The Renaissance brought “a new Heavens and new Earth” to scholars across Europe. And the discoveries of these two centuries were momentous. But keep in mind: nearly 90 percent of Europeans were agricultural workers. Few could read and write. So the new world discoveries we will discuss are important, and they did change the life of average Europeans, but not immediately. The state of the planet mattered far less than the daily weather. Rain, snow, droughts, floods and harvests determined who would eat, and who would live.
This is a medieval “T-O,” or world map. It was published in a kind of encyclopedia called the Etymologiaewritten by Isidoreof Seville, a church father in the early Middle Ages (680s). It shows Asia, Europe and Africa surrounded by the sea and divided by a central sea (what we call the Mediterranean). Jerusalem, God’s city, sits at the center of the map. Medieval understandings of the world persisted well into the Renaissance. The Etymologiaewas printed 10 times between 1470 and 1529.
Consider this diagram of the heavens and the known planets. As you see, the earth was believed to sit at the center, then the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It might surprise you to know that NicolausCopernicus, (1473-1543 ) who first proposed modern Solar System, worked as an assistant to the principle astronomer of the University of Bologna. An astronomer made annual predictions for the city itself, for weather, for the fate of princes, and for various groups of people within the city. In addition to astronomy, Copernicusalso undertook medical studies as well as canon law. He finally took a teaching post from his uncle in Warsaw and there he formed his theory of a sun-centered system.
Turning from the heavens to the earth, we start with Portugal. You have already read about Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal (1394-1460). He gets credit for sending out the first European ships to sail around the African continent after his nation captured the Moroccan port of Ceuta in 1415.
It is less well-known that Chinese junks (the larger ship in this picture) made multiple voyages between 1405 to 1433, going all the way from the city of Suzhou to Indonesia, around India and up to the Arabian peninsula and the Red Sea. The rulers of the Ming Empire decided, as imperial policy, that they needed to go no farther, and they stopped the expensive, state-sponsored voyages before the Portuguese (the smaller ship in this picture) ventured out in the same waters some sixty years later. Consider that Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a Genoese. He came from a city that fought with Venice for control of eastern trade. He was sponsored by the Spanish, who wanted to contest the Portuguese dominance of the new trade routes. Sixty years earlier, when the Chinese rulers decided to stop, they just stopped. They didn’t have rivals to beat. But the Europeans, coming from smaller states, had riches to win from each other. Columbus sailed west in 1492. Then, almost 20 years later, Magellan’s ships sailed around the world from 1519-1522. Neither group had a telescope, or even knew the relative position of the sun and the earth.
Vasco Da Gama (1469-1524), serving the Portuguese, arrived on the Malabar coast of India in 1498. Unlike Columbus, he actually did find India.
This is Magellan’s famous circumnavigation of the globe. Consider the people who can be connected to this voyage. First, there is Christopher Columbus (1451-1506 ), who made four voyages to the new world. Columbustreasured the Bible given to him by none other than Pope Alexander VI, from the Borgia family. Alexander is among the most infamous of Popes and his actions laid the groundwork for the Reformation. Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), for whom two entire continents are named, traveled to the new world twice for the influential Medici family. Then there is Ferdinand Magellan. His ships,sailing from 1519-1522, were exploring the world at the same time as Martin Luther wastranslating the New Testament into German for the German-speaking people.
Have a look at Gerard Mercator’s 1587 map of the world. Now here’s a curious thing. Why is Antarctica on the map – when no one has yet discovered or voyaged to Antarctica? Extra credit goes to the student who researches this question and writes a short 1-2 page paper on the answer.
So far we’ve talked about discoveries. But what about the things we all already know? Material culture forms the bulk of things we “believe” or “know” because it’s always been that way. For instance, you’ve probably devoted at least a little time to thinking through what makes a good friend – honesty, loyalty, similar goals and interests, having fun together – in part because that’s who you want to surround yourself with, and that’s who you want to be. By contrast, you’ve probably given pretty little thought to what a toothbrush ought to be, or a highlighter ought to do. Perhaps you’ve thought a little bit about what makes a good kitchenchair or what you like in a computer or a cell phone.But mostly, we don’t think about stuff. We go with what’s there, and we know what everyone already knows. Material culture changes radically from century to century. There are a few things that link us to the past, like fire, and a lot that divides us from the ways people thought and acted in the past.Among the material culture truths of today are these: salt is cheap, and it isn’t that important. Having gold and silver would nice, but no one would know what to do if you offered to pay with it. Neitherof those were true in the Renaissance and Reformation. What was true shaped politics, trade and exploration.
