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countries to spread their faith. Portugal, Spain, and France, which remained largely Catholic, were interested in both commerce and spreading their beliefs. For those countries, particularly Spain, religion was a powerful factor in exploration and colonization. A Catholic religious group called the Jesuits eventually performed missionary work around the world. The Jesuits were and are largely focused on education and expanding human knowledge. (See Topic 2.5 for more about the Jesuits.)
Protestants Seek Refuge—and Profit However, people from England and the Netherlands, mostly Protestant, focused more on commerce. Dutch explorers traveled through the East Indies and parts of Asia, competing with the Portuguese, British, and Spanish. In the 17th century, English groups sought refuge in North America from the Anglican Church—Puritans in Massachusetts, Catholics in Maryland, and Quakers in Pennsylvania.
As Christians carried their faith throughout the world, some used it as justification for subjugating the indigenous peoples they encountered. Some Christians believed that it was acceptable to dominate, profit from, and even enslave others if they also forced those others to become Christian. In letters to Spain, Christopher Columbus described the indigenous people he met (whom he called Indians) as having “very subtle wit” and being skilled at “navigating all these seas.” However, he also wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
Commercial Motives for Exploration
Though Europeans were geographically confined during the Middle Ages, they were exposed to goods and ideas from Asia and Africa. For example, Venetian merchant Marco Polo published an account of his travels throughout Asia in the late 13th century, giving medieval Europeans their most detailed information about that region.
Search for New Routes to the East Europeans were aware of exotic products and luxury goods such as gold, spices, silk, and jewels from Asia and Africa. Knowledge of these products increased as a result of the religious wars called the Crusades. Yet, European access to such products was limited.
In the 14th century, the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire gained control of trade routes connecting Asia to Europe both by land and by the Mediterranean Sea. Traders from Venice were the only Europeans who had direct access to the Muslim ports. Therefore, Europeans had to purchase spices, such as ginger and cinnamon, and other foreign goods from Muslim traders at very high prices. For example, in Spain, nutmeg was as expensive as gold.
Quest for a Water Route Europeans hoped to discover an all-water route connecting Europe to Asia. This would not only bypass Ottoman-controlled lands, but it also would be less expensive. Transporting heavy goods over water was much cheaper and easier than transporting them over land.

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