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After ten weeks of sailing Columbus came to an island he named San Salvador. Though actually landing in what is now known as the Bahamas , Columbus proclaimed he had discovered the western route to the East. Excitedly, Spain claimed control over the discovery. Portugal and Spain, the two leaders in fifteenth century exploration, had a short time earlier in and reached agreement that Spain would control the Atlantic region around the Canary Islands , and Portugal would hold rights to lands discovered south of the Canary Islands and west of Africa.

In the Pope issued a charter called Aeterni Regis officially recognizing the agreement. Portugal, however, argued that the islands Columbus encountered were actually islands in the Atlantic Ocean previously claimed by their own explorers. Because Spain and Portugal were the two primary Catholic powers, requests for resolution to the serious dispute went directly to Pope Alexander IV. The Pope issued a decree in May , creating an imaginary north-south line separating the claims of Spain and Portugal.

Spain was to assert exclusive control of lands west of the line, Portugal to the east. Excluded were lands already claimed by other European nations. With further exploration, Portugal soon realized that Spain got the better of the deal and that the line's placement even threatened their exploration routes around Africa. Portugal returned to the Pope seeking a revision. In June , Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors meeting at Tordesillas in northwestern Spain moved the line leagues further west.

The exact position of the line, however, was never very clear since the league unit of measure varied among countries at that time. Also, the Cape Verde Islands are 60 leagues wide, leaving doubt as to whether the distance to the line was to be measured from the east coast of the islands or the west. Columbus made three additional voyages between and , exploring the Virgin Islands , Jamaica, Puerto Rico , and Trinidad.


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Not until later was it concluded that Columbus' findings were not in the East. Portugal maintained its interest in seeking a route around Africa, and navigator Vasco da Gama — reached India in Meanwhile, subsequent voyages by Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral in east of the line established by the treaty led to the discovery of Brazil. Inland exploration westward from the Brazilian coast penetrated well beyond the line, but there was no opposition from Spain.

As a result, Portugal established claim to a vast region of South America. As the following century revealed, the Treaty of Tordesillas greatly favored Spain economically. West of the line Spain asserted claims over Mesoamerica, including the wealthy Aztec society, and Andean South America , containing the Inca.

The Spanish colonies yielded incredible wealth with finds of silver and gold. Portuguese found very little such wealth.

A Brief History of the Age of Exploration

Other cultural implications of the division also extended far into the future with Latin America and the Caribbean being Spanish-speaking regions west of the line, and Brazil being the one nation with Portuguese as its official language. Treaty influences, however, were limited as other European countries never recognized the agreement and proceeded with their own explorations and claims of discovery in the western hemisphere. Money and credit arrangements underlay the great expansion of trade. Spaniards brought back gold, pearls, jewels, and - above all - silver from their American colonies.

Altogether it has been estimated that between and some tons of gold and 16, tons of silver arrived in Europe from the Spanish colonies. The scope and the scale of long-distance trade changed greatly. T he European economy was poised to take advantage of the expanded trade. Bell, Christopher R. Portugal and the Quest for the Indies.

New York : Barnes and Noble, Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, and Laurence Whitehead. New York : Cambridge University Press, The creation of permanent settlements and colonies created a network of communication and trade, therefore ending the need to search for new routes. It is important to note that exploration did not cease entirely at this time. Eastern Australia was not officially claimed for Britain by Capt. James Cook until , while much of the Arctic and Antarctic were not explored until the 19th century. Much of Africa also was unexplored by Westerners until the early 20th centuries.

The Age of Exploration had a significant impact on geography. By traveling to different regions around the globe, explorers were able to learn more about areas such as Africa and the Americas and bring that knowledge back to Europe. Methods of navigation and mapping improved as a result of the travels of people such as Prince Henry the Navigator. Prior to his expeditions, navigators had used traditional portolan charts, which were based on coastlines and ports of call, keeping sailors close to shore.

The Spanish and Portuguese explorers who journeyed into the unknown created the world's first nautical maps, delineating not just the geography of the lands they found but also the seaward routes and ocean currents that led them there. As technology advanced and known territory expanded, maps and mapmaking became more and more sophisticated.

These explorations also introduced a whole new world of flora and fauna to Europeans. Corn, now a staple of much of the world's diet, was unknown to Westerners until the time of the Spanish conquest, as were sweet potatoes and peanuts. Likewise, Europeans had never seen turkeys, llamas, or squirrels before setting foot in the Americas. The Age of Exploration served as a stepping stone for geographic knowledge.

Age of Discovery: Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch Explorers

It allowed more people to see and study various areas around the world, which increased geographic study, giving us the basis for much of the knowledge we have today. The effects of colonization still persist as well, with many of the world's former colonies still considered the "developing" world and the colonizers the First World countries, holding a majority of the world's wealth and receiving a majority of its annual income.

Share Flipboard Email. Table of Contents Expand. The Birth of the Age of Exploration.

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The Discovery of the New World. Opening the Americas.


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The Portugal Story: Three Centuries of Exploration and Discovery

Long-Term Impact. Updated January 24, Impact of the Age of Exploration Explorers learned more about areas such as Africa and the Americas and brought that knowledge back to Europe. Massive wealth accrued to European colonizers due to trade in goods, spices, and precious metals. Methods of navigation and mapping improved, switching from traditional portolan charts to the world's first nautical maps. New food, plants, and animals were exchanged between the colonies and Europe.