European Background Of American History by Edward Potts Cheyney

Produced by George Balogh, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team THE AMERICAN NATION A HISTORY LIST OF AUTHORS AND TITLES GROUP I. FOUNDATIONS OF THE NATION Vol. 1 European Background of American History, by Edward Potts Cheyney, A.M., Prof. Hist. Univ. of Pa. Vol. 2 Basis of American History, by Livingston Farrand, M.D.,
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Produced by George Balogh, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team






Vol. 1 European Background of American History, by Edward Potts Cheyney, A.M., Prof. Hist. Univ. of Pa.

Vol. 2 Basis of American History, by Livingston Farrand, M.D., Prof. Anthropology Columbia Univ.

Vol. 3 Spain in America, by Edward Gaylord Bourne, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Yale Univ.

Vol. 4 England in America, by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, LL.D., President William and Mary College.

Vol. 5 Colonial Self-Government, by Charles McLean Andrews, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Johns Hopkins Univ.



Vol. 6 Provincial America, by Evarts Boutell Greene, Ph.D., Prof. Hist, and Dean of College, Univ. of Ill.

Vol. 7 France in America, by Reuben Gold Thwaites, LL.D., Sec. Wisconsin State Hist. Soc.

Vol. 8 Preliminaries of the Revolution, by George Elliott Howard, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Univ. of Nebraska.

Vol. 9 The American Revolution, by Claude Halstead Van Tyne, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Univ. of Michigan.

Vol. 10 The Confederation and the Constitution, by Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin, A.M., Head Prof. Hist. Univ. of Chicago.



Vol. 11 The Federalist System, by John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D., Prof. Am. Hist. Smith College.

Vol. 12 The Jeffersonian System, by Edward Channing, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Harvard Univ.

Vol. 13 Rise of American Nationality, by Kendric Charles Babcock, Ph.D., Pres. Univ. of Arizona.

Vol. 14 Rise of the New West, by Frederick Jackson Turner, Ph.D., Prof. Am. Hist. Univ. of Wisconsin.

Vol. 15 Jacksonian Democracy, by William MacDonald, LL.D., Prof. Hist. Brown Univ.



Vol. 16 Slavery and Abolition, by Albert Bushnell Hart, LL.D., Prof. Hist. Harvard Univ.

Vol. 17 Westward Extension, by George Pierce Garrison, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Univ. of Texas.

Vol. 18 Parties and Slavery, by Theodore Clarke Smith, Ph.D., Prof. Am. Hist Williams College.

Vol. 19 Causes of the Civil War, by Admiral French Ensor Chadwick, U.S.N., recent Pres. of Naval War Col.

Vol. 20 The Appeal to Arms, by James Kendall Hosmer, LL.D., recent Librarian Minneapolis Pub. Lib.

Vol. 21 Outcome of the Civil War, by James Kendall Hosmer, LL.D., recent Lib. Minneapolis Pub. Lib.



Vol. 22 Reconstruction, Political and Economic, by William Archibald Dunning, Ph.D., Prof. Hist, and Political Philosophy Columbia Univ.

Vol. 23 National Development, by Edwin Erle Sparks, Ph.D., Prof. American Hist. Univ. of Chicago.

Vol. 24 National Problems, by Davis R. Dewey, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Mass. Institute of Technology.

Vol. 25 America as a World Power, by John H. Latane, Ph.D., Prof. Hist. Washington and Lee Univ.

Vol. 26 National Ideals Historically Traced, by Albert Bushnell Hart, LL.D., Prof. Hist. Harvard Univ.

Vol. 27 Index to the Series, by David Maydole Matteson, A.M.



Charles Francis Adams, LL D, President Samuel A Green, M.D., Vice- President James Ford Rhodes, LL D, ad Vice President Edward Channing, Ph.D., Prof History, Harvard Univ Worthington C Ford, Chief of Division of MSS Library of Congress


Reuben G Thwaites, LLD, Secretary Frederick J Turner, Ph.D., Prof Hist Univ of Wisconsin James D Butler LLD William W Wright, LLD Hon Henry E Legler


Captain William Gordon McCabe, Litt D, President Lyon G Tyler, LL D, Pres William and Mary College Judge David C Richardson J A C Chandler, Professor Richmond College Edward Wilson James


Judge John Henninger Reagan, President George P Garrison, Ph.D., Prof Hist Univ of Texas Judge C W Rames Judge Zachary T Fullmore









CONTENTS [Proofer’s Note: Original page numbers included in CONTENTS for reference purposes.]




I. THE EAST AND THE WEST (1200-1500)…3



















[Proofer’s Note: Maps and illustrations omitted.]


CONQUESTS OF THE OTTOMAN TURKS (1300-1525) (in colors)






That a new history of the United States is needed, extending from the discovery down to the present time, hardly needs statement. No such comprehensive work by a competent writer is now in existence. Individual writers have treated only limited chronological fields. Meantime there, is a rapid increase of published sources and of serviceable monographs based on material hitherto unused. On the one side there is a necessity for an intelligent summarizing of the present knowledge of American history by trained specialists; on the other hand there is need of a complete work, written in untechnical style, which shall serve for the instruction and the entertainment of the general reader.

To accomplish this double task within a time short enough to serve its purpose, there is but one possible method, the co-operative. Such a division of labor has been employed in several German, French, and English enterprises; but this is the first attempt, to carry out that system on a large scale for the whole of the United States.

The title of the work succinctly suggests the character of the series, The American Nation. A History. From Original Materials by Associated Scholars. The subject is the “American Nation,” the people combined into a mighty political organization, with a national tradition, a national purpose, and a national character. But the nation, as it is, is built upon its own past and can be understood only in the light of its origin and development. Hence this series is a “history,” and a consecutive history, in which events shall be shown not only in their succession, but in their relation to one another; in which cause shall be connected with effect and the effect become a second cause. It is a history “from original materials,” because such materials, combined with the recollections of living men, are the only source of our knowledge of the past. No accurate history can be written which does not spring from the sources, and it is safer to use them at first hand than to accept them as quoted or expounded by other people. It is a history written by “scholars”; the editor expects that each writer shall have had previous experience in investigation and in statement. It is a history by “associated scholars,” because each can thus bring to bear his special knowledge and his special aptitude.

Previous efforts to fuse together into one work short chapters by many hands have not been altogether happy; the results have usually been encyclopaedic, uneven, and abounding in gaps. Hence in this series the whole work is divided into twenty-six volumes, in each of which the writer is free to develop a period for himself. It is the editor’s function to see that the links of the chain are adjusted to each other, end to end, and that no considerable subjects are omitted.

The point of view of The American Nation is that the purpose of the historian is to tell what has been done, and, quite as much, what has been purposed, by the thinking, working, and producing people who make public opinion. Hence the work is intended to select and characterize the personalities who have stood forth as leaders and as seers; not simply the founders of commonwealths or the statesmen of the republic, but also the great divines, the inspiring writers, and the captains of industry. For this is not intended to be simply a political or constitutional history: it must include the social life of the people, their religion, their literature, and their schools. It must include their economic life, occupations, labor systems, and organizations of capital. It must include their wars and their diplomacy, the relations of community with community, and of the nation with other nations.

The true history, nevertheless, must include the happenings which mark the progress of discovery and colonization and national life. Striking events, dramatic episodes, like the discovery of America, Drake’s voyage around the world, the capture of New Amsterdam by the English, George Rogers Clark’s taking of Vincennes, and the bombardment of Fort Sumter, inspired the imagination of contemporaries, and stir the blood of their descendants. A few words should be said as to the make-up of the volumes. Each contains a portrait of some man especially eminent within the field of that volume. Each volume also contains a series of colored and black-and-white maps, which add details better presented in graphic form than in print. There being no general atlas of American history in existence, the series of maps taken together will show the territorial progress of the country and will illustrate explorations and many military movements. Some of the maps will be reproductions of contemporary maps or sketches, but most of them have been made for the series by the collaboration of authors and editor. Each volume has foot-notes, with the triple purpose of backing up the author’s statements by the weight of his authorities, of leading the reader to further excursions into wider fields, and of furnishing the investigator with the means of further study. The citations are condensed as far as is possible while leaving them unmistakable, and the full titles of most of the works cited will be found in the critical essay on bibliography at the end of each volume. This constant reference to authorities, a salutary check on the writer and a safeguard to the reader, is one of the features of the work; and the bibliographical chapters carefully select from the immense mass of literature on American history the titles of the most authentic and the most useful secondary works and sources. The principle of the whole series is that every book shall be written by an expert for laymen; and every volume must

therefore stand the double test of accuracy and of readableness. American history loses nothing in dramatic climax because it is true or because it is truly told. As editor of the series I must at least express my debt to the publishers, who have warmly adopted the idea that truth and popular interest are inseparable; to the authors, with whom I have discussed so often the problems of their own volumes and of the series in general; especially to the members of the committees of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Virginia Historical Society, Texas Historical Society, and Wisconsin State Historical Society, whose generous interest and suggestions in the meetings that I have held with them were of such assistance in the laying out of the work; to the public, who how have the opportunity of acting as judges of this performance and whose good-will alone can prove that the series justifies itself.


EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION This first volume of the series supplies a needed link between the history of Europe and the history of early America; for whether it came through a Spanish, French, English, Dutch, or Swedish medium, or through the later immigrants from Germany, from Italy, and from the Slavic countries, the American conception of society and of government was originally derived from the European. Hence the importance at the outset of knowing what that civilization was at the time of colonization. Professor Cheyney (chapters i. and ii.) fitly begins with an account of mediaeval commerce, especially between Europe and Asia, and the effect of the interposition of the Turks into the Mediterranean, and how, by their disturbance of the established course of Asiatic trade, they turned men’s minds towards other routes to Asia by sea. Thence he proceeds to show (chapter iii.) how the Italians in navigation and in map-making exhibited the same pre-eminence as in commerce and the arts, and why Italy furnished so many of the explorers of the western seas in the period of discovery. It is an easy transition in chapter iv. to the dramatic story of the efforts of the Portuguese to reach India round Africa. The next step is to describe in some detail (chapters v. and vi.) the system of government and of commerce which existed in Spain, France, and Holland in the sixteenth century; and the book will surprise the reader in its account of the effective and far-reaching administration of the Spanish kingdom, the mother of so many later colonies. This discussion is very closely connected with the account of Spanish institutions in the New World as described by Bourne in his Spain in America (volume III. of the series), and we find the same terms, such as “audiencia,” “corregidor,” and “Council of the Indies” reappearing in colonial history. A much-neglected subject in American history is the development of great commercial companies, which, in the hands of the English, planted their first permanent colonies. To this subject Professor Cheyney devotes two illuminating chapters (vii. and viii.), in which he prints a list of more than sixty such companies chartered by various nations, and then selects as typical the English Virginia Company, the Dutch West India Company, and the French Company of New France, which he analyzes and compares with one another. It is significant that not one of these companies was Spanish, for that country retained in its own hands complete control both of its colonies and of their commerce.

