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oceanic commerce globalization
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oceanic commerce globalization, maritime networks, base of empires.

 



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Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world produced the first world travelers: those who had visited all parts of the globe, including the Americas. The discovery of a “New World” profoundly changed economic and political relationships across the globe as Europeans became stronger competitors within international trading networks. The great Asian empires—Ming, Ottoman, and Mughal—continued to enjoy supremacy, but the balance of military and economic might began to tip in favor of the Europeans.

The Old Trade and the New

In the fifteenth century, European merchants revived shattered trading networks and built new ones—particularly maritime networks in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. In search of vast profits, European merchants explored the coast of Africa and eventually found a direct passage to Asia. At the same time, Columbus found sponsorship to try a westward route and ran into the Americas. Europeans sought converts and wealth in Asia. What they learned, however, was just how far behind Asia Europe really was.

THE REVIVAL OF THE CHINESE ECONOMY

Commercial activity during the Ming dynasty soared, even after the capital moved north to Beijing. A rising population, which doubled during the Ming, meant larger markets, thus stimulating economic production. Rebuilding the Grand Canal provided a link between northern and southern China and thus stimulated the growth of commercial centers along its banks. Cities became huge. Nanjing had over 1 million people, while Canton and Foshan alone housed more people than all the city dwellers of Europe combined. By the fifteenth century, merchant activity was generally tolerated, allowing artisans to produce vast quantities of silks and porcelains. Chinese at court kept most (and the best) of China’s goods, but a healthy percentage of the goods made it into interregional trading networks where they were exchanged for silver. China’s burgeoning economy lacked only specie, ensuring that China’s trading partners had to supply it if they wanted to get Chinese goods. Japan supplied much of China’s silver, but that trade was later eclipsed when huge stores of American silver were discovered.

REVIVAL OF INDIAN OCEAN TRADE

Trade in the Indian Ocean also rose as Muslim merchants sailed everywhere from Africa to Southeast Asia in search of profits. In the center sat the Indian subcontinent, with its vast cities, exotic goods, and productive manufacturing centers. Indian traders, although also confronted with China’s demands for silver, did not find themselves under the thumb of any single political authority. They thus enjoyed more flexibility in long-distance trade than their Chinese counterparts. The most significant trading port in the Indian Ocean was Melaka, which bridged trade between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. As an entrepot [please add diacritical]of world trade, Melaka possessed an extraordinarily diverse community, eventually joined by western Europeans.

OVERLAND COMMERCE AND OTTOMAN EXPANSION

Overland trading did not cease with rising marine trade but, in fact, expanded along some routes. A northern route linked the Baltic Sea and northern China while a southern route brought Chinese and Indian goods through Ottoman lands into Europe. On the southern route, Aleppo in Syria dominated silk trade for all Southwest Asia. There, merchants held special status and were celebrated in literature for their courage and cunning in organizing enormous caravans. Ottoman authorities showed particular interest in trade and gained considerably from it through taxes. Refreshment stations were built to accommodate merchants, their animals, and wares. Military stations protected trade from Bedouin raiders, who plundered both caravans and refreshment stations. Taxes on trade gave the Ottomans revenues for building military might and helped expansion westward across northern Africa into the Balkans. By the middle of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans were able to take Constantinople and rename it Istanbul. Christendom was shocked. Ottoman expansion had taken a bastion of Christianity, threatened Venice, and controlled the Mediterranean. The spread of Ottoman control worried European merchants, who feared that they would be excluded from Asian markets just as global trade was expanding. Islamic traders were fierce rivals. European naval attacks against Ottoman control of the Mediterranean, however, failed. Europe would have to find another way to access Asia.

European Exploration and Expansion

With the Ottomans blocking land routes to Asia, Europeans began searching for other routes. Russians pressed east across Siberia. Others sailed south around Africa or west where they accidentally encountered the Americas.

THE PORTUGUESE IN AFRICA AND ASIA

The lure of African gold and silver provided additional inspiration to Portuguese seeking to find a route around Africa.

Navigation and Military Advances

To carry them to riches, the Portuguese constructed hybrid ships that combined technology of the Greeks and Arabs. Sailing their caravels, the Portuguese learned how to tack into the wind, while the compass, astrolabe, and newer maps gave direction. Military advances in gunpowder ensured they could compete in a hostile environment. Conquering their own fears of the unknown and misinformation about what lay beyond, the Portuguese eventually rounded Africa.

Sugar and Slaves

Before getting to Asia, however, the Portuguese learned to profit from Africa. On the coast, they built small trading ports. On islands off the African coast, they established sugar plantations worked by African slaves—the first examples of slave-powered plantations. Many slaves were sent to Portugal as domestic servants.

