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Tide of Empires

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Decisive Naval Campaigns in the Rise of the West, Vol. I, 1481-1654 by Peter Padfield

The publicity ballyhoo accompanying this first instalment of a new four-volume history of naval warfare from the late fifteenth century to the present day, tells us: 'Disregarding the glamorous motives which are traditionally attributed to naval commanders, Peter Padfield instead attributes the motive force to wealth and envy of wealth. Stripped of dogma, national bias and historical legend, this is a radically new view of naval history, written with all the gusto and attention to detail which has established Peter Padfield among the most readable and exciting of naval historians.'

Well, yes and no. The book is certainly written with great gusto and with discerning attention to detail; but there is nothing new in the thesis that European expansion overseas was motivated mainly by a search for wealth, whether in the form of spices, sugar, slaves, bullion, land, or whatever. God and Mammon have always gone hand in hand; nor did the architects of empire, whether King Manuel of Portugal, Hernan Cortez in Mexico, Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Indonesia, or Robert Clive in Bengal, make any secret of this fact. One does not have to be a Marxist historian to accept it; as evidenced by such works as K. M. Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance; A Survey of the Vasco da Gama Epoch of Asian History, 1498-1945 (1949), and Michael Howard, War in European History, chapter 3, 'The Wars of the Merchants' (1976).

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