In the fourteenth century, a number of political developments cut Europe’s overland trade routes to southern and eastern Asia, with which Europe had had important and highly profitable commercial ties since the twelfth century. This development, coming as it did when the bottom had fallen out of the European economy, provided an impetus to a long-held desire to secure direct relations with the East by establishing a sea trade. Widely reported, if somewhat distrusted, accounts by figures like the famous traveler from Venice, Marco Polo, of the willingness of people in China to trade with Europeans and of the immensity of the wealth to be gained by such contact made the idea irresistible. Possibilities for trade seemed promising, but no hope existed for maintaining the traditional routes over land A new way had to be found. The chief problem was technological: How were the Europeans to reach the East? Europe’s maritime tradition had developed in the context of easily navigable seas—the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and, to a lesser extent, the North Sea between England and the Continent—not of vast oceans. New types of ships were needed, new methods of finding one’s way, new techniques for financing so vast a scheme. The sheer scale of the investment it took to begin commercial expansion at sea reflects the immensity of the profits that such East-West trade could create Spices were the most sought-after commodities. Spices not only dramatically improved the taste of the European diet but also were used to manufacture perfumes and certain medicines. But even high-priced commodities like spices had to be transported in large bulk in order to justify the expense and trouble of sailing around the African continent all the way to India and China.
According to the passage why was it necessary to find a new way for European merchants to reach the East?