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The Treaty of Tordesillas resolved a major territorial dispute between Spain and Portugal. Whose rights and claims were not addressed by this treaty?
A few weeks sailing west, he reasoned, would bring a ship to eastern Asia. His plan made sense, but Columbus greatly underestimated Earth's size—and he had no idea that two continents, North and South America, lay in his path.
Portugal refused to sponsor him, but Columbus persuaded Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to finance his voyage. To increase their authority, the Spanish rulers had taken radical measures, including expelling Jews from Spain. They hoped their actions would strengthen Catholicism. However, the loss of some of Spain's most affluent and cultured people weakened the nation. The rulers hoped Columbus's voyage would bring wealth and prestige.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus sailed west with three small ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. Although the expedition encountered good weather and a favorable wind, no land came into sight for many weeks. Provisions ran low, and the crew became anxious. Finally, on October 12, land was spotted.
Columbus spent several months cruising the islands of the Caribbean. Because he thought he had reached the Indies, he called the people of the region “Indians.” In 1493, he returned to Spain to a hero's welcome. In three later voyages, Columbus remained convinced that he had reached the coast of east Asia. Before long, though, other Europeans realized that Columbus had found a route to previously unknown continents.
Spain and Portugal each pressed rival claims to the islands Columbus explored. With the support of the pope, the two countries agreed to settle their claims and signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. It set a Line of Demarcation, dividing the non-European world into two zones. Spain had trading and exploration rights in any lands west of the line, including most of the Americas. Portugal had the same rights east of the line. The actual Line of Demarcation was unclear because geography at the time was not precise. However, the treaty allowed Spain and Portugal to claim vast areas in their zones. It also spurred other European nations to challenge Spanish and Portuguese claims and build their own trade empires.
An Italian sea captain named Amerigo Vespucci wrote a journal describing his voyage to Brazil. In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller used Vespucci's descriptions of his voyage to publish a map of the region, which he labeled “America.” Over time, the term “Americas” came to be used for both continents of the Western Hemisphere.