Since English colonization was almost wholly Protestant and added a new centre of Protestant influence, Professor Cheyney has, in two chapters (ix. and x.), given some account of the Reformation and of the religious wars of the sixteenth century. He brings out not only the differences in doctrine but in spirit, and shows how, by the Thirty Years’ War, Germany was excluded from the possibility of establishing American colonies, a lack which that country has found it impossible to repair in our day.

The mother-country for the American nation was in greater part England; even Scotland and Ireland contributed their numbers and their characteristics only in the third and fourth generations of the colonies. A considerable part of this volume, therefore (chapters xi. to xvi.), is given up to a description of the conditions of England at the time of the departure of the first colonists. Everybody knows, and nobody knows clearly, the religious questions in England from Elizabeth to James II. Here will be found a distinct and vivid account of the struggle between churchmen, Catholics, Puritans, and Independents for influence on the Church of England or for supremacy in the state. Why did the Catholics in general remain loyal? Why were the Puritans punished? Why were the Independents at odds with everybody else? Why did not Presbyterianism take root in England? These are all questions of great moment, and their adjustment by Professor Cheyney prepares the way for the account of the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth colony in Tyler’s England in America (volume IV. of the series). An absolute essential for an understanding of colonial history before the Revolution is a clear idea of the political system of England, both in its larger national form and in its local government. Hence the importance of Professor Cheyney’s chapters on English government. The kings’ courts, council, and Parliament all had their effect upon the governors’ courts, councils, and assemblies of the various colonies. Prom the English practice came the superb, fundamental notion of a right of representation and of the effectiveness of a delegated assembly. In local government the likeness was in some respects even closer; and Professor Cheyney’s account of the English county court, and especially of the township or parish, will solve many difficulties in the later colonial history. In some ways Professor Cheyney’s conclusions make more striking and original the development of the astonishing New England town-meetings. As the volume begins with the rise of the exploring spirit, it is fitting that Prince Henry the Navigator should furnish the frontispiece. The bibliography deals more than those of later volumes with a literature which has been a tangled thicket, and will shorten the road for many teachers and students of these subjects. The significance of Professor Cheyney’s volume is that, without describing America or narrating American events, it furnishes the necessary point of departure for a knowledge of American history. The first question to be asked by the reader is, why did people look westward? And the answer is, because of their desire to reach the Orient. The second question is, what was the impulse to new habits of life and what the desire for settlements in distant lands? The answer is, the effect of the Reformation in arousing men’s minds and in bringing about wars which led to emigration. The third question is, what manner of people were they who furnished the explorers and the colonists? The answer is found in these pages, which describe the Spaniard, the French, the Dutch, and especially the English, and show us the national and local institutions which were ready to be transplanted, and which readily took root across the sea.

AUTHOR’S PREFACE The history of America is a branch of that of Europe. The discovery, exploration, and settlement of the New World were results of European movements, and sprang from economic and political needs, development of enterprise, and increase of knowledge, in the Old World. The fifteenth century was a period of extension of geographical knowledge, of which the discovery of America was a part; the sixteenth century was a time of preparation, during which European events were taking place which were of the first importance to America, even though none of the colonies which were to make up the United States were yet in existence. From the time of the settlement forward, the only population of America that has counted in history has been of European origin. The institutions that characterize the New World are fundamentally those of Europe. People and institutions have been modified by the material conditions of America; and the process of emigration gave a new direction to the development of American history from the very beginning; but the origin of the people, of their institutions, and of their history was none the less a European one. The beginnings of American history are therefore to be found In European conditions at the time of the foundation of the colonies. Similar forces continued to exercise an influence in later times. The power and policy of home governments, successive waves of emigration, and numberless events in Europe had effects which were deeply felt in America. This influence of Europe upon America, however, became less and less as time passed on; and the development of the American nation has made its history constantly more independent. It is, therefore, only with some of the most important and earliest of these European occurrences and conditions that this book is occupied. The general relation of America to Europe is a subject that would require a vastly fuller treatment, and it is a subject which doubtless will increasingly receive the attention of scholars as our appreciation of the proper perspective of history becomes more clear. In so wide a field as that of this volume, it has been necessary to use secondary materials for many statements; their aid is acknowledged in the footnotes and in the bibliography. Other parts, so far as space limits allowed, I have been able to work out from original sources. For much valuable information, suggestion, and advice also, I am indebted to friends and fellow- workers, and here gladly make acknowledgment for such assistance.





To set forth the conditions in Europe which favored the work of discovering America and of exploring, colonizing, and establishing human institutions there, is the subject and task of this book. Its period extends from the beginning of those marked commercial, political, and intellectual changes of the fifteenth century which initiated a great series of geographical discoveries, to the close, in the later years of the seventeenth century, of the religious wars and persecutions which did so much to make that century an age of emigration from Europe. During those three hundred years few events in European history failed to exercise some influence upon the fortunes of America. The relations of the Old World to the New were then constructive and fundamental to a degree not true of earlier or of later times. Before the fifteenth century events were only distantly preparing the way; after the seventeenth the centre of gravity of American history was transferred to America itself.

The crowding events, the prominent men, the creative thoughts, and the rapidly changing institutions which fill the history of western Europe during these three centuries cannot all be described in this single volume. It merely attempts to point out the leading motives for exploration and colonization, to show what was the equipment for discovery, and to describe the most significant of those political institutions of Europe which exercised an influence on forms of government in the colonies, thus sketching the main outlines of the European background of American history. Many political, economic, intellectual, and personal factors combined to make the opening of our modern era an age of geographical discovery. Yet among these many causes there was one which was so influential and persistent that it deserves to be singled out as the predominant incentive to exploration for almost two hundred years. This enduring motive was the desire to find new routes, from Europe to the far East.

Columbus sailed on his great voyage in 1492, “his object being to reach the Indies.” [Footnote: Columbus’s Journal, October 3, 21, 23, 24, etc Cf. Bourne, Spain in America, chap, 11] When he discovered the first land beyond the Atlantic, he came to the immediate conclusion that he had reached the coast of Asia, and identified first Cuba and then Hayti with Japan. A week after his first sight of land he Reports, “It is certain that this is the main-land and that I am in front of Zayton and Guinsay” [Footnote: Columbus’s Journal, November 1] Even on his third voyage, in 1498, he is still of the opinion that South America is the main-land of Asia. [Footnote: Columbus’s will] It was reported all through Europe that the Genoese captain had “discovered the coast of the Indies,” and “found that way never before known to the East.” [Footnote: Ramusio, Raccolta de Navigazioni, I, 414] The name West Indies still remains as a testimony to the belief of the early explorers that they had found the Indies by sailing westward.

When John Cabot, in 1496, obtained permission from Henry VII. to equip an expedition for westward exploration, he hoofed to reach “the island of Cipango” (Japan) and the lands from which Oriental caravans brought their goods to Alexandria. [Footnote: Letter of Soncino, 1497, in Hart, Contemporaries, I., 70.] It is true that he landed on the barren shore of Labrador, and that what he descried from his vessel as he sailed southward was only the wooded coast of North America; but it was reported, and for a while believed, that the king of England had in this manner “acquired a part of Asia without drawing his sword.” [Footnote: Ibid. Cf. Bourne. Spain in America, chap v.] In 1501 Caspar Cortereal, in the service of the king of Portugal, pressed farther into the ice-bound arctic waters on the same quest, and with his companions became the first in the dreary list of victims sacrificed to the long search for a northwest passage. [Footnote: Harrisse, Les Cortereal] When the second generation of explorers learned that the land that had been discovered beyond the sea was not Asia, their first feeling was not exultation that a new world had been discovered, but chagrin that a great barrier, stretching far to the north and the south, should thus interpose itself between Europe and the eastern goal on which their eyes were fixed. Every navigator who sailed along the coast of North or South America looked eagerly for some strait by which he might make his way through, and thus complete the journey to the Spice Islands, to China, Japan, India, and the other lands of the ancient East. [Footnote: Bourne, Spain in America, chap viii.] Verrazzano, in 1521, and Jacques Cartier, in 1534, 1535, and 1541, both in the service of the king of France, and Gomez, in the Spanish service, in 1521, were engaged in seeking this elusive passage. [Footnote: Pigeonneau, Histoire du Commerce de la France, II, 142-148.] For more than a hundred years the French traders and explorers along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes were led farther and farther into the wilderness by hopes of finding some western outlet which would make it possible for them to reach Cathay and India. Englishmen, with greater persistence than Spaniards, Portuguese, or French, pursued the search for this northwestern route to India. To find such a passage became a dream and a constantly renewed effort of the navigators and merchants of the days of Queen Elizabeth; the search for it continued into the next century, even after colonies had been established in America itself; and a continuance of the quest was constantly impressed by the government and by popular opinion upon the merchants of the Hudson Bay Company, till the eighteenth century.

A tradition grew up that there was a passage through the continent somewhere near the fortieth parallel. It was in the search for this passage that Hudson was engaged, when, in the service of the Dutch government, in 1609, he made the famous voyage in the Half Moon and hit on the Hudson River; just as in his first voyage he had tried to reach the Indies by crossing the North Pole, and in his second by following a northeast route. [Footnote: Asher, Henry Hudson, the Navigator, cxcii.- cxcvi.] Much of the exploration of the coast of South America was made with the same purpose. To reach India was the deliberate object of Magellan when, in 1519 and 1520, he skirted the coast of that continent and made his way through the southern straits. The same objective point was intended in the “Molucca Voyage” of 1526-1530, under the command of Sebastian Cabot, [Footnote: Beazley, John and Sebastian Cabot, 152.] as well as in other South American voyages of Spanish explorers. Thus the search for a new route to the East lay at the back of many of those voyages of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which gradually made America familiar to Europe.

The same object was sought in explorations to the eastward. The earliest voyages of the Portuguese along the coast of Africa, it is true, had other motives; but the desire to reach India grew upon the navigators and the sovereigns of that nation, and from the accession of John II., in 1481, every nerve was strained to find a route to the far East. Within one twelvemonth, in the years 1486 and 1487, three expeditions left the coast of Portugal seeking access to the East. The first of these, under Bartholomew Diaz, discovered the Cape of Good Hope; the second was an embassy of Pedro de Cavailham and Affonso de Paiva through the eastern Mediterranean to seek Prester John, a search which carried one of them to the west coast of India, the other to the east coast of Africa; the third was an exploring expedition to the northeast, which reached, for the first time, the islands of Nova Zembla. [Footnote: Beazley, Henry the Navigator.] The Portuguese ambition was finally crowned with success in the exploit of Vasco da Gama in reaching the coast of India by way of the southern point of Africa, in 1498; the Spanish expedition under Magellan reached the same lands by the westward route twenty years afterwards. Even after these successes, efforts continued to be made to reach China and the Indies by a northeast passage around the northern coast of Europe. Successive expeditions of Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch were sent out only to meet invariable failure in those icy seas, until the terrible hardships the explorers endured gradually brought conviction of the impracticability of this, as of the northwestern, route. What was the origin of this eagerness to reach the Indies? Why did Portuguese, Spaniards, English, French, and Dutch vie with one another in centuries of effort not only to discover new lands, but to seek these sea-routes to the oldest of all lands? Why were the old lines of intercourse between the East and the West almost deserted, and a new group of maritime nations superseding the old Mediterranean and mid-European trading peoples? The answer to these questions will be found in certain changes which were in progress in those lands east of the Mediterranean Sea, which lie on the border-line between Europe and Asia. Through this region trade between Europe and the far East had flowed from immemorial antiquity; but in the fifteenth century its channels were obstructed and its stream much diminished.

