Compare and contrast overseas commerce in the European, Muslim, and East Asian contexts between 1400 and 1650.

Compareand contrast overseas commerce in the European, Muslim, and EastAsian contexts between 1400 and 1650.

Overseastrade for European countries was not well developed before the 1400s.Most of these nations had not yet mastered the skill of deep oceannavigation. The furthest that their sailors had reached was the BlackSea to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the South. However, theEuropean countries still traded with the Middle East and the Asianregions even though they faced numerous hindrances. The maincommodities that the countries of Europe traded with wereagricultural produce such as wheat, oats, and barley. From the East,they obtained spices, silk, and precious gems. The main challengethat hindered the expansion of International trade was that theOttoman Empire controlled a vast region and the nations of Europe hadto pay huge taxes so that they could travel across those lands. Thus,the Portuguese and the Spaniards tried to find a direct route by seato ensure that they could reach the Far East and be able to tradewith them directly without incurring extra costs. In 1488, BartolomeuDias, a Portuguese captain, set sail along the west coast of Africato try and find a direct route to India. He sailed up to the tip ofthe African continent and was able to ascertain that there was adirect route. Vasco da Gama was the first European to directly sailaround Africa and reach India. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, aSpaniard, also undertook a daring voyage across the Atlantic to tryand reach the Far East by sailing. He accidentally discovered theAmericas, and from there, the European countries were able to obtainsilver and gold which were valued items in the international trade.These significant discoveries transformed Europe’s overseascommerce. The Muslim nations, on the other hand, were wellestablished in the international trade at that period. They hadalready sailed to India, North Africa, and the East Africa. Theytraded in spices, precious gems, and silk. From East Africa, theyobtained ivory, gold, and cloves. Their ability to sail the Red Seaand the Indian Ocean enabled them to be far superior in internationaltrade to their counterparts in Europe. Armenian merchants had alsotraveled in caravans to the Great Silk Road where they were able toreach the empires in China, and the move greatly boosted theirinternational trade. East Asia was the most advanced civilization atthat time. They had developed numerous technologies such as themanufacture of paper, gunpowder, the compass, sophisticated oceanvessels and exquisite porcelain. Also, the Far East region had silk,which, was considered a far superior garment compared to the linenand wool that the Europeans were used to wearing. The Asian regionwas full of daring seafarers many of whom had developed ships thatsailed all the way to Africa for trading purposes. In comparison, allthese three regions were keen on international trade since eachwanted some commodities that were not available locally. However,before the great explorations by Portugal and Spain, the Europeancountries lagged behind in the international trade since they wereclosed off by a vast land mass, controlled by the Ottomans, and theAtlantic Ocean. The Muslim and East Asian nations were free to roamto different regions hence their international commerce greatlyexpanded (Bentley et al., pp 52-57).

Compareand contrast the population size of the various major civilizationsof the world in 1400 and 1660.

In1400, the population size of the major civilizations in Europe,India, the Middle East, and the Far East was less than the size in1660. The spike in the population growth mainly resulted from theexpansion of the international trade. In Spain, the discovery of theAmericas brought a large source of silver and gold that was vital fortrade. Portugal also found a direct route to India in the late 1400sand the nation was able to trade with the rich Asian region directly.As the returns from the overseas trade increased, the demand for thecommodities also grew. Similar factors influenced the population ofall these civilizations. The prices of land and agricultural producecontinued to rise as these items were in high demand at the period.Merchants that travelled to different regions to trade led to theexpansion of the trading centers and urbanization began to takeplace. The small centers grew to towns that later became cities.People that had no land or lacked jobs in the rural areas moved tothe urban regions to find work. The movement led to the rise of therural-urban migration. Since trade was a highly lucrative activity atthe time, the merchants were able to support larger families fromtheir income. Laborers were also better paid, and people in theagricultural sector received high returns from their produce. Theperiod also enjoyed a conducive climate that boosted cultivation ofboth food and cash crops. Technology enabled agriculture to becomemore efficient as more land was cultivated and there was no need toleave some areas fallow. The innovative expertise of the Chineseempire led to items like gunpowder, paper, the compass, cast iron,silk, and porcelain that were highly valued. The growth of theinternational commerce created a deficit in the production of thesecommodities that led to the employment of more workers. These workersearned sufficient wages that helped them raise their standards ofliving. The same case happened in the other regions like India wherethey were producing high quality cotton textiles. In the Muslimnations, their spices, brass with wood inset, rugs and carpets wereunrivaled and avidly sought after. In Europe, different areas hadtheir signature items. Venice was known for the glass that theymanufactured, England had woolen cloth, the Netherlands wereestablished in fishing, printing, and brewing, Spain became famousfor their silver and the use of the first world currency known as thepieces of eight. During these two centuries, the rise in populationsize of these major trading regions was attributed to the items thatthe rest of the world needed. In addition, the period was relativelypeaceful, and most of the focus of those civilizations was oneconomic development. The time also did not face any major naturaldisasters like diseases that could have wiped out a significantportion of the population. Thus, these civilizations continuedincreasing in the number of people uniformly since the quality oflife was very good and everyone was able to sufficiently provide fortheir dependents (Bentley et al., pp 60-63).

