Thursday, December 31, 2015

Roger Crowley's "Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire"

Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul. He has traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging interest in its past and culture, as well as in seafaring and eyewitness history. He is also the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, and City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas.

Crowley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, and reported the following:
I rather wished this had been the Page 98 test, as 99 is a chapter end in the US edition, little more than a short paragraph. However it describes the deteriorating relations between the Portuguese, newcomers to the Indian Ocean, and the ruler of Calicut, a key city on the West Coast of India for the trade in spices.

Conquerors traces the efforts of the Portuguese to find a sea route to India – 60 years of intense and quite single-minded effort down the coast of Africa. When Vasco da Gama finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 and crossed the Indian Ocean, he arrived with two objectives. To grab a share of the rich spice trade with Europe, and to hunt for Christian allies against the Islamic world. Instead the Portuguese found the trade of the Indian Ocean fully in the hands of Muslim merchants and that the raja of Calicut, far from being a Christian, was a ‘heathen’ – they were unaware, when they first arrived, of the existence of Hinduism. Page 99 clarifies this misconception and tilts the balance of the Portuguese presence from peaceful trade to armed violence – to the role of ‘Conquerors’.

The little known story of the Portuguese discovery of the world is the subject of my book. It focusses particularly on the crucial thirty year period from their arrival in India until they almost controlled the whole ocean. It’s something of an epic of maritime skill, ruthlessness and limitless ambition, in which a few thousand European incomers armed with a superior technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – attempted to monopolize the hub of world trade, encircle Islam and recapture Jerusalem. It’s rich in extraordinary episodes of courage and violence, trading deals, messianic crusading dreams and sea battles, for which there are excellent eyewitness accounts. By 1515 the Portuguese had laid the foundation of the first global empire –a crucial kick start to the rise of the West in world history.
Visit Roger Crowley's website.

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--Marshal Zeringue