Factors that Expedited the Age of Discovery

  • In 1279 King Diniz set out to improve Portugal's emerging navy
  • King Diniz appointed Genoese sea captain to develop Portugal's mercantile and naval fleets
  • Atlantic coastline was planted with trees to provide timber for ocean-going fleets
  • In 1341 a fleet of three vessels sailed from Lisbon to explore Canary Islands
  • Portuguese navigators led Europe in captaining state-of-the-art maneuverable ships and applyied forward thinking innovations in the fields of navigation and cartography
  • 3 routes dominated trade to the east: 
    • Overland journey from China across Central Asia to the Black Sea
    • By ship from India to the Persian Gulf
    • Overland over Baghdad or Damascus to Mediterranean ports
  • Goods monopolized by the northern Italian city-states, especially economies of Venice or Genoa
  • Products distributed throughout Europe
  • Spices became a necessity more than a luxury to the Europeans, as they were used to complement process of preserving meat
  • The Portuguese hoped they could find their own route to the Indies and break the Venetian stranglehold.
  • Prince Henry the Navigator set Portugal on its course towards overseas expansion
  • He established a center for study of navigation, naval architecture, and astronomy at Sagres in southern Portugal, where they developed a powerful ship called the caravel. 
  • Its advantage over the older ships was its triangular sail, which could be trimmed to allow the ship to proceed in either cross or head winds. 
  • Prince Henry dispatched ships into the Atlantic with orders to proceed as far as possible, map the coast or any islands sighted, and return. 
  • Portuguese captains discovered the islands of Madeira and Azores.
  • When Prince Henry died in 1460, some 1500 miles of African coastline had been discovered and partially mapped, and the Azores and Madeira Islands were active colonies. 
  • Portuguese captains made significant progress, venturing down the northwestern coast of Africa past present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia into the Gulf of Guinea. 
  • Portuguese enjoyed significant advantage over other European nations in both ship design and navigation. 
  • Made gains in ability to determine latitude by sighting the North Star through an Astrolabe and measuring the apparent distance of the star from the horizon. 
  • Pursued exploration south of the equator where the North Star was not visible. 
  • Effected improvements in navigational instruments and methods led to refinements in the field of cartography
  • Portuguese maps of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries regarded as best in Europe, and foreign spies in Lisbon made attempts to buy or steal them. 
  • Portuguese safeguarded their maps by giving them the status of state secrets. Royal decree forbade the circulation of maps showing the sailing routes south of the Congo River in Africa.
  • In 1487 Bartholomeu Dias sailed from Lisbon with two caravels and a supply ship, and became the first to round the African continent.