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realized that Columbus had miscalculated the size of the earth and was planning on the longer route. Portugal had already begun to develop a thriving trading empire by this time. As you will see in Topic 1.8, by the time of Columbus’s westward voyage, Portugal’s navigators had already been exploring the west coast of Africa for half a century. They had also rounded the Cape of Good Hope and begun to explore the Indian Ocean.
Columbus then approached the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (see Topic 1.5) who ruled from 1469 to 1516. They were willing to take a risk on his plan. They backed his first expedition, and he set sail in August 1492. After a two-month voyage, he landed in the Bahamas and also explored parts of Cuba and Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean Sea. Columbus believed he had reached Asia and claimed the lands for Spain. Because he thought the land he had reached was the Indies, he called the area the West Indies and referred to the people as Indians. The indigenous people he met called themselves the Arawaks (peaceful) and the Caribs (brave).
Treaty of Tordesillas Columbus made three later voyages between 1493 and 1502 trying to find a way to reach the Asian mainland. However, he was unsuccessful. He never acknowledged that he had found a landmass that was previously unknown to Europeans. Columbus did explore all the major islands of the Caribbean and what is now Central America. Spain gained control of all these lands because they were west of a line established by an agreement between Spain and Portugal that created separate spheres of colonial influence called the Treaty of Tordesillas. The treaty separated their interests along a line that divided the world through eastern South America. East of the treaty line, Portugal received control of trade routes around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and a portion of South America that became eastern Brazil.
Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled along the eastern coast of South America between 1499 and 1504, was the first to refer to this area as the New World. A mapmaker used Vespucci’s first name to refer to the lands he explored, and people have called them the Americas ever since.
Mexico In the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors, or conquerors, began subduing the indigenous populations in the Americas. Conquistadors led expeditions that were sponsored by the government but privately funded.
Conquistador Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) first reached what is now Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico in 1519, when the Aztec Empire ruled most of the region. The Aztecs had an advanced civilization. Yet Cortés conquered them and destroyed their capital, Tenochtitlán, within two years. Though he had a small force of soldiers, Cortés had horses and guns. He also had help from native groups who were enemies of the Aztecs. Perhaps the most important factor helping Cortés was disease, which killed millions of native people.
By 1550, the Spanish controlled northern Mexico and part of Central America. They built Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlán. It became the capital of New Spain, which included Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
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