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European Explorers

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European Explorers

From the 1400's to 1600's there was a boom in exploration. Some explorers sought fame and fortune, while others wanted to spread Christianity. Who were they? Did they find what they were looking for? What happened to the indigenous people who were already living in areas that were being "explored"? Let's answer those questions and more!

European explorers during the time of European exploration

It is important to remember that while Europeans were "discovering" new lands, these areas were already settled by people indigenous to them. South of the Sahara had different tribes each with unique cultures and experiences. When Columbus arrived in Hispaniola, the Taino people already lived there. While the Europeans profited from exploration and colonialization, the indigenous people are the ones who suffered.

European Explorers Columbus San Salvador StudySmarterColumbus "discovering" San Salvador, Wikimedia

European Explorers Timeline

Let's look at a timeline of events so that we have a better idea of European exploration in Africa and America. After that, we can break down some of the explorers of this period!

Year
Person
Country
Accomplishment
1419Henry the NavigatorPortugal Sponsored 14 voyages that explored the North-western portion of Africa's coast and coastal islands.
1488Bartolomeu DiazPortugalSailed to the Cape of Good Hope then back to Portugal.
1492Christopher ColumbusSpainFirst European to set foot on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea
1497Amerigo VespucciSpainExplored Northern part of South America, first to believe that it was a New World and not Asia
1497John CabotEnglandExplored part of Canada and declared that it was Newfoundland (a newfound land)
1498Vasco da GamaPortugalSailed around Africa to India
1513Nunez de BalboaSpainFirst European to see the Pacific Ocean
1513Ponce de LeonSpainClaimed Florida for the Spanish monarchy
1521Hernán Cortés SpainDefeated the Aztec Empire
1522The Vittoria (Ferdinand Magellan)Spain/PortugalFirst crew to sail around the world
1524Giovanni VerrazanoFranceExplored from North Carolina to Maine
1533Francisco Pizzaro SpainExecuted the last great Incan emperor
1539Hernando de SotoSpainExplored and colonized Florida
1587Sir Walter RaleighEnglandClaimed Virginia for England, established colony
1609Samuel de ChamplainFranceFirst European to find Lake Champlain, mapped out a lot of the northeastern part of North America
1609 Henry HudsonNetherlandsFirst European to find the Hudson River, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay
1652Jan van RiebeeckNetherlandsEstablishes colony at the Cape of Good Hope
1673Jacques Marquette and Louis JolietFranceMissionaries who mapped out the Mississippi River
1679Robert de La SalleFranceSailed from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico

European Explorers List

To simplify the list, we're going to break it down into two groups: European Explorers in Africa and European Explorers in America. Let's check out Africa first!

European Explorers in Africa

In 1324, the kingdom of Mali in Africa had a legendary ruler named Mansa Musa. Musa went on a pilgrimage from Mali to Mecca. While he was in Egypt, he spent and gave away so much gold that the value of gold decreased for twelve years! While Mansa Musa was a real ruler, historians don't know how true his legend was. We know that almost two centuries later, the Europeans still remembered the stories and wanted the wealth of Africa.

While there was some exploration in Africa, it would not be until the 18th century that the majority of European exploration began.

Bartolomeu Diaz

European Explorers São Cristóvão StudySmarter

São Cristóvão, Wikimedia

The Southwestern coast of Africa was difficult to sail because it had dangerous currents. Many Sailors would not try to sail around the tip of Africa's coast because they thought it was impossible. Bartolomeu Diaz was the first to successfully sail around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. This opened the door for other sailors to do the same.

Vasco da Gama

In 1498, Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to India. Eventually, Portugal was able to force India to create a trade deal with them. With India's spices, teas, and luxury items Portugal was able to become a global superpower. Da Gama also opened trade between Portugal and Kilwa a port city in Africa.

Da Gama was celebrated as a hero when he returned to Portugal, but the Indians thought he was a villain for all the destruction that he caused!

Jan van Riebeeck

Jan van Riebeeck established a Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. As this colony grew it took land and resources away from the San and Khoikhoi, the people who lived there before the colony. Riebeeck would not acknowledge the San and Khoikhoi's rights to the land because it was different from what he was used to. They needed more labor, so the colony began to import slaves from Madagascar.

This colony would be a port where ships would dock and resupply. It was also a crucial possession for the Dutch as the slave trade rose in power.

