Which Countries Were Leaders In The Age Of Exploration?

By Antonia Čirjak on May 28 2020 in World Facts

LISBON, PORTUGAL: Map about the Portuguese discoveries on the floor, near Padrão dos Descobrimentos Image credit: Kagan Kaya / Shutterstock.com
LISBON, PORTUGAL: Map about the Portuguese discoveries on the floor, near Padrão dos Descobrimentos Image credit: Kagan Kaya / Shutterstock.com
  • The Age of Exploration is a period in the history of humankind that started in the early 15th and lasted until the end of the 17th century. However, the age of colonizing that started with it, probably never finished.
  • The renaissance period in Europe is the one that only further motivated explorers and country leaders to investigate the new world, and discover other cultures and try to benefit from their resources.
  • England, France, Spain, and Portugal had another thing in common, which allowed them to become the leaders of exploration: they were all absolute monarchies, and the monarchs had more than enough wealth to fund the trips around the world for their ships.

The Age of Exploration is a very important period in Earth’s history, as people became aware of people living on other continents. This period in history is also known as the Age of Discovery because a number of different things now became important for the whole world: different cultures, languages, resources - everything came to see the light of day after the end of the 15th century, and these discoveries reshaped the world to a tremendous extent. 

There are a couple of countries, or nations, if you wish, that are considered as leaders of the Age of Exploration. Portugal, Spain, England, and France were when it comes to technology that allowed them to travel across the world, far ahead of everyone else. 

Now, there are some undeniable similarities between these countries, which turned them into explorational super forces, and the biggest colonizers the world has ever seen. First of all, all of the aforementioned countries had an exit towards the Atlantic Ocean, which allowed them to travel. Also, these nations already had a developed naval force, meaning they had the ships that could travel far away, and their knowledge of navigation was helping them in these endeavors. Although, some of them did miss their destination points by hundreds of thousands of miles, like Columbus did when he wanted to reach India, and ended up in North America instead. 


Portugal is the first nation that started exploring the world outside their own national borders. The first trips that happened in the early 1400s usually went in the direction of Africa, primarily its west coast, as it was closest to reach for the Portuguese explorers. Many of these trips were funded and supported by Prince Henry. He was known as Henry the Navigator, but believe it or not, he never set foot on any of the ships that explored the world. However, Henry saw how important it is to travel and discover places that have valuable resources, so he created the first school for navigation in 1419, and personally supervised the education of new sailors. 

credit: Damira / Shutterstock.com
Lisbon, Portugal - April 20, 2016: a fragment of Mappa Mundi as part of The Monument of the Discoveries which celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery (or Age of Exploration)Image credit: Damira / Shutterstock.com.


In Spain, the most prominent figure was Christopher Columbus. Although he was of Italian descent, he traveled under the Spanish flag, because the kind and queen of Spain at the time invested a lot of money and resources into developing their ships. However, unlike the Portuguese who decided they wanted to travel down south, the Spanish sailors, together with Columbus, decided to travel west, across the Atlantic Ocean, without actually knowing what they would find. 


England started exploring later than the previously mentioned countries, somewhere in the late 1500s. It took them a while to realize how Spain and Portugal were already having huge benefits from sailing all over the world and discovering new lands. Still, when they joined the game of discovery, they quickly turned into an equal competitor. If you are still wondering what the competition was all about, it was this: who will find the most countries, colonize them and start depleting the natural resources that would allow them to become a trading force to be reckoned with. The more you had, the more you could sell, and wealthier you would become. 


Very much similar to England, France also joined the Age of Exploration a bit later than others, after they realized what they were missing out on. Unlike the others, the French ships set sail a bit more north than the Spaniards and the Portuguese, which made them discover the areas of today’s Canada. 

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