Exploring the Modern Age: Discoveries, Reformation, and Humanism


  • Treaty of Tordesillas: This treaty established a frontier 370 leagues to the west of the Cape Verde islands: the lands located to the west of the line would belong to Castilla and those to the east to Portugal. As a result, Portugal skalted its claim to Brazil in 1500

  • Caravel: Was a lightweight vessel with three masts, enabling it to combine square and triangular sails and navigate even in adverse wind conditions. It also had a hold which could carry plenty of supplies for long journeys

  • Mercantilism: Is called a set of political and economic ideas that developed during the 15th, 16th, and the first half of the 18th centuries in Europe. It was characterized by strong State intervention in the economy, coinciding with the development of monarchical absolutism.

  • Printing Press: Is a mechanical means of reproducing texts that also allowed them to be made in series. It was invented in 1448 by Gutenberg

  • Capitulations of Santa Fe: Are a document written by the Catholic Monarchs on April 17, 1492 in the town of Santa Fe, on the outskirts of Granada, which includes the agreements reached with Christopher Columbus regarding his planned expedition by sea to the west.

  • Sale of Indulgences: It is when the church sold, especially to the rich, the forgiveness of sins since indulgences are those sins that only the church can forgive.

  • Humanism: A new type of world view which said that the human was the center of the world and defend the classical values (individualism, power, fame…) It also used the philosophical, literary and artwork of the Greeks and Romans as inspirations

Beginning of the Modern Age

The modern age is the historical period from the 15th to the 18th century

Two important dates at the beginning of the modern age are 1453, since it was the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, and 1492, on this date Christopher Columbus discovered America.

Changes in the Modern and Middle Age

The International Panorama

The disappearance of the Byzantine Empire; following the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, Western Christianity felt increasingly under threat from the Muslim world

The geographical discoveries made by the Portuguese and Castilians in Africa, America, and Asia extended the frontiers of the world known to Europeans. Thanks to these discoveries some countries, such as Spain or Portugal, established extensive colonial empires whose wealth stimulated world trade

The struggle for European hegemony confronted the major states against one another; during the 16th century the Spanish state imposed its dominance

The feudal system entered a period of crisis

Western religious unity collapsed. This rupture was prompted by the Protestant Reformation and gave rise to a number of serious armed conflicts known as the ‘Wars of Religion’

Medieval culture was replaced by a new worldview, humanism, which was focused on the human being, giving rise to a new artistic style: the Renaissance

Causes of the Discoveries

Political causes. From the monarchs who were establishing their authority, the conquest of territories was an opportunity to acquire gold and silver to finance their rule as well as gain personal glory

Economic consequences. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks had closed the traditional European route. There was interest in finding a new sea route to India and China, as well as a route giving direct access to Sudan’s gold mines and other North African Products

Scientific causes. Books argued that the earth was round and much smaller than it really is. As a result, curious sailors considered it feasible to reach India or China by sailing westwards

Castilla, the Discovery of America

Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, believed that the earth was round, he wanted to cross the Atlantic until he reached what he thought was India. He offered it to the king but he refused. Because of this, he offered it to the Catholic kings who accepted it in their capitulations of holy faith. He set sail with three boats until he reached a land that he baptized as El Salvador and before leaving he visited Cuba and La Española. He returned three more times before dying, believing that he had reached India.

The Instruments of Royal Power

Territorial unification. They unified their territories and extended the size for their state by waging wars and negotiating marriage alliances

Control of the state’s powers. Monarchs imposed their authority on the high-ranking nobility, restricted the autonomy of the municipalities, exerted influence over the allocation of positions of authority and summoned Parliament as little as possible

Improved administration, the monarch’s courts be established in one city, which became the capital city; a bureaucracy of professional civil servants was created to carry out the monarch’s orders and standard taxes were levied, which provided regular income without monarchs having to approach Parliament

Creation of a permanent army. Monarchs substituted the feudal troops, who were only called into service at times of war, with a permanent army that was basically made up of paid mercenaries

The Causes of the Reformation

Contempt for the papacy and the clergy. The Roman Catholic Church was very powerful in Europe. However, many popes were primarily concerned with themselves and their interests and did not reside in their dioceses.

The abuses of the church. The church had favoritism towards the high clergy and consequently the indigent were sold forgiveness of sins.

Catholic Counter-Reformation

The Council of Trent. Establishes Catholic doctrine (good works were necessary to achieve salvation) the bishops will begin to live in their dioceses and there will be seminaries for the training of priests

The Society of Jesus. It was founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and its members had to make a special vow of obedience to the Pope, they received a solid theological training and dedicated themselves to preaching and education.

Basic Characteristics of Humanism

Antiquity was taken as a model, produced by Greeks and Romans, they were studied, disseminated and used as a source of inspiration.

Humanity was conceived as the center of the world. In medieval times a theocentric vision of life dominated in which God was the center. Humanists or intellectuals defended an anthropocentric vision along with human values such as freedom and reason.