European Explorers Riebeeck StudySmarter

Jan van Riebeeck, Wikimedia
  • Vasco da Gama opened India to trade with Portugal making Portugal a powerhouse
  • The Cape of Good Hope colony was profitable for the Dutch but devastating for the San and Khoikhoi

European Explorers of America

Just as it was in Africa, the people native to the Americas had vibrant cultures before European exploration. The indigenous people did not have the immunities to disease as the Europeans so when the Europeans began to colonize, they brought diseases with them. Between disease, warfare, and enslavement Europeans were responsible for upwards of 90% of the indigenous people's deaths.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is credited for discovering America, but he never stepped foot in North America. It would be five years before explorer Amerigo Vespucci voiced that this New World was not Asia. In 1507, mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller drew it as a different continent and named it America after Vespucci. Columbus' real goal was to find a sea route to India through the Northwest.

European Explorers Taino People StudySmarterTaino People Making Bread, Wikimedia

In 1492 Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola and claimed it for Spain. Columbus returned to the island in 1493 to establish a colony. In 1500 he was sent back to Spain in chains because he mistreated his colonists and the Taino who were indigenous to Hispaniola. The queen and king of Spain were horrified by Columbus' treatment and did not return the colony to him.

Taino People

When Columbus arrived on the island of Hispaniola, the Taino people welcomed him. They traded with Columbus and were hospitable. When Columbus returned to colonize the island he enslaved them, forcing them to collect gold dust. If they did not collect enough, Columbus had their hands chopped off. Hispaniola was never rich in gold, but Columbus refused to believe that.

Columbus opened the New World up to European trade and commerce as well as slavery, colonization, and genocide.

John Cabot

In 1497, John Cabot landed in North America somewhere along Newfoundland in Canada. Cabot claimed the territory for his patron, Henry VII then returned home. He was the first European to discover North America, well, the first one who historically speaking was important. His claim to North America allowed England to colonize it in 1607.

If Cabot was the first important European to "discover" North America, who did it first?

In the 10th Century, an Icelandic Viking named Lief Erikson tried to establish a colony somewhere in Canada. He was quickly chased away by indigenous people and his "discovery" left no historical mark. Cabot's North American voyage led to the English colonization of America.

Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519 with the plan to establish New Spain. The only issue was that Mexico already had an empire, the Aztecs. Cortes had the assistance of indigenous people who worked as his translators and experts on local cultures.

When Cortes arrived at the capital city of Tenochtitlan he offered gifts to the king, Montezuma II. Cortes then captured the king. Montezuma was forced to pledge loyalty to the Spanish king and then made a figurehead while Cortes ruled the empire.

Figurehead

A ruler with no real political power

European Explorers Tenochtitlan StudySmarterTenochtitlan, Wikimedia

In 1520, Cortes had to leave so he placed one of his men in charge. During a sacred festival, the Spanish slaughtered Aztec warriors. When Cortes returned to a warring city, he either sent Montezuma out to quiet the mobs who killed him or Cortes executed the king. Either way, Montezuma died, and the Spanish fled.

The indigenous people who Cortes hired helped him make alliances with the Aztec's enemies. In 1521, the city was held at siege for 93 days. The Spanish did not realize it, but the Aztecs were dying inside of the city. The Spanish had given them smallpox. Cortes defeated the Aztecs and renamed the area Little Spain thus marking an end to the greatest empire in North America.

Siege

When a military prevents a city from receiving supplies or aid

European Explorers - Key takeaways

  • European explorers were all very different
  • While Europeans benefited from colonization, it was bad for the indigenous people
  • Many explorers spread capitalism and Christianity, but they also spread disease, enslavement, and colonialization

Frequently Asked Questions about European Explorers

The main European explorers were Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Hernando Cortez, and Francisco Pizzaro.

Early Europeans explored the Americas in the hopes of finding gold or other valuable items. 

Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first European to discover the Pacific Ocean. 

An early European explorer was Henry the Navigator though he never voyages. Henry sponsored many voyages in his lifetime. 

Gunpowder made European weapons superior to the indigenous people's weapons. African people were also willing to trade with Europeans for guns. 

Final European Explorers Quiz

Question

When did the War of the Roses begin?

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Answer

1455

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Question

What year did the War of the Roses end?

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Answer

1485

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Question

Who was NOT a member of the Yorkist faction?

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Answer

Margaret of Anjou

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Question

Who was NOT a member of the Lancastrian faction?

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Answer

Edward IV

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Question

Which house represents the White Rose?

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Answer

York

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Question

Which house represents the Red Rose?

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Answer

Lancaster

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Question

What was the first battle of the War of the Roses?

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Answer

The Battle of St. Albans

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Question

What was the final battle of the War of the Roses?

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Answer

The Battle of Bosworth Field

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Question

Who was Henry Tudor?

