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Unit Overview

It has become common to refer to the period between the mid-twentieth century and the early twenty-first century as the “Age of Globalization” because of the increased economic and cultural integration occurring through international trade, migration, transportation, and communication. However, the 15th century marks the beginning of another such era, variously referred to as the “Age of Exploration,” the “Age of Discovery,” or the “First Global Age,” when contact among the peoples of Europe, Africa, and the Americas began.

Until the sixteenth century, most Europeans had never ventured beyond their own villages, towns, or cities. Fewer than three hundred years later, however, Europeans had established settlements in every corner of the globe. After more than a millennium, what sparked this relatively sudden global migration? At least part of the answer to this question is deeply rooted in the centuries-long political, religious, and economic conflict between Christian Europe and the burgeoning Muslim world.

The Byzantine and Islamic Empires

By 476 A.D., the Western Roman Empire fell to invading Germanic tribes.  The Eastern Roman Empire, centered on Constantinople, survived for another one thousand years.  Under the emperor Justinian, the Eastern Roman Empire included Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, northern Africa, southern Spain, and Italy.  However, by the eighth century, a series of invasions had greatly reduced the empire to include only Asia Minor and the eastern Balkans.  Scholars refer to this civilization as the Byzantine Empire.

The capital of the Byzantine Empire was originally founded by Greek settlers who named the city Byzantium.  In 330 A.D., Constantine, emperor of Rome and a Christian convert, chose Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire because of its strategic location on the Bosphorus Strait.  The city was later renamed Constantinople.  Consequently, Byzantine citizens inherited both the Greek culture and the Christian faith. Cultural differences, combined with geographic distance, produced striking differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine, or Eastern Orthodox Church.  By 1054 A.D., these differences proved insurmountable and the two churches officially split in what came to be known as the “Great Schism.” Despite this turmoil, Constantinople remained the Christian gateway to the East.

At the time of his death, Muhammad was accepted as both a religious and a political leader.  He used his military forces to conquer territory on the Arabian Peninsula.  His successor, Abu Bakr, helped unite Arab Muslims throughout Arabia.  At about the same time, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians in the last of a series of wars fought between the two empires. This final conflict, known as the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602 – 628, left both empires weak and vulnerable.  Over the next half-century, the Muslim Arab army conquered parts of the Byzantine Empire, including Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, as well as the entire Persian Empire. At the start of the eighth century, the Arabs pushed westward across the Mediterranean Sea, conquering the rest of North Africa.  By 725 A.D., they had moved northward across the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered most of Spain.  Expansion of the Islamic Empire in Western Europe ended in 732 A.D. when Frankish forces led by Charles Martel defeated the Arab army at the Battle of Tours. 

During this century of conquest, the Islamic movement struggled with internal conflict, particularly regarding the succession of the Caliphate.  By the end of the seventh century, Islam split into two factions: Shia and Sunni.  The absorption of non-Arab peoples into the Islamic Empire created further divisions. During the Abbasid Dynasty, rulers attempted to assuage this conflict by allowing non-Arab Muslims to hold military and public offices.  Persians and Turks were recruited with increasing frequency to fill official positions.  However, these concessions did not prevent the political division of the empire as provincial rulers gradually broke ties with the Abbasid caliphate.  By the end of the tenth century, Spain, Morocco and Egypt established independent dynasties.  At about the same time, Seljuk Turks had taken control of Iran and Armenia.  In 1055, they captured Baghdad.  The Abbasid caliph remained the religious authority, but the Turkish sultan now held both military and political power over the empire. The Turks then began pushing northward into the Byzantine Empire.

In an effort secure his empire, Byzantine emperor Romanus IV led an army of mercenaries and conscripts toward Turkish-held territory near Lake Van in the spring of 1071. Expecting that the Turks would attack from the south, Romanus decided to divide his forces. He first sent a sizeable contingent of Turkic and Frankish troops, led by General Roussel de Bailleul, to recapture the fortress at Akhlat while he led the rest of the army east into Manzikert.  As Byzantine forces neared Manzikert, a second unit was dispatched to Akhlat under the command of Joseph Tarchaneiotes. This move left Romanus with about half of his original force. 

Sultan Alp Arslan reached Manzikert in August with an estimated ten thousand men. Over the next few days, Seljuk archers alternated between ambush and retreat.  Although the Seljuk were outnumbered nearly two to one, they were able to outmaneuver, confuse, and frustrate the Byzantine army. To make matters worse, Romanus had chosen Andronikos Doukas, the son of his chief political rival, to lead the rearguard. In what appears to have been a deliberate move, Doukas withdrew his troops at a pivotal point in the campaign, leaving the emperor vulnerable. Without the rearguard, Turkish forces surrounded the Byzantine army and captured Romanus. 

According to most accounts, Arslan treated his captive well.  The Sultan was not interested in conquering the Byzantine Empire.  Instead, Arslan viewed the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt as his principal enemy and hoped to prevent a Fatimid – Byzantine alliance. The two leaders agreed to the terms of a peace treaty, and the emperor was released within a week.  However, Romanus had been overthrown by his stepson and the rival Doukas family, and his successor refused to recognize the agreement. For the next decade, the Byzantine Empire was plagued by civil war.  Amid the chaos, Turkish raiders continued to push deep into the Anatolian peninsula.  By 1080 A.D., Turk-controlled territory reached as far as Nicaea, less than sixty miles from Constantinople. At the same time, warring Byzantine factions routinely employed Seljuk mercenaries.   

In 1081 A.D., a general named Alexius Comnenus usurped the throne.  Alexius I proved to be a competent leader and the empire entered a period of recovery during his reign.  By 1091, Alexius had successfully defended against Norman, Pecheneg, and Cuman attacks, securing both the northern and western frontiers.  In addition, he managed to replenish the treasury and rebuild the navy.  The army, however, remained small, owing mostly to the fact that Seljuk Turks occupied most of the Asia Minor, the empire’s primary source of military conscripts. Alexius, now ready deal with the ever-present Seljuk threat, needed to recruit soldiers. 

The Crusades

Around 1093, the Byzantine emperor sent a letter to the Count of Flanders requesting military support.  The tone of the letter was that of a desperate plea for help, from one Christian to another, in combating the “evil” perpetrated against “the most sacred empire of the Greek Christians” at the hands of “the Turks, who daily ravage it.”  For many years, Muslims had engaged in slaughter of innocent Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Pope Urban II, who read the letter as well, saw an excellent opportunity to recapture the Holy Land, ensure the safety of any Christian embarking on a pilgrimage, and reunite Christendom under his own leadership. 

At the Council of Clermont, the pope delivered a powerful speech encouraging Europeans to take up arms in a “Holy War” against the “infidel Turks.” The reward, he claimed, would be a full remission of sins for “all who die by the way.” Fueled by religious fervor, the possibility of fame and riches, and a good excuse to fight, more than 10,000 western Europeans embarked on a long, difficult journey to take part in what became known as the First Crusade. Essentially, the first Crusade was a success: By the end of the eleventh century, the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, Edessa, Tripoli, and Antioch.  However, by 1144, the Muslims were able to recover Edessa, prompting a second Crusade that ended in complete failure.  