Mediaeval Europe was dependent for her luxuries on Asia Minor and Syria, Arabia and Persia, India and the Spice Islands, China and Japan. Precious stones and fabrics, dyes and perfumes, drugs and medicaments, woods, gums, and spices reached Europe by many devious and obscure routes, but all from the eastward. One of the chief luxuries of the Middle Ages was the edible spices. The monotonous diet, the coarse food, the unskilful cookery of mediaeval Europe had all their deficiencies covered by a charitable mantle of Oriental seasoning. Wines and ale were constantly used spiced with various condiments. In Sir Thopas’s forest grew “notemuge to putte in ale.” [Footnote: Chaucer, Sir Thopas, line 52.] The brewster in the Vision of Piers Plowman declares:

“I have good ale, gossip, Glutton wilt thou essay? ‘What hast thou,’ quoth he, ‘any hot spices?’ I have pepper and peony and a pound of garlic, A farthing-worth of fennel seed for fasting days” [Footnote: Text C, passus VII, lines 355, etc.]

Froissart has the king’s guests led to “the palace, where wine and spices were set before them.” [Footnote: Froissart, Chronicles, book II, chap lxxx] The dowry of a Marseilles girl, in 1224, makes mention of “mace, ginger, cardamoms, and galangale.” [Footnote: Quoted in Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, II, 433, n.] In the garden in the Romaunt of the Rose, “Ther was eek wexing many a spyce, As clow- gelofre, and licoryce, Gingere, and greyn de paradys, Canelle, and setewale of prys, And many a spyce delitable, To eten when men ryse fro table.” [Footnote: Chaucer (Skeat’s ed), lines 1367-1373.]

When John Ball wished to draw a contrast between the lot of the lords and the peasants, he said, “They have wines, spices, and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of the straw.” [Footnote: Froissart, Chronicles, book II, chap lxxiii.] When old Latimer was being bound to the stake he handed nutmegs to his friends as keepsakes. [Footnote: Froude, History of England.]

Pepper, the most common and at the same time the most valued of these spices, was frequently treated as a gift of honor from one sovereign to another, or as a courteous form of payment instead of money. “Matilda de Chaucer is in the gift of the king, and her land is worth 8 pounds, 2d, and 1 pound of pepper and 1 pound of cinnamon and 1 ounce of silk,” reads a chance record in an old English survey. [Footnote: Festa de Nevil, p 16.] The amount of these spices demanded and consumed was astonishing. Venetian galleys, Genoese carracks, and other vessels on the Mediterranean brought many a cargo of them westward, and they were sold in fairs and markets everywhere. “Pepper-sack” was a derisive and yet not unappreciative epithet applied by German robber-barons to the merchants whom they plundered as they passed down the Rhine. For years the Venetians had a contract to buy from the sultan of Egypt annually 420,000 pounds of pepper. One of the first vessels to make its way to India brought home 210,000 pounds. A fine of 200,000 pounds of pepper was imposed upon one petty prince of India by the Portuguese in 1520. In romances and chronicles, in cook-books, trades-lists, and customs- tariffs, spices are mentioned with a frequency and consideration unknown in modern times.

Yet the location of “the isles where the spices grow” was very distant and obscure to the men of the Middle Ages. John Cabot, in 1497, said that he “was once at Mecca, whither the spices are brought by caravans from distant countries, and having inquired from whence they were brought and where they grew, the merchants answered that they did not know, but that such merchandise was brought from distant countries by other caravans to their home; and they further say that they are also conveyed from other remote regions.” [Footnote: Letter of Soncino, in Hart, Contemporaries, I., 70.] Such lack of knowledge was pardonable, considering that Marco Polo, one of the most observant of travellers, after spending years in Asia, believed, mistakenly, that nutmegs and cloves were produced in Java. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed.), book III., chap vi., 217, n.] It was only after more direct intercourse was opened up with the East that their true place of production became familiarly known in Europe. Nutmegs and mace, cloves and allspice were the native products of but one little spot on the earth’s surface: a group of small islands, Banda, Amboyna, Ternate, Tidore, Pulaway, and Prelaroon, the southernmost of the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, just under the equator, in the midst of the Malay Archipelago. Their light, volcanic soil, kept moist by the constant damp winds and hot by the beams of an overhead sun, furnished the natural conditions in which the spice-trees grew. Here the handsome shrubs that-yield the nutmeg and its covering of mace produced a continuous crop of flowers and fruit all the year around. Cloves grew in the same islands, as clusters of scarlet buds, hanging at the ends of the branches of trees which rise to a greater height and grow with even a greater luxuriance than the nutmeg-bushes. [Footnote: Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, chap. xix.]

Pepper had scarcely a wider field of production. The forests that clothed a stretch of the Malabar coast of India some two hundred miles in length, and extending some miles back into the interior, were filled with an abundant growth of pepper-vines. One of the earliest of European travellers in India, Odoric de Pordenone, says: “The province where pepper grows is named Malabar, and in no other part of the world does pepper grow except in this country. The forest where it grows is about eighteen days in length.” [Footnote: Odoric de Pordenone (D’Avezac’s ed), chap. x.] John Marignolli, in 1348, also speaks of this district as “where the world’s pepper is produced.” [Footnote: Quoted in Marco Polo (Yule’s ed), II., 314, n., and Sir John Mandeville, chap, xviii.] Its habitat was, however, somewhat more extensive, for in less abundance and of inferior quality the pepper- vines were raised all the way south to Cape Comorin, and even in the islands of Ceylon and Sumatra.

Cinnamon-bark was the special product of the mountain-slopes in the interior of Ceylon, but this also grew on the Indian coast to the westward, [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed), book III, chaps, xiv., xxv.] and, in the form of cassia of several varieties, was obtained in Thibet, in the interior provinces of China, and in some of the islands of the Malay Archipelago. Ginger was produced in many parts of the East; in Arabia, India, and China. Odoric attributes to a certain part of India “the best ginger that can be found in the world” [Footnote: Odoric de Pordenone (D’Avezac’s ed), chap. x.] and Marco Polo records its production of good quality in many provinces of India and China. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed), book II, chap. lxxx., book III., chaps, xxii., xxiv., xxv, xxvi.] A great number of other kinds of spices were produced in various parts of the Orient, and consumed there or exported to Europe. Precious stones were of almost as much interest to the men of the Middle Ages as were spices. For personal ornament and for the enrichment of shrines and religious vestments, all kinds of beautiful stones exercised an attraction proportioned to the small number and variety of articles of beauty and taste in existence.

“No saphir ind, no rube riche of price, There lakked than, nor emeraud so grene.” [Footnote: Chaucer, Court of Love, lines 78, 79.]

These were as much characteristic products of the East as were spices. Diamonds, before the discovery of the American and African fields of production, were found only in certain districts in the central part of India, especially in the kingdom of Mutfili or Golconda. Marco Polo tells the same story of the method of getting them there that is reported by Sindbad the Sailor. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed), book III., chap, xix.; Arabian Nights.] Rubies, the next most admired stone of the Middle Ages, were also found, to some extent, in India, but more largely in the island of Ceylon, in farther India, and, above all, in the districts of Kerman, Khorassan, Badakshan, and other parts of the highlands of Persia along the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., App., I.] Sapphires, garnets, topaz, amethyst, and sardonyx were found in several of the same districts and also in the mountains and streams of the west coast of India, from the Gulf of Cambay all the way to Ceylon. The greatest markets in the world for these stones were the two Indian cities of Pulicat and Calicut; the former on the southeastern, the latter on the western shore of the great peninsula. Pearls were then, as now, produced only in a very few places, principally in the strait between Ceylon and the mainland of India, and in certain parts of the Persian Gulf. In the native states in the south of India they were, however, accumulated in enormous quantities, and scarcely a list of Eastern articles of merchandise omits mention of them. One of the early European expeditions brought home among its freight 400 pearls chosen for their size and beauty, and forty pounds of an inferior sort. The passion of the native rajahs of India for gems had made the treasury of every petty prince a storehouse where vast numbers of precious stones had been garnered through thousands of years of wealth and civilization. This mass served as the booty of successive conquerors, and from time to time portions of it came into the hands of traders, along with stones newly obtained from natural sources. An early chronicler, in describing the return of the Polos to Venice from the East, tells how, from the seams of their garments, they took out the profits of their journeys in the East, in the form of “rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds.” [Footnote: Ramusio, Raccolta, quoted in Marco Polo (Yule’s ed.), book I., chap, xxxvii.] Drugs, perfumes, gums, dyes, and fragrant woods had much the same attraction as spices and precious stones, and came from much the same lands. The lofty and beautiful trees from which camphor is obtained grew only in Sumatra, Borneo, and certain provinces of China and Japan. Medicinal rhubarb was native to the mountainous districts of China, whence it was brought to the cities and the coast of that country on the backs of mules. Musk was a product of the borderlands of China and Thibet. The sugar-cane, although it grew widely in the East, from India and China to Syria and Asia Minor, was successfully managed so as to produce sugar in quantities that could be exported only in certain parts of Arabia and Persia. Bagdad was long famous for its sugar and articles preserved in sugar. Indigo was grown and prepared for dyeing purposes in India. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., App., I.] Brazil wood grew more or less abundantly in all parts of the peninsula of India and as far east as Siam and southern China. This wood, from which was extracted a highly valued dye, made a particularly strong impression on the mediaeval imagination. European travellers in India gave accounts of its being burned there for firewood, as their strangest tale of luxury and waste. It gave its name to a mythical island of Bresil, in the western seas, which was the subject of much speculation and romance. The same name was eventually applied to the South American country that now bears it, because it produced a similar dye-wood in large quantities. Sandal-wood and aloe-wood, which were valuable for their beautiful surface and fragrance when used in cabinet-work, and for their pleasant odor when burned as incense, grew only in certain parts of India.

Many articles of manufacture, attractive for their material, their workmanship, or their design, came from the same Eastern lands. Glass, of superior workmanship to anything known in Europe, came from Damascus, Samarcand, and Kadesia, near Bagdad. Objects of fine porcelain came from China, and finally became known by the name of that country. A great variety of fabrics of silk and cotton, as well as those fibres in their raw state, came from Asia to Europe. Dozens of names of Eastern origin still remain to describe the silk, cotton, hair, and mixed fabrics which came to Europe from China, India, Cashmere, and the cities of Persia, Arabia, Syria, and Asia Minor. Brocade, damask, taffeta, sendal, satin, camelot, buckram, muslin, and many varieties of carpets, rugs, and hangings, which were woven in various parts of those lands, have always since retained the names of the places which early became famous for their manufacture. The metal- work of the East was scarcely less characteristic or less highly valued in the West, though its varieties have not left such specific names. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschtchte des Levantehandels, II., App., 543-699.] Europe could feed herself with unspiced food, she could clothe herself with plain clothing, but for luxuries, adornments, refinements, whether in food, in personal ornament, or in furnishing her palaces, her manor- houses, her churches, or her wealthy merchants’ dwellings, she must, in the fifteenth century, still look to Asia, as she had always done. It is true that in the later Middle Ages many articles of beauty and ornament were produced in the more advanced Western countries; but not spices nor drugs, nor precious stones, nor any great variety of dyes. Oriental rugs are even yet superior to any like productions of the West; and a vast number of other articles of Eastern origin then held, and indeed still hold, the markets.

