"Ferdinand Magellan: The greatest voyager of them all"
by: Raymond Schuessler
in: "Sea Frontiers" (Sep-Oct 1984)
Ferdinand Magellan, initiator and leader of the first
expedition to circumnavigate the globe, in 1519-22, never re-
ceived the acclaim he deserved for his great feat. Compared to
Columbus's voyage of 8,000 miles over the relatively quiet
Atlantic, Magellan's expedition of 42,000 miles--22,000 of them
over waters no white man had ever seen--was an achievement
without parallel in an era of fragile wooden ships.
Few voyages have been so filled with intrigue, treachery,
mutiny, murder, scurvy, starvation, and death. Only a lone,
bedraggled ship out of a fleet of five managed to complete the
Had it not been for a clandestine diary kept by Antonio
Pigafetta, a Venetian nobleman aboard that ship, the record of
the venture would have been quite different. Only the distorted
accounts of deserters, mutineers, and jealous officers eager to
usurp Magellan's glory would have survived, for Magellan was
murdered midtrip. It is a miracle that the diarist, Pigafetta,
through all this mayhem, did manage to be one of the handful of
survivors. Even then, his diary was expurgated by Spanish
authorities who were jealous of Magellan, the Portuguese inter-
loper who had executed many of the Spanish noblemen aboard the
ships. They called him a "spawn of the devil, witness his cloven
hoof." (Magellan had a club foot.)
Magellan was born in Oporto, Portugal in 1480 of middle-
class nobility. When Columbus made his famous voyage in 1492,
Magellan thrilled to the account and had visions of his own
voyages some day. In 1505, he enlisted in the navy.
He learned seamanship and naval warfare under the Portuguese
viceroys in India. In 1509, he took part in the great battle of
Die, which gave Portugal supremacy over most of the Indian Ocean.
For seven years, he traded from Cochin, China to Malacca and
perhaps even the Moluccas. During all these years, he had but
one dream: to sail around the globe heading west from Europe.
Magellan had studied enough charts and stories to know that
other explorers had probed the South American coast, and he was
sure there existed an opening through the land mass that
stretched from the North Pole south to the vast ocean Balboa saw
at Panama in 1513. He did not believe, as some did, that the
land mass stretched all the way to the South Pole.
Loyal to a dream
Help for his great adventure would not be forthcoming from
his native land, however. He had once served as a page in court,
but he and the king, Dom Manuel, had grown to dislike each other.
Magellan once petitioned the king on his knees as a commoner for
increase in rank and pay. The king refused. Perhaps to command
one of the royal ships sailing to the Spice Islands? Again he
refused. Humiliated, Magellan asked if he might serve another
court; the king brusquely told him to serve where he pleased.
When Magellan bent forward to kiss the king's hand, Dom Manuel
put his hands behind his back.
Spain was eager to have such a daring and experienced young
adventurer, and Magellan presented a good petition. When, in
1493, Pope Alexander VI divided the world in half, the eastern
part went to Portugal, the western to Spain. Since no one knew
exactly the Pope's boundaries in the East, Magellan proposed to
the Spanish monarch that he would be able to mark the boundaries
between Spain and Portugal in the Pacific and perhaps prove that
the Moluccas, the coveted Spice Islands, lay within Spanish
influence. King Charles approved such a voyage, and Magellan
prepared to sail in September 1519 with five ships and 280 men.
The ships, not as renowned in history as those of Columbus,
were San Antonio, Santiago, Trinidad, Victoria, and Concepcion.
Besides a huge store of supplies, they carried 10,000 fish hooks,
20,000 small bells, combs, mirrors, knives, and bracelets.
Even before he sailed, Magellan's troubles began. The
jealous King of Portugal hired agents to load empty water barrels
on the ship and change invoices to show twice the amount of
supplies on board as were actually there. And Spanish officers,
suspecting that Magellan might secretly be working for the
Portuguese, made plans to overthrow and kill him at sea.
Luckily, when Magellan stopped at the Canary Islands to resupply,
a fast ship from Spain arrived to warn him of the conspiracy. At
the first opportunity, he put the men in chains.
Three months after leaving Spain, they sailed into the bay
where Rio de Janeiro now stands, one of the most beautiful
natural harbors in the world. There they were greeted by the
Guarani Indians who believed the white men to be gods and
showered everything they owned upon the visitors, even their
women. Never would the crew enjoy themselves so much in so
perfect a paradise as they did there for two weeks. When they
finally pulled anchor, the Indians cried and followed them out to
sea in canoes, begging them to stay.
As they sailed south, they hit Cape Santa Maria, which
curved west. Magellan and his men were excited with hope that
this might be the passage west to the Orient.
One of the ships, Trinidad, was ordered to sail as far west
as possible. In a few days, the ship returned with the dis-
couraging news that the water became shallow and stayed fresh
It was late summer now (February) and a crucial decision had
to be made: should they return and rest in the warm bay at Rio
or continue south into frigid and storm-tossed Antarctic waters
and hope to find a passage that would take them to the warm Spice
Islands. Against great opposition, Magellan convinced them to
sail south. The voyage now was arduous. They hugged the coast
where rocky reefs protruded. The weather became colder and
colder as they fought almost constant storms for 60 days. The
crew was disgruntled, and many talked openly of mutiny.
Finally, they pulled into a bay (Port St. Julian). A group
demanded to sail back. But Magellan refused, and his own men on
Trinidad and Santiago remained loyal.
Magellan now faced a rebellion that took control of three
out five ships and 170 out of 265 men. The odds were over-
whelming. But Magellan was not one to panic or to surrender. He
sent two of his men with six others, secretly armed, to take a
message to Captain Luis de Mendoza of Victoria. The message
ordered Mendoza to report at once for a conference. If he
refused, the six men were to kill him. Meanwhile, another
boatload of 15 men were to row up to Victoria's stern and board
immediately if they heard a scuffle.
When the note was delivered, the rebel captain Mendoza,
exclaimed, "Would I be that stupid?" He looked up to see half a
dozen daggers slashing at his throat. The 15 men from the second
boat boarded and subdued the half-drunk and bewildered crew.
Now Magellan had three ships, and with them he blockaded the
bay. That night all ships were darkened. The stalking game was
played in ghostly black silence.
Suddenly, San Antonio drifted carelessly into Trinidad.
Immediately, grappling hooks were thrown, and torches flared as
Magellan's crew boarded and subdued the mutineers. The remaining
ship was easily taken.
The rebel ringleader's servant was offered pardon if he
would agree to act as executioner. He agreed. With prayers on
his lips he hacked the head from his master's body and then
quartered him. The body of Captain Mendoza was also quartered,
and both remains impaled on stakes ashore as a grim reminder to
the rest of the crew. Two other men, one of them a priest, were
stranded on the coast as punishment and left to survive a la
Santiago was sent to explore further south. The ship sailed
for 60 miles until it reached a large river. Since the water was
salty, the explorers thought they had reached the strait, but at
ebbtide the water became fresh, and they knew it was just another
river. That night the ship was caught in a gale that rammed her
against the sand, breaking her open like a peach basket. Two men
made it back to the main fleet after 11 days of hardship trekking
through swamps, frozen plains, and subsisting on berries and
roots and melted snow, and the crew of 37 men was rescued.
They stayed at the site of the wreckage for two months.
Seals were slaughtered, salted, and stored for the great journey
Westward or perish
By mid-October, with the stores bulging with food and water,
and the men rested, they set sail again. But not before many
officers and crew leaders again begged Magellan to turn east to
reach the Spice Islands via India where waters were familiar.
Magellan was adamant: "We must by Providence search for the
passageway until we find it or perish."
On October 21, they found a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay
which they named the Cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. In the
distance were mountains, hardly a likely spot for a strait.
Should they waste time exploring this unlikely spot or keep
sailing south? Magellan insisted to his recalcitrant crew that
no possibility should be overlooked. He ordered San Antonio and
Concepcion to explore the bay.
Suddenly, a quick storm drove Trinidad and Victoria to open
sea, but San Antonio and Concepcion, close to the bay, had to
head for the inlet. Dashed about so close to the shore, they
were last seen bouncing toward some rocks and shoals and then
disappeared. Magellan had lost two more ships.
But the storm was threatening his own two ships. As the
fury of the wind increased, the mast was torn from Victoria. The
immense waves towered high over the ships, but miraculously each
time the ships rode the crest, although some men were swept
overboard. For two days, the storm raged. When it cleared, the
ships limped back into the bay. Surely their sister ships and
their hundred men must lost.
The next morning, Magellan slowly up the bay--when suddenly
the lookout gave a shout "Two Sails!" There, running at great
speed toward them, their lines flying pendants, and the men
waving and shouting were the two lost ships. It could mean only
one thing: They had found the strait leading to the vast ocean
A day or two after this, San Antonio deserted presumably
heading back to Spain--with more than a third of the expedition's
provisions. Again disaster had struck. The expedition appeared
to be cursed.
Through the Pacific
After they reached the Pacific, many wanted to turn back and
not face the vast expanse of water to the west. But Magellan
insisted and, for 96 days, they sailed with the trade winds on a
greater stretch of water without land than they had ever en-
countered in any part of the world.
The diarist wrote: "We ate crumbling biscuits infested with
grubs, and drank water filthy and stinking . . . We ate ox hides
from under the yardarms, sawdust and rats. The gums of the men
swelled so much they could not chew. Nineteen died."
Although the men were also crippled by scurvy, the ships
finally reached the Philippines. They had crossed the world's
greatest ocean. But this was to be the end of the voyage for
Why did he linger so long in the Philippines? Here they had
found a paradise. Food and supplies were plentiful and the
natives friendly, the women eager to exchange favors for trin-
kets. Then gold was discovered in abundance among the utensils
and jewelry of the natives, and Magellan's royal charter did
state that "should you discover more than six new lands you shall
keep particular rights to any two of them, your sons and heirs in
A grievous mistake
But more than that, Magellan was caught up in the throes of
religious conversion. Most of the Philippinos gladly and avidly
accepted Christianity. When he was told that the chiefs on some
islands had refused to be converted, he became indignant and
vowed to convert them or send them directly to hell.
Believing in God's protection, he took only 60 men to battle
some 3,000 rebellious natives on Mactan, a mistake he would not
live to regret. Pigafetta, the chronicler, was one of the men
who accompanied the captain. He wrote:
"Magellan sent an ultimatum ashore but it was rejected.
When his small party landed three battalions of 3,000 islanders
attacked. Muskets and crossbows were of little effect since the
natives had shields of bamboo. A poisoned arrow struck Magellan
in the leg and he ordered retreat. Most of the men fled leaving
only 7 or 8 around the captain . . . Arrows, bamboo javelines
and stones bombarded the party. They were now in water up to
their knees . . . The natives threw the same lance four or five
times over as they picked it up on advancing. The battle now had
raged for an hour. One islander thrust the end of his lance
through the bars of Magellan's helmet. Magellan ran the culprit
through with his lance but could not withdraw it. He attempted
to draw his sword, but his right arm was crippled from a wound.
One savage cut Magellan across the legs with a sword. As he fell
the Indians pounced upon him and, as the master looked implor-
ingly at his ships, they cut the life from his body."
Only 115 men were left, not enough to sail three ships, so
Concepcion was scuttled. All the papers, logs, letters, and
diaries of Magellan were put aboard by jealous captains before
the torch was set to destroy forever the evidence of their
treachery and mutiny. But, meanwhile, Pigafetta kept on
Return home, just barely
The men now turned pirates. They captured ships, murdered
the crews, stole cargoes, raided ports for women (they kept a
harem of Muslin women on board which led to petty jealousies and
At the Moluccas, they loaded their ships with spices, but
Trinidad developed a leak and was scuttled. Only Victoria
remained now. Sebastian del Cano, one of the men who had earlier
mutinied against Magellan, was now elected captain. He set sail
with only a crew of 47 and a few Indian natives. They sailed by
Timor for the Cape of Good Hope avoiding the coastline where
Portuguese ships might be lurking.
Their journey was far from over. From the mid-Indian Ocean,
their provisions began to spoil. The tropic sun rotted their
meat and turned their water into yellow scum. Scurvy again laid
the men low. Monsoon storms broke the masts. From the intense
heat of the Indian Ocean, they headed deep into Antarctic waters
to round the Cape.
When Victoria finally made her way back to Spain, she was
nothing more than a floating wreck. Her sails were in shreds,
her mast askew, her seams split, and she was kept afloat with the
constant use of pumps. Only 18 Europeans remained out of the
original crew of 290, which had set sail three years before.
They anchored near Seville, shot their cannon, and marched
ashore barefoot with lighted candles to the church of Santa Maria
de la Victoria. The ghost of Magellan probably walked with them,
for without him they would not have made it even to the Canary
As Pigafetta wrote: "In the midst of the sea he was able to
endure hunger better than we. Most versed in nautical charts, he
knew better than any other the true art of navigation, of which
it is certain proof that he by his genius, and his intrepidity,
without anyone having given him the example, how to attempt the
circuit of the globe which he had almost completed . . . The
glory of Magellan will survive him."
The first circumnavigation of the globe was led by Ferdinand Magellan. He was born in the spring of 1480 to a family of lower nobility. Educated in the Portuguese court, Magellan proved himself in many battles in the name of his country. Like Columbus before him, Magellan believed he could get to the Spice Islands by sailing west. He knew he would have to sail around or through the New World to do so. Like so many explorers before him, he thought the earth was much smaller than it actually is. Snubbed by the Portuguese king, Magellan easily convinced the teenaged Spanish king, Charles I (also known as the Holy Roman emperor Charles V) that at least some of the Spice Islands lay in the Spanish half of the undiscovered world.
King Charles approved Magellan's plan and granted him generous funds on March 22, 1518. With money from the king, the explorer was able to obtain five ships (possibly naos) called the Trinidad, the San Antonio, the Concepcion, the Victoria, and the Santiago. In September , he set sail with 270 men. A good deal of what we know of the voyage of Magellan came from an Italian crew member, Antonio Pigafetta. Pigafetta kept a diary of the voyage and remained a staunch supporter of the Portuguese explorer. Like Columbus, Magellan was a foreigner in charge of Spanish captains, and like Columbus, his voyage was fraught with problems. Spanish captains Juan de Cartegena of the San Antonio, Gaspar de Quesada of the Concepcion, and Luis de Mendoza of the Victoria were plotting to kill Magellan.
After a brief stop at the Canary Islands, Magellan's fleet set sail for Brazil on a southwest course. Cartegena, the ringleader of a mutiny attempt, was relieved of his command of the San Antonio and held prisoner aboard the Victoria. After crossing the equator on November 20, 1519, the crew sighted Brazil on December 6. Magellan thought it unwise to go near the Portuguese territory since he was sailing under the Spanish flag. His fleet eventually anchored off the coast of present-day Rio de Janiero, out of the way of the Portuguese, on December 13th. After stocking up on fresh food and water, the fleet made its way down the east coast of South America looking for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The farther south they sailed, the colder the weather. The weather was so bad, the fleet decided to spend the winter in Patagonia. The area where they settled on March 31, 1520, was called San Julian.
When Magellan reached Patagonia (present-day Argentina), another mutiny was attempted. Cartegena, released by captain Mendoza, attempted once again to take over the fleet and have Magellan killed. The Portuguese explorer was able to put down the rebellion by marooning Cartegena in the barren Patagonia, imprisoning some, and having Quesada and other rebels executed.
During the cold summer months, Magellan sent the Santiago on a reconnaissance mission down the coast to look for a passage to the other side of the continent. Unfortunately in May, the Santiago wrecked in rough seas. In the latter half of August, Magellan decided it was time to move the remaining four ships south to look for a passage. Finally in October, the fleet sighted a strait and started through it. Magellan named it the strait of All Saints, but it later was named after him. The strait was a tricky passage that took the fleet 38 days to pass through. While sailing at night, the crew saw countless fires from distant Indian camps. They called the land Tierra del Fuego (land of fire). During the passage, the captain of the San Antonio sailed his ship back toward Spain, taking with him most of the fleet's provisions. The loss of the San Antonio was a severe blow to the men on the remaining ships. They had to double their efforts to hunt game and fish to keep from starving.
During the last week of November the three ships emerged from the strait to the open sea of the Pacific. Magellan mistakenly thought the Spice Islands were a short voyage away. He had no idea of the immense size of the ocean and thought he could cross it in two to three days. The voyage took approximately four months.
Conditions aboard the ships were abominable. The crew began to starve as food stores were depleted. The water turned putrid and yellow in color. The crew survived on sawdust, leather strips from the sails, and rats. Without the benefit of vitamin C in fresh fruits and vegetables, the men also came down with scurvy.
Finally in January, 1521, the crew stopped off at an island to feast on fish, crabs, and seabird eggs, but without fresh fruit and vegetables, scurvy still plagued the crew. In March, the crew stopped in Guam and were able to supply the ships with food including fresh fruit, vegetables, and water. They sailed on to the Philippines, arriving on March 28. After befriending an island king, Magellan foolishly got involved in the natives' tribal warfare and was killed in battle on [April 27, 1521].
Sebastian del Cano took over the remaining three ships and 115 survivors. Because there were not enough men to crew three ships, del Cano had the Concepcion burned. The two remaining ships sailed from the Philippines on May 1 and made it to the Moluccas (Spice Islands) in November. Both ships loaded with valuable spices.
In an attempt to guarantee that at least one ship would make it back to Spain, the Trinidad went east across the Pacific, while the Victoria continued west. The Trinidad did not make it back. The ship was seized by the Portuguese and most of her crew were killed. The Victoria managed to elude the Portuguese as it crossed enemy trade routes in the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. On [September 6, 1522], almost three years from the day it began its historic journey, the Victoria and 18 crew members, (Pigafetta among them) arrived in Spain. It was the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe. Click to view Magellan's voyage
Back to Modern History SourceBook
Modern History Sourcebook:
Ferdinand Magellan's Voyage Round the World, 1519-1522 CE
Ferdinand de Magellan was born about 1470 of noble parents, and probably spent his boyhood as a page of the Queen of Portugal. As a young man he was in the East India service, then in Morocco. After a slight from King Manuel, he enlisted under the Spanish king, and set forth his project for a trip round the world. The expedition set sail August 10, 1519. Magellan was killed in April 1521 at Zebu [in the Phillippines], but they had already reached the eastern edge of the known world, and his men completed the voyage to Spain. The voyage proved that the earth is round (although most educated people knew this already!).
This source of this account is a transcription from the paper-book of a Genoese pilot," who came in the said ship, who wrote all the voyage as it is here. He went to Portugal in the year 1524 with Dom Amriqui de Menezes."
HE [Magellan] sailed from Seville on the 10th day of August of the said year , and remained at the bar until the 21st day of September, and as soon as he got outside, he steered to the southwest to make the island of Tenerife, and they reached the said island on the day of St. Michael, which was the 29th of September. Thence he made his course to fetch the Cape Verde islands, and they passed between the islands and the Cape without sighting either the one or the other. Having got as far as this neighborhood, he shaped his course so as to make for Brazil, and as soon as they sighted the other coast of Brazil, he steered to the southeast along the coast as far as Cabo-frio, which is in twenty-three degrees south latitude; and from this cape he steered to the west, a matter of thirty leagues, to make the Rio de Janeiro, which is in the same latitude as Cabo-frio, and they entered the said Rio on the day of St. Lucy, which was the 13th December, in which place they took in wood, and they remained there until the first octave of Christmas, which was the 26th of December of the same year.
They sailed from this Rio de Janeiro on the 26th December, and navigated along the coast to make the Cape of St. Mary, which is in thirty-four degrees and two-thirds; as soon as they sighted it, they made their course west-northwest, thinking they would find a passage for their voyage, and they found that they had got into a great river of fresh water, to which they gave the name of river of St. Christopher, and it is in thirty-four degrees, and they remained in it till the 2nd of February, 1520.
He sailed from this river of St. Christopher on the 2nd of the said month of February; they navigated along the said coast, and further on to the south they discovered a point which is in the same river more to the south, to which they gave the name of Point St. Antony; it is in thirty-six degrees, hence they ran to the south-west, a matter of twenty-five leagues, and made another cape which they named Cape St. Apelonia, which is in thirty-six degrees; thence they navigated to the west-south-west to some shoals, which they named Shoals of the Currents, which are in thirty-nine degrees; and thence they navigated out to sea, and lost sight of land for a matter of two or three days, when they again made for the land, and they came to a bay, which they entered, and ran within it the whole day, thinking that there was an outlet for Maluco, and when night came they found that it was quite closed up, and in the same night they again stood out by the way which they had come in. This bay is in forty-four degrees; they named it the island of St. Matthew. They navigated from this island of St. Matthew along the coast until they reached another bay, where they caught many sea-wolves and birds; to this they gave the name of "Bay of Labors;" it is in thirty-seven degrees; here they were near losing the flag-ship in a storm. Thence they navigated along the said coast, and arrived on the last day of March of the year 1520 at the Port of St. Julian, which is in forty-nine and one-third degrees, and here they wintered, and found the day a little more or less than seven hours.
In this port three of the ships rose up against the Captain-major, their captains saying that they intended to take him to Castile in arrest, as he was taking them all to destruction. Here, through the exertions of the said Captain-major, and the assistance and favor of the foreigners whom he carried with him, the Captain-major went to the said three ships which were already mentioned, and there the captain of one of them was killed, who was treasurer of the whole fleet, and named Luis de Mendo‡a; he was killed in his own ship by stabs with a dagger by the chief constable of the fleet, who was sent to do this by Fernando de Magelhaes [i.e., Magellan] in a boat with certain men. The said three ships having thus been recovered, five days later Fernando de Magelhaes ordered Gaspar de Queixada to be decapitated and quartered; he was captain of one of the ships, and was one of those who had mutinied.
In this port they refitted the ship. Here the captain-major made Alvaro re Mesquita, a Portuguese, captain of one of the ships the captain of which had been killed. There sailed from this port on the 24th of August four ships, for the smallest of the ships had been already lost; he had sent it to reconnoiter, and the weather had been heavy, and had cast it ashore, where all the crew had been recovered along with the merchandise, artillery and fittings of the ship. They remained in this port, in which they wintered, five months and twenty-four days, and they were seventy degrees less ten minutes to the southward.
They sailed on the 24th day of the month of August of the said year from this port of St. Julian, and navigated a matter of twenty leagues along the coast, and so they entered a river which was called Santa Cruz, which is in fifty degrees, where they took in goods and as much as they could obtain: the crew of the lost ship were already distributed among the other ships, for they had returned by land to where Fernando de Magalhaes was, and they continued collecting the goods which had remained there during August and up to the 18th September, and there they took in water and much fish which they caught in this river; and in the other, where they wintered, there were people like savages, and the men are from nine to ten spans in height, very well made; they have not got houses, they only go about from one place to another with their flocks, and eat meat nearly raw: they are all of them archers and kill many animals with arrows, and with the skins they make clothes, that is to say, they make the skins very supple, and fashion them after the shape of the body, as well as they can, then they cover themselves with them, and fasten them by a belt round the waist. When they do not wish to be clothed from the waist upwards, they let that half fall which is above the waist, and the garment remains hanging down from the belt which they have girt round them. They wear shoes which cover them four inches above the ankle, full of straw inside to keep their feet warm. They do not possess any iron, nor any other ingenuity of weapons, only they make the points of their arrows of flints, and so also the knives with which they cut, and the adze and awls with which they cut and stitch their shoes and clothes. They are very agile people, and do no harm, and thus they follow their flocks: wherever night finds them there they sleep; they carry their wives along with them with all the chattels which they possess. The women are very small and carry heavy burdens on their backs; they wear shoes and clothes just like the men. Of these men they obtained three or four and brought them in the ships, and they all died except one, who went to Castile in a ship which went thither.