Then, in 1171, a Kurdish General named Saladin became the sultan of Egypt, bringing an end to the Shiite Fatimid dynasty. After conquering Syria and uniting the Muslim world, Saladin turned his attention toward the remaining Crusader States.  By 1187, Saladin had recaptured Jerusalem, and the call for another Crusade rang throughout Europe.  Three monarchs agreed to lead the effort: King Richard I the Lionhearted of England, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, and King Philip II of France.  However, Frederick just made it to the Middle East before he drowned and King Philip abandoned the fight following a series of inland defeats. Richard gained no territory, but was able to negotiate a settlement in which Christian pilgrims would have free access to the Holy City. 

After Saladin’s death, Pope Innocent III called for a fourth Crusade.  At the same time, succession to the Byzantine throne was under dispute. Venetian crusaders leapt at the opportunity to cash in on the lucrative spice trade by eliminating a commercial competitor.  Now, western Christians were attacking the same empire that their great grandfathers had been called upon to defend. Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204.  The city remained under western control until the Byzantine army was able to recapture the capital in 1261. The Byzantine Empire, however, remained weak. In 1299, the Byzantines faced a new threat when a Turkish chieftain named Osman I established the Ottoman Empire.  In 1453, Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and the once mighty Byzantine Empire fell. 

In the end, several generations of Europeans took part in a total of nine Crusades over the course of some three hundred years. In terms of the original objectives, the Crusades were a complete failure. With the exception of short-lived Christian victories during the First and Sixth Crusades, the Holy Land remained under the control of various Muslim regimes until the twentieth century. The Eastern and Western Christian churches would never reunite, as Pope Urban II had hoped. Finally, the demise of the Byzantine Empire may have been delayed, but it could not be averted. Nevertheless, these interactions either created, or set into motion, many of the factors that would lead to both the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration.

The Motives to Explore

Beginning in the fifteenth century, European explorers, followed by soldiers, clergymen and colonists set sail with little, if any, knowledge of what lie ahead.  The journeys were long, difficult and dangerous. Most left behind everything, and everyone, they had ever known. For their part, European rulers appropriated huge sums of money to finance these ventures with no guarantee of ever seeing a return on their investment. Without a doubt, extremely powerful motives must have driven all parties involved.

Throughout the Crusades, European merchants maintained an extensive network of trade that had existed since ancient times. Trade was a great source of wealth for Europe.  The most valuable commodities came from the Far East. This region was the source of many luxury items such as silk, ivory, and jewels. Spices, however, were arguably among the most precious of all commodities found in the Orient. For the most part, European merchants obtained Asian goods at ports located in Muslim-controlled countries.

Since the first millennium B.C., Chinese, Indian, and Arab merchants carried goods across Asia via caravan routes.  Scorching deserts, rugged mountains, and the threat of raiding nomads made traversing these routes a risky enterprise.  Later, sea transport began to supplement overland routes, as ships carried goods to and from ports on the South China Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea.  Merchants then transported goods via caravan, river, or some combination thereof, to Egypt, the Levant, and Constantinople.

During the Crusades, Italian merchants obtained landing facilities to establish trading centers on the shores of the Holy Land.  When the Venetians took control of Constantinople in 1204, eastern trade tremendously increased Venice's wealth and commercial importance.  The competence of Venetian sailors and merchants suddenly changed basic European eating habits.   Not only did the upper classes experience these changes.  The middle classes also easily obtained Oriental spices.  Monumental economic growth and wealth poured into Italian ports, without which, Italian city-states would not have had the financial means that later enabled the explosion of creativity that took place during the Renaissance.

Though the Byzantines were able to regain control of Constantinople and again serve as a conduit for the lucrative overland spice trade between the East and Europe via the Silk Road, Venice was still able to dominate the trade that brought spices up the Red Sea and to Egypt.  Spices transported to Cairo went on to Italian trading settlements in Alexandria, Egypt.  In Alexandria, Venetian and Genoese merchants bought the spices and then shipped them to Europe.  The massive spice trade met the demands of medieval palates.  The trade was great in volume but, moreover, it was great in value. 

Though Venice and other Italian maritime city-states enjoyed this arrangement, the rest of Europe strongly resented this so-called “Muslim Curtain,” the dividing line between the Islamic empires and Christendom.   Europeans also strongly resented their fellow Catholics in Venice and enthusiastically looked for alternate means of trade.  The straw that broke the camel's back for most Europeans came in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks were able to take Constantinople and extinguish the last flicker of the Roman Empire.  The fall of Constantinople shut down the small overland trade route that had previously evaded the Arab-Venetian monopoly.  The Egyptians, gatekeepers of the trade with Venice, quickly realized that they were the only source of spices for European appetites.  They were confident enough to impose a tariff amounting to one third of the value of spices passing through their fingers.  The new tariff did not hurt the Venetian market as they just passed the tax onto their European customers.  With no Byzantium alternative, the Europeans were at the Egyptian-Venetian monopoly's mercy.

Salvation for the tastes and exchequers of Europe’s kings lay in finding an alternative sea route to the Indies.  When one or a few providers come to dominate markets and squeeze the customers, customers will vigorously explore alternatives.  The European reaction to the Egyptian-Venetian monopoly was no different.  Europeans eagerly began to search for the near mythical, Malacca, the most important entrepôt in the spice trade and the fabled gateway to the Spice Islands.  Spain and Portugal, many times hiring Italian seaman and navigators, financed dozens of expeditionary parties in its general direction; over half would never make it home.  The rationale for this expense and danger was simple: “He who is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.”

Perhaps a continuation of the spirit of the early Crusades, many Europeans viewed exploration as an opportunity to spread the Christian faith. Listed among the reasons Prince Henry the Navigator “was moved to command the search for the lands of Guinea,” was
. . . his great desire to make increase in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and to bring to him all the souls that should be saved . . . For he perceived that no better offering could be made unto the Lord than this . . .
As Portuguese sailors pushed farther down the African coast, they were instructed to plant granite pillars that bore the royal arms of Portugal and a cross, claiming the territory not only for their country, but also for Christianity. 

When Isabella and Ferdinand agreed to finance Columbus’ second voyage, they sent with him twelve priests “to see that [the natives] be carefully taught the principles of Our Holy Faith.”  Indeed, European colonizers, especially Spain and France, made a commitment to sending missionaries to America to convert the natives to Catholicism. While many scholars consider religious zeal secondary to economic motives, numerous primary source documents reveal that the desire to convert non-Christians was prevalent among many European rulers and explorers.   

