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Before the Treaty

Portugal pioneered in the task of finding new

routes to the countries of the East. Under the
patronage and encouragement of Prince Henry
the Navigator (1394-1460), Portuguese sailors
undertook voyages of discovery and exploration
along the Atlantic coast of Africa.
In 1486, Bartholomew Diaz reached the southern-most tip of Africa.
The Portuguese called the place "Cape of Good Hope, a name chosen to
express their undying faith in the ultimate success of their undertakings.
Twelve years later, they had the great satisfaction of seeing their dream
come true. In 1495, Vasco da Gama sailed into the harbor of Calicut,
India, bringing to a successful conclusion one of the most memorable
voyages in early modern times. At last a direct all water route to the
East had been found which could give traders from Western Europe
freedom and immunity from interference or control on the part of the
maritime city states of Italy and the Moslem states in Western Asia.
It was however, to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain
that the honor belongs to for accomplishing the first truly epoch
making voyage of modern times. Six years before Vasco da
Gama accomplished his memorable voyage, Christopher
Columbus,sailing under the flag of Spain, and, following a bold
plan of his own to get to the countries of Eastern Asia, had
successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean and had come upon a
new world, (1492),
Columbus' achievement gave rise to
misunderstanding and controversy between Spain
and Portugal. For it was generally believed,then
that the world was much smaller than its actual size
and that Columbus had reached islands off the
eastern coast of India. Portugal contended that
Columbus had gone into regions which at that time
were being discovered and explored by her own
To settle the controversy between Spain and
Portugal, Pope Alexander VI issued in 1493 a
papal bull establishing a line of demarcation
between the areas assigned for discovery and
exploration to the rulers of these states. The
Inter Caetera as this document is known,
was promulgated May 4, 1493.

King John of Portugal did not find it quite satisfactory,
the arrangement established by the Pope. He felt that the
demarcation line established by the Papal Bull was not
far enough to the west to include regions which, by reason
of prior discovery and exploration by Portuguese
navigators, properly belonged to Portugal. He demanded
that the line be moved farther to the west. The
Portuguese demand
was taken up in a conference of Portuguese and Spanish
commissioners held at Tordesillas in 1494.
The Treaty of
The governments of Spain and Portugal agreed to
the Treaty of Tordesillas, named for the city in
Spain in which it was created. The Treaty of
Tordesillas neatly divided the “New World” between
the two superpowers. It was signed by Spain on
June 2, 1494, and by the Portuguese three months
later on September 5, 1494.
The main reason for the treaty was to ensure a newly
discovered land outside Europe was divided in a
rational and peaceful manner between the Portuguese
Empire and the Crown of Castile. This land was
divided along the meridian 370 league that is located
on the west side of Cape Verde Island. The Portuguese
Empire occupied the east region while the people of
Castile occupied the west.
Map by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, courtesy the
Library of Congress
Spain and Portugal adhered to the treaty without
major conflict, and the results linger throughout the
Americas today. Most Latin American nations are
Spanish-speaking countries, for instance, but
Portuguese is the leading official language in Brazil.
This is because the eastern tip of Brazil penetrates
the line agreed to in the Treaty of Tordesillas, so the
region was colonized by Portugal.
Initially, the line of demarcation did not encircle the Earth.
Instead, Spain and Portugal could conquer any new lands they
were the first to discover, Spain to the west and Portugal to the
east, even if they passed each other on the other side of the
globe.But Portugal's discovery of the highly-valued Moluccas
in 1512, caused Spain to argue, After the surviving ships of
Magellan's fleet who wanted to find the Moluccas and
accidentally discovered in 1521, Spain claimed that those
islands were within its western hemisphere.
Portugal gained control of all lands and seas
west of the Saragossa line, including all of Asia
and its neighboring islands so far "discovered,"
leaving Spain most of the Pacific Ocean.
Although the Philippines were not named in the
treaty, Spain implicitly relinquished any claim to
them because they were well west of the line.
Nevertheless, by 1542, King Charles V decided to
colonize the Philippines, judging that Portugal
would not protest too vigorously because the
archipelago had no spices, but he failed in his
attempt. King Philip II succeeded in 1565,
establishing the initial Spanish trading post at
Manila, with little opposition from the Portuguese
as his father had expected.