They sailed from this river of Santa Cruz on the 18th of October: they continued navigating along the coast until the 21st day of the same month, October, when they discovered a cape, to which they gave the name of Cape of the Virgins, because they sighted it on the day of the eleven thousand virgins; it is in fifty-two degrees, a little more or less, and from this cape a matter of two or three leagues distance, we found ourselves at the mouth of a strait. We sailed along the said coast within that strait which they had reached the mouth of: they entered in it a little and anchored. Fernando de Magelhaes sent to discover what there was further in, and they found three channels, that is to say, two more in a southerly direction, and one traversing the country in the direction of Maluco [i.e., the Straits of Magellan], but at that time this was not yet known, only the three mouths were seen. The boats went thither, and brought back word, and they set sail and anchored at these mouths of the channels, and Fernando de Magelhaes sent two ships to learn what there was within, and these ships went: one returned to the Captain-major, and the other, of which Alvaro de Mesquita was captain, entered into one of the bays which was to the south, and did not return any more. Fernan de Magelhaes seeing that it did not come back, set sail, and the next day he did not choose to make for the bays, and went to the south, and took another which runs north-west and southeast, and a quarter west and east. He left letters in the place from which he sailed, so that if the other ship returned, it might make the course which he left prescribed.
After this they entered into the channel, which at some places has a width of three leagues, and two, and one, and in some places half a league, and he went through it as long as it was daylight, and anchored when it was night: and he sent the boats, and the ships went after the boats, and they brought news that there was an outlet, for they already saw the great sea on the other side; on which account Fernando de Magalhaes ordered much artillery to be fired for rejoicing; and before they went forth from this strait they found two islands, the first one larger, and the other nearer towards the outlet is the smaller one: and they went out between these islands and the coast on the southern side, as it was deeper than on the other side. This strait is a hundred leagues in length to the outlet; that outlet and the entrance are in fifty-two degrees latitude. They made a stay in this strait from the 21st October to the 26th of November, which makes thirty-six days of the said year of 1520, and as soon as they went out from the strait to sea, they made their course, for the most part, to west-north-west, when they found that their needles varied to the north-west almost two-fourths, and after they had navigated thus for many days, they found an island in a little more or less than eighteen degrees, or nineteen degrees: and also there was another, which was in from thirteen to fourteen degrees, and this in south altitude; they are uninhabited. They ran on until they reached the line, when Fernan de Magalhaes said that now they were in the neighborhood of Maluco, as he had information that there were no provisions at Maluco, he said that he would go in a northerly direction as far as ten or twelve degrees, and they reached to as far as thirteen degrees north, and in this latitude they navigated to the west, and a quarter south-west, a matter of a hundred leagues, where on the 6th of March, 1521, they fetched two islands inhabited by many people, and they anchored at one of them, which is in twelve degrees north; and the inhabitants are people of little truth, and they did not take precautions against them until they saw that they were taking away the skiff of the flagship, and they cut the rope with which it was made fast, and took it ashore without their being able to prevent it. They gave this island the name of Thieves' Island (dos ladroes).
Fernando de Magalhaes seeing that the skiff was lost, set sail, as it was already night, tacking about until the next day; as soon as it was morning they anchored at the place where they had seen the skiff carried off to, and he ordered two boats to be got ready with a matter of fifty or sixty men, and he went ashore in person, and burned the whole village, and they killed seven or eight persons, between men and women, and recovered the skiff, and returned to the ships; and while they were there they saw forty or fifty paraos come, which came from the same land, and brought much refreshments.
Fernan de Magalhaes would not make any further stay, and at once set sail, and ordered the course to be steered west, and a quarter south-west; and so they made land [i.e., in the Phillippines], which is in barely eleven degrees. This land is an island, but he would not touch at this one, and they went to touch at another further on which appeared first. Fernando de Magelhaes sent a boat ashore to observe the nature of the island; when the boat reached land, they saw from the ships two paraos come out from behind the point; then they called back their boat. The people of the paraos seeing that the boat was returning to the ships, turned back the paraos, and the boat reached the ships, which at once set sail for another island very near to this island, which is in ten degrees, and they gave it the name of the island of Good Signs, because they found some gold in it. Whilst they were thus anchored at this island, there came to them two paraos, and brought them fowls and cocoa nuts, and told them that they had already seen there other men like them, from which they presumed that these might be Lequios or Magores; a nation of people who have this name, or Chiis; and thence they set sail, and navigated further on amongst many islands, to which they gave the name of the Valley Without Peril, and also St. Lazarus, and they ran on to another island twenty leagues from that from which they sailed, which is in ten degrees, and came to anchor at another island, which is named Macangor, which is in nine degrees; and in this island they were very well received, and they placed a cross in it.
This king conducted them thence a matter of thirty leagues to another island named Cabo, which is in ten degrees, and in this island Fernando de Magalhaes did what he pleased with the consent of the country, and in one day eight hundred people became Christian, on which account Fernan de Magalhaes desired that the other kings, neighbors to this one, should become subject to this who had become Christian: and these did not choose to yield such obedience. Fernan de Magalhaes seeing that, got ready one night with his boats, and burned the villages of those who would not yield the said obedience; and a matter of ten or twelve days after this was done he sent to a village about half a league from that which he had burned, which is named Matam, and which is also an island, and ordered them to send him at once three goats, three pigs, three loads of rice, and three loads of millet for provisions for the ships; they replied that of each article which he sent to ask them three of, they would send to him by twos, and if he was satisfied with this they would at once comply, if not, it might be as he pleased, but that they would not give it. Because they did not choose to grant what he demanded of them, Fernan de Magalhaes ordered three boats to be equipped with a matter of fifty or sixty men, and went against the said place, which was on the 28th day of April, in the morning; there they found many people, who might well be as many as three thousand or four thousand men, who fought with such a good will that the said Fernan de Magalhaes was killed there, with six of his men, in the year 1521.
When Fernan de Magelhaes was dead the Christians got back to the ships, where they thought fit to make two captains and governors whom they should obey; and having done this, they took counsel and decided that the two captains should go ashore where the people had turned Christians to ask for pilots to take them to Borneo, and this was on the first day of May of the said year; when the two captains went, being agreed upon what had been said, the same people of the country who had become Christians, armed themselves against them, and whilst they reached the shore let them land in security as they had done before. Then they attacked them, and killed the two captains and twenty-six gentlemen, and the other people who remained got back to the boats, and returned to the ships, and finding themselves again without captains they agreed, inasmuch as the principal persons were killed, that one John Lopez, who was the chief treasurer, should be captain-major of the fleet, and the chief constable of the fleet should be captain of one of the ships; he was named Gonzalo Vaz Despinosa. Having done this they set sail, and ran about twenty-five leagues with three ships, which they still possessed; they then mustered, and found that they were altogether one hundred and eight men in all these three ships, and many of them were wounded and sick, on which account they did not venture to navigate the three ships, and thought it would be well to burn one of them---the one that should be most suitable for that purpose---and to take into the two ships those that remained: this they did out at sea, out of sight of any land. While they did this many paraos came to speak to them; and navigating amongst the islands, for in that neighborhood there are a great many, they did not understand one another, for they had no interpreter, for he had been killed with Fernan de Magalhaes. Sailing further on amongst islets they came to anchor at an island which is named Carpyam, where there is gold enough, and this island is in fully eight degrees.
Whilst at anchor in this port of Carpyam, they had speech with the inhabitants of the island, and made peace with them, and Carvalho, who was captain-major, gave them the boat of the ship which had been burnt: this island has three islets in the offing; here they took in some refreshments, and sailed further on to south-west, and fell in with another island, which is named Caram, and is in eleven degrees; from this they went on further to west south-west, and fell in with a large island, and ran along the coast of this island to the north-east, and reached as far as nine degrees and a half, where they went ashore one day, with the boats equipped to seek for provisions, for in the ships there was now not more than for eight days. On reaching shore the inhabitants would not suffer them to land, and shot at them with arrows of cane hardened in the fire, so that they returned to the ships.
Seeing this, they agreed to go to another island, where they had had some dealings, to see if they could get some provisions. Then they met with a contrary wind, and going about a league in the direction in which they wished to go, they anchored, and whilst at anchor they saw that people on shore were hailing them to go thither; they went there with the boats, and as they were speaking to those people by signs, for they did not understand each other otherwise, a man at arms, named Joam de Campos, told them to let him go on shore, since there were no provisions in the ships, and it might be that they would obtain some means of getting provisions; and that if the people killed him, they would not lose much with him, for God would take thought of his soul; and also if he found provisions, and if they did not kill him, he would find means for bringing them to the ships: and they thought well of this. So he went on shore, and as soon as he reached it, the inhabitants received him, and took him into the interior the distance of a league, and when he was in the village all the people came to see him, and they gave him food, and entertained him well, especially when they saw that he ate pig's flesh; because in this island they had dealings with the Moors of Borneo, and because the country and people were greedy, they made them neither eat pigs nor bring them up in the country. This country is called Dygua‡am, and is in nine degrees.
The said Christian seeing that he was favored and well treated by the inhabitants, gave them to understand by his signs that they should carry provisions to the ships, which would be well paid for. In the country there was nothing except rice not pounded. Then the people set to pounding rice all the night, and when it was morning they took the rice and the said Christian, and came to the ships, where they did them great honor, and took in the rice and paid them, and they returned on shore. This man being already set on shore, inhabitants of another village, a little further on, came to the ships and told them to go to their village, and that they would give them much provisions for their money; and as soon as the said man whom they had sent arrived, they set sail and went to anchor at the village of those who had come to call them, which was named Vay Palay Cucara Canbam, where Carvalho made peace with the king of the country, and they settled the price of the rice, and they gave them two measures of rice which weighed one hundred and fourteen pounds for three fathoms of linen stuff of Brittany; they took there as much rice as they wanted, and goats and pigs, and whilst they were at this place there came a Moor, who had been in the village of Dygua‡am, which belongs to the Moors of Borneo, as has been said above, and after that he went to his country.
While they were at anchor near this village of Dygua‡am, there came to them a parao in which there was a negro named Bastiam, who asked for a flag and a passport for the governor of Dygua‡am, and they gave him all this and other things as a present. They asked the said Bastiam, who spoke Portuguese sufficiently well, since he had been in Maluco, where he became a Christian, if he would go with them and show them Borneo; he said he would very willingly, and when the departure arrived he hid himself, and seeing that he did not come, they set sail from this port of Dygua‡am on the 21st day of July to seek for Borneo. As they set sail there came to them a parao, which was coming to the port of Dygua‡am, and they took it, and in it they took three Moors, who said they were pilots, and that they would take them to Borneo.
Having got these Moors, they steered along this island to the south-west, and fell in with two islands at its extremity, and passed between them; that on the north side is named Bolyna, and that on the south Bamdym. Sailing to the west south-west a matter of fourteen leagues, they fell in with a white bottom, which was a shoal below the water, and the black men they carried with them told them to draw near to the coast of the island, as it was deeper there, and that was more in the direction of Borneo, for from that neighborhood the island of Borneo could already be sighted. This same day they reached and anchored at some islands, to which they gave the name of islets of St. Paul, which was a matter of two and a half or three leagues from the great island of Borneo, and they were in about seven degrees at the south side of these islands. In the island of Borneo there is an exceedingly great mountain, to which they gave the name of Mount St. Paul; and from thence they navigated along the coast of Borneo itself; and they went forward on the same course and reached the neighborhood of Borneo, and the Moors whom they had with them told them that there was Borneo, and the wind did not suffer them to arrive thither, as it was contrary. They anchored at an island which is there, and which may be eight leagues from Borneo.
Close to this island is another which has many myrobolans, and the next day they set sail for the other island, which is nearer to the port of Borneo; and going along thus they saw so many shoals that they anchored, and sent the boats ashore in Borneo, and they took the aforesaid Moorish pilots on shore, and there went a Christian with them; and the boats went to set them on land, from whence they had to go to the city of Borneo, which was three leagues off, and there they were taken before the Shahbendr of Borneo, and he asked what people they were, and for what they came in the ships; and they were presented to the King of Borneo with the Christian. As soon as the boats had set the said men on shore, they sounded in order to see if the ships could come in closer: and during this they saw three junks which were coming from the port of Borneo from the said city out to sea, and as soon as they saw the ships they returned inshore: continuing to sound, they found the channel by which the port is entered; they then set sail, and entered this channel, and being within the channel they anchored, and would not go further in until they received a message from the shore, which arrived next day with two paraos: these carried certain swivel guns of metal, and a hundred men in each parao, and they brought goats and fowls, and two cows, and figs, and other fruit, and told them to enter further in opposite the islands which were near there, which was the true berth; and from this position to the city there might be three or four leagues. Whilst thus at anchor they established peace, and settled that they should trade in what there was in the country, especially wax, to which they answered that they would willingly sell all that there was in the country for their money. This port of Borneo is in eight degrees.
For the answer thus received from the King they sent him a present by Gonzalo Mendes Despinosa, captain of the ship Victoria, and the King accepted the present, and gave to all of them China stuffs: and when there had passed twenty or twenty-three days that they were there trading with the people of the island, and had got five men on shore in the city itself, there came to anchor at the bar, close to them, five junks, at the hour of vespers, and they remained there that evening and the night until next day in the morning, when they saw coming from the city two hundred paraos, some under sail, others rowing. Seeing in this manner the five junks and the paraos, it seemed to them that there might be treachery, and they set sail for the junks, and as soon as the crews of the junks saw them under sail, they also set sail and made off where the wind best served them; and they overhauled one of the junks with the boats, and took it with twenty-seven men; and the ships went and anchored abreast of the island of the Myrolobans, with the junk made fast to the poop of the flagship, and the paraos returned to shore, and when night came there came on a squall from the west in which the said junk went to the bottom alongside the flagship, without being able to receive any assistance from it.
Next day in the morning they saw a sail, and went to it and took it; this was a great junk in which the son of the King of Lucam came as captain, and had with him ninety men, and as soon as they took them they sent some of them to the King of Borneo; and they sent him word by these men to send the Christians whom they had got there, who were seven men, and they would give him all the people whom they had taken in the junk; on which account the King sent two men of the seven whom he had got there in a parao, and they again sent him word to send the five men who still remained, and they would send all the people whom they had got from the junk. They waited two days for the answer, and there came no message; then they took thirty men from the junk, and put them into a parao belonging to the junk, and sent them to the King of Borneo, and set sail with fourteen men of those they had taken and three women; and they steered along the coast of the said island to the north-east, returning backwards; and they again passed between the islands and the great island of Borneo, where the flagship grounded on a point of the island, and so remained more than four hours, and the tide turned and it got off, by which it was seen clearly that the tide was of twenty-four hours.
Whilst making the aforesaid course the wind shifted to northeast, and they stood out to sea, and they saw a sail coming, and the ships anchored, and the boats went to it and took it; it was a small junk and carried nothing but cocoa-nuts; and they took in water and wood, and set sail along the coast of the island to the north-east, until they reached the extremity of the said island, and met with another small island, where they overhauled the ships. They arrived at this island on the day of our Lady of August, and in it they found a very good point for beaching the ships, and they gave it the name of Port St. Mary of August, and it is in fully seven degrees.
As soon as they had taken these precautions they set sail and steered to the south-west until they sighted the island which is named Fagajam, and this is a course of thirty-eight to forty leagues: and as soon as they sighted this island they steered to the south-west, and again made an island which is called Seloque, and they had information that there were many pearls there: and when they had already sighted that island the wind shifted to a head-wind, and they could not fetch it by the course they were sailing, and it seemed to them that it might be in six degrees. This same night they arrived at the island of Quipe, and ran along it to the south-east, and passed between it and another island called Tamgym, and always running along the coast of the island, going thus, they fell in with a parao laden with bread in loaves, which is bread made of a tree which is named cajare, which the people of that country eat as bread. This parao carried twenty-one men, and the chief of them had been in Maluco in the house of Francisco Serram, and having gone further along this island they arrived in sight of some islands which are named Semrryn; they are in five degrees, a little more or less. The inhabitants of this land came to see the ships, and so they had speech of one another, and an old man of these people told them that he would conduct them to Maluco.
In this manner, having fixed a time with the old man, an agreement was made with him, and they gave him a certain price for this; and when the next day came, and they were to depart, the old man intended to escape, and they understood it, and took him and others who were with him, and who also said that they knew pilot's work, and they set sail; and as soon as the inhabitants saw them go they fitted out to go after them: and of these paraos there did not reach the ships more than two, and these reached so near that they shot arrows into the ships, and the wind was fresh and they could not come up with them. At midnight of that day they sighted some islands, and they steered more towards them; and next day they saw land, which was an island; and at night following that day they found themselves very close to it, and when night fell the wind calmed and the currents drew them very much inshore; there the old pilot cast himself into the sea, and betook himself to land.
Sailing thus forward, after one of the pilots had fled, they sighted another island and arrived close to it, and another Moorish pilot said that Maluco was still further on, and navigating thus, the next day in the morning they sighted three high mountains, which belonged to a nation of people whom they called the Salabos; and then they saw a small island where they anchored to take in some water, and because they feared that in Maluco they would not be allowed to take it in; and they omitted doing so, because the Moorish pilot told them that there were some four hundred men in that island, and that they were all very bad, and might do them some injury, as they were men of little faith; and that he would give them no such advice as to go to that island; and also because Maluco, which they were seeking, was now near, and that its kings were good men, who gave a good reception to all sorts of men in their country; and while still in this neighborhood they saw the islands themselves of Maluco, and for rejoicing they fired all the artillery, and they arrived at the island on the 8th of November of 1521, so that they spent from Seville to Maluco two years, two months and twenty-eight days, for they sailed on the 10th of August of 1519.
As soon as they arrived at the island of Tydor, which is in half a degree, the King thereof did them great honor, which could not be exceeded: there they treated with the King for their cargo, and the King engaged to give them a cargo and whatever there was in the country for their money, and they settled to give for the bahar of cloves fourteen ells of yellow cloth of twenty-seven tem, which are worth in Castile a ducat the ell; of red cloth of the same kind ten ells; they also gave thirty ells of Brittany linen cloth, and for each of these quantities they received a bahar of cloves, likewise for thirty knives eight bahars: having thus settled all the above mentioned prices, the inhabitants of the country gave them information that further on, in another island near, there was a Portuguese man. This island might be two leagues distant, and it was named Targatell; this man was the chief person of Maluco; there we now have got a fortress. They then wrote letters to the said Portuguese, to come and speak with them, to which he answered that he did not dare, because the King of the country forbade it; that if they obtained permission from the King he would come at once; this permission they soon got, and the Portuguese came to speak with him. They gave him an account of the prices which they had settled, at which he was amazed, and said that on that account the King had ordered him not to come, as they did not know the truth about the prices of the country; and whilst they were thus taking in cargo there arrived the King of Baraham, which is near there, and said that he wished to be a vassal of the King of Castile, and also that he had got four hundred bahars of cloves, and that he had sold it to the King of Portugal, and that they had bought it, but that he had not yet delivered it, and if they wished for it, he would give it all to them; to which the captains answered that if he brought it to them, and came with it, they would buy it, but otherwise not. The King, seeing that they did not wish to take the cloves, asked them for a flag and a letter of safe conduct, which they gave him, signed by the captains of the ships.
While they were thus waiting for the cargo, it seemed to them, from the delay in the delivery, that the King was preparing some treachery against them, and the greater part of the ships' crews made an uproar and told the captains to go, as the delays which the King made were nothing else than treachery: as it seemed to them all that it might be so, they were abandoning everything, and were intending to depart; and being about to unfurl the sails, the King, who had made the agreement with them, came to the flagship and asked the captain why he wanted to go, because that which he had agreed upon with him he intended to fulfill it as had been settled. The captain replied that the ships' crews said they should go and not remain any longer, as it was only treachery that was being prepared against them. To this the King answered that it was not so, and on that account he at once sent for his Koran, upon which he wished to make oath that nothing such should be done to them. They at once brought him this Koran, and upon it he made oath, and told them to rest at ease with that. At this the crews were set at rest, and promised them that he would give them their cargo by the 1st December 1521, which he fulfilled within the said time without being wanting in anything.
When the two ships were already laden and about to unfurl their sails, the flagship sprung a large leak, and the King of the country learning this, he sent them twenty-five divers to stop the leak, which they were unable to do. They settled that the other ship should depart, and that this one should again discharge all its cargo, and unload it; and as they could not stop the leak, that they [the people of the country] should give them all that they might be in need of. This was done, and they discharged the cargo of the flagship; and when the said ship was repaired, they took in her cargo, and decided on making for the country of the Antilles, and the course from Maluco to it was 2,000 leagues a little more or less. The other ship, which set sail first, left on the 21st of December of the said year, and went out to sea for Timor, and made its course behind Java, 2,055 leagues to the Cape of Good Hope.
They refitted the ship, and took in the cargo in four months and sixteen days: they sailed on the 6th of April of the year 1522, and took their course for the mainland of the Antilles by the strait through which they had come; and at first they navigated to the North, until they came out from the islands of Ternate and Timor; afterwards they navigated along the island of Betachina, ten or eleven leagues to the North-east: after that they steered about twenty leagues to the North-east, and so arrived at an island, which is named Doyz, and is in three and a half degrees South latitude at its south-eastern side: from this place they navigated three or four leagues eastwards, and sighted two islands, one large and the other small; the large one was named Porquenampello, and passed between it and Batechina, which lay on their starboard side. They reached a cape, to which they gave the name Cape of Palms, because they sighted it on the vigil of Palms. This cape is in two and a half degrees: thence they steered to the South to make Quimar, which is land belonging to the King of Tydor, and the said King had ordered that they should receive whatever there was in the country for their money, and there they took pigs and goats, and fowls and coconuts and hava: they remained in this port eight or nine days. This port of Camarfya is in one and a quarter degree.
They sailed from this port on the 20th of April and steered for about seventeen leagues, and came out of the channel of the island of Batechina and the island Charam; and as soon as they were outside, they saw that the said island of Charam ran to the South-east a good eighteen or twenty leagues, and it was not their course, for their direction was to the East and a quarter North-east; and they navigated in the said course some days, and always found the winds very contrary for their course. On the 3rd of May they made two small islands, which might be in five degrees more or less, to which they gave the name of islands of St. Antony. Thence they navigated further on to the North-east, and arrived at an island which is named Cyco, which is in fully nineteen degrees, and they made this island on the 11th of July. From this island they took a man, whom they carried away with them, and they navigated further on, tacking about with contrary winds, until they reached forty-two degrees North latitude.
When they were in this neighborhood, they were short of bread, wine, meat, and oil; they had nothing to eat only water and rice, without other provisions; and the cold was great, and they had not sufficient covering, the crews began to die, and seeing themselves in this state, they decided on putting back in the direction of Maluco, which they at once carried into effect. When at a distance of five hundred leagues from it, they desired to make the island which is named Quamgragam, and as they sighted it at night, they did not choose to make it; they waited thus till it dawned next day, and they were unable to fetch the said island; and the man whom they carried with them, and whom before they had taken from that island, told them to go further on, and they would make three islands, where there was a good port, and this which the black man said, was in order to run away at them, as indeed he did run away. On arriving at these three islands, they fetched them with some danger, and anchored in the middle of them in fifteen fathoms. Of these islands, the largest was inhabited by twenty persons between men and women: this island is named Pamo; it is in twenty degrees more or less: here they took in rain-water, as there was no other in the country. In this island the black man ran away. Thence they sailed to make the land of Camafo, and as soon as they sighted it they had calms, and the currents carried them away from the land; and afterwards they had a little wind, and they made for the land, but could not fetch it; they then went to anchor between the islands of Domi and Batechina, and while at anchor, a parao passed by them with some men who belonged to the King of an island named Geilolo, and they gave them news that the Portuguese were in Maluco making a fortress. Learning this, they at once sent the clerk of the ship with certain men to the captain-major of those Portuguese, who was named Antonio de Bryto, to ask him to come and bring the ship to the place where they were; because the crew of the ship had mostly died, and the rest were sick, and could not navigate the ship. As soon as Antonio de Bryto saw the letter and message, he sent down Dom Gonzalo Amriquiz, captain of the fortress, and whilst they were discharging its cargo, there came a squall from the north, which cast it on shore. Where this ship turned to put back to Maluco was a little more or less than 1050 or 1100 leagues from the island.
