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 some of 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, the Americas were already home to many established civilizations and innumerable communities of people—from the Inuit in the far north, to the Aztecs in Mesoamerica, to the Taino in the Caribbean, to the Inca in the Andes, to the many different branches of Tupi-speaking cultures near the mouth of the Amazon. The Treaty of Tordesillas entirely ignored these people, their customs, and their systems of government. The arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese was terrible for the people who already lived in the Americas, such as the Inca, Taino, and Aztec, along with thousands of other communities.