The Black Death had encouraged the development of sailing ships that would not require a lot of manpower. The Portuguese, poised on the Atlantic Sea, built such ships — three-masted ships that could sail forty-five degrees into the wind and carry more cargo. These ships carried cannon that fired stone or iron balls which could demolish a hostile ship at a distance, reducing the need for armed marines. And the Portuguese benefitted from skill in math, sailing technology (including sail shape, hull design, and maritime weaponry) they had picked up from contacts with Muslims.
Interested in trade and benefitting from improved navigation methods, the Portuguese reached the Canary Islands in 1415. They discovered the Azores Islands in 1419. They looked for a route to India that outflanked Muslim dominated trade routes. And they hoped to convert "heathens" and establish Christian colonies. In 1424 they began to colonize Madeira Island. They warred against Muslims at Ceuta and Tangier 9n what today is Morocco. In 1441 a ship brought back to Portugal the first slaves and some gold dust. In 1443 the Portuguese discovered the four by two-mile Arguin (Arguim) Island off the coast of western Africa — a 1000 mile (1600 kilometer) sail from the Canaries. In 1445, Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator set up a trading post on the island, and, by 1455, 800 slaves were shipped from Arguin to Portugal every year. The Portuguese saw themselves as giving the slaves an opportunity to become Christians.
In what today is Spain, the kingdom of Castile had been expanding on land. After 1236 it included the cities of Cordoba and Seville. It was forcing the Emirate of Grenada (along the Mediterranean coast) to pay tribute. In 1469, Queen Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon married, unifying these two kingdoms.
In 1481 war followed an attack on the town of Zahara by the Emirate of Grenada (in the south of Spain along the Mediterranean coast). Meanwhile, the Portuguese had reached the equator, and in 1487 a Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Diaz, sailed as far as the southern tip of Africa – the Portuguese having overcome fears of monsters at sea and boiling water at the equator.
Isabella and Ferdinand had been watching Portugal's maritime successes, and in 1492, after having defeated Grenada, they backed Christopher Columbus's dream of reaching India by sailing westward (rejected by Portugal in 1484). Columbus promised to bring back gold, whose value had risen with economic recovery following the plague. He promised also to bring back spices and silks, and he promised to spread Christianity and to lead an expedition to China. Isabella is reported to have been impressed by Columbus' confidence that his will was the will of God.
In Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand were pursuing what they believed was God's will by expelling Jews from their kingdom. According to the jewish_virtual_library.com, on July 30, 1492, some 200,000 people were expelled. There was an inquisition, and their Inquisitor General was Tomás de Torquemada, called "The hammer of heretics." According to Britannica, the estimated number of burnings at the stake during Torquemada’s tenure was about 2,000.
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