1.2 The start of the Age of Discovery

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 2. Discovery and Conquest (1)

AGE 5. 
The Time of 
Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 1.2: The start of the Age of Discovery
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5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 2. Discovery and Conquest (1)

AGE 5. 
The Time of 
Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 1.2: The start of the Age of Discovery

Slide 1 - Tekstslide

Slide 2 - Tekstslide

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
Lesson 2. Discovery and Conquest (1)

What is this lesson about?
The sixteenth century was an age of discoveries. For centuries the Europeans had bought Asian products via the silk route, but this trade was stopped because of the Ottoman monopoly. The Portuguese were the first to look for a sea route to Asia. Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa. His arrival in India opened up a second route to Asia and started the Portuguese dominance in the spice trade.

Slide 3 - Tekstslide

Main Questions

  • Why were Europeans interested in the Far East?
  • Why were Asian products so expensive?
  • Why didn't Europeans try to get the wealth of Asia themselves?
  • How did the fall of Constantinople change this?
  • How did the Portuguese find this sea route?
  • What effect did the Portuguese discoveries have on the power of Portugal?

Slide 4 - Tekstslide

people in this lesson
Marco Polo
Bartholomeu Dias
Vasco da Gama

Slide 5 - Tekstslide

Important dates in this lesson:

1271: Marco Polo begins his voyage to Asia
1453: Ottomans conquer Constantinople
1487: Bartholomeu Dias reaches the Cape of Good Hope
1498: Vasco da Gama reaches India

Slide 6 - Tekstslide

Word Duty


Silk Route: an overland trade route that linked Europe to Asia 
Monopoly: the right to be the only one to trade in a specific product or 
in a certain area 
Age of Discovery: the time in which European countries explored the world (1450 until 1700) 
Cape of Good Hope: the southern-most point of Africa 
Spice trade: the trade in valuable spices from Asia, such as cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg 
Naval power: when a country has a strong fleet of war ships

Slide 7 - Tekstslide

In 1271, a seventeen year old Venetian boy named Marco Polo went with his father and uncle on a trade mission to Asia. It was a huge adventure in which they sailed through the Mediterranean Sea, evaded robbers in the Middle East, passed huge mountain ranges and crossed the Gobi Desert all the way to China. Once there, emperor KubLai Khan invited Marco to his palace and hired him as an advisor. For seventeen years, the Venetian traveled through Asia to places that no European had seen before.

Slide 8 - Tekstslide

1. In which Age did Marco Polo live?
Early Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages

Slide 9 - Quizvraag

Trade goods from the east 
When Marco came back to Europe in 1295, he was the most traveled person of his age. But back in Italy he was taken prisoner during a sea battle. Luckily, he was locked in a cell with a curious writer who wrote his travel stories in a book, which became a bestseller when Marco was released. 
After reading II Milione (A Million), Europeans became more interested in the Far East, especially in its gold, spices, perfume and silk. Spices like pepper, nutmeg or cinnamon were used to flavour food, but also as a medicine. Silk was used to make fancy clothes.

Asian spices
a modern copy of Marco polo's book "Il Milione"

Slide 10 - Tekstslide

2b. Which of the 5 products in the previous question is the odd one out? Explain your answer.

Slide 11 - Open vraag

2a. Link the names of these Asian products to the correct image

Slide 12 - Sleepvraag

3. How did Marco Polo's voyage trigger an interest
in the Far East?

Slide 13 - Open vraag

Paying a high price 

Ever since the time of Greeks and Romans, rich Europeans had paid huge sums of money for Asian luxuries. They were extremely expensive because they had to be brought all the way from East-Asia, following the Silk Route that Marco Polo had also traveled. This overland trade route (see map) linked Europe to Asia. The long distance of the silk route, the dangers on the road and the money paid to middlemen in every trading post and city was the cause of high prices. The middlemen were merchants who traveled just a small part of the route. They all wanted to make a profit, so the price went up every time the product was sold. Arab merchants sold them to Venetians or on other Italian markets. 

But if the price was so high, why did the Europeans not skip the middlemen and get the products themselves?

Slide 14 - Tekstslide

4a. Write down 6 modern countries that belong to the Silk Road.
You can also use Google Maps in the next slide.

Slide 15 - Open vraag

Slide 16 - Kaart

4b. Can you calculate how many kilometers (approximately) it is from Venice (Italy) to Xiamen (China)?

Slide 17 - Open vraag

5. Which of the following was NOT a reason for
the high prices of Asian goods?
money had to be paid to middlemen
the trade road was dangerous
the trade route was very long
Asian farmers asked high prices for their products

Slide 18 - Quizvraag

How to reach the wealth of Asia? 

