Before we discuss the arrival of Europeans in America, we first need to establish why they left Europe and what they were seeking. The term Dark Ages is helpful for understanding how bad things were in Europe at the same time that cultures in the Americas were reaching their zenith. Europe was overcrowded, undereducated, and low in natural resources. England for instance had chopped down most trees, and the rest were privately owned.
However, there were a lot of sheep. Many of the fruits and vegetables that make up the foods we eat today were not available in Europe, which we will discuss later. There were a lot of meats, grains for bread, dairy, and fruits like apples and pears.
Much of the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks and other Mediterranean civilizations had been lost and forgotten by Germanic tribes with the collapse of the Roman Empire, and perhaps helped cause it. It is not that northern Europeans were dumber than their southern neighbors, but life was such a struggle that knowledge of the universe and geometry was not important. People spent more time worrying about their next meal and fearing God’s wrath.
The Crusades, first begun in 1095 and occurring on an off over the next few centuries, were not military successful and cost vast amounts of money and lives. One unforeseen consequence was exposure to the riches of the east. While fighting in the Holy Land, Europeans experienced silks, spices, gold, and jewels, and they wanted more.
Most of the goods they desired were brought to the Middle East from the Far East, China and India, along the famed Silk/Spice Road. But why buy from the middleman, whom you had been warring against, when you could go directly to the source? For the next six centuries, European leaders, explorers, and businessmen strove to answer that question.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.