From the A.D. 1200s through the 1400s, Europeans began seeking new ways to obtain the spices, silks, and riches of the Orient. As trade increased it brought them into greater contact with people in Africa and the Americas. Powerful kingdoms flourished in Africa south of the Sahara between 300 and 1600. The civilizations of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai established cities that were centers of trade and learning.
Early Portuguese explorers sailed down the coast of Africa and around the Cape
of Good Hope to reach the riches of the Indies. Sailing for Spain, Christopher
Columbus believed that he could sail west and reach Asia. In 1492 his expedition
landed on an island in the Caribbean; he believed, however, that he had reached
the East. His "discovery" led to further explorations by other Europeans,
who realized that this was a "new" land. Other Spanish explorers conquered
Native Americans, such as the Aztec and the Inca. The wealth of these groups
became the wealth of Spain. As Spanish control spread, so did the pueblos, missions,
presidios, and plantations of settlers from Spain.
Europe also experienced changes during this time. Religious differences arose as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Nations developed economic rivalries that led them to compete for land in the Americas. Explorers from other nations continued to search for a route to the East. The Netherlands and France explored the east coast of North America seeking a Northwest Passage to Asia.