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the entire western coast of South America, all of Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and parts of the United States, including New Mexico and Florida. This colossal domain took years of effort and endeavor to colonize and establish a structured system. Prior to the 15th century, the Spanish were completely unaware of the fact that a whole hemisphere of the world lay uncovered. Eventually, exposure to this New World came through indirect discoveries, leading up to direct contact, in which the Spanish colonized and built a massive overseas kingdom. Many technologies and devices were utilized in finding this New World, which proved to be invaluable for seafarers and explorers alike. Several notable individuals are credited for their very useful contributions to the development of the Spanish Empire. Numerous strategies and tactics were employed, each with the sole intention of sculpting a magnificent empire, hoping to generate enormous profit and power. This colonization resulted in immediate and indirect consequences for the New World and Europe, as well as Africa. International economies were modified, social cultures were integrated together, and political structures and beliefs were altered. Spanish empire-building in the Americas indefinitely impacted the way of life for everyone. Civilization in the New World emerged when nomadic tribes followed herds of game across the land bridge connected Asia and North America. This bridge is now submerged in the waters of the Bering Sea, and was only accessible during the Great Ice Age. Although these tribes had occupied the Americas ever since, the Europeans remained completely oblivious of this whole side of the world. The first Europeans to come into contact with these land masses were the Vikings, or Norsemen, who landed in Newfoundland, or Vinland in A.D. 1000. Returning to Europe and leaving record only in songs and sagas, they did not inform the rest of Europe, and therefore received no credit for their discovery. During the Crusades, Christian crusaders were exposed to the riches of the East, while trying to reclaim the Holy Land. These exotic products were incredibly tempting, and estimating their value, European merchants were lured into seeking access to Asia to get their hands on these goods. Other temptations to find a route to the East included hearing the tales of Marco Polo. This European seafarer had supposedly reached the East, and described in great detail the magnificence and sophistication of Asian civilizations. The grandeur and splendor of these Eastern cultures drew the attention of many Europeans and peaked their curiosity. Initially, the only trade that occurred between European and the East was established mainly overland. European merchants had to make difficult and lengthy journeys, only to be taxed by Muslim middlemen. After returning to Europe to sell these products, they hardly generated much profit. Thus, an all-water route would prove simpler and cheaper than overland trade. After several attempts, the Portuguese, armed with their extensive seafaring knowledge and technology, managed to find access to the East. Bartholomeau Dias sailed along the western coast of Africa and down to the Cape of Good Hope. However, turbulent winds and raging waters forced the Portuguese sailor to turn back. After ten years, Vasco de Gama successfully sailed along Africa’s coast and rounded the southern tip, finding an all-water route to Asia. By monopolizing an extensive and elaborate trading empire, the Portuguese generated enormous profit from the rare and exotic Asian products. Watching the neighboring country and its immense success, the envious Spanish nation sought to rival Portugal by finding their own route to Asia. Occupied at the moment fighting the Muslim Moors, Spain did not have the resources, nor the stability, to fund seafaring
expeditions. Only after two powerful sovereigns rose to power and expelled the Muslims after years of warfare, the Spanish were glorified in unity. Reemploying stability in the nation, the Spanish focused their attention on exploration, eager to rival the Portuguese. Christopher Columbus, an Italian seafarer, was neglected by many communities Europe, including Portugal, Genoa, and Venice. After being turned by those countries, Columbus sought funding from Henry VII of England. After hesitating to give Columbus his funding, the sailor went to Isabella and Ferdinand who granted him ships after much debate. It was only then the King Henry accepted Columbus’ request, but he was too late – Columbus had already committed himself to Spain. Given three small ships and an inexperienced crew, the Spanish rulers did not expect to see him again. After years of waiting, Columbus finally set out on his voyage. Applying the fact that the Earth was spherical, he brilliantly hypothesized that he would reach the East if he sailed far enough to the west. Columbus had constructed a nearly flawless theory, with the exception of one fact: there were two land masses obstructing his path, a whole new side of the world that was completely unknown to Europe. Several technologies aided Columbus, as well as future explorers, in finding their way through the vast sea. The compass was an invaluable device that showed what direction you were traveling. Combined with the astrolabe, which indicated position, the compass and astrolabe allowed seafarers to formulate maps and charts of the New World. The caravel was a ship with a triangular sail that manipulated wind patterns to better navigate the waters. Sailing for nearly two whole months, the crew became mutinous and near the point of a rebellion. Relief overtook Columbus when he finally spotted the first sign of land. Thinking he reached the East, Columbus proclaimed the Natives as Indians, and was amazed to see how different this world was compared to Europe. Leaving 39 men behind, Columbus set out to return to Spain, but not without “escorting” some of the Natives back. These