Easy may not be the right word. Somewhat convoluted as I draw connections that may not be the most intuitive, but the connections are there, and they are interesting to me. So sit down as Teacher Ticia gives you a fun homeschool history lesson that is only somewhat exaggerated.
From Plato to Sir Francis Drake
1. It all started with Plato. Plato was a Greek philosopher and scientist ages ago. This was in a time before people tied to separate the two. Plato wrote a small book giving the history of Atlantis. Current historians believe this to be a fictional work, but for centuries it was believed to be real.
But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
Side note, literature and movies inspired by Atlantis: Stargate Atlantis, Disney’s Atlantis, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Stephen Lawhead’s Arthur series starts in Atlantis. Those are the ones I thought of in 2 minutes.
Philosophers of the early Renaissance theorized Atlantis was somewhere West of them. This led to much speculation, and excitement as the Age of Exploration started, would they find the remains of Atlantis?
2. The African Christian king of Prestor John.
During the middle ages, we also have a story going around that there is a Christian king somewhere in Africa who is “holding out against the Muslim hordes,” and not only that but he is fabulously wealthy because he has GOLD MINES. Now you have the three primary reasons for Spanish exploration: Gold, God, and Glory (the Three G’s). But, it wasn’t the Spanish who set off exploring. They were finishing up their own wars with the Muslims, finishing a centuries long fight to regain their kingdom. Uniting most of the Iberian peninsula with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. Or it was going to be, it hasn’t quite yet, because we’re still a few years before that point.
You know who does have money? Portugal. Portugal has managed to stay out of most of the wars the rest of Europe has been caught up in for the past few years, and is a relatively united kingdom. It also has a Prince who is interested in navigation.
3. Enter Prince Henry the Navigator
You’re going to hear more about him tomorrow, but he was convinced there was a Christian king who desperately needed help, so he sent out……
4. Bartolome Dias searches Africa
The various groups Dias interacted with knew a mark when they saw one, so every person he talked to said, “Oh yes, THAT king, well, he’s just a little further away.” So Dias kept searching and got all the way around the Southern tip of Africa, only to realize “We are not in good shape, let’s head back.”
Prince Henry was quite encouraged to hear Prestor John was somewhere, so he sent out…..
4.5. Vasco de Gama sails to India
And the whole time he sailed around Africa he kept looking for Prestor John, and kept being told, “You just missed him, he’s just that next king further on.” A couple of times de Gama was so eager to find Prestor John he made stupid decisions and nearly got his entire crew killed. Eventually he limped his way to India, where he managed to insult the man in charge with the pitiful presents he gave (that’s what happens when you almost sink a couple of times).
5. Prestor John is disproved, but we have a new myth, thanks to Columbus and the Conquistadores
Christopher Columbus trying to find a new way to India to break the Portuguese monopoly, sails west and lands on a Caribbean Island. He is quite disappointed to discover they do not have gold lining the streets, but the natives have “heard a legend.” Enter our new legend to hunt for. Now we’re going to switch from the “tiny nation of Portugal” to the giant mixed up confederation that is Spain (I find the old European nations interesting because their rules are such an odd collection of contradicting laws, Spain and France in particular because they didn’t have a revolution until the 1800s, as compared to England which had its Civil War in the 1600s)
6. The Seven Cities of Cibola
Supposedly somewhere in South America there is a City with streets of gold. They have so much gold their streets are paved with it. Modern historians argue whether the natives were going with the “say anything to get them to leave us alone” defense or whether they were referring to Tenochtitlan. Since none of the natives wrote down their motives for us to find out, we’ll never know.
7. Fransisco Pizarro conquers the Incas.
He conquers the Incas, finds great wealth, further fueling the rumors of the Seven Cities of Cibola, but it was not covered in gold, so it obviously was not Cibola or El Dorado (back when we were studying this era I wanted the kids to watch El Dorado, but it wasn’t on Netflix). I mean there were no gold paved streets. Something must be wrong here. So Spain sent in a new conquistador.
8. Hernan Cortes came in and destroyed the Aztecs.
Technically they were not completely destroyed, just their seat of power was. After all the Spanish wanted someone to run their brand new farms and such, so the Aztecs were kept around to work. Back in college I visited Mexico City, and my local guide pointed out a noticeably shorter woman there, and said “She is Aztec,” and from the archeological evidence it looks like the Aztec were much shorter than we are now. I’ve visited some of their ruins and I did feel like a giant as I ducked to get in doorways, and hit my head on stuff. Jeff’s comment was “That’s a defensible doorway, if you have to duck to get through, you can’t fight as well.”
We may be a little weird.
8.5 England decides it needs to catch up .
England meanwhile sees all of the gold pouring into Catholic Spain and thinks “I want some of that, but I also don’t want Spain to have that, so I’ll have to relieve them of the ill-gotten booty. Arg!” Thus starting the fine tradition of privateers, legally sanctioned piracy.
9. Magellan circumnavigates the globe
During all of this Ferdinand Magellan definitively proves the world is round when he sails all the way around the world. True, he left over half of his crew dead in the process due to disease and all sorts of other unsavory things, but he did it. That’s what’s important.
10. Sir Francis Drake accidentally does some exploring.
Sir Francis Drake was one of England’s best sea sailors. He was also handsome, dashing and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. At one point he fell out of Elizabeth’s favor and found it expedient to get away from England. So he set forth on a long journey, that took him around the Southern tip of South America, and all the way up the coast back to North America. He figured, “While I’m out here, why not find those famous cities,” and just like happened to all of those Spanish Conquistadores, he kept getting told “Just a little farther,” until he ended up somewhere on the coast of Northern California or maybe even into Oregon. This is the part where archeologists and historians are arguing because every coastal town claims “We are where Drake wintered that one year,” and there’s been a couple of discoveries that MIGHT be it, but for the most part, nothing is looking right.
So we close this book of exploration that started with a man whose writing inspired exploration and dreams in so many ways, but he never left home with a man who disproved the myths. There was nowhere left to search and find those golden cities.