The European voyages of exploration in the 1500s and 1600s set off a chain of events that brought major changes to the world. Over the next centuries, European exploration and expansion overseas affected people from Asia, Africa, and the Americas to Europe itself.
This 1592 engraving shows ships preparing to leave Lisbon, Portugal, bound for Asia and the Americas.
When Columbus returned to Spain in March 1493, he brought with him plants and animals that he had found in the Americas. Later that year, Columbus returned to the Americas with some 1,200 settlers and a collection of European animals and plants. In this way, Columbus began a vast global exchange that would profoundly affect the world. Because this exchange began with Columbus, we call it the Columbian Exchange.
In the Americas, Europeans found a variety of foods that were new to them, including tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers. They eagerly transported these to Europe. Two of these new foods, corn and potatoes, became important foods in the Old World. Easy to grow and store, potatoes helped feed Europe's rapidly growing population. Corn spread all across Europe and to Africa and Asia, becoming one of the world's most important cereal crops.
Europeans also carried a wide variety of plants and animals to the Americas, including wheat and grapes from Europe and bananas and sugar cane from Africa and Asia.