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Causes & Events of Exploration

Unit 4: c. 1450-1750

Main Ideas:

  • The causes of exploration:

    • Maritime Tech​

    • Increased Environmental Knowledge

    • State Sponsorship of Journeys

    • Desire to Spread Christianity

    • Desire for Gold 

    • Desire for Glory

    • Desire to Trade Directly with Asia

  • Portuguese exploration → Creation of a trading post empire with Africa & Asia

  • Spanish transoceanic exploration → Increased European interest in travel to the Americas

  • English, French, & Dutch did North Atlantic crossings to find the Northwest Passage (a sea route from Europe to China)

Causes of Exploration

Many Factors Allowed Europeans to Venture into the Open Sea

Key Ideas:

Maritime Tech

New maritime technologies (compass, astrolabe, etc.) gave explorers more confidence in venturing into the open sea

Environmental Knowledge

Explorers acquired more accurate maps & also learned about the ocean's wind patterns → Used the wind to move faster

State Sponsorship

European states sponsored the journeys of explorers by providing ships & crew


Europeans sought to spread Christianity throughout the world → Explored more places to spread Christianity there


Europeans believed in mercantilism, the idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world (measured in gold) → Europeans wanted more gold


European states wanted more glory, which they get by conquering more land


Europeans wanted to trade directly with Asia (without Ottoman intermediaries)

Maritime Technology

Maritime Technology gave Explorers more Confidence in Venturing into the Open Sea

List of Maritime Technologies:

Caravel & Carrack

Light ships used by Spanish & Portuguese to travel long distances


A better cargo ship than the Caravel; Used by Dutch in its massive empire

Magnetic Compass

A device (brought from China via Islamic traders) that tells direction


A device that tells latitude

Sternpost Rudder

A device (invented in China) that helps steer a ship

Lateen Sail

A triangular sail that can catch winds on both sides (better than square sail)

An astrolabe, a device that tells latitude


A caravel, a Portuguese & Spanish ship used for exploration


List of Major Explorers

These Explorers Represent their Nation's Views about Exploration

Treaty of Tordesillas (1494):

Created a vertical line in the Atlantic Ocean: Allowed Portugal to have all lands east & Spain to have all lands west of the line. This is why Spain controlled most of the Americas, while Portugal had many Afro-Eurasian ports

Portuguese Explorers:

Bartholomew Dias

Rounded Cape of Good Hope (South Africa)


Vasco da Gama

Went to India via Cape of Good Hope


Pedro Alvares Cabral

Went to Brazil & claimed it for Portugal


Spanish Explorers:

Christopher Columbus

Sailed Westward, landed in Americas


Ferdinand Magellan

Circumnavigated the world; Claimed Philippines for Spain


English Explorers:

John Cabot

Discovered Newfoundland: 1st English discovery


French Explorers:

Jacques Cartier

Discovered Quebec for France


Dutch Explorers:

Henry Hudson

Claimed New Amsterdam (today's NY) for the Dutch 


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