The oft-quoted notion that European global expansion can be summarized in terms of the motto “for God, gold and glory” can be considered a concise, yet accurate assessment of the motives for European expeditions of exploration and conquest. This is because the phrase itself contains three different motivations for European expansion. As Lewis summarizes these motivations: “the beginnings of European worldwide exploration and empire building were linked with…the renewed Muslim offensive against Christendom, the capitalist pursuit of profit, new seafaring and war-fighting technology, and the competitive ambitions of powerful rulers.” (268) In other words, God, gold and glory designate different logics behind expansion.
Firstly, a theological motivation that is consistent with Europe’s Christian heritage, and the idea that the faith should be spread, while the honor of Christ should be upheld is found in many European examples of expansionism, such as the Crusades. These incursions into the Holy Land were perceived as necessary responses to an equally expansive threat.
Yet even in the case of the Crusades, the motivation of gold, which clearly references economic concerns, is also relevant. Expansion and the establishment of colonial bases in general meant an increase in raw material gains. With the expansion of an empire, the need for material goods to supplement wealth represents a form of vicious circle: for an empire to be an empire it must acquire new lands; to sustain these new lands it needs economic materials, for purposes of production and trade.
Lastly, glory clearly references the individual ambitions and egos of the famous historical names that pursued such policy. The desire for fame, on a purely psychological level, can be a cause for such action. At the same time, glory also represents a patriotic glory, in terms of a form of nationalism.
Hence, God, gold, and glory seems to be a succinct yet robust formula for understanding European expansion. However, as in the Lewis quote mentioned above, perhaps another aspect should be added to this formula: that of technology. Expansion and therefore the defense of God and the pursuit of gold and glory were only made possible on a global scale when technology allowed these capabilities.