The rise of Portugal.—In the work of geographical and commercial expansion Portugal now took the lead. The little kingdom, from a small territory to the north of the Douro, had gradually extended its domain to the southward by driving out the Moors. Its commercial importance began by the opening of a trade with England. From 1383 to 1433 Portugal was ruled by John the Great, and during his reign the oversea expansion of the country began.
Henry the Navigator.—The greatness of Portugal was largely due to one of King John's sons, Prince Henry. He was born in 1394 and at an early age became interested in furthering trade with the interior of Africa. In 1410 or 1412 he is said to have sent caravels down the coast. In 1415 he assisted in the capture of the Moorish stronghold of Ceuta, where he gained great military renown. In 1419 he was made governor of Algarve, the southern province of Portugal. He established himself at Sagres, on Cape St. Vincent, where he enlarged the old naval arsenal, built a palace, chapel, study, and observatory, and here it was that he spent the greater portion of his life.
Henry had three main objects: first, to open trade with the interior of Africa; second, to found a colonial empire; third, to spread the Christian faith. A tale was current that somewhere in Africa lived a Christian king called Prester John, who was cut off from the world by Islam. To find his kingdom and unite with him in the overthrow of the Mohammedans was a natural ambition in a prince who had already assisted in the capture of Ceuta.
Henry gathered about him a group of trained mariners, some of whom were Italians, made a study of geography and navigation, instructed his captains, and sent them out from Lagos to find new markets. Between 1420 and 1430 Cape Blanco was discovered and the first slaves were brought back, this being the beginning of an extensive traffic. Four years later Cape Verde was reached, and in 1455 the Cape Verde Islands were discovered and the coast of Senegal explored. The results of the Portuguese explorations under Prince Henry were incorporated in a map of the world, made by Fra Mauro in the convent of Murano, near Venice.
Discovery of a route to India.—During the sixty years which followed the death of Prince Henry, 1460-1520, the Portuguese completed the exploration of the west coast of Africa, discovered a route to India, explored a considerable part of the eastern coast of North and South America, and founded a colonial empire. In 1486 Bartholomew Díaz passed the Cape of Good Hope and in 1498 Vasco da Gama, spurred on by the discoveries of Columbus, crossed the Indian Ocean to Calicut.
It has been customary to ascribe the diversion of trade from the eastern Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope route to the rise of the Turkish Empire, which was supposed to have cut the old lines of communication to the Far East. Recent investigation has shown that such is not the case. As Professor Lybyer says, "They [the Turks] were not active agents in deliberately obstructing the routes.... Nor did they make the discovery of new routes imperative. On the contrary they lost by the discovery of a new and superior route." This superiority was due to the fact that the Cape route was an all-water route which did not require the rehandling of goods and expensive caravan transportation. Not the Turk, but cheap freight rates, diverted trade from the Mediterranean to the Cape route.
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