World in 1415
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The unrolling of the clouds before the first Portuguese discovery in 1419
Little more than one-third of today’s world was known to the Europeans of 1415. The geographical limits extended to the Scandinavian peninsula and Lapland in the North. To the east there was Iceland, the British Isles down to the shores of Portugal. The southern limits extended from the beginning of the northwest coast of Africa, across the Sahara Desert, to Egypt, along the Red Sea, and south to the Kingdom of Abyssinia. The southeastern limits stretched across Arabia, Persia, India, Ceylon, Sumatra and Java. Mongolia and China both formed the easternmost boundaries.
EUROPEAN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY:
In order to comprehend clearly the period of almost a thousand years which preceded the discoveries, we must evaluate the European panorama of human geography. The best method is to make an outline of the upstart protagonists of the Middle Ages in their historical continuity.
THE PROTAGONISTS OF THE MIDDLE AGES
The Middle Ages began after the Barbarian invasions (Visigoths, Huns, and later the Vikings) which led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. For centuries thereafter Europe was enveloped in the Dark Ages. Only during the second half of the Middle Ages did the protagonist Barbarians yield to the Knights who became the elite of the feudalistic society.
To be knighted was the highest honor. Divisive rivalries and civil wars were maintained so that the oath of knighthood could be bestowed at the battlefield. All the energies of feudalistic Europe were geared to the ideals of chivalry. It was Pope Urban II (1096) who succeeded in transforming the ambitious Knights into fervent Crusaders for the Holy War. Although the crusaders failed in their main objective which was to win back the Holy Land, they brought east and west face to face.
From the 8th to the 13th Centuries, the Arabs and the other Islamic peoples were the main carriers of Western Civilization. While Europe was being torn apart by almost constant fighting, Moslem scholars not only preserved the learning of the ancient world, but added many discoveries and original works of their own. With increased contact between Europe and Asia, there resulted not only an expansion of trade but also the broadening of the outlook of European thought. Europe suddenly awoke to the wealth and knowledge of the East. The Mediterranean became the commercial center of the world. Once again, the helm of Europe’s destiny exchanged hands from the Crusaders to the Merchants. The Italian Republics, especially Florence, Genoa, Milan and Venice were enriched and flourished to their zenith during their Golden Age.
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Iberian Peninsula and N. Africa. Prince henery founded his nautical school at the promontory of Sagres.
The contact between the Islamic world and the Crusaders and Merchants brought to the Christian World the knowledge of the Arabs, thereby stimulating the great intellectual and artistic awakening known as the period of the Renaissance. Thus, a new breed of protagonists appeared on the European stage: the Scholars.
The West owes much to the Moors. Unlike the ancient Greeks, who often arrived at conclusions by reasoning alone, the Arab scientists studied and tested their ideas by experimentation. The founding of chemistry, pharmacology, astronomy, and mathematics were greatly enhanced by the Islamic Scholars. The Moslem Empire extended by land from the Indian Ocean to the shores of the future Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean. By civilizing the Lusitanian's, (the future Portugues) the Arabs without realizing it, caused the Portuguese to consider the possibility of a water route to India by navigating around the African Continent.
Portugal became a nation in 1139 as a result of the efforts of the Western Crusades to push the Moslems out of the Iberian Peninsulas. Practically all of the Portuguese territory was won from the Moors. Continental Portugal, to this day, has kept her regional frontiers for the longest period of time of any other country in the world. Therefore, willing or not, Portugal inevitably had to absorb much of the Arabic agriculture, architecture, language and science.
Perhaps because of her geographical position “where the land ends and the sea be gins” — Portugal has maintained since her independence — a Portuguese difference — from the rest of Europe. If all protagonists (Barbarians, Knights, Crusaders, Merchants, Scholars) played a part in Portugal’s destiny, their roles were (different and their contributions outstanding.
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It was Prince Henry who made Navigators out of the Knights of the Order of Christ and from the Navigators a new cast of protagonists, the Merchants were developed, making Lisbon the commercial center of the world in the 16th Century. Without firing a shot, Portuguese commercial competition caused the ruination of the Italian monopoly on the Mediterranean trade.
A new kind of Scholar emerged also during the
Golden Era of Portugal. They were the most advanced men in navigation,
cartography, geography, and mathematics, permitting Portugal, with a population
of less than two million people, to hold the largest Empire in the whole world
and maintain the Portuguese influence in all Continents for more than a century.
Of the twenty Centuries since the beginning of the Christian Era, there is one
— the XV Century
— that we can properly designate as the Portuguese Century of World History.
By spreading their faith to all parts of the Portuguese Empire, the sailors of Portugal became the Crusaders of the Sea.
‘While the Middle Ages ended with the capture of Constantinople by the Turks (1453) and the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Portuguese navigators by that time had already passed the Bojador Cape and were on their way to crossing the Equator.
Actually, the first chapter of Modern History was written in 1415 by the Portuguese, when Prince Henry and his men captured Ceuta from the Moors in North Africa. This was indeed the first big step in the age of the great sea explorations. Prince Henry the Navigator chose as his motto of knighthood: “Talent de bien faire” — "Vontade de fazer bem” or “To do good is my desire”. Prince Henry had the habit of signing official documents with the three initials of his name: I.D.A.
I—Infante (King’s son)
D—Dom (Title of nobility)
A—Anrique (Henry was spelled with initial A instead of H).
The three initials I.D.A. spell the Portuguese word “IDA” which means in English “GO”. “Go, "Go, further and do not be afraid” Prince Henry told his navigators. “GO, GO, GO,” is also the motto for today's explorations of outer space.
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