Ports as Tools of European Expansion



Ports became one of the tools of the expansion of European influence with the great discoveries of the 15th century, the prelude to what some historians have described as the first age of globalisation. This explains why the ports of the Atlantic coast benefited from their advantageous location, promoted by states which, from Spain to the Dutch Republic, asserted their global maritime ambitions. The control of the sea lanes linking metropoles with their colonial empires also explains the creation of powerful arsenal ports and overseas naval bases. Over the centuries, the influence of commercial ports followed the evolution of the economic and political power relations of Atlantic Europe. In the 19th century, the English ports, starting with London and Liverpool, emerged as the most powerful in Europe. However, from the 1860s onwards, at the heart of the process of globalisation resulting from the industrial revolution, the most powerful port range in the world developed between Le Havre and Hamburg.

Hamburg: New tall ship port at the Asia quay around 1890-1900 (anonymous photochrom ©Library of Congress, Washington).