This was transcribed from the paper-book of a Genoese pilot, who
came in the said ship, who wrote all the voyage as it is here. He went
to Portugal in the year 1524 with Dom Amriqui de Menezes. Thanks be to
Christopher Columbus, Master Mariner and Navigator, was born in Genoa,
August/October 1451 and died at Valladolid, Spain, May 20, 1506. He was the eldest son
of Domenico Colombo, a Genoese wool worker and small-time merchant, and Susanna
Fontanarossa, his wife. Columbus is widely thought to have been the first European to sail
across the Atlantic Ocean and make landfall on the American continent. He made four
voyages across the Atlantic under the sponsorship of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic
Monarchs of Aragon, Castile, and Leon in Spain. On the first and second voyages (Aug. 3,
1492-March 15, 1493, and Sept. 25, 1493-June 11, 1496) Columbus sighted the
majority of the islands of the Caribbean and established a base in Hispaniola (now divided
into Haiti and the Dominican Republic). On the third voyage (May 30, 1498-October
1500) he reached Trinidad and Venezuela and the Orinoco River delta. On the fourth
(May 9, 1502-Nov. 7, 1504) he returned to South America and sailed from Cape
Honduras to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Veragua, and Panama.
Although at first full of hope and ambition, an ambition partly gratified by his title "Admiral
of the Ocean Sea," awarded to him in April 1492, and by the grants enrolled in the Book
of Privileges (a record of his titles and claims), Columbus died a disappointed man. He
was removed from the governorship of Hispaniola in 1499, his chief patron, Queen
Isabella, died in 1504, and his efforts to recover his governorship of the "Indies" from King
Ferdinand were, in the end, unavailing. In 1542, however, the bones of Columbus were
taken from Spain to the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in Hispaniola (now the Dominican
Republic), where they may still lie. (see also Index: West Indies)
The period between the quatercentenary celebrations of Columbus'
1892-93 and the quincentenary ones of 1992 saw great advances in Columbus
scholarship. A huge number of books about Columbus have appeared in the 1990s, and
the insights of archaeologists and anthropologists now complement those of sailors and
historians. This effort has given rise, as might be expected, to considerable debate. The
past few years have also seen a major shift in approach and interpretation; the older
pro-European and imperialist understanding has given way to one shaped from the
perspective of the inhabitants of the Americas themselves. According to the older
understanding, the discovery of the Americas was a great triumph, one in which Columbus
played the part of hero in accomplishing the four voyages, in being the means of bringing
great material profit to Spain and to other European countries, and in opening up the
Americas to European settlement. The second perspective, however, has concentrated on
the destructive side of the European intrusions, emphasizing, for example, the disastrous
impact of the slave trade and the ravages of imported disease on the native peoples of the
Caribbean and the American continents. The sense of triumph has diminished accordingly,
and the view of Columbus as hero has now been replaced, for many, by one of a man
deeply flawed. While Columbus' abilities as a navigator are rarely doubted in this second
perception, and his sincerity as a man sometimes allowed, he is emphatically removed by it
from his position of honour. The further interventions of political activists of all kinds have
hardly fostered the reconciliation of these so disparate views.
In an attempt at a balanced account attention will therefore first of
be restored to the
nature and quantity of the surviving written and material sources about Columbus. All
informed scholarly comment must depend primarily upon these. Then the admiral's
achievements and failures will be examined in light of recent research. Finally, the focus will
briefly return to the debate, in the full recognition that it is far from ended.
MAJOR WRITTEN SOURCES
The majority of the surviving primary sources for Columbus were written
to be read by
other people. There is, then, an element of manipulation about them. This fact needs to be
borne fully in mind for their proper understanding. Foremost among these sources are the
journals written by Columbus himself for his sovereigns--one for the first voyage, now lost
but able partly to be reconstructed; one for the second, almost wholly gone; and one for
the third, again accessible through reconstructions made by using later quotations, like the
first. Each of the journals may be supplemented by letters and reports to and from the
sovereigns and their trusted officials and friends, provisioning decrees from the sovereigns,
and, in the case of the second voyage, letters and reports of letters from fellow voyagers
(especially Michele da Cuneo, Diego Alvarez Chanca, and Guillermo Coma). There is no
journal and only one letter from the fourth voyage, but a complete roster and payroll
survive from this, alone of all the voyages, and Columbus' younger son Ferdinand (b. c.
1488) traveled with the admiral and left an eyewitness account. The so-called Pleitos de
Colón, judicial documents put forward by the Pinzón family in 1515 against the claims of
Columbus' heirs, throw oblique further light upon the explorations. The recent discovery of
a 16th-century copybook containing five narrative letters and two personal ones from
Columbus, all previously unknown, as well as additional copies of two known ones, may
allow one to believe that more may yet be found. In the meanwhile, Ferdinand Columbus'
The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, the Historia de los Reyes Católicos
(c. 1500) of Andrés Bernáldez (a friend of Columbus' and chaplain to the archbishop of
Seville), and the Historia de las Indias put together about 1550-63 by Bartolomé de las
Casas (bishop of Chiapas and champion of the indigenous people of the Americas)
supplement the other narratives.
Further important material may be gleaned from the few books still
admiral's own library. Some of these were extensively annotated, often by the admiral and
sometimes by his brother Bartholomew. The readings and annotations from Columbus'
copies of the Imago mundi by the 15th-century French theologian Pierre d'Ailly (a
compendium containing a great number of cosmological and theological texts), the Historia
rerum ubique gestarum of Pope Pius II, published in 1477, the version of The Travels of
Marco Polo known as the De consuetudinibus et condicionibus orientalium regionum
of Francesco Pipino (1483-85), Alfonso de Palencia's late 15th-century Castilian
translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, and the 15th-century humanist Cristoforo
Landino's Italian translation of the Natural History of Pliny the Elder cast a most important
light on Columbus' intentions and presuppositions. So do the contents of certain other
books known to have been in his possession, such as the Guide to Geography of the
Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, the Catholicon of the 15th-century
encyclopedist John of Genoa, and a popular handbook to confession, the
mid-15th-century Confessionale produced by the Dominican St. Antoninus of Florence.
The whole shows that the admiral was adept in Latin, Castilian, and Italian, if not expert in
all three. He annotated primarily in Latin and Spanish, very rarely in Italian. He had
probably already read and annotated at least the first three named texts before he set out
on his first voyage to the "Indies." His Christian interests are manifest. He was plainly a
deeply religious and reflective man as well as a distinguished seaman, and, being largely
self-taught, had a reverence for learning, especially, perhaps, the learning of his most
influential Spanish supporters. The Book of Prophecies, a collection of prophetic passages
and pronouncements, taken largely from the Bible and seeming to bear upon his western
voyages, which seems largely to have been put together between September 1501 and
March 1502 (with additions until c. 1505) by Columbus and his friend the Carthusian friar
Gaspar Gorricio, is a striking manifestation of these sensibilities and seems to contain many
passages and extracts that were personally important to the admiral.
Direct material remains of Columbus' travels are few. Efforts to find
settlement on Hispaniola (Haiti), at Navidad, have so far failed, but the local chieftain's
settlement nearby has been identified, and the present-day fishing village of Bord de Mer
de Limonade may be close to the original site. Concepción de la Vega, which Columbus
also founded on Hispaniola, on the second voyage, may be the present La Vega Vieja, in
the Dominican Republic. Remains at the site of La Isabela are still to be fully excavated as
are those at Sevilla la Nueva, on Jamaica, where Columbus' two caravels were beached
on the fourth voyage. The techniques of skeletal paleopathology and paleodemography are
being applied with some success to determine the fates of the native populations.
Early career and the first voyage.
Little is known of Columbus' early life. His career as a seaman began
Portuguese marine. After surviving a shipwreck off Cape St. Vincent at the southwestern
point of Portugal in 1476, he based himself in Lisbon, together with his brother
Bartholomew. Both were employed as chartmakers, but Columbus was principally a
seagoing entrepreneur. In 1477 he sailed to Iceland and Ireland with the marine, and in
1478 he was buying sugar in Madeira as an agent for the Genoese firm of Centurioni. In
1479 he met and married Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, a member of an impoverished noble
Portuguese family. Their son, Diego, was born in 1480. Between 1482 and 1485
Columbus traded along the Guinea coast and made at least one voyage to the Portuguese
fortress of São Jorge da Mina on the Gold Coast of equatorial West Africa, gaining
knowledge of Portuguese navigation and the Atlantic wind systems along the way. His
search for support for an Atlantic crossing in both Portugal and Spain has encouraged
conspiracy theorists to suspect a secret pact with King John II of Portugal, but there is no
evidence of this. Felipa died in 1485, and Columbus took as his mistress Beatriz Enríquez
de Harana of Córdoba, by whom he had his second son, Ferdinand. By 1486 Columbus
was firmly in Spain, asking King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for patronage. After at least
two rejections, he at last obtained royal support in January 1492. This was achieved chiefly
through the interventions of the Spanish treasurer, Luis de Santángel, and of the Franciscan
friars of La Rábida, near Huelva, with whom Columbus had stayed in the summer of
1491. Juan Pérez of La Rábida had been one of the queen's confessors and perhaps
procured him the crucial audience. Royal patronage was finally advanced in the euphoria
that followed the fall of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, on Jan. 2,
Columbus had been present at the siege of Granada in January 1492. He
in fact riding
back from it to La Rábida when he was recalled to court and the vital royal audience.
Granada's fall encouraged Spanish Christians to believe that they might indeed triumph over
Islam, albeit chiefly, perhaps, by the back way round the globe. In the letter that prefaces
his journal of the first voyage, the admiral vividly evokes his own hopes and binds them all
together with the conquest of the infidel, the victory of Christianity, and the westward route
to discovery and Christian alliance:
. . . and I saw the Moorish king come out of the gates of the city and
royal hands of Your Highnesses . . . and Your Highnesses, as Catholic
Christians . . . took thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said
parts of India, to see those princes and peoples and lands . . . and the manner
which should be used to bring about their conversion to our holy faith, and
ordained that I should not go by land to the eastward, by which way it was
the custom to go, but by way of the west, by which down to this day we do
not know certainly that anyone has passed; therefore, having driven out all the
Jews from your realms and lordships in the same month of January, Your
Highnesses commanded me that, with a sufficient fleet, I should go to the said
parts of India, and for this accorded me great rewards and ennobled me so
that from that time henceforth I might style myself "Don" and be high admiral
of the Ocean Sea and perpetual Governor of the islands and continent which I
should discover . . . and that my eldest son should succeed to the same
position, and so on from generation to generation.
Thus a great number of interests were involved in this great project,
was, in essence,
the attempt to find a route to the rich continent of Cathay (or modern China), to India, and
to the fabled gold and spice islands of the East by sailing westward over what was
presumed to be open sea. Columbus himself clearly hoped to rise from his humble
beginnings in this way, to accumulate riches for his family, and to join the ranks of the
nobility of Spain. In a similar manner, but at a more exalted level, the Catholic Monarchs
sought, through such an enterprise, to gain greater status among the monarchies of Europe,
especially against their main rival, Portugal. Then, in alliance with the papacy (in this case,
with the Borgia pope Alexander VI [1492-1503]), they might hope to take the lead in the
Christian defense against the infidel. The power of the Ottomans and other Islamic nations
of the eastern Mediterranean was growing at an alarming pace, threatening the Christian
monarchies themselves. This power had also effectively closed the land routes to the East,
via the Caspian Sea, Samarkand, and northern India, and made the sea route south from
the Red Sea extremely hard to access.
At a more elevated level still, Franciscan preachers sought to prepare
for the end of the
world, as they interpreted the Book of Revelation to prophesy. According to the
eschatological vision contained in Revelation, Jerusalem would be recaptured by
Christendom and a Christian emperor installed in the Holy Land. These events were a
precondition for the coming, and defeat, of Antichrist and the conversion of the whole
human race and, ultimately, for the Last Judgment. The westward project would, it was
hoped, help to finance a crusade to the East. It might also be another arm of it, linking with
Christians such as Prester John, a legendary Christian ruler of the East, and his
descendants, who, it was thought by many, still survived east of the lands of the infidel. The
Great Khan of the Golden Horde was himself held to be interested in Christianity.
Columbus carefully carried a letter of friendship from his sovereigns to the Great Khan
with him on his journeys. Finally, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was known to
have pressed southward along the coast of West Africa, beyond São Jorge da Mina, in an
effort to find an easterly route to Cathay and India by sea. It would never do to allow the
Portuguese to find the sea route first.
Christian missionary fervour, the power of Castile and Aragon, the fear
of Portugal, the lust
for gold, the desire for adventure, the hope of conquests, and Europe's genuine need for a
reliable supply of herbs and spices for cooking, preserving, and medicine all combined to
produce that explosion of energy which launched the first voyage. Adventurous emigration
may have been encouraged by the decree signed March 31, 1492, ordering the expulsion
of the Jews from Spain.
The time has come to lay to rest, finally and for good, the ghost of
Columbus had ever thought that the world was flat. Europeans had known that the Earth
was spherical in shape ever since the spread of the popular Etymologies of St. Isidore of
Seville, produced (in Spain) in the early 7th century. Columbus' miscalculations, such as
they were, lay in quite other areas. First, his estimate of the sea distance to be crossed to
Cathay was wildly inaccurate. A chart (now lost) supplied by the Florentine mathematician
and geographer Paolo Toscanelli, together with Columbus' preference for the calculations
of the ancient Greek geographer Marinus of Tyre, encouraged him to reject Ptolemy's
estimate of the journey from West to East overland and to substitute a far longer one.
Again, on the authority, primarily, of the 13th-14th-century Venetian Marco Polo's
Travels, he conceived the idea that the lands of the East stretched out far around the back
of the globe, with the island of Cipango, or Japan, located a further 1,500 miles from the
mainland of Cathay and itself surrounded by islands. This cluster of islands might, then,
almost touch, he seems to have argued, the islands of the Azores. Columbus' reading of
the seer Salathiel-Ezra in the books of Esdras, from the Apocrypha (especially II Esdras
6:42, in which the prophet states that the Earth is six parts land to one of water) reinforced
these ideas of the proportion of land- to sea-crossing, and the mistake was compounded
by his idiosyncratic view of the length of a degree of geographic latitude. The degree,
according to Arabic calculators, consisted of 56 2/3 Arab miles, and an Arab mile
measured 1,975.5 metres. Given the fact that a nautical mile measures 1,852 metres, this
degree, then, amounts to approximately 60.45 nautical miles. Columbus, however, used
the Italian mile of 1,477.5 metres for his calculations and thus arrived at a calculation of
approximately 45 nautical miles to a degree. This shortened the distance across the sea
westward yet again. According to this reckoning, Zaiton, Marco Polo's great port of
Cathay, would have lain a little to the east of present-day San Diego, Calif., U.S., and
Cipango (Japan) on the meridian of the Virgin Islands. The latter were, of course,
surprisingly, and confusingly, close to where Columbus actually made his landfalls.
The miscalculation of distance may have been willful on Columbus' part
and made with an
eye to his sponsors. The first journal suggests that Columbus may have been aware of his
inaccuracy, for he consistently concealed from his sailors the number of actual miles they
had covered, lest they become fearful for the journey back. Such economies with the truth
may be evidence rather of bravery and the need to inspire confidence than of simple
dishonesty or error. Columbus' other miscalculations were a little more serious, however.
He declined, for instance, ever to admit that he had not found the true Indies and Cathay.
Perhaps he genuinely believed that he had been there; but, at all events, this refusal to
accept that he had discovered a brand new world in the Caribbean, in the face of mounting
evidence that he had, both prevented his adapting his preformed plans and ideas to his
actual experiences and dented his later reputation. Last, Columbus was autocratic to his
sailors and remote from his companions and intending emigrants. He was thus a poor judge
of the ambitions, and perhaps the failings, of those who sailed with him. This combination
was to prove fatal to almost all of his hopes.
The ships for the first voyage, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa
were fitted out at Palos,
on the Tinto River in southern Spain. Santángel and Columbus' collaborators and suppliers
in Palos (led by the shipowner Martín Alonso Pinzón, captain of the Pinta) provided at
least 1,140,000 maravedis, and Columbus supplied more than a third of the sum
contributed by the king and queen. Queen Isabella did not, then, have to pawn her jewels
(a myth first put about by Las Casas). The little fleet left on Aug. 3, 1492. The admiral's
navigational genius showed itself immediately, for they dropped down to the Canary
Islands, off the northwest African mainland, rather than sailing due west to the Azores. The
westerlies prevailing in the Azores had defeated previous sailors to the west, but in the
Canaries they could pick up the northeast trade winds, trusting to the westerlies for their
return. After nearly a month in the Canaries the ships set out from San Sebastián de la
Gomera on September 6. On October 12 land was sighted from the Pinta (though
Columbus, on the Niña, later meanly claimed the privilege for himself). The place of the
first Caribbean landfall is hotly disputed, but San Salvador, or Watling, Island is currently
preferred to Samana Cay, Rum Cay, the Plana Cays, or the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Beyond planting the royal banner, however, Columbus spent little time there, being
anxious to press on to Cipango. He thought, on October 24, he had found it in Cuba, but
by his journal entry of November 1 he had convinced himself that Cuba was the mainland
of Cathay, though so far without evidence of great cities. Thus, on December 5, he turned
back southeastward to search for the fabled city of Zaiton, missing Florida through this
decision and, as it turned out, his sole chance of setting foot on the North American
The fleet was carried by adverse winds to Ayti (Haiti) on December 6,
renamed La Isla Española, or Hispaniola. He seems to have thought that Haiti might be
Cipango or, if not Cipango, then perhaps one of the rich isles from which King Solomon's
triennial fleet set sail so long ago, bringing gold and gems and spices back to Jerusalem for
the king (I Kings 10:11, 22), or the biblical lands Sheba and Seba, confused by some
commentators with the Tharsis and the isles of Psalm 71:10-11 in the Vulgate. Columbus
found there at least enough gold and prosperity to save him from ridicule on his return to
Spain. With the help of a cacique, or local Taino Indian chief, Guacanagarí, he set up a
stockade on the northern coast of the island, named it La Navidad, and posted 39 men to
guard it against his return. The accidental running aground of the Santa María provided
additional planks and provisions for the garrison.
On Jan. 16, 1493, Columbus left with his remaining two ships for Spain.
The journey back
was a nightmare. Although the westerlies did indeed direct them homeward, in
mid-February a terrible storm engulfed the fleet. The Niña was driven to seek harbour at
Santa Maria in the Azores, and then, still storm-bound, to limp on to Lisbon. In Santa
Maria a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the shrine of the Virgin led to the temporary capture
of 10 sailors by the hostile Portuguese authorities. An unavoidable interview with King John
II in Lisbon left Columbus under the suspicion of collaborating with Spain's enemies.
These events cast a shadow on his return to Palos.
Many of the tensions endemic to all Columbus' succeeding efforts had
themselves felt on this first voyage. First and perhaps most damaging of all were those
engendered by the incompatibility between the admiral's apparently high religious and even
mystical aspirations and the realities of trading, competition, and colonization. Columbus
never openly acknowledged this gulf and so was quite incapable of bridging it. He chose,
for instance, in his reports, to interpret the grounding of the Santa María and the
establishing of his fortress as events decreed by God. They were in fact deliberate and
radical departures from the original simple project of exploration and contact, but
Columbus preferred to justify them on religious rather than rational or economic grounds.
(The admiral had begun even now to adopt a mode of sanctification in retrospect and
validation through sheer force of autocratic personality that would make him so many
enemies in the future.) Also, there had been looting, violence, and kidnapping, especially on
Hispaniola. Columbus did control excesses, but he was determined to take back both
material and human cargo to his sovereigns and for himself. This blunted his ability to retain
the high moral ground. Further, the latent doubts about the foreigner Columbus' total
loyalty to Spain had been revived, and, last, there were clear divisions in the ranks of
Columbus' companions. Pinzón had disputed the route as the fleet reached the Bahamas
and had sailed away from Cuba, and Columbus, on November 21. He rejoined him, with
lame excuses, only on January 6. The Pinta made port at Bayona on its homeward
journey, separately from Columbus and the Niña. Had Pinzón not died so soon after his
return, Columbus' command of the second voyage might have been less than assured. As
it was, the Pinzón family became now his rivals for reward.
The second and third voyages.
The gold, parrots, spices, and human captives Columbus displayed for
Barcelona convinced all of the need for a rapid second voyage. Columbus was now at the
height of his popularity, and at least 17 ships set out from Cádiz on Sept. 25, 1493.
Colonization and Christian evangelization were openly included this time in the plans, and a
group of friars shipped with him. The presence of some 1,300 salaried men with perhaps
200 private investors and a small troop of cavalry are testimony to the expectations
invested in the expedition. The confiscated properties of expelled Jews had swelled the
royal coffers and probably largely financed it.
Sailing again via Gomera in the Canaries, the fleet took a more
course than on the
first voyage and reached Dominica in the Lesser Antilles on Nov. 3, 1493. After sighting
the Virgin Islands, it entered Samaná Bay in Hispaniola on November 23. Cuneo, deeply
impressed by this unerring return, remarked that "since Genoa was Genoa there was never
born a man so well equipped and expert in navigation as the said lord Admiral." An
expedition to Navidad four days later, however, was shocked to find the fortress
destroyed and the men dead. Here was a clear sign that native resistance had gathered
strength. More fortified places were rapidly built, including a city, founded on January 2
and named La Isabela after the queen. On February 2 Antonio de Torres left La Isabela
with 12 ships, a little gold, spices, parrots, captives (most of whom died en route), the bad
news about Navidad, and some complaints about Columbus' methods of government.
While Torres headed for Spain, two of Columbus' subordinates, Alonso de Ojeda and
Pedro Margarit, took revenge for the massacre at Navidad and captured slaves, both
seemingly with the admiral's full connivance. In March Columbus explored Cibao (thought
to be the gold-bearing region of the island) and established the fortress of St. Thomas
there. Then, late in April, three ships, led by Columbus in the Niña, explored the Cuban
coastline and searched for gold in Jamaica, only to conclude that Hispaniola promised the
richest spoils for the settlers. It was, the admiral decided, indeed the biblical Seba (Saba in
the Vulgate), and Cuba was the mainland of Cathay. On June 12, 1494, Columbus
insisted on a sworn declaration to that effect--a sure indication that, though not all of the
company agreed with him, he was bent on insisting to his sovereign that he had reached
The year 1495 saw the determined conquest of the island of Hispaniola
of troubles for the Taino Indians. There is evidence, especially in the objections of a friar,
Bernardo Buil, that Columbus' methods remained harsh. The admiral's brothers,
Bartholomew and Diego, were left in charge of the settlement when, on March 10, 1496,
the admiral left La Isabela for Spain. He reached Cádiz on June 11 and immediately
pressed his plans for a third voyage upon his sovereigns, at Burgos. Spain was at war now
with France and in need of buying allies; moreover, the yield from the second voyage had
fallen well short of the investment. But Portugal still threatened, and, though the two
nations, in the Treaty of Tordesillas (June 7, 1494), had divided the Atlantic conveniently
between themselves, they had as yet made no agreement about rights in the East.
