Many important changes took place in Western Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth century that were to have a great influence on Europe’s future expansion. In a number of countries, legislative and administrative systems were established – with local variations – that were to set the tone for a long time.
However, the factor that played the determining role in the future expansion was the extensive trade network Europe had built up and was completing at the time. A network of trade routes and trade fairs had developed in Europe. These developments put an end to the relative isolation that had characterized so many European regions. The logical result was a mutual system of trust and cooperation. International banking and insurance followed in the wake of trade. Trade and industry became more important, economically speaking, than agriculture. The Middle Ages had really come to an end.
Shift in means of transport
The increase in trade led to an increasing demand for transportation capacity. The caravans of men and animals that transported goods throughout Europe could no longer meet the demand. More importantly, sea carriage of bulk goods, such as grain, wine, wood or salt, was considerably cheaper and quicker. Shipbuilding and shipping traffic received a tremendous impulse as a result. It goes without saying that seafaring nations profited most from these developments.
The rise of Islam meant that the overland route used for the trade in goods from the Far East was cut off. The Venetian merchants, who had dominated trade around the Mediterranean for many generations, lost their influential position. As a consequence, the countries along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean grew steadily stronger as trading nations. The North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean became the main route for cargo ships. This was the period when Spain and Portugal became the most powerful trading nations in the world. The Iberian peninsula was to become the cradle for early European colonization throughout the world.
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