Portuguese and Spanish methods of exploration and tradeby Rit Nosotro
Compare the Portuguese method of exploration and trade (Asia and Africa) with the Spanish method of exploration and trade (Americas).
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries ships left the shores of Europe in hopes of attaining wealth from foreign countries. Tales of golden cities were carried across the long trade routes of the Middle East, but these were controlled by the Muslim Turks, and other routes to Asian lands were needed. For this purpose, European sailors began exploratory voyages into the Atlantic ocean. From the Atlantic ocean the Dutch sailed around the tip of Africa into Asian waters as the Portuguese before them had previously accomplished. The Spanish, while also using the route around Africa, searched for a Westerly route. They instead discovered America, a land previously unknown to the Eur-Asia civilizations. The Americans had been so far removed from the military advances of the Western Hemisphere that they provided an easy target for Spanish conquistadors. The Asians did not prove to be so easy an opponent for the Dutch. Furthermore, the Spanish had little European rivals in their particular lands in America, and this greatly influenced their impact on the American civilization.
The Spanish, sailing to the West, went in search of Asia. Upon landing on the shores of America, Christopher Columbus discovered a land and a people he knew nothing about. Europe had never imagined that another entire continent existed to the west. McAlister explains that even upon landing on the shores of America, Columbus did not admit his incredible discovery. He sought a passage to Asia, not a new land, and adamantly argued that he had found one to the day of his death. Following Columbus's discovery, further voyages of exploration were sent to the Americas to find a passage through it1. Even with a new land full of trading opportunities before them, the Spanish still viewed America as a wall between them and the Asian ports instead of a source of wealth in its own right. Nonetheless, following further Spanish voyages of discovery, the easily accessible wealth of America became the goal of a Spanish mission of colonization.
The Dutch, on the other hand, traveled the conventional, maritime trade route to Asia. Similarly to the Portuguese before them, they traveled around the tip of Africa. There they found Asian countries that were already pursuing trade relations with several European nations-Portugal, Spain, and England. Furber describes the stance that one high Dutch official took on the issue of trade: "Monopoly of the three spices, cloves, nutmeg, and mace, must be ruthlessly enforced," a position that Furber states "meant war with the English"2. This war quickly came. "By . . . 1619," explains Furber, "the rivalry between the Dutch and the English for the spice trade had resulted in open war in the archipelago"3. Competing merchants from a variety of European ports fought not only for the same products but at the same ports. Furber explains that the English had proved themselves a worthy military power to the Asians by first beating a larger Portuguese navy "in full view of the Mughal army on shore"4. Military might would not force the doors of Asian trade completely open, but between European powers it did affect trade opportunities.
However, while privateering abounded in Caribbean waters, and there existed initial rivalries with the Portuguese, the Spanish had little European competition for the lands they invaded. In 1494 The Treaty of Tordesilla, mediated by Pope Alexander VI, had settled the Spanish and Portuguese dispute about the right to foreign lands. Since both countries were Roman Catholic, they had to abide by the authoritative decisions of the Pope. The Dutch found that the Spanish had too great of a defense system in America. Emmer explains, "The Spanish silver mines were situated inland, far from the sea, and the transport of the precious metals to Spain was well organized and superbly defended against attacks. So, the only way to attack Spain in the New World was to participate in privateering . . ."5. Furthermore, the French, English, and Dutch focused their trade with American peoples primarily in North America, Canada, and Brazil. This allowed the Spanish, unlike the Dutch, to put more focus on trade relations with the Americans then open warfare with European competitors.
Furthermore, the Dutch in Asia traded with cultures that had at least a small knowledge of European countries. Through overland trade routes, caravans had carried European products to Asian countries. Along these same routes, legends and samples of the riches of Asian emperors and empires had slowly made their way back to Europe, igniting European hopes for wealth. Moreover, rejected people from Asia had, for some time, already migrated across the Middle East to the borders of Europe, impacting the social and political landscape of Europe. This migration produced such empires with eastern roots as the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, who militarily threatened the Eastern border of Europe for centuries.
The Spanish at first had sailed to the West in search of Asia, but had later realized the vast potential of trade relations with America. Upon arriving, the Spanish, unlike the Dutch in Asia, found countries that had no previous knowledge of Europe. Susan Bauer, describes the initial reaction of the Americans to the Spaniards: "They [the Indians] had never seen horses before. They thought each horse was a huge monster with six feet, two arms, and two heads." She further explains that the Indians believed Cortes and his men to be gods, and because of this they were quickly welcomed into the Aztec capital6. The Spanish gave glass beads and trinkets in trade for gold and exotic products. When brought back to Europe the gold, like the spices of Asia, drew the attention of European merchants. But America offered to the Spanish the unique opportunity of conquest rather than simple trade.
The Asians themselves had been the source of some of Europe's military technology, such as gunpowder. This was one reason the Dutch could not simply conquer the Asian empires and steal their wealth. But due to the American's separation from the Eastern Hemisphere they did not receive this, or any other, military advancement. McAlister writes, "Most Indian nations lacked the political, military, and psychological resources for sustained resistance"7. So when the Spaniards landed on American soil bringing metal armor, guns, and canons to fight the Americans' canoes, bows, and spears, the Americans were quickly overwhelmed. McAlister further states that Pope Alexander VI had taken away the governmental authority of the native infidels and granted it to Christian conquerors. This allowed the Spanish to, with good conscience, fight a 'just' war against the Indians and strip them of their judicial authority over their native lands8. Conquest of American empires, instead of traditional trade, seemed to offer great wealth with minimum cost. And due to the great differences in military technology, the Spanish found they could easily conquer the American empires instead of trading with them.
According to their previous contact with other nations, either Asian or European, the Asian and American empires had developed different military technologies. The Asian military force proved more insurmountable than the American, and this impacted the trade tactics of the Dutch and Spanish. The Americas had been discovered by providence and proved to be a source of easy wealth for the Spanish conquistadors. An Asian spice monopoly, on the other hand, proved much harder for the Dutch to attain. Both American and Asian empires offered different obstacles and different benefits to the Dutch and Spanish. Nonetheless, Asia and the Americas had both proven themselves to be a profitable source of income for individual explorers and nationally supported trade organizations alike.
There is much more on The Story of Spanish Colonization in the Americas.
1Lyle N. McAlister, Spain
and Portugal in the New World: 1492-1700 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1984), 92-93.
2Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976), 36-37.
4 Ibid., 41.
5Peter C. Emmer. "The First Global War: The Dutch versus Iberia in Asia, Africa and the New World, 1590-1609." Leiden University. 2003. < www.brown.edu/Departments/Portuguese_Brazilian_Studies/ejph/> (November 24, 2004)
6Susan Wise Bauer, The Story of the World, Volume 2: The Middle Ages (Charles City: Peace Hill Press, 2003)
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