According to the treaty Spain might take all discovered land west of a line drawn from pole
to pole 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands and Portugal that to the east of the
line; but what about the other side of the world, where West met East? Also, there might
be a previously undiscovered antipodean continent; who, then, should be trusted to draw
the line there? Ferdinand and Isabella therefore made a cautious further investment. Six
ships left Sanlúcar de Barrameda on May 30, 1498, three filled with explorers and three
with provisions for the settlement on Hispaniola. It was clear now that Columbus was
expected both to find great prizes and to establish the flag of Spain firmly in the East.
Certainly he found prizes, but not, sadly, quite of the kind his
required. The aim
this time was to explore to the south of the existing discoveries, in the hope of finding both
a strait from Cuba/Cathay to India and, perhaps, the unknown antipodean continent. Thus,
on June 21, the provision ships left Gomera for Hispaniola, while the explorers headed
south for the Cape Verde Islands. Columbus began the Atlantic crossing on July 4, 1498,
from São Tiago Island in Cape Verde. He discovered the principle of compass variation
(the variation at any point on the Earth's surface between the direction to magnetic and
geographic north), for which he made brilliant allowance on the journey from Margarita
Island to Hispaniola on the later leg of this voyage, and he also observed, though
misunderstood, the diurnal rotation of the Pole Star. After stopping at Trinidad (named
after the Holy Trinity, whose protection he had invoked for the voyage), Columbus
entered the Gulf of Paria and planted the Spanish flag on the Paria Peninsula in Venezuela.
He sent the caravel El Corréo southward to investigate the mouth of the Rio Grande (the
northern branch of the Orinoco), and by Aug. 15, 1498, knew by the great floods of fresh
water flowing into the Gulf of Paria that he had discovered another continent--"another
world." But he did not find the strait to India, nor did he find those mines of King
Solomon's gold his reading had led him and his sovereigns to expect in these latitudes; and
he made only disastrous discoveries when he returned to Hispaniola. (see also Index:
Trinidad and Tobago, Orinoco River)
The rule of his brothers, Bartholomew and Diego, had been resented
by both the
native inhabitants and the immigrants. A rebellion by the alcalde (mayor) of La Isabela,
Francisco Roldán, had led to appeals to the Spanish court, and, even as Columbus
attempted to restore order (partly, it must be said, by hangings), the Spanish chief justice,
Francisco de Bobadilla, was on his way out to the colony with a commission from the
sovereigns to investigate all the complaints. It is hard to explain exactly what the trouble
was. Columbus' report to his sovereigns from the second voyage, taken back by Torres
and so known as the Torres Memorandum, speaks of sickness, poor provisioning,
recalcitrant natives, and undisciplined hidalgos (gentry). It may be that these problems had
intensified. But the Columbus family's repressive policies must be held at least partly
responsible, intent as it undoubtedly now was on enslaving the native population, both to
work the placer mines of Hispaniola and for export to Europe. The adelantado (governor)
Bartholomew Columbus had replaced Columbus' original system of gold production,
whereby the local chiefs had been in charge of delivering gold on a loose per capita basis,
by direct exploitation through favoured Spaniards, and this had caused widespread dissent
among both unfavoured Spaniards and indigenous chiefs. Certainly Bobadilla found against
the Columbus family when he arrived in Hispaniola. He clapped Columbus and his two
brothers in irons and sent them promptly back, on the La Gorda, to Cádiz. They arrived
there in late October 1500.
The long letter Columbus composed on the journey back and sent to his
immediately on his return is one of the most extraordinary he wrote, and one of the most
informative. One part of its exalted, almost mystical, quality may be attributed to the
humiliations the admiral had endured (humiliations he compounded by refusing to allow the
captain of the La Gorda to remove his chains during the voyage) and another to the fact
that he was now suffering severely from sleeplessness, eyestrain, and a form of rheumatoid
arthritis, which may have hastened his death. Much of what he said in the letter, however,
seems genuinely to have expressed his beliefs. One can learn from it that Columbus had
absolute faith in his navigational abilities, his seaman's sense of the weather, his eyes, and
his reading. The last is apparent in his conviction that he had reached the outer region of the
Earthly Paradise. Thus, as he approached Trinidad and the Paria Peninsula, the rotation of
the Pole Star gave him, he wrote, the impression that the fleet was climbing. The weather
had become extremely mild, and the flow of fresh water into the Gulf of Paria was, as he
saw, enormous. All this could have one explanation only--they had mounted toward the
temperate heights of the Earthly Paradise, heights from which the rivers of Paradise ran into
the sea. Columbus had found all such signs of the outer regions of the Earthly Paradise in
his reading, and indeed they were widely known. He was, then, on this estimate, close to
the realms of gold that lay near Paradise. He had not found the gold yet, to be sure; but he
knew now where it was. Columbus' expectations thus allowed him again to interpret his
discoveries in terms of biblical and classical sources and to do so in a manner that would
be comprehensible to his sponsors and favourable to himself.
This letter, desperate though it was, convinced the sovereigns that,
if he had not yet
found the prize, he had been close to it after all. They ordered his release and gave him
audience at Granada in late December 1500. They accepted that, although Columbus'
capacities as governor were wanting (on Sept. 3, 1501, they appointed Nicolás de
Ovando, not Columbus, to succeed Bobadilla to the governorship), those as navigator and
explorer were not. Columbus, even ill and importunate, was a better investment than the
many adventurers and profiteers who had meantime been licensed to compete with him,
and there was always the danger (revealed in some of the letters of this period) that he
would offer his services to his native Genoa. In October 1501, then, Columbus went to
Seville to make ready his fourth and final expedition.
The fourth voyage and death of the admiral.
The winter and spring of 1501-02 were exceedingly busy. The four chosen
bought, fitted, and crewed, and some 20 of Columbus' extant letters and memoranda
were written then, many in exculpation of Bobadilla's charges, others pressing even harder
the nearness of the Earthly Paradise and the need to reconquer Jerusalem. Columbus took
to calling himself "Christbearer" in his letters and to using a strange and mystical signature,
never satisfactorily explained. He began also, with all these thoughts and pressures in mind,
to compile both his Book of Privileges and his Book of Prophecies. The first, in defending
the titles and financial claims of the Columbus family, seems oddly annexed to the Christian
apocalypticism of the second; yet both were linked most closely in the admiral's own mind.
He seems to have been certain that his mission was divinely guided. Thus, the loftiness of
his spiritual aspirations increased as the threats to his personal ones mounted. In the midst
of all these efforts and hazards, Columbus sailed from Cádiz on his fourth voyage on May
The four ships allowed him contrasted sharply with the thirty granted
the governor of
Hispaniola, Ovando. The confidence his sovereigns had formerly had in Columbus had
now diminished, and there is much to suggest that pity mingled with hope in their support.
His illnesses were worsening, and the hostility to his rule in Hispaniola was unabated. Thus,
Ferdinand and Isabella forbade him to return there. He was to resume, instead, his
interrupted exploration of the "other world" to the south that he had found on his third
voyage and to look most particularly for gold and the strait to India. Columbus expected
to meet the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in the East, and the sovereigns instructed
him on the appropriate courteous behaviour for such a meeting--another sign, perhaps, that
they did not wholly trust him. They were right. He departed from Gran Canaria on the night
of May 25, made landfall at Martinique on June 15 (after the fastest crossing to date), and
was, by June 29, demanding entrance to Santo Domingo on Hispaniola. Only on being
refused such entry by Ovando did he take to the farther west and the south. July to
September 1502 saw him coasting Jamaica, the southern shore of Cuba, Honduras, and
the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua. The feat of Caribbean transnavigation, which took him
to Bonacca Island off Cape Honduras on July 30, deserves to be reckoned on a par, as to
difficulty, with that of crossing the Atlantic, and the admiral was justly proud of it.
Constantly probing for the strait, the fleet sailed round the Chiriquí Lagoon (in Panama) in
October, then, searching for gold, along Veragua and Panama in the foulest of weather. In
February 1503 Columbus attempted to establish a trading post at Santa María de Belén
on the bank of the Belén (Bethlehem) River under the command of Bartholomew
Columbus in order to exploit the promising gold yield he was beginning to find in Veragua.
Indian hostility and the poor condition of his ships (of which only two now remained, and
these fearfully holed by shipworm) determined him, however, to turn back to Hispaniola.
On this voyage the ultimate disaster struck. Against Columbus' (right) judgment, the pilots
turned the fleet north too soon. The ships could not make the distance and had to be
beached on the coast of Jamaica. By June 1503 Columbus and his crews were
Columbus had hoped, as he said to his sovereigns, that "my hard and
may yet turn out to be my noblest"; it was in fact the most disappointing of all and the most
unlucky. In its searches for the strait and for gold the fleet had missed discovering the
Pacific and making contact with the great Mayan empire of Yucatán by the narrowest of
margins. Also, though two of the men (Diego Méndez and Bartolomeo Fieschi, captains of
the wrecked ships La Capitana and Vizcaíno, respectively) left about July 17 to get help
for the castaways, traversing the 450-mile journey to Hispaniola safely by canoe, Ovando
made no great haste to deliver that help. In the meantime, the admiral displayed his acumen
once again by correctly predicting an eclipse of the Moon from his astronomical tables,
thus frightening the natives into providing food; but it was June 1504 before rescue came,
and Columbus and his men did not reach Hispaniola until August 13 of the same year. On
November 7 he sailed back into Sanlúcar, to find that Queen Isabella had made her will
and was dying.
It would be wrong to suppose that Columbus spent his final two years
poverty, and oblivion. His son Diego was well established at court, and the admiral himself
lived in Seville in some style. His "tenth" of the gold diggings in Hispaniola, guaranteed in
1493, provided a substantial revenue (against which his Genoese bankers allowed him to
draw), and one of the few ships to escape a hurricane off Hispaniola in 1502 (in which
Bobadilla himself went down) was that carrying Columbus' gold. He felt himself ill-used
and short-changed nonetheless, and these years were marred, for both him and King
Ferdinand, by his constant pressing for redress. He followed the court from Segovia to
Salamanca and Valladolid, attempting to gain an audience. He knew that his life was
nearing its end, and in August 1505 he began to add codicils to his will. He died on May
20, 1506. First he was laid in the Franciscan friary in Valladolid, then taken to the family
mausoleum established at the Carthusian monastery of Las Cuevas in Seville. Finally, by
the will of his son Diego, Columbus' bones were laid with his own in the Cathedral of
Santo Domingo, Hispaniola.
The debate about Columbus' character and achievements began at least as
early as the
first rebellion of the Taino Indians and continued with Roldán, Bobadilla, and Ovando. It
has been revived periodically (notably by Las Casas and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) ever
since. The Columbus quincentenary of 1992 rekindled the intensity of this early
questioning and redirected its aims, often profitably. The word "encounter" is now
preferred to "discovery" when describing the contacts between the Old World and the
New, and more attention has come to be paid to the fate of the Native American peoples
and to the sensibilities of non-Christians. Enlightening discoveries have been made about
the diseases that reached the New World through Columbus' agency as well as those his
sailors took back with them to the Old. The pendulum may, however, now have swung too
far. Columbus has been made a whipping boy for events far beyond his own reach or
knowledge and a means to an agenda of condemnation that far outstrips his own guilt.
Thus, too little attention has recently been paid to the historical circumstances that
conditioned him. His obsessions with lineage and imperialism, his seemingly bizarre
Christian beliefs, and his apparently brutal behaviour come from a world remote from that
of modern democratic ideas, it is true; but it was the world to which he belonged. The
forces of European expansion, with their slaving and search for gold, had been unleashed
before him and were at his time quite beyond his control. Columbus simply decided to be
in the vanguard of them. He succeeded. Columbus' towering stature as a seaman and
navigator, the sheer power of his religious convictions (self-delusory as they sometimes
were), his personal magnetism, his courage, his endurance, his determination, and, above
all, his achievements as an explorer, should continue to be recognized.
The motives that spur human beings to examine their environment are many. Strong among them
are the satisfaction of curiosity, the pursuit of trade, the spread of religion, and the desire for
security and political power. At different times and in different places, different motives are
dominant. Sometimes one motive inspires the promoters of discovery, and another motive may
inspire the individuals who carry out the search. Still other motives draw settlers to the new
territory. (see also Index: overseas exploration)
Since the settlement of the European continent, its people have shown
an inclination to explore
and expand from their geographic centre. Exploration of the Mediterranean world led to contacts
with northern and western Europeans that extended the knowledge and culture of both groups.
The impetus toward expansion, demonstrated in the establishment of the Hellenistic and Roman
empires, continued as Christianity spread through Europe and beyond. Colonization of conquered
territories was undertaken, especially by the Romans, but on a much smaller scale than that which
followed in the early modern world. The major benefit of early, indeed of all, European expansion
was the cultural enrichment that resulted from contact with other civilizations. ( J.B.Mi./Ed.)
The major period of European colonization had its origin with the
Renaissance, the development
of modern science, and the great voyages of discovery. This period began about 1500 and reached
its peak in the early 1900s, when the last independent territories of Asia and Africa were parcelled
out. Following World War II the strengthening of nationalistic movements opposed to colonialism
and the erosion of dominance caused by the modernization of economic systems brought about the
decline of the colonial empires.
The threads of geographical exploration are continuous and, being
entwined one with another, are
difficult to separate; three major phases of investigation may nevertheless be distinguished. The first
phase is the exploration of the Old World centred on the Mediterranean Sea; the second is the
so-called Age of Discovery, during which, in the search for sea routes to Cathay (the name by
which China was known to medieval Europe), a New World was found; the third is the
establishment of the political, social, and commercial relationships of the New World to the Old
and the elucidation of the major physical features of the continental interiors--in short, the
delineation of the modern world. (see also Index: Earth)
The exploration of the Old World
From the time of the earliest recorded history to the beginning of the
15th century, Western
knowledge of the world widened from a river valley surrounded by mountains or desert (the views
of Babylonia and Egypt) to a Mediterranean world with hinterlands extending from the Sahara to
the Gobi deserts and from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans (the view of Greece and Rome). It later
expanded again to include the far northern lands beyond the Baltic and another and dazzling
civilization in the Far East (the medieval view).
The earliest known surviving map, dating probably from the time of
Sargon of Akkad (about
2334-2279 BC), shows canals or rivers--perhaps the Tigris and a tributary--and surrounding
mountains. The rapid colonization of the shores of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea by
Phoenicia and the Greek city-states in the first millennium BC must have been accompanied by the
exploration of their hinterlands by countless unknown soliders and traders. Herodotus prefaces his
History (written in the 5th century BC) with a geographical description of the then known world:
this introductory material reveals that the coastlines of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea had by
then been explored.
Stories survive of a few men who are credited with bringing new
knowledge from distant journeys.
Herodotus tells of five young adventurers of the tribe of the Nasamones living on the desert edge of
Cyrenaica in North Africa, who journeyed southwest for many months across the desert, reaching
a great river flowing from west to east; this presumably was the Niger, although Herodotus thought
it to be the Upper Nile. EXPLORATION OF THE ATLANTIC COASTLINES
Beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar), the
Carthaginians (from the Phoenician city
of Carthage in what is now Tunisia), holding both shores of the strait, early ventured out into the
Atlantic. A Greek translation of a Punic (Carthaginian) inscription states that Hanno, a
Carthaginian, was sent forth about 500 BC with 60 ships and 30,000 colonists "to found cities."
Even allowing for a possible great exaggeration of numbers, this expedition, if it occurred, can
hardly have been the first exploratory voyage along the coast of West Africa; indeed, Herodotus
reports that Phoenicians circumnavigated the continent about 600 BC. Some scholars think that
Hanno reached only the desert edge south of the Atlas; other scholars identify the "deep river
infested with crocodiles and hippopotamuses" with the Sénégal River; and still others believe that
the island where men "scampered up steep rocks and pelted us with stones" was an island off the
coast of Sierra Leone. There is no record that Hanno's voyage was followed up before the era of
Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince of the 15th century.
About the same time, Himilco, another Carthaginian, set forth on a
voyage northward; he explored
the coast of Spain, reached Brittany, and in his four-month cruise may have visited Britain. Two
centuries later, about 300 BC, Carthaginian power at the gate of the Mediterranean temporarily
slackened as a result of squabbles with the Greek city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, so
Pytheas, a Greek explorer of Massilia (Marseille), sailed through. His story is known only from
fragments of the work of a contemporary historian, Timaeus (who lived in the 4th and 3rd centuries
BC), as retold by the Roman savant Pliny the Elder, the Greek geographer Strabo, and the Greek
historian Diodorus Siculus, all of whom were critical of its truth. It is probable that Pytheas, having
coasted the shores of the Bay of Biscay, crossed from the island of Ouessant (Ushant), off the
French coast of Brittany, to Cornwall in southwestern England, perhaps seeking tin. He may have
sailed around Britain; he describes it as a triangle and also relates that the inhabitants "harvest grain
crops by cutting off the ears . . . and storing them in covered granges." Around Thule, "the
northernmost of the British Isles, six days sail from Britain," there is "neither sea nor air but a
mixture like sea-lung . . . binds everything together," a reference perhaps to drift ice or dense sea
fog. Thule has been identified with Iceland (too far north), with Mainland island of the Shetland
group (too far south), and perhaps, most plausibly, with Norway. Pytheas returned to Brittany and
explored "beyond the Rhine"; he may have reached the Elbe. The voyage of Pytheas, like that of
Hanno, does not seem to have been followed up. Herodotus concludes by saying, "whether the sea
girds Europe round on the north none can tell."
It was not Mediterranean folk but Northmen from Scandinavia, emigrating
from their difficult lands
centuries later, who carried exploration farther in the North Atlantic. From the 8th to the 11th
century bands of Northmen, mainly Swedish, trading southeastward across the Russian plains,
were active under the name of Varangians in the ports of the Black Sea. At the same time other
groups, mainly Danish, raiding, trading, and settling along the coasts of the North Sea, arrived in the
Mediterranean in the guise of Normans. Neither the Swedes nor the Danes travelling in these
regions were exploring lands that were unknown to civilized Europeans, but it is doubtless that
contact with them brought to these Europeans new knowledge of the distant northern lands.
It was the Norsemen of Norway who were the true explorers though, since
little of their exploits
was known to contemporaries and that little soon forgotten, they perhaps added less to the
common store of Europe's knowledge than their less adventurous compatriots. About AD 890,
Ohthere of Norway, "desirous to try how far that country extended north," sailed round the North
Cape, along the coast of Lapland to the White Sea. But most Norsemen sailing in high latitudes
explored not eastward but westward. Sweeping down the outer edge of Britain, settling in Orkney,
Shetland, the Hebrides, and Ireland, they then voyaged on to Iceland, where in 870 they settled
among Irish colonists who had preceded them by some two centuries. The Norsemen may well
have arrived piloted by Irish sailors; and Irish refugees from Iceland, fleeing before the Norsemen,
may have been the first discoverers of Greenland and Newfoundland, although this is mere surmise.
The saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks saga rauda; also called Thorfinns saga Karlsefnis), gives the
story of the Norse discovery of Greenland in 982; the west coast was explored, and at least two
settlements were established on it. About AD 1000, one Bjarni Herjulfsson, on his way from
Iceland to Greenland, was blown off course far to the southwest; he saw an unknown shore and
returned to tell his tale. Leif, Erik's son, together with some 30 others, set out in 1001 to explore.
They probably reached the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland; some think that the farthest
point south reached by the settlers, as described in the sagas, fits best with Maryland or Virginia,
but others contend that the lands about the Gulf of St. Lawrence are more probably designated.
The area was named Vinland, as grapes grew there, but it has been suggested that the "grapes"
referred to were in fact cranberries. Attempts at colonization were unsuccessful; the Norsemen
withdrew; and, although the Greenland colonies lingered on for some four centuries, little
knowledge of these first discoveries came down to colour the vision of the seamen of Cádiz or
Bristol; the voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot had their strongest inspirations in
quite other traditions. THE EXPLORATION OF THE COASTLINES OF THE INDIAN OCEAN AND THE
Trade, across the land bridges and through the gulfs linking those
parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe
that lie between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, was actively pursued from very early times.
It is therefore not surprising that exploratory voyages early revealed the coastlines of the Indian
Ocean. Herodotus wrote of Necho II, king of Egypt in the late 7th and early 6th centuries BC, that
"when he stopped digging the canal . . . from the Nile to the Arabian Gulf . . . [he] sent forth
Phoenician men in ships ordering them to sail back by the Pillars of Hercules." According to the
story, this, in three years, they did. Upon their return, "they told things . . . unbelievable by me,"
says Herodotus, "namely that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on the right hand." Whatever
he thought of the story of the sun, Herodotus was inclined to believe in the voyage: "Libya, that is
Africa, shows that it has sea all round except the part that borders on Asia." Strabo records
another story with the same theme: one Eudoxus, returning from a voyage to India about 108 BC,
was blown far to the south of Cape Guardafui. Where he landed he found a wooden prow with a
horse carved on it, and he was told by the Africans that it came from a wrecked ship of men from
About 510 BC Darius the Great, king of Persia, sent one of his
officers, Scylax of Caria, to
explore the Indus. Scylax travelled overland to the Kabul River, reached the Indus, followed it to
the sea, sailed westward, and, passing by the Persian Gulf (which was already well known),
explored the Red Sea, finally arriving at Arsinoë, near modern Suez. The greater part of the
campaigns of the famous conqueror Alexander the Great were military exploratory journeys. The
earlier expeditions through Babylonia and Persia were through regions already familiar to the
Greeks, but the later ones through the enormous tract of land from the south of the Caspian Sea to
the mountains of the Hindu Kush brought the Greeks a great deal of new geographical knowledge.
Alexander and his army crossed the mountains to the Indus Valley and then made a westward
march from the lower Indus to Susa through the desolate country along the southern edge of the
Iranian plateau; Nearchus, his admiral, in command of the naval forces of the expedition, waited for
the favourable monsoon and then sailed from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth of the Euphrates,
exploring the northern coast of the Persian Gulf on his way.
