Catholic Empires of the Americas c. 1650

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Map Code: Ax02415

The colonization of the new world began with Christopher Columbus’ discovery of Hispaniola in 1492. The Spanish began building an empire in the Caribbean, and conquistadores soon followed, penetrating deep into Central and South America, and south-western North America, and conquering the great indigenous civilisations of Aztec Mexico (1519–21) and Inca Peru (1530s). The Portuguese arrived in Brazil as early as 1500. Hispanic colonies of Central and South America were completely dominated by the Catholic Church. As early as 1493 Pope Alexander VI awarded colonial rights over the newly discovered lands to Spain and Portugal. A year later, by the Treaty of Tordesillas, the pope set up a demarcation line 370 leagues (1,185 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands which divided the world between the two Iberian claimants: no other nation ever accepted this papal disposition. Endorsed by the papacy, the Portuguese and Spanish colonists saw their actions as a religious crusade; they had received permission to seize the newly revealed land and claim it for Catholicism. One consequence of Pope Alexander VI’s division of the world into Spanish and Portuguese zones of exploration in 1493 was that Brazil, which projects much further east into the Atlantic than any European realized at that time, fell into the Portuguese zone; it was duly claimed by Portugal and remains lusophone down to the present.

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