Published: August 3, 2010
The reasons why the Spaniards came to the Philippines may be summarized as follows:
- The trade of Europe with Asia
- The need for new trade routes to Asia
- The European explorations and discoveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
When European trade expanded to Asia during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some of the travelers and traders who returned to Europe carried home fascinating accounts of Asia’s fabulous riches such as wondrous palaces and rare merchandise items. Among these stories were those told by;
- The survivors of the Crusades (1096-1273) in the Holy Land who described the wonders of Asia
- Fr. John of Plano Carpini (1192-1252), who visited the Mongol Courtat Karakorum and returned to Italy praising the splendor of Asia
- Marco Polo (1254-1324), a Venetian traveler who journeyed to China during the reign of Emperor Kublai Khan, served the Chinese government, and then wrote a fascinating book about the wonders of Asia.
These and other accounts inspired the Europeans to come to Asia and see things for themselves. In this way, they not only found that the stories they read were true but also saw many fine opportunities to trade with the Asians. The exotic spices, silk, jewelry, rugs, perfumes, and precious stones from the Far East greatly appealed to the European taste and an urgent demand for these and other goods developed among the Europeans.
So successful was the trade with Asia that European banks were set up to finance businessmen and kings in their commercial ventures. The city of Venice was the first to do trade with Asia, then the Portuguese, Spaniards, the English, the Dutch, and the French were trading with Asian countries as well. Then rivalry over routes developed and this led to the discovery of new trade routes to Asia.
At the height of this early European trade with Asia, three trade routes between the East and Europ were used:
- The southern route, starting from Malacca, in Malaya, to India through the Red Sean and on to Cairo in the Mediterranean.
- The central route also starting from Malacca, but going westward to the Indian Ocean, passing through the ports of India, then to the Persian Gulf and from there to Baghdad and Constantinople (now Istanbul), and finally to Cairo.
- The northern routes, passing overland through Central Asia, then to the exotic cities of Samarkand and Bokhara, from there around the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, and finally to Constantinople in the Mediterranean Sea.
In the fifteenth century, however, an important even occurred, and it led to the discovery of new trade routes. This was the capture of the then Christian city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) by the Muslim Turks in 1453. Since all three trade routes between Europe and Asia passed through Constantinople, it is easy to see that the Turks were in a position to control European trade with Asia. The Turks closed the northern and central routes but allowed Venice to use the southern routes upon payment of fees. Thus, Venice acquired a monopoly of the profitable trade with Asia.
The other European countries especially Spain and Portugal hated to see their profitable trade with Asia thus completely cut off. They tried to find new ways to go to Asia and to the Spice Islands.
Of all the European countries, Portugal was the first to send trade expeditions to Asia. One of the famous Portuguese navigators was Prince Henry, called “The Navigator.” Desiring to make Portugal a strong sea power, he sent an expedition to the African coast in 1421. This expedition discovered the islands of Madeira and the Azores just off Northwest Africa, and soon these were developed into Portuguese colonies. Later Prince Henry himself led an expedition to West Africa, using instruments he himself developed–the compass, the astrolabe, and the caravel–the last being a small, fast sailboat used during the sixteenth century.
With these, navigators were inspired to sail farther south from Europe to see if they could find a sea route to Asia. In 1441 Antonio Gonzales and Nuno Tristao rounded Cape Blanco to bring the first African slaves there. In 1487 Bartolomeu Dias, another Portuguese navigator, discovered the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa and called it the “Cape of Storms.” And in 1498 Vasco de Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut, in India. Thus, after the much hard work, Portugal became the first European nation to reach Asia by sailing around the southern tip of the African continent.
Not to be outdone, Spain embarked on world exploration and conquest too. On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean, reached North America, and claimed it for Spain. Leif Ericson, a Norwegian sailor, discovered Vinland, believed to be North America, about A.D. 1000. But his discovery did not lead to colonization and so the credit for the discovery of the New World belongs to Columbus. Throughout his life, Columbus thought that America was part of Asia. Between 1497 and 1503, Spain sent Amerigo Vespucci to explore the Americas. Thinking that Vespucci found new land, the geographers of the period named the continent after him.
Other discoveries were made by Spanish explorers. In 1500 Vicente Pinzon found what we now know as Brazil. In 1513 Nuñez de Balboa crossed what is now Panama and found the Pacific Ocean.
As a result of these discoveries, but especially the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, the monopoly of the trade with Asia by Venice was broken.