The first European country to sail the vast continent of Africa were the Portuguese. The Portuguese began exploring in the 15th Century when they drove the Muslim forces from their country. The Muslim forces would have entered Portugal from North Africa. The Portuguese were of course a strong Christian country. The Portuguese based their explorations on 3 key ideas:
After the Portuguese had driven the Muslim forces out…they followed them!! It was not long after this that Portugal began to attack Muslim strongholds in North Africa – doing so – they heard about apparent gold mines further south in the country! (And sure what’s a good sea faring people if they don’t plunder a city or two!)
2. Prester John
The Portuguese had heard about a Christian King in Africa called Prester John. He was a mythical figure, who from the twelfth to seventeenth centuries, was thought by Europeans to be a real personage, ruling over a distant Christian empire, originally located in Asia, but from 1300 onwards increasingly associated with Ethiopia. Portugal really wanted an ally in Africa to stop the spread of Islam. Having Prester John as an ally was believed to have been very important for not only Portugal but Christendom as well. It was believed that if they could join forces, they could defeat the Muslim armies. There was one little teeny tiny problem though!……he didn’t exist!
Africa was considered untouched territory. It was the belief of the Portuguese that if there was a harbour that was not dangerous, they could set up a trade route with this region. Because there was no competition, Portuguese could have free reign of that area!
So there you go, 3 reasons why the Portuguese (the first to explore Africa) well…explored Africa. I leave you with the “In Our Time” podcast that explains Prester John in more detail. I must admit it is quite a lot of info to take in but I’m sure you will be just fine! Also, for more blogs about the Age of Exploration, be sure to check out more her at The Áed