Spanish and Portuguese Empires (1581-1640)

Spanish and Portuguese Empires 1581 1640

Source: adapted from Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1911. The Age of Discovery, 1340-1600. University of Texas at Austin.

Spain and Portugal were the first European nations to establish trade empires spanning the world. By treaty (Tordesillas, 1494 and Zaragoza, 1529) most of the Americas were claimed by Spain, with the exception of Brazil, while several coastal territories of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Pacific Asia were claimed by Portugal, except for the Philippines that Spain claimed before the Treaty of Zaragoza was ratified. The setting of these empires was supported by trade routes bringing the newfound wealth of the claimed territories.

One important source of commodities was the “Spice Islands” of Southeast Asia the Portuguese collected from Timor and Malacca, and the Spanish collected from Manila. The Spanish trade route then crossed the Pacific to be transited through the American land bridge linking ports such as Acapulco and Veracruz. The wealth collected from the west coast of South America also transited through the isthmus of Panama through Colon. A substantial amount of wealth was thus transiting through the Caribbean on its way to Europe. For the Portuguese, the trade route did not require a land bridge but had to round the Cape of Good Hope.