The Unlikely Empire

How could early 16th century Portugal, a tiny country of less than a million people, sitting on the edge of the civilized world, forge a global empire that rivaled that of England and Spain? The answer is brains, guts, determination, and a beckoning open expanse of restless ocean at its doorstep.

Sleek caravels of oak with shallow draft
Dropped down the Tejus on the King’s command
With iron-hard crews that knew their ancient craft
And to the sea and out of sight of land
They hugged the ragged, fetid Guinea coast
As step by step they journeyed further south
At headlands planted there a stone milepost
And mapped the rivers upstream from the mouth
In time they found the southernmost land’s end
Of Africa, and then sailed grimly on
To the unknown where strong trade winds would send
The ships to India one fated dawn
The riches of the fabled East went home
To Portugal where spices, silver, gold
Not seen since the far distant days of Rome
Were brought ashore to gloried stories told
Diaz, da Gama took their fragile ships
So fragile even for their early day
On voyages that ever would eclipse
All other journeys ever underway

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