Age of Exploration and Conquistadors

Age of Exploration
Marco Polo was born in 1254, in Venice, Italy. He traveled extensively with his family, journeying from
Europe to Asia from 1271 to 1295. He remained in China for 17 of those years. His book Il Milione describes
his travels and experiences and helped waken the imaginations of the Age of Exploration.
By the time Christopher Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, the New World had already
been “discovered”. First, of course, there were the Native Americans, and around the year A.D. 1000, Viking
Norsemen led by Leif Ericson sailed from Norway and settled in Newfoundland, in northeast Canada. The
Norsemen soon sailed back across the ocean, having had little to no effect on North America.
Ferdinand II was named king of Sicily and married Princess Isabella of Castile (Spain). In the spring he
directed the campaign against the Muslim kingdom of Granada, winning its final capitulation of the
Reconquista in 1492. The conquest made it possible to focus on exploration. Technological innovations
spurred the exploration boom. A “maritime revolution” in Europe saw the invention of the astrolabe, a
device used to determine latitude; the caravel, a ship of unprecedented speed; and the magnetic compass.
The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus ushered in an era of unprecedented European
exploration and settlement of the Americas. Columbus, sailing with backing of Queen Isabella, failed to
reach his goal of reaching Asia, landing instead on the Bahama Islands in 1492.
European explorers searched for new trade routes (the routes through Constantinople had been cut off by
the Muslims) and overseas wealth through gold and silver. It became a goal to, also, spread Christianity.
Spain and Portugal reached a compromise with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which divided all future
discoveries in the New World between Castile (a region of Spain) and Portugal. The Treaty of Tordesillas
reveals that both Portugal and Spain led the charge in exploring the New World.
Spain quickly established itself as the premier European power in the New World.
In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the river that now carries his name. In 1625, the
Dutch bought Manhattan island from the natives and established the settlement of
New Amsterdam. The colony flourished on account of the fur trade. The Dutch did
little to expand their landholdings. A conflict with England allowed the English to
take over New Amsterdam, renaming it New York.
In 1497, John Cabot claimed Nova Scotia, Newfoundland for England. After Cabot’s efforts, the English
became more concerned with domestic issues and stopped exploring. It was the Puritans (of our
Thanksgiving fame) that saw the New World as a place to practice their religion without persecution.
England’s first settlement in the New World ended badly. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh found the settlement
of Roanoke, off the coast of North Carolina. Raids by Indians and disease devastated the settlement.
The Spanish, determined to eliminate their New World rivals, dispatched the great Spanish Armada in 1588
to attack the British. A fleet of English ships defeated the Armada and set the future of English naval power.
Amerigo Vespucci
Ferdinand Magellan
1499: Explored coast of S. America for Spain
1501: Explored coast of S. America for Portugal
1519: Began the first circumnavigation of the globe
The early Spanish conquistadors, set out in search of gold, slaves, lucrative trade routes, and fame.
Hernán Cortés was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who defeated the Aztec empire and claimed
Mexico for Spain. In February 1519, an expedition of 500 men reached the Mexican coast. Aztec King,
Montezuma, was caught in a Dilemma. Was this white man with a beard the prophesied return of a god or
was he someone to be feared? Montezuma chose to offer gold to keep him away from his capital. It
backfired. Cortes strategically aligned some native peoples against the Aztecs to overthrow them. He
marched to Tenochtitlán and took Montezuma hostage and his soldiers raided the city.
High in the Andes Mountains of Peru, five years before the Spanish arrival, a devastating war gripped the
empire. In 1532, Atahuallpa's army defeated the forces of his half-brother Huascar in a battle near Cuzco.
King Atahuallpa was consolidating his rule when Pizarro and his 180 soldiers appeared.
Pizarro invited Atahuallpa to attend a feast in his honor, and the emperor accepted. Atahuallpa arrived at
the meeting place with several thousand men, all unarmed. Pizarro ordered an attack. Thousands of Incas
were slaughtered, and the emperor was captured.
Atahuallpa offered to fill a room with treasure as ransom for his release - 24 tons of gold and silver were
brought to the Spanish. Although, Atahuallpa had provided the richest ransom in the history of the world,
Pizarro sentenced him to die.