Nigel Cliff's HOLY WAR (2011) is a minutely detailed study of Portuguese Atlantic and Pacific Ocean voyages of discovery and conquest from the 15th to the 17th Centuries. Discoveries included the west and east coasts of Africa, Madagascar, India, the Spice Islands, the Azores, Madeira and Brazil -- among others. Like the Spanish and other early ocean navigators, the Portuguese began with weak skills and ships acquired or created by time spent on the land-bounded Mediterranean Sea. Slowly the Portuguese built larger and different vessels for voyages over boundless stretches at sea far from land, with improved sails and designs, a greater understanding by mariners of winds and currents and better navigational aids.
If, like me, you heard in grade school a little something at least about Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco Da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan and a lot more about Atlantic explorer Christopher Columbus, Nigel Cliff will complete their skeletons for you and put meat and dimensions on their bones.
Cliff's original contribution, he says, to the scholarly study of Portuguese explorations by sea, is to frame them in terms of HOLY WAR's subtitle: HOW VASCO DA GAMA'S EPIC VOYAGES TURNED THE TIDE IN A CENTURIES-OLD CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS.
Yes, a long string of Portuguese rulers (with Royal English Lancastrian blood in their genealogy) wanted affordable supplies of Asian spices. Yes, Muslims monopolized that trade up the Red Sea to Egypt. Yes, Venice was the major European middleman in the profitable spice trade. But what historians before Cliff failed to emphasize was the centuries old war between two civilizations: European Christianity and Arab-North African Islam. By contrast Cliff devotes the first six of 19 chapters to the distant religious-historical antecedents to the 1498 voyage to India of Vasco Da Gama.
Portuguese monarchs were determined to drive Muslims completely out of India, chase them back into and up the Red Sea, capture Egypt, reconquer the Holy Land, retake North Africa and convert all muslims to Christianity. We see this crusade at work from the very beginning when Vasco Da Gama first encountered Muslims in Calicut and other Indian trading ports. Originally mistaking Hindus for Christians, the early Portuguese presented themselves as allies against Muslim enemies of God. Rajahs were to drive out all Muslims. Period!
Over time Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England put militant Islam on the defensive. Europeans avenged the taking in 1453 of Constantinople. European Christian forces repelled the Muslim assaults on Vienna in 1529 and 1683. And eventually large parts of the Far East became parts of European empires.
Nigel Cliff's HOLY WAR provides maps, paintings and contemporary drawings of places and peoples discovered by Portugal. Its NOTES are extensive (pp. 424 - 511). Its SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY (512 - 526) and INDEX (527 - 547) are ample, informative and well written for your reading pleasure. When you have turned the final page of HOLY WAR you will be well informed about Christian-Islamic-Far Eastern warfare, trade and cultural misunderstandings that shaped our modern world. -OOO-
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