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Aspects of America's past

The European
Voyages of Discovery

Keith Tankard
The Time Traveller
Updated: 14 December 2009
(Contact the Project Coordinator)




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Why did the initiative for the Voyages of Discovery come from Europe and not from elsewhere? After all, there were other nations in the world which were technically as advanced as Europe

In fact, exploration could have been conducted by a host of other nations, like the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, the Islamic peoples, as well as the Aztecs and Incas of America.

China was certainly developed sufficiently to undertake such voyages. The 15th century Ming Dynasty was at least equal if not culturally more advanced than its European counterparts

Yet partly for religious reasons the Chinese maintained a closed-door policy towards expansion and trade, and it is also questionable whether her boats or "junks" could have withstood such long voyages.

The Japanese also had an exceptional civilization. It had, however, undergone three centuries of anarchy and so, like the Chinese, Japan's rulers had decided to maintain a closed-door policy.

Indeed, in 1635 the Japanese government even went so far as to forbid any of its people from leaving the country or returning to it from the "contamination" abroad, under pain of death.

The Aztecs and Incas had a comparable civilization but each had only just reached its pinnacles of success. Each was relatively self-sufficient but too much wrapped up in a world of religion and magic to embark upon major trading expeditions.

It is also doubtful whether either empire had ships sufficiently adapted to undertake lengthy voyages, as a reading of Thor Heyerdahl's The Kon-Tiki Expedition will tell you.

JR Hale sums up the voyages of discovery in this way: "The Renaissance voyages of discovery rank as one of history's two or three most important phenomena in terms of their effect on the modern world. In roughly two centuries, from about 1420 to 1620, the urge to find new lands beyond Europe led to an unprecedented increase in knowledge about this planet. Discovery led to colonization and settlement, led to overseas commitments that influenced the rise and fall of nations in Europe. It brought new wealth, new products, new opportunities, new problems, new ways of thinking, and it led to the creation of new nations." [JR Hale, Age of Exploration , Time-Life Great Ages of Man, 1970.]

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