From the period of 1450-1700, the expansion of trade, due to the Atlantic, resulted in the endless migration of people, cultural transformation and destruction, the worldwide movement of trade, and the disorienting experiences of cross-cultural encounters. New technology, knowledge of the earth, and navigation tactics greatly assisted the explorers in expanding out of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the era in which modern global economic system began to develop, paving the pathway of the Commercial Revolution. Portugal and Spain were the leading countries in European trade expansion leading to the conquests of the Americas, the increase of the population, the price revolution, and changes in commerce and production. However, the wars left Spain very much weakened, and opened the way for the English, Dutch, and French to profit from the economic changes and play leading roles in the global economic system.
Europeans had explored only their Atlantic coasts before the fifteenth century. In the fifteenth century, improvements in shipbuilding, the rigging of sails, and the adoption of the mariner??™s compass made it attainable to sail in the open ocean. When the Portuguese settled in the Azores Islands around 1450, they discovered westerly winds to assure a safe return to Europe and a pathway to Asia. In 1498 the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama landed on the Malabar Coast where he found a busy commercial population. Before these discoveries, Europeans had never actually traveled to the source of the goods. Now, they would travel to the source and bring back the goods to Europe or other countries. The Portuguese built fortified stations on the Malabar Coast, resulting in Europe??™s first commercial-colonial empires. In 1492 when Columbus had discovered America, it provided Spain with mines for precious metal. It also resulted in the importation of African slaves for cheap labor. In 1520, the Spanish expedition, led by Magellan, circumnavigated the globe for the first time. An idea of the true size and interconnections of the oceans was brought back to Europe where geographical experts immediately incorporated the new knowledge. This knowledge was further used for navigation, making travels easier. In 1545 a great discovery was made by the Spanish, the prodigiously rich silver deposits at Potosi in Peru. Almost immediately better methods of extracting silver from the ore by the use of mercury were developed. American production of metals shot up rapidly. For years 500,000 pounds of silver and 10,000 pounds of gold flowed from America to Spain. These riches financed the European projects of the king of Spain. In 1565, the Spanish also established a lucrative trade route between their colonies in Mexico and the Philippines. The silver was extracted and then was traded for Chinese luxury goods. Thus, silver from the New World mines therefore sustained the whole Asian-American-European trading system and enabled Spain to control much of the global market of Chinese products. For a century after the Spanish and Portuguese began to build their empires, the north did not take part in the oceanic trade. Instead, ???sea dogs??? would plunder ships. The opening of the Atlantic thus reoriented Europe. In this era of oceanic communications, Europe became the core from which America, Africa, and Asia could all be reached.
The opening of ocean trade routes also led to the growth of population and a gradual inflation resulting in the economic changes known as the Commercial Revolution. With the influx of commodities, the population began to grow gradually. The growth of population, which set up an increasing demand for food, led to the inflation. Prices were also pushed upward by the increase in the volume of money. The flow of gold and silver from America also made money more plentiful. This era was known as the price revolution. With the increase of gold, silver, and other goods from trade, the economic changes in Europe, known as the Commercial Revolution, signified the rise of capitalism and the transition from a town-centered to a nation-centered economy. In this long-distance trade business, new kinds of entrepreneurs began to appear in European commercial life. Also, with the global economic system, bankers were important, such as the Fuggers. During this time, the ???putting out??? system began to appear. Towns and guilds would ???put out??? the work to people in the country, providing them with looms and other equipment. New industries began to appear in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, such as mining, printing and book trade, and shipbuilding, all taking part in a international market. The new sea route to the East and the discovery of America brought a vast increase in trade not only in luxury items but in commodities. Only persons controlling large funds of capital could normally take part. As a result, more established banking systems began to develop. Loans and interest became an accepted part of capitalism. Mercantilism was another feature of the commercial revolution. The kings and advisers craved for gold and silver to flow into their country. As a result, they put the poor to work, creating more products that could be traded, creating an influx of wealth. With the increase of wealth, national markets began to appear, such as the East India Companies. Governments helped to create a national market and an industrious nationwide labor supply for their merchants. The effect of all these developments was a commercialization of industry that would last until after 1800.
Not only did the opening of Atlantic trade spark the commercial revolution, it also helped define the classes of Europe. These classes were the landed aristocracy, the peasantry or mass of agricultural workers, the miscellaneous middle classes, and the urban poor. Near the top was the landed aristocracy, the urban elites who governed the towns, and powerful merchant and banker families. Most merchants, bankers, and shipowners were middle class. With the increase of knowledge about the world, the establishment of banking systems, the increase of trading companies, and because global navigation took skill, schools and universities began to appear. In this era, it was now crucial that people understand finance, keep records, and draft proposals. There was also a widespread need for lawyers.
Although many believed the opening of the Atlantic was a momentous event, others had a negative view. The people in the Americas and Africa struggles to defend their own evolving cultures and institutions as European soldiers, traders, and missionaries entered their civilizations. In America, there was a massive depopulation by diseases. In Africa through the transatlantic slave trade, and other places also, there was destruction of cultures and languages. Viewed from these perspectives, there was clearly another side to the effects of the opening of trade in the Atlantic.
Evidently, the expansion of the Atlantic trade had numerous effects that shaped European life from 1450-1700. The Atlantic no longer acted as a barrier, but a bridge. The economic renewal transformed society by contacts with a newly discovered overseas world, by expanding trade routes, the formation of social classes, emergence of capitalism, knowledge of the world, changes in commerce and production, and cultural change.
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