The West in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The expansion of European trade overseas had a positive impact on the economy of the West. It resulted in slave trade whereby the Portuguese invaded West Africa and began trading in slaves, silver and gold. These were the major products that improved the economy of the West. Slaves were important in providing labor for mining and farming. Silver was also traded and to a large extent lifted the economy of Europe. Sugar was also a major commodity that led to the advancement of the European economy. Sugar farming was initially practiced in South Asia. The use of sugar by many house holds made it a commodity that was largely traded in the European market.

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In the mid seventeenth century, the Economy of the West was largely an agricultural one. Many individual house holds produced agricultural products such as sugar, although there were plantations that produced in large scale. Silver was also one of the precious items of trade. Merchants traded in silver from Asian countries such as China and India. This trade helped to boost the economy of the West to a large extent. The European merchants risked their lives to establish mines in foreign countries where they usually met resistance that some times resulted in violent confrontations.

The economy of the West grew because of many factors. Sugar, slave trade, and silver played an important role in economic development as well as political and cultural change. The European sugar trade dominated the Atlantic market. Initially, sugar was a commodity that was mainly meant for the rich. Later, it became a commodity for many families. This made sugar trade in the seventeenth century to be one of the most lucrative. Its production was boosted by slave trade which provided the desired labor for its production. Sugar became an important commodity for export thereby becoming a major income earner for European countries. Sugar planters invested in plantations while merchants exported large volumes of sugar. They employed European workers in the sugar production. The colonial governments of many European colonies invested highly in sugar production thereby providing revenue in form of taxes to the producing colonies. Sugar generated income for the European economies to a large extent. Provision of employment improved the standards of living of many European households. Commercial production of sugar gained momentum after the Portuguese explored the African Coast in the Atlantic region in the mid 14th century. Slaves provided labor for sugar production making the sugar industry a very lucrative business (Churchill 2008 pp.101-103).

Before the introduction of sugar, people used to take honey for the purposes of sweetening for food and drinks. However, these were replaced by sugar that was initially considered to be a luxury. This created a high demand for the product, thereby making it a lucrative business to deal with the product. Many house holds could afford sugar when its prices fell and therefore the market expanded especially due to the fact that many of the refreshing beverages required sugar. The demand for sugar was also raised by an increase in the consumption of caffeine drinks. The profitability of sugar was boosted by the availability of slaves who worked in the sugar plantations. Together with sugar were other agricultural products that helped to boost the economy. The production of sugarcane was involving and tiresome. The slaves helped to ease the production process. The economy of the West can therefore be largely attributed to slaves who were mainly purchased from Africa.

The colonial masters had realized that the large tracks of land that they had could not be useful without adequate labor. They found it easier to purchase slaves who could be engaged in farming in the large tracks of land in America where the Europeans themselves and the natives could not afford to work. These slaves were acquired from the trans-Saharan slave trade which was the major source of slaves. The slaves worked in sugar plantations, and most of the profits gained from the sale of the sugar products were used for acquiring more slaves.

Slave trade was one of the most significant in the development of the European economy. The slaves worked in the sugar farms and factories where their labor was maximized for sugar production. The European economy highly depended on slaves for labor. Slave trade was made commercial to an extent that the Spanish, British and Roman empires were popular due to this trade. The rich purchased slaves to maintain their cities and homes. The expansion of agriculture led to the importation of large numbers of slaves to work in farms. The survival of many European colonies largely depended on slaves. They were also used for mining especially for silver which was a very essential commodity in the economy. The key to development in the slave trade in the 17th century was mainly the opening out of new global exports to European countries. This was particularly the case of the crops that were produced in plantations, mainly sugar, coffee and tobacco. The culture of the Europeans was largely affected by importation of products especially regarding their diet. The demand for imported goods rose due to favorable prices in the European market. This promoted the trade since merchants were able to import more goods especially sugar. This boosted the economy of the West.

