The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas neatly divided the "New World" into land, resources, and people claimed by Spain and Portugal. The red vertical line cutting through eastern Brazil represents the divide. The treaty worked out well for the Spanish and Portuguese empires, but less so for the 50 million people already living in established communities in the Americas.

Map by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, courtesy the Library of Congress

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    On June 7, 1494, the governments of Spain and Portugal agreed to the Treaty of Tordesillas. This treaty divided the “New World” of the Americas.
    Spain and Portugal were the most powerful empires at the time. In the Treaty of Tordesillas, they drew a line in the Atlantic Ocean. Any lands west of that line, they decided, belonged to Spain. Any lands east of the line belonged to Portugal. That meant Spain claimed land stretching from what we know today as the state of California, through Mexico, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean Sea, and nearly all of South America. Portugal claimed what is now the largest nation in South America, Brazil.
    When the Treaty of Tordesillas was created, there were already more than 50 million people in the Americas—from the Inuit in the north, to the Aztecs in Mesoamerica, to the Taino in the Caribbean Sea, to the Inca in the Andes, to the Tupi in the Amazon delta. The Treaty of Tordesillas entirely ignored these people, their customs, and their system of government.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adhere Verb

    to stick to or support.

    Christian Noun

    people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.

    colonize Verb

    to establish control of a foreign land and culture.

    custom Noun

    a way of doing things that has been handed down from one generation to the next.

    delta Noun

    the flat, low-lying plain that sometimes forms at the mouth of a river from deposits of sediments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: delta
    disastrous Adjective

    very bad.

    empire Noun

    group of nations, territories or other groups of people controlled by a single, more powerful authority.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    ignore Verb

    to not notice or recognize.

    indigenous culture Noun

    languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods of people who are native to a specific geographic area.

    league Noun

    historical unit of distance equal to about 5.5 kilometers (3 miles).

    linger Verb

    to stay longer than anticipated.

    New World Noun

    the Western Hemisphere, made up of the Americas and their islands.

    official language Noun

    language adopted by the government of a nation or other political unit.

    penetrate Verb

    to push through.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    stipulate Verb

    to make a specific condition as part of an agreement.

    superpower Noun

    extremely powerful nation or country.

    treaty Noun

    official agreement between groups of people.

    Treaty of Tordesillas Noun

    (1494) agreement between Spain and Portugal dividing the rights to colonize all lands outside of Europe.