Natives left quite an impression on the Spanish rulers, and intrigued by their pricey jewels, Spain sent a countless number of explorers and conquistadores to claim and conquer the land, beginning the rise of the Spanish Empire. Colonization in this New World was primarily based on military-style conquest. Conquistadores controlled highly skilled soldiers, and their superior technology and weaponry made it possible to crush any Indian resistance. Some notable individuals must be credited for conquering highly complex civilizations and empires. With sixteen fresh horses, several hundred soldiers, and eleven ships, Hernan Cortes marched for the Aztec empire. On his way, he rescued a Spanish cast-away and a female Indian slave, Malinche. He now possessed two invaluable interpreters, who revealed to him the Aztec’s internal conflict and unrest. Vera Cruz was Cortes’ final stop, where he organized his attack and gathered s force of some twenty thousand Indian allies. With his intention boldly set in mind, Cortes proceeded to the Aztec’s capital of Tenochtitlan. The Aztec chieftain made a foolish mistake when he embraced Cortes as a god, which was basically signing his own death warrant. The empire was doomed to fall. After realizing his true intentions, Moctezuma launched an attack on the noche triste. Although forced to retreat, Cortes laid siege to the capital, and eventually it crumbled apart. Disease swept through the empire and casualties remained high on both sides. The Aztec empire had fallen to the Spanish, and this devastation was only the first to come. Francisco Pizarro was another conquistador, who is noted for conquering the Incan Empire, located in South America. These, among many other conquests, extended Spanish rule in the Americas from South America all the way into present-day United States. Spanish territory included the western portion of South America, all of Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of New Mexico and Florida. This extensive colonization of the New World obviously impacted both sides – the Natives and Europeans, or more specifically Spanish. The economic
impact of this colonization transformed the economies of most major European nations. For example, Europe provided the capital, market, and technology. Africa provided labor and the New World provided raw materials. This system is also referred to as the Columbian exchange. The New World brought gold, silver, corn, potatoes, pineapples, tobacco, beans, vanilla, and chocolate to the Old World, whereas they exchanged wheat, sugar, rice, coffee, horses, cows, and pigs. The third leg, Africa, provided slaves to the New World to work on plantations and farms. Since Spain brought in hordes of gold and silver, inflation swept throughout the nation, since such a large capital was evident but not enough resources. Another economic impact was the rise of capitalism, which was an immense interest in wealth, which determined a nation’s power. Basically, this concept stated that the more money you have, the more powerful you will be. Political impact involved the encomienda system. This was basically a system where landowners had justification for enslaving the Natives. They were commended Natives to work on their land in turn that they teach them Christianity, but this was not always the true reason for commending the Indians. The Spanish incorporated their law systems to the Native American culture, as Natives began forming more sophisticated political structures and started making alliances and confederations with each other, as seen with the Iroquois. The use of slavery gave the Spanish an impression of absolutism and superiority, which might have lead to the development of national monarchies. Confronted by the new experiences created by empire-building, Spanish thinkers formulated some of the first modern ideas on natural law, sovereignty, international law, war, and economics — even questioning the legitimacy of imperialism. The biggest impact of Spanish colonization is cultural diffusion, or cultural integration, which is the mixing of two unique cultures. Intermarriage between the Spanish and the Indians led to a new race of people, mestizos. With them, the Spanish brought their religion and put up several missionaries all throughout their empire. By introducing Christianity to the Indian’s beliefs of animism, a distinct belief of God and nature was formed. However, there were also many negative social impacts. The Natives had no immunity to European disease, since they possessed no antibodies for them, being isolated for so long. The Europeans brought smallpox, measles, bubonic plague, influenza, typhus, diphtheria, and scarlet fever, which greatly devastated the Native American population. Nearly 90% of the entire Indian population was wiped out just by disease. The Europeans also encountered a new disease, syphilis. Slavery was accepted and practiced for many years to come, and it remains one of the most inhumane practices in human history. Prejudice and racism have come to arrive from that as well. A widely accepted theory is the Black Legend, which state that the Spaniards only brought bad things, such as murder, disease, and slavery. Although this is true, the Spanish also brought many potentially good things – sophisticated law systems, architecture, Christianity, language, civilization, among so many others. They laid the foundations for several Spanish-speaking nations, from Mexico to Central America to South America. The Spanish were indisputable empire-builders and cultural innovators in the New World. Their Spanish colonies had a firm structure, and were larger and richer than other European colonies. It lasted a while longer, and the Spaniards incorporated Native American culture, despite the notion that they neglected the Indians, like some of their European rivals. Spanish colonization was no doubt the richest, most diverse and profound structure in the New World and its impacts can still be traced today.
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