The expansion of the world led European monarchs to dream of a larger empire.  As history confirmed, a nation with a large empire would have more power and influence in the world. Although many European explorers “discovered” land with native inhabitants, they claimed the land in the name of their mother country. With entrance into the New World, nations gained access to gold, silver, precious stones, and other natural resources not readily available to them in Europe, as well as prestige.  After the discovery of the New World, imperial nations battled one another for more land discoveries.

In addition to national glory, expansion led some Europeans to dream of personal glory. Individuals with seafaring knowledge, courage, and perhaps some good connections at court had an opportunity to rise from middle-class obscurity to heroic status if their voyages went well. The dream was a strong one, though the reality was much less pleasant in most cases. The explorers were more likely to be lost at sea, murdered by their crews, killed and maybe eaten by Native Americans, die of some tropical disease, or be sabotaged by political enemies at home than be honored as heroes. Though their names may have lived on, most of the early explorers did not live to enjoy fame and fortune.

The Means to Explore

God, gold, and glory may have been the driving forces behind European expansion; however, desire must coincide with a certain level of viability.  By the fifteenth century, Europe had not only the motives but also the means to carry out arduous and expensive journeys of discovery and conquest. Just as the motives to explore were borne out of the events of preceding centuries, so too were the conditions that made exploration possible.

By the end of the Crusades, feudalism was beginning to fall apart and the seeds of powerful, centralized monarchies were planted.  While disease and conflict slowed the process, a concerted effort to consolidate power emerged by the middle of the fifteenth century. Although scholars debate the exact extent of centralization, the fact remains that voyages of discovery were state-sponsored. Monarchies, particularly those in Portugal, Spain, England, and later, France, had acquired the power and wealth necessary to finance expansion.

Before the fifteenth century, Europeans had not reached the level of technological advancement required to cross thousands of miles of ocean. Early ships, for example, could not sail against the wind or sail close to the coast without running aground. In the late 1400s, the Portuguese developed the caravel.  By combining lateen, or triangular, sails with square sails, the caravel was both maneuverable and fast, which meant that this light sailing ship could actually sail against the wind.  In addition, with a shallow keel, the caravel could hug the coastline without running aground. The average caravel was 65 – 100 feet long and could carry up to 100 tons of cargo and 20 crewmembers.

Early navigators relied heavily on nature and rudimentary tools to estimate location and direction. The quadrant, for example, was one of the early tools used to determine latitude. However, since the quadrant measures the height of the North Star, the instrument was useless below the equator.  The astrolabe also helped explorers tell the latitude of their location at sea. However, it was rare to have an accurate reading, because of the movement of the ship. The compass was a well-known invention to Europeans in the fifteenth century. At first, it was only used when the weather obscured the sun or the North Star. Navigators found the early compasses inconsistent because the needle pointed to the magnetic North Pole, not true north. Finally, fifteenth century navigators had begun accumulating useful knowledge about wind patterns. Soon, sailors were able to harness the power of the trade winds to propel ships farther and faster. 

Cartography throughout the centuries illustrates the story of technology, exploration, conflicts, ideologies, and geographical knowledge through an orchestrated blend of science and art. During the sixteenth century, geographical knowledge was based on the experiences and observations of explorers, interpreted by cartographers, committed to paper by draughtsman, decorated by artists, and coordinated by editors. Although sixteenth century cartographers faced many obstacles, longer voyages allowed Europeans to accumulate information about the size and shape of the Earth’s landmasses. As a result, maps became more accurate. Furthermore, the invention of the printing press made greatly reduced the time and cost of producing maps.

A great deal of the knowledge vital to overseas navigation came from the work of Ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians. For example, by the third century B.C., Greek astronomers had firmly established that the Earth was round.  A Greek mathematician named Eratosthenes correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth.  In the second century, B.C., Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer, was the first to use latitude and longitude to specify location on the Earth’s surface. Sometime during the second century A.D., Ptolemy completed his Geographia, a comprehensive, eight-volume work that included a critique of the work of Marinus of Tyre and detailed instructions for creating maps.   

The work of preserving the wisdom of the ancients was done largely by the hands of Western Catholic monks, many of whom dedicated much of their lives to copying ancient Roman and Greek texts. The Byzantines also preserved ancient texts, and when Muslims began conquering large swaths of southern Byzantium, they subsequently inherited this body of knowledge.  Muslim caliphs encouraged scholars to translate ancient scientific and philosophical works. As a result, Muslim libraries in Spain housed vast collections of Arabic translations of ancient Greek manuscripts. The preservation of this ancient wisdom laid the foundation for the Renassiance, when Europe was reintroduced to classical knowledge.

The Search for a New Route Begins

Portugal led the way in the quest for an all-water route to the Far East, with the help of Prince Henry the Navigator.  He established a school in 1419 to teach navigation, astronomical skills, and mapmaking to sailors. He commissioned a number of voyages to map the west coast of Africa. As a result of these voyages, the Portuguese began to trade for African slaves and discovered a route to Asia.

In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa, which he named the Cape of Good Hope. This voyage paved the way for future expeditions to India. In 1497 Dias accompanied Vasco da Gama's expedition to India. He died off the Cape of Good Hope in a storm on May 29, 1500.

Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail directly from Europe to India. He reached India in 1498, built a trading post, loaded his ships with as many goods as they could carry, and returned to Portugal to report his triumph. In 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral became the first European to see Brazil. Cabral was on a voyage to India, but a navigational mistake took him farther west than he expected. Cabral claimed the land for Portugal. Later, an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci mapped the coastline of South America and explored the Amazon River. It was Vespucci who first postulated that the land Columbus and Cabral stumbled across was not Asia, but a continent “more populous and more full of animals than our Europe, or Asia, or Africa.” German mapmakers thought so highly of his detailed maps that they named the new land in his honor.

By 1511, Portuguese ships reached the Moluccas or Spice Islands in the East Indies, which included present-day Indonesian and Philippine Islands.  Portugal became immensely rich and powerful through its control of trade in this area. As the Portuguese explorers returned to Lisbon with large cargos of the coveted spices, the Venetians and the Egyptians were devastated.  The price of pepper in Lisbon fell to less than one-fifth of the price in Venice.   The monopoly had been broken.  Envious of Portugal’s success, other European nations began sponsoring their own voyages of discovery.

As Prince Henry’s protégées were establishing trading posts along the coast of West Africa, the Spanish were still embroiled in the Reconquista, an effort to recover territory lost to the Muslims during the eighth century.  At the time, Spain was not a unified nation; however, the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 was an important step toward unification.  Together, Isabella and Ferdinand worked to strengthen the power of the monarchy and establish religious uniformity throughout the kingdom.  In 1492, the army of Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last of the Muslim-held territory on the Iberian Peninsula.

A few years earlier, an Italian sailor named Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) had developed a radical theory:  Using his knowledge of trade winds, Columbus hypothesized that he could reach the coast of Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic.  Unable to sell his idea to the Portuguese government, Columbus moved to Spain in the hopes of gaining financial support there. Finally, with the Reconquista complete, the Spanish monarchy granted Columbus a hearing.