We’re going to shift gears and talk about the kind of trade that drove these voyages. Gold, silver and spices were important. Salt was also strategic. Without salt, no army can march, no village can survive. Salt was a kind of currency.This is chocroute. It’s a French version of sauerkraut. Perhaps you haven’t had the occasion to think about it, but salt was essential to kings and commoners alike. It allowed people to preserve food beyond the day and so it allowed travel. What kinds of things can be salted? Meats, especially fish.Cheese, cabbage and pickles. The average person could no more do without salt than you can do without gasoline. Many growing states used a salt tax to fund armies, crusades and building projects. Until the twentieth century, salt was one of the prime movers of national economies and wars.Beginning in the Middle Ages and going forward, the Hanseatic League supplied salt for the great Nodic cod and herring catches. Fish for Lenten meals, and Friday meals were essential to most of Europe. And salt was wanting in the Nordic regions. So, the Hanseatic League organized shipping, controlled quality and kept prices reasonable by working with economies of scale. They tapped both Spanish and German salt sources for their northern customers.
I’m paraphrasing Prof. Richard Cowen’s work on salt, which can be found at http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/~gel115/salt.html.“[A] brisk salt-mining and salt-shipping trade was centered on the valley of the Salzkammergut, in what is now Austria.After 1600, salt was produced by Austria, Bavaria, and the Archbishop of Salzburg. The Austrian Empire grew to include Bohemia and Moravia, and this salt-less region became a captive market for the Austrian salt producers, with much tax revenue accruing to the Emperor. “Let me add that when we move on to the Reformation, and the 30 Year’s War, the players and places below will appear again. For now, we can continue with Prof. Cowen’s review. “The Habsburgs regularly used the salt income as collateral for raising money quickly in times of military emergency. They did it first when Bohemia revolted in 1618 …and Protestant forces besieged Vienna. Emperor Ferdinand II mortgaged his salt revenues to pay for the Catholic army that saved Vienna and won the decisive battle of the White Mountain in 1620. The salt revenue of the salt mines also paid for the Polish army under King John Sobieski that rescued Vienna during the Turkish siege of 1683. See also, Salt, A World Historyby Mark Kurlansky.
Here is the Cellini Salt Cellar, made for Francis I of France using models that had originally been made for Cardinal IppolitoD’Este (he of the 400 shoelaces). Yes, since you ask, it had a little drawer for pepper, too.Speaking of Italians, Venice controlled the Adriatic salt trade. Venice owed its early wealth to the salt trade from salt works in its lagoon, and held supplycontracts with inland Italian cities in the 13th century. By the 1350s, no salt could move on a ship in the Adriatic unless it was a Venetian ship bound to or from Venice. The more that Venice came to control the salt trade in the Adriatic, the more the resulting profits were used by the city to subsidize other trading activities. Venetian traders delivering salt to the city were given bank credits, for example, allowing them to buy goods quickly. The salt trade was considered to be the foundation of the state. Around 1600, after the defeat of the Turks in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, shipping in the Adriatic became too great for the Venetians to be able to maintain their monopoly by force, as they had previously done. Their source of riches in the spice trade had been cut off as the trade routes to India now passed around Africa. Again, I’m quoting Prof. Richard Cowen’s work on salt, which can be found at http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/~gel115/salt.html.
Compare the Cellini salt cellar with this 1528 French-made salt cellar. It is called the Burghley Nef – “nef” means ship – and it currently resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In France, the gabelle, a hated salt tax, was begun in 1286 and maintained until 1790. Because of the gabelle, common salt was of such a high value that it regularly caused mass protests.
The ship salt cellar speaks to the new ship designs. Consider the galleys we saw in the previous lecture. This sketch of a caravel is the kind of ship that was developed to carry this kind of trade. It is larger, able to handle rough storms, and maketwo-month rather than two-day voyages.
How about gold?In Europe, gold was mined in Saxony, Bohemia, the Tyrol and Hungary. It was controlled by the Fuggers, a German banking family. The Fugger Bank was central to the lendingmarket in Europe. They were as important, in their day, as the Medici were to the Italians.
Gold also came from Africa. Mansa Musa, pictured here, was a king in Guinea who made a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1370s and became a famous icon for the wealth of what was formerly known as Guinea and the Gold Coast. (Today it is Ghana and Benin.) The Portuguese set sail down the African coast looking for a route to spices and gold, specifically a source that would cut out the need to pay the Arab middlemen. They wanted, and indeed they found, a direct source along the Gold Coast.
