The early modern period has been traditionally seen by Europeans as the first great age in which Europe reached out beyond its geographical boundaries to trade with and ultimately colonise the non-European world. For many historians it was this very expansionism which distinguished the early modern period from what went before. The great explosion of Portuguese and Castilian (or Castilian-sponsored) exploration and then conquest which began in the mid-fifteenth century was seen as the point at which Europe, which had been under pressure from outside for the previous millennium, finally took the initiative and began to expand. This expansion altered the cultural and psychological profile of the continent and led to economic change, especially in the Atlantic regions, which were most conveniently placed geographically to benefit from extra-European maritime contact.
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