As Roman power grew, increasing wealth brought increasing demands for
Oriental luxuries; this led
to great commercial activity in the eastern seas. As the coasts became well known, the seasonal
character of the monsoonal winds was skillfully used; the southwest monsoon was long known as
Hippalus, named for a sailor who was credited with being the first to sail with it direct from the Gulf
of Aden to the coast of the Indian peninsula. During the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the
1st century BC, Western traders reached Siam (now Thailand), Cambodia, Sumatra, and Java; a
few also seem to have penetrated northward to the coast of China. In AD 161, according to
Chinese records, an "embassy" came from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to the emperor
Huan-ti, bearing goods that Huan-ti gratefully received as "tribute." Ptolemy, however, did not
know of these voyages: he swept his peninsula of Colmorgo (Malay) southwestward to join the
eastward trend of his coast of Africa, thus creating a closed Indian Ocean. He presumably did not
believe the story of the circumnavigation of Africa. As the 2nd century AD passed and Roman
power declined, trade with the eastern seas did not cease but was gradually taken over by
Ethiopians, Parthians, and Arabs. The Arabs, most successful of all, dominated eastern sea routes
from the 3rd to the 15th century. In the tales of derring-do of Sindbad the Sailor (a hero of the
collection of Arabian tales called The Thousand and One Nights), there may be found, behind the
fiction, the knowledge of these adventurous Arab sailors and traders, supplying detail to fill in the
outline of the geography of the Indian Ocean. THE LAND ROUTES OF CENTRAL ASIA
The prelude to the Age of Discovery, however, is to be found neither in
the Norse explorations in
the Atlantic nor in the Arab activities in the Indian Ocean but, rather, in the land journeys of Italian
missionaries and merchants that linked the Mediterranean coasts to the China Sea. Cosmas
Indicopleustes, an Alexandrian geographer writing in the 6th century, knew that Tzinitza (China)
could be reached by sailing eastward, but he added: "One who comes by the overland route from
Tzinitza to Persia makes a very short cut." Goods had certainly passed this way since Roman times,
but they usually changed hands at many a mart, for disorganized and often warring tribes lived
along the routes. In the 13th century the political geography changed. In 1206 a Mongol chief
assumed the title of Genghis Khan and, after campaigns in China that gave him control there, turned
his conquering armies westward. He and his successors built up an enormous empire until, in the
late 13th century, one of them, Kublai Khan, reigned supreme from the Black Sea to the Yellow
Sea. Europeans of perspicacity saw the opportunities that friendship with the Mongol power might
bring. If Christian Europe could only convert the Mongols, this would at one and the same time
heavily tip the scales against Muslim and in favour of Christian power and also give political
protection to Christian merchants along the silk routes to the legendary sources of wealth in China.
With these opportunities in mind, Pope Innocent IV sent friars to "diligently search out all things that
concerned the state of the Tartars" and to exhort them "to give over their bloody slaughter of
mankind and to receive the Christian faith." Among others, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini in 1245
and Willem van Ruysbroeck in 1253 went forth to follow these instructions. Travelling the great
caravan routes from southern Russia, north of the Caspian and Aral seas and north of the Tien
Shan (Tien Mountains), both Carpini and Ruysbroeck eventually reached the court of the emperor
at Karakorum. Carpini returned confident that the Emperor was about to become a Christian;
Ruysbroeck told of the city in Cathay "having walls of silver and towers of gold"; he had not seen it
but had been "credibly informed" of it. (see also Index: Yüan dynasty)
But the greatest of the 13th-century travellers in Asia were the Polos,
wealthy merchants of Venice.
In 1260 the brothers Nicolo and Maffeo Polo set out on a trading expedition to the Crimea. After
two years they were ready to return to Venice, but, finding the way home blocked by war, they
travelled eastward to Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan in Central Asia), where they spent another three
years. The Polos then accepted an invitation to accompany a party of Tatar envoys returning to the
court of Kublai Khan at Cambaluc, near Peking. The Khan received them well, provided them with
a gold tablet as a safe-conduct back to Europe, and gave them a letter begging the pope to send
"some hundred wise men, learned in the law of Christ and conversant with the seven arts to preach
to his people." The Polos arrived home, "having toiled three years on the way," to find that Pope
Clement IV was dead. Two years later they set off again, travelling without the wise men but taking
with them Nicolo's son, Marco Polo, then a youth of 17. (Marco kept detailed notes of all he saw
and, late in life when a captive of the Genoese, dictated to a fellow prisoner a book containing an
account of his travels and adventures.) This time the Polos took a different route: starting from the
port of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, they crossed Persia to the Pamirs and then followed a caravan
route along the southern edge of the Tarim Basin and Gobi Desert to Cambaluc. Information about
the route is interesting, but the great contribution of Marco Polo to the geographical knowledge of
the West lay in his vivid descriptions of the East. He had tremendous opportunities of seeing China
and appreciating its life, for he was taken into the service of the Khan and was sent as an
administrator to great cities, busy ports, and remote provinces, with instructions to write full
reports. In his book he described how, upon every main highroad, at a distance apart of 25 or 30
miles (40 to 50 kilometres), there were stations, with houses of accommodation for travellers, with
400 good horses kept in constant readiness at each station. He also reported that, along the roads,
the Great Khan had caused trees to be planted, both to provide shade in summer and to mark the
route in winter when the ground was covered with snow. Marco Polo lived and worked in western
China, visiting the provinces of Shensi, Szechwan, and Yunnan, as well as the borders of Burma.
He frequently visited "the noble and magnificent city of Quinsay [Hang-chou], a name that signifies
the Celestial City and which it merits from its pre-eminence to all others in the world in point of
grandeur and beauty." Cipango (Japan) he did not visit, but he heard about it from merchants and
sailors: "it is situated at a distance of 1,500 miles from the mainland. . . . They have gold in the
greatest abundance, its sources being inexhaustible." The most detailed descriptions and the
greatest superlatives were reserved for Cambaluc, capital of Cathay, whose splendours were
beyond compare; to this city, he said,
everything that is most rare and valuable in all parts of the world
finds its way: . . . for
not fewer than 1,000 carriages and pack-horses loaded with raw silk make their daily
entry; and gold tissues and silks of various kinds are manufactured to an immense
No wonder that, when Europe learned of these things, it became
enthralled. After 17 years, the
Venetians were permitted to depart; they returned to Europe by sea. After visiting Java they sailed
through the Strait of Malacca (again proving the error of Ptolemy); and, landing at Hormuz, they
travelled cross-country to Armenia, and so home to Venice, which they reached in 1295.
A few travellers followed the Polos. Giovanni da Montecorvino, a
Franciscan friar from Italy,
became archbishop of Peking and lived in China from 1294 to 1328. Friar Oderic of Pordenone,
an Italian monk, became a missionary, journeying throughout the greater part of Asia between
1316 and 1330. He reached Peking by way of India and Malaya, then travelled by sea to Canton;
he returned to Europe by way of Central Asia, visiting Tibet in 1325--the first European to do so.
Friar Oderic's account of his journeys had considerable influence in his day: it was from it that the
spurious traveller, the English writer Sir John Mandeville, quarried most of his stories.
Ibn Battutah, an Arab of Tangier, journeyed farther perhaps than any
other medieval traveller. In
1325 he set out to make the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca, and in some 30 years he visited the
greater part of the Old World, covering, it has been said, more than 75,000 miles. He was the first
to explore much of Arabia; he travelled extensively in India; he reached Java and Southeast Asia.
Then toward the end of his life he returned to the west, where, after visiting Spain, he explored
western Sudan "to the northernmost province of the Negroes." He reached the Niger, which he
called the Nile, and was astonished by the huge hippopotamuses "taking them to be elephants."
When he finally returned to Fès in Morocco he "kissed the hand of the Commander of the Faithful
the Sultan . . . and settled down under the wing of his bounty." He wrote a vivid and perspicacious
account of his travels, but his book did not become known to Christian Europe for centuries. It
was Marco Polo's book that was the most popular of all. Some 138 manuscripts of it survive: it
was translated before 1500 into Latin, German, and Spanish, and the first English translation was
published in 1577. For centuries Europe's maps of the Far East were based on the information
provided by Marco Polo; even as late as 1533 Johannes Schöner, the German maker of globes,
Behind the Sinae and the Ceres [legendary cities of Central Asia] . . .
were discovered by one Marco Polo . . . and the sea coasts of these countries have
now recently again been explored by Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci in navigating
the Indian Ocean.
Columbus possessed and annotated a copy of the Latin edition (1483-85)
of Marco Polo's book,
and in his journal he identified many of his own discoveries with places that Marco Polo describes.
Thus, with Ptolemy in one hand and Marco Polo in the other, the
European explorers of the Age
of Discovery set forth to try to reach Cathay and Cipango by new ways; Ptolemy promised that the
way was short; Marco Polo promised that the reward was great. The Age of Discovery
In the 100 years from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century, a
combination of circumstances
stimulated men to seek new routes; and it was new routes rather than new lands that filled the
minds of kings and commoners, scholars and seamen. First, toward the end of the 14th century, the
vast empire of the Mongols was breaking up; thus, Western merchants could no longer be ensured
of safe-conduct along the land routes. Second, the growing power of the Ottoman Turks, who
were hostile to Christians, blocked yet more firmly the outlets to the Mediterranean of the ancient
sea routes from the East. Third, new nations on the Atlantic shores of Europe were now ready to
seek overseas trade and adventure. THE SEA ROUTE EAST BY SOUTH TO CATHAY
Henry the Navigator, prince of Portugal, initiated the first great
enterprise of the Age of
Discovery--the search for a sea route east by south to Cathay. His motives were mixed. He was
curious about the world; he was interested in new navigational aids and better ship design and was
eager to test them; he was also a crusader and hoped that, by sailing south and then east along the
coast of Africa, Arab power in North Africa could be attacked from the rear. The promotion of
profitable trade was yet another motive; he aimed to divert the Guinea trade in gold and ivory away
from its routes across the Sahara to the Moors of Barbary (North Africa) and instead channel it via
the sea route to Portugal.
Expedition after expedition was sent forth throughout the 15th century
to explore the coast of
Africa. In 1445 the Portuguese navigator Dinís Dias reached the mouth of the Sénégal, which "men
say comes from the Nile, being one of the most glorious rivers of Earth, flowing from the Garden of
Eden and the earthly paradise." Once the desert coast had been passed, the sailors pushed on: in
1455 and 1456 Alvise Ca' da Mosto made voyages to Gambia and the Cape Verde Islands.
Prince Henry died in 1460 after a career that had brought the colonization of the Madeira Islands
and the Azores and the traversal of the African coast to Sierra Leone. Henry's captain, Diogo Cão,
discovered the Congo River in 1482. All seemed promising; trade was good with the riverine
peoples, and the coast was trending hopefully eastward. Then the disappointing fact was realized:
the head of a great gulf had been reached, and, beyond, the coast seemed to stretch endlessly
southward. Yet, when Columbus sought backing for his plan to sail westward across the Atlantic to
the Indies, he was refused--"seeing that King John II [of Portugal] ordered the coast of Africa to
be explored with the intention of going by that route to India."
King John II sought to establish two routes: the first, a land and sea
route through Egypt and
Ethiopia to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and, the second, a sea route around the southern
shores of Africa, the latter an act of faith, since Ptolemy's map showed a landlocked Indian Ocean.
In 1487, a Portuguese emissary, Pêro da Covilhã, successfully followed the first route; but, on
returning to Cairo, he reported that, in order to travel to India, the Portuguese "could navigate by
their coasts and the seas of Guinea." In the same year another Portuguese navigator, Bartolomeu
Dias, found encouraging evidence that this was so. In 1487 he rounded the Cape of Storms in such
bad weather that he did not see it, but he satisfied himself that the coast was now trending
northeastward; before turning back, he reached the Great Fish River, in what is now South Africa.
On the return voyage, he sighted the Cape and set up a pillar upon it to mark its discovery.
The seaway was now open, but eight years were to elapse before it was
exploited. In 1492
Columbus had apparently reached the East by a much easier route. By the end of the decade,
however, doubts of the validity of Columbus' claim were current. Interest was therefore renewed in
establishing the sea route south by east to the known riches of India. In 1497 a Portuguese captain,
Vasco da Gama, sailed in command of a fleet under instructions to reach Calicut, on India's west
coast. This he did after a magnificent voyage around the Cape of Storms (which he renamed the
Cape of Good Hope) and along the unknown coast of East Africa. Yet another Portuguese fleet
set out in 1500, this one being under the command of Pedro Álvarez Cabral; on the advice of da
Gama, Cabral steered southwestward to avoid the calms of the Guinea coast; thus, en route for
Calicut, Brazil was discovered. Soon trading depots, known as factories, were built along the
African coast, at the strategic entrances to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and along the shores
of the Indian peninsula. In 1511 the Portuguese established a base at Malacca (now Melaka,
Malaysia), commanding the straits into the China Sea; in 1511 and 1512, the Moluccas, or Spice
Islands, and Java were reached; in 1557 the trading port of Macau was founded at the mouth of
the Canton River. Europe had arrived in the East. It was in the end the Portuguese, not the Turks,
who destroyed the commercial supremacy of the Italian cities, which had been based on a
monopoly of Europe's trade with the East by land. But Portugal was soon overextended; it was
therefore the Dutch, the English, and the French who in the long run reaped the harvest of
Some idea of the knowledge that these trading explorers brought to the
common store may be
gained by a study of contemporary maps. The map of the German Henricus Martellus, published in
1492, shows the shores of North Africa and of the Gulf of Guinea more or less correctly and was
probably taken from numerous seamen's charts. The delineation of the west coast of southern
Africa from the Guinea Gulf to the Cape suggests a knowledge of the charts of the expedition of
Bartolomeu Dias. The coastlines of the Indian Ocean are largely Ptolemaic with two exceptions:
first, the Indian Ocean is no longer landlocked; and second, the Malay Peninsula is shown
twice--once according to Ptolemy and once again, presumably, according to Marco Polo. The
Contarini map of 1506 shows further advances; the shape of Africa is generally accurate, and there
is new knowledge of the Indian Ocean, although it is curiously treated. Peninsular India (on which
Cananor and Calicut are named) is shown; although too small, it is, however, recognizable. There is
even an indication to the east of it of the Bay of Bengal, with a great river running into it. Eastward
of this is Ptolemy's India, with the huge island of Taprobane--a muddled representation of the
Indian peninsula and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). East again, as on the map of Henricus Martellus, the
Malay Peninsula appears twice. Ptolemy's bonds were hard to break. THE SEA ROUTE WEST TO CATHAY
It is not known when the idea originated of sailing westward in order
to reach Cathay. Many sailors
set forth searching for islands in the west; and it was a commonplace among scientists that the east
could be reached by sailing west, but to believe this a practicable voyage was an entirely different
matter. Christopher Columbus, a Genoese who had settled in Lisbon about 1476, argued that
Cipango lay a mere 2,500 nautical miles west of the Canary Islands in the eastern Atlantic. He took
45 instead of 60 nautical miles as the value of a degree; he accepted Ptolemy's exaggerated
west-east extent of Asia and then added to it the lands described by Marco Polo, thus reducing the
true distance between the Canaries and Cipango by about one-third. He could not convince the
Portuguese scientists nor the merchants of Lisbon that his idea was worth backing; but eventually
he obtained the support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The sovereigns probably
argued that the cost of equipping the expedition would not be very great; the loss, if it failed, could
be borne; the gain, should it succeed, was incalculable--indeed, it might divert to Spain all the
wealth of Asia.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three small
ships manned by
Spaniards. From the Canaries he sailed westward, for, on the evidence of the globes and maps in
which he had faith, Japan was on the same latitude. If Japan should be missed, Columbus thought
that the route adopted would land him, only a little further on, on the coast of China itself. Fair
winds favoured him, the sea was calm, and, on October 12, landfall was made on the Bahama
island of Guanahaní, which he renamed San Salvador (also called Watling Island, though Samana
Cay and other islands have been identified as Guanahaní). With the help of the local Indians, the
ships reached Cuba and then Haiti. Although there was no sign of the wealth of the lands of Kublai
Khan, Columbus nevertheless seemed convinced that he had reached China, since, according to
his reckoning, he was beyond Japan. A second voyage in 1493 and 1494, searching fruitlessly for
the court of Kublai Khan, further explored the islands of "the Indies." Doubts seem to have arisen
among the would-be colonists as to the identity of the islands since Columbus demanded that all
take an oath that Cuba was the southeast promontory of Asia--the Golden Chersonese. On his
third voyage, in 1498, Columbus sighted Trinidad, entered the Gulf of Paria, on the coast of what is
now Venezuela, and annexed for Spain "a very great continent . . . until today unknown." On a
fourth voyage, from 1502 to 1504, he explored the coast of Central America from Honduras to
Darien on the Isthmus of Panama, seeking a navigable passage to the west. What passage he had
in mind is obscure; if at this point he still believed he had reached Asia, it is conceivable that he
sought a way through Ptolemy's Golden Chersonese into the Indian Ocean.
Columbus' tenacity, courage, and skill in navigation make him stand out
among the few explorers
who have changed substantially ideas about the world. At the time, however, his efforts must have
seemed ill-rewarded: he found no emperor's court rich in spices, silks, gold, or precious stones but
had to contend with mutinous sailors, dissident colonists, and disappointed sovereigns. He died at
Valladolid in 1506. Did he believe to the end that he indeed had reached Cathay, or did he,
however dimly, perceive that he had found a New World?
Whatever Columbus thought, it was clear to others that there was much
to be investigated, and
probably much to be gained, by exploration westward. Not only in Lisbon and Cádiz but also in
other Atlantic ports, groups of men congregated in hopes of joining in the search. In England,
Bristol, with its western outlook and Icelandic trade, was the port best placed to nurture
adventurous seamen. In the latter part of the 15th century, John Cabot, with his wife and three
sons, came to Bristol from Genoa or Venice. His project to sail west gained support, and with one
small ship, the "Matthew," he set out in May 1497, taking a course due west from Dursey Head,
Ireland. His landfall on the other side of the ocean was probably on the northern peninsula of what
is now known as Newfoundland. From there, Cabot explored southward, perhaps encouraged to
do so, even if seeking a westward passage, by ice in the Strait of Belle Isle. Little is known of John
Cabot's first voyage, and almost nothing of his second, in 1498, from which he did not return, but
his voyages in high latitudes represented almost as great a navigational feat as those of Columbus.
The coasts between the landfalls of Columbus and of John Cabot were
charted in the first quarter
of the 16th century by Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese sailors. Sebastian Cabot, son of
John, gained a great reputation as a navigator and promoter of Atlantic exploration, but whether
this was based primarily on his own experience or on the achievements of his father is uncertain. In
1499 Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian merchant living in Seville, together with the Spanish explorer
Alonso de Ojeda, explored the north coast of South America from Suriname to the Golfo de
Venezuela. His lively and embellished description of these lands became popular, and
Waldseemüller, on his map of 1507, gave the name America to the southern part of the continent.
The 1506 map of Contarini represented a brave attempt to collate the
mass of new information,
true and false, that accrued from these western voyages. The land explored by Columbus on his
third voyage and by Vespucci and de Ojeda in 1499 is shown at the bottom left of the map as a
promontory of a great northern bulge of a continent extending far to the south. The northeast coast
of Asia at the top left is pulled out into a great peninsula on which is shown a big river and some
mountains representing Contarini's concept of Newfoundland and the lands found by the Cabots
and others. In the wide sea that separates these northern lands from South America, the West
Indies are shown. Halfway between the Indies and the coast of Asia, Japan is drawn. A legend
placed between Japan and China reveals the state of opinion among at least some contemporary
geographers; it presumably refers to the fourth voyage of Columbus in 1502 and may be an
addition to the map. It runs:
Christopher Columbus, Viceroy of Spain, sailing westwards, reached the
islands after many hardships and dangers. Weighing anchor thence he sailed to the
province called Ciambra [a province which then adjoined Cochinchina].
Others did not agree with Contarini's interpretation. To more and more
people it was becoming
plain that a New World had been found, although for a long time there was little inclination to
explore it but instead a great determination to find a way past it to the wealth of Asia. The voyage
of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, from 1519 to 1521, dispelled two long-cherished
illusions: first, that there was an easy way through the barrier and, second, that, once the barrier
was passed, Cathay was near at hand.
Ferdinand Magellan had served in the East Indies as a young man.
Familiar with the long sea route
to Asia eastward from Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, he was convinced that there must be
an easier sea route westward. His plan was in accord with Spanish hopes; five Spanish ships were
fitted out in Seville, and in August 1519 they sailed under his command first to the Cape Verde
Islands and thence to Brazil. Standing offshore, they then sailed southward along the east coast of
South America; the estuary of the Río de la Plata was explored in the vain hope that it might prove
to be a strait leading to the Pacific. Magellan's ships then sailed south along the coast of Patagonia.
The Gulf of St. George, and doubtless many more small embayments, raised hopes that a strait had
been found, only to dash them; at last at Port Julian, at 49° 15' S, winter quarters were established.
In September 1520 a southward course was set once more, until, finally, on October 21, Magellan
found a strait leading westward. It proved to be an extremely difficult one: it was long, deep,
tortuous, rock-walled, and bedevilled by icy squalls and dense fogs. It was a miracle that three of
the five ships got through its 325-mile length. After 38 days, they sailed out into the open ocean.
Once away from land, the ocean seemed calm enough; Magellan consequently named it the Pacific.
The Pacific, however, proved to be of vast extent, and for 14 weeks the little ships sailed on a
northwesterly course without encountering land. Short of food and water, the sailors ate sawdust
mixed with ship's biscuits and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. At
last, on March 6, 1521, exhausted and scurvy-ridden, they landed at the island of Guam. Ten days
later they reached the Philippines, where Magellan was killed in a local quarrel. The survivors, in
two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas; thus, sailing westward, they arrived at last in territory already
known to the Portuguese sailing eastward. One ship attempted, but failed, to return across the
Pacific. The remaining ship, the "Vittoria," laden with spices, under the command of the Spanish
navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano, sailed alone across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of
Good Hope, and arrived at Seville on September 9, 1522, with a crew of four Indians and only 17
survivors of the 239 Europeans who had set sail with the expedition three years earlier. Elcano,
not having allowed for the fact that his circumnavigation had caused him to lose a day, was greatly
puzzled to find that his carefully kept log was one day out; he was, however, delighted to discover
that the cargo that he had brought back more than paid for the expenses of the voyage. (see also
Index: Pacific Ocean)
It is fitting to consider this first circumnavigation as marking the
close of the Age of Discovery.
Magellan and his men had demonstrated that Columbus had discovered a New World and not the
route to China and that Columbus' "Indies"--the West Indies--were separated from the East Indies
by a vast ocean.
Not all the major problems of world geography were, however, now
solved. Two great questions
still remained unanswered. Were there "northern passages" between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
more easily navigable than the dangerous Strait of Magellan to the south? Was there a great
landmass somewhere in the vastness of the southern oceans--a Terra Australis ("southern land")
that would balance the northern continents? The emergence of the modern world
The centuries that have elapsed since the Age of Discovery have seen
the end of dreams of easy
routes to the East by the north, the discovery of Australasia and Antarctica in place of Terra
Australis Incognita, and the identification of the major features of the continental interiors.
While, as in earlier centuries, traders and missionaries often proved
themselves also to be intrepid
explorers, in this period of geographical discovery the seeker after knowledge for its own sake
played a greater part than ever before. THE NORTHERN PASSAGES
Roger Barlow, in his Briefe Summe of Geographie, written in 1540-41,
asserted that "the
shortest route, the northern, has been reserved by Divine Providence for England."
