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New Spain, Same Old Spaniards

(1400-1600s)

In This Chapter

Spanish voyages after Columbus

Conquest of the Aztecs and Incans

Coronados search for the Seven Cities of Cibola

The Black Legend and native revolts


In the wake of Columbus, the Portuguese scrambled to launch a series of expeditions, including that of Amerigo Vespucci and, in 1500, an expedition to India led by Pedro Alvares Cabral. To put it mildly, Cabral went wide in the South Atlantic and ended up in Brazil.

Yet another Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan, sailed not under the flag of his native country, but on commission from Spain, charged with proving that the aptly named Spice Islands lay on the Spanish side of the line of demarcation established by the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Magellan sailed west in 1519, found the Strait of Magellan separating the southern tip of South America from Tierra del Fuego, and crossed the Strait into the Pacific. That ocean had been discovered on September 25 or 27, 1513, by Vasco Nunez de Balboa, but it was Magellan who named it. Magellan explored the Philippine Islands and even persuaded the ruler of Cebu, one of the islands, to accept Christianity. That soon embroiled Magellan in a local war, however; and on April 27, 1521, he was killed by natives on Mactan Island. One of Magellans captains, Juan Sebastian del Cano, brought his ship, the Victoria, back to Spain, thereby completing (in 1522) the first circumnavigation of the globe.

The voyages of Spain, as well as those of Portugal, were undertaken not for the sake of exploration, but for the purpose of conquest and colonization-and also to convert the heathen New World to the cause of Christ. Accordingly, two classes, of professionals were represented among the early Spanish explorers: conquistadors (conquerors) and priests.


Voice from the Past | Complete Idiots Guide to American History | The Way of the Conquistador







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