Background of the Europeans Exploring the Ocean

Background Europeans Undertook Ocean Exploration – History records that European nations decided to undertake expeditions or explorations to other parts of the world since the 15th century AD, including to the archipelago or present-day Indonesia. This period was later called the age of ocean exploration. Ocean exploration is also known as the era of the age of discovery . This era began when the Eastern Roman Empire collapsed after fighting Islamic rule. Exploration of the oceans by Europeans then became conquest and colonialism.

The Portuguese became the first European nation to sail to the Archipelago. Alfonso de Albuqueque commanded some 18 ships carrying 1,200 people. This Portuguese convoy conquered Malacca in 1511, then targeted Maluku in 1512. From this, the history of colonialization in Indonesia began.

Spices were the main reason for the Portuguese visiting the Archipelago. This achievement from the Portuguese was then followed by its neighboring kingdom, namely Spain. The Portuguese and Spanish had been involved in a conflict in Maluku. The Portuguese allied with the Kingdom of Ternate against the Spanish who embraced the Kingdom of Tidore.

Not only Spain and Portugal, the exploration of the oceans that transformed into colonialism and imperialism was later followed by other European nations, including the Netherlands, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium and Germany. So, what was the background for Europeans to explore the oceans?

One of the main causes was the fall of Constantinople in 1453, from the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmed II. The conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) became one of the important milestones that changed the history of human civilization, namely the exploration of European nations.

Background of the Europeans Exploring the Ocean

As for several other reasons behind the Europeans to explore the oceans and come to the Archipelago, can be described as follows.

1. Crusades

The Crusades is the term for the religious wars in West Asia and Europe between the 11th and 17th centuries, which were supported by the Catholic Church. This war involved the peoples of Europe against the Seljuk Turks and Arabs. The war lasted 200 years and was divided into seven periods.

The war is called the Crusades by Christians, while Muslims call it the Holy War. The Crusades were caused by the seizure of the City of Jerusalem. This protracted war cut off the Asia-Europe trade route. The war also had an impact on the depletion of European wealth because it was allocated for war.

The Crusades differed from other religious conflicts in that the people who took part in these wars believed their struggle to be a practice of penance in order to obtain forgiveness for the sins they had confessed.

The Crusades were first initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont. He urged his audience to take up arms to help the Byzantine Emperors fight the Seljuk Turks and make an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His appeal was responded with enthusiasm by all levels of Western European society. The volunteers were then confirmed as members of the Crusaders through a public pledge.

The people who volunteered for the war were motivated by different intentions. There were those who simply wanted to go to Jerusalem in order to be taken up with them to heaven, there were those who did it for the sake of serving their masters, there were those who wanted to seek fame and reputation, and there were also those who had the desire to reap economic and political benefits through their participation.

When the First Crusade broke out, the term “Crusade” was not yet known. The Christian military campaigns at that time were called “travels” (Latin: iter ) or “pilgrimage” (Latin: peregrinatio ). These wars with the blessing of the church were only associated with the term “crucifixion” after the Latin word “ crucesignatus ” (one who is marked with the cross) came into use in the late 12th century.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the word ” crusade ” (the British term for “Crusade”) is related to the modern French croisade , Old French croisée , Provençal crozada , Portuguese and Spanish cruzada , and Crociata in Italian language. All of these words are derivatives of the Medieval Latin cruciāta or cruxiata , which originally meant “to torture” or “to crucify,” but from the 12th century also to mean “to cross.”

The term “Crusade” can be interpreted differently, depending on the views of the authors who use it. Giles Constable in The Historiography of the Crusades (2001) describes four different points of view among historical scholars as follows.

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a. The Traditionalist Perspective

Traditionalists limited the notion of the Crusades to the wars waged by Christians in the Holy Land from 1095 to 1291, both to help the Christians in that land and to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher from occupation.

b. The Pluralist Perspective

Pluralists use the term Crusades as a designation for all kinds of military actions openly sanctioned by the sitting pope. This meaning reflects the view of the Roman Catholic Church (including figures of the Middle Ages during the Crusades, such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux) that every war sanctioned by the Pope can be legally called a Crusade, without distinction of cause, reason or place.

This broad definition includes acts against pagans and heretics such as the Albigensian Crusades, the Northern Crusades, and the Hussite Crusades. This definition also includes wars for political advantage and territorial domination such as the Crusades of Aragon in Sicily, the Crusades proclaimed by Pope Innocent III against the Markward of Anweiler in 1202, and those declared against the people of Stedingen, several crusades which were declared ( by different popes) against Emperor Frederick II and his sons, two crusades declared against opponents of King Henry III of England, and the crusade of the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by Christians.

c. The Generalist Viewpoint

Generalists view the Crusades as all kinds of holy wars connected with the Latin Church and which were waged as acts of defense of religion.

d. The Popularist Perspective

The popularists limit the notion of the Crusades as wars characterized by the movement of the masses for religious reasons, namely only the first Crusade and perhaps also the People’s Crusades.

2. Fall of Constantinople

On May 29, 1453, the Turkish-based Ottoman Caliph captured Constantinople. This city was previously part of the territory of the Roman–Byzantine Empire. The seizure of Constantinople was led by the King of Turkey, Sultan Mehmed II. Constantinople, has long been a contested city, not only because of its glorious history, but also because this city is one of the important points in the overland trade routes connecting Europe with Asia.

After Constantinople was occupied by the Ottoman Turks, the Asian-European overland trade route was cut off. This was because the Ottoman Turks forbade Europeans from passing through Constantinople. European nations then find it difficult to gain access to trade in Asia. Because, Constantinople is a region that serves as the entry point for Asian and European trade.

