In the 100 years from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century, a combination of circumstances stimulated men to seek new routes; and it was new routes rather than new lands that filled the minds of kings and commoners, scholars and seamen. First, toward the end of the 14th century, the vast empire of the Mongols was breaking up; thus, Western merchants could no longer be ensured of safe-conduct along the land routes. Second, the growing power of the Ottoman Turks, who were hostile to Christians, blocked yet more firmly the outlets to the Mediterranean of the ancient sea routes from the East. Third, new nations on the Atlantic shores of Europe were now ready to seek overseas trade and adventure.
T he 16th century witnessed important changes occurring in Europe. The limitations bounding medieval society were gradually being breached; the concepts of the Renaissance were being accepted farther west, in France, Flanders, and, finally, England and Spain. People expected a higher standard of living, and there was an expanding middle class. Europe was also looking outward. From Portugal, Spain, and Italy especially, sailors were voyaging to explore both east and west. Their journeys brought the acquisition of riches, new materials, and precious metals.