This map comes from 1736, and so is much later than the period we are studying, but it gives you the feeling of how the Europeans would eventually organize the world. It reminds us that the slave trade, which had been carrying on at a low level for many hundreds of years, became essential to the exploitation of the new world.
This is the cover of a publication describing the Spanish conquest of Peru and the silver mines at Potosi.(Agustin de Zarate, Historia de la Descubrimiento y Conquista de Peru, in English as The Strange and Delectable History of the Discoverie of Peru). Beginning in 1503 and peaking in the 1590s, gold and silver flooded in to Spain from Central America, Mexico and Peru. The silver mine discovered at Potosi in 1545 shortly had a population of 120,000. It became a city – a slave city -- the size of London or Paris. A new technique developed by the Germans around the 1500s allowed much more efficient extraction of silver and encouraged massive mining.
While we have beenthinking and considering the New World from the eyes of Europe, let’s stop and have a look at what was produced by the South Americans for themselves. This is a gold stirrup jar. It is hammered, and comes from the Chavin culture, which flourished from 900 to 200 BC. It’s described as a ritual object, which means, in plain language, that archaeologists and historians don’t know WHAT they did with it. Still, it’s lovely.
These objects have a use that we do know -- even if you may not recognize them at first. These are ear spools, and they come from Columbia, made somewhere between the 1-7th centuries AD.
Finally, a ceremonial mask from Peru, produced around 900–1100 AD.Have a look at the ears. He probably wore something like those spools.
A final look at the red areas on the map tells the whole story very simply. Here is pre-Spanish conquest. A few red lines show the voyages.
And this is post-Spanish conquest.
So, one last word. What did people bring back from the New World besides gold and silver? You guessed it – cute little monkeys. This painting of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s older sister, was lost and recopied in 1620. The original would have been painted around 1515. Margaret is holding a marmoset. Who would have given it to her? It’s not clear, but we do know her husband was friendly with the Spanish ambassador. What a great gift a marmoset would have made! Only the super-rich could have had an exotic monkey from an entirely new world.
Image Credits Planets http://img.wallpaperstock.net:81/our-solar-system-wallpapers_4646_1024x768.jpg Bowl of Oatmeal http://lancastria.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/oatmeal-lancastria.jpg T-O Map, Isidore of Seville http://domin.dom.edu/faculty/dperry/hist267crusade/calendar/1stCrusade/t-o.htm Geocentric Cosmology http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/a203/geocentric_universe.gif Comparative Size of Chinese and Portuguese Ships Scan from Arnold Pacey, Technology and World Civilization Voyage of Vasco da Gama http://www.englishare.net/World%20Lit/Vasco_da_Gama_map.gif Voyage of Magellan
Image Credits Orbis Terrae Compendioso Descripto http://www.lunacommons.org/luna/servlet/detail/JCB~1~1~4825~7590001 :Orbis-terrae-compendiosa-descriptio Fire, instructor’s photo Delicious French Sauerkraut http://croquecamille.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/choucroute-part-deux/ Salzkammergut http://www.ebners-waldhof.at/salzkammergut-region Cellini Salt Cellar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Saliera.png The Burghley Nef, Victorian and Albert Museum http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/zzdeco/1gold/16c/03f_1500.html Sketch of a Caravel http://pirateshold.buccaneersoft.com/images/ships/caravel.jpg
Image Credits Saxony, Bohemia, Hungary http://www.emersonkent.com/map_archive/europe_1648.htm Mansa Musa http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/1492/mansa_musa.jpg Gold Coast of Africa http://cultfootball.com/wp- content/uploads/2011/01/18th_century_goldcoast_map.jpg The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive: New World Reckonings The Rich Mines of Potossi http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/kinney/new.html or (in color) http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/10/67410-004-3BABF417.jpg Map of Bolivia showing Potosi http://www.destination360.com/south-america/bolivia/bolivia-map.php Map of South America http://www.fhlfavorites.info/Links/South_America/south_america_map.gif
Image Credits Chavin Stirrup Spout Bottle (Peru) http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/gold/golden/sweat.php Peruvian Ear Spools http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the- collections/50009369?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=*&what=Earspools&pos=2#fullscreen Peruvian Mask (Dallas Museum of Art) http://dmaeducatorblog.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/gold-mask.jpg Maps of New World from Historical World Atlas (instructor’s library) Margaret Tudor http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/ Marmoset http://www.photogalaxy.com/pic/willbl-180/marmoset.jpg SALT INFORMATION http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/~gel115/salt.html