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PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History

1. 1 The Discovery of America

Europe at the time of Columbus

At the time of Columbus’ discovery of America, Europe was in a state of war. The Crusades - a series of wars against Islamic territory along the eastern Mediterranean, especially the Christian Holy Land - brought about trade contacts with the East.

In the thirteenth century, the rise of the fierce Mongols in the East served to help the European economy. When the Mongols were in power, trade from the East came to the European continent through the Byzantine Empire and then by sea to Venice and Genoa. The city-states of Venice and Genoa had become the chief trading centers for the import of spices and other commodities from the Far East.

Trade contracts with the Moslems and later with China led to the spread of scientific and technological know-how from the Muslims. Their (the Muslims’) knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and navigation was far superior to that of the Europeans then. This knowledge from the Orient helped Europe to use the ’lateen rigging’ method to make ships sail faster.

The Venetian, Marco Polo, visited and spent 20 years in the Far East. His written records on his journey in the East gave Europeans first-hand information about the geography and civilization of the Orient. It also gave them valuable information about the technological advances made by China then, especially the invention of the gunpowder. These inventions and scientific knowledge were borrowed from the east and were improved upon in Italy. This put Europe on the path of technological revolution and superiority.


The beginning of the fourteenth century saw the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Soon the Ottoman Empire was ruling over a vast territory from West Africa to Indonesia, including the Indian Ocean. The rise and expansion of the hostile Ottoman Empire affected trade in Europe. Spices and commodities could no longer be carried overland to Constantinople. Now ships had to sail to the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. From here, they went to Europe via the Mediterranean ports in Africa and Asia Minor. The long route coupled with the tolls that the ships had to pay on the way sent the price of spices spiraling in Europe.

Voyages of Exploration
Exhibit 1.1
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The beginning of the fourteenth century saw the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Soon the Ottoman Empire was ruling over a vast territory from West Africa to Indonesia, including the Indian Ocean. The rise and expansion of the hostile Ottoman Empire affected trade in Europe. Spices and commodities could no longer be carried overland to Constantinople. Now ships had to sail to the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. From here, they went to Europe via the Mediterranean ports in Africa and Asia Minor.

The long route coupled with the tolls that the ships had to pay on the way sent the price of spices spiraling in Europe. Since spices were a necessity, the demand for them grew rapidly with the growth in population. These factors made Oriental spices both scarce and expensive. In 1453, when the Turks occupied Constantinople, the old trade route to the East was totally closed. Something had to be done to deal with the demand for spices. Was it possible to reach the Orient through another route?

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Table of Contents

1.0 - Chronology of Major Events in this Period
1.1 - The Discovery of America
1.2 - Voyages of exploration
1.3 - The Indians
1.4 - Points to Remember

Chapter 2





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