Asian silver played a major role in the European economy. China and India were the major sources of silver that was traded by the West. The European nations maintained a large fraction of their silver exports. It was usually more than two thirds of the total silver exports. This maintained a trade deficit between the Asian countries and Europe. The world silver was the most important commodity for export in the Asian countries. It also played a significant role in the European economy. This is because the Europeans sourced silver from the mining countries after which they traded lucratively.

Merchants from European countries such as Portugal, Spain, and Italy who had earlier been trading with the ports of North Africa were attracted by the African gold. This gold trade was lucrative and played a significant role in the European economies. Trading stations were established in Africa. The rapidly growing European economy provided market for the African gold. African gold and silver was used to pay for imported luxuries in Europe. The Europeans used the profits earned from the gold trade to buy the Asian products. The purchasing power of Europe was used to dominate the silver trade. The intra Asian trade generated profits for the West than any other country that participated in the trade (Grace 1996 pp.37-41).

The political landscape of the West was largely influenced by the silver trade which had grown to a large extent. The political landscape largely depends on the economy and the stronger the economy; the more advanced the political orientation. Apart from affecting the politics of the West, silver trade largely affected the culture and lifestyles of the Europeans. It improved the standards of living of the people. The Europeans were always quick to set up mines in order for them to take advantage of the newly discovered mineral. However, all these activities involved conflicts that led to loss of lives of the natives and the Europeans. The value for the precious metal motivated them to ensure that they established mines regardless of the resistance.

Some times there were violent confrontations between the natives and the Europeans which led to the suppression of some nations. The silver mines established by the Europeans were the most profitable mines. People migrated to seek work in the mines leading to establishment of settlements around the mines. The emergence of world trade is largely attributed to silver mining. The importation of silver to a large extent improved the economic situation of European countries as well as the global economy. It led to financial modernization in many economies that participated in the silver trade. Silver was used to support the military in Spain in their war to defend territorial boundaries. The spread of silver peso across Europe was rapid due to the use by the military. This made the silver peso to become a common currency.

Silver mining had a strong impact on both the nations where it was mined as well as those who traded in it. Those countries which had dealings with Europe also benefited from the trade. Employment creation was one aspect of the economy that improved the lives of the people and also affected their culture since they could now change for the better due to the availability of money to purchase essential commodities. There was also a mixture of culture as people came from different parts to trade in silver and agricultural products such as sugar. Spain gained European dominance because of its intensive trade in silver. China was also, presented with more opportunities for trading in the European market since it was the major source of silver that was traded in Europe. The silver trade eventually became global thereby opening up the global economy. The economic system became highly integrated and Europe largely benefited from this.

Europe used the imported silver to exchange for textiles and other commodities. The countries that traded with silver became world powers due to the importance that was attached to silver. The European culture was affected to a great extent due to the use of gold and silver that were initially used by African cultures for the prominent and the wealthy. Gold and silver artisans began trade as the use of gold and silver necklaces and jewelry became valued by the rich and the prominent members of the society. They were mainly used by high class citizens. The jewelry was incorporated in the Western culture and was used as indicators of various issues such as engagement rings. House hold items were made from gold and silver as a sign of wealth. This was notably practiced in Rome (Lawless 2001 pp. 121-125).



The economy of the West is one of the greatest economies that exist in the current day. However, it has been faced with many challenges in its development. Slave trade was a major factor that favored its advancement before it was abolished. The investment in agriculture and trading in minerals were the key factors that promoted the European economy which grew rapidly for many years. Africa was the major contributor of the raw materials that were traded as well as labor that was provided by slaves. The largely integrated economy that exists today is attributed to the silver trade.


  1. Churchill L. 2008. The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Journal on Atlantic History: volume 4.
  2. Grace U. 1996. The History of Sugar and the Development of Plantations. Saffron Walden: C.W.
  3. Lawless J. 2001. Essential Steps in Development. An Illustrated Guide. Hammersmith: Harper Collins.
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