Early Egyptian expeditions penetrated into Nubia and Mesopotamia; the Phoenicians and the Greeks explored the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions earlier than 600 B.C.; and a Phoenician expedition (c.600 B.C.) is said to have sailed around Africa. After 500 B.C. the Carthaginians explored beyond the Strait of Gibraltar to trade along the coasts of Spain and Africa. A Greek navigator, Pytheas, sailed beyond Britain c.310 B.C. The conquests of Alexander the Great brought the West in closer relationship with the East, and the Roman legions extended the limits of geographical knowledge, especially in N Europe. Trade with the East was stimulated by the discovery (c.A.D. 15) of a sea captain, Hippalus, that by using monsoon winds it was possible to sail across the Indian Ocean instead of hugging the coast. Roman trade was early established with India and Sri Lanka and later (c.A.D. 100) with China.
After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the Arabs expanded their relationships with the East. The Chinese also made many explorations in this period. One of the best-known Chinese travelers is Hsüan-tsang, who traveled (A.D. 629–646) to India and farther west. Exploration by Europeans was carried on during the Middle Ages by Norse adventurers and colonists who crossed the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland, and North America. Their journeys, however, did not have much influence on the rest of Europe. European knowledge of Asia gained during the Crusades was extended by the journeys across Asia made by missionaries and by Marco Polo.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.