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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 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.

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.

Noun

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

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.

Noun

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

stipulate
Verb

to make a specific condition as part of an agreement.

superpower
Noun

extremely powerful nation or country.

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.

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