In return for the goods which Europe brought from Asia a few commodities could be shipped eastward. European woollen fabrics seem to have been almost as much valued in certain countries of Asia as Eastern cotton and silk goods were in Italy, France, Germany, and England. Certain Western metals and minerals were highly valued in the East, especially arsenic, antimony, quicksilver, tin, copper, and lead. [Footnote: Birdwood, Hand-book to the Indian Collection (Paris Universal Exhibition, 1878), Appendix to catalogue of the British Colonies, pp. 1-110.] The coral of the Mediterranean was much admired and sought after in Persia and India, and even in countries still farther east. Nevertheless the balance of trade was permanently in favor of the East, and quantities of gold and silver coin and bullion were used by European merchants to buy the finer wares in Asiatic markets. There was much general trading in Eastern marts. Numbers of Oriental merchants, like Sindbad the Sailor and his company, “passed by island after island and from sea to sea and from land to land; and in every place by which we passed we sold and bought and exchanged merchandise.” The articles enumerated above were almost without exception in demand throughout the whole East, and were bought by merchants in one place and sold in another. Marco Polo, in describing the Chinese city of Zayton, says: “And I assure you that for one shipload of pepper that goes to Alexandria or elsewhere destined for Christendom, there come a hundred such, aye and more too, to this haven of Zayton.” [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed), book II., chap. lxxxii] Even as late as 1515, Giovanni D’Empoli, writing about China, says: “Ships carry spices thither from these parts. Every year there go thither from Sumatra 60,000 cantars of pepper and 15,000 or 20,000 from Cochin and Malabar–besides ginger, mace, nutmegs, incense, aloes, velvet, European gold-wire, coral, woollens, etc.” [Footnote: Quoted in ibid, book II., 188.] Nevertheless the attraction of the West was clearly felt in the East. Extensive as were the local purchase and sale of articles of luxury and use by merchants throughout India, Persia, Arabia, Central Asia, and China, yet the export of goods from those countries to the westward was a form of trade of great importance, and one which had its roots deep in antiquity. A story of the early days tells how the jealous brothers of Joseph, when they were considering what disposition to make of him, “lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a travelling company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.” [Footnote: Genesis, xxxvii. 25.] When the prophet cries, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with garments dyed red from Bozrah?” he is using two of the most familiar names on the lines of west Asiatic trade. Solomon gave proof of his wisdom and made his kingdom great by seizing the lines of the trade-routes from Tadmor in the desert and Damascus in the north to the upper waters of the Red Sea on the south. The “royal road” of the Persian kings from Sousa to Ephesus made a long detour through northern Asia Minor, which was inexplicable to modern archaeologists until it was perceived that it was following the line of a trade-route much more ancient than the Persian monarchy. [Footnote: Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor, chap. i.] The harbor of Berenice, named after the mother of Ptolemy Philadelpnus, was built by him as a place of transit for goods from India which were to be carried from the Red Sea to the Nile. [Footnote: Hunter, Hist. of British India, I., 40.] Roman roads followed ancient lines through Asia Minor and Syria, and medieval routes in turn, in many places, passed by the remains of Roman stations. Thus the East and the West had been drawn together by a mutual commercial attraction from the earliest times, an attraction based on the respective natural productions of the two continents, and favored by the vast superiority of the East in the creation of articles of beauty and usefulness.



In the fifteenth century Eastern goods regularly reached the West by one of three general routes through Asia. Each of these had, of course, its ramifications and divergences; they were like three river-systems, changing their courses from time to time and occasionally running in divided streams, but never ceasing to follow the general course marked out for them by great physical features. The southernmost of these three routes was distinguished by being a sea-route in all except its very latest stages. Chinese and Japanese junks and Malaysian proas gathered goods from the coasts of China and Japan and the islands of the great Malay Archipelago, and bought and sold along the shores of the China Sea till their westward voyages brought them into the straits of Malacca and they reached the ancient city of that name. This was one of the great trading points of the East. Few Chinese traders passed beyond it, though the more enterprising Malays made that the centre rather than the western limit of their commerce. Many Arabian traders also came there from India to sell their goods and to buy the products of the islands of the archipelago, and the goods which the Chinese traders had brought from still farther East.

The Indian and Arabian merchants who came to Malacca as buyers were mostly from Calicut and other ports on the Malabar coast, and to these home ports they brought back their purchases. To these markets of southwestern India were also brought the products of Ceylon, of the eastern coast, and of the shore of farther India. From port to port along the Malabar coast passed many coasting vessels, whose northern and western limit was usually the port of Ormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. A great highway of commerce stretched from this trading and producing region, and from the Malabar ports directly across the Arabian Sea to the entrance of the Red Sea. When these waters were reached, many ports of debarkation from Mecca northward might be used. But the prevailing north winds made navigation in the Red Sea difficult, and most of the goods which eventually reached Europe by this route were landed on the western coast, to be carried by caravan– to Kus, in Egypt, and then either by caravans or in boats down the line of the Nile to Cairo.

Cairo was a very great city, its population being occupied largely in the transmission of goods. A fifteenth-century traveller counted 15,000 boats in the Nile at one time; [Footnote: Piloti, quoted in Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 43.] and another learned that there were in all some 36,000 boats belonging in Cairo engaged in traffic up and down the river. [Footnote: Ibn Batuta, quoted, ibid.] From Cairo a great part of these goods were taken for sale to Alexandria, which was in many ways as much a European as an African city. Thus a regular route stretched along the southern coasts of Asia, allowing goods produced in all lands of the Orient to be gathered up in the course of trade and transferred as regular articles of commerce to the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

A second route lay in latitudes to the north of that just described. From the ports on the west coast of India a considerable proportion of the goods destined ultimately for Europe made their way northward to the Persian Gulf. A line of trading cities extending along its shores from Ormuz near the mouth of the gulf to Bassorah at its head served as ports of call for the vessels which carried this merchandise. Several of these coast cities were also termini of caravan routes entering them from the eastward, forming a net-work which united the various provinces of Persia and reached through the passes of Afghanistan into northern India. From the head of the Persian Gulf one branch of this route went up the line of the Tigris to Bagdad. From this point goods were taken by caravan through Kurdistan to Tabriz, the great northern capital of Persia, and thence westward either to the Black Sea or to Layas on the Mediterranean. Another branch was followed by the trains of camels which made their way from Bassorah along the tracks through the desert which spread like a fan to the westward, till they reached the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Antioch, and Damascus. They finally reached the Mediterranean coast at Laodicea, Tripoli, Beirut, or Jaffa, while some goods were carried even as far south as Alexandria.

Far to the north of this complex of lines of trade lay a third route between the far East and the West, extending from the inland provinces of China westward across the great desert of Obi, south of the Celestial mountains to Lake Lop; then passing through a series of ancient cities, Khotan, Yarkand, Kashgar, Samarcand, and Bokhara, till it finally reached the region of the Caspian Sea. This main northern route was joined by others which crossed the passes of the Himalayas and the Hindoo-Kush, and brought into a united stream the products of India and China.[Footnote: Hunter, Hist. of British India, I., 31.] A journey of eighty to a hundred days over desert, mountain, and steppes lay by this route between the Chinese wall and the Caspian. From still farther north in China a parallel road to this passed to the north of the desert and the mountains, and by way of Lake Balkash, to the same ancient and populous land lying to the east of the Caspian Sea. Here the caravan routes again divided. Some led to the southwestward, where they united with the more central routes described above and eventually reached the Black Sea and the Mediterranean through Asia Minor and Syria. Others passed by land around the northern coast of the Caspian, or crossed it, reaching a further stage at Astrakhan. From Astrakhan the way led on by the Volga and Don rivers, till its terminus was at last reached on the Black Sea at Tana near the mouth of the Don, or at Kaffa in the Crimea. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 68-254.]

Along these devious and dangerous routes, by junks, by strange Oriental craft, by river-boats, by caravans of camels, trains of mules, in wagons, on horses, or on human shoulders, the products of the East were brought within reach of the merchants of the West. These routes were insecure, the transportation over them difficult and expensive. They led over mountains and deserts, through alternate snow and heat. Mongol conquerors destroyed, from time to time, the cities which lay along the lines of trade, and ungoverned wild tribes plundered the merchants who passed through the regions through which they wandered. More regularly constituted powers laid heavy contributions on merchandise, increasing many-fold the price at which it must ultimately be sold. The routes by sea had many of the same dangers, along with others peculiar to themselves. The storms of the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waters were destructive to vast numbers of the frail vessels of the East; piracy vied with storms in its destructiveness; and port dues were still higher than those of inland marts.

With all these impediments, Eastern products, nevertheless, arrived at the Mediterranean in considerable quantities. The demands of the wealthy classes of Europe and the enterprise of European and Asiatic merchants were vigorous enough to bring about a large and even an increasing trade; and the three routes along which the products of the East were brought to those who were able to pay for them were never, during the Middle Ages, entirely closed. They found their western termini in a long line of Levantine cities extending along the shores of the Black Sea and of the eastern Mediterranean from Tana in the north to Alexandria in the south. In these cities the spices, drugs, dyes, perfumes, precious stones, silks, rugs, metal goods, and other fabrics and materials produced in far Eastern lands were always obtainable by European merchants.

The merchants who bought these goods in the market-places of the Levant for the purpose of distributing them throughout Europe were for the most part Italians from Pisa, Venice, or Genoa; Spaniards from Barcelona and Valencia; or Provencals from Narbonne, Marseilles, and Montpellier. [Footnote: Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, II., chap. vi.] They were not merely travelling buyers and sellers, but in many cases were permanent residents of the eastern Mediterranean lands. In the first half of the fifteenth century there were settlements of such merchants in Alexandria in Egypt; in Acre, Beirut, Tripoli, and Laodicea on the Syrian coast; at Constantinople, and in a group of cities skirting the Black Sea. Even in the more inland cities of Syria, such as Damascus, Aleppo, and Antioch, Italians were established. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 67.] The position of European merchants varied in the different cities on this trading border between the East and the West, from that of mere foreign traders, living on bare sufferance in the midst of a hostile community, to that of citizens occupying what was practically an outlying Venetian or Genoese or Pisan colony.

