@Charles Tottington While I agree that we need Ottomans I must correct you.
It was not the Ottomans that pushed European Exploration.
Unfortunately it's a terrible bit of "bad" History that has been taken as gospel.
I'll leave this quote from reddit:
"'Spice must flow' a.k.a 'Ottomans stopped the spice trade and started Age of Discovery' myth"
I have already done several posts about this topic in sister subs, but I have recently again stumbled upon a few posts over on /r/history claiming again the age old fact which everyone knows: that Ottomans blocked Asian goods and spices from reaching Europe and that prompted Iberians to go around Africa and across the Atlantic.
And i just had to do a big post here as well.
So here are some of the sort of comments that pop up all the time
First one is simple:
Well we all know that america was discovered during the search for new trade routes (cause the ottomans blocked the old ones). That is also what inspired most colonization - wealth. Gold from america and spices from asia
While his second sentence - that wealth inspired most colonization - is sort of true (it was infinitely more complex than that) the first sentence, especially the remark in the brackets is totally wrong.
Another post is even more incorrect:
Mediterranean countries benefitted hugely from trade with Asia. With the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire, they lost their link to the east, and had to find new routes. The Portuguese began sailing around Africa, and one Genoese man thought he could get there by sailing directly west.
This post in particular shows the full extent of the wrongness. It proposes that by loss of Byzantine empire, Europe “lost the link” to East, and “had to” find new routes. And only after this preconditions happened have Europeans began exploring.
The appeal of this myth is of course the simplicity and obvious casualty. One thing clearly led to another, and for our poor human minds looking for order in chaos, this might seem reasonable.
Unfortunately absolutely everything about it is completely and utterly wrong on so many levels that it warrants a lengthy post. Not to be very philosophical myself I will quote Lybyer from all the way back in 1915 tackling this myth:
The entire hypothesis seems to be a legend of recent date, developed out of the catastrophic theory which made the fall of Constantinople an event of primary importance in the history of mankind. The great discoveries had their origin in a separate chain of causes, into which the influence of the Moslems of Spain, North Africa, and the Mameluke empire entered, but not that of the Ottoman Turks.
The reasons why this is so are numerous. Let’s break it down to few key ones. First from Iberian side we have few observations:
1. Atlantic voyages and going down African coast started well before 1453
The Portuguese Atlantic voyages started after 1415 with conquest of Ceuta (Spanish-French expeditions to Canaries even before that). Madeira was colonized in the 1420s, Azores in 1430s. Caravels were used since 1430s and furthest point visited so far - Cape Bojador - was passed in 1434 and regular voyages beyond were being conducted afterwards. By 1450s the exploration down African coast- in actuality more slave raids - on which we have much information, brought Portuguese all the way past Senegal and Gambia rivers, to the vicinity of modern Sierra Leone. Here is a map trying to show the extent of lands already discovered by around 1450
2. Motives recorded by Portuguese themselves for start of exploration never mention any kind of “lack” of spices
We just have to open the The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, Vol. I, on Chapter VII by Gomes Eannes de Azurara who lists the reasons (he considered) why the Prince Henry decided to explore Africa: curiosity and zeal of service to god and king, new economic opportunity (but no mention of spices, just generally opening a new market in Guinea), gauging the extent of power of Moors, and finding allies against Moors (specifically Prester John) and finally spreading Christianity.
Obviously not mentioning the unavailability of spices does not mean it didn’t occur, but still, contrasting with the importance it was supposed to have i think it would feature more prominently.
On the Mediterranean side of things we have other, more relevant, issues
3. Constantinople was actually not the most important point for the spice trade at all, as Venice (and Genoa and French and Catalan) got the vast majority of their spices in Alexandria and Beirut
It shouldn’t really be surprising when you think about it. Spice originated in India and SE Asia, and it went to Europe by ships on the sea route to Red Sea and Persian Gulf where land caravans would take them through Egypt and Syria to ports on Mediterranean.There it would be picked up by European traders and transferred by ships to rest of Europe. Constantinople would be a detour on that route, not the center point. See this Venetian routes to Alexandria and Beirut as recorded by 15th century Venetian sailor Michael of Rhodes(source)
The overland routes from China to the Black Sea, and from there Europe, for which Constantinople was important, were only a part of this Asia trade, and spices would definitely not go through there. To back up these claims, let’s show the table showing Venice pepper imports in years 1394-1405, basically much before ottoman conquest, from Wake: "The Volume of European Spice Imports at the Beginning and End of the XVth Century" (1986) available in full here , page 632
Area Pepper(lbs) Spices(lbs)
Alexandria 1,614,300 221,335
Beirut 414,250 449,987
Romania (Constantinople) 67,920 43,687
As we can see, pepper and spices poured from Levant, not Constantinople in order of magintude larger amounts.
