struck England after 1400 as the product of food did not keep up with the population increases. Malnutrition aided the spread of the bubonic plague and caused a tragedy of mammoth proportions. It reached England in 1348 and caused a lot of human misery. This tragic event produced economic disruption, violent worker strikes, and peasant uprisings. Things changed for the better with the beginning of the Renaissance. Due to advances in maritime technology, and the advent of printing technology, England soon joined its European counterparts in conquering overseas lands and forming colonies.