4.10.05

Questions from the audience #2

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

browsing through the visitors-statistics i found a person from Kansas, Witchita browsing ask.com with this question:

what motivated the spanish to sail towards the united states?


Ok, now first of all, there was no united states to sail to in the beginning. Second of all, the spanish were not the first to sail, as columbus was a Genoese, at that time an independent city-state in Northern Italy. So the question i will now answer is actually:

what motivated the genoese to sail Westward on the Atlantic?


Well the answer is shockingly simple and straight-forwards. Cash. The Genoese were experienced merchants who were looking for new routes, mostly to Asian wealth. Trade has had a very long history in the mediterranean, beginning probably with the first Egyptian and Minoan civilisations, continuing with the Phoenician and Greek shipping networks and colonies. These extended all the way from the Black Sea to the Canary islands and several coastal enclaves in West-Africa. These greeks settled all along the mediterranean coasts and competed with Phonecians and other cities such as Cartaghe and later Rome.
The Roman Empire changed the world of trade by making the mediterranean the "Mare nostrum". This openend the way for a boom in trade, but also for the closure of entreperneurial long-distance trade, as the Roman State monopolised several routes to Asia. The Roman Empire put levies in Incense, Silk and other "exotic" goods from Persia, India and beyond.
After the rise of Islam and the collapse of the Roman Empire (which was probably also caused by epidemics), the mediterranean world was cut in two pieces: one oriented to th east, one oriented to itself. The most important thing was that due to the decline of cities, that without Empire could not support themselves, the sea was now in hands of Muslim corsairs, merchants, pirates and sailors. It was only after the Crusades (1096) that Europeans (the 'new' civilisation) started to trade on the mediterranean again, though Italian city-states such as Genoa, Venice, Florence and Pisa. They sponsored Crusades, and established trading houses along the Islamic coasts (and rediscovered the Black Sea). Their trade was mostly in Slavic Slaves (typical), silver. In return they bought goods from the Eastern world.
Give this trade some time and now come back to the 15th century. Genoese, at the beginnen of the century were already doing allot of business with the Ottoman Empire. They even got to hold high positions in the Ottoman administration as tax-farmers. The Ottomans were however on the expanding side, as the Byzantine Empire kept shrinking. Ultimatly taking Constantinopel (A muslim dream since 678) in 1453, the Genoese saw their trades diminish. Sure, they were Christian, so many of the Genoese were scared, but most stayed in business.
In the meanwhile, the Genoese were looking for new routes. There is evidence that several expeditions were led allong the West-African coast, allong the Red Sea and towards Irak and the Persian Gulf. When Columbus was applying for Genoese State-Support for his journey to the West, people thought he was following an insane idea, for everybody knows the East lies Eastwards.

He sailed to the New World, and until his death believed he had found a Western route to Asia. Hence, "The Indians".

So, what motivated??? Routes, Goods, Trade, Luxury, Status, Monopoly. In one word: Money.



Paul Butel. The Atlantic. (Seas in History.) Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. New York: Routledge. 1999

4 Comments:

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Gman.. said...

yes, yes... but why then, did the chicken cross the road?

 
At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Alexandra said...

I don't get those chicken questions. What is funny about them?

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger 121774 said...

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At 9:21 AM, Blogger jonathan even-zohar said...

They are very existentialistic, Alexandra.
Gman, there is evidence the portuegese crossed looking for more fishing grounds...

 

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