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(1394–1460), the Portuguese wanted to spread Christianity and obtain direct access to gold, ivory, and slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. Henry was known as “the Navigator” for his support of sailing on the open seas. However, he never sailed beyond the sight of land. Henry established a school for navigators on the country’s southwest coast in 1419. The work there formed the basis of Portuguese explorations of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Africa Beginning in the 1430s, Portuguese sailors explored the western coast of Africa looking for gold. The combination of winds and currents and a lack of natural harbors made traveling along this coast dangerous. Finally, in 1471, the Portuguese found a source of gold in western Africa. Europeans later referred to the area as the Gold Coast.
Trade in gold, ivory, and enslaved people grew, and the Portuguese developed a trading network based in forts along the African coast. The Portuguese negotiated with local landowners to get land for their forts.
The Portuguese usually didn’t capture enslaved people. African leaders along the coast realized their kingdoms could benefit economically by selling captives, and sometimes their own people, as slaves to the Portuguese. By the 1480s, Portuguese were already shipping enslaved Africans abroad to work on sugar plantations. In the 1500s and 1600s, the Spanish, English, and French also began to export enslaved Africans.
South Asia The Portuguese heard that there was a possible trade route to Asia around the southern tip of Africa, then called the Cape of Storms. In 1488, the explorer Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450–1500) was the first European to sail around the Cape. But Dias turned back as his crew refused to go on against powerful currents.
Ten years later, Vasco da Gama (c. 1460–1524) rounded the Cape, which he renamed the Cape of Good Hope, and explored the coast of East Africa. Da Gama then sailed to the southeastern coast of India by crossing the Indian Ocean, then called the Arabian Sea. There, in the port of Calicut, he acquired a cargo of spices that would yield huge profits.
In later years, the Portuguese sought to dominate the spice trade and eliminate Muslim traders from the market. In 1510, Portugal used its maritime strength to defeat the Muslim kingdom that ruled the city of Goa on the western coast of India and set up a port and trading operation there.
Pressing Eastward After reaching South Asia, the Portuguese continued eastward. They started to travel more extensively throughout Asia, seeking to expand their access to the spice trade. In 1511, they captured the city of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula from its Muslim inhabitants. The Portuguese used that port as a base to extend their lucrative trading network to China and the Spice Islands. In the Spice Islands, the Portuguese negotiated a treaty that allowed them to export cloves to Europe. However, they did not have the desire, population, or political power to establish colonies in Asia.
Dividing the World In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas (see Topic 1.7), Spain and Portugal agreed to establish separate spheres of colonial influence.
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