The Portuguese & Spanish Empires in the Sixteenth Century

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Bartholomeu Dias sails around the tip of Africa

1488

King John II of Portugal appointed him, in October of 1487, to head an expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa in the hope of finding a trade route to India. Having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, Dias continued east. Dias wanted to continue sailing to India, but he was forced to turn back when his crew refused to go further. It was only on the return voyage that he actually discovered the Cape of Good Hope, in May 1488. Dias returned to Lisbon in December of that year, after an absence of sixteen months. The discovery of the passage around Africa was significant because, for the first time, Europeans could trade directly with India and the other parts of Asia, bypassing the overland route through the Middle East, with its expensive, and often duplicitous, middlemen.

The voyages of Columbus

1492 - 1502


Christopher Columbus’ most famous voyage took place in 1492, when he discovered previously unknown lands to the west of Europe: the Americas. After that, he returned to Spain, and was commissioned to return with a larger fleet. All in all, he made four journeys to the New World.

Treaty of Tortesillas

1494

Briefly after Spain and Portugal began their navigation to the Americas, they decided that to avoid problems, they would split the west. So they drew a line in between the continent. Spain lined present day South America, all of Ecuador, Colombia, etc. Portugal received present day Brazil.

Vasco de Gama lands at Calicut in India

1498

He is one of the most famous and celebrated explorers from the Discovery Ages, being the first European to reach India through sea. This discovery was very significant and paved the way for the Portuguese to establish a long lasting colonial empire in Asia. The route meant that the Portuguese wouldn't need to cross the highly disputed Mediterranean nor the dangerous Arabia, and that the whole voyage would be made by sea. After decades of sailors trying to reach India with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks and attacks, Gama landed in Calicut in May 1498. Reaching the legendary Indian spice routes unopposed helped the Portuguese Empire improve its economy. These spices were mostly pepper and cinnamon at first, but soon included other products, all new to Europe which led to a commercial monopoly for several decades.

Portuguese seize Malacca

1511

The Capture of Malacca in 1511 occurred when the Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque subdued the city of Malacca in 1511. The port city of Malacca controlled the narrow strategic strait of Malacca, through which all sea-going trade between China and India was concentrated. The capture of Malacca was the result of a plan by the King of Portugal Manuel I, who in 1505 had resolved to thwart Muslim trade in the Indian Ocean by capturing Aden, in order to block trade through Alexandria, capturing Ormuz, in order to block trade through Beirut, and Malacca to control trade with China.

Landing of Portuguese ships in Southern China

1514

Spanish conquest of Mexico

1519 - 1522

Hernán Cortés was a Spanish conquistador who overthrew the Aztec empire (1519-1521) and won Mexico for the crown of Spain. In 1519 Cortés was to command his own expedition to Mexico, but Diego Velázquez cancelled it. Cortés ignored the order and traveled with about 500 men and 11 ships to Mexico. Cortés became allies with some of the native peoples he encountered, but with others he used deadly force to conquer Mexico. He fought Tlaxacan and Cholula warriors and then set his sights on taking over the Aztec empire. He marched to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital and home to ruler Montezuma II. Cortés took Montezuma hostage and his soldiers raided the city. Cortés left the city after learning that Spanish troops were coming to arrest him for disobeying orders. He returned to Tenochtitlan to find a rebellion in progress. The Aztecs eventually drove the Spanish from the city, but Cortés returned again to defeat them and take the city in 1521.

Magellan's voyage around the world

1519 - 1522

Magellan believed that the Spice Islands could be reached by sailing west through the New World. He was rejected by the Portuguese king, so went to Charles V. He set out with 5 ships and hundreds of men. When they arrived at the Pacific ocean they had three ships left. On March 28 1521, they landed in the Philippines. Magellan and his crew were persuaded into helping a tribe kill their enemy. On April 21, 1521, Magellan took part in the Battle of Mactan and was killed. Three years later, one ship with 17 men made it back to Spain.

Pizzaro's conquest of the Inca

1530 - 1535

In 1526 Francisco Pizarro traveled to Peru and received permission to claim the land for Spain. Pizarro took the Inca leader Atahualpa hostage, had him killed, and then conquered the Inca city of Cuzco. He founded Lima, now the capital of Peru.