Whatpurposes did the great Chinese voyages during the Ming era serve?

Bythe beginning of the Ming dynasty, China had already establisheditself as a powerful naval force. They had superior shipping vesselsand were adept in navigation skills that relied on the stars fordirection. In addition, they had invented the compass, and this toolwas highly efficient for navigating the unknown oceans at that time.The first two Ming emperors had a tough time in affirming their rulesince they faced great opposition from the Mongolian Empire in theNorth. They displayed their control through various military actionson their enemies. Each of these emperors had several trusted generalsthat were mandated with the duty of subduing any region that wasagainst the Ming dynasty. The former agreement was that any leaderthat rose into power in China was to be declared as Lord of all underheaven. This declaration was enforced on her neighbors as well. Asthe years progressed, the other regions began to rebel because theywanted independence from the tyranny of the dynasty. The third Mingemperor changed his strategy. He decided to show his people howpowerful he was by conquering the sea. Through the guide of hisgeneral, Zheng He, he conducted a series of seven voyages to unknownterritories. The goal for each voyage was to reach out to regionsthat were far away and on returning, Zheng He had to bring backtributes from those areas. The main factor that makes theseexpeditions stand out was their size. Each mission had thousands ofcrewmen, and they carried with them many precious commodities thatwere used as a sign of goodwill. In cases where they could have foundhostile inhabitants, Zheng, and his men were allowed to engage inwar. The missions that Zheng supervised occurred from 1405 to 1433upon his death. He journeyed to South Asia, the trading sites ofIndia and he even reached the Persian Gulf. With each trip, he cameback with items from those lands and even some locals from theregions. The three last journeys saw Zheng travel all the way to thecoast of East Africa. On coming back, Zheng brought numerous itemslike ivory, gold and even live lions for his emperor. There were alsoseveral Africans that were brought back from these last expeditions.The emperor had designed this strategy as a show of strength to hispeople and enemies as well. He ensured that the fleet for everymission contained great ships that no person had ever encounteredbefore. The plan worked because such a number of big vessels were notseen cruising together until the First World War. Through theemperor’s plan to scare his enemies into submission, he managed toopen up the trade routes between China and the outside world, thus,making the nation a leader in international commerce for manycenturies to follow. In addition, the people brought back fromdifferent regions came with innovative ideas and technologies thatgreatly improved the advancements that China made during the period.This vain display of power ended up becoming one of the criticalfactors that made China become an economy giant between 1400 and 1600(Bentley et al., pp 65-70).

Whydid the Portuguese sail south and the Spanish sail west in theirvoyages of exploration?