Ferdinand and Isabella passed the idea on to a study commission that correctly calculated that the distance to Asia by sailing west was too great for any ship to survive. However, someone in the court convinced Queen Isabella to fund the trip. Columbus left Spain with three ships and a combined crew of eighty-nine men on August 3, 1492 and on October 12, the small fleet came ashore on an island in the Bahamas Columbus named San Salvador. Columbus returned to Spain triumphant. Both Spain and Portugal believed that Columbus had reached Asia.  This aggravated an already intense rivalry between the two nations.

In 1494, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas.  According to this document, the two nations would divide newly discovered lands outside of Europe at a north-south line located 1,110 nautical miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, which were already claimed by the Portuguese.  Newly discovered lands to the west of the “line of demarcation” would become Spanish possessions while Portugal could lay claim to lands east of the line.  The quest to explore and conquer was now underway. 

Spain Builds an Empire in the “New World”

With the exception of Brazil, most of the New World fell within Spain’s legal jurisdiction. Throughout the first half of the sixteenth century, Spanish monarchs sent a parade of conquistadors west to claim land for Spain. After colonizing several islands including Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the Spanish established colonies in what later become known as Central and South America. 

In 1519, Hernando Cortez landed at Vera Cruz on the eastern coast of Mexico, two hundred miles from Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. He came with eleven ships, five hundred fifty men, and sixteen horses. Cortez claimed the land for the Spanish and began to explore. Along the way, Cortez and his men met other Indian tribes that the Aztecs controlled. Having never seen horses before, these natives feared the white men and their beasts. However, they also feared the Aztecs, who routinely raided neighboring villages and sacrificed captives to appease Aztec gods. It was clear to Cortez that these oppressed people were potential allies. In the meantime, word about the arrival of the Spanish reached Tenochtitlan. 

Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, sent an envoy bearing gifts and a message: He requested that the newcomers proceed no further. For Cortez, however, turning back was not an option. Prior to their departure, he had defied the governor of Cuba and risked imprisonment or execution if he returned.  In addition, the gifts only made Cortez want to see what the Aztecs were trying to hide. The party continued toward the village of the Tlaxcala, who were enemies of the Aztec. The Tlaxcala were so eager to ally themselves with the Spaniards as Cortez had hoped they would be.  A battle ensued and several Tlaxcala warriors were killed. Eventually, a peace agreement was reached and the Tlaxcala did accompany Cortez to Tenochtitlan. In November, the Spaniards entered the capital city with as many as 5,000 native allies in tow.

Accounts of the initial encounter claim that the Aztecs thought the bearded white men were representatives of their creator god and that Cortez was Quetzalcoatl himself, returning to take over the Aztec kingdom. Montezuma presented Cortez and his men with more gifts and lavish living quarters. Relations soon deteriorated, however, as the Spaniards increasingly insulted their hosts. Within few weeks, Cortez had imprisoned Montezuma and his men proceeded to ransack the city.  They confiscated gold, silver, and precious stones, destroyed religious symbols, and adorned the great pyramid with Christian imagery.  Meanwhile, the governor of Cuba sent Panfilo de Narvaez, along with a substantial force of Spanish soldiers, to arrest Cortez. Having received advanced warning of their approach, Cortez left the city and was able to ambush and defeat Narvaez. 

With Cortez absent, the commanding officer, Pedro de Alvarado, struggled to keep the Aztecs subdued. The already volatile situation worsened when Alvarado and his men killed several Aztec leaders during a religious ceremony. The incident prompted a full-scale rebellion in June of 1520.  When Cortez returned, he compelled Montezuma to calm his people.  However, the emperor’s authority had been undermined by his inability to expel the intruders.  An angry mob hurled rocks and arrows.  Spanish accounts claim that the emperor was fatally wounded by his own people.  Some historians suggest, however, that the Spanish murdered Montezuma because it had become clear that he was no longer of any use. No matter the cause, the death of Montezuma further angered the Aztecs.  Cortez and his men fled the city to regroup.

By the time the Spaniards and their allies returned, smallpox had swept through the city and surrounding villages, drastically reducing the population. The remaining Aztec warriors fought fiercely, but famine, disease, and superior European weaponry prevailed. On August 13, 1521, the Aztecs surrendered.  Tenochtitlan was looted, the pyramids and temples destroyed. Atop the ruins of the Aztec capital, the Spanish built Mexico City.      

Despite their massive territorial conquests in the New World, Spain was eager to join in the highly profitable trade Portugal enjoyed with the Molucca islands. In the same year Cortez landed at Veracruz, Spain financed the voyage of a Portuguese explorer named Ferdinand Magellan. Six years earlier, Vasco de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and became the first European to see the “South Sea.” Magellan was convinced that he could reach the Molucca islands by sailing through the Americas and into the South Sea. On September 20, 1519, he set sail from Spain with five ships and a crew of 250 men.

They reached the coast of Brazil on December 13.  After a brief layover in Rio de Janeiro, the fleet continued south, hugging the coastline in hopes of finding a passage to the South Sea. With winter approaching, the fleet ported and established a settlement in Puerto San Julien.  Three Spanish captains and a few crewmen had become increasing hostile toward Magellan. On April 2, they attempted mutiny, but Magellan was able to maintain control. One captain was killed during the battle, a second was executed, and the third was left marooned.

Before moving on, the Santiago was sent down the coast on a scouting expedition, but foundered in a storm. The crew managed to survive, and two members were able to locate Magellan, and rescue the other crewmembers. Finally, on October 21, 1520, the remaining four ships reached the passage that would lead them to the South Sea.  The San Antonio deserted the fleet and returned to Spain. Beset by high tides, strong currents, and brutal storms, it took more than a month to navigate through the 350-mile strait. On November 28, 1520, the Concepcion, Victoria, and Trinidad entered the South Sea, which Magellan renamed “Pacific,” meaning peaceful.

With supplies dangerously low, the crew wanted to turn back, but Magellan refused. With no way of knowing just how vast the Pacific Ocean really is, he had greatly underestimated the distance they would have to travel to reach the Molucca islands. To make matters worse, Magellan unwittingly charted a course that led the fleet away from the many inhabited islands of the South Pacific. As a result, the beleaguered crew was at sea for more than three months before they could replenish their food and water supply.  During this time, about half of the remaining crewmembers died from starvation and scurvy

On March 16, the fleet reached Homonhon island in the Philippines. Thoroughly impressed by Magellan and his European technology, the king offered guides to accompany the fleet to the island of Zebu. Again, the foreigners were greeted with admiration. The king offered allegiance to Spain and converted to Christianity.  Magellan next demanded that all local chieftains convert to Christianity and pay him tribute.  Lapu Lapu, a chieftain on the island of Mactan, refused. Determined to enforce his edict, Magellan went to Mactan with about sixty of his men.  There, in knee-deep water, Magellan was killed, his body hacked to pieces on April 27, 1521. 

