Describe and assess the impact of exploration and colonization for one major European country between 1492-1600

“The history of Spain in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was to consist of a continuing, and fruitful, dialogue between periphery and centre, between Argon and Castile. The Crown of Argon may have been weak and exhausted, but if it could contribute little in the way of men and resources to the conquest of empire, it could still draw upon a vast repository of experience which proved invaluable for the organization and administration of Spain and its newly won territories.”1

Before Christopher Columbus discovered the ‘Indies’ Spain was in a difficult position, the Civil War made clear that the economy was struggling, not long after the Civil War was won John II died, and felt the Crown to his son. During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the crown of Castile was freed. The Crown set out on a career of conquests both in Spain itself and overseas.2

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Nineteen forty two is the year that Christopher Columbus reached and “discovered” the shores of the Americas for the flag of Castile-Aragon. Such exploration affected the discovery of America, and as such, the impact of discovering America was mainly the rich precious metal resources, which founded the world economy.

The advantages of “steel over stone and bullets over arrow”3 allowed the Spanish to colonise the Americas easily and two decades after the discovery of the America. The Spanish soon discovered gold and as a result European gold amounts increased by a fifth from 1503 and 16604 yet it was silver production that generated more wealth for Spain than anything else discovered in the Americas. The Spaniards discovered silver in 1545, when an indigenous Indian located the famed 2000 ft high silver mountain of San Luis Potosi in modern day Bolivia. Over the next 20 years, a large number of successive silver strikes grounded Spain in their colonizing of the Americas. The impact of finding the silver is the main reason for such rapid colonization, as the amount of potential wealth available was huge; this wealth was passed on to Europe.

Between 1503 and 1660 more than seven million pounds of silver reached Seville from America. The transport links needed to be efficient, safe, and reliable with such vast amounts of wealth being transported and with so much interest in the New World from other colonial nations with a “new found greed for wealth” safety of the transport fleets were priority. This developed rather advanced, well-planned transport routes to an area that only a hundred years prior, people did not believe existed. The routes set the foundations for what today are crucial to the wellbeing of the global economy, import & export routes in and out of the world superpower and newly industrialising countries (The USA, Mexico, and Brazil). The economy therefore, did extremely well after Spain found the riches America had to offer, eventually however, the price of sliver decreased and Spain was in a difficult position. Yet, overall, finding gold and sliver did a lot for the economy of Spain and the world.

Another area that felt an impact when the Spanish explored and colonized America, was religion. Native Americans had their own way of life, and religious ideas. However, Christopher Columbus had the dream of carrying Christianity around the globe.5 Consequently, once the Spanish colonized parts of South and North America, they took brutal action against the Natives in order to grow the Spanish colony and spread Christianity. “The Spaniards were committed to converting their American subjects to Christianity, often by force, and were quick to purge any Native cultural practices that hindered this end. However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful, as American groups simply blended Catholicism with their traditional beliefs.”6 Because of the increase of settlers, the Natives lost land to the Spanish, and over time, the indigenous population decreased, which in turn meant the loss of their identity. Over time, in the New World the crown was the absolute master and exercised a virtually papal authority of its own7 over the Spanish population of the Americas.

The impact of colonization was terrible for the Native Americans, slowly their land was taken away, and their people were harshly exploited “Columbus was America’s first slave trader. At his struggling colony on Hispaniola, he enslaved Native people and created encomiendas- grants awarding Indian land, labour, and tribute to wealthy colonists.”8 Even though the Native Americans tried to flight back, the Spanish brought with them weapons the indigenous people had never seen. Making it very difficult for the natives to control the Spanish, yet as well as weapons they brought with them disease from Europe that the indigenous people had never come across. This killed many Indians, and eventually Europeans dominated America. “European diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles, and typhus) to which the Native populations had no resistance. These diseases usually preceded the Spanish invaders, and the resulting population loss (between 30 and 90 percent in some cases) severely weakened the Native civilizations’ ability to fight back.”9