Beforethe 1400s, much of the international trade was controlled by theMiddle East region and the East Asian empires. These areas had openaccess to India and Africa where they were able to obtain numerouscommodities that were needed at the time. These two regions alsoproduced valuable goods like spices, silk, gunpowder, paper,porcelain, and the compass. The European nations were locked out fromaccessing those lands where they could obtain the much neededsubstances. The countries in Europe were mainly producingagricultural products, and at the time they did not have the skillsto manufacture the items that the Muslim world and the Asian regionswere capable of creating. International trade was only possible vialand. Travelling by land had many hazards, and the most critical onewas the Ottoman Turks. These people had taken over a vast territoryto the East of Europe, and they controlled movement within the area.For any trading caravan to obtain permission to cross the Ottoman’sterritory, they had to pay costly fees that eventually made theventure unprofitable. Led by Admiral Christopher Columbus, Spainwanted to find a direct ocean route to the rich Asian region wherethey could freely trade without having to incur added expenses orhaving to face other risks that accompany journeys taken over land.The other reason for the voyage taken by Columbus in 1492 was forcuriosity purposes. However, opening up the trading route thatbypassed the Ottomans was the key factor in play. His voyage aimed atreaching the rich regions of the Far East by sailing around theworld. The endeavor led to the accidental discovery of the Americancontinent. This fete enabled the Spanish nation to control most ofthe Americas and the silver that came from the region. The use ofsilver transformed international trade since it began to be used as auniversal currency for trade. The Portuguese were also avoiding theOttoman Empire since they were ruthless and they rarely negotiatedthe charges they set. At the time, the Suez Canal was centuriesbefore its inception and the only way that the country of Portugalcould reach India was by sailing south to find a way around theAfrican continent. The first explorer to attempt this venture wasCaptain Bartolomeu Dias who, in 1488, sailed all the way to the tipof Africa. He named it Cape of Good Hope since he finally saw thatthe vast continent could be traversed by sailing around it. Hetravelled back after facing severe weather conditions in the areawithout completing his mission. A few years later, in 1497, Vasco daGama set sail from Lisbon and his goal was to reach India. Hisjourney faced many hardships, but he was able to surpass the progressthat his predecessor had made. He docked in East Africa where hereplenished his supplies and waited for the monsoon winds to change.Eventually, he resumed the voyage and finally reached India. In doingso, he was able to connect his country with the Asian region withouthaving to go through unfriendly regions. The contributions of Spainand Portugal in sea exploration opened up the European nations to thewealth that was available in the Asian regions (Bentley et al., pp74-75).

Whatimpacts did the expansion of European and Islamic powers have onAfrica during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?

Bythe beginning of the fifteenth century, Islamic powers had alreadyreached the African continent for trading purposes. They were able toobtain ivory, gold, animal skins, and other rare minerals that werein abundance in the continent. Led by the Ottoman Turks, they broughtnew commodities into the region such as salt, spices, and silk. Theseitems were highly valued by the African tribes who saw the commercialexchange as a lucrative enterprise. The Omani Arabs had also setground in the East African region at the time. Their main base ofoperations was the island of Zanzibar. From the region, they gotcloves, ivory, and animal skins. They brought spices, salt and silkto the locals. With the coming of the first European, Vasco da Gama,in 1497, the presence of the Islamic nations was somewhat disruptedfor several years. The Portuguese established their East Africanheadquarters at a port that is now known as Mombasa. They built afort known as Fort Jesus to protect them from the Muslim nations thatwere keen on taking back their territory. The other function of FortJesus was a point where Portuguese trading ships could replenishtheir supplies before resuming their journey to India. The Portugueseintroduced maize as a crop into the region. Other impacts that thatthey influenced were a new form of architectural design and religion.Christianity was first brought to Africa by the Portuguese people.They also introduced formal education as some of the locals weretaught how to read and write. However, the reign of the Europeans wasshort-lived since the Omani Arabs soon took over after defeatingPortugal in battle. The Arabs then began to establish a firmer rootin the region by intermarrying with the locals. The result of thisintermarriage was the creation of a new language known as Swahili.This language was a mixture of Arabic and the local Bantu dialects. Anew culture known as the Swahili culture was another outcome of thisintermarriage. The Islamic powers also introduced Islam and to date,most coastal regions of East Africa practice the religion as the mainbelief. They built more buildings that fit their designs, and a newmethod of construction was introduced. The Islamic influence wentfurther by promoting long distance trade in the East African area.Tribes from the interior travelled great distances by foot totransport ivory and animal skins to the Arab merchants that werefound in the coastal regions. Another impact that the Islamic powersbrought to Africa was slave trade. Warring tribes brought theircaptives to the coast where they were sold into slavery. These slaveswere shipped to the Middle East where they were used as a free sourceof labor. The slave trade went on for over two centuries until it wasbanned internationally. It is evident, therefore, that by the factthat the European nations and the Islamic countries came to Africa,the vast continent was opened up to the world and it led to the manyevils and benefits that followed in the subsequent centuries (Bentleyet al., pp 75-77).


Bentley,Jerry H., Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds.&nbspTheCambridge World History.Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, 2015.