The Renaissance was a time of great change and rebirth. It ushered in an era of discoveries and innovations that would forever change the course of history. One of the most significant aspects of the Renaissance was its impact on exploration and discovery.

The Renaissance period marked the beginning of the Age of Exploration, which would see European explorers journey to all corners of the globe. In this article, we will explore how the Renaissance helped pave the way for this golden age of exploration.

So precisely, how did the Renaissance contribute to the Age of Exploration? Let’s find out!

What was the Renaissance?

The Renaissance started in Florence and was a period of intellectual and artistic transformation that began in the 14th century and lasted until the 17th century. It was a time of great advances in art, science, literature, philosophy, politics, and religion. The Renaissance also ushered in a new approach to how people viewed life – with an emphasis on human potential.

The philosophy of the Renaissance was based on ancient Greek and Roman ideals of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. This new approach encouraged people to ask questions, challenge established norms, and look beyond the traditional way of doing things.

The Renaissance changed Europe in many ways. It encouraged exploration and discovery to acquire knowledge and reduce reliance on religious dogma. This shift marked a turning point in how Europeans viewed the world around them, which was a crucial step for the Age of Exploration.

What was the Age of Exploration?

Around the 15th century, Europeans began to explore the world beyond their continent. This period of exploration, known as the Age of Exploration (or Age of Discovery), was a time where European nations explored and colonized land in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The primary motivation of the Age of Exploration was Trade. European countries, primarily France, England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, were all vying for new sources of wealth and resources. The goal was to become the wealthiest kingdom by trading with the most exotic and distant lands.

Famous explorers of this era include Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, John Cabot and Amerigo Vespucci. Even though the initial motivation had been to trade, European nations quickly slid into colonization, and soon began to extend their control over other parts of the world.

How did the Renaissance contribute to the Age of Exploration?

During the Renaissance, European society underwent several seismic changes many of which created a rich environment for the age of exploration and discovery to emerge. This made ‘Exploration’ a core value of the Renaissance.

So, how did the Renaissance contribute to the Age of Exploration?

Here are 7 key aspects of the Renaissance which propelled the Age of Exploration:

  1. Spirit of inquiry and questioning
  2. Rejection of Religious Dogma
  3. Rapid technological advances (esp. shipbuilding, navigation, cartography, etc)
  4. Rising demand for new products and goods
  5. Wealthy nations and modern financing instruments
  6. A Sense of European Superiority
  7. The Reformation and the Religious Race

Let’s look closely at each of these factors of the renaissance that contributed to the Age of Exploration.

#1. Spirit of inquiry and questioning

Firstly, the Renaissance marked the beginning of a new intellectual and cultural movement that emphasized human potential for knowledge and exploration. The pursuit of knowledge and the questioning of established beliefs created an atmosphere where exploration was welcomed.

The Renaissance encouraged an open-mindedness that pushed people to explore and inquire about how things work. This spirit of inquiry laid the foundation for European exploration and discovery.

The Renaissance also saw a resurgence in scientific thought, which encouraged an inquisitive attitude towards how things worked and how they could be improved. This same attitude fueled exploration – a desire to understand how the world worked, how people lived in other parts of the globe, and how these discoveries could be applied to everyday life.

#2. Rejection of religious dogma

Renaissance thinkers rejected the long-standing religious dogma which had stifled critical thinking in prior centuries. This meant that people were no longer bound by these teachings and could explore further afield (intellectually and spatially) in search of knowledge and new products.

Given that land travel was slow and dangerous, sailing was the only viable option for explorers to reach distant lands. This gave a leg up to maritime nations with advanced shipbuilding and navigation technology, and those countries that had the wealth to finance long expeditions.

Even though some parts of Europe were shedding religious dogma, religion still played an important part in how Europeans viewed their relationship with the world, and how they navigated it. Most notably, this was seen in the religious race between Catholic Spain and Protestant England during the Age of Exploration. We’ll cover this point later in this article.

#3. Rapid technological advances

The Renaissance also saw a surge of technological advancements that enabled exploration to take place.

Advances in navigation technology also allowed explorers to map out the world in much greater detail. Mariners during this period were equipped with tools such as the astrolabe and the compass and had a better understanding of how to accurately determine a ship’s location. This increased the safety and reliability of ocean voyages, allowing for longer and more ambitious expeditions.

New cartographic techniques also emerged during this period, which enabled the creation of more accurate maps and globes. This allowed explorers to better plan their routes and track progress while at sea.

The development of stronger and more efficient ships also enabled longer journeys to be undertaken with greater confidence in success.

#4. Rising demand for new products and goods

Consumer demand for new products and goods was on the rise during the Renaissance, particularly in wealthy nations such as England, France, Spain and Portugal. This provided a strong motivation for exploration, as these countries sought to expand their economic and political power.

The desire for new goods fueled the search for new trade routes, but also for new lands to colonize. Explorers sought out new sources of gold, spices and other luxury items that could be sold for high profits.

The Renaissance also saw the establishment of new trading companies, such as the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. These companies were instrumental in helping to establish new trade routes and spread European influence around the world.

Unfortunately, the quest for new lands and goods also led to the exploitation of indigenous peoples and the destruction of their cultures. The slave trade, in particular, was a blight on the Age of Exploration which has lasting ramifications to this day.

#5. Wealthy nations and modern financing instruments

No exploration expedition could be possible without the backing of wealthy nations and modern financing instruments.

The financial resources to fund long journeys were provided by wealthy individuals, kings, queens and governments. These voyages were often state-sponsored, meaning that the crown or government would provide the necessary money to fund them.

The most famous of these voyages was Columbus’ voyage to the New World, which was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela of Spain. The voyage resulted in great wealth and glory for Spain, as the country rose to become one of the most powerful empires in Europe.

The Age of Exploration also saw the rise of modern financing instruments, such as limited liability companies. This allowed wealthy investors to fund voyages with less risk, as their investments were not tied up in a single vessel.

An example of such a limited liability company was the Muscovy Company, which funded voyages to the North-East Passage in search of a sea route to China. Another was the Dutch East India Company, which funded the voyages of Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck in 1652.

#6. A Sense of European Superiority

The Renaissance, with its incredible advances in art, science and technology, gave European nations a sense of superiority and confidence. This confidence made them believe that they could take on any challenge, including the exploration of unknown lands.

This sense of superiority also led to a belief that they were better equipped to civilize “uncivilized” peoples, a dangerous notion that had far-reaching consequences.

The Age of Exploration was a period of great adventure and excitement, but it was not without its problems. The exploitation of indigenous peoples and the slave trade are stark reminders of how human ambition can lead to tragic outcomes. Nevertheless, the exploration of new lands did open up numerous opportunities for trade and cultural exchange, which continue to this day.

#7. The Reformation and the Religious Race

In Renaissance Europe, religion was not free from the changes that were sweeping through society. Many free thinkers felt that the Catholic Church needed to change too and began to question its doctrine and practices. This eventually led to the Protestant Reformation, in which some individuals broke away from the Church and formed their own version of Christianity.

This split in Christianity eventually spilled into the Age of Exploration. While most European countries saw exploration and discovery of new lands as a way to expand their trade and amass wealth, others like Spain, saw it as a way to spread Christianity and specifically Catholicism to new lands and new people.

Wrap Up

So how did the Renaissance contribute to the Age of Exploration? In this article, we looked at 7 aspects of the Renaissance that created the perfect conditions for exploration and discovery.

From opening people’s minds to new ideas to the rapid advances in science and technology and from the rising demand for new goods and products to the religious rivalries resulting from the Reformation, the Renaissance was the driving force that created the environment for the Age of Exploration and Discovery.