Monday, March 9, 2015

The Treaty of Tordesillas: Guide of the Age of Exploration and towards the Modern World

Portuguese copy of the Treaty of Tordesillas
The Age of Exploration in the 15th century and next opened new lands for Europe to discover and exploit. It became a new chapter in world history. At the start of this age two powers – Spain and Portugal - emerged and competed with each other. With the discovery of the New World, the Iberian Peninsula became engulf with tension for a potential conflict over discoveries and colonies not just in the Americas but around the world. The tension only ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

The Age of Exploration of the Iberian countries of Spain and Portugal prompted the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas. During the latter half of the 1400’s Spain and Portugal funded expeditions that resulted to numerous geographic discovery. Portugal discovered a southern route to the Indian Ocean and India via the Cape of Good. While in 1492, Christopher Colombus, funded by Spain, discovered the New World or the Americas. But the new ground shaking discoveries resulted to tensions between two contending powers. They squabbled over the jurisdiction of newly discovered lands. Spain and Portugal wanted to avoid overlapping territories as well as conflicting interest over new found lands. Both Catholic Kingdoms then sought the guidance of the most powerful man in Europe – the Pope.

The Spanish Pope, Alexander VI, heard the conflict between Spain and Portugal and decided to interfere in 1493. He published a series of Bulls or orders that aimed to deescalate the friction between the two neighboring powers. The Inter Caetera Divinae became the most important of all the bulls Pope Alexander VI published concerning the newly discovered lands. The Inter Caetera Divinae or just Inter Caetera divided the Atlantic Ocean into two spheres of influence – west and east. The bull set the demarcation line at 100 leagues west of the Azores Island. It suggested that lands in the west belonged to Spain and lands in the east belonged to Portugal. It meant that the Americas became Spain’s turf while Africa and Asia became Portugal’s.

But the Inter Caetera did not completely ended the conflict. Portugal’s King Joao II did not became satisfied. Throughout the rest of 1493, Portugal sent envoys to Barcelona, and negotiate with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela of Spain to suggest other alternatives of dividing lands. It seemed that Portugal wanted to extend the demarcation line further west. Many interpreted this as a sign that King Joao II had a knowledge of the extent of the size of the New World. By the following year, Spain and Portugal conducted successful negotiations in Lisbon and Medina del Campo resulted to fruitful resolution of the issue of demarcation.

In June 7, 1494, the fruits of talks resulted to the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas. It followed the concept of the Inter Caetera. It divided the Atlantic into two spheres with a north to south line placed 370 leagues west of Cape Verde, 270 leagues more than originally stated in the bull, and gave west to Spain and east to Portugal. If the 370 league west of Cape Verde line placed in a modern map, the demarcation line significantly crossed Brazil. If only 100, it only traversed a small part of Northeastern Brazil. Hence, many believed that Portugal negotiated the moving of the line in order to gain the bountiful resources of Brazil.   

In the aftermath of the Treaty of Tordesillas, exploration and colonization became orderly and uncontested for quite some time. However, later on, the Tordesillas Treaty meant nothing. When the Protestant Reformation exploded in Europe, many Protestant kingdoms like England and the Netherlands, disregarded the Treaty and founded colonies in the Americas and Asia. France on the other encroached in South America because it only saw the Treaty of Tordesillas as a deal between only Spain and Portugal and not the whole of Europe. Worst, both signees of the Treaty violated it as well. Portugal expanded its lands from Brazil further west, crossing the demarcation line. Spain, on the other hand, violated it also by colonizing the Philippines which lay east of the demarcation line and in Asia that technically under Portugal’s sphere of influence. Hence, Spain and Portugal made amendments to the Treaty of Tordesillas and resulted to the signing of the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529. It marked the line that split the Pacific. In addition, it allowed Spain to retain the Philippines in exchange for Portugal keeping Brazil and the famed spice island of Moluccas. But as time went by, and Spain and Portugal started to be outgrown and surpassed by other European powers, the Treaty of Tordesillas became insignificant. Its final demised came in 1750, when both sides abrogated it under the Treaty of Madrid that based land ownership by occupancy.

The Treaty of Tordesillas created an impact that changed the world. Because of the Treaty, Spanish became a widely spoken language in the Americas and Portuguese only spoken in Brazil. Thanks also to the Treaty of Tordesillas, the age of exploration became organized for some time and did not resulted to a major conflict between Spain and Portugal. The Treaty of Tordesillas guided the Age of Exploration and as well as the path towards the contemporary world.

Malyn Newitt. A History of Portuguese Overseas Expansion, 1400 - 1668. New York, New York: Routledge, 2005.

Malyn Newitt. "Tordesillas, Treaty of" on Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia. E. Michael Gerli (ed.). New York, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Rosana Barbosa Nunes, "Treaty of Tordesillas" on Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia. Page, Melvin (ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2003.

John Frederick Schwaller. The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond. New York, New York: New York University, 2011.

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