In the greater number of cases the Italian and other European merchants had quarters, or fondachi, granted to them in the Eastern cities by the Saracen emirs of Egypt and Syria, or by the Greek emperor of Asia Minor, Constantinople, and Trebizond. These fondachi were buildings, or groups of dwellings and warehouses, often including a market-place, offices, and church, where the merchants of some Italian or Provencal city carried on their business affairs according to their own rules, under permission granted to them by the local ruler. A Genoese or Venetian fondaco was usually governed by a consul or bailiff, appointed by the home government, or elected among themselves with the approval of the senate and doge at home. Two or more advisers were usually provided by the home government to act with the consul in negotiations with the local government. In more important matters embassies were sent directly from the doge to the ruler on whose toleration or self- interest the whole settlement was dependent.

For whole centuries Italians had made up an appreciable part of the population of many cities of the Levant; the galleys of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa lay at their wharves discharging produce of the West and loading the products of the East; a large part of the income of the local potentates, or governors, was made up of export and import duties, harbor charges, and other impositions paid by the Western merchants. The prosperity of these Greek and Saracen seaboard cities was as largely dependent on this trade as was that of the merchants who came there for its sake. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, I., 165, 168, 316, 363, 414, 443. etc., II., 430, 435, etc.]

We have seen how the merchandise of the far East flowed to the Eastern cities of the Mediterranean, and how it was gathered there into the hands of European merchants. It remains to follow the routes by which it was redistributed throughout Europe. Both Genoa and Venice had possessions in the Greek Archipelago which formed stepping-stones between the home cities and their fondachi in the cities of the Levant. Trading from port to port along these lines of connection, or sometimes carrying cargoes unbroken from their most distant points of trade, the galleys of the Italian, French, or Spanish traders brought Eastern goods along with the products of the Mediterranean islands and shores to the home cities. These cities then became new distributing-points of Eastern and Mediterranean goods as well as of their own home products.

Venice may fairly be taken as a type of the cities which subsisted on this trade. Her merchants were the most numerous, widely spread, and enterprising; her trade the most firmly organized, her hold on the East the strongest. To her market-places and warehouses a vast quantity of goods was constantly brought for home consumption and re-export. From Venice, yearly fleets of galleys went out destined to various points and carrying various cargoes. One of these fleets, after calling at successive ports in Illyria, Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Portugal, and after detaching some galleys for Southampton, Sandwich, or London, in England, reached, as its ultimate destination, Bruges, in Flanders. [Footnote: Brown, Cal. of State Pap., Venetian.]

Other goods were taken by Venetian merchants through Italy and across the mountains by land. Most of the re-export from Venice by land was done by foreigners. Over the Alps came German merchants from Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ulm, Regensburg, Constance, and other cities of the valleys of the Danube and the Rhine. They had a large building in Venice set apart for their use by the senate, the “Fondaco dei Tedeschi,” much like those settlements which the Venetians themselves possessed in the cities of the Levant. [Footnote: Simonsfeld, Der Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venedig, II,] The goods which they purchased in Venice they carried in turn all through Germany, to the fairs of France, and to the cities of the Netherlands. Merchants of the Hanseatic League bought these goods at Bruges or Antwerp or in the south German cities, and carried them, along with their own northern products, to England, to the countries on the Baltic, and even into Poland and Russia, meeting at Kiev a more direct branch of the Eastern trade which proceeded from Astrakhan and Tana northward up the Volga and the Don.

Thus the luxuries of the East were distributed through Europe. With occasional interruptions, frequent changes in detail, and constant difficulties, the same general routes and methods of transfer and exchange had been followed for centuries. It was the oldest, the most extensive, and the most lucrative trade known to Europe. It stretched over the whole known world, its lines converging from the eastward and southward to the cities of Syria, Asia Minor, and the Black Sea coast, and diverging thence to the westward and northward throughout Europe.

With the close of the Middle Ages this ancient and well-established trade showed evident signs of disorganization and decline. The Levant was suffering from changes which interrupted its commerce and which made the old trade-routes that passed through it almost impracticable. The principal cause for this process of decay and failure was the rise of the Ottoman Turks as a conquering power. About 1300 a petty group of Turks, in the heart of Asia Minor, under a chieftain named Osman, began a career of extension of their dominions by conquering the other provinces of Turkish or Greek origin and allegiance in their vicinity. [Footnote: Zinkeisen, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches in Europa, I., 65-132.] Little by little the Osmanli pushed their borders out in every direction till they reached the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmora, and the Black Sea. Within a century and a half, by the close of the reign of Murad II., in 1451, they had built vessels on the Aegean, plundered the Greek islands and laid them under tribute, crossed the Dardanelles and made conquests far up in the Balkan Peninsula, pressed close upon the Christian cities along the south coast of the Black Sea, and reduced the possessions of the Greek Empire to a narrow strip of land around Constantinople. [Footnote: Ibid., 184-708.] The Turkish Empire was admirably organized for military and financial purposes and governed by a series of able sultans.

Thus a great power arose on the border-line between the Orient and the Occident, of which the merchant states of Italy and the West evidently had to take account. But its existence did not at first appear to be necessarily destructive to their interests. In many cases comparatively favorable commercial treaties were made with the Turkish sultans, and the facile Italians modified their trading to meet the new conditions. [Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 259, 260, 267, 275, 284, etc.] Nevertheless, with the Turks there could be no such close connection as that which had existed between the Western traders and the old-established states in the East, under which they enjoyed practical independence so long as they paid the money. The Turks were not only Mohammedans, they were barbarians; they added to the Moslem contempt for the Christian the warrior’s contempt for the mere merchant. They were without appreciation for culture or even for refined luxury.

The conquests of the Turks proceeded steadily to their completion. In 1452 Sultan Mohammed II. built the fort of Rumili Hissari, on the European side of the Bosporus, and gave the commander orders to lay every trading-vessel that passed the straits under tribute. The next year saw the final siege, the heroic resistance, and the fall of Constantinople.

Among its defenders were Venetians, Genoese, Florentines, and Italian colonists from various settlements, summoned to the help of their coreligionists against the Mohammedans. On its capture all their goods were plundered, their leaders beheaded, those of rank held for ransom, and the common men slaughtered or sold as slaves. [Footnote: Pears, The Destruction of the Greek Empire.] The neighboring colony of Pera was left to the Genoese, but humbled to the rank of a Turkish village with a sadly restricted trade. Trade was allowed to and from Constantinople, but all the old privileges were abrogated, and the city was now the capital of a semi-barbarous ruler and race, who placed but small value on things brought by trade and continually engaged in war.

Especially destructive to trade were the wars between the Turks and the Italian colonists of the eastern Mediterranean. Such wars were inevitable. In the progress of their career of conquest the Ottoman fleets early attacked the island possessions of Venice and Genoa in the Aegean and their independent or semi-independent settlements on the shores of the Black Sea. Efforts for the defence of these involved war between the home governments and the rising Eastern power. From 1463 to 1479 war between the Turkish Empire and Venice raged in Syria and Asia Minor, in the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, on the main-land of Greece, and northward to Albania. The Italian republic lost some of its best territories, including the Greek islands, and only obtained permission to take its vessels through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus on payment of a heavy annual sum. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 325-332.] The few remaining island possessions of Genoa were also lost–Lesbos in 1462, Chios in 1466. A brave defence of their island homes was made by the Italians, but one after another these succumbed to the terrible attacks of the Turks. [Footnote: Bury, in Cambridge Modern History, I., 75-81.]

In the mean time the possessions still farther east had the same fate. Immediately after the downfall of Constantinople the Turks placed a fleet upon the Black Sea and attacked the colonies on the north coast at Kaffa, Soldaia, and Tana, and on the south at Trebizond and other ports. One after another these cities were placed under tribute; repeated battles destroyed their possessions; their population was enslaved and their property plundered. In 1461 Trebizond was captured; in 1500 Kaffa was finally conquered and the whole Christian population, after many sufferings, carried off to live as a subject race in a suburb of Constantinople. In 1499 and 1500 Venice lost almost all the rest of her possessions.

Some of the cities of the West which had never had landed possessions in the East fared better under the Ottoman than did Venice and Genoa. Florentines, Ragusans, and men of Ancona, for some decades, took their galleys from port to port of the Turkish coasts and islands, or passed as individual traders back along the trade-routes seeking goods for export. Nevertheless, the flow of Eastern goods along these routes was becoming less and less; the internal wars of rival Tartar rulers and those between Tartars and Turks threw the northern routes and parts of the central route into even more than their usual confusion; and the lessened demands at the ports of the Black Sea and Asia Minor discouraged the bringing of goods from the Eastern sources of supply.

The Turkish thirst for conquest brought under the control of that race, in the half-century between 1450 and 1500, half the western termini of the trade-routes with the East. It crushed out all semblance of independence in the settlements of the European merchants in Asia Minor and on the Black Sea, and left to them a bare foothold for purposes of trade under the most burdensome restrictions. These conquests were very destructive to life and property. Mercantile firms failed, old families died out, the mother-states were exhausted, and the flow of merchandise was dried up. The system of trade which had been in existence in these regions for centuries was quite destroyed by this violence.

The central and southern routes for a time remained open; indeed, the blocking of the more northerly outlets sent a greater proportion of the trade in Eastern products through Syria and through the Red Sea ports. The markets at Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, and Alexandria were better filled than ever with the products of the East. Even the Genoese, who had so completely lost their prosperity, still had a fondaco in Alexandria in 1483; while the Venetians, notwithstanding their losses in the northeastern Mediterranean and their bitter struggles with the Turks, continued to make closer and closer trade arrangements with the Saracen emirs of the Syrian cities and the Mameluke sultans of Egypt. Under heavy financial burdens and amid constant disputes they still kept up an active trade. Ten or fifteen galleys came every year from Italy, France, and Spain to Alexandria, which in the later years of the fifteenth century was by far the greatest market for spices in the world. Even Florence, in the later years of the fifteenth century, opened up a trade with Egypt and Syria. [Footnote: Heyd, Geschichte des Levantehandels, II., 427-494.]

The southeastern Mediterranean was now destined to be swept by the same storm as the other parts of the Levant. In the early years of the sixteenth century the Ottoman army invaded Syria and Egypt. In 1516 the sultan captured Damascus; in 1517 he entered Cairo as a conqueror. Syria and Egypt became a part of the Turkish Empire, as Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula, and the coasts of the Black Sea had already done. Treaties, it is true, were even yet formed by which Venice, at the price of humiliating conditions, obtained permission from the Ottoman government to continue a heavily burdened trade in the blighted cities of Egypt and Syria, as she was already doing in Constantinople. But the process by which Turkish conquest was attained, and the whole spirit and policy of that power, were adverse to trade between the East and West.

The old trade-routes between Asia and Europe were effectually and permanently blocked by the Turkish conquests. Not only routes of trade, but methods of exchange, forms of transportation, and, in fact, the whole system by which Eastern goods had been brought to Europe for centuries, were interrupted, undermined, and made almost impracticable. During this period the city republics of Italy, which had been the chief European intermediaries of this trade, were losing their prosperity, their wealth, their enterprise, and their vigor. This was due, as a matter of fact, to a variety of causes, internal and external, political and economic; but the sufferings in the wars with the Turks and the adverse conditions of the Levant trade on which their prosperity primarily rested were far the most important causes of their decline.

