Part I: The Treaty of Tordesillas
Spain and Portugal did not exist until the late fourteenth century. The land was there, and the people, and the languages. But political boundaries followed an ebb and flow of power. The greatest external force in Iberia was the presence of the Moors, who invaded in 711. They brought art and architecture and algebra, and they stayed until the Iberians themselves could form a critical mass, enough unity to drive them out.
Portugal was first. In 1250 the Moslems were expelled, and Spain was forced to recognize the existence of Portugal, the kingdom, with national boundaries delineated much as they are today. In 1385 Joao of Aviz became the first Portuguese king whose ancestry was not the House of Burgundy, but Portuguese.
United as a country with a native king, a national language, and strong from the long struggle for self determination, Portugal turned her interest to the sea. It was known that the world was a sphere, and Portugal busied herself to explore eastward, toward the spice islands. Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama are the names students recognize from this exciting exploration. For about 100 years a systematic accumulation of knowledge and an innovative use of instruments brought the Portuguese closer and closer to the East.
In Spain, national cohesion has been more complicated. The provinces remaining after Portugal’s independence were and are a disparate lot. Today four distinct languages still survive in Spain: Castillian, Galicia, Basque, and Catalun. The regions have different customs, traditions and ways of life. Some have wanted unity, while others have held out for independence. The Basques even now are struggling for independence from Spain.
Spain was born with the marriage of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1478. Ferdinand and Isabel were strong and complementary monarchs, blessed with longevity and focus. They made Castillian the official language of the kingdom, and set about removing the Moors from Spain. Like Portugal, their success after 800 years left the energy which ignited “el Siglo de Oro,” the Golden Age of Spain.
In 1492 as the Moors were driven from Spain, and non-Catholics were expelled or converted by the Inquisition, the first exploration to the west occurred, and was successful. Columbus returned from his voyage across the seas to report to Isabel that he had indeed sailed west to India. Portugal was shaken. Portuguese explorers had nearly reached India by sailing east and now suddenly must compete with Spain for the profits. They appealed to the Pope.
In the fifteenth century the Pope was the arbiter in these matters. His authority throughout Europe was immense, although in most countries the beginnings of self empowerment were stirring. In Portugal during the reign of Denis, 1279 - 1325, Roman Catholic land holdings were curtailed in order to consolidate the neophyte nation. In Spain the Inquisition itself was founded in 1478 under control of the crown. In Northern Europe, in Flanders and Germany and Britain the rumblings of dissent could be heard, though it was to be fifty years before Martin Luther took his stand. The Jesuit order was to be founded in 1539, designed to be a militant and monastic order of the intellectual and moral elite pledged to defend the Papacy against the Protestant Reformation. In 1492 church and state were not separate. Ferdinand and Isabella were called the Catholic Kings. To be Iberian was to be Catholic. The conflict of authority between religion and politics was undeveloped.
It was to Spain’s advantage that the Pope, Alexander VI was a Spaniard. His solution to the conflict was to draw a line from pole to pole which granted the crown of Castile all lands to its west unless they were already possessed by another Christian king. The line was drawn initially 100 leagues to the west of Cape Verde. The Portuguese took exception to the location of this Line of Demarcation. Perhaps they knew, or guessed, more than they said about world geography. They may have known about the American continents. Portugal prevailed, and in 1494 at Tordesillas a bilateral treaty was signed by Spain and Portugal, dividing the earth between them at 270 leagues farther west.
To the Europeans, this made perfect sense. To prevent the waste of time and energy that competing claims would cause, a proactive decision was made before problems arose. To the inhabitants of the lands just divided, such a decision, had they known about it, would have been meaningless. The concepts of private ownership and of amassing surplus were useless, especially for the Indians in the rain forests of South America. In their animalistic religion, nature was to be revered, not exploited. They were self sufficient. They took what they needed from nature and lived in a balanced ecosystem. The earth could not be possessed, merely used, like oxygen and sunlight. The Amazon Indians were war like, yet possession was not related to status. Unfortunately, the Europeans did not understand this difference.