4. Fall of Constantinople had little effect on prices of pepper and spice (and from there we can conclude also the supply)
To show this part, we will reffer to Frederic C. Lane and his paper Pepper Prices Before Da Gama where he lists the prices of pepper through the years in Venice. The expectation being that after 1453, if the trade routes were closed we would see the effect in prices. I’ll post the photo of the table he compiled here. Analyzing this we can see that in the period of 1430- 1490 the price of pepper remained relatively the same. Compare that to events of 1499-1503 when the price of pepper really jumped which is related to both Second Venetian-Ottoman War and Portuguese incursion in Indian ocean that really stopped the flow of pepper. Analyzing previous years, we can really conclude there is no obvious shortage or stoppage of spices coming to Europe prior to 1499 related to Ottomans, or any other Muslim nation, at all.
Interesting detail: Lane’s table shows another very curious incident - sudden spike in prices between 1409 and 1411 and remaining until 1430s. The reason is still unknown but one guess it was the result of the Zheng He expeditions which bought massive amounts of pepper, seriously altering the supply side of pepper for europe resulting in massive prices.
5. Egypt and Syria - the main spice routes- weren’t even Ottoman controlled until 1517 - decades after the Columbus and Da Gama expeditions
One of the most important things is that Ottomans were confined to the areas of Balkan and Anatolia , with Mamluk Sultanate controlling Egypt and Syria. The Ottoman conquest of Levant happened only in 1517 following the Ottoman Mamluk war, which is significantly after both discovery of America and Portuguese presence in Indian Ocean.
Also, but this I can’t prove, it is quite probable the Portuguese temporary stoppage of pepper flow to Egypt, and the unsuccessful expedition to Diu to expel the Portuguese, led to weakening of the Mamluk state and ultimately it being consumed by the Ottomans
6. Ottomans, Mamluks nor for that matter any other Muslims never ‘stopped the spice trade’ to Europe, nor would they want to (for a longer period)
This is an important point and one which too many people just don’t think about. Why would the Ottomans stop the trade to Europe in the first place? Just because they were Christians? It would make no economic sense, and accomplish nothing. Even in times of conflict with some of the nations, like Venice, there were plenty of other traders filling the void: French, Ragusan, Catalan, Genoese, later English and Dutch also. I will only mention and hope I don’t have to go into details of the French-Ottoman alliance and capitulations granted by Ottomans as I am really not an expert in Ottoman diplomatic and trade relations. However their very existence is the ultimate proof that trade was never stopped.
Edit Whoops. I forgot here to add some key data
Table 2. Venetian galley import average annuals for years 1496 - 1498 from Wake: "The Volume of trade ....", page 633 (13/16 in the link)
Area Pepper(lbs) Spices(lbs)
Alexandria 1,754,480 2,140,880
Beirut 603,150 563,231
Basically, this data in the table above shows how much pepper and spice did the Venetians import by the end of 15th century. The total amount is even larger then in the beginning (table for 1394-1405) indicating not only the trade never stopped but that it even increased (but this might be just Venetians muscling out competiton). To be fair, just this data alone still allows the possibility of stopping the trade in mid 15th century and then recovering but a) that's unlikely as we have zero indications for this and b) if it even recovered than the point that Muslims stopped trade is still moot
Even in the 16th century, when the Ottomans really did control the Levant, and Portuguese the Indian Ocean, the trade through Egypt and Syria was ongoing. There are even some indications the spice route through Levant superseded the Portuguese route around Africa in the2nd half of 16th century. See this table compiled by Reid showing pepper and spice imports to Europe. The values for 16th century indicate there was an ongoing trade through Ottoman areas to Europe. This theory (of Levant route being larger then Portuguese route in late 16th century) is very widely accepted, but some authors, like before mentioned Wake, made some IMHO very compelling counter arguments. However I do not think this is the appropriate time and place to go into this discussion. Suffice to say, whatever those details are, trade goods have always passed through Levant to Europe
To come to some sort of conclusion.
The statement that Ottoman stoppage of trade caused age of discovery is totally unsupported and also unreasonable statement reducing all of the parties to ridiculous simplifications.
If we are to believe it we have to forget that Mamluk Sultante existed, and Ottomans were clearly some spiteful haters who would rather not earn money then simply trade with Europe.
The Portuguese, and Spanish, aren’t that vilified to point of cartoonish, however their motivations are still reduced to simply responding to the complete absence of spice and trade. Instead of the more truthful version of them simply trying to open an alternate, more profitable, line of supply next to an already existing one.