The concept of a Northeast Passage was at first favoured by the
English: it was thought that,
although its entry was in high latitudes, it "turning itself, trendeth towards the southeast . . . and
stretcheth directly to Cathay." It was also argued that the cold lands bordering this route would
provide a much needed market for English cloth. In 1553 a trading company, later known as the
Muscovy Company, was formed with Sebastian Cabot as its governor. Under its auspices
numerous expeditions were sent out. In 1553 an expedition set sail under the command of Sir Hugh
Willoughby; Willoughby's ship was lost, but the exploration continued under the leadership of its
pilot general, Richard Chancellor. Chancellor and his men wintered in the White Sea, and next
spring "after much adoe at last came to Mosco." Between 1557 and 1560, another English
voyager, Anthony Jenkinson, following up this opening, travelled from the White Sea to Moscow,
then to the Caspian, and so on to Bukhara, thus reaching the old east-west trade routes by a new
way. Soon, attempts to find a passage to Cathay were replaced by efforts to divert the trade of the
ancient silk routes from their traditional outlets on the Black Sea to new northern outlets on the
The Dutch next took up the search for the passage. The Dutch navigator
William Barents made
three expeditions between 1594 and 1597 (when he died in Novaya Zemlya, modern Soviet
Union). The English navigator Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch, discovered between
1605 and 1607 that ice blocked the way both east and west of Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Between
1725 and 1729 and from 1734 to 1743, a series of expeditions inspired by the Danish-Russian
explorer Vitus Bering attempted the passage from the eastern end, but it was not until 1878-79 that
Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, the Finnish-Swedish scientist and explorer, sailed through it. (see
also Index: Netherlands, The)
The Northwest Passage, on the other hand, also had its strong
supporters. In 1576 Humphrey
Gilbert, the English soldier and navigator, argued that "Mangia [South China], Quinzay
[Hang-chou] and the Moluccas are nearer to us by the North West than by the North East," while
John Dee in 1577 set out the view that the Strait of Anian, separating America from Asia, led
southwest "along the backeside of Newfoundland." In 1534 Jacques Cartier, the French navigator,
explored the St. Lawrence estuary. In 1576 the English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher found the
bay named after him. Between 1585 and 1587, the English navigator John Davis explored
Cumberland Sound and the western shore of Greenland to 73° N; although he met "a mighty block
of ice," he reported that "the passage is most probable and the execution easy." In 1610 Henry
Hudson sailed through Hudson Strait to Hudson Bay, confident, before he was set adrift by a
mutinous crew, that success was at hand. Between 1612 and 1615, three English
voyagers--Robert Bylot, Sir Thomas Button, and William Baffin--thoroughly explored the bay,
returning convinced that there was no strait out of it leading westward. As in the quest for a
Northeast Passage, interest turned from the search for a route leading to the riches of the East to
the exploitation of local resources. Englishmen of the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670 to
trade in furs, explored the wide hinterlands of the St. Lawrence estuary and Hudson Bay. Further
search for the passage itself did not take place until the 19th century: expeditions led by Sir William
Parry (1819-25) and Sir John Franklin (1819-45), as well as more than 40 expeditions sent out to
search for Franklin and his party, failed to find the passage. It was left to the Norwegian explorer
Roald Amundsen to be the first to sail through the passage, which he did in 1903-05. EASTWARD VOYAGES TO THE PACIFIC
By the end of the 16th century, Portugal in the East held only the
ports of Goa and Diu, in India,
and Macau, in China. The English dominated the trade of India, and the Dutch that of the East
Indies. It was the Dutch, trading on the fringes of the known world, who were the explorers.
Victualling their ships at the Cape, they soon learned that, by sailing east for some 3,000 miles
(5,000 kilometres) before turning north, they would encounter favourable winds in setting a course
toward the Spice Islands (now the Moluccas). Before long, reports were received of landfalls
made on an unknown coast; as early as 1618, a Dutch skipper suggested that "this land is a fit
point to be made by ships . . . in order to get a fixed course for Java." Thereafter, the west coast
of Australia was gradually charted: it was identified by some as the coast of the great southern
continent shown on Mercator's map and, by others, as the continent of Loach or Beach mentioned
by Marco Polo, interpreted as lying to the south of Malacca (Melaka); Polo, however, was
probably describing the Malay Peninsula.
In 1642, a farsighted governor general of the Dutch East India Company,
Anthony van Diemen,
sent out the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman for the immediate purpose of making an exploratory
voyage, but with the ultimate aim of developing trade. Sailing first south then east from Mauritius,
Tasman landed on the coast of Tasmania, after which he coasted round the island to the south and,
sailing east, discovered the South Island of New Zealand; "we trust that this is the mainland coast
of the unknown South land," he wrote. He sailed north without finding Cook Strait, and, making a
sweeping arc on his voyage back to the Dutch port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), he
discovered the Tonga and the Fiji Islands. In 1644, on a second voyage, he traced the north coast
of Australia from Cape York (which he thought to be a part of New Guinea) to the North West
Cape. WESTWARD VOYAGES TO THE PACIFIC
The earlier European explorers in the Pacific were primarily in search
of trade or booty; the later
ones were primarily in search of information.
The traders, for the most part Spaniards, established land portages
from harbours on the
Caribbean to harbours on the west coast of Central and South America; from the Pacific coast
ports of the Americas, they then set a course westward to the Philippines. Many of their ships
crossed and recrossed the Pacific without making a landfall; many islands were found, named, and
lost, only to be found again without recognition, renamed, and perhaps lost yet again. In the days
before longitude could be accurately fixed, such uncertainty was not surprising.
Some voyages--for example, those of Álvaro de Mendaña de
Neira, the Spanish explorer, in 1567
and 1568; Mendaña and the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernández de Quirós in 1595; Quirós
and another Portuguese explorer, Luis de Torres, in 1606--had, among other motives, the purpose
of finding the great southern continent. Quirós was sure that in Espíritu Santo in the New Hebrides
he had found his goal; he "took possession of the site on which is to be founded the New
Jerusalem." Torres sailed from there to New Guinea and thence to Manila, in the Philippines. In
doing so, he coasted the south shore of New Guinea, sailing through Torres Strait, unaware that
another continent lay on his left hand.
The English were rivals of the Spaniards in the search for wealth in
unknown lands in the Pacific.
Two English seamen, Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish, circumnavigated the world from
west to east in 1577 to 1580 and 1586 to 1588, respectively. One of Drake's avowed objects
was the search for Terra Australis. Once he was through Magellan's straits, however, strong winds
made him turn north--perhaps not reluctantly. He then sailed along the coast of Peru, surprising and
plundering Spanish ships laden with gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls. His fortune made,
Drake continued northward perhaps in search of the Northwest Passage. He explored the west
coast of North America to 48° N. He returned south to winter in New Albion (California); the next
summer he sailed on the Spanish route to Manila, then returned home by the Cape.
Despite the fact that he participated in several buccaneering voyages,
the English seaman William
Dampier, who was active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, may be regarded as the first to
travel mainly to satisfy scientific curiosity. He wrote: "I was well satisfied enough knowing that, the
further we went, the more knowledge and experience I should get, which was the main thing I
regarded." His book A New Voyage Round the World, published in 1697, further popularized the
idea of a great southern continent.
In the late 18th century, the final phase of Pacific exploration
occurred. The French sent the
explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville to the Pacific in 1768. He appears to have been more of a
skeptic than many of his contemporaries, for, while he agreed "that it is difficult to conceive such a
number of low islands and almost drowned lands without a continent near them," at the same time
he maintained that "if any considerable land existed hereabouts we could not fail meeting with it."
The British, for their part, commissioned John Byron in 1764 and Samuel Wallis and Phillip
Carteret in 1766 "to discover unknown lands and to explore the coast of New Albion." For all the
navigational skill and personal endurance shown by captains and crews, the rewards of these
voyages in increasing geographical knowledge were not great. The courses sailed were in the
familiar waters of the southern tropics; none was through the dangerous waters of higher latitudes.
Capt. James Cook, the English navigator, in three magnificent voyages
at long last succeeded in
demolishing the fables about Pacific geography. He was given command of an expedition to
observe the transit of the planet Venus at Tahiti on June 3, 1769; with the observation completed,
he carried out his instructions to search the area between 40° and 35° S "until you discover it
[Terra Australis] or fall in with the eastern side of the land discovered by Tasman and now called
New Zealand." He reached New Zealand, circumnavigated both islands, sailed westward, and on
April 19, 1770, made landfall on the eastern coast of Australia. He then turned northward, charting
carefully, being well aware of the dangers of the Great Barrier Reef. At Cape York, Cook took
possession of the whole eastern coast, to which he gave the name New South Wales. He sailed
through Torres Strait, recognizing as he did so that New Guinea was an island. When Cook sailed
back to England by Batavia and the Cape, the coastline of the fifth continent was almost complete;
only in the south did it still remain unknown. In 1798 to 1799, two British navigators, George Bass
and Matthew Flinders, circumnavigated Tasmania, and in 1801-03 Flinders charted the coast of
the Great Australian Bight and circumnavigated the continent, thereby proving that there was no
strait from the bight to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In a second voyage, from 1772 to 1775, which in many ways was the
greatest of the three, Cook
searched systematically for the elusive continent that many still believed might exist. The first
summer he examined the area to the south of the Indian Ocean; in the second, he searched the
ocean between New Zealand and Cape Horn; and, in the third, the ocean between Cape Horn and
the Cape of Good Hope. He sailed home convinced that the great South Pacific continent of the
map makers was a fable.
With the exploration of the Pacific completed, interest in a Northwest
Passage revived. In 1778
Cook proceeded to latitude 65° N, but he found no way through the ice barrier either to east or to
west. He then sailed south to Hawaii, where he was killed in a dispute with the islanders.
Terra Australis Incognita had disappeared: there was now no unknown
landmass in the southern
oceans. It was Matthew Flinders who suggested that the fifth continent should be named
Australia--a name that had long associations with the South Seas and that accorded well with the
names of the other continents.
THE CONTINENTAL INTERIORS
At the opening of the 19th century, the major features of Europe, Asia,
and North and
South America were known; in Africa some classical misconceptions still persisted;
inland Australia was still almost blank; and Antarctica was not on the map at all.
The river systems were the key to African geography. The existence of a
great river in
the interior of West Africa was known to the Greeks, but in which direction it flowed
and whether it found an outlet in the Sénégal, the Gambia, the Congo, or even the Nile
were in dispute. A young Scottish surgeon, Mungo Park, was asked to explore it by the
African Association of London. In 1796 Park, who had travelled inland from the
Gambia, saw "the long sought for majestic Niger flowing slowly eastwards." On a
second expedition, attempting to follow its course to the mouth, he was drowned near
Bussa, in what is now Nigeria. In 1830 an English explorer, Richard Lander, travelled
from the Bight of Benin, on the West African coast, to Bussa, and he then navigated the
river down to its mouth, which was revealed as being one of the delta distributaries that,
because of the trade in palm oil, were known to traders as "the oil rivers" on the Gulf of
The Zambezi, in south central Africa, was not known at all until, in
the mid-19th century,
the Scottish missionary-explorer David Livingstone crossed the Kalahari from the south,
found Lake Ngami, and, hearing of populous areas farther north, came upon the river in
midcourse. On a great exploratory journey from 1852 to 1856, the main purpose of
which was to expose the slave trade, he first travelled upstream, crossed the watershed
between the tributaries of the upper Zambezi and those of the lower Congo, and
reached the west coast at Luanda, Angola. From there a year's march brought him back
to his starting point near the falls that the Africans called "smoke does sound" but that
Livingstone prosaically renamed the Victoria Falls; from here he followed the Zambezi
downstream, reaching the east coast at Quelimane, in Portuguese East Africa
(Mozambique). On his second journey, sent out by the British government to test the
navigability of the lower Zambezi, he explored the Shire (Chire) and Rovuma rivers and
reached Lake Nyasa. His last journey, from 1865 to 1871, was undertaken at the
behest of the president of Britain's Royal Geographical Society (successor to the
African Association) "to solve a question of intense geographical interest . . . namely the
watershed or watersheds of southern Africa." On this journey Livingstone investigated
the complex drainage system between Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika and explored
the headwaters of the Congo. He refused to return to England with the Welsh explorer
Henry Morton Stanley, who was sent to his rescue in 1871, because he was still
uncertain of the position of the watershed between the Nile and the Congo; he
wondered if the Lualaba was perhaps a headstream of the Nile. He struggled back to
the maze of waterways around Lake Bangweulu and died there in 1873. (see also
Index: Zambezi River, Congo River)
The whereabouts of the source of the Nile had intrigued men since the
days of the
pharaohs. A Scottish explorer, James Bruce, travelling in Ethiopia in 1770, visited the
two fountains in Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, first discovered by the Spanish
priest Paez in 1618. The English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke discovered
Lake Tanganyika in 1857. Speke then travelled north alone and reached the southern
creek of a lake, which he named Victoria Nyanza. Without exploring farther, he
returned to England, sure that he had found the source of the Nile. He was right--but he
had not seen the outlet, and Burton did not believe him. In 1862 Speke, travelling with
the Scottish explorer James Grant, found the Ripon Falls, in Uganda (now submerged
following the construction of a dam for Owen Falls hydroelectric station), and "saw
without any doubt that Old Father Nile rises in Victoria Nyanza." Stanley completed the
puzzle in 1875; he circumnavigated Victoria Nyanza, crossed to the Lualaba, followed
that river to the Congo, and then followed the Congo to its mouth. The pattern made by
the river systems of Africa was elucidated at last. (see also Index: Nile River)
The interior of Australia also posed a problem: was its heart an inland
sea or a desert?
This question did not arouse anything approaching the same degree of public interest
that was taken in the geography of Africa. Exploration was slow; the early settlers on
the east coast found that the valleys led to impassable walls at the valley heads. In 1813
the Australian explorer Gregory Blaxland successfully crossed the Blue Mountains by
following a ridge instead of taking a valley route. Rivers were found beyond the
mountains, but they did not behave as expected. Another explorer, the Australian John
Oxley, in 1818 observed: "on every hill a spring, in every valley a rivulet, but the river
itself disappears." He guessed that the great fan of rivers that drained the western slopes
of the Great Dividing Range of eastern Australia fell into an inland sea. The Australian
Charles Sturt resolved the problem by an imaginative journey made in 1829-30. He
embarked on the Murrumbidgee River and was "hurried into a great and noble river [the
Murray]." A week later he encountered another big river flowing into the Murray from
the north, that he rightly concluded was the Darling, the middle course of which he had
explored the year before. The voyage ended when he discovered that the Murray
drained into Encounter Bay on the south coast. The heart of Australia was not an inland
sea but a vast desert. Many more expeditions were needed to map the continent's
major features, but two revealed its great extent. In 1840-41 the Australian Edward
John Eyre travelled along the south coast from Adelaide to Albany, a distance of more
than 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometres); the Australians Robert Burke and William John
Wills travelled from Melbourne in the southeast to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north.
(see also Index: Murray River)
The exploration of the polar regions was the work of the first half of
the 20th century.
Scientific curiosity mainly inspired the various enterprises, although political rivalry also
played some part.
In the North Polar regions, the scientific age began with the voyaging
Scoresby, an English whaler and scientist, who in 1806 reached 81°21'N. In 1828 an
English explorer, Sir William Parry, travelling over drift ice from Svalbard, reached 82°
N. The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen in 1893 attempted to reach the Pole by
allowing his ship, the "Fram," to be frozen into the ice in the East Siberian Sea in the
hope that a current would carry it over the Pole to east Greenland. At 84° N 102° E,
Nansen with a companion left the ship and travelled by sled to 86° 13' N: the ship
eventually emerged from the pack ice north of Svalbard. In 1909 an American explorer,
Robert Peary, reached the North Pole by journeying by sled with 50 Eskimos from
Ellesmere Island, northwest of Greenland. Soundings of 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) were
made within five miles (eight kilometres) of the Pole; it seemed, therefore, that there
could be no continent here. In 1958 the U.S. submarines "Skate" and "Nautilus"
travelled across the Arctic Ocean under the ice cap.
The great southern continent, which Captain Cook demonstrated could not
lie in the
South Pacific, lay there neglected for some 50 years. From 1839 to 1843, the British
rear admiral James Ross, in command of the ships "Erebus" and "Terror," explored the
coast of Victoria Land. In 1894 Leonard Christensen, captain of a Norwegian whaler,
landed a party at Cape Adare, the first to set foot on Antarctica. In the first decade of
the 20th century, various explorers, including Britons such as William Bruce, Robert
Falcon Scott, and Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, the German Erich von Drygalski, and
the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Charcot, confirmed the existence of an ice cap of
continental dimensions. In 1908-09 Shackleton led a brilliant expedition, during which
he examined the Great Barrier, climbed to 11,000 feet (3,400 metres), and reached 88°
23' S. Scott and his party reached the Pole on January 17, 1912, only to find that the
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had already been there on December 14, 1911;
Scott's party, caught in a blizzard, died on their return journey. In 1928 Sir Hubert
Wilkins, the British explorer and aviator, flew over Grahamland, using Deception Island
as a base. In 1957 and 1958 the British explorer Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary,
the New Zealand mountaineer, travelled across the continent.
The age of modern colonialism began about 1500, following the
of a sea route around Africa's southern coast (1488) and of America (1492). With
these events sea power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and to the
emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France, and England. By
discovery, conquest, and settlement, these nations expanded and colonized throughout
the world, spreading European institutions and culture.
ANTECEDENTS OF EUROPEAN EXPANSION
Medieval Europe was largely self-contained until the First Crusade
opened new political and commercial communications with the Muslim Near East.
Although Christian crusading states founded in Palestine and Syria proved ephemeral,
commercial relations continued, and the European end of this trade fell largely into the
hands of Italian cities. (see also Index: Middle Ages)
Early European trade with Asia.
The Oriental land and sea routes terminated at ports in the Crimea,
until 1461 at
Trebizond (now Trabzon, Turkey), Constantinople (now Istanbul), Asiatic Tripoli (in
modern Lebanon), Antioch (in modern Turkey), Beirut (in modern Lebanon), and
Alexandria (Egypt), where Italian galleys exchanged European for Eastern products.
(see also Index: international trade)
Competition between Mediterranean nations for control of Asiatic
narrowed to a contest between Venice and Genoa, with the former winning when it
severely defeated its rival city in 1380; thereafter, in partnership with Egypt, Venice
principally dominated the Oriental trade coming via the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to
Overland routes were not wholly closed, but the conquests of the
central Asian warrior
Timur (Tamerlane)--whose empire broke into warring fragments after his death in
1405--and the advantages of a nearly continuous sea voyage from the Middle and Far
East to the Mediterranean gave Venice a virtual monopoly of some Oriental products,
principally spices. The word spices then had a loose application and extended to many
Oriental luxuries, but the most valuable European imports were pepper, nutmeg,
cloves, and cinnamon. (see also Index: spice trade)
The Venetians distributed these expensive condiments throughout the
region and northern Europe; they were shipped to the latter first by pack trains up the
Rhône Valley and, after 1314, by Flanders' galleys to the Low Countries, western
Germany, France, and England. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in
1453 did not seriously affect Venetian control. Although other Europeans resented this
dominance of the trade, even the Portuguese discovery and exploitation of the Cape of
Good Hope route could not altogether break it.
Early Renaissance Europe was short of cash money, though it had
substantial banks in
northern Italy and southern Germany. Florence possessed aggregations of capital, and
its Bardi bank in the 14th century and the Medici successor in the 15th financed much
of the eastern Mediterranean trade.
Later, during the great discoveries, the Augsburg houses of Fugger and
furnished capital for voyages and New World enterprises.
Gold came from Central Africa by Saharan caravan from Upper Volta
near the Niger, and interested persons in Portugal knew something of this. When Prince
Henry the Navigator undertook sponsorship of Portuguese discovery voyages down the
west coast of Africa, a principal motive was to find the mouth of a river to be ascended
to these mines.
Europe had made some progress in discovery before the main age of
discoveries of the Madeira Islands and the Azores in the 14th century by Genoese
seamen could not be followed up immediately, however, because they had been made
in galleys built for the Mediterranean and ill suited to ocean travel; the numerous rowers
that they required and their lack of substantial holds left only limited room for provisions
and cargo. In the early 15th century all- sails vessels, the caravels, largely superseded
galleys for Atlantic travel; these were light ships, having usually two but sometimes three
masts, ordinarily equipped with lateen sails but occasionally square-rigged. When longer
voyages began, the nao, or carrack, proved better than the caravel; it had three masts
and square rigging and was a rounder, heavier ship, more fitted to cope with ocean
winds. (see also Index: sailing craft)
Navigational instruments were improved. The compass, probably imported
form from the Orient, was gradually developed until, by the 15th century, European
pilots were using an iron pin that pivoted in a round box. They realized that it did not
point to the true north, and no one at that time knew of the magnetic pole, but they
learned approximately how to correct the readings. The astrolabe, used for determining
latitude by the altitude of stars, had been known since Roman times, but its employment
by seafarers was rare, even as late as 1300; it became more common during the next
50 years, though most pilots probably did not possess it and often did not need it
because most voyages took place in the narrow waters of the Mediterranean or Baltic
or along western European coasts. For longitude, then and many years thereafter, dead
reckoning had to be employed, but this could be reasonably accurate when done by
experts. (see also Index: navigation system)
The typical medieval map had been the planisphere, or mappemonde, which
the three known continents in circular form on a disk surface and illustrated a concept
more theological than geographical. The earliest surviving specimens of the portolanic,
or harbour-finding, charts date from shortly before 1300 and are of Pisan and Genoese
origin. Portolanic maps aided voyagers by showing Mediterranean coastlines with
remarkable accuracy, but they gave no attention to hinterlands. As Atlantic sailings
increased, the coasts of western Europe and Africa south of the Strait of Gibraltar were
shown somewhat correctly, though less so than for the Mediterranean.
THE FIRST EUROPEAN EMPIRES (16TH CENTURY)
Portugal's seaborne empire.
Following Christopher Columbus' first voyage, the rulers of Portugal
and Spain, by the
Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), partitioned the non-Christian world between them by an
imaginary line in the Atlantic, 370 leagues (about 1,300 miles) west of the Cape Verde
Islands. Portugal could claim and occupy everything to the east of the line and Spain
everything to the west (though no one then knew where the demarcation would bisect
the other side of the globe). Portuguese rule in India, the East Indies, and Brazil rested
on this treaty, as well as on Portuguese discoveries and on papal sanction (Pope Leo X,
by a bull of 1514, forbade others to interfere with Portugal's possessions). Except for
such minor incursions as those of Ferdinand Magellan's surviving ship in 1522 and the
Englishman Sir Francis Drake's voyage around the world in 1577-80, the Portuguese
operated in the East for nearly a century without European competition. They faced
occasional Oriental enemies but weathered these dangers with their superior ships,
gunnery, and seamanship.
Territorially, theirs was scarcely an empire; it was a commercial
operation based on
possession of fortifications and posts strategically situated for trade. This policy was
carried out principally by two viceroys, Francisco de Almeida in 1505-09 and Afonso
de Albuquerque in 1509-15. Almeida seized several eastern African and Indian points
and defeated a Muslim naval coalition off Diu (now in Goa, Daman, and Diu union
territory, India). Albuquerque endeavoured to gain a monopoly of European spice
trade for his country by sealing off all entrances and exits of the Indian Ocean competing
with the Portuguese route around the Cape of Good Hope. In 1510 he took Goa, in
western India, which became the capital and stronghold of the Portuguese East, and in
1511 he captured Malacca at the farther end of the ocean. Later he subdued Hormuz
(now in Iran), commanding the Persian Gulf. They brought soldiers from the home
country in limited numbers; but the Portuguese also relied on alliances with native states
and enlisted sepoy troops, a policy later followed by the French and English.
Portugal never fully dominated the Indian Ocean because it lacked
to control the vast water expanse. Albuquerque's failure to capture Aden at the Red
Sea entrance allowed the old traffic through Egypt to Venice to resume following an
initial dislocation, and this continued after the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517.
Much of the Indian Ocean trade was local and, until the Portuguese incursion, had been
conducted by Arabs or at least by Muslims. The Portuguese, who at first had intended
to oust the Arabs entirely, found it impossible to manage without them. The Hindus,
whom they hoped to use for local trade purposes, proved unenterprising and had caste
restrictions regarding sea voyages. Muslims were soon trafficking again vigorously, with
Portuguese subjects also pressed beyond the Strait of Malacca to the
East Indies, Siam
(now Thailand), and Canton in Ming-dynasty China. Trade with the celestial empire,
difficult at first because of China's exclusionist policies, at length grew, especially after
Portugal in 1557 leased Macau, through which for the next 300 years passed much of
the Occidental trade with China. Individual Portuguese reached Japan in 1542, followed
by traders and Francis Xavier (later made a saint), a renowned Jesuit missionary who
laboured with small success to make converts. In the 17th century, the Japanese
adopted a rigorous exclusionist policy, although they allowed Portugal's successors, the
Dutch, to conduct a limited trade from the small island of Deshima, near Nagasaki.
