The Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494

Portugal had been the pioneer in the systematic approach to explore the world's oceans in order to open sea routes to India. For decades the Portuguese had been without a rival and, therefore, in no hurry. This suddenly changed in 1492, with Columbus' discovery of the West Indies; Columbus had established young Spain as a naval power with interest in the Atlantic.
The old theory of the world being flat was now quickly given up and it was evident that Spain and Portugal found themselves in a tight competition. Papal diplomacy - Pope Alexander VI., civilian name RODRIGO DE BORJA, was himself a Spaniard - intervened in order to assure that the two Catholic nations would use their resources to spread christianity over the world rather than to fight each other. The result was the TREATY OF TORDESILLAS (1494), a treaty in which Spain and Portugal divided the world outside christian Europe into a Portuguese hemisphere, which included the west coast of Africa, already surveyed by Bartolomeo Diaz and others, and a Spanish hemisphere including the Caribbean islands discovered by Columbus.

The line separating both spheres was fixed at 46 degrees 37 minutes western longitude by the Treaty of Tordesillas, to be completed by a corresponding line at 130 degrees eastern longitude in the TREATY OF ZARAGOZA in 1529.
The line ran through South America, leaving the larger part of that continent to Spain and a chunk of eastern South America, mostly jungle country, to Portugal. In the East, the treaties of 1494 and 1529 left all of Africa and most of Asia in the Portuguese sector. However, there were disputes over the borders; in the early 1500s, Portugal claimed Newfoundland (which according to the Tordesillas agreement was located in the Spanish sector); the Spanish attempted to take hold of the Moluccas which according to the Treaty of Zaragoza was Portuguese. The Spanish then accepted Portuguese rule over the Moluccas in return for Portuguese recognition of Spanish rule over the Philippines; Spanish and Portuguese traders and missionaries competed in Japan and China. However, the Spanish did not pursue political ambitions (except for the Chinese and Japanese markets, and for the Philippines, for which they negotiated Portuguese consent, as it was located within the Portuguese sphere) and the Portuguese did not pursue political interests within the Spanish sphere of interest.

The treaty assigned huge spheres to both nations, which, for the most part, were uncharted territories for both of them. Both sides felt compelled to speed up with the charting of their sectors, and within a few years knowledge of world geography made huge progress. In 1498 VASCO DA GAMA reached India sailing around Africa, in 1500 Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal. Parts of Brazil's northern coast had been discovered by AMERIGO VESPUCCI, another Italian sailing for Spain, in 1499/1500. In 1519, FERDINAND MAGELLAN, a Portuguese national sailing for Spain, began the first circumnavigation of the globe. He was slain on the Philippines, but one of his ships, with a crew of 80 (out of 300 who ventured out) returned in 1522.
Spain was to conquer most of Latin America, as well as the Philippines. Portugal was to establish a chain of fortified trading posts along the coasts of Africa and Asia, was to take control of the sea trade in these oceans. Further it was to take possession of Brazil, today the largest Portuguese-speaking nation.

Spain and Portugal regarded the Treaties of Tordesillas and Zaragoza as binding, any intrusion in their 'rights' an illegal act. As late as 1802 a Spanish fleet sailed out to destroy a Russian settlement in Alaska.
England, France and the Dutch Republic regarded the Treaties of Tordesillas and Zaragoza as illegitimate, not because the Spanish and Portuguese had partitioned lands that did not belong to them, but because they were excluded. The English, French and Dutch therefore promoted PRIVATEERING, a business which quickly escalated to a point when the communication between Spain and her American colonies was virtually paralized. English, French and Dutch colonial policies followed after.
In the Caribbean and Central America, a plantation economy developed which depended heavily on slave labour, imported from Africa. Africa, however, was situated within the Portuguese sector; the Spanish colonies, therefore, depended on foreign merchants for their supply in slaves (Asiento-Trade). In 1777/1778 Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso, in which Spain conceded territory in modern western Brasil to Portugal, in return for the island of Fernando Poo and a claim over the African coast between the Niger and the Ogoue estuaries; now, finally, Spain could supply her own colonies with slaves (the project failed).

Treaty of Tordesillas, from WebChron
Article Treaty of Tordesillas, from Wikipedia
El Tratado de Tordesillas, from La Expansion Europea, in Spanish
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Inter Caetera Bull by Pope Alexander VI., 1493, from Caribbean History posted by KWABS
Preliminary Treaty of San Ildefonso, 1777, from FRONTEIRAS E LIMITES DO BRASIL (Borders and Limits of Brazil), in Portuguese

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 14th 2004

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