The remaining crewmembers, led by Juan Sebastián de Elcano, reached the Molucca islands on November 8, 1521. After securing a trade agreement for Spain, only one of the original five ships continued the journey.  The Victoria, loaded with cloves and other precious spices, returned to Spain on September 6, 1522.  Of the 250 men that began the expedition, only eighteen would complete the journey.  The men of the Victoria were the first Europeans to circumnavigate the globe.

Francisco Pizarro and a group of about 180 Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Incan Empire in South America in 1532. Upon arrival, Pizarro and his men arranged a meeting with Atahualpa, the Inca emperor. This was a trick. Pizarro and his men abducted the emperor and held him for ransom. The Incas paid the ransom to secure their ruler’s release, but the Spaniards murdered Atahualpa. Pizarro and his men marched to the Incan capital of Cuzco. Once there, the Spanish were amazed by the extravagance of the temples, roads and gardens in Cuzco. The interior walls of the Temple of the Sun, which stood at the center of the city, were lined with gold.

Conquering the Inca civilization was not difficult for the Spaniards. Just before Pizarro arrived, the empire suffered a small pox epidemic. The disease decimated the population. When the emperor, Huayna Capac fell victim to the illness, his two sons battled for the throne. Ultimately, the Incas were not conquered by superior European weapons, but by the diseases that the Spaniards had introduced to the New Word.

To avoid an Incan uprising, an Incan, Manco Capac, was appointed emperor. However, Pizarro really maintained control over Manco Capac. When Pizarro returned to Spain, the Spaniards controlled the Inca. Spanish culture, including religion and language, came to dominate the region; only a few traces of Incan culture remained. Pizarro returned to Spain with massive amounts of gold and riches.

Nevertheless, Manco Capac led an uprising against the Spanish. Pizarro’s brother, Hernándo Pizarro, battled the Incas. The Incans were able to mimic some of the European war tactics. Still, the Spanish conquistadors were too strong for the Incans. Manco Capac and his men were forced go into hiding. For years, they hid in the jungle and resorted to guerrilla fighting tactics. Manco Capac was killed in battle in 1544.

In 1541, the tables were beginning to turn on Francisco Pizarro. He cut Diego de Almagro, another Spanish conqueror, out of his fair share of the Incan treasures. To appease de Almagro, Pizarro offered him the land now known as Chile. De Almagro went to Chile in hopes of finding gold and other treasures, but he came back empty-handed. A war ensued between the Pizarros and Diego de Almagro. Hernándo ordered de Almagro’s assassination. When he was assassinated, the Pizarros reclaimed the land Almagro had conquered. That left de Almagro’s son, also named Diego, with nothing. The younger Diego plotted Francisco Pizarro’s assassination. Diego and his men stormed Francisco Pizarro’s palace, and a battle occurred. Pizarro killed two of the attackers, was stabbed several times, and eventually died.

The Spanish in North America

While Cortez and Pizarro conquered most of Central America and a large portion of South America, respectively, other Spaniards pushed north.  In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon explored the islands north of Cuba in search of gold.  In April, de Leon became the first European to set foot in present-day Florida.  Since it was first sighted on Palm Sunday, de Leon named the land in honor of Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers), a phrase the Spanish use to signify the Easter season.  Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for the Spanish crown.  In 1528, an expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez landed near Tampa Bay, on the west coast of Florida. Narvaez took about three hundred men to explore the territory on foot while the ships, along with most of their food supplies, were sent ahead. The journey was plagued by disaster: Poor leadership, violent conflict with natives, disease, starvation, and storms claimed the lives of most of the men, including Narvaez. In the end, only four survived this ill-fated expedition.

Hernando de Soto was among the most famous of the so-called conquistadors of Spanish America. In 1531, De Soto helped Pizarro conquer the Incan Empire and is believed to have strangled the Incan ruler, Atahualpa. De Soto then led expeditions deep into North America in search of gold and any waterway that might lead to Asia. In 1539, de Soto and more than six hundred men landed in Florida. His expedition wound its way through what is now the southeastern United States. De Soto and his men explored the future states of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas before de Soto’s death along the banks of the Mississippi River in May 1542. His men continued their journey through Texas and into present-day Mexico. The mission produced neither gold nor an all-water route to Asia, but it did expand Europe’s knowledge of North America. This information led to future settlement.

In 1542, Juan Cabrillo became the first European to explore the California coast. He died in 1543 after a fight with local Indians near present-day Santa Barbara, California. In 1767, the Franciscans were requested to take over the Spanish missions in Baja California. The Jesuits had established these missions, but the order had fallen out of favor with the Spanish government. Junipero Serra was appointed to be in charge of these missions. After a year there, the governor of California expanded the missions into Alta California (the part of California that is now part of the United States). This action had both religious and political purposes. There were few Spanish settlers on the Pacific Coast at the time, and Russia was showing interest in exploring and colonizing that area. If the Indians could be converted to Christianity under the authority of the Spanish missionaries, the increased Spanish presence might prevent Russian settlement.

When the Spanish began their conquest and exploration of the New World, they brought many of their homeland traditions with them. One of the institutions they brought with them was the encomienda system. In many ways, the encomienda system resembled a feudal system: The Spanish monarchy granted conquistadors, soldiers, and other officials control over a specific number of Indians, as well as the lands on which those Indians lived. The person who received the grant, known as an encomendero, would require the Indians to pay tributes. The encomendero determined the amount of the tribute, which could be paid in the form of goods, money, or hard labor. In return, the encomendero promised to protect the Indians and teach them about Christianity.

The encomienda program had good intentions when it began. The Indians even became accustomed to living in a world of Spanish traditions and Spanish rule. Spaniards were encouraged to intermarry with Indians to speed the assimilation process. The children of Spanish and Indian couples were called mestizos.

The Indians took many measures to acclimate themselves to the change, such as learning Spanish and becoming Christian. As a result, Christianity spread throughout the Indian territories. The Spanish divided native communities into different parishes, each with their own priests and churches. The Spanish believed if the Indians did not assimilate to their culture, including converting to the Christian faith, they would have been hard to control and would not assist the Spanish with trade.

Originally, most Spaniards did not treat the Indians poorly. However, the encomienda system began to change. The rights of Indians were ignored because of the high demand to continually increase commerce in the area. By providing labor, the Indians played an important role in colonial society. However, when the encomienda prospered, it was the encomendero who received all of the credit. The Indians were soon trapped in a vicious cycle: they needed food, but did not have money to buy food because the money they made from working the land went to the Spanish in the form of tributes that they were required to pay. Many Indians were dying from disease, exhaustion, and starvation.  This caused a decrease in productivity and reduced the number of tributes paid to encomenderos. Since the Spaniards also had to pay their own tribute to the crown, they needed to compensate for this loss.  Over time, they increased the price of the tributes paid by the Indians. 

The Spanish Crown was aware of the mistreatment and did not approve. Laws were passed to prevent further abuse. The Crown also sent its high court, the Audiencia, to enforce the legislation. Some colonists began to speak out against the harsh treatment of the Indians. Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas, for example, thought that the current laws did not go far enough to protect the Indians. In 1539, Las Casas said he wanted the government to abolish the encomienda system, free the Indians and make their living conditions less harsh. Nevertheless, the Spanish did not want to abandon the encomienda system. Over the years, they had come to rely on it as a tremendous source of wealth and power. Without Indian labor, the Spanish feared they would lose money. They enjoyed their lifestyle and did not want change.

A change did occur, however, when the New Laws of 1542 were passed. Under the New Laws, enslaved Indians were set free and future enslavement was forbidden. The role of the Audiencia was expanded and Spaniards who were found guilty of abuse could lose their encomiendas.  The size of individual encomiendas was reduced if the number of Indians controlled by the encomendero was found to be excessive.  Finally, Spaniards could no longer sell, donate, or inherit an encomienda.  Instead, when an encomendero died, his grant was returned to the Crown.  This provision was designed to phase out the encomienda system gradually. It led to a revolt in which the Viceroy of Peru was overthrown and killed.  In 1545, this provision of the New Laws was repealed, ensuring the continuation of the encomienda system for many more years. Although they failed to bring an end to the encomienda system, the New Laws liberated thousands of enslaved Indians.   

The European Search for the North West Passage

The voyages of Christopher Columbus caught the attention of other powerful European nations. Over the next two and a half centuries, England, France and the Netherlands financed westward expeditions in the hopes of finding the Northwest Passage, a sea route through North America that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The route first was mentioned in the 10th century after the Vikings had made several westward voyages to Greenland. However, when the Little Ice Age occurred, the climate grew colder, and any efforts for exploration of the region ceased until the 15th century. Although many European explorers sought the Northwest Passage from the end of the fifteenth through the middle of the eighteenth century, they usually searched too far south. Nevertheless, the search for this route led to the establishment of European settlements throughout North America.

In 1497, an Italian sailor named John Cabot led the first attempt to discover the Northwest Passage. King Henry VII of England financed the voyage, in the hopes that Cabot would find a more direct sea route to China and Japan. The expedition sailed from Bristol, England, in the Matthew to what is now eastern Canada. Using trade winds to push the Matthew across the Atlantic Ocean, Cabot and his crew of eighteen landed in Newfoundland in June 1497, making them the first Europeans since the Vikings to set foot in North America. While Cabot was unsuccessful in his search for the Northwest Passage, the knowledge he brought back would propel England into a fierce competition with Spain. In May 1498, Cabot and three hundred crewmembers sailed from Bristol on a second voyage, but they were never heard from again. More British explorers would soon follow, including Martin Frobisher (1576), Sir Humphrey Hilbert (1583) and John Davis (1585). 

More than a hundred years after John Cabot reached North America, another Englishman, Henry Hudson, searched for the elusive Northwest Passage to Asia. After sailing up waterways along the northern coast of North America, Hudson, just as Cabot before him, realized none of them led to Asia. He was only able to travel as far as present-day Albany, New York, before turning back. On a later voyage, he tried to force his exhausted crew to continue exploring what is now Hudson’s Bay. They just barely had survived the Canadian winter, and the crewmembers were more interested in returning to England than exploring. When Hudson refused to return to England, the crew mutinied and left Hudson floating in a small boat on Hudson’s Bay. Although he was unsuccessful in his quest for a passage to Asia, Hudson had increased Europe’s knowledge of North America. Today, many of the places Hudson first explored, such as Hudson Bay in Canada and the Hudson River in New York, bear his name.

Giovanni da Verrazzano was an Italian explorer whose expeditions were funded by France. Verrazzano’s initial goals for France were to retrieve information about the eastern coast of the New World and locate a passageway from Europe to Asia through the Pacific Ocean. His younger brother, Girolamo, was the cartographer who accompanied him on his voyages. On April 17, they arrived at present-day New York Harbor. After enjoying the steep hills, streams, and the Hudson River, the Verrazzano brothers continued their expedition along the eastern coast. The La Dauphine safely docked in Dieppe, France, on July 8, 1524.

Jacques Cartier led three expeditions to Canada in 1534, 1535, and 1541 in search of the Northwest Passage. Cartier named Canada, "Kanata,” which means village or settlement in the Huron-Iroquois language.  Cartier believed the Saint Lawrence River was the Northwest Passage. He became convinced of this when he hit significant rapids in the area he named Mont Royal (Montreal). Cartier thought all he had to do was travel around the rapids, and he would be in the Orient. Cartier named the rapids the Lachine Rapids.

In 1728, some people were attempting to explore the western part of the Northwest Passage. Danish Navy Officer Vitus Bering would use a strait that eventually would be named after him to discover the continents of Asia and North America were separate landmasses. Bering conducted other explorations of the western part of the Northwest Passage. One he explored with Russian Lieutenant Alexei Chirikov in 1741. Bering went in search of lands beyond Siberia but eventually was separated from Chirikov. Chirikov ended up discovering some of the Aleutian Islands. In 1762, the Octavius, an English trading ship, set sail on the western part of the Northwest Passage. It never returned. Thirteen years later, the Herald found the ship’s remains. There has been speculation the Octavius was the first western sailing ship to sail through the passage; however, all the crewmembers were found frozen to death inside the ship.

England continued to focus on the exploration of the Northwest Passage. In 1775, an offer of 20,000 pounds was made to the explorer who could find the Northwest Passage. In 1776, Captain James Cook was sent to find the route. The Admiralty gave Cook control of the mission with Charles Clerke as his second in command. Cook had been retired, but he carefully read the journals and diaries of Bering’s explorations. Cook and Clerke crossed the Pacific and began their mission at Nootka Sound in April 1777. They sailed up the coastlines, following the earlier Russian routes. Their orders called for them to search all the inlets and rivers up to sixty-five degrees north latitude. Just before reaching this point, they found a part of the coastline that pushed them south into what became known as Cook Inlet. After going through the nearby water route, the crew was only able to reach the Alaskan peninsula and the first of the Aleutian Islands. They did not, however, find the passage.

Many began to believe the Northwest Passage was a myth. George Vancouver led an exploration from 1791 to 1795 that looked into all the water routes of the Northwest Coast. Afterward, he concluded there was no passage south of the Bering Strait. Alexander Mackenzie supported these claims during his exploration in 1793. Finally, Sir Robert McClure found the Northwest Passage in 1851. He was able to look across the Banks Island in the northwest part of Canada while on the strait named after him and see Melville Island. However, the strait was not navigable; and McClure could not pass through it. Three years later, John Rae, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was able to travel the passage after finding a route that connected the entrances of the Dolphin and Union and Lancaster Straits, which were both in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

The Development of New France

In their quest for the Northwest Passage, the French began exploring the interior of North America. Unable to find the passage, they opted instead to establish trading posts and settlements. In 1608, three dozen French colonists led by Samuel de Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence River and started a settlement. This settlement, which was named Quebec, became the center of North American empire known as New France.

Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet are often presented in history as a team, since their most notable historic achievement was a journey they undertook together. In 1673, they set out, with two canoes and a crew of five others.  The trip had several objectives, including setting up Christian missions among the Indians, establishing trading posts with the Indians for the French colony and exploring rumors of a large river to the south (the Messipi, or “Great Water”) which, it was thought, might connect to the Pacific Ocean.

The expedition followed Lake Michigan to Green Bay, up the Fox River to the Wisconsin River, which they followed downstream, eventually reaching the Mississippi River. Most of the American Indians they encountered were friendly, especially the Illinois, who treated them very well. The Illinois gave them a calumet, or peace pipe, which they could show to hostile tribes as a sign of safe passage. This proved a very useful item to Marquette and Joliet as they encountered tribes that were not as friendly to strangers. The Illinois chief even sent his 10-year-old son along with the expedition as a guide and a go-between with other Indian tribes. As they went on, however, they became more convinced that the “Great Water,” later known as the Mississippi, probably emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, not the Pacific Ocean. By the time they had gotten within about ten days travel of the Gulf, they decided to go no further, fearing problems with other hostile tribes or with the Spanish, who controlled the area and were unfriendly with France at the time. As a result of Marquette and Jolliet’s joint expedition, the interior of North America took on a French influence.

Robert LaSalle was the first European to travel the length of the Mississippi River (1682). La Salle claimed the entire Mississippi basin for France and named the area Louisiana, in honor of the King Louis XIV, who commented the land was “utterly useless,” when he got the news. Described in some sources as “one of the most celebrated explorers and builders of New France,” Robert La Salle’s contemporaries were not as complimentary in their descriptions of him. In fact, La Salle’s men murdered him during his last expedition. These contrasts made La Salle an enigmatic hero.

The “Columbian Exchange

The encounter among the Europeans, Asians, and Africans of the Eastern Hemisphere and the natives of the Western Hemisphere launched a global exchange of goods, ideas, diseases, and peoples. Since Europeans were generally unaware of the Americas until the voyages of Christopher Columbus, many refer to the interaction that resulted from his voyages as the Columbian Exchange. This interaction encompassed a large array of items and ideas, which included food, medicine, government, technology, language, religion, and the arts.

For the most part, the exchange was intentional, and mutually beneficial.  For example, Europeans introduced domesticated animals from Europe, Africa, and Asia such as chickens, horses, pigs, cows, oxen, and goats. European ships also transported wheat, barley, rice, bananas, some varieties of grapes, olives, citrus fruits, watermelon, peaches, pears, lettuce, okra, onions, sugar cane and coffee to the Americas.  The Europeans also brought important technology to the Americas including techniques in metallurgy, shipbuilding, agriculture, and European weaponry.  

The Europeans – and the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere – gained turkeys, quinine, maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, beans (lima, kidney, and navy), avocado, squash, pumpkins, peppers, sunflowers, pineapples, tomatoes, cocoa, vanilla, gold and silver from the Americas. The new crops, especially the potato, peanut, and corn, improved nutrition in Europe, Asia, and Africa and contributed to a global increase in population. Quinine, made from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, was the first drug known to successfully treat malaria. It was first introduced to Jesuit missionaries by the Quechua Indians of Peru, and by the seventeenth century, it was being used to treat malaria in Rome.  For more than two centuries, quinine remained the most widely used anti-malarial in the world.

Unfortunately, some aspects of this interaction were neither intentional nor beneficial. For example, in addition to nutritious food crops, Europeans brought weeds (such as dandelion and tumbleweed) and earthworms.   These invasive organisms forever altered the American landscape.  However, it was the Eurasian diseases against which American Indians had no natural immunity that brought about the most devastation. Some historians argue that it was smallpox, rather than superior weapons, that allowed the Spanish to conquer the Aztecs and the Inca. We now know that European diseases spread out in advance of the first European explorers and colonists, killing as much as ninety percent of the native population in North America. The death of millions of natives consequently produced a labor shortage in Central and South America.  Europeans began to purchase increasingly large numbers of slaves from West Africa and transport them to the Western Hemisphere to work the plantations, farms and mines. This added a third cultural strand to the peoples that would populate the Americas, and marked the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

In other instances, intentional actions precipitated unintended consequences.  For example, European livestock ate crops that American Indians cultivated and wild plants Indians gathered for food and medicine. This unexpectedly reduced the food supply for the Indians and created resentment against the Europeans. Fur traders were so successful in recruiting Indians and a smaller number of white trappers to supply them with furs for the European market that animal populations in many parts of the Northeast were driven to near-extinction. Spanish treasure fleets brought back so much gold and silver from the Western Hemisphere that Europe experienced runaway price inflation. Tobacco, a plant American Indians smoked for ceremonial purposes, was introduced to Europeans. This created dependence and disease for centuries to come. The weapons and horses Europeans once used to subdue native tribes were soon adopted by American Indians and used against settlers. English settlers in Massachusetts, for example, found the Indians quick to adapt to European firearms and within a generation Pilgrim leaders were complaining the Indians were better armed than they were, with the latest flintlocks and the ability to make their own powder and shot. Finally, the use of quinine to combat malaria eventually opened the door for European imperialism in Africa.