Partial domination of the Indian Ocean and much of its valuable trade
did not bring
Portugal's crown as much profit as had been anticipated. The intention had been to
make Oriental trade a royal monopoly; but Portuguese, from viceroys to humble
soldiers and seamen, became private merchants and lined their own pockets to the
deprivation of the royal treasury. The Eastern footholds were expensive to maintain, and
frequent mishaps to vessels of the Indian fleets, from shipwreck or enemies, reduced
gains. The lack of a true monopoly prevented the Portuguese from charging the prices
that they wished in European markets. Moreover, Lisbon, while an ideal starting point
for voyages around the Cape, proved poorly situated as a distribution centre for spice
to northern and central Europe. Antwerp, on the Scheldt, was far superior, and for a
time Portugal maintained a trading house there; but Portuguese agents found spice sales
taken out of their hands by more experienced Italian, German, and Flemish merchants,
and the Antwerp establishment was closed in 1549.
It has been asserted that the Portuguese had no racial prejudice, but
their record proves
the opposite. In the 16th and 17th centuries, they could not be expected to be tolerant
of Oriental religions, although they soon recognized that wholesale conversion to
Catholicism was impossible. Some Africans and Asiatics became Christians and even
entered the clergy; but seldom if ever did they rise above the status of parish priests. In
other affairs the Portuguese generally treated the dark-skinned peoples as inferiors. (see
also Index: racism)
The east coast of Brazil belonged to Portugal by the Tordesillas pact.
of Manuel I and his successor, John III (ruled 1521-57), paid it small attention for 30
years. It proved nearly useless as a way station to the Cape; its Indian population was
savage, and its products, consisting chiefly of pau-brasil (Brazilian dyewood), yielded
much less revenue than those of India. Threats of French and Spanish intrusion caused
John III, in 1530, to send Martim Afonso de Sousa to make a careful survey of the
Brazilian coast and to suggest sites for colonization. Next, the littoral was partitioned
into strips called capitanias, each colonized and governed under feudal terms by a
proprietor, or donatário. Some limited settlement followed, and in 1549 the capitanias
were united under a governor general who established residence at Bahia (now
In 1580 Philip II of Spain seized the Portuguese throne, which had
fallen vacant and to
which he had some blood claim. Portugal remained theoretically independent, bound
only by a personal union to its neighbour; but succeeding Spanish monarchs steadily
encroached on its liberties until the small kingdom became, in effect, a conquered
province. Spain's European enemies meanwhile descended on the Portuguese Empire
and ended its Eastern supremacy before the restoration of Portugal's independence in
Spain's American empire.
Only gradually did the Spaniards realize the possibilities of America.
completed the occupation of the larger West Indian islands by 1512, though they largely
ignored the smaller ones, to their ultimate regret. Thus far they had found lands nearly
empty of treasure, populated by naked primitives who died off rapidly on contact with
Europeans. In 1508 an expedition did leave Hispaniola to colonize the mainland, and,
after hardship and decimation, the remnant settled at Darién on the Isthmus of Panama,
from which in 1513 Vasco Núñez de Balboa made his famous march to the Pacific. On
the Isthmus the Spaniards heard garbled reports of the wealth and splendour of Inca
Peru. Balboa was succeeded (and judicially murdered) by Pedrarias Dávila, who turned
his attention to Central America and founded Nicaragua.
Expeditions sent by Diego Velázquez, governor of Cuba, made
contact with the
decayed Mayan civilization of Yucatán and brought news of the cities and precious
metals of Aztec Mexico. Hernán Cortés entered Mexico from Cuba in 1519 and spent
two years overthrowing the Aztec confederation, which dominated Mexico's civilized
heartland. The Spaniards used firearms effectively but did most of their fighting with
pikes and blades, aided by numerous Indian allies who hated the dominant Aztecs. The
conquest of Aztec Mexico led directly to that of Guatemala and about half of Yucatán,
whose geography and warlike inhabitants slowed Spanish progress.
Mexico yielded much gold and silver, and the conquerors imagined still
and wonders to the north. None of this existed, but it seemed real when a northern
wanderer, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, in 1536 brought to Mexico an exciting but
fanciful report of the fabulous lands. Expeditions explored northern Mexico and the
southern part of what is now the United States--notably the expedition of Juan
Rodríguez Cabrillo by sea along what are now the California and Oregon coasts and the
expeditions of Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vázquez Coronado through the
southeastern and southwestern U.S. regions. These brought geographical knowledge
but nothing of value to the Spaniards, who for years thereafter ignored the northern
Meanwhile, the Pizarro brothers--Francisco Pizarro and his
half-brothers Gonzalo and
Hernando--entered the Inca Empire from Panama in 1531 and proceeded with its
conquest. Finding the huge realm divided by a recent civil war over the throne, they
captured and executed the incumbent usurper, Atahualpa. But the conquest took years
to complete; the Pizarros had to crush a formidable native rising and to defeat their
erstwhile associate, Diego de Almagro, who felt cheated of his fair share of the spoils.
The Pizarros and their followers took and divided a great amount of gold and silver,
with prospects of more from the mines of Peru and Bolivia. By-products of the Inca
conquest were the seizure of northern Chile by Pedro de Valdivia and the descent of the
entire Amazon by Francisco de Orellana. Other conquistadors entered the regions of
what became Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina. (See LATIN AMERICA, THE
A colonial period of nearly three centuries followed the major Spanish
empire was created in a time of rising European absolutism, which flourished in both
Spain and Spanish America and reached its height in the 18th century. The overseas
colonies became and remained the king's private estate.
Spanish colonial policies.
Shortly before the death of Queen Isabella I in 1504, the Spanish
the House of Trade ( Casa de Contratación) to regulate commerce between Spain and
the New World. Their purpose was to make the trade monopolistic and thus pour the
maximum amount of bullion into the royal treasury. This policy, seemingly successful at
first, fell short later because Spain failed to provide necessary manufactured goods for
its colonies, foreign competitors appeared, and smuggling grew.
In 1524 Charles V created the Council of the Indies (Consejo de Indias)
lawmaking body for the colonies. During the three centuries of its existence, this council
enacted a massive amount of legislation, though much grew obsolete and became a
dead letter. The industrious Philip II died in 1598, and his indolent or incompetent
successors left American affairs to the Casa and Consejo; both proved generally
conscientious and hard-working bodies, though, for a time in the 17th century,
appointments to the legislating council could be purchased.
The viceregal system dated from 1535, when Antonio de Mendoza was sent
New Spain, or Mexico, bypassing the still-vigorous Cortés. A second viceroy was
named for Peru in 1542, and the viceroyalties of New Granada and Río de la Plata
were formed in 1739 and 1776, respectively. By the 18th century, viceroys served
average terms of five years, and under them functioned a hierarchy of bureaucrats,
nearly all sent from Spain to occupy frequently lucrative posts. American-born
Spaniards resented this favouritism shown the peninsular Spaniards, and their jealousy
accounted in part for their later separation from Spain. Lower socially and economically
than either white class were the mestizo offspring of white and Indian matings, and still
lower were the Indians and black slaves.
Though a belief to the contrary exists, Spain sent many colonists to
indication of this is the number of new cities founded, distinct from the old Indian culture
centres. A partial list of such cities, besides the early island ones, includes Vera Cruz,
New Spain; Panama, Cartagena, and Guayaquil, in New Granada (in modern Panama,
Colombia, and Ecuador, respectively); Lima, Peru; and all those of what are now Chile,
Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay.
A problem early faced and never truly solved by Spain was that of the
home government was generally benevolent in legislating for their welfare but could not
altogether enforce its humane policies in distant America. The foremost controversy in
early decades involved the encomienda, by which Indian groups were entrusted to
Spanish proprietors, who in theory cared for them physically and spiritually in return for
rights to tribute and labour but who in practice often abused and enslaved them. (see
also Index: American Indian)
Spanish Dominican friars were the first to condemn the encomienda and
work for its
abolition; the outstanding reformer was a missionary, Bartolomé de Las Casas, who
devoted most of his long life to the Indian cause. He secured passage of laws in 1542
ordering the early abolition of the encomienda, but efforts to enforce these brought
noncompliance in New Spain and armed rebellion in Peru. A belief held by some
Spanish theologians--that Indians were inferior beings who were destined to be natural
slaves, to be subdued and forcibly converted to Christianity--generally prevailed over
the opposition of Las Casas and fellow Dominicans. The encomienda or its equivalent
endured, although this feudal institution declined as royal absolutism grew.
The Indians became real or nominal Christians, but their numbers
shrank, less from
slaughter and exploitation than from Old World diseases, frequently smallpox, for which
they had no inherited immunity. The aboriginal West Indian population virtually
disappeared in a few generations, to be replaced by black slaves. Indian numbers
shrank in all mainland areas: at the beginning of Spanish settlement there were perhaps
50,000,000 aborigines; the figure had decreased to an estimated 4,000,000 in the 17th
century, after which it slowly rose again. Meanwhile the hybrid mestizo element grew
and--to a limited extent--replaced the Indians.
The Leyenda Negra (Black Legend) propagated by critics of Spanish
contributes to the general belief that Spain exceeded other nations in cruelty to subject
populations; on the other hand, a review of Spain's record suggests that it was no worse
than other nations and, in fact, produced a greater number of humanitarian reformers.
When Dominican zeal declined, the new and powerful Jesuit order became the major
Indian protector and led in missionary activity until its expulsion from the Spanish
Empire in 1767; the Jesuits took charge of large converted native communities, notably
in the area of the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata that is now Paraguay, in their paternalism
often imposing stern discipline.
Effects of the discoveries and empires.
Before the discovery of America and the sea route to Asia, the
Mediterranean had been
the trading and naval centre of Europe and the Near East. Italian seamen were rightly
considered to be the best, and they commanded the first royally sponsored transatlantic
expeditions--Columbus for Spain, John Cabot for England, and Giovanni da Verrazano
Europe's shift to the Atlantic.
Until then the Western countries had lain on the fringe of
civilization, with nothing
apparently beyond them but Iceland and small islands. With the discovery of the Cape
route and America, nations formerly peripheral found themselves central, with
geographical forces impelling them to leadership.
The Mediterranean did not become a backwater, and the Venetian republic
major commercial power in the 16th century. Venice's decline came in the 17th, though
the Venetians were still formidable against the Turks. As the more powerful Dutch,
French, and English replaced the Eastern pioneers of Portugal, however, the burden of
competition became more than the venerable republic could bear. The last decisive
naval battle fought wholly by Mediterranean seamen was Lepanto (Náupaktos,
Greece), where Don John of Austria, in 1571, commanding Spanish and Italian galleys,
defeated an Ottoman fleet. Although Atlantic powers thereafter often fought in the
Mediterranean, they mainly fought each other, while the Italian cities became pawns in
international politics. The nation-state was superseding the small principality and
city-state, a trend that had begun before the discoveries. The new nations lay on the
Atlantic; and, though Spain and France had Mediterranean frontages, the advantage
went to those seaports belonging to substantial countries with ready access to the outer
Changes in Europe.
The opening of old lands in Asia and new ones in America changed Europe
the Iberian countries understandably felt the changes first. The Portuguese government,
for a time, made large profits from its Eastern trade, and individuals prospered; but
Oriental luxuries were costly compared with the European goods that Portugal offered,
and the balance had to be made up in specie. This eastward drain of gold and silver had
gone on long before Portuguese imperial times, but it was now intensified. Much of the
bullion reaching the Orient did not circulate but was hoarded or made into ornaments;
consequently, there was no inflation in Asia, and prices there did not rise enough to
create a demand for Western goods, which would have reversed the flow of bullion
from the West. The Portuguese obtained most of the precious metal for this trade from
spice sales through Antwerp and from Africa. The drain proved critical, and, by the
reign of John III, the government found itself hard pressed economically and forced to
abandon overseas posts that were a financial burden. Later, beginning in the 17th
century, Portugal drew its own supply of jewels and gold from Brazil.
Spain's case was the reverse; although the first American lands
discovered yielded little
mineral wealth, the mines of Mexico by the 1520s and those of Potosí (in modern
Bolivia) by the 1540s were shipping to Spain large quantities of bullion, much of it
crown revenue. This did not furnish Charles V and Philip II their largest income; Spanish
taxation still exceeded wealth from the New World, yet American silver and gold
proved sufficient to cause a price revolution in Spain, where costs, depending on the
region, were multiplied by three and five during the 16th century. The Spanish
government wished to keep bullion from leaving the kingdom, but high prices in Spain
made it a good market for outside products. Spanish industry declined in the 16th
century, in part because of the sales taxes imposed by the crown, which necessitated
more buying of foreign merchandise. Great quantities of bullion had to be poured out to
finance the expensive Spanish European empire and the costly wars and diplomacy of
Charles V and Philip II, both of whom were constantly in debt.
Price rises followed in other countries, largely from the influx of
Spanish bullion. In
England, where some statistics are available, costs by 1650 had risen by 250 percent
over those of 1500.
The European commercial revolution, which brought increased industry,
and larger banks, had begun before the discoveries, but it received stimulus from them.
Bullion from America helped create a money economy, replacing the older and largely
barter exchange--a trend accentuated by greater European mineral production in the
early 16th century. The trade emporiums of Italy and the Baltic Hanseatic League
declined and were largely replaced by those of the Dutch Republic, England, and
France. Joint-stock companies made an impressive appearance, notably the East India
Companies of the Dutch Republic, England, and France in the 17th century. The
mercantile theory that precious metals constitute the true wealth, though it had attracted
advocates for a long time, now came into full vogue and continued to dominate
Discovery introduced Europe to new foods and beverages. Coffee, from
been consumed in Arabia and Egypt before its wide European use began in the 17th
century. Tobacco, an American plant smoked by Indians, won an Old World market
despite many individual objectors; the same proved true of chocolate from Mexico and
tea from Asia. The South American potato became a staple food in such places as
Ireland and central Europe. Cotton, from the Old World, took firm root in the New,
from which Europe received an enormously increased supply. Sugar, introduced to the
American tropics, along with its molasses and rum derivatives, in time became the
principal exports of those regions. Spice was certainly more plentiful than before the
discoveries, though the Dutch, when they controlled the East Indies, were able to limit
production and thus to keep the price of cloves and nutmegs high.
The influence of the discoveries permeated literature. Sir Thomas
printed in 1516 and dealing with an imaginary island, was suggested by South America.
The Portuguese poet Luís de Camões recounted the voyage of Vasco da Gama, though
fancifully, in epic verse. Michel de Montaigne discoursed upon American savages, some
of whom he had seen in France. Christopher Marlowe's drama Tamburlaine (1587),
though based on the life of the Asiatic conqueror, was an exhortation to his fellow
Englishmen to penetrate the New World.
Historiography acquired a broader base by taking the newly discovered
account. Astronomy was revolutionized by European penetration of the Southern
Hemisphere and discovery of constellations unknown before. Map makers, typified by
the Fleming Gerardus Mercator and the Dutchman Abraham Ortelius, portrayed the
world in terms that are still recognizable.
COLONIES FROM NORTHERN EUROPE AND MERCANTILISM (17TH
The northern Atlantic powers, for understandable reasons, acquired no
overseas possessions before 1600. The United Provinces of the Netherlands spent the
final decades of the 16th century winning independence from Spain; France had
constant European involvements and wars of religion; England, matrimonially allied with
Spain as late as 1558, was undergoing its Protestant Reformation and long was
unwilling to challenge predominant Spain openly in any manner.
Although England's defeat of Philip II's Armada in 1588 helped to
lessen Spanish sea
power, it was the Dutch who early in the next century really broke that power and
became the world's foremost naval and commercial nation, with science and skills
commensurate with their prowess. Only late in the 17th century did they decline,
because of Holland's limited size and the inferiority of its geographical position to
England's. The Dutch, meanwhile, penetrated all the known oceans, including the Arctic,
and waged unrelenting war against the Iberian kingdoms.
The Dutch coveted the Portuguese commercial empire more than the
continental one. They took much of the Portuguese East and invaded Brazil (1624-54),
the richer half of which they controlled for a time. They also penetrated Portuguese
Angola, which they desired because the slaves it exported were beginning to work the
Brazilian plantations. They ultimately failed in the South Atlantic, though they gained
Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), Curaçao, and what later became British Guiana
(Guyana). Meanwhile, Willem Schouten, one of their free-lance voyagers, had made the
discovery of Cape Horn in 1616.
The Dutch States-General, in 1602, chartered the United East India
(Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, popularly called the Dutch East India
Company), a joint-stock enterprise with investment open to all. In control was a board
of 17 directors, the so-called Heeren XVII, who received a monopoly of navigational
rights eastward around the Cape of Good Hope and westward through the Strait of
Magellan. They could make treaties with native princes on behalf of the States-General
(from which they were scarcely separable), establish garrisoned forts, and appoint
governors and justices. The company had no interest in extending Protestantism, and
there was no mention of religious conversion, though Calvinist ministers later gained
converts in the East, mostly in communities previously made Catholic by Portuguese
The company established headquarters first at Bantam in Java in 1607,
them to Jacatra, renamed Batavia (now Jakarta), in the same island. Its two main
objectives were the ouster of European competitors--Portuguese, English, and
Spanish--and dominance of local trade, previously in native hands. Portuguese vigour
had somewhat declined, and the Dutch were victorious in most armed encounters. They
also squeezed out the English, whose own East India Company thereafter concentrated
efforts in the Indian peninsula.
The principal builder of the Dutch Oriental empire was Jan Pieterszoon
governor general from 1618 to 1623 and again from 1627 until his death in 1629.
Financially, local trade monopoly was even more important than the expulsion of white
competitors. The extension of Dutch control to islands beyond Java had started before
the governorship of Coen, who accentuated the process. He and other company
officials behaved ruthlessly; for example, when the inhabitants of the nutmeg-growing
island of Great Banda (modern Pulau Banda Besar in Indonesia) resisted the Dutch in
1621, Coen had 2,500 of the inhabitants massacred and 800 more transported to
Batavia. Company policy was to restrict clove production to Amboina and a few
neighbouring islands firmly under Dutch control. To insure this, about 65,000 clove trees
were destroyed in the Moluccas, and Dutch subjection of Macassar made the
monopoly virtually complete. In 1656 the famous Moluccas were described as a
wilderness. Besides being a conqueror, Coen was an able businessman and an
economist. When he died he was engaged in gaining a monopoly of the pepper of
interior Sumatra, which was later sealed off securely by the fall of Portuguese Malacca
Batavia became the focal point of the Dutch East, and through it passed
of China, Japan, India, Ceylon, and Persia, bound for Europe or other Oriental ports.
The Dutch never monopolized the China trade because the Portuguese held Macau, the
Spaniards held Manila, and the Japanese, for a time, engaged in this commerce. The
Dutch gained a foothold in Formosa in 1624 but lost it to a Chinese pirate in 1662.
After Japan became exclusionist in 1641, a trickle of Dutch trade continued to enter it
through the small island of Deshima (now part of Nagasaki, Japan), even after the
dissolution of the United East India Company in 1799.
The economy of Java changed somewhat after the importation of the
coffee plant in
1696. Coffee, often simply called java, rapidly became a major island crop and was
exported from there to Dutch America. The company had earlier brought coffee to
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), but that experiment had failed when a blight attacked its
leaves. The company ousted the Portuguese from Ceylon and dominated the island until
it was itself dispossessed by the British in 1796. Under its jurisdiction, as earlier, the
major Ceylonese export was cinnamon, though the Dutch also dealt in jewels and
pepper and carried on a trade in elephants.
In their constant search for commercial outlets, the company's
officials sponsored new
exploration. Coen's ablest successor, Antonio van Diemen, governor general in
1636-45, sent Abel Tasman to investigate the great land (Australia) previously sighted
by Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch seamen. Tasman sailed around the continent and
discovered Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Staatenland (New Zealand), and the Tonga
and Fiji Islands, but their commercial possibilities seemed insufficient to warrant further
Dutch penetration of the East was not colonization; small farmers and
could nor would compete with the abundant, cheap native labour. Those Dutchmen
going eastward were company officials, seamen and soldiers, overseers of plantations
and commerce, and a few scientists and Calvinist clergymen; there was no place for
The Dutch moved into uninhabited Mauritius, which they later abandoned
and saw pass
first to France and finally to Great Britain. The Heeren XVII felt the need of a station on
the arduous voyage between the home country and the East. They obtained it at Cape
Town (founded in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck), which company ships thereafter
regularly visited for fresh meat and vegetables to reduce scurvy. The town did not
altogether live up to first expectations because the harbour was exposed, but the
hinterland possessed a good climate and no dangerous natives. Beginning in the 1680s
the company encouraged a moderate influx by Dutch families and French Huguenot
exiles. Although the British conquered the colony in 1806, the descendants of these
early settlers remained the largest white element and spoke a variant of Dutch, which
Dutch activity in the South Atlantic, Guyana, the West Indies, and New
(New York) was the work of the West India Company (West-Indische Compagnie),
founded in 1621. This never proved as successful as the Heeren XVII's generally
profitable enterprise, but it did produce results. Except for the Cape, the only real Dutch
colonization undertaking was New Netherland in North America, started in 1624 by the
West India Company. Ft. Amsterdam, or New Amsterdam, was founded, and two
years later the company agent Peter Minuit made a 60-guilder ($24) transaction with
the local Indians for the purchase of Manhattan island. Dutch settlement along the
Hudson from New Amsterdam to Ft. Orange (Albany) remained sparse; the company's
insistence on monopolizing the Indian fur trade discouraged Dutchmen from migrating
there. Further, the policy of creating large patroon land grants, five in all, along the river
under feudal proprietors, limited settlement. New Amsterdam itself became fairly
thriving because it possessed the best harbour in North America. Many besides
Dutchmen settled there; some came from nearby New England, and there was a
sprinkling of French, Scandinavian, Irish, German, and Jewish inhabitants. The city was
weakly defended and fell rather easily to an English fleet in 1664; it was renamed New
York. Although the Dutch retook it briefly in 1673-74, the colony became permanently
English by the Treaty of Westminster in 1674. The West India Company was then
dissolved, to be reconstituted for exploitation of the Caribbean holdings but to attempt
no further territorial expansion.
France probably could have become the leading European colonial power
in the 17th
and 18th centuries. It had the largest population and wealth, the best army while Louis
XIV ruled, and, for a time in his reign, the strongest navy. But France pursued a
spasmodic overseas policy because of an intense preoccupation with European affairs;
England, France's ultimately successful rival, was freer of such entanglements.
Early settlements in the New World.
Verrazano reconnoitered the North American coast for France in 1524,
and in the next
decade Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River; his plans to establish a
colony, however, came to nothing. During most of the rest of the 16th century, French
colonization efforts were confined to short-lived settlements at Guanabara Bay (Rio de
Janeiro) and Florida; both met sad ends. France meanwhile was troubled by internal
religious strife and, for a time, was influenced by Philip II of Spain. But at the beginning
of the 17th century, with Spanish power declining and domestic religious peace restored
by King Henry IV's Edict of Nantes (1598), granting religious liberty to the Huguenots,
the King chartered a Compagnie d'Occident (Western Company). This led to further
exploration and to a small Acadian (Nova Scotian) settlement, and in 1603 Samuel de
Champlain went to Canada, called New France. Champlain became Canada's
outstanding leader, founding Quebec in 1608, defeating the Iroquois of New York,
stimulating fur trade, and exploring westward to Lake Huron in 1615. He introduced
Recollet (Franciscan) friars for conversion of the American Indians, but the Jesuit order
(the Society of Jesus) soon became the principal missionary body in Canada.
