The Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494
  • Columbus explored Caribbean islands.
  • Spain, seeking wealth and power, claimed control of the islands.
  • Portugal, with its own ambitions, disputed Spain's claims.
  • Aided by Pope Alexander IV, Spain and Portugal negotiated a treaty.
  • Lands discovered west of a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands would belong to Spain.
  • Lands discovered east of a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands would belong to Portugal.
  • Treaty favored Spain: most of Americas was west of the line.
  • Spain claimed much of the Americas.
  • Spanish colonies yielded incredible wealth for Spain, especially silver and gold.
  • Spanish language and culture became key elements of Latin American culture.
  • Brazil became a Portuguese colony and retains much Portuguese culture today.
  • England, France, and other countries did not recognize the agreement and established their own colonies in the Americas.

Analyze Charts

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.

Reaching Faraway Lands

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 Divide Up the World

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.

Naming the Western Hemisphere

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.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments