The Age of Discovery, or the Age of Exploration (approximately from the beginning of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century), is an informal and loosely defined term for the period in European history in which extensive overseas exploration emerged as a powerful factor in European culture and which was the beginning of globalization. It also marks the rise of the widespread adoption of colonialism and mercantilism as national policies in Europe. Many lands previously unknown to Europeans were discovered by them during this period, though most were already inhabited. From the perspective of many non-Europeans, the Age of Discovery marked the arrival of invaders from previously unknown continents.
European exploration outside the Mediterranean started with the Portuguese discoveries of the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and Azores in 1419 and 1427, then the coast of Africa after 1434 until the establishment of the sea route to India in 1498 by Vasco da Gama; and from the Crown of Castile (Spain) with the trans-Atlantic voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas between 1492–1502 and the first circumnavigation of the globe between 1519–1522 by Juan Sebastián Elcano. These discoveries led to numerous naval expeditions across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and land expeditions in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia that continued into the late 19th century, followed by the exploration of the polar regions in the 20th century.
European overseas exploration led to the rise of global trade and the European colonial empires, with the contact between the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and the New World (the Americas and Australia) producing the Columbian exchange, a wide transfer of plants, animals, food, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases and culture between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. The Age of Discovery and later European exploration allowed the mapping of the world, resulting in a new worldview and distant civilizations coming into contact, but also led to the propagation of diseases that decimated populations not previously in contact with Eurasia and Africa; including the enslavement, exploitation, military conquest, and economic dominance by Europe and its colonies over native populations. It also allowed for the expansion of Christianity throughout the world: with the spread of missionary activity, it eventually became the world's largest religion.
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In Age of Discovery 2.3