Major European Explorations by Sea, 1291–1610

Europe of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a continent threatened from without by the Ottoman Empire.* However, the most serious challenge to the unity of post–Reformation Europe arose from political and religious divisions within Europe itself. In many cases, entire countries were dominated by one religious orthodoxy, as was the case for Spain and Italy in which Roman Catholicism held sway. In just as many instances, however, religious beliefs varied within political borders, which led to considerable conflict as religions vied for dominance. Europe of the late sixteenth century was a continent of many major city powers, including Rome (1), London (2), Paris (3), Vienna (4), and Prague (5). Each of these urban centers represented political, religious, and cultural power in Europe. * See the Vol. C map “The Ottoman Empire” for more about this powerful and expansive empire, which was a nexus point between the diverse cultures of West Asia, Europe, and North Africa.