Why hadn’t Europeans used maritime routes before the age of exploration?

Updated 21 March, 2023
Europeans had not used maritime routes before the Age of Exploration because they lacked the necessary knowledge and technology to navigate the open seas. Prior to this period, they were largely confined to land routes and relied heavily on overland trade with the East. However, during the 15th and 16th centuries, European nations began to develop advanced navigational tools, such as the astrolabe and the magnetic compass, which enabled them to explore new sea routes and expand their empires.
Detailed answer:

According to historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in his book "Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration," several factors contributed to the European's lack of use of maritime routes before the age of exploration. One reason was the lack of advanced navigational tools and technology. Before the 15th century, mariners could not accurately determine their latitude and longitude, and compasses were unreliable. Additionally, ships were not designed to withstand long journeys and were unable to carry sufficient supplies. Fernandez-Armesto notes that "Europeans still lacked the hull design, sail plan, rigging, and navigational tools to make long voyages practical." Another factor was the absence of an incentive to travel beyond their immediate surroundings. The majority of Europeans were content with their way of life and had no desire to venture out into the unknown.

However, as the Renaissance era came to an end, Europe underwent significant changes in both technology and ideology. Advances in shipbuilding, navigation, and cartography improved the safety and efficiency of sea travel, while the rise of capitalism and the desire for new trade routes fueled the need for exploration. With the emergence of strong nation-states, European powers sought to establish colonies and empires, leading to the age of exploration and the rapid expansion of maritime routes.

In conclusion, the lack of technology, incentives, and desire for exploration prevented Europeans from utilizing maritime routes before the age of exploration. It was not until the 15th century that technological advancements and ideological changes paved the way for Europeans to begin exploring the world through sea travel.

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