Market demand for spices, silk fabrics, and medicines on the other hand is increasing. European nations are having a hard time meeting the demand. This forced them to look for other trade routes besides Constantinople, for example, for countries in Asia such as Indonesia.

After the conquest, Sultan Mehmed II resided in Constantinople for 23 days after the conquest, completing all his affairs, and managing the management of the newly conquered city. He then opened one beginning of his decree regarding the city, that he made Constantinople as the capital.

He later assumed the titles “al-Fātih” (Arabic: conqueror) and “Abul-Fath” (Arabic: father of conqueror). This is what made him known as “Muhammad al-Fātih”. The name in Ottoman Turkish was written فاتح سُلطان مُحمَّد خان ثانى or “Fatih Sultan Muhammad Khan Tsani”, while in modern Turkish it is written as “Fâtih Sultan Mehmed Han II”.

3. Searching for the Spice Islands

Merle Calvin Ricklefs in Modern Indonesian History 1200–2004 (2007) stated that the biggest reason for the arrival of Europeans to Indonesia or the Archipelago was for the sake of spices. Spices are a valuable raw material in Europe. Europeans used spices as raw materials for medicines, perfumes, food, and most importantly, food preservatives.

Europeans at that time had to slaughter all their livestock. If not, the cattle will die from the cold. The livestock meat had to be preserved, but the food preservatives at that time were spices. The interruption of trade routes because Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks moved European nations to seek their own spice trading routes.

Apart from India, the Archipelago at that time was well known as a producer of spices. Nutmeg, pepper and cloves are very expensive commodities. However, the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch did not come to Indonesia just to fulfill their people’s need for spices. They also intended to monopolize the spice trade.

4. Development of Technology and Science

After the defeat in the Crusades, the development of technology and science in Europe actually developed rapidly as the Dark Ages phase ended and was replaced by the Renaissance or Age of Enlightenment since the 15th century AD. In addition, the defeat of the Crusades made European nations realize their shortcomings in terms of technology and science.

At that time, the theory of heliocentrism was introduced by Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. The proofs that the earth is round and has an orbit around the sun can be done after the science of astronomy is discovered and developed.

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This theory uncovered that Europeans’ knowledge of the world was narrow. This is what causes the desire to find out things that are not yet known about the universe, world geography, and about other nations in other parts of the world.

The desire to explore is supported by developments in shipping technology, such as the discovery of compasses, cannons and other tools, as well as developments in astronomy in navigation. Technology and knowledge made it possible to search for places where spices were produced by sea, not by land which had been cut off by the fall of Constantinople.

5. Spirit of 3G

In the end, European nations’ exploration of the oceans was accompanied by the spirit of 3G, namely gold (wealth), glory (glory), and gospel (spreading Christianity). In addition, the Europeans wanted to find and meet Prester John who they believed was the Christian King who ruled in the East.

When traced, the 3G motto was first coined by Pope Alexander VI of the Vatican after settling the dispute between Portugal and Spain with the Treaty of Tordesilas in 1494.

1. Gold

Gold means the desire to gain wealth in newly discovered areas, namely gold, silver and minerals and other materials that are very valuable. At that time, the main areas to target were Guinea and spices from the East. The wealth that was exploited from the new area was then used for the benefit of the imperialist empire or country.

2. Glory

Glory is defined as glory or to control the territory visited and used as a colony. In addition, glory is also the motto of pursuing glory, superiority and power through colonialism. In this regard, they compete with each other and want to rule in the new world they find. The Indonesian Archipelago, for example, was once a Dutch colony for a long time.

3. Gospels

Gospel is a mission to spread the teachings of Christianity (Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity). European missionaries spread their religion in the new areas they visited. Every ship belonging to European nations that explored the oceans was always accompanied by a group of missionaries, who considered spreading the teachings of the Bible to be a calling in life and a noble duty. They then used the colony area as a place to carry out the mission.

In its development, the slogan 3G has proven to have a negative impact on countries in the East, especially the terms gold and glory . Because, in terms of gold , a country is said to be prosperous if it has abundant wealth. This prompted the West to extract as much wealth as possible from the East, including in the Archipelago by controlling its spices. In addition, the motto of glory encouraged Europeans to have vast territories.

Arrival of Europeans to the Archipelago

The breakup of the Asia-Europe trade route pushed the kingdoms in Europe to look for new trade routes. This time, not by land which had been controlled by the Ottoman Turks. They are looking for another route that is more difficult and dangerous, namely trying to explore the paradise of spices by sea. The sea became the path taken by the West to find spices.

Portugal and Spain became the first countries to explore. They finally made it to the spice islands in the far east, aka Southeast Asia. In 1512, the Portuguese fleet reached Malacca. The Portuguese arrived in the Archipelago with 1,200 people and 18 ships. This was the beginning of the arrival of Europeans to Indonesia.

Spain then came to the Archipelago after the Portuguese. The Netherlands soon followed suit, even having a much deeper influence than the two previous European nations. This is because the Dutch colonization lasted a very long time.

So, that’s a brief explanation about the background of Europeans exploring the oceans. Through the explanation above, it can be seen that the biggest reason for Europeans coming to Indonesia or the Archipelago was for the sake of spices. Spices are a valuable raw material in Europe.

Sinaumed’s can visit sinaumedia’s collection of books at to obtain references on the European nations’ search for spices in the Indonesian Archipelago, starting from their background to the process of colonialism that was carried out.

The following is a recommendation for sinaumedia books that Sinaumed’s can read to learn about Indonesian history so they can fully interpret it. Happy reading.

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