The story

The Treaty of Tordesillas


Establishing the Atlantic domains required a long diplomatic battle between Spain and Portugal.

Shortly after the return of Christopher Columbus, the Pope issued in May 1493 the Bull Inter Coetera, which recognized the kingdom of Castile as dominion over all lands to the west of a meridian located 100 leagues west of the islands. Azores and Cape Verde.

Portugal, feeling harmed, did not accept the papal bull and demanded a direct negotiation. The result was the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, in which the Iberian kingdoms established a division of the world.


Signature of the Treaty of Tordesillas
(in: Manuel de Sousa, Kings and Queens of Portugal, SporPress, Mem Martins, 2000, pp. 81)

According to the treaty, lands and seas found or to be found (as long as not belonging to any Christian king) would be divided between Spain and Portugal. The meridian that passes 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands was taken as the dividing line. The lands located to the east belonged to Portugal. The rest would be from Spain.


Treaty line. Punctuated Pope Alexander VI's proposal

For the Portuguese, the treaty was highly positive, as it assured them possession of the Atlantic coast of Africa, a region they were already exploring. Spain would eventually impose its rule over much of the American continent and the peoples who inhabited it. With the precious metals found in the new continent, it would become the richest nation in Europe. That is why in Spanish history the sixteenth century became known as "the golden century".

The Technical Aspects of Treaty Application

Of course it was very difficult to establish the correct application of the geographical boundaries determined by the treaty. After alluding to the dividing line placed 370 leagues west of Cape Verde, the drafters of the text agreed as follows:

- that such a dividing line should be determined within ten months by a committee of sailors, astronomers and pilots from Castile and Portugal, thus the organization of a joint expedition;

- that Portugal should guarantee to Castile the right of passage in the space belonging to it;
- that in view of the second voyage from Columbus the lands uncovered until 20 June were consigned to Castile on the condition that they were beyond 250 leagues west of Cape Verde; after this date, only the 370 leagues limit would apply;
- that neither the monarch of Castile nor Portugal would resort to papal power to amend the agreement, but to comply with the treaty as it was signed.

Even so, the difficulties of the practical determination of longitudes remained many, even after reaching the Moluccas. For years, the hemisphere in which they found themselves was admitted between Castile and Portugal. This issue was eventually concluded with the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529.

It can be said that after the Treaty of Tordesillas, in the space of 40 years, centuries of inconsistency in geographical knowledge disappeared, the theoretical teachings of our geography spread throughout the universe and peoples came into contact with each other.

Europe and the navigations

With the Great Navigations, new continents came to be known to Europeans, as did the Atlantic Ocean, which gradually had its secrets blazed.

The power of kings, coupled with the navigating bourgeoisie, became even stronger. The riches obtained from the exploitation of the new lands were used in the organization of armies to subdue the nobles resistant to the centralization process and were also used to set up an administrative system that guaranteed the monarchs wide powers.

The bourgeoisie became rich with the expansion of trade to other parts of the world. The first trip of the Portuguese to the Indies made an amazing profit: 6,000%! That is, for every hundred coins they spent, they received 6,000 more.

With oceanic sailing, there were several changes in Europe:

  • displacement of the axis of commercial activity from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic;
  • popularization of spice consumption;
  • changes in eating habits, with the inclusion of products such as potatoes, maize, cassava, tomatoes and cocoa, brought from America to the European continent.
  • change in the conception of the world (end of the belief that the earth was flat, that there were mermaids, sea monsters, etc. in the oceans);
  • broadening knowledge of astronomy (discovering the southern hemisphere constellations and paving the way for the heliocentric theory, namely that the earth revolves around the sun);
  • spread of European culture to other continents (including Christianity);
  • settlement and exploitation of the land found;
  • high concentration of precious metals in western Europe;
  • submission of the populations of the “new continents” to slavery and compulsory labor.