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Portuguese Exploration and Spanish Conquest

Considering how much of the content taught had been brushed over in my previous education, Portuguese Exploration and Spanish Conquest was one of the more difficult sections for me to understand. However, studying this unit has led to understanding several topics and events about which I had no prior knowledge. Moreover, I feel more confident in colonization and exploration of the new world. From my learning, I learned that throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, exploration, discovery, and expansion were recurring themes. Therefore, due to their curiosity, fascination, and curiosity, people sought out new experiences and observations. However, I was triggered to think of what made European powers such as Spain and Portugal explore and conquer the new world. Unfortunately, I was amazed to discover that these powers never aimed to create new relationships with the outside world; rather, they mainly sought economic, political, and religious aspects. Therefore, as the world began to open up, people began to grasp how vast it was. There were new territories to explore, more room to grow, and new cultures and economies to learn about and perhaps rule (Barnhart 385). Therefore from their interest to rule, European powers such as Spain and Portugal began to envision establishing empires, evangelizing the world, and gaining power over the rest of the world. Spain and Portugal were often regarded as the leading proponents of “The Age of Discovery” from the early 15th century to the mid-17th century; thus, the Spanish conquered the Americas while Portugal governed West Africa, India, and much of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans.

Portuguese Exploration

Unlike prior knowledge that all European powers were equally involved in exploration and conquering, this course has advanced my knowledge on specific roles some of the European powers took. For example, I was thrilled to discover that while Portugal developed the navigational tools and ships to begin exploration, Spain, on the other hand, had the motivation to conquer. For example, I learned that in the early 1500s, the Portuguese colonization of Atlantic islands signaled the start of an aggressive European advance across the Atlantic. In the 1500s, Spain supplanted Portugal as Europe’s most powerful nation. Therefore, I perceive this period as an excellent period for globalization which is critical in the modern world. The advent of globalization occurred when previously isolated tribes came into touch. Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator led the nation’s exploration of the Atlantic and Africa throughout the 1400s (Wendt 430). During this period, Portuguese seamen were able to find a route eastward to Africa. However, before reaching Africa, I have learned that they built an Atlantic empire by colonizing Cape Verde, Canary, and Azores Islands. Merchants would then use these Atlantic ports as a starting point for further journeys. However, could the establishment of these empires lead to Africa’s exploration? From the study material, I realized that Portugal’s dominion spread across Africa, India, and the eastern coast of South America from these three key locations. At the same time, looking at their geographical location, it is evident that they were strategic for exploration. In the 1400s, the Portuguese had near-unrivaled control of maritime trade routes and a worldwide trading empire thanks to their strategic holding of islands and coastal ports (Wendt 430).

Moreover, unlike prior knowledge that Europeans started the slave trade in Africa, and other parts of the world, reading the unit notes was exciting. I realized that the African slave trade existed long before exploration began. Nwachukwu and Aaron (50) reveal that the African slave trade was already thriving among African states when Portuguese traders traveled to western Africa. However, the Portuguese can still be partly blamed for amplifying the slave trade since after they realized the value and significance of slave labor in sugar production on their Atlantic islands, they quickly began exporting enslaved Africans and gold. This new demand for laves, as I have learned, created the transatlantic slave trade. However, there is also confusion on who to blame; Africans selling a slave to Portuguese or Portuguese buying slaves in huge quantities? The slaves were valuable to Europe and America as they provided the much-needed human capital. Throughout the next centuries, slavery became more widespread due to European exploration, which indicates success in the exploration journey. A large portion of the Atlantic World was rapidly transformed into a massive sugar-plantation complex.

Spanish Exploration and Conquest

As suggested, the Spanish were excellent in conquest compared to the Portuguese. Unlike common knowledge that Britain and Germany were the major European powers, I have discovered that Spain was the most influential European country at the beginning. Also, I was amazed to discover that while Portugal developed the first ships and navigational devices to begin exploring, Spain’s goal was to rule the world. The Spanish established the first European settlements in the Caribbean and Central and South America by 1600. Spaniards moved to America to search for wealth and social position to rule the world. However, I discovered that Spain launched a military campaign to take advantage of Portugal in the fifteenth century to achieve its objective. At the same time, they wanted to expand Catholicism and gain an advantage over Portugal in the commercial arena (Barnhart 415). Therefore, Ferdinand and Isabella financed a great deal of Atlantic exploration to achieve their goals. Christopher Columbus believed he could design a westward path to India based on calculations per previous mariners’ journeys, improving European trade and spreading Christianity. I was not aware that Columbus was a scholarly mission. However, from the unit, I learned that by 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella finally agreed to fund Columbus’s voyage (Barnhart 415).

Columbus had erroneous ideas about what he would encounter as he set sail for the west. Because he had no idea the Americas existed, he expected to land in Asia because he considered the earth much smaller than it was. However, on October 12th, 1492, he landed on a Bahamas island. Many more Europeans were lured by the prospect of making money by journeying west, following in Columbus’s footsteps. Later, the Spanish moved through the world and colonized most states, including New Spain in North America, Peru in South America, and other parts of Africa. It was Spain’s colonial aspiration to mine America’s gold and silver to benefit the Spanish economy and the advancement of the country’s stature. In addition, Spain endeavored to convert the indigenous peoples of the New World to Christianity.

In conclusion, I discovered from this semester’s learning that Spain and Portugal were often regarded as the foremost proponents of “The Age of Discovery” from the early 15th century to the mid-17th century. However, while the Portuguese were good at exploring, Spain’s conquered most of the Americas. However, Portugal could also govern West Africa, Brazil, India, and the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans, including the Atlantic. Understanding this topic is crucial to understanding exploration, conquest, and colonization by the European powers.

Work Cited

Barnhart, Joslyn. “Status competition and territorial aggression: Evidence from the scramble for Africa.” Security Studies 25.3 (2016): 385-419.

Nwachukwu, Joel N., and Aaron Ola Ogundiwin. “The Second Scramble for Africa: A Cause for Afro-Pessimism.” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 11.1 (2020): 50-50.

Wendt, Samuel Eleazar. “Hanseatic Merchants and the Procurement of Palm Oil and Rubber for Wilhelmine Germany’s New Industries, 1850–1918.” European Review 26.3 (2018): 430-440.


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