The European Advance Into Asia
From the seventh century, the Arab conquest and Islamicization of the Middle East and Central Asia imposed a formidable barrier between the eastern and western parts of Eurasia. European civilization arose out of the Roman collapse without any but the dimmest awareness of what lay beyond the Arab realms and without the benefit of Asia’s far older and more sophisticated model of civilization. From classical times, trade was proportionally more important in Europe than in Asia, aside from the maritime world of Southeast Asia. Europeans were well aware of a wider and far more varied world than their own, including the Arab-Persian-Turkish world as well as the peoples and cultures of North Africa. The Portuguese dominated the spice trade and excluded rival Europeans by intimidation of local sultans, alliances or treaties with others, and a scattered string of forts as far east as Ternate and Amboina in the Moluccas.