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3. History of Civilization (3.18-3.18.3)

3.18    Overseas Empires

The great seas had always been feared and were looked upon with respect. In the 15th century boats became bigger which made oversea expeditions the new alternative to discover, to trade and to conquer. Ancient stories and rumors about new worlds beyond the known one increased the importance of exploration and colonization.

3.18.1    Portuguese Empire

Portugal’s only way to expand its territories was by sea as they were by land totally blocked by the Kingdom of Spain, Castile. This resulted in the first and largest European colonial Empires in the 16th century.

It was the Prince of Portugal, more known as Henry the Navigator, who organized the Portuguese fleet and made mapping the territory of Africa possible as well as initiating slave trading. Prince Henry is also known to have been the successor Grandmaster of the Temple Knights which by then were reborn in Tomar, Portugal, as the Order of Christ.

“Treaty of Tordesillas”, signed in 1494 Pope Alexander VI and refined in 1506 by Pope Julius II, divided world outside Europe in two parts, pole-pole. The west part was given to Spain and the east to Portugal. This made Portugal the dominating traders and conquesters between Europe and Asia with ports as far locations as for example Goa, Malacca, Macau and Nagasaki and this without competitors. They also took over much of the trade within Asia.

This was a huge stroke in the sea hearts of France and England, which were refused access to the new lands, unless they ignored the authority of the Roman Catholic Church (which they did). In 1498, Vasco da Gama reached and established the first Indian outpost. A very successful trade route was established all the way to Asia which opened and made Portugal a rich trade Empire. Many islands in the Indian Ocean were discovered and some also became outposts of the Empire. Many of the expeditions also brought Jesuit missionaries to spread Catholic Christianity with mixed success. Portugal suffered a catastrophic earthquake along with a huge tsunami, in 1755, which killed almost 40% of the population. This dramatically decreased the Portuguese colonial ambitions in the late 18th century.

The Portuguese overseas Empire was ended in 1999 when returning Macau to China under similar term which the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong.

3.18.2    Spanish Empire

Beside the Portuguese Empire which was declared rights to the Eastern parts of the world, Spain was declared rights to the West side by the Papals. This by time led to a vastly growing colonial Empire in western parts of the world during 16th and 17th century. Spanish Conquistadors of North and South America brought back gold and silver to finance the military. Spain became the most dominant navy in the west with the peak in the end of the 17th century.

The Dutch navy had grown and had become the Spanish Armadas greatest threat. A number of naval conflicts led to the “Peace of Utrecht” in 1713 were Spain lost most of its power. Nevertheless Spain continued to be a vast overseas empire thru 19th century and 20th century, declining bit by bit until the last parts in Africa was lost in 1975.

3.18.3    British Empire

British Empire

The British Empire

It was called "the empire on which the sun never sets" and the reason was because it spanned around the whole globe. The British Empire, initiated in year 1497, lasted over 500 years, to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, and is today known a the most successful empires of all times. It was King Henry VII who in the late 15th century rooted the pioneering maritime policies. Henry sponsored the voyagers of the Italian John Cabot. The first oversea colony was a fishing settlement in the Island which Cabot called Newfoundland in 1497. Beside the oversea conquests Henry also faced the Spanish Armada, which he with success repulsed in 1588. This was however regained by Spain after the Anglo-Spanish War and following post war campaigns under the reign of Queen Elisabeth I, 1577-1580.

The great Spanish Armada was later defeated by the Dutch fleet, which made the Netherlands the dominant seafaring nation in the Atlantic. Parallel to these events the English navy managed to grown and later peaked in the four Anglo-Dutch Wars, fought in the 17th and 18th centuries. England by time grew into a republic named “The Commonwealth of England”. From about 1720 Dutch wealth declined and the Kingdom of Great Britain grew. The Dutch fleet was defeated in 1797 and after the “Battle of Trafalgar”, in October 1805; the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom became the largest colonial Empire of the world.

By 1921, its territories had a population of about 470–570 million people, which was about 25% of the total world's population. The Empire covered roughly about 33% of the available land on earth. The Empire facilitated the spread of British technology, commerce, language, and government around much of the globe. Imperial hegemony contributed to Britain's extraordinary economic growth, and greatly strengthened its voice in world affairs. Even as Britain extended its imperial reach overseas, it continued to develop and broaden democratic institutions in its homeland. The colonies received from Britain the English language, an administrative and legal framework on the British model, and technological and economic development. During decolonization, Britain sought to pass parliamentary democracy and the rule of law to its colonies, with varying degrees of success.

There are many both good and bad stories surrounding the British Empire. The end of the Empire was initiated by the so called “Atlantic Charter” agreement with USA in 1941 to handle the threat from Hitler and his Third Reich. Well, “the end of the Empire”, is hard words in this case. Maybe it’s better to refer to it as a transition over to the Anglo-American society that most parts of the world today are living in.



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