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  • The Treaty of Tordesillas, June 7 1494

    Beatriz Camino

    The Treaty of Tordesillas, June 7 1494

    On this day in 1494, the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, an agreement that divided the territories of the “New World” into two spheres of influence. The consequences of this agreement can still be appreciated nowadays throughout America.

    The Leadup to the Treaty

    The Treaty of Tordesillas was aimed to solve any kind of dispute that might arise between Portugal and Spain regarding the newly discovered territories in the New World. Before the discovery of America, both kingdoms had signed the Treaty of Alcácovas (1479), which granted all lands south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. However, when Christopher Columbus, who had sailed under the sponsorship of the Castilian crown, proved to Portuguese King John II that there were more islands to the southwest of the Canary Islands he became infuriated. He claimed that these territories belonged to Portugal and threatened the Catholic Kings with invading them. The latter, whose military power in the Atlantic could not match the Portuguese, sought a diplomatic solution.

    Isabella and Ferdinand decided to ask for help from Pope Alexander VI, who issued a papal bull in 1493. In this document, he claimed that the world should be divided by an imaginary meridian crossing between the north and south pole. According to it, all of the territories to the west of this line belonged to Spain and those to the east to Portugal. He also added an important clause which stated that if a new Christian kingdom was discovered, it could not be conquered.

    The Terms of the Treaty

    The Treaty was signed on 7 June 1494 in the Spanish town of Tordesillas. Pope Alexander’s decision was maintained, but the line was shifted to 370 leagues west of Cape Verde. The document established two spheres of influence but did not consider geographical matters such as coastlines.

    On one hand, the Portuguese were given free rein west and south of Melilla in Morocco and gained the eastern part of current Brazil. On the other, Spain gained most of the lands of the Americas and focused on the stretch of the North African coast opposite the Canary Islands. Still, the line was not strictly enforced, as the Spanish did not resist the Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the line. Moreover, the treaty permitted either country’s ships to sail across the water under the other’s jurisdiction in order to access lands that were under their control.

    Consequences of the Treaty

    After the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed, both empires quickly set out their sights to discover more territories and the colonial competition started. However, there was a missing piece in the treaty: the meridian only divided one part of the world.

    This proved to be a problem when explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the service of Spain, reached East Asia by crossing the Pacific Ocean in 1519-1522. There, Spain established control over the Maluku Islands, which were the source of many spices and a very important trading post. As a result, the Portuguese quickly argued that they also had a claim on the islands. Since there existed no meridian that divided this part of the world, negotiations took place over several years to determine on which side of the sphere the islands were located. Finally, they reached an agreement in 1529 with the Treaty of Zaragoza, which established an anti-meridian and gave Portugal control of the East Indies and Spain the Pacific Islands and the Americas.

    Nevertheless, Spain and Portugal’s spheres of influence quickly changed as the British, French and Dutch began to wonder whether they could also benefit from the riches of the Americas. With the arrival of the Reformation in the 16th century, nations challenged papal authority and sought their own overseas territories. Thus, they ignored the Treaty of Tordesillas, which had been decreed by the Pope, and set out to achieve this goal.

    Still, the Treaty of Tordesillas remains the first official document that divided the world for colonization and its consequences can still be appreciated today. For example, Spanish is the dominant language in Latin and South America with the exception of Brazil which, as established in the agreement, was under the control of Portugal.


    Spain - Catholic Kings (1474-1504) 4 silver Reales. Mint of Sevilla. Crowned royal shield. S-oIIII Yoke and arrows.REYES CATOLICOS (1474-1504). 1 Real. (Ar. 3,24g/28mm). Sin marca de ceca. (Cal-2019-Falta). MBC. Cospel faltado. Alabeada. Muy raro.SPAIN, Castile & León, Fernando V & Isabel I (Los Reyes Católicos - the Catholic Monarchs), 1474-1504. AR Real (24 mm, 3.41 g), Seville mint EF

    Coin, Spain, Ferdinand & Isabella, Castellano, 1479-1516, Burgos, ExtremelySpanish Monarchy, Ferdinand V and Isabella I (1474-1566) 1 Real. TOLEDOCoin, Spain, Fernando & Isabel, Blanca, Cuenca, , Billon


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