During the Middle Ages, the Europeans trusted that the Silk Route was the only possible route to Asia. They did not dare sail far south along the African coast because of the unknown waters and rough coastlines. Some sailors told stories about sea monsters that were supposed to live in the 'Sea of Darkness' past Cape Bojador. And many people were still convinced that the earth was flat. They believed that a ship that sailed too far to any direction, would fall off the earth. Sailors also lacked navigational instruments, reliable maps and seaworthy ships to make such a voyage. So European merchants were forced to trade with the Arabs. 

These pictures show how many people in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat and that the downside of the earth was inhabited by strange creatures.

Slide 19 - Tekstslide

6. List the reasons why European traders felt they had no other choice but to trade with the Arabs

Slide 20 - Open vraag

Things changed when the Ottoman (=Turkish) Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople in 1453. The conquest gave the Ottomans a monopoly on trading using the Silk Route. 
They controlled all the trade between Asia and Europe and were able to increase the prices of products. They also demanded other extra payments from Europeans. The Ottoman monopoly made trading on the Silk Route and trade around the Mediterranean Sea less successful for Europeans. 

The route to the wealth of Asia seemed closed, but this did not stop the demand for the products. Instead, Europeans now started to look for other ways to go east: by traveling unknown seas.

Mehmet II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Slide 21 - Tekstslide

7. Explain how the Turks (Ottomans) unintentionally fueled the voyages of discovery.

Slide 22 - Open vraag

Voyages of discovery

The Portuguese were the first to sail to unknown regions. They had spent time to build better ships (the caravel) and navigational instruments.
By slowly exploring the west coast of Africa, they hoped to find its most southern point. This would prove that it is possible to sail around Africa to Asia.
Year after year they went further and further south. Explorer Bartholomeu Dias was the first to reach the southern tip of Africa. He saw that the coast went north again and ordered his crew to sail back to Portugal to tell the news. When the king heard about the discovery, he was proud and filled with hope. That’s why he called the south point of Africa: Cape of Good Hope. He was confident that the discovery would lead Portugal to the wealth of Asia.

Slide 23 - Tekstslide

8. Why did the Portuguese hope to find the
most southern point of Africa?

Slide 24 - Open vraag

image of a computer game about Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama 

On 8th July 1497, four ships sailed out of the harbour of Lisbon. They were commanded by Vasco da Gama, an ambitious man with a huge goal: to sail around Africa and journey all the way to India. In a few months time they reached Cape of Good Hope, but from there the trip became more difficult. They now had to venture into unknown waters. Fortunately, da Gama was able to hire the help of a skilled sailor from India. This man helped the Portuguese fleet across the Indian ocean.

On 20th May 1498, da Gama reached the coast of India and anchored his ships at the harbour of the city of Calicut. He wanted to start trade connections as fast as possible, but this was not easy. During the three months that da Gama stayed in India, he faced conflicts with the Arab merchants and with the local Indian ruler. After threats and kidnappings on both sides da Gama was able to buy a load of spices and decided to sail back to Portugal. On his return he and his crew were welcomed as heroes. Da Gama even received the title of 'Admiral of the Indian Seas.'

Slide 25 - Tekstslide

9. Why were Vasco da Gama and his crew welcomed as heroes when they returned to Portugal?

Slide 26 - Open vraag

Da Gama reached Calicut in 1498. This drawing shows Calicut in 1572
Portugal as a dominant power 

For Vasco da Gama and the king of Portugal, it was clear that they would not stop at just one voyage. In 1502, Da Gama led a new expedition to India. This time he had twenty warships under his command. It was set up to be a military expedition against the ruler of Calicut and the Arab merchants. With this, da Gama brutally started the Portuguese dominance at sea and the spice trade in the east. The expeditions confirmed Portugal as a naval power during the Age of Discovery. For hundreds of years they would have power and influence in Asia.

Slide 27 - Tekstslide

10. The second voyage of Vasco da Gama was a military expedition. Why would this be?

Slide 28 - Open vraag

Make your own summary using the main questions:

  1. Why were Europeans interested in the Far East?
  2. Why were Asian products so expensive?
  3. Why didn't Europeans try to get the wealth of Asia themselves?
  4. How did the fall of Constantinople change this?
  5. How did the Portuguese find this sea route?
  6. What effect did the Portuguese discoveries have on the power of Portugal?

Slide 29 - Tekstslide

Here you can ask a question about something from this lesson that you don't fully understand.

Slide 30 - Open vraag


Slide 31 - Tekstslide

Slide 32 - Video