Timeline Description: The Age of Exploration, which lasted roughly between 1450 and 1600, is a term given to the period of European exploration in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Driven by a desire for inexpensive spices, gold, and other sources of wealth, Europeans sailed around the world and sparked a global exchange of goods that changed the world forever. Portugal led the way, followed by other major powers such as Spain, England, and the Netherlands. Sailors capitalized on improvements in cartography, ship construction, and navigational tools to facilitate their voyages.
|1415||The Portuguese seize Ceuta, sparking interest in rounding Africa.
By the 1400s, Portugal is strong enough to expand into Muslim North Africa, and they seize the coastal city of Ceuta in 1415. Their victory inspires Prince Henry, later known as Henry the Navigator, to organize voyages along the western coast of Africa.
|October 12, 1492||Christopher Columbus lands in the Caribbean.
Inspired by Portugal's early success in navigation, Spain finances Christopher Columbus' voyage to find a western trade route to Asia. Columbus lands in the Caribbean in 1492, convinced he has reached East Asia. His voyage opens the Americas to later European explorers.
|May 4, 1493||The Line of Demarcation divides the world between Spain and Portugal.
Spain and Portugal press rival claims to the lands Columbus explores, and in 1493 Pope Alexander VI steps in to keep the peace. He sets a Line of Demarcation, which divides the non-European world into two zones. Spain has trading and exploration rights in all lands west of the line, while Portugal has the same rights east of the line.
|June 7, 1494||Portugal claims Brazil.
Although Spain continues to claim land in South America, a large region remains outside its empire. In the Treaty of Tordesillas, Portugal claims Brazil and issues grants of land to Portuguese nobles. European settlers move to Brazil to farm brazilwood and sugar.
|June 24, 1497||John Cabot lands on the east coast of North America.
Hoping to find a northwest passage to Asia, explorer John Cabot sets out on a voyage from England. When he lands on the east coast of North America, he claims the land in the name of King Henry VII, mistakenly believing he is in Asia.
|May 20, 1498||Vasco da Gama reaches India after rounding Africa.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reaches India after rounding the southern tip of Africa. Although the Portuguese lose half their ships and many sailors die on the voyage, the venture is highly profitable and he returns with a cargo of spices. His voyage shows Portugal can access Asian markets directly, instead of through indirect overland routes.
|1502||Da Gama forces a treaty on the ruler of Calicut and sets up a trading post.
Thanks to his success in India, da Gama is able to outfit a new fleet, and in 1502 he forces a treaty of cooperation on the ruler of Calicut. He then leaves Portuguese merchants in Calicut to set up trade with spice merchants.
|April 25, 1507||A German mapmaker names the "New World" America.
A German mapmaker reads reports about Columbus' "New World," written by the Italian sailor Amerigo Vespucci. The mapmaker names the region America, and the Caribbean islands Columbus initially explored are named the West Indies.
|August 24, 1511||Portugal seizes Malacca.
After da Gama's success in setting up a trading post, the Portuguese begin to capture key ports around the Indian Ocean. In 1511 they seize Malacca, which allows them to ally with Asian leaders and establish a major foothold in Asian trade routes. Portugal continues to set up a vast trading empire, but their brutality in Malacca makes them hated and feared.
|February 1519||Hernan Cortés lands in Mexico.
Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernan Cortés lands on the coast of Mexico with 600 men, 16 horses, and a few cannons. While the Spaniards are vastly outnumbered by the Aztecs, they capture and demolish the capital city of Tenochtitlán in a brutal assault in 1521. Their actions inspire other conquistadors to conquer regions in the Americas.
|September 8, 1522||The Vittoria completes its circumnavigation of the globe.
The Vittoria completes the first circumnavigation of the globe, nearly three years after first setting out. While Ferdinand Magellan leads the initial expedition, he and four other ships do not survive the entire voyage.
|August 29, 1533||Francisco Pizarro executes the last Inca emperor.
Inspired by the success of Cortés in Mexico, Francisco Pizarro arrives in Peru in 1532. He capitalizes on the unrest in the Incan empire and quickly captures the Inca emperor, whom he executes in 1533. The Spanish spread across Ecuador and Chile, adding much of South America to Spain's empire.
|July 28, 1576||Martin Frobisher sights land in North America.
Determined to find the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic Ocean and Asia, English explorer Martin Frobisher sets sail for North America. In 1576 he sights the coast of what is now Labrador, Canada. Despite three voyages, Frobisher is unsuccessful in finding the Northwest Passage.
|December 31, 1600||English merchants found the East India Company.
Hoping to exploit trade in East and Southeast Asia and India, a group of English merchants form the East India Company by royal charter. With this company, the English break the Spanish and Portuguese monopoly of the East Indian spice trade. The company later becomes involved in politics and acts as an agent of British imperialism in India.
|March 20, 1602||Dutch merchants found the Dutch East India Company.
In the late 1500s, the Dutch set up colonies and trading posts around the world. A group of wealthy merchants found the Dutch East India Company, which furthers their quest to be the major European commercial power in the east. The company also comes into conflict with the English East India Company.