Thus the demand of European markets for Eastern luxuries could no longer be met satisfactorily by the old methods; yet that demand was no less than it had been, and the characteristic products of the East were still sought for in all the market-places of Europe. Indeed, the demand was increasing. As Europe in the fifteenth century became more wealthy and more familiar with the products of the whole world, as the nobles learned to demand more luxuries, and a wealthy merchant class grew up which was able to gratify the same tastes as the nobles, the demand of the West upon the East became more insistent than ever. Therefore, the men, the nation, the government that could find a new way to the East might claim a trade of indefinite extent and extreme profit.

This is the explanation of that eager search for new routes to the Indies which lay at the back of so many voyages of discovery of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Southward along the coast of Africa, in the hope that that continent could be rounded to the southeast; northward along the coast of Europe in search of a northeast passage; westward relying on the sphericity of the earth and hoping that the distance from the west coast of Europe to the east coast of Asia would prove not to be interminable; after America was reached, again northward and southward to round and pass beyond that barrier, and thus reach Asia–such was the progress of geographical exploration for a century and a half, during which men gradually became familiar with a great part of the earth’s surface. A study of the history of trade- routes corroborates the fact disclosed by many other lines of study– that the discovery of America was no isolated phenomenon; it was simply one step in the development of the world’s history. Changes in the eastern Mediterranean led men to turn their eyes in other directions looking for other sea routes to the East. When they had done so, along with much else that was new, America was disclosed to their vision.

To follow out all the remote effects of the upheaval in western Asia and eastern Europe would lead too far afield: but the diversion of commercial interest was only a part: the restless energies of the Latin races of southern Europe turned into a new channel; search for trade led to discovery, discovery to exploration, exploration to permanent settlement; and settlement to the creation of a new centre of commercial and political interest, and eventually to the rise of a new nation.




Although in the fifteenth century Italy lost the commercial leadership which she had so long held, she did not cease to be the teacher of the other countries of Europe. In those arts which lay at the base of exploration, as in so many other fields, Italy was far in advance of all other Western countries. Through the Middle Ages she preserved much of the heritage of ancient skill and learning; by her Renaissance studies she recovered much that had been temporarily lost; and in geographical science she early made progress of her own. “The greatness of the Germans, the courtesy of the French, the valor of the English, and the wisdom of the Italians” is the tribute paid by a fifteenth- century Portuguese chronicler to the nations of his time, and this “wisdom of the Italians” he especially connects with exploration and navigation.[Footnote: Azurara, “Chronicle of Guinea,” chap. ii.]

As a nation Italy played but a slight part in the discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; but through her scattered sons she used her fine intelligence to initiate and guide much of the work that was completed by the ruder but more efficient and vigorous nations of the Atlantic seaboard. Educated men from Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence emigrated to other lands, carrying with them science, skill, and ingenuity unknown except in the advanced and enterprising Italian city republics and principalities. Italian mathematicians made the calculations on which all navigation was based; Italian cartographers drew maps and charts; Italian ship-builders designed and built the best vessels of the time; Italian captains commanded them, and very often Italian sailors made up their crews; while at least in the earlier period Italian bankers advanced the funds with which the expeditions were equipped and sent out.

Columbus, Cabot, Verrazzano, and Vespucci were simply the most famous of the Italians who during this period made discoveries while in the service of other governments. The Venetian Cadamosto led repeated and successful expeditions for Prince Henry of Portugal; Perestrello, the discoverer of Porto Santo, in the Madeiras, and Antonio de Noli, the discoverer of the Cape Verd Islands, were both Italians. [Footnote: Ruge, “Der Zeitalter der Entdeckungen,” 217.] This was no new condition of affairs. In the time of Edward II. and Edward III., in the service of England, we find the names of Genoese such as Pesagno and Uso de Mare. Another Genoese, Emanuel Pesagno, was appointed as the first hereditary admiral of the fleet of Portugal, and by the terms of his engagement was required to keep the Portuguese navy provided with twenty Genoese captains of good experience in navigation. Of the sixty men who made up the complement of Magellan’s fleet of 1519, in the service of Spain, twenty-three were Italians, mostly Genoese. [Footnote: Navarrete, quoted in Ruge, Zeitalter, 466, n.] At the same time all Spanish taxes were administered by Genoese bankers, and they or other Italians had a monopoly of all loanable capital. [Footnote: Hume, Spain, Its Greatness and Decay, 87]

Long before the great period of discoveries Italians contributed to the increase of geographical knowledge by travel and narratives of travel over the world as it was already known, but only known vaguely and by dim report. Down to the middle of the thirteenth century the total knowledge of the lands and waters of the globe possessed by the educated men of Europe was not appreciably greater than it had been a thousand years earlier. The disintegration of the old Roman world, the more stationary habits of life, and the narrower interests of men during the early Middle Ages were unfavorable to travel.

The later Middle Ages were not lacking in keen intellect, in large knowledge, in powers of systematization and elaboration of what has already been acquired; but they had neither the material equipment nor the mental temperament to carry the boundaries of knowledge further. What was known of the world to Ptolemy in the second century made up the sum of knowledge possessed by the geographers of all the following centuries to the thirteenth. Indeed, the mediaeval tendency to establish symmetrical measurements, to adopt fanciful explanations, and to find analogies in all things, obscured earlier knowledge and made geographers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries less correct in their knowledge of the world than were those of the second or the third. [Footnote: Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography.]

The discoveries, conquests, and settlements of the Northmen in the north of Europe and the northern Atlantic were so detached from the knowledge of the south and came to a pause so early in time that notwithstanding their potential value they contributed practically nothing to the general geographical knowledge of Europe. Nor did Christian, Jewish, or Arabic accounts of Eastern lands written by travellers of the eleventh, twelfth, and early thirteenth centuries become widely known or influential. [Footnote: Ibid., II., chaps, i.- iv.] Even the knowledge brought home by the Crusaders was of a restricted territory, most of it already comparatively familiar; and therefore they added little to the common stock.

About the middle of the thirteenth century, however, began a series of journeys which were more fully recorded in narratives more widely circulated and in a more receptive period. Three incentives habitually carry men into distant and unknown lands–missionary zeal, desire for trade, and curiosity. Actuated by one or other of these influences, an increasing number of Europeans visited lands far beyond the eastern terminations of the trade-routes, and some of them brought back reports of which the influence was wide and lasting.

Among the earliest and most observant were a succession of Franciscan friars, sent after 1245 on missionary journeys to the court of the ruler of the great Tartar Empire, which was then so rapidly overspreading Asia and eastern Europe. The first of these was John de Piano Carpini, a native of Naples, who belonged to a Franciscan house near Perugia. He went through Bohemia, Poland, southern Russia, and the vast steppes of Turkestan, and found the Khan at Karakorum, in Mongolia. He was two years on the journey, and after his return wrote an exact and interesting account of his observations and experiences. [Footnote: Travels of John de Piano Carpini (D’Avezac’s ed.).]

A few years afterwards William de Rubruquis–a Fleming in this case, not an Italian–was sent to visit the Mongol emperor by Louis IX. when he was in the East. He followed a more southerly route than Carpini, skirting the northern shores of the Black Sea, the Caspian, and the Sea of Aral, and then passing northward to Karakorum. Returning he crossed the Caucasus and passed through Persia and the lands of the Turks, finally reaching the Mediterranean through Syria. The account which he wrote of his adventures was much fuller than that of Piano Carpini, and gives descriptions of China as well as of the central Asiatic lands. [Footnote: Travels of William de Rubruquis (D’Avezac’s ed).]

Just at the beginning of the next century two other travellers, John de Monte Corvino [Footnote: Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, II, chap v.] and Odoric de Pordenone, [Foornote: Travels of Odoric de Pordenone (D’Avezac’s ed)] both Italians, made journeys through Persia, India, southern Asia, and China, and later wrote accounts of these more southern lands quite as full as were those already mentioned concerning the northern parts of the great eastern continent. The most famous of all mediaeval travellers in the East were the Venetian merchants Nicolo and Matteo Polo and their nephew Marco. These enterprising traders, leaving their warehouses in Soldaia on the Crimea, in two successive journeys made their way along the northern and central trade-routes to Pekin, in northern China, or Cathay, which had become the capital of the Great Khan. For almost twenty years the Polos were attached to the court of Kublai Khan, the nephew, Marco, rising higher and higher in the graces of that ruler.

Marco Polo was one of the well-known type of Italian adventurers who appeared at foreign courts, and, with the versatility of their race, made themselves useful, and indeed indispensable, to their masters. He learned the languages of the East, and went upon missions for the Great Khan to all parts of his vast empire. When, in 1292, the Polos obtained permission to return home they followed the longest and most important of the three main trade-routes which have been described. They sailed from Zaiton, a seaport of China, and passing along the shores of Tonquin, Java, and farther India, made their way from port to port, through the Bay of Bengal to Ceylon, then to the Malabar coast of India, along which they passed to Cambay, and thence through the Red Sea to Cairo, and so to Venice. Their journey homeward from China, with its long detentions in the East Indies, took almost three years.

All the world knows of Marco Polo’s subsequent experiences in Venice, his capture and imprisonment in Genoa, the stories of his travels with which he whiled away the weary days of his captivity, and the gathering of these into a book which spread widely through Europe within the next few years and has been eagerly read ever since. [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed,), Introduction.]

Neither the travels of Marco Polo nor those of his predecessors or immediate successors disclosed any lands the existence of which was not before known to Europeans; but they gave fuller knowledge of many countries and nations of which the names only were known; and they gave this knowledge with astonishing freshness, minuteness, and accuracy. The writers of these books travelled over many thousands of miles, and they described, in the main, what they saw, although, of course, they repeated, with more or less of exaggeration, much which they only knew from conversation or from hearsay. Besides the written stories of such experiences, other Europeans who accompanied these travellers, or who made independent journeys to various parts of Asia, spread knowledge of the same things. The author of a later popular volume of travels, passing under the name of Sir John Mandeville, managed, by making use of a slight acquaintance with Asia, of a fuller knowledge of the writings of other travellers, and, most of all, of the resources of a fertile imagination, to weave a tissue of mendacious description which really lessened knowledge. [Footnote: Travels of Sir John Mandeville (ed. of 1900).]