Commerce and Conquest in the Indian Ocean

Portuguese traders sought profit, not colonies. The first to reach Asia was Vasco da Gama. On reaching Africa’s eastern coast, he quickly acquired a Muslim pilot to guide his ship to India. There he overcame local resistance, including his own kidnapping, loaded his ships with goods, and sailed back to Lisbon, arriving in 1499. Subsequent voyages proved the Portuguese to be fierce competitors as they burned rival ships and killed their sailors. With the way charted, the Portuguese began establishing a presence at major Indian Ocean ports, including Aden, Hormuz, and Melaka. Using threats of violence and the cartaz (pass) system, Portugal’s traders controlled portions of the Indian Ocean trade, allowing the trade of Asian goods via Portuguese ports to overshadow that of Italian ports—formerly Europe’s most important. Sixteenth-century Lisbon oversaw the rise of a trading and plantation empire based on small colonies (African islands) and naval control of the trading lanes. Larger territorial acquisitions would not come, however, until the discovery of the Americas.

The Atlantic World

Europe’s accidental discovery of America opened a new epoch in history, but it was European diseases, not guns, that had the greatest impact. Declining Amerindian populations opened the way for Europeans but cut short the potential labor force, thus spawning demand for African slaves in America as plantations developed and gold and silver were mined. This Atlantic trade gave Europeans an edge: complete control of a lucrative trade unavailable to anyone else. Spain and Portugal opened the network to Asia and America, but soon found other European powers scrambling for a share, with great consequence.

WESTWARD VOYAGES OF COLUMBUS

Columbus changed history but was a product of his times. His desire to spread Christianity and earn money typified the goals of most Europeans and led to the creation of the Atlantic system. Soon others made the journey west and discovered the significance of Columbus’s efforts.

FIRST ENCOUNTERS

Claiming the new land, Columbus noted that the natives cut themselves on the sharp edges of his sword, symbolizing the dramatic technological disparities between the two peoples. Columbus wrote of their childlike innocence, while others were described as savages—the two primary stereotypes Europeans created about Amerindians. Amerindians viewed the Europeans with curiosity, fear, and loathing. As time progressed, however, it was generally acknowledged that the Europeans had come as conquerors.

FIRST CONQUESTS

Reports of gold brought many more Spaniards to the Americas. Amerindians were soon pressed into virtual slavery in the search for gold. The Spanish crown institutionalized the practice by granting the privilege of exploiting the labor of certain Indian communities. Local overlords thus grew rich while the natives suffered horribly, dying of disease, dislocation, and malnutrition in shocking numbers. Settlers argued over privilege. Meanwhile, angry at the poor treatment of the natives, Dominican friars sharply condemned the practice, thus dividing Europeans over the fate of the Amerindians. Nevertheless, exploitation continued.

THE AZTEC EMPIRE AND THE SPANISH CONQUEST

Some Europeans moved on and discovered complex societies in Central America.

Aztec Society

The Aztec rulers governed about 25 million people, many of whom lived in large cities administered by an elaborate array of priests, military leaders, and government officials. These in turn were supported by a host of village elders united by marital arrangements with the families of other villages. Elite families in the capital did the same, creating a class of natural leaders. Priests helped maintain order and selected sacrifices necessary to keep the sun burning and rains falling. By the end of the fifteenth century, military successes allowed the Aztecs to dominate Mesoamerica, earning plunder, tribute, and human sacrifices needed to sustain the god of the sun.

Cortés and Conquest

Resenting their plight, non-Aztec tribes rebelled, particularly the Tlaxcalans and Tarascans. By the time of Moctezuma II, the strain of military expenditures and division among political leaders began producing cracks in Aztec unity and control. Sightings of arriving Europeans only added further confusion. Moctezuma sent jewels and prized feathers to the Europeans, but made no effort to fortify his own people. Cortés acquired translators and marched on Mesoamerica. Entering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, he and his men marveled at its splendor before allying with Aztec rivals, the Tlaxcalans, and capturing Moctezuma. Two years later, conflict between the Spanish and Aztecs led to a massive uprising in which Moctezuma was killed and hundreds of Spaniards were sacrificed to the Aztec sun god. Regrouping with Tlaxcalan allies, Cortés returned with cannon to destroy Aztec resistance. Disease, however, did much of the fighting for him. Upon their return, the Spaniards discovered the Aztec defenders dying from smallpox. The war against the Aztecs taught the Europeans that Amerindian rivals had to be crushed quickly, before they realized the intruders weren’t gods. It also illuminates the tremendous impact that disease could play.

