The Age of Discovery led to many new discoveries of land, people, and cultures.
The Importance of the Age of Discovery
Before the Age of Discovery, the two-year round trip route to the Spice Islands was using the dangerous Silk Road. A sea route was needed to find a faster and safer route and Henry the Navigator was determined to find one.
Prince Henry (1394-1460 was the son of King John I of Portugal, and although he himself did not sail to explore, he was instrumental in financing and training other explorers, even starting a school for teaching navigation and mapmaking in Sagres, Portugal. Some historians are skeptical of his school due to the lack of historical evidence. Regardless, it was Henry's devotion to discovering the oceans and lands beyond. He encouraged sailors to keep detailed logs of speed, direction, currents, and wind speed.
Over the twelve years of his expeditions, his ships were sent on at least fourteen expeditions. His goal was to map Africa's western coast, defeat the Muslims, and establish trade routes. He is credited with caravel ships, lighter, faster, and easier to sail and maneuver. A caravel measured 75 feet in length with two to three masts and a rounded bottom with a crew of even to fifteen.
A monument was built in Belem, Portugual to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, featuring thirty-three prominent people of the era of the Age of Discovery, including de Gama, Cabral, Magellan, and Henry.
The U.S. Power Squadron sponsored a memorial for Henry in 1965 at Fortaleza de Sagres, Portugal. It is a simple column with a cube on top engraved with Henry's Coat of Arms.
The Age of Discovery and the Dark Side
In 1441, Henry became involved with the slave trade when one of his ships returned with captives. Of the captives were a chief and his son. If Henry allowed the chief and his son to return, it was on the condition the chief would supply him with more slaves. Before long, Henry achieved the name of the Father of the Afro-American slave trade. This slaving continued for six centuries after the Portuguese destroyed the Arab slave trade. Eventually, the Dutch were the leaders in the slave trade.
The cruelty of the slaves, especially by de Gama, has been recorded in history. In one incident, de Gama. On one of de Gama's voyages of the Malaba Coast, he intercepted the ship Merci filled with Muslim pilgrims, men, women, and children. After looting the ship, he locked the passengers in their cabins and set fire to the ship burning. After that, he captured thirty fishermen, dismembering them, and left their bodies floating in the harbor. His accomplishments were left with a dark mark on his record even though he was praised and given medals.
Yes, the discoveries of cultures, lands, indigenous natives, and at the same time, the expeditions were bringing animals, plants, wars, and disease to the lands. Without the Age of Discovery, the world would have never been discovered, but what a price was paid.
A Few Outstanding Explorers of the Age of Discovery
- Vasco de Gama (1468-1524). He was the first to discover a route from Europe to India in 1498, making it a Milestone in world history. In 2016, thousands of artifacts and nautical remains were recovered from the ship Esmeralda, one of de Gama's ships off the coast of Iman.
- Pedro Alvares Cabral. He is believed to have discovered Brazil in 1500.
- Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). He discovered the Strait of Magellan and was the first to cross the Pacific Ocean and circumvent the world on his ship, Victoria.
- Christopher Columbus. After our voyages discovered America in 1492. Although there are today some, who believe he wasn't the discovery of America.
- Diago Dias (1450-?) Discovered the Azores in 1427.
And many more sailors, a superstitious lot still bravely ventured into the unknown waters searching for other lands. The era of discovery is truly owed to the visions of Henry the Navigator.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 30, 2021:
Thank you so much and I will check your article on Vasco. Appreciate your visit
MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 30, 2021:
Very interesting and fascinating account. This was a glorious period but in my opinion, the master mariner was Vasco. I have just updated an article on him
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 30, 2021:
The things that were accomplished in that era are amazing, Fran. I do not like the cruelty though. Setting that ship on fire is horrid, as were the other events. The exploration though is fascinating. This is an excellent article.