13. The Expansion of Christian nations

13.5 Sea Expansion Of Latin Christianity

In the year 1000, Leif Erickson discovered Vineland 3. This discovery of Newfoundland and even Maine remained without consequences. The sea nomads withdrew fast from lands they were unable to plunder or easily colonize. The discovery of America by the Vikings was premature as was premature the invention of the drakkar and the invention of the superior ships wherewith Alfred countered them. Greenland itself was abandoned for good in 1410, just 15 years before the sea-expansion of the Atlantic states began. A small cold wave, the pest and Native Americans (Thule) joined forces to eliminate them.

The situation was different for the Europe of the Renaissance. The Princes needed gold for their mercenaries, needed copper and tin for cannons, needed saltpeter for gunpowder and needed spices for the vitamins these contained. The Ottomans had closed the overland road to the spices and imposed enormous taxes on their import. With increasing populations, with maize, rice, potatoes, cacao, tomatoes and turkeys unknown, with the North African food cellar out of reach and anyhow empty, there was a problem to solve.

The Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator conquered the Moorish harbor of Ceuta, near Tangier, in 1415. It is still today under Spanish control. This is the date the European colonial adventure started. Henry probably knew about the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa ordered by Pharaoh Nekao around 500 BC. To repeat this feat, Henry, contrary to the Viking daredevils, set out a scientific approach: astronomy, cartography, log books and the development of the caravel, which carries a maximum of freight, a minimum of sailors, picks up any wind, penetrates shallow waters, resists tempests and of course carries guns (fig 13.5).

Afbeelding 52

Figure 13.5. Conjectural model of the caravel Santa Maria, by dis. Luigi Volonté.

Henry lost all his personal fortune in the adventure. Africa had nothing to offer to recoup his losses, except the natives: resilient, simple, hard-working, good humored and able to stand heat. Perfect slaves, as the Muslims well knew. Besides that, Africa was hot, sickening and swampy. The coasts were with shoals, undercurrents and long rollers, and devoid of natural harbors. It was a land to bypass. Yet, in 1444, after 30 years of efforts, only Senegal had been reached. In 1460, at the death of Henry, Sierra Leone was reconnoitered. Then, suddenly, capitalizing on accumulative discoveries at all levels, a burst of intrepid exploration began. Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and met Zulu’s along the East Coast, who were described as very friendly. Vasco de Gama reached the shores of East Africa with only a third of his initial crew. The majority of the crew had died of scorbut (i.e. deficit in vitamin C). Vasco de Gama reached India in 1498 while Columbus (an Italian at the service of the Spanish Crown) tried to reach Japan by sailing westwards and landed in Cuba in 1492 (fig. 13.6).

Afbeelding 59

Figure 13.6. J.L. Gottfried. December 6, 1492: De Bry’s calcography depicts two events. On the upper left, landing of the three caravels on Guanahani island (Watking) and raising of the cross. At center, in the background: Hispaniola (Haiti) is taken. The natives run away. In front, the natives come back, presenting gifts.

Soon thereafter, the Portuguese reached Ceylon, then Malacca, China and Japan while the Spaniards, accepting the fact that the earth was twice as large as they thought and that they had discovered a new continent, began to ruthlessly and ferociously exploit it (fig. 13.7).

Afbeelding 73

Figure 13. 7. J.L. Gottfried. Pedro Arias, named governor of the Darien isthmus in 1514, undid the pacification work of Balboa and ferociously oppressed the natives for gold, which fostered rebellion. This greed may have been the reason for the destruction of the concessions set up by Bartholome in that region (see fig. 13.2). On the right background: the natives cut off the limbs of the still living Spanish prisoners. Left background: the limbs are roasted on a barbecue. In front: the Spanish are forced to gulp molten gold, while the natives shout:”Take gold, take gold, greedy Christian”.

In 1509, the Sultan of Egypt and his Indian allies were beaten by the Portuguese in a naval battle off Diu, between Karachi and Bombay. This was the most important battle in Asian History. The European naval revolution had realized its promises and naval power in Asiatic waters was in their hands. The guns of the European vessels sank the galleys at large before these could establish contact and board. The policy of the oceans befell the Atlantic powers. All Asiatic vessels navigating without European authorization were sunk (fig. 13.8).

Afbeelding 74

Figure 13.8. J.L. Gottfried. Capture of a raft-boat by a Dutch vessel in the Pacific Ocean.

Commercial trading between Asian nations was at the mercy of the Atlantic powers. Turkish and Venetian galleys could hold their own in closed waters such as the Red Sea and the Mediterranean but even Venice, the former queen of the seas, had to call British and Dutch ships to help against the Spaniards, in 1616.

The ships of the Spaniards and Portuguese evolved from light and small caravels to huge ships carrying a formidable armament (fig. 13.9).

These sluggish monsters needed almost a half-gale to be moved. The Dutch reverted from such fortresses towards the more maneuverable -while still very well gunned- galleons (fig. 13.10), where­by the second wave of conquest was initiated.

Figure 13.9. Spanish galleon, sixteenth century.
Figure 13.10. J.L. Gottfried. Galleon of the Dutch East India Company.

Afbeelding 65 Afbeelding 77

The strength of the Spaniards was sufficient to repel other nations’ claims on their new territories but manpower did not meet the needs of Portugal. Its forces were spread too thin and the Dutch took their place: they tried in Brazil (San Salvador da Bahia), occupied New York (fig. 13.11) and captured Indonesia.

Afbeelding 79

Figure 13.11. After an engraving of the 17th century. Fort Amsterdam, built by the Dutch on the island Manhattan. The West Indian Company bought Manhattan in 1626. A governor administered it in an autocratic way. The last governor, Stuyvesant, was so hated by the 1,600 inhabitants that they welcomed the English in 1664.

The Dutch went to Japan but the Shogunate forbade their entrance in the country, and restricted them to a small island facing the harbor of Nagasaki (fig. 13.12). Despite insulting treatment from the Shogunate, the Dutch, through this channel, established contact with Japanese scientists. They also settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

Afbeelding 80

Figure 13.12. The Christianization of Japan was initially so successful with the Portuguese, and so dumb later on with the Spaniards who used religion as an imperialistic tool, that it led to their banishment and to the persecution of the converts. The Shogunate ordered the eradication of the Christian faith and five hundred thousand Christian Japanese were killed. The Dutch were tolerated and confined on a small artificial island, called Deshima, off Nagasaki (oval, left center). The Dutch were not allowed to import wives and children; geishas and prostitutes were allowed in the colony. The Chinese were parked on the rectangular island left of the Dutch. Unknown Japanese artist. Ca 1850. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

The third wave was the French and English penetration. The French gave up most of Canada and sold the whole of the Mississippi valley to the US, were expelled from India but maintained themselves in Africa and parts of the Far East and Oceania.


3. C.M. Cipolla: European Culture and Overseas Expansion. Pelican Book, 1970

This entry was posted in 13. The Expansion of Christian nations. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.