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Treaty of Tordesillas

The Treaty of Tordesillas (signed at Tordesillas (Castile), June 7, 1494) divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Spanish and the Portuguese along a north-south meridian 370 leagues (1770 km; 1100 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands (off the west coast of Africa), roughly 46° 37' W. The lands to the east would belong to Portugal and the lands to the west to Spain. The treaty was ratified by Spain, July 2, and by Portugal, September 5, 1494. The Treaty of Saragossa or Treaty of Zaragoza more precisely specified its anti-meridian.


Exploration and colonization

It was intended to resolve the dispute that had been created following the return of Christopher Columbus. In 1481 the papal Bull Aeterni regis had granted all land south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. In May 1493 The Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI decreed in the Bull Inter caetera that all lands west of a meridian only 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands should belong to Spain while new lands discovered east of that line would belong to Portugal, although territory already under Christian rule would remain untouched. Naturally the Portuguese King John II was not happy, so he opened negotiations with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to move the line to the west, arguing that the meridian would extend all around the globe — limiting Spanish control in Asia. The treaty effectively countered the bull of Alexander VI but it was sanctioned by Pope Julius II in a new bull of 1506.

Very little of the newly divided area had actually been seen, as it was divided according to the treaty. Spain gained lands including all the Americas. The easternmost part of current Brazil, when it was discovered in 1500 by Pedro Álvares Cabral, was granted to Portugal. Although the line extended over the pole into Asia, at the time accurate measurements of longitude were impossible so uncertainties arose. The line was not strictly enforced — the Spanish did not resist the Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the meridian. The treaty was rendered meaningless between 1580 and 1640 while Spain controlled Portugal. It was superceded by the Treaty of Madrid (1750) which granted Portugal control of the lands it occupied in South America.

The remaining exploring nations of Europe such as France and England were explicitly refused access to the new lands, leaving them only options like piracy, unless they (as they did later) rejected the papal authority to divide undiscovered countries. The view taken by the rulers of these nations is epitomized by the quotation attributed to Francis I of France demanding to be shown the clause in Adam's will excluding his authority from the New World.


With the voyage around the globe of Magellan, including his visit to and claim for Spain of the Moluccas, a new dispute was born. Although both countries agreed that the line should be considered to be running around the globe, dividing the world into two equal halves, it was not clear where the line should be drawn on the other side of the world. In particular, both countries now claimed that the Moluccas — the fabled Spice Islands, important as a source of spices — lay in their half of the world. They are now known locally as the Maluku Islands, principally Ambon Island, Buru and Seram; however, some of the North Maluku group were also important for spice.

After new negotiations, the Treaty of Saragossa or Treaty of Zaragoza, signed April 22, 1529, specified that the pole-to-pole line of demarcation should pass 297.5 leagues or 17° to the east of the Moluccas, which places the line near 145° east longitude. The treaty states that this line passes through the islands of Las Velas and Santo Thome, named Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of Thieves) by Magellan, which are now called Guam and the Mariana Islands. These islands were further specified as lying 19° northeast by east of the Moluccas, more or less.

Portugal gained control of all lands and seas west of the line, including all of Asia and its neighboring islands so far 'discovered', leaving Spain most of the Pacific Ocean. Spain agreed to relinquish all claims to the Moluccas upon the payment of 350,000 ducats of gold by Portugal. Although the Philippines were not named in the treaty, Spain implicitly relinquished any claim to them because they were well west of the line. Nevertheless, by 1542, King Charles V decided to conquer them, judging that Portugal would not protest too vigorously because they had no spice, but he failed. King Philip II succeeded in 1565.

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Last updated: 07-30-2005 19:36:36
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13