The Maritime Revolution, to 1550
Global Maritime Expansion Before 1450
The Pacific Ocean
Over a period of several thousand years, peoples originally from the Malay
Peninsula crossed the water to settle the islands of the East Indies, New Guinea,
the Melanesian and Polynesian islands, the Marquesas, New Zealand, and other
Pacific islands out to Hawaii.
Polynesian expansion was the result of planned voyages undertaken with the
intention of establishing colonies. Polynesian mariners navigated by the stars and
by their observations of ocean currents and evidence of land.
The Indian Ocean
Malayo-Indonesians colonized the island of Madagascar in a series of voyages
that continued through the fifteenth century.
Arab seafarers used the regular pattern of the monsoon winds to establish trade
routes in the Indian Ocean. These trade routes flourished when the rise of Islam
created new markets and new networks of Muslim traders.
The Chinese Ming dynasty sponsored a series of voyages to the Indian Ocean
between 1405 and 1433. The Ming voyages were carried out on a grand scale,
involving fleets of over sixty large “treasure ships” and hundreds of smaller
The treasure ships carried out trade in luxury goods including silk and precious
metals as well as stimulating diplomatic relations with various African and Asian
states. The voyages, which were not profitable and inspired opposition in court,
were ended in 1433.
The Atlantic Ocean
During the relatively warm centuries of the early Middle Ages, the Vikings,
navigating by the stars and the seas, explored and settled Iceland, Greenland, and
Newfoundland (Vinland). When a colder climate returned after 1200, the
northern settlements in Greenland and the settlement in Newfoundland were
A few southern Europeans and Africans attempted to explore the Atlantic in the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Voyagers from Genoa in 1291 and from Mali
in the 1300s set out into the Atlantic but did not return. Genoese and Portuguese
explorers discovered and settled the Madeiras, the Azores, and the Canaries in
the fourteenth century.
In the Americas the Arawak from South America had colonized the Lesser and
Greater Antilles by the year 1000. The Carib followed, first taking over Arawak
settlements in the Lesser Antilles and then, in the late fifteenth century, raiding
the Greater Antilles.
European Expansion, 1400–1550
Motives for Exploration
The Iberian kingdoms sponsored voyages of exploration for a number of reasons,
including both the adventurous personalities of their leaders and long-term trends
in European historical development: the revival of trade, the struggle with Islam