THE INCAS

In Incan lands, civil war and disease weakened the Incan regime even before European rivals arrived. Capturing the emperor, Pizarro’s forces destroyed the Incas and opened the way for Spanish encomiendas to take over. Factionalism among the Spaniards, however, meant that war only continued before the Spanish crown intervened. The collapse of the Aztecs and Incas meant Europeans had access to new wealth, new markets, and new frontiers.

THE COLOMBIAN EXCHANGE

Europeans gained more than gold from the New World. Tomatoes, beans, cacao, peanuts, and others items made their way to Europe as well, greatly transforming European diets. Amerindians got wheat, grapes, sugar, cattle, horses, and a transformation of the local flora and fauna as European plants and animals overwhelmed native species. Europeans and Africans also brought diseases that ravaged local populations. Smallpox epidemics were soon followed by measles and others, leading to the destruction of about 90 percent of the Amerindian population and leaving the New World wide open to European dominance.

SPAIN’S TRIBUTARY EMPIRE

The Spaniards supplanted the Aztec and Incan hierarchies while leaving most of the administrative structure intact. This allowed them to rule without having to fully reconstruct a bureaucratic system. Villagers offered goods and services to the Spanish as they had done to their Aztec leaders.

Encomenderos forced Indian laborers to work in mines, on plantations, or on public works for their own profit. Another change involved the rise of the mestizos, peoples of mixed Amerindian and Spanish blood, who came to dominate after severe shortages of European women led many European men to take native women. Most Spaniards lived in cities, either ports or great capitals built on the ruined cities of conquered peoples.

SILVER

Discovering large quantities of specie in lands taken from the Aztecs and Incas, the Spanish shipped as much as possible to Spain. Within the first two decades after conquering the Aztecs, the Spanish transported more gold than all of Europe then possessed. After seizing Amerindian stores, the Spanish turned to mining silver from great deposits in Mexico and the Andes. These mines produced huge quantities of precious metal while also consuming countless lives of the Amerindians compelled to work in them. Filling European coffers, silver changed the balance of power in Europe and the balance of European trade in Asia—particularly with China and India.

Portugal’s New World Colony

The pope compelled Spain to share the New World with Portugal. While Brazil did not produce great mines, its vast tracts of extremely fertile land proved lucrative enough. Royal grants gave ambitious individuals great estates, which they administered from the safety of enclaves. Scattered tribes of reluctant and rebellious Amerindians could not produce sufficient labor pools to work the land, so the Portuguese turned to importing African slaves. On their islands off the coast of Africa, Portuguese had already developed a model for sugar production. Soon the model appeared in Brazil and the Caribbean, making New World sugar production more lucrative than silver production. Most slaves were men working under extremely harsh conditions on the small plantations. So many slaves perished that the demand for new shipments from Africa remained high year after year.

COASTAL ENCLAVES

SUGAR PLANTATIONS

BEGINNINGS OF THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

Transatlantic slaving arose to supply sugar plantations with labor. Insatiable demands for sugar meant an insatiable demand for slaves. By 1820, five times more Africans had journeyed to the New World than Europeans. The Portuguese initiated the trade but were soon joined by many other European powers. While the Islamic world actually took more African slaves than did the Europeans, they did so over a much longer period of time. Africans themselves had also long engaged in slave trading. Nevertheless, European slaving reached stunning proportions. Few areas remained unaffected by European or Asian slave networks. To Africans engaged in the capture and sale of slaves to the Portuguese, the high price tag on individuals meant that it was more profitable to sell them than to keep them as agricultural workers, thus contributing to Africa’s underdevelopment. By the end of the sixteenth century, an Atlantic system had emerged based on African labor, American minerals and land, and European technology and military power. With time, this shift in wealth and people would disrupt the global balance of power.

The Transformation of Europe

The opening of the Atlantic system may have empowered Europe, but it in no way united Europeans. Religious rivalries continued to tear at European integrity.

THE HABSBURGS AND THE QUEST FOR UNIVERSAL EMPIRE IN EUROPE

The Habsburgs nearly created a unified European world. Enormous territorial holdings, strategic marriage alliances, and victorious campaigns, however, could not entirely overcome the difficulties of holding a vast empire together. Warfare from within and without, particularly in the Ottoman Empire, led to great instability and eventual breakup. With most of the specie and land of the New World controlled by the Holy Roman Empire or Spanish Habsburgs, French, English, and Dutch interests moved to get their share. Discovering no gold or trade route to Asia, they profited by pirating Spanish ships and ports. Some, like Sir Francis Drake, received commissions from their monarchs to plunder their Spanish rivals. Rivalry on the high seas climaxed in 1588 when England’s Royal Navy destroyed the Spanish Armada in the English Channel, giving the English supremacy at sea.

CONFLICT IN EUROPE AND THE DEMISE OF UNIVERSAL EMPIRE

THE REFORMATION

Other divisions developed as well. The Protestant Reformation split church solidarity and forced monarchs to choose between either the Catholic or the Protestant cause.