  • 1494 treaty between Spain and Portugal that settled the question of control over newly discovered lands of the non-Christian world.
  • the movement of people, plants, and animals between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres that started after Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas
  • the half of the globe to the east of the Prime Meridian
  • the name given to the cape located at the southern tip of Africa
  • northern water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Archipelago along the coast of northern Canada and Alaska
  • an era beginning in the 1400s in which exploers set off to explore distant parts of the world expanding trade and travel
  • to sail around the world
  • the country from which a person was born; the country where settlers or colonists originated
  • A document, speech, or other piece of information produced during the time under study, for example, the Declaration of Independence.
  • the exchange of information between individuals through a system of shared symbols, signs or behaviors
  • the development of increasingly integrated global economies, views, ideas and aspects of culture; worldwide integration
  • having to do with the affairs, cultures or citizens of two or more nations
  • the land that surrounds the Mediterranean sea; the shared physical characteristics and customs of the people who live in the Mediterranean
  • Spanish conquerors of Mexico, Central America, and Peru during the sixteenth century.
  • a person who makes maps
  • the right, power, or authority to interpret and enforce the law; the extent, territory, or range of authority
  • An empire established by Augustus in 27 BC and divided in AD 395 into the Western Roman Empire and the eastern or Byzantine Empire that at its peak ruled lands in Europe,Africa and Asia.
  • the art of making maps
  • a contest between businesses to win the most customers or earn the most money
  • Spanish explorer who controlled the encomienda or Native Americans who worked for the Spanish Crown
  • an unequal relationship between two states that results in the domination of one state by the other usually in the form of territorial, economic or political control
  • a law enacted by a governing body; process of lawmaking
  • a centuries long period during the Middle Ages in which several Christian European kingdoms reconquered land in the Iberian peninsula from Islamic kingdoms
  • the practice of profiting from short term fluctuations in the economy through risky financial transactions; conjectural consideration of a matter
  • strong, steady winds that blow from east to west and toward the Equator 
  • The investigation of unknown regions.
  • devotion or loyalty to a leader, nation, group, or idea
  • any company or individual that must try to win supportsers because it offers similar goods or services as other companies or individuals; a rival
  • a legal system employed by the crown of Spain to regulate Native American labor; an encomendero was granted encomiendas and ordered to take care of them in return for labor
  • the average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring; a group of individuals born and living around the same period of time
  • the system which governs or exercises influence over a state or community
  • one half of the globe
  • method of charting and steering an object
  • the northern axis of Earth's rotation; most northern point on Earth
  • the star which the northern axis of Earth's rotation points
  • the use of knowledge to develop new devices, tools, or techniques intended to solve an existing problem or to improve, in some way, our quality of life
  • a small instrument used to calculate the location of celestial bodies, determine time via latitude, and to determine trangulation to locate a point
  • a war between the northern United States (known as the Union) and southern slave states (known as the Confederate States of America) over the issue of slavery which was fought from 1861 - 1865
  • any of the Earth's seven largest bodies of land
  • a legal system in Europe during 9th to 15th centuries which structured society around the holding of land in exchange for labor
  • dealing with matters of money, capital, or credit
  • a useful device, method, or improvement that did not exist before which is usually developed after study and experimentation
  • the imaginary, vertical lines on a globe that help measure the distance of a point east or west of the Prime Meridian
  • a person or device that guides a ship, airplane or missile
  • the Americas; term that represented the Western Hemisphere after European discovery during the 16th century
  • the point on the horizon directly between the north and west
  • open defiance of or resistance to authority; a violent uprising against the government
  • to identify; to know that something has been seen or experienced before
  • the materials available that can be drawn upon when needed; supply
  • all of the land and waters that belong to or are controlled by a particular country; an area of land claimed by the United States, but not officially recognized as a state 
  • two or more people, parties, or nations that agree to help one another achieve a common goal
  • a small wooden sailing ship used by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the fifteenth century
  • a formal ritual or custom
  • the buying and selling of goods between cities or nations
  • a disagreement; opposition
  • to find or gain knowledge of something for the first time
  • to rule over or control; to be much stronger or more skilled than your opponent; to be the most important part of something
  • a governing official who exercises influence over an organized body; a person who governs
  • a state of concern or attention; curiosity
  • an organization of several Native American tribes or nations
  • the imaginary, horizontal lines on a globe that help measure the distance of a point north or south of the Equator
  • relating to the Middle Ages; primitive; old-fashioned
  • a state ruled by a single monarch who holds absolute power
  • the exclusive control of a product by an individual or enterprise represented by a lack of economic competition and the ability to control prices
  • to move along a planned route
  • a 90 degree arc that is one quarter of a circle
  • a person who searches unknown regions
  • to ban by law or otherwise prohibit some existing practice or custom
  • the city that serves as the official seat of government in a state or nation
  • a period of one hundred years
  • the general weather conditions of a specific area over a long period of time
  • a tool used for finding direction
  • a culmination of knowledge, beliefs, and values developed through an individual's experiences in the world
  • an imaginary line that runs side to side and divides the globe into equal halves; 0° Latitude
  • to travel to new places for the purpose of discovery or adventure
  • to provide the money needed to complete a project
  • a strip of land that connects two larger bodies of land
  • a person who journeys to a holy place
  • extremely different; straying from the usual or traditional
  • to search for suitable people and convince them to join a cause, company, the military, etc.
  • the process of withdrawing back from something dangerous or difficult
  • the organization and maneuvering of military or naval forces in a battle
  • a name that was used sometimes to refer to a person sent by a king or queen to govern a colony
  • people from a part of Europe known as Scandinavia; the Vikings were known as fierce warriors and pirates, but they were also great explorers and merchants
  • all of the nations that united (including Great Britain, France, and Russia) to defeat the Central Powers during World War I; all of the nations that united (including Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II
  • to say that something belongs to you; to ask for something you believe you deserve
  • a place that is ruled by a far away country; a group of people sent by their country to build settlements in such a place
  • to discuss or examine an important topic or issue by presenting and considering opposing points of view
  • a period of ten years
  • one very large area or many separate areas under the control of one person or government
  • a serious shortage of food over a wide area that causes great hunger and sickness
  • relating to or affecting the entire world
  • part of a larger body of water, deep enough for ships to anchor, that provides protection from wind, waves and water currents
  • land with water on all sides that is too small to be a continent
  • a large continuous and usually indefinite part of the Earth's surface
  • a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C which is characterized by bleeding gums and weakness and was common among sailors due to a lack of fruits and vegetables for extended periods of time
  • an original document that provides information for research
  • a narrow passage of water that connects two large bodies of water
  • a tax added by the government to goods produced and shipped in from other countries
  • a formal agreement between two or more nations, usually regarding trade, peace, or alliance
  • a name that refers to all of the states that did not secede from the United States during the American Civil War
  • a long journey, especially by sea
  • the amount of a good or service that is available for purchase
  • the amount of a particular good or service that people want and have the ability to buy
  • a principle of entitlement; fundamental rules
  • bowl-shaped land surrounded by higher land
  • the goods carried on a ship, airplane, or vehicle; freight
  • the thing or person responsible for a specific change or result
  • the person with the highest rank or most power in a group
  • land along a sea or ocean
  • to give permission
  • a male monarch who inherits his position by right of birth
  • physical or mental effort; work; a task
  • a yellow to yellow-orange corn introduced to Europeans by the Native Americans
  • command; authoritative instruction
  • a particular space with definite or indefinite boundaries that has a specific name
  • media; the publishing or broadcasting of news by reporters, publishers and broadcasters; newspapers, television, radio, periodicals
  • a system used for standardized measurment
  • a person held in servidtude who is the property of another
  • a large inlet of the sea that is often parallel to the coast
  • from, in, or like the city
  • a point of land that extends into a body of water
  • something that is greater in excellence (better) or higher in quality; favorable
  • part of a larger body of water that extends into land
  • a large body of water surrounded by land
  • a representation of a region of the Earth or heavens
  • the point on a compass that is directly opposite from east; the direction of sunset
  • the amount of time a person has been alive; or a period of time usually named for a particular characteristic or condition shared by those who lived during that period; an era
  • a small body of water that is enclosed by land on three sides, but opens out into a larger body of water.
  • a period of time marked by a specific characteristic or event that serves as a basis for chronological time