The European countries had existed in a medieval state for many, many years. Although some explorers such as Marco Polo had gone on trips to places like the Orient to procure the luxuries needed by the upper classes, never had there been an exploration and expansion from the European continent as there was in the beginning of the 15th century. This age of discovery marked the beginning of the modern period in European history and was fueled by a wide range of reasons. Although there were many reasons for this huge exploration, three main reasons appeared over and over again. The dominant three factors of the European Renaissance that prompted and promoted the exploration and settlement of the New World were the revival of learning and the development that went along with it, the development of trade and commerce, and the rise of nation states.
For more than two centuries before Columbus, Europeans started to become enthused with the ancient spirit of learning. The people rediscovered the ancient classics and started secular learning once more and this age was especially influenced by the Pythagorean understanding of geometry from around the sixth century BC. These Pythagoreans had taught the sphericity of the earth and as early as in the third century BC the earth's size was computed almost nearly correct. Aristotle's word was relied on heavily and because of this, many controversial facts were accepted in the Renaissance universities. Because there was such a revival in learning, progress in the art of navigation skyrocketed. Although no one is sure exactly where the magnetic compass originated from, the principle was known by the twelfth century, and in the fifteenth century mariners began to use the astrolabe. The cross-staff had long been used by land-locked astronomers to sight stars and find the latitude. Even with this advanced technology it was still extremely dangerous and deadly when traveling in the open sea because it was almost impossible for sailors to calculate their path.