On October 13th of 1492, Christopher Columbus made a “discovery” that changed all of mankind. He under the backing of the Spanish government made the pivotal first steps in colonizing a new land. The journey that had long been anticipated by Columbus was not important because it was the first of such expeditions, for it indeed was not. The fact that sets him apart is that his discovery was the last of such magnitude and lasting effects in history. His discovery was made at a time when Europe was in the process of great change.
These changes greatly influenced the voyage of Columbus and contributed to curiosity of the monarch and the citizens of Europe. The famous series of Wars called The Crusades caused great changes in the ways that Europeans thought and acted. The crusades, begun four centuries earlier, had increased the appetites of affluent Europeans for exotic things, and the most important of these things was gold and silver. The main reason for curiosity into new worlds and lands was the need for more trade, and quicker routes for existing trade routes.
Europe was in position to become the dominating force throughout the world and it was pertinent that they expand, and seek new riches and lands to add to its kingdom. The changes in Europe not only prompted Columbus’s voyages and those of others, but it paved the way for European domination for the next five hundred years. Often overlooked in the explanation of the events surrounding the discovery and settlement of the new worlds, are the little contributing factors. Those things that motivated and aided in the discovery and the settlement of this land.
The Europeans did not set sail on a wild goose chase for new territory. They had an idea of what they were looking for, who they were looking for, and what to do with whatever they encountered. The Europeans were organized in their efforts to conquer. Many different motivating factors contributed to Spanish expedition into the America’s; all are important and without each the affect of the expeditions in to the lands would not be possible. Foremost among these factors is the improvement of the European weaponry used, and the advances in technology that Europe had amassed.
The new technologies of warfare developed farther and faster in Western Europe than anywhere else in the world because of the union of existing technologies. By the 15th century, Europeans were the world’s masters in firearm manufacturers . This initiated an arms race that ushered in the refinement of archery, drill, and siege warfare. The arms race that was started then, has continued into the 21st century. This supreme dominance in the art of military technology gave the confidence needed by the Europeans to embark on their various expeditions into territory uncharted by Europeans.
When Columbus and his fellow mates landed in the Caribbean, they greeted the Indians with weapons that the natives had no notion about. The guns, and gunpowder were foreign to a society using bows and arrows, and spears. The ships in which they traveled far exceeded even the largest Indian vessel. The native Indians had never fathomed the advanced technology that the Spanish presented. This fact aided in the ease with which the Indians were controlled and enslaved. “To the Indians, the size of the ships with their billowing white sails suggested floating islands with close-hanging clouds” .
It was as if they were presented with an omnipotent force in the Spanish. Even the most traditional of weapons were beyond belief to the Indians. It is through the frightening of the Indians that Columbus found that the Indians became more manageable. They were afraid of the Spanish, intimidated by their strong omnipotent presence. The Spaniards upon embarking on the new land marched through the island to put down any signs of non-compliance with their demands or resistance to their enslavement . They were accompanied by horses, dogs, crossbows, these were all alien to the natives .
Columbus even notes that they didn’t know what their weapons were and so they reached out to touch the sword and cut themselves, because they didn’t know it was sharp . Another important factor in the process of colonization was ideological or even theological: amassing wealth and dominating other people came to be positively valued as the key means of winning esteem on earth and salvation in the hereafter. The Europeans hungered for gold and silver. The supply of the precious metal, by way of the Middle East and Africa, had always been uncertain.
Now, however the wars in Eastern Europe had nearly emptied the Continents reserves. A new supply, a more regular supply and preferably a cheaper supply was needed. Part of Europe’s desire to search for new land, was the rumored wealth of Asia, and Columbus indeed thought he had arrived in the famed land. Upon Columbus’s arrival in the New World his desire for riches was immediately satisfied. The natives were bejeweled with many gold pieces that pleased the eyes of Columbus. “Of course Columbus was looking for gold.
He saw little bits of gold in their noses and ears, and he was very anxious to please” . The profit motive operated heavily within Columbus as well as the Spanish crowns psyche. Columbus sought gold from the natives, so he sent them out to look for gold so he could have something to bring back for his sponsors in Spain. Columbus even placed a quota on the amount of gold the natives would have to amass, or face a penalty. When he reached Hispaniola, one of the largest discovered islands in the Greater Antilles, he found the gold he was searching for.
