Authored by Deanna Proach in History
Published on 08-15-2009
Historians alike all agree that the Renaissance was one of the most exciting periods in the history of western civilization. A number of sweeping reforms and innovative inventions that took place throughout Western Europe in the space of four centuries marked the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of a brand new era. One of the most significant changes that took place during this period was the age of exploration.
During the Renaissance period, scholars and other members of the aristocracy were seeking new ways to explain their relation to the elements of this vast planet. Many scientists and university professors delved into the study of human anatomy and made some very important discoveries that were never made during the Middle Ages. Also, the exploration of space that was made by famous astronomers, Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, gave rise to the invention of the compass and the astrolabe. With the rise of new knowledge came the need for exploration of foreign lands.
Marco Polo was the first European man to travel the world. When he returned to Italy in his later years he wrote The Travels of Marco Polo, a detailed account of his travels. His book was published, but it did not become famous until after his death. The Travels of Marco Polo circulated throughout Europe and became one of the most read books at the time. Most scholars questioned Marco Polo’s book with the firm belief that much of his accounts were grossly exaggerated. Whether they were embellished or not, they engaged thousands of readers and made scholars realize that there is a much bigger world out there. It wouldn’t be until the latter half of the 15th century that Europeans took the thought of overseas exploration seriously.
The compass and the astrolabe made navigation much easier. Early explorers used the astrolabe to chart the location of the stars and sun throughout their voyage. The compass was used to locate the direction they were traveling. After his travels, Prince Henry the Navigator created the first nautical map, which was used by navigators in the decades to come.
Overseas exploration benefited Europeans in a very significant way. The early explorers learned much about new lands and also established lucrative trading relations with the people of these foreign lands. Exotic goods, such as silk, gems, and spices flowed into Europe, making the European market much more valuable. By interacting with foreign merchants, the early explorers learned about new technology and brought their new knowledge and resources with them back to Europe. Fireworks and gun powder were two inventions made in China that were introduced to Europe during the age of discovery.
The age of exploration was a product of the Renaissance. Many historians agree that the age of exploration in itself brought an end to the Middle Ages and marked the beginning of what modern historians refer to as the early modern period.