Nevertheless, as a result of these travellers’ reports, the traditions of earlier times and the knowledge of the nearer East possessed by traders were supplemented and popularized. The journeys of the travellers of the later thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries were a veritable revelation to Europe of the condition of Tartary, Persia, India, China, and many intervening lands. Especially strong was the impression made by the reports about China and Japan. The land of the Seres, lying on the border of the eastern ocean, had indeed been known to the ancients, and mentioned by tradition as the source from which came certain well-known products; but under the name of Cathay, which Marco Polo and his contemporaries gave to it, it attained a new and strong hold on men’s imaginations. Its myriad population, its hundreds of cities, its vast wealth, its advanced civilization, its rivers, bridges, and ships, its manufactures and active trade, the fact that it was the easternmost country of Asia, washed by the waters of the external ocean–all made Cathay a land of intense interest to the rising curiosity of thirteenth-century Europe. [Footnote: Pigeonneau, “Histoire du Commerce de la France,” II, 12, etc.] Similarly the great island of Cipangu, or Japan, lying a thousand miles farther to the eastward, though never actually visited by Marco Polo, and described by him with a vague and extravagant touch, was of equally keen interest to his readers, as were the “twelve thousand seven hundred islands” at which he calculates the great archipelagoes which lie in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

It was his accounts of “the province of Mangi,” the cities of Zaiton and Quinsay, “the Great Khan,” “the island of Cipangu,” and of their vast wealth and active trade that took special hold on the mind of Columbus. His copy of Marco Polo may still be seen, its margins filled with annotations on such passages, made by the great navigator; [Footnote: Vignaud, “Toscanelli and Columbus,” 95.] and it was to these that his mind reverted when he had discovered in the West Indies, as he believed, the outlying parts of the Khan’s dominions. [Footnote: “Columbus’s Journal,” October 21, 23, 24, 26, 30, November 1, etc.] To the westward also ancient knowledge was reacquired and made clearer. The “Fortunate Isles” were rediscovered and identified as the Canaries by the Italian Lancelot Malocello in 1270 [Footnote: Beazley, Hakluyt Soc, “Publications,” 1899, lxi, lxxviii.], then forgotten and rediscovered in 1341 [Footnote: Ibid, lxxx; Peschel, “Zeitalter der Entdecktungen,” 37.] by some Portuguese ships, manned by Genoese, Florentines, Castilians, and Portuguese. In 1291 Tedisio Doria and Ugolino Vivaldi, Genoese citizens, equipped two galleys and sailed out through the Straits of Gibraltar and then to the southward, with the object of reaching the ports of India, but were never heard of again [Footnote: Peschel, “Zeitalter der Entdeckungen,” 36.]. Both the Madeira Islands and the Azores became known as early as 1330, though perhaps only in a shadowy way, and were visited from time to time later in the fourteenth century, before they were regularly occupied in the fifteenth [Footnote: Nordenskiold, “Periplus,” 111-115; Major, “Prince Henry the Navigator,” chaps, v., viii., xiv.].

Through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, therefore, thanks for the most part to Italian travellers, substantial gains were made in exactitude and clearness of knowledge of the Old World. Though the bounds of geographical knowledge were not carried much farther, and less than one-fourth of the surface of the globe was as yet known to Europeans, within these bounds knowledge became far more clear.

Ignorance and superstition were still abundant; a mythical kingdom of Prester John was believed by one geographer to exist in Africa, by another to be situated in India, and by still another to be in China; the Atlantic was still dreaded by some as the dark, unknown limit of the world; ignorant men may still have believed that the sea boiled at the equator, and that men with dogs’ heads and other monsters had each its own part of the earth; but Italians of any education, especially those acquainted with the writings of their countrymen, must have been quite free from such mediaeval notions. By the year 1400 scientific information, critical habits of thought, and an interest in all forms of knowledge had reached in Italy a high degree of development and were fast spreading through Europe.

The theory that the earth was round was familiar to the Greeks and Romans, and was supported in the Middle Ages by the great authority of Aristotle. [Footnote: Aristotle, De Ccelo, II., 14.] The only difficulties lying in the way of an acceptance of this view through the mediaeval period were, in the first place, the mental effort required to conceive the earth as round when its visual appearance is flat; and, secondly, the opposition of churchmen, who interpreted certain texts in the Bible in such a way as to forbid the conception of the earth as a sphere. Yet neither of these influences was strong enough to prevail over the opinions of the majority of learned men. To them the earth was round, as it was to Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other ancients. [Footnote: Ruge, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen.] The ball which the Eastern emperors carried as an emblem of the world-wide extent of their rule, and which was borrowed from them by various mediaeval potentates, had probably not lost its meaning. Dante, in the Divina Commedia, not only plans his Inferno on the supposition of a spherical earth, but takes for granted the same conception, on the part of his readers. [Footnote: Inferno, canto 34, lines 100-108.]

The conception of the sphericity of the earth was really a matter of mental training. In the fifteenth century those who had gained this knowledge were fewer than in modern times, but the class who did so believe were no less sure of it. Astronomers, philosophers, men of general learning, and even navigators and pilots were quite familiar with the idea and quite in the habit of thinking of the earth as a sphere. In all probability Columbus represented the beliefs of his class, as well as his own, when he said, “I have always read that the world, comprising the land and the water, is spherical, as is testified by the investigations of Ptolemy and others, who have proved it by the eclipses of the moon and other observations made from east to west, as well as by the elevation of the pole from north to south.” [Footnote: Hakluyt Soc., Publications, Hist. of Columbus–Third Voyage, II., 129.] Opposition to voyages westward was based rather on the probability of the enormous size of the earth and on the supposed difficulty of sailing up the slope of the sphere than it was upon any serious doubt of its sphericity.

The habitable world was quite a different conception. It consisted of Europe, Asia, and Africa, these three continents forming a continuous stretch of land lying on the surface of the spherical earth, the rest of its surface being presumably covered with water. There was more or less speculation about the existence of other habitable lands on the earth than those which were known, but the interest in this possibility was languid at best, and it was denied by learned churchmen on biblical grounds.

The map-makers of that period continued, like those of the earlier Middle Ages, to base their work on mere half-mythical traditions, unrelieved and uncorrected by the results of actual discoveries. Their maps are still much like picture-books, filled with biblical and literary lore, indicating but a slight attempt to incorporate exact measurements and outlines. A development more revolutionary than the mere gradual increase of knowledge was necessary to break the bonds of academic tradition. [Footnote: Santarem, Essai sur L’Histoire de la Cosmographie, I., 75, 167, 178.]

Just at the beginning of the fourteenth century, however, a new line was struck out in map-making by the construction and steady development of sailing charts, or “portolani.” These humble attempts at geographical representation were intended as practical aids to navigation for Mediterranean mariners, and were based on practical observation. During the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries they reached a wonderful degree of accuracy. The coasts, bays, islands, and promontories of the Mediterranean were plotted out in them and drawn with striking correctness. Some four hundred such sketch-maps remain to us, drawn by Italians from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, besides nearly a hundred made in other countries. [Footnote: Beazley, in Hakluyt Soc., Publications, 1899, cxx.] They did not undertake to give the internal features of the countries whose coast-lines they depicted, and as their main purpose was to aid Mediterranean trade, they did not extend so far beyond its shore as the erudition of the age would have made possible.

The best of the world maps of the fifteenth century were based on these Italian portolani rather than on mediaeval maps, and at the same time added such enlarged information as became common in the Italy of the fifteenth century. [Footnote: Ibid., cxxi., etc.]

Thus, at the very beginning of the fifteenth century European explorers had the benefit of the traditional ancient geography, of the new exactness of knowledge drawn from the observations of recent travellers, of the accurate but limited portolani of the Italian navigators, and finally of the more pretentious, if vague and often misleading, world maps of learned geographers. If a sailor wished to navigate the Mediterranean and its adjacent waters, if he planned to sail up the coast of Europe to the British Isles and on into the Baltic, or to pass down the Atlantic coast of Africa to Cape Nun, he might rely on the maps and charts which the Italian geographers could furnish him. Or if he launched his galleys on the Red Sea he might use their guidance down the east coast of Africa to the equator. He would also find tolerably accurate descriptions of all the southern coasts of Asia. In the interior a traveller by land could know beforehand the main features of the countries he might traverse. Beyond these limits, either by sea or by land, geographical knowledge must be sought by discovery or followed along the lines of dim report. If European sailors should follow the coast of Africa below the twenty-seventh parallel of north latitude, or of Europe above the sixtieth, or if they should direct their course into the western ocean beyond the Azores, they would be sailing into the unknown, and whatever they should find would be fresh acquisition.

The two instruments which were the most requisite for distant voyaging, the compass and the astrolabe (the predecessor of the quadrant), were already, in 1400, known and used by Mediterranean navigators. The property of turning towards the north, possessed by a magnetized needle, was certainly known as early as the close of the twelfth century; and even its use by sailors to find their directions when the sun and stars were obscured. More than one mediaeval writer describes the process by which a needle is rubbed on a piece of magnetic iron, then laid on a straw or attached to a piece of cork, and floated on water till its point turns towards the north star. [Footnote: Alexander Neckham, De Utensilibus; De Natura Rerum, book II., chap, xcviii.; Guyot de Provins, La Bible, Jacques de Vitry, Historia Orientalis; Brunette Latini, Epistolas, who mentions Roger Bacon as showing him a magnet at Oxford in 1258. Quoted in Beazley, Hakluyt Soc, Publications, 1899, cxliv., etc.] But its properties savored of magic; the earlier sailors, who hugged the shore, scarcely needed it, and it came into general use as slowly and imperceptibly as most of the other great inventions of the world.

The introduction of the compass into general use is, by tradition, ascribed to the Italian city of Amain, and it is easy to believe that the enterprising sailors of this commercial republic brought it into established recognition. By the early years of the fifteenth century the compass was provided with the card, marked with the directions, placed in the compass-box, and made a well-known part of the equipment of the navigator. [Footnote: Azurara, Discovery of Guinea, chap ix.] The mariner could now tell his directions wherever he might be, and the spider-web net-work of “compass-roses” on many of the early maps shows how anxious the map-maker was to provide lines along which the navigator might lay his course according to his compass. The makers of the better class of portolani evidently had the use of the compass in drawing their charts. [Footnote: Santarem, Essai sur L’Histoire de la Cosmographie, I., 280-305.] The changed position of the heavenly bodies as the early traveller passed northward or southward struck him with especial force. Marco Polo, describing the island of Sumatra, says, “But let me tell you one marvellous thing, and that is the fact that this island lies so far to the south that the north star, little or much, is never to be seen.” [Footnote: Marco Polo (Yule’s ed.), book III., chap. ix.] He also notes on his journey northward through India, when he sees it again, “two cubits above the water.” When Cadamosto, the Venetian, saw the pole-star at “the third of a lance’s length above the edge of the waves,” he recorded it as one of the most striking phenomena of his journey towards the equator.

Two instruments were known by which the elevation above the horizon of the pole-star, or any other heavenly body could be measured. The older of these was the “cross-staff,” or St. James’s staff, a simple rod marked into degrees, at the end of which the eye was placed and along which a measured cross-piece was pushed, till one of its ends hid a point oh the horizon and the other the sun or star whose height was being measured. The astrolabe was a somewhat more elaborate instrument, consisting of a brass circle marked with degrees, against which two movable bars were fastened, each provided at the ends with a sight or projecting piece pierced by a hole. This was hung by a ring from a peg in the mast or from the hand, so that gravity would make one of its bars horizontal. Then the other bar was sighted to point towards some heavenly body. Chaucer, in 1400, gave to his “litel Lowis my sone” an astrolabe calculated “after the latitude of Oxenford,” and wrote a charming treatise to explain to him in English its use, “for Latin ne canstow yit but smal, my lyte sone.” In this treatise he described to him, among other things, “diverse tables of longitudes and latitudes of sterres.” [Footnote: Chaucer, A Treatise on the Astrolabe, Prologue; Skeat, The Student’s Chaucer, 396.] By means of either of these instruments latitude could be measured or calculated. Longitude was a more difficult problem; it involved the calculation of the difference of time as well as measurements of elevation of the heavenly bodies. The calculations necessary to discover actual locations from an observation were too long and complicated to be made on each occasion; and “ephemerides,” or calculated tables of elevations of planets and of differences of time, were required. Just when the earliest of such tables were constructed and when chronometers came into use is obscure, but they were in existence in at least a rudimentary form early in the fifteenth century. [Footnote: Humboldt, Examen Critique, I., 274.]