Columbus obtained enough gold through barter on Hispaniola to ensure a warm reception when he met Isabella in Barcelona in 1493. The gold craze spread and was the trigger to the exploration of the entire continent for its riches and the many different peoples that inhabit it. The wealth that was generated by the Spanish conquests was enormous. This wealth and the trade it generated within Europe was the backbone around which Capitalism was built. The Spanish quest for gold and wealth took on a religious connotation.
Columbus put it, “Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure and he who has it does all he wants in the world, can even lifts souls up to paradise” . His quest for gold and exploration took on religious aspects. It was a major contributor in the motivation of Spanish conquest. Another very important factor is Europe’s readiness to embrace a new continent, was the nature of their religious beliefs. They believed that their religion rationalized conquest. After Spanish discovery of New Lands they would read aloud a passage, which has come to be called “The Requirement”.
Here is a short excerpt from one such writing. “I implore you to recognize the church as a lady and in the name if the Pope take the King as Lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. ” This served as a means by which to satisfy their consciences by offering the Indians a chance to convert to Christianity, after that the Spaniards felt justified in any action against the natives. To say it was totally their religion that motivated them would be a fallacy.
European imaginations played an important role in the developments leading up to the discovery by Columbus (Discovering Columbus p. 17). The importance of areas that could be used for the expansion of the church was futile. The new area was prime for mission work. The conversion of the natives, the theoretical justification for the Iberian presence in the Indies, was the churches first priority was one of the first priorities. The fact that the technology and sheer size of European advances made it very easy to cause the natives to question their gods.
Once Columbus arrived he almost immediately initiate the process of bringing missionaries to assimilate the peoples. At the same time it was pertinent that these natives did not confuse the abuses they received with the nature of the religion. That was the job of the missionaries and priests, to shield the natives from the corruption and immorality of the European settlers and the labor demands of such a mass acculturation. Though the church of Spain moved quickly to convert the Indians, Columbus and the government saw these Indians as workers that could benefit the effort to colonize such a vast and profitable area.
This would lead to conflict among the church and the state, mostly over the use of the natives as slaves in cultivating and as aids in working to build a colony. Though great conflict arose, and the understanding of the value of Indians and Whites was still very evident. The fact to them stood, God ordained them as the chosen peoples to conquer the world in his honor. Neither Europe, nor Columbus would have even set sail without one of the most influential assets to exploration. The presence of slaves provided the needed manpower for Europe to complete its expedition.
In the early 15th century slavery in Europe had declined. Not until the Portuguese exploration into the western regions in Africa, did they encounter the slave trade of the indigenous peoples . This was a major feat, for by 1450, African slaves were pouring into Europe each year, almost five hundred slaves a year by 1480, and a constant flow continued for years after that. Thus, by the time Columbus sailed, African slave were much part of the social order within Europe. These slaves were very important to the manpower of the conquests, and were very helpful to the organization of the conquests initial efforts.
Though they were slaves, the Africans were much educated to the social norms of the Europeans. Many were baptized as Christians , and some even received education. Although the blacks were visibly, and culturally different from their white counterparts; they joined the Spanish conquistadors in imposing Europe’s domination and power over these native Indians. During the conquest of the new world the Africans held a higher rank among the Indians. The Hispanics viewed the Indians as weak and even used Africans to supervise the Indians at times.
The Indians observed the blacks as “black white men” . No matter the way both the Indians and the blacks saw each other, they were both under the control of the Europeans. Neither held the view of a full human being in society. With the eventual importance of sugar and the mining of gold, the Indian and African populations within colonial Latin America were utilized and their labor was a major contributor and major source in the colonial economy. Slavery and the disease of the Europeans destroyed the Indian populations.
The diseases they were exposed to and the work conditions aided in their extermination by the Europeans. To replace the dying Indians, the Spanish imported tens of thousands more Indians from the Bahamas. The results of all the Indian slave deaths lead to a slave trade of blacks and Indians across the Atlantic. These masses of slaves were responsible for cultivating the land, and mining for gold. All these tasks were for the betterment of the Spanish crown. Without this type of manpower and cooperation the conquest would be virtually unfeasible.