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Expansion of Western Europe

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The expansion of Western Europe started with the Iberian phase. Spain and Portugal, the two countries of the Iberian Peninsula, had a short-lived yet important role in European expansion. European expansion then turned to Western Europe. Western Europe consists of the Dutch, French, and British. While Western Europe was exploring new worlds overseas, the Russians were expanding westward across all of Eurasia.

Religion played a major role in expansion for both the Portuguese and the Spanish due to their extensive anti-Muslim crusade. Due to the over zealous religious fervor of the Christian Iberians, Christianity and thus the Iberians expanded into parts of western Europe during the crusades as Christians tried to convert the Muslims who were occupying this area. The Iberians did not stop with the European mainland; they were also expanding overseas. They were interested in the fertile land of the Canary Islands, Madeira, Azores and Cape Verde. These islands would also prove to be strategic acquisitions for the Iberians, as they would eventually provide the Iberians with bases and ports to be used for commerce. Throughout the 15th century the Spanish and Portuguese had been exploring lands throughout the Atlantic which drove Queen Isabella of Spain to commission Christopher Columbus in 1492 to "Discover and acquire islands and mainland in the ocean sea" (p.340) which eventually led to the discovery of North America.

In the mid 1400's Spain and Portugal began to take separate routes of discovery. Prince Henry of Portugal, in reaction to the shortage of bullion in Western Europe, was interested in sending his captains to the African coast in search of gold. As a result, many Portuguese ports were established along the African coast and "The Portuguese were able to exploit at least a part of the African caravan trade they had sought." (p.340) While Portugal was focused on expansion along the African coast; the Spanish were the first to discover the "new world" despite the lack of geographical knowledge the Spaniards and Columbus in particular possessed. This "new world" wasn't quite what Columbus had though it was, however; as Columbus maintained to his death that he had reached Asia. He hadn't, "He had landed at one of the Bahaman Islands, San Salvador." (p. 342) Columbus' distorted reality proved to be monumental in that it encouraged further exploration of the Americas. The Spanish monarchs funded Columbus' three additional expeditions but none proved to be extremely profitable.

India, the new world that Columbus had set out to conquer, was finally reached in 1487 when Bartholomeau Dias landed at Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean. The cape route to India was secured in 1498 when Vasco da Gama and his four ships landed in Calicut harbor. In 1499 da Gama returned to the Portuguese mainland with a cargo that "Proved to be worth sixty times the cost of the entire expedition" (p.345) proving that the trip was well worth the effort and that the Indian "new world" did indeed exist.

The fever for expansion continued into the 16th century as the Europeans continued to battle for ports and trade routes in the new world. The Portuguese holdings in Asia was relatively small, yet the territories in the possession were so strategically located that they gave the Portuguese control "Trade routes spanning half the globe." (p.347) Despite their efforts, the Egyptians (with the help of the Venetians) as well as the Turks we unsuccessful at trying to drive the Portuguese out of the Indian Ocean.

Once the Spanish realized that they were losing the battle for the Spice Islands, they commissioned Ferdinand Magellan to sail to Asia in search of them. Magellan circumnavigated the globe and eventually reached the modern day Philippines in search of valuable cargo. Despite many obstacles, Magellan made it back to Seville in 1522 with enough valuable cargo to finance his voyage. Despite valiant efforts by the Spanish, the Portuguese maintained their stronghold in the Spice Islands until



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