A scene of Columbus landing in America, believing he had reached Asia.

(1419-1660) by Lance Wilson and Michael Holland

"Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise." - Christopher Columbus (

A group of slaves being cornered on the deck of a slave trade ship.

After more than a millennium of living in mainland Europe, Europeans became attracted to the thought of exploring the world. This was brought about by a book called The Travels by Marco Polo. Marco Polo spent twenty years in Asia, and The Travels documented his experience. Many now well-known explorers read it, and it inspired them to search for routes to Asia. Christopher Columbus, using the knowledge that the world was round, tried to sail across the ocean and around the world to Asia. Instead, he landed in the Americas, which jump-started a period of exploration and subjugation of the natives. The main exploring countries in the early 1500’s were Spain and Portugal. Fearing that their discovered lands would be claimed by the other, the created the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which created a line of demarcation. To the east of the line, all discovered lands were controlled by Portugal. To the west of the line, all discovered lands were controlled by Spain. A few years later, letters sent back to Europe describing the new by Amerigo Vespucci led to the new world being named America. Spanish conquerors, called conquistadors, like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro took control of the Aztec and Inca Empires, respectively. European diseases brought over by these explorers and their armies decimated the native population. The population of the Native Americans fell from 25 million in 1519 to only 1 million in the 1600’s.

Other explorers also began exploring the Americas, some only five years after Columbus discovered them. Amerigo Vespucci charted the coastlines of central and South America beginning in 1499. A German cartographer named Martin Waldseemuile named the new continent for him. Vasco Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1511, making him the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. In 1513, Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain on his search for the Fountain of Youth. Ferdinand Magellan began the first circumnavigation of the world in 1519, but was killed claiming the Philippine Islands. The ship would manage to complete the journey. Coronado explored the Grand Canyon in 1540 on a search for the seven cities of gold. English explorers John Cabot, who explored the North American coast in 1497, Francis Drake, who was the first Englishman to sail around the world and who defeated the Spanish Armada, and Henry Hudson, who discovered the Hudson River on a search for the Northwest Passage, a mythical waterway that would allow one to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific without going around the Americas. Henry Hudson would later claim land for the Dutch along the Hudson River, which was called New Netherlands.

As the Americas became increasingly more settled, the demand for slaves grew. Large agricultural estates called plantations were developing in the Americas, and there was a high demand for laborers. Unwillingly to hire their own kind for this work, they instead bought slaves who were shipped in from Africa. Portugal was the first nation to do this, although their slaves were brought back to Portugal before the discovery of America. Once they had been bought, the slaves were not paid, and were required to work hard for long hours. Estimates put the number of slaves sent to America between 1600 and 1800 at over 10 million. The center of the slave trade in Africa was Timbuktu, which was was once the capital of the Songhai Empire. However, the city, along with the empire, was captured by Morocco in 1591, and over the next 300 years the city changed hands several times, before becoming a French colony. The method of slave trade was called triangular trade. The cycle began in Europe, where manufactured goods such as guns or cloth were made. These were shipped to Africa where they were exchanged for slaves. Then the slaves were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean on what was called the Middle Passage. The slaves would be sold in America to work on fields and produce crops on the plantations. Finally, the crops were shipped back to Europe, and the cycle began anew.

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Key Terms:

Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who conquered the Incas.
Conquistador - Violent and dertermined Spanish explorers that were sent to conquer Mexico and South America after Columbus's first voyage. New land brought new crops, and riches from gold.
Encomienda - After conquering much of Mexico and South America, Queen Isabella granted this which meant that Spanish people had the right to use Native Americans as laborers.
Colony - A settlement made in a new territory. This colony is linked to the parent country who trades and has government control.
Plantations - A Plantation is a large agricultural estate, and during the fifteenth century these were set up on the coast of Brazil. Slaves were shipped from Africa to help with the farming behind sugarcane.
The Balance of Trade - The difference in between the money from imports and exports. A country like Spain during the fifteenth century is in good shape if they export more than they import because there is no money deficit.

Important Leaders:

Christopher Columbus, one of the earlier explorers of the age of exploration.

1. Christopher Columbus - Christopher Columbus was a very important man that was born in the Republic of Genoa. Views of his time thought that the Earth was flat and that if you sailed far enough you would fall of the Earth, but he proved otherwise by his expedition to the Americas. On his first expedition he landed at San Salvador, expecting to reach Japan.
2. Marco Polo - He was a European explorer that with his father and uncle visited Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler. He wrote the book The Traveler on his experiences there.
3. Hernan Cortez - Hernan Cortez was a Spanish Conquistador that conquered Mexico and brought Catholicism to the Native Americans of Mexico, like the Aztecs.
4. Francisco Pizarro - Another Spanish conquistador that led an expedition to South America after Spain had conquered most of Northern Mexico. He conquered the Incan Empire.
5. Amerigo Vespucci - Amerigo was a Florentine that wrote letters of the land he saw on his voyages, and the Americas were named after him.



Important Events:

1441: Portugal begins the slave trade, bringing people from the west coast of Africa.
October 12, 1492: Christopher Columbus lands at San Salvador. He thought he had reached the East Indies, but he had actually discovered the West Indies.
1494: The treeaty of Tordesillas, which divided the territory in the new world between Sapin and Portugal, was approved.
1507: The first use of the name America for the new world.
1511: Vasco Balboa becomes the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
1519: Ferdinand Magellan begins to sail around the world.
1521: Hernan Cortes conquers the Aztec Empire in Mexico.
1607: Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, is established.
1626: The Dutch purchase Manhattan Island.
1653: New Netherlands became a Dutch Colony.

For More Information...

Christopher Columbus This wikipedia site is all about Christopher Columbus. It has details on all of the separate voyages and his affects on the Americas.
Marco Polo This site is all about Marco Polo. It is made by the Silk Road foundation and though a long read, it supplies with many details about him and his travels.
Slavery Mexico wouldn't have grown if it hadn't been for Conquistadors, but it COULDN'T have grown without help from slaves.
Aztecs With culture like this, it isn't easy just to stop and allow conquistadors to take over. This site has everything on the Aztecs from their beautiful culture, to the art and food.
Incan Empire It wasn't just the Aztecs that had a strong culture in the foreign lands discovered by Columbus, this site tells of the Incan Empire.
Ship Battle