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Crusading And Contingency In European Exploration

1919 words - 8 pages

The voyages of Columbus and Vasco de Gamma are often thought of as the beginning of an era, an era in which the inevitable dominance of Europeans came to be. These landmark voyages, however, would not have been nearly as significant if not for the broader cultural and contingent factors at work. The actions of European explorers and colonizers were heavily influenced by the previous decades of war and crusading. The policies and organizational structures of empires in the New World and on the Indian Ocean allowed Europeans to take advantage of that particular moment in history when they were able to exert their influence abroad with varying degrees of success.
When Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade in 1095 CE, he brought together the Christian population of Europe, uniting them against the common foe of Islam (Tyerman, 12). Soon all non-Christian religions, mainly Islam and Judaism, were deemed dangerous and other, and their followers were to be eradicated without mercy (Tyerman, 22). Of course the actual events of the Crusades and the action of the Crusaders themselves were rarely as straightforward as this ideology would make it appear. Ulterior motives often informed the interactions of Crusaders and the native inhabitants of the lands they sought to conquer in the name of Christianity (Tyerman, 18). The general spirit of the times however, a spirit of glory and conquest, remained a part of European culture decades later.
The crusades had a prominent impact on the way the Europeans thought of their exploration of the Indian Ocean. The very reason behind Vasco de Gama’s famed expedition around the Cape of Good Hope was to create a direct route to Asia, cutting off Muslim traders in the Middle East and creating a military advantage whereby Christian Crusaders could invade the Middle East from both sides (Marks, 61). Their preoccupation with the idea of a mortal rivalry between Christians and Muslims made them see the world in only these terms, so much so that all non-Muslims Vasco de Gama and his men encountered were immediately assumed to be deviant Christians (Subrahmanyam, 130). When taken to visit a Vaishnava temple, for example, they mistook it for a Christian church (Subrahmanyam, 132). Despite the long history in the Indian Ocean of religious tolerance, de Gama insisted on hiding his Christianity, taking his men to a nearby island to celebrate Mass rather than staying at the harbor where they were attempting to trade (Subrahmanyam, 113). This way of thinking was not just that of Vasco de Gama’s expedition. Years later, Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires would see China in terms of Christians versus Muslims as well (Gordon, 165). For Pires and other Portuguese in Asia, it was expected that all Christians were allies (Gordon, 165). These expectations and their ignorance of local culture often got them into trouble. Tome Pires and his men ended up imprisoned, many of them executed, for offending the cultural sensibilities of the...

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