Martin Luther Challenges the Church

Martin Luther, following the footsteps of earlier “heretics,” defied the Catholic Church and called for its reform (hence the “Reformation”). Denouncing corruption, he claimed that salvation came by faith of the individual and rested in biblical truths, not church authority. He also translated the Bible into German so common people could read it. As printing presses and ardent preachers spread his ideas, they met a receptive audience.

Other Protestant Reformers

Calvinism, Anglicanism, and other Protestant sects soon arose as well, thus offering some measure of religious diversity. Although equally committed in their opposition to the Catholic Church, rivalries between Protestants also kept them divided.

Counter-Reformation and Persecution

The Catholics responded with the Counter-Reformation, a move to assert Catholic “correctness” in doctrine as well as to clean out alleged corruption among its clergy. Catholics also began to emphasize individual spirituality and to more fervently engage in proselytizing efforts as represented by the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits). The Catholic Church continued to meet “heresy” with repression and attack but could not prevail against Protestant notions spread by printing presses.

RELIGIOUS WARFARE IN EUROPE

Religious rivalries soon climaxed in warfare, greatly weakening the Spanish while strengthening the English, French, and Dutch. As Luther’s ideas spread, monarchs and princes favored or opposed them, often offending commoners and precipitating uprisings. Both sides gathered armies, leading to the formation of huge militaries comprised of common people. Decades of war allowed first German princes and then the Dutch to break away from the dominance of Catholic Spain and bankrupted the Spanish Habsburgs. Seizing initiative, the Dutch and English expanded ties to Asia and the New World, thus precipitating trade wars. Religious conflict also broke out within countries as Catholics and Protestants massacred each other in the name of God. In France, the Protestant king converted to Catholicism and ordered some toleration to stem the violence. With time, this commitment to religion translated into commitment for this or that nation. Rather than viewing themselves as members of Christendom, Europeans identified with their king and his nation, marking another set of rivalries dividing Europe into fiercely competitive states.

Prosperity in Asia

While Europe struggled with religious warfare, Asian empires flourished.

MUGHAL INDIA AND COMMERCE

Powerful and wealthy, Mughal India barely even noticed the European presence. The military might of Babur only increased under his grandson Akbar, who also consolidated control through marital alliances and power sharing with Hindu princes. Noting India’s remarkable diversity, Akbar ruled with tolerance. While Europeans slaughtered each other over religious differences, Akbar’s tolerant policies allowed different religions to coexist in peace. Mughal India also grew fabulously wealthy through trade. Mughal treasuries filled, allowing more for military and luxury spending. In the latter, the Mughals were unsurpassed. Grand architecture and art, gold, silk brocades, pearls, carpets, perfumes, and so forth, decorated palaces and elite homes throughout the empire. In short, the grandeur and power of Mughal India still far surpassed that of Europe and kept Europeans on the outskirts of the empire. Despite Portugal’s efforts to monopolize European trade with Mughal India, other Europeans eventually came to be involved. Trade provided sufficient revenue so Mughal leaders could shift taxes from kind to monetary payments, thus creating a more efficient and effective system and supplying the throne with more funds. Commercialization allowed the court to tax as much as one-third of all rural produce. Balance between merchants and the court allowed the Mughals considerable stability.

PROSPERITY IN MING CHINA

Similar developments could be found in China where the economy also expanded. Bans on foreign trade were ignored as Chinese goods were exchanged for silver. As in India, the availability of silver stimulated commercialization and the exchange of money instead of kind. With more money available, the Chinese could improve agriculture and develop industries like textiles. Prosperity stimulated population increases. The population of China reached 250 million or over one-third of the world’s total. China’s huge cities continued to expand with even more palaces, temples, educational institutions, and other associations. European Jesuit missionaries seeing China’s greatness firsthand marveled at the wealth and liveliness of the cities. Chinese women found multiple occupations as the economy and society diversified. The state, meanwhile, found it increasingly difficult to manage China’s dynamic system.

ASIAN RELATIONS WITH EUROPE

The Portuguese spearheaded Europe’s presence in Asia. Arriving at Macao in 1557, they enjoyed Europe’s only direct access to China. Noting Portuguese success, other Europeans followed. Spain reached Asia from the Pacific side, establishing themselves in the Philippines and using American silver to buy Chinese goods. High demand for silver in China and for Chinese goods in other areas allowed trade to expand and connect the entire globe. The English, Dutch, and French were not to be left behind. In England, investors formed the English East India Company, which then moved to replace the Portuguese in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf before moving on to India. Despite these new contacts with Asia, however, European influence still remained a distant second to that of the great Asian powers.



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