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Answer

The last Lancastrian, who overthrew Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and became King Henry VII, the first Tudor King.

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Who was Richard III?

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Answer

Brother of King Edward IV. After Edward's death, he declared his brother's sons illegitimate and seized the crown for himself.

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Question

Who was Margaret of Anjou?

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Answer

As Henry VI's queen, Margaret led the Lancastrian faction against Richard of York. She was the major political player for her side due to Henry VI's frequent illnesses.

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Question

Who was the fictional king that caught the attention of Henry the Navigator?

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Answer

Prester John

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Question

True/False

Henry the Navigator is known for his exploration and sailing abilities.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of these was not a reason for Henry's patronage of expeditions?

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Answer

Spreading Christianity 

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Question

What is the name of the triangular shaped sail that allowed boats to sail against the wind? 

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Answer

Lateen 

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Question

Which instrument allowed sailors to find their location using stars?

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Answer

Astrolabe  

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Question

Which instrument was used to find latitude and longitude? 

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Answer

Quadrant  

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Question

What trade did the Portuguese enter once they began exploring coastal Africa?

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Answer

Slave Trade

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Question

Which of these island chains was not a stepping stone for explorers? 

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Answer

Cape Verde Islands

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Question

Which explorer was the first to sell around the Cape of Africa? 

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Answer

Bartholomew Dias

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Question

Who was the first European to sail around Africa and to India?

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Answer

Vasco de Gama

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Question

What did Vasco da Gama discover?  

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Answer

A sea route from Europe, around Africa, and to India.  

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Question

Which of these was not one of Vasco da Gama's boats?

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Answer

São Rafael 

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Who taxed the Portuguese when they tried to trade with India?

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Answer

Muslims

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Where was Vasco da Gama trying to sale to?

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Answer

India

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Question

Why did the Indians dislike da Gama?

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Answer

He was seen as a violent imperialist. 

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Question

Who made a trade deal with Calicut after da Gama failed?

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Answer

Pedro Alvares

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Why did da Gama go back to India with a fleet? 

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Answer

The Indians destroyed the Portuguese trade ports in India.

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Question

Why did da Gama burn his ship, São Raphael? 

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Answer

To stop the spread of scurvy 

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Question

What is someone who was given permission by their government to attack the ships of foreign governments? 

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Answer

Privateer 

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Question

What was a Portuguese noble title that is the same as a "count"? 

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Answer

Dom

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What was a person who rules a colony on behalf of his king/queen? 

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Answer

Viceroy

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Question

Why was Vasco da Gama's voyage to India important? 

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Answer

It opened trade between India and Portugal 

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Question

What was an illness caused by a lack of vitamin C?

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Answer

Scurvy 

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Question

On his way to India, why did Vasco da Gama sail far west into the Atlantic Ocean to go around Africa? 

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Answer

The currents along the African coast are dangerous.

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Question

Which king tasked Vasco da Gama with sailing to India?

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Answer

King Manuel

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Question

In what country was Ferdinand Magellan born? 

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Answer

Portugal 

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Question

Was Ferdinand Magellan the first man to circumnavigate the globe? 

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Answer

No 

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Question

What does circumnavigate mean? 

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Answer

To completely travel around something (especially in reference to sailing). 

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Question

How did Magellan obtain his knowledge and experience in sailing? 

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Answer

He was a page to the Portuguese Queen, giving him ample opportunity to study, and he was later a sailor in the Portuguese navy. 

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Question

Why did the Portuguese royalty refuse to support his expedition in search of the Spice Islands? 

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Answer

Magellan had earlier been accused of illegal trade in Morocco, though he was found not guilty. 

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Question

Where is the Strait of Magellan located? 

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Answer

The southern tip of South America 

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Question

What was not a problem that Magellan faced during his travels? 

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Answer

Harsh winds blowing against his sails 

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Question

Of Magellan's original five-ship fleet, how many returned to Spain? 

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Answer

Just one, with only 18 men on board. 

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Question

How did Ferdinand Magellan die? 

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Answer

Ferdinand Magellan was killed while intervening in a battle between rival Filipino lords. 

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Question

Of the following items, what did Ferdinand Magellan discover for the Europeans? 

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Answer

The Pacific Ocean 

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Question

What year did Christopher Columbus sail to the Caribbean? 

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Answer

1492


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Question

Which country funded Columbus's voyages?

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Answer

Spain


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Question

Which monarchs funded Columbus's voyages? 

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Answer

Isabel and Ferdinand


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Question

What was the first island that Columbus landed on?

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Answer

Guanahani 

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