The condition of Europe early in the fifteenth century as compared with its condition early in the thirteenth shows a great advance in those lines which made extensive exploration possible, and this advance was chiefly due to Italians. Increased knowledge, improved equipment, instruments of astronomical observation, navigating charts, and a face of educated navigators, made a part of the European background of American history as truly as did the incentive to exploration afforded by the search for new routes to the East. Of course much progress remained to be accomplished in the making of maps and globes, in the improvement of instruments, and in the calculation of tables during the period of discovery. The awakened scientific interest which had already shown itself as part of the Renaissance found scope in the practical requirements of distant voyages. While men were discovering new continents and seas, they were at the same time solving many problems of geographical science and perfecting the equipment by which further advance was made practicable.



The great period of explorations, of which the discovery of America was a part, lay between the years 1485 and 1520, between the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Diaz and the circumnavigation of the globe by the ships of Magellan. Long before this period of fruition, however, there was a significant movement of discovery, and an important acquisition of knowledge, experience, and boldness in exploration. This early dawn, preparatory to the later day, consisted in a series of discoveries on the west coast of Africa, due to the energy of the Portuguese and to the enlightenment of their great Prince Henry.

Portugal was especially fitted to be the pioneer in modern maritime exploration. Without geographical or racial separation from the rest of the Iberian peninsula, the national distinctness of Portugal was largely a matter of sentiment gathering around the sovereign. The nationality of Portugal had been created in the first place by the policy of its rulers, and preserved by them until the growth of separate material interests, a national language and literature, and traditions of glorious achievements confirmed the separateness of the Portuguese nationality from that of Spain.

The desire to hold aloof from other Spanish countries turned the attention of the king of Portugal to more distant alliances, and the open western seaboard naturally suggested that these should be with maritime states. In 1294 a treaty of commerce was signed with England. A century later, 1386, a much closer alliance with that country was formed and a new treaty signed at Windsor. [Footnote: Rymer, Foedera, II., 667, VII., 515-523.] This was followed in the next year by a marriage between the king of Portugal and Philippa, daughter of the English John of Gaunt and first cousin of King Richard. This “Treaty of Windsor” was renewed again and again by succeeding English and Portuguese sovereigns and remained the foundation of their relationship until it was superseded long afterwards by still closer treaty arrangements. With Flanders, Portugal had frequent peaceful intercourse, both in trade and in diplomacy. A Venetian fleet also called from time to time at the harbor of Lisbon on the way to and from England and Flanders, and thus brought Portugal into contact with the great Italian republic, and may have aroused an interest in far Eastern trade products of which loaded the galleys.

The contract before referred to by which Emanuel Pesagno was made hereditary lord high admiral, in 1317, continued to be fulfilled by the descendants of the first great admiral through the whole fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and kept up a constant connection with Genoa. [Footnote: M. G. Canale, Storia del Commercio, Viaggi, &c., degl’ Italiani, book II., chap. x., etc., quoted by Payne, New World, 96.] Thus the associations of Portugal were with a line of seaboard states extending from England to Italy. After 1263 the maritime interests of the Portuguese kings became more distinct by their conquest from the Moors of the kingdom of Algarves, giving them a southern as well as a western sea-coast. [Footnote: Stephens, Hist. of Portugal, 81.] It was at Sagres, on Cape St. Vincent, which juts out into the open Atlantic Ocean on the extreme southwest of this province, that Henry, the fifth son of John II. of Portugal, established his dwelling-place in 1419, and created a centre of maritime interest and a base of exploring effort which was of world-wide influence. Henry was duke of Viseu, lord of Cavailham, viceroy of Algarves, and grand master of the Order of Christ. He had no wife or children; his private estate was, therefore, available for the expenses of exploring voyages; and projects of geographical discovery became his chief occupation. Whatever other duties or services were required of him on account of his membership in the royal family, he always returned to Sagres and to his exploring expeditions. He possessed also the interest and support of his father and brother, who successively occupied the throne. After his death his work was carried on by his nephew, King Alfonso V. The work of Henry was, therefore, substantially the concern of the whole royal family of Portugal for three generations. [Footnote: Major, Prince Henry the Navigator, chaps. iv., vi., xiii., xviii.]

Prince Henry “the Navigator,” as he has come to be called, gathered around him a body of men trained as sailors; he learned the use of charts and instruments, taught these arts to his captains, and ultimately made the neighboring port of Lagos the most famous point in the world for the departure and return of exploring expeditions. [Footnote: Nordenskiold, Periplus, 121 A. For discussion of divergent views of Prince Henry’s “school of navigation,” see Beazley.] During forty years expedition after expedition was equipped almost yearly and sent down along the west coast of Africa, in the effort to solve its mystery and, if possible, to sail around its southern extremity.

In the process of exploration Prince Henry was governed by some of the strongest of human impulses. The crusading spirit was hot within him, and he hoped to continue in Africa the old struggle of the Portuguese Christians against the Moorish infidels. Gentler missionary ideals caused him to plan to spread Christianity into new lands, and to make connection with Prester John, the Christian ruler of the India which lay to the eastward of Africa. [Footnote: Hakluyt Soc., Publications, 1899, cvi.-cxii. Murara, Discovery of Guinea, chaps, vii., xvi.] His interest in trade was equally strong; he was familiar with the internal trade of Africa, and he lost no opportunity of developing traffic along the sea-coast. [Footnote: Azurara, Discovery of Guinea, chap. vii]

Yet it was the instinct of the explorer that inspired Prince Henry with the steady devotion to his life work. The fine curiosity which placed geographical discovery above all material gain, and rewarded his captains, not in proportion to what they had accomplished, but in proportion to the efforts they had made to carry the boundaries of knowledge farther, kept him and them intent on the work of exploration. [Footnote: Bourne, “Prince Henry the Navigator,” in Essays in Historical Criticism, 173-189.] Henry possessed, at the beginning of his explorations, little more than the traditional geographical conceptions of the later Middle Ages. Besides some twelve or fourteen extant fourteenth-century maps drawn by Italian draughtsmen, which were probably all known to Henry, his brother Pedro gave him one which has since disappeared, which had been constructed at Venice, and which “had all the parts of the world and earth described.” [Footnote: Major, Prince Henry, 62.] He was probably also familiar with the classical tales of the circumnavigation of Africa.

Besides this he had some important personal knowledge. During a Portuguese invasion of the Barbary states of Africa in 1415, in which Prince Henry served with his father and brothers, and later when he was himself in command, he found that there were caravan routes whose termini were at Ceuta and other Mediterranean towns. From the Sahara and the Soudan, across the desert, came caravans to the Mediterranean coast bringing gold, wine, and slaves, and news of trading routes far to the southward.

Moreover, these routes extended to rivers and seacoasts unknown to Europeans, which must, nevertheless, be connected with the open Atlantic Ocean, and might well be on the southern shore of that continent. “He got news of the passage of merchants from the coast of Tunis to Timbuctoo and to Cantor on the Gambia, which inspired him to seek those lands by way of the sea.” [Footnote: Diego Gomez, quoted in Beazley, Introduction to Azurara’s Chronicle (Hakluyt Soc., Publications, 1899).] “The tawny Moors, his prisoners, told him of certain tall palms growing at the mouth of the Senegal or western Nile, by which he was able to guide the caravels which he sent out to find that river.” [Footnote: Ibid.]

The first decade of Henry’s efforts, from 1420 to 1430, resulted in little in the way of new discovery. The Madeira and Azores islands were rediscovered and their full exploration and permanent colonization begun. Every year saw one or more caravels sent from Lagos southward to follow the coast of the main-land; but they skirted no shores that were not desert, and turned back baffled by their own fears. Cape Boyador long remained a barrier whose imaginary dangers of reef and shoal served as an excuse for the still more unreal horrors of the “Sea of Darkness.”

The next decade saw better results. In 1434 Gil Eannes, one of the boldest of the captains who were growing up in Prince Henry’s service, when he reached Boyador, sailed far out to sea, doubled the cape, and, returning to the coast, landed and gathered “St. Mary’s roses,” and took them home to the prince as a memento of the “farthest South.” [Footnote: Azurara, Discovery of Guinea, chap. ix.] The greatest barrier had been passed, that of superstitious dread, and almost every voyage now brought its result of progress farther southward. Soon the boundaries of Islam were passed, for natives were found on the coast who were not Mohammedans.

The third decade saw still further advance. In 1441 Nuno Tristam discovered Cape Blanco, the “White Cape,” glistening with the white sand of the Sahara. In 1445 Dinis Diaz, of Lisbon, sailed at last beyond the desert and reached Cape Verd, the “Green Cape,” [Footnote: Ibid., chap. xxxi.] fifteen hundred miles down the African coast, and as far from Gibraltar south as Constantinople was east. By this time the captains of Prince Henry had reached the fertile and populous shores where the western Soudan borders on the Atlantic Ocean, and a new obstacle to further exploration revealed itself in the attraction and the profit of the slave-trade.

The first “Moors” or negroes were some ten or twelve captured and brought home in the year 1441 by Antam Goncalvez, to satisfy the curiosity of the prince and to obtain information useful for the further prosecution of the voyages. Others were soon brought for other purposes. Of the two hundred and thirty-five Moors who made up the first full cargo of human freight, the prince gave away the fifty-six which fell to his share as one-fifth, although it is recorded with the somewhat grotesque piety of the fifteenth century that “he reflected with great pleasure on the salvation of their souls that before were lost.” [Footnote: Azurara, Discovery of Guinea, chap. xxv.]

There is no reason to believe that Henry planned or wished the development of a trade in slaves; [Footnote: The statement to the contrary in the Cambridge Modern Hist., I., 10, is not deducible from any contemporary evidence.] but labor was scarce on the great estates of southern Portugal, slaves were in demand, and very different desires from those of the prince might be gratified by capturing and bringing to the slave-market of Lagos the unfortunate natives of the newly discovered coasts. Hence one expedition after another, sent out for purposes of discovery, returned, bringing tales of failure to reach farther points on the coast, but laden with human booty to be sold. Private adventurers sought and obtained the prince’s permission to send out caravels, and these also brought home cargoes of slaves. Only the most vigorous pressure, exercised on the choicest spirits among the Portuguese captains, served now to carry discoveries farther.

Nevertheless, a basis of interest in distant voyages had been found which had not existed before; and the further exploration of the African coast was certain, even in default of the personal enlightenment and enthusiasm of the Navigator. The expeditions sent by the prince and private voyages made familiar to the mariners of Portugal two thousand miles of coast instead of six hundred as of old. Guinea was eventually reached.

In 1455 the Venetian Cadamosto entered into Henry’s service; and,