As a result, of the Spanish being the first to successfully colonize South America, many other countries tried to follow their example, “After 1600 the ravaging of Indian population by disease and the rise of English, French, and Dutch power finally made colonization possible”10. The population in America rose as a result of the exploitation and colonization, however, even though Spain was the first country to successfully colonize parts of the ‘New World’ it did not hold its edge. “Britain’s economic advantage over its North American rivals was reinforced by its sharp demographic edge. In 1700 approximately 250,000 non-Indians resided in English America, compared to only 15,000 French colonists and 4,500 Spanish.”11 The population however did grow regardless whether it was the result of Britain settlers. Overall, it was Columbus exploration of America that resulted in the Indian population decreasing. “One million North American Indians died as a result of contact with Europeans by 1700″12.

Many historians may blame the Spanish for enslaving the Indians, taking control of their land, and erasing their religion and beliefs, and ultimately destroying their people. On the other hand, it could be true to say that if the Spanish did not find the ‘New World’ then eventually another country would have, and would have treated the Native Americans in the same cruel way. Even though it can be said, that Spain was not all to blame for the malicious way the Natives were treated, Spain cannot be blameless in this, as Spain started the revolution by exporting goods, and colonising the land.

It was not only America that Spain colonized and explored, Spain also conquered part of Africa “it succeeded in taking Mers-el-kerbire, and essential base for an attack on Oran…it was not until 1509 that a new stronger army was dispatched to Africa and that Oran was captured.”13 However, occupation of the north of Africa was under threat and finally ended in disaster. “The most obvious reason for Spain’s failure to establish itself effectively in North Africa lay in the extent of its commitments elsewhere.”14 The Spanish did not stop at Africa, they wanted to occupy more land, yet the fight for the Canary Island was not easy. It was not until 1482 that laid the foundations for eventual success. The impact of colonizing the Canary Islands is that it settled the dispute between Portugal; another benefit was its geographical position. This made it easier to get to America. They also used the canary island to speared Christianity further this was successful for the crown of Spain, as well as this success they still remind powerful in the canary islands, and most items had to have the permission of the Crown.

Overall, because of the 1492 discovery, in some ways it has shaped the emergence of the world economy. However, many thousands of indigenous people died due to their lack of immunisation of diseases bought over from Europe and the known world at the time. “The Santa Domingo had about a million inhabitants at the arrival of Columbus in 1492 and by the end of the 1520’s, only insignificant numbers survived”.15 The impact of the Spanish colonization was dreadful for the Native population, before anyone discovered the ‘New Wolrd’ the Native people lived in relative harmony, although there were wars against different tribes, neither set out to destroy each other, or enslave anyone. Many tribes had the same beliefs, and life did not change much from one generation to another; until the Europeans came.

The Slave trade was also a huge consequence of Spanish and European colonization of American expansionism. It grew from the need for workers to extract the rich resources, such as gold and sliver, the land that had been discovered in the Americas was useless without sufficient labor to exploit it and thousands of Natives and African slaves were used as the driving force behind the advancing European economy.

We have ascertained that Europe had complete access to the richness of the Americas yet what this allowed was the building of Europe’s economy, so they had an effective and increasingly affluent base from which they could rule their colonising exploits. Further putting them at an advantage over other nations. It is a shame that Spain did not gain much more from the situation they created, but they did change the worlds economy and trading pattern. Before Fourteen ninety two, it is argued that other nations and areas were at the same ‘technological, political and social’ level as Europe and it is only now, in the twenty first century that China has the vision of catching the West after the colonising of the Americas.

Overall, the impact that exploration and colonization for the Spanish was vast it did not just change Spain, but the world economy and the way of life for many people. The Native Americas were used as slaves, and were later on forced into Christianity; Africans were imported as slaves to extract the riches of the Americas when the Native population decreased. The Spanish benefited from the gold and sliver trade for a while, until the price of sliver was reduced, and the British colonized much faster than any other European country to finally take over a country that was not theirs to start with.