Under the ministership of Cardinal Richelieu (served 1624-42), a
Council of Marine
was created, with responsibility for colonial affairs. French West Indian settlement,
following the activities of pirates and filibusters, began in 1625 with the admission of
French settlers to St. Christopher (already settled by the British in 1623 and partitioned
between the two countries until its cession to the British in 1713), and by 1664 France
held 14 Antillean islands containing 7,000 whites, the principal possessions being
Guadeloupe and Martinique. Saint-Domingue (Haiti), not yet annexed, contained
numbers of Frenchmen, mostly buccaneers from Tortuga. Sugar became the main crop
of the islands; the date when importation of black slaves began is uncertain, though
some were sold at Guadeloupe as early as 1642.
French West Indian society was caste bound, with officials and large
blancs) at the top, followed, in descending order, by merchants, buccaneers, and small
farmers (petits blancs). Lowest of all were contract labourers from France (engagés)
and black slaves.
French Guiana was built around the Cayenne settlement, founded about
were other Frenchmen along the neighbouring coast at first, but, threatened by
Dutchmen and natives, they finally took refuge at Cayenne. The Cayenne settlers,
lacking any basis of prosperity, existed partly by raiding the Amazon Indians. The 18th
century brought some improvement, but as late as 1743 French Guiana had only 600
whites, living by coffee and cacao culture and without means to import any but the
Activities in India.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert held a succession of high offices in France,
including the ministry
of marine, during the early reign of Louis XIV. Colbert was an archmercantilist and
believed that an abundance of precious metals would enrich France. This required a
favourable balance of trade and protective tariffs. Most of his policy applied to France
itself, but he meant to supplement it with colonial markets protected by a strong navy.
Colbert felt concern over the quantities of cash that Frenchmen paid the Dutch for
Eastern products and intended for his countrymen to have a share of those profits. In
1664 he placed hopes in a new French Company of the East Indies (Compagnie
Française des Indes Orientales), to which he personally subscribed and which bought
out small predecessors. The company tried unsuccessfully to make Madagascar a great
centre of trade, and the huge island became a stronghold of piracy, though the French
acquired nearby Mauritius.
In the Indian peninsula, where the English East India Company had
progress was slow in Colbert's time and after, partly because the last great Mughal
emperor, Aurangzeb, reigned and dominated India. The company did acquire
Pondichéry and several other posts, however, and an affiliate opened a limited trade
with China. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, his empire declined rapidly. Thereafter, the
question of future control of India lay chiefly between the French company (reorganized
and renamed the Compagnie Française des Indes in 1720) and the English company;
both companies backed or opposed warring native rulers and exacted payment from
them for financial support and for arming and drilling the native sepoy troops in the
European manner. By the 1740s the French had gained the upper hand, and in the
War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48; called King George's War in North
America), the French governor general of India, Joseph-François Dupleix, captured
Madras, the centre of British power. But in the ensuing Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the
British, who had made gains in North America, recovered Madras. Never again did the
French come so near success, and their fortunes soon declined. Their company had not
made large profits because expensive wars and the costs of subsidizing native princes
had consumed revenue. The home government seldom cooperated, and French
investors on the whole declined to speculate in overseas ventures.
Colonization of New France.
New France became a royal province in 1663, with both good and bad
arrival of troops in 1665 lessened the danger from the hostile Iroquois. Jean Talon, the
powerful intendant sent by Colbert in the same year, strove to make Canada a
self-sustaining economic structure, but his plan was finally thwarted by his home
government's failure to supply financial means chiefly because of the King's
extravagance and costly European wars.
Colbert gave some stimulus to colonization of New France. Grants of
seigneuries, with frontages on the St. Lawrence, were apportioned to proprietors, who
then allotted holdings to small farmers, or habitants. More land came under cultivation,
and the white population grew, though immigration from France declined sharply after
1681 because the home authorities were reluctant to spare manpower for empty
Canada. After 1700 most French Canadians were North American born, a factor that
weakened loyalty to the mother country.
North American exploration proceeded rapidly in Colbert's time. Fur
earlier reached Lake Superior; Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette now travelled the
Fox and Wisconsin rivers to the Mississippi in 1673 and descended it to the Arkansas.
Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, followed the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico in
1682 and claimed the entire Mississippi River Basin, or Louisiana, for France; a later
consequence was the founding of New Orleans (Nouvelle-Orléans) in 1718 by
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, sieur de Bienville, the governor of Louisiana. French traders
ultimately reached Santa Fe in Spanish New Mexico, and the sons of explorer Pierre
Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de la Vérendrye--Louis-Joseph and François--visited the
Black Hills of South Dakota and may have seen the Rocky Mountains.
The Roman Catholic Church became firmly rooted in Canada, without the
opposition and anticlericalism that developed in 18th-century France. Jesuit mission
work among the Indians, extending to the Middle West, saw more devotion and
bravery by the priests than substantial results. Christianity made small appeal to most
Indians, who could accept a supreme being but rejected the Christian ethic. Several
zealous Jesuits became martyrs to the faith; genuine conversions were few and
In the 18th century, with the pioneering period over, life in New
easygoing and even pleasant, despite governmental absolutism. But the fur trade in the
west drew vigorous young men from the seigneurial estates to become coureurs de
bois (fur traders), and their loss crippled agriculture. Civil and religious authorities tried
to hold settlers to farming because furs paid neither tithes nor seigneurial dues. This
drainage of manpower partly explains the slow growth of New France, which, by a
census of 1754, had only 55,000 whites.
There is evidence that Bristol seamen reached Newfoundland before 1497,
Cabot's Atlantic crossing in that year is the first recorded English exploration. After the
death of Henry VII in 1509, England lost interest in discovery and did not resume it until
1553 and the formation of the Muscovy Company, which tried to find a Northeast
Passage to Asia, discovered the island of Novaya Zemlya, and opened a small trade
with Russia. The English also searched for a Northwest Passage, and Martin Frobisher
sailed to Greenland, Baffin Island, and the adjacent mainland.
English ascendancy in India.
Francis Drake and others raided the Spanish Main, and Drake and Thomas
sailed around the world. The defeat of Philip II's Armada in 1588, though less
disastrous to Spain's seapower than commonly assumed, contributed to opening the
way for English colonization of America. Interest in the Orient at first proved greater,
however, and, in 1600, London merchants formed an East India Company. It could not
compete with the rival Dutch company in the region of largest profits--the East
Indies--so it transferred its emphasis to the Indian subcontinent. The English acquired
Masulipatam in 1611 and Madras in 1639, having meanwhile destroyed Portuguese
Hormuz in 1622. Charles II obtained Bombay in 1661, as part of his Portuguese
queen's marriage dowry, and awarded it to the company.
Collapse of the Mughal Empire after 1707 led ultimately to armed
conflict between the
British and French companies for increased trade and influence. Dupleix had won the
upper hand for France by 1748; but in the ensuing Seven Years' War (1756-63),
fought between the major European powers in various parts of the world, the British
company gained ascendancy in India, thanks largely to the ability of Robert Clive, and
held it thereafter. Pondichéry surrendered; and, though France recovered this post by
the ensuing Treaty of Paris (1763), French power in India had shrunk almost to nothing,
while the British company's was now rivalled only by that of the native Maratha
confederacy. (see also Index: British Empire)
Company profits from India came first from the familiar spices, but
after 1660, Indian
textiles outstripped these in importance. Cheap cloths, mainly cottons, found a mass
market among the English poorer classes, though dainty fabrics for the wealthy also paid
well. Imports of calicoes (inexpensive cotton fabrics from Calicut) to England grew so
large that in 1721 Parliament passed the Calico Act to protect English manufacturers,
forbidding the use of calico in England for apparel or for domestic purposes (repeal of
the act in 1774 coincided with inventions of mechanical devices that made possible
English cloth production in successful competition with Eastern fabrics).
England's American colonies.
The English West Indies for many years exceeded North America in
importance. The Lesser Antilles, earlier passed over by Spain in favour of the larger
islands, lay open to any colonizer, though their ferocious Carib inhabitants sometimes
gave trouble. The Leeward Islands of Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados, as well
as the Bermudas, were settled by Englishmen between 1609 and 1632. Barbados, at
first the most important, owed its prosperity to the introduction of sugar culture about
1637. The size of landholdings increased in all the islands, and the white populations
accordingly diminished as slavery came to furnish most of the raw labour. When an
expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell took Spanish Jamaica in 1655, that island became
the English West Indian centre. Settlement of Belize (later British Honduras) by
buccaneers and log cutters began in 1636, although more than a century elapsed before
Spain acknowledged that the English indeed had the right to be there.
The English islanders, to the envy of their Dutch and French
neighbours, enjoyed such
constitutional privileges as the right to elect semipopular assemblies. Barbados once
hoped to have two representatives in Parliament, and some Barbadians, during the
English (Glorious) Revolution (1688-89), thought of making their island an independent
state, but nothing came of this.
The original English mainland colonies--Virginia (founded 1607),
Plymouth (1620), and
Massachusetts Bay (1630)--were founded by joint-stock companies. The later New
England settlements--New Hampshire, New Haven, Connecticut, and Rhode
Island--began as offshoots of Massachusetts, which acquired jurisdiction over the
Maine territory. The New England colonies were first peopled partly by religious
dissenters, but except for the separatist Plymouth Pilgrims they did not formally secede
from the Church of England for the time being.
Proprietary colonies, under individual entrepreneurs, began with
Maryland, founded in
1634 under the Catholic direction of Cecilius and Leonard Calvert. Also proprietary
was Pennsylvania, which originally included Delaware, founded by the Quaker William
Penn in 1682. Maryland and Pennsylvania, except for a brief royal interlude in
Maryland, continued under Calvert and Penn heirs until the American Revolution; all
other colonies except Connecticut and Rhode Island ultimately had royal governments.
The Carolinas, after abortive attempts at colonization, were effectively founded in 1670
and became first proprietary and, later, royal colonies. Georgia, last of the 13, began in
1732, partly as a philanthropic enterprise headed by James Oglethorpe to furnish a
rehabilitation home for debtors and other underprivileged Englishmen. All the mainland
colonies eventually had representative assemblies, chosen by the propertied classes, to
aid and often handicap their English governors.
The original settlers, predominantly English, were later supplemented
Huguenots, Germans, and Scots-Irish, especially in western New York, Pennsylvania,
and the southern colonies. New York, acquired from the United Provinces of the
Netherlands and including New Jersey, continued to have some Dutch flavour long after
the Dutch had become a small minority. By the French and Indian War (1754-63, the
American portion of the Seven Years' War), the total population of the mainland
colonies was estimated as 1,296,000 whites and 300,000 blacks, enormously in excess
of the 55,000 whites inhabiting French Canada.
The only bond of union among the British colonies was their allegiance
to the king, and
in the wars with France (c. 1689-1763) it proved hard to unite them against the
common enemy. All the colonies were agricultural, with New England being a region of
small farms, the Middle Atlantic colonies having a larger scaled and more diversified
farming, and the southern ones tending to plantations on which tobacco, rice, and indigo
were raised by slaves (although slavery was legal throughout all the colonies). There
was much colonial shipping, especially from New England, whose merchants and
seamen traded with England, Africa, and the West Indies; Massachusetts shipbuilders
had built more than 700 ships by 1675. By 1763 several towns had grown into cities,
including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston, South
By the time the term mercantile system was coined in 1776 by the
Adam Smith, European states had been trying for two centuries to put mercantile
theory into practice. The basis of mercantilism was the notion that national wealth is
measured by the amount of gold and silver a nation possesses. This seemed proven by
the fact that Spain's most powerful years had occurred when it was first reaping a
bullion harvest from its overseas possessions.
The mercantile theory held that colonies exist for the economic benefit
of the mother
country and are useless unless they help to achieve profit. The mother nation should
draw raw materials from its possessions and sell them finished goods, with the balance
favouring the European country. This trade should be monopolistic, with foreign
The Spanish fleet system.
Spain acted upon the as-yet-undefined mercantile theory when, in 1565,
it perfected the
fleet (flota) system, by which all legal trade with its American colonies was restricted to
two annual fleets between Seville and designated ports on the Gulf of Mexico and
Caribbean. The outgoing ships bore manufactured articles; returning, their cargoes
consisted partly of gold and silver bars. Though the system continued for nearly two
centuries, Spain was a poor country by 1700.
French mercantilist activities.
Ignoring this lesson, other European states adopted the mercantilist
policy; the France
of Louis XIV and Colbert is the outstanding example. Colbert, who dominated French
policy for 20 years, strictly regulated the economy. He instituted protective tariffs and
sponsored a monopolistic merchant marine. He regarded what few overseas
possessions France then had as ultimate sources of liquid wealth, which they were
poorly situated to furnish because they lacked such supplies of bullion as Spain
controlled in Mexico and Peru.
The English navigation acts.
England adhered to mercantilism for two centuries and, possessing a
empire than France, strove to implement the policy by a series of navigation acts. The
first, passed by Oliver Cromwell's government in 1651, attempted chiefly to exclude the
Dutch from England's carrying trade: goods imported from Africa, Asia, or America
could be brought only in English ships, which included colonial vessels, thus giving the
English North American merchant marine a substantial stimulus. After the royal
Restoration in 1660, Parliament renewed and strengthened the Cromwellian measures.
By then colonial American maritime competition with England had grown so severe that
laws of 1663 required colonial ships carrying European goods to America to route
them through English ports, where a duty had to be paid, but from lack of enforcement
these soon became inoperative. In the early 18th century the English lost some of their
enthusiasm for bullion alone and placed chief emphasis on commerce and industry. The
Molasses Act of 1733 was in the interest of the British West Indian sugar growers, who
complained of the amount of French island molasses imported by the mainland colonies;
the French planters had been buying fish, livestock, and lumber brought by North
American ships and gladly exchanging their sugar products for them at low prices.
Prohibition of colonial purchases of French molasses, though decreed, went largely
unenforced, and New England, home of most of the carrying trade, continued
THE OLD COLONIAL SYSTEM AND THE COMPETITION FOR EMPIRE
Faith in mercantilism waned during the 18th century, first because of
the influence of
French Physiocrats, who advocated the rule of nature, whereby trade and industry
would be left to follow a natural course. François Quesnay, a physician at the court of
Louis XV of France, led this school of thought, fundamentally advocating an agricultural
economy and holding that productive land was the only genuine wealth, with trade and
industry existing for the transfer of agricultural products.
Adam Smith adopted some physiocratic ideas, but he considered labour
and did not altogether accept land as the sole wealth. Smith's Inquiry Into the Nature
and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), appearing just as Britain was about to
lose much of its older empire, established the basis of new economic thought--classical
economics. This denigrated mercantilism and advocated free, or at least freer, trade and
state noninterference with private enterprise. Laisser-faire et laisser-aller ("to let it
alone and let it flow") became the slogan of this British economic school. Smith thought
that regulation only reduced wealth, a view in part adopted by the British government
56 years after his death.
Slavery, though abundantly practiced in Africa itself and widespread in
Mediterranean world, had nearly died out in medieval Europe. It was revived by the
Portuguese in Prince Henry's time, beginning with the enslavement of Berbers in 1442.
Portugal populated Cape Verde, Fernando Po (now Bioko), and São Tomé largely
with black slaves and took many to the home country, especially to the regions south of
the Tagus River.
New World black slavery began in 1502, when Gov. Nicolás de
Ovando of Hispaniola
imported a few evidently Spanish-born blacks from Spain. Rapid decimation of the
Indian population of the Spanish West Indies created a labour shortage, ultimately
remedied from Africa. The great reformer, Las Casas, advocated importation of blacks
to replace the vanishing Indians, and he lived to regret having done so. The population
of the Greater Antilles became largely black and mulatto; on the mainland, at least in the
more populated parts, the Indians, supplemented by a growing mestizo caste that clung
more tenaciously to life and seemed more suited to labour, kept African slavery
somewhat confined to limited areas.
The Portuguese at first practiced Indian slavery in Brazil and
continued to employ it
partially until 1755. It was gradually replaced by the African variety, beginning
prominently in the 17th century and coinciding with the rapid rise of Brazilian sugar
As the English, French, Dutch, and, to a lesser extent, the Danes
colonized the smaller
West Indian islands, these became plantation settlements, largely cultivated by blacks.
Before the latter arrived in great numbers, the bulk of manual labour, especially in the
English islands, was performed by poor whites. Some were indentured, or contract,
servants; some were redemptioners who agreed to pay ship captains their passage fees
within a stated time or be sold to bidders; others were convicts. Some were kidnapped,
with the tacit approval of the English authorities, in keeping with the mercantilist policy
that advocated getting rid of the unemployed and vagrants. Black slavery eventually
surpassed white servitude in the West Indies.
John Hawkins commanded the first English slave-trading expedition in
1562 and sold
his cargo in the Spanish Indies. English slaving, nevertheless, remained minor until the
establishment of the English island colonies in the reign of James I (ruled 1603-25). A
Dutch captain sailed the first cargo of black slaves to Virginia in 1619, the year in which
the colony exported 20,000 pounds (9,000 kilograms) of tobacco. The restored Stuart
king, Charles II, gave English slave trade to a monopolistic company, the Royal
Adventurers Trading to Africa, in 1663, but the Adventurers accomplished little
because of the early outbreak of war with Holland (1665). Its successor, the Royal
African Company, was founded in 1672 and held the English monopoly until 1698,
when all Englishmen received the right to trade in slaves. The Royal African Company
continued slaving until 1731, when it abandoned slaving in favour of traffic in ivory and
gold dust. A new slaving company, the Merchants Trading to Africa (founded 1750),
had directors in London, Liverpool, and Bristol, with Bristol furnishing the largest quota
of ships, estimated at 237 in 1755. Jamaica offered the greatest single market for slaves
and is believed to have received 610,000 between 1700 and 1786. The slave trade still
flourished in 1763, when about 150 ships sailed yearly from British ports to Africa with
capacity for nearly 40,000 slaves.
There was no well-organized opposition to the slave trade before 1800,
individuals and ephemeral societies condemned it. The Spanish church saw the
importation of blacks as an opportunity for converting them. The English religionist
George Fox, founder of Quakerism (founded in the 1650s), accepted the fact that his
followers had bought slaves in Barbados, but he urged kind treatment. The English
novelist and political pamphleteer Daniel Defoe later denounced the traffic but seemingly
regarded slavery itself as inevitable. The English and Pennsylvania Quakers passed
resolutions forbidding their members to engage in the trade, but their wording suggests
that some were doing so; in fact, 84 of them were members of the Merchants Trading
Those opposing the slave trade often objected on other than
Some colonials feared any further growth of the black percentage of the population.
Others, who justified English slave sales to the Spanish colonies because payment was
in cash, condemned the same traffic with French islanders, who paid in molasses and
thus competed with nearby English sugar planters.
olonial wars of the first half of the 18th century.
From 1689 to 1763 the British and French fought four wars that were
European in origin but which determined the colonial situation, in some cases for two
centuries. Spain entered all four, first in alliance with England and later in partnership
with France, though it played a secondary role.
King William's War (War of the League of Augsburg).
The war known in Europe as that of the Palatinate, League of Augsburg,
Alliance, and in America as King William's War, ended indecisively, after eight years,
with the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. No territorial changes occurred in America, and
because the great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb reigned in India, very little of the conflict
Queen Anne's War (War of the Spanish Succession).
Queen Anne's War, the American phase of the War of the Spanish
(1701-14), began in 1702. Childless king Charles II of Spain, dying in 1700, willed his
entire possessions to Philip, grandson of Louis XIV of France. England, the United
Provinces, and Austria intervened, fearing a virtual union between powerful Louis and
Spain detrimental to the balance of power, and Queen Anne's War lasted until
terminated by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. England (Great Britain after 1707) gained
Gibraltar and Minorca and, in North America, acquired Newfoundland and French
Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia). It also received clear title to the northern area being
exploited by the Hudson's Bay Company. Bourbon prince Philip was recognized as
king of Spain, but the British secured the important asiento, or right to supply Spanish
America with slaves, for 30 years.
King George's War (War of the Austrian Succession).
There followed a peace almost unbroken until 1739, when, with the
asiento about to
expire and Spain unwilling to renew it, Great Britain and Spain went to war. The recent
amputation of an English seaman's ear by a Spanish Caribbean coast guard caused the
conflict to be named the War of Jenkins' Ear. This merged in 1740 with the War of the
Austrian Succession (called King George's War in America), between Frederick II the
Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria over Silesia. France joined Spain and
Prussia against Great Britain and Austria, and the war, which was terminated in 1748 by
the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, proved indecisive. New England colonials captured
Louisbourg, the fortified French island commanding the St. Lawrence entrance, but
France's progress in India counterbalanced this conquest. With the Mughal Empire now
virtually extinct, the British and French East India Companies fought each other, the
advantage going to the French under Dupleix, who captured Madras and nearly
expelled the British. The peace treaty restored all conquests; France recovered
Louisbourg, and the British regained Madras and with it another chance to become
paramount in India.
The French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War).
Until 1754, when the two powers resumed their conflict in the French
and Indian War in
America, the overseas possessions maintained a show of peace. During this prewar
period the French attempted to increase their hold on the Ohio Valley and in 1754 built
Fort-Duquesne at the future site of Pittsburgh. Lt. Col. George Washington with
colonial forces, in 1754, and Gen. Edward Braddock with British regulars, in 1755,
were defeated in attempts to dislodge them. Dupleix and his successor, Charles-Joseph
Patissier, marquis de Bussy-Castelnau, increased their influence in India; but the recall
of Dupleix in 1754 damaged French prospects there.
The Seven Years' War, fought in Europe by Frederick the Great of
Austria, France, and Russia, ended with his survival against overwhelming odds. His
one ally, Great Britain, helped financially but could render small military assistance.
Overseas, the British triumphed completely over France, aided by Spain in the last
years of the war. The French at first had the upper hand in both India and America, but
the turning point came after William Pitt the Elder, later earl of Chatham, assumed
direction of the British war effort. In 1757 Clive won victory at Plassey over the Nawab
of Bengal, an enemy of the British company; Sir Eyre Coote's victory at Wandewash in
1760, over the French governor Thomas Lally, was followed by the capture of
In America, thanks largely to the vigorous policy of Pitt, the British
victories. The French forts Frontenac, Duquesne, and Carillon fell in 1758 and 1759.
British generals Sir Jeffrey Amherst and James Wolfe took Louisbourg in 1758,
Quebec in 1759, and Montreal in 1760, and the surrender of Montreal included that of
the entire French colony. Meanwhile, Adm. Edward Hawke destroyed or immobilized
the principal French line fleet at Quiberon Bay in 1759. Spanish intervention in the war
in 1761 merely enabled the British to seize Havana and Manila.
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 gave Britain all North America east of the
including Spanish Florida. France ceded the western Mississippi Valley to Spain as
compensation for the loss of Florida. Besides having a clear path to domination of India
in the Old World, Great Britain also gained African Senegal. In the West Indies, it
returned Martinique and Guadeloupe to France for the sake of peace but remained
easily second to Spain there in importance.
The first great era of colonial conflict had ended, and the British
Empire, a century and a
half old, had become the world's foremost overseas domain. Though exceeded in size
by that of Spain, it was the wealthiest, backed by the overwhelming naval power of
Great Britain. British prestige had reached a new height, greater perhaps than it would
ever attain again.
European expansion since 1763
The global expansion of western Europe between the 1760s and the 1870s
several important ways from the expansionism and colonialism of previous centuries.
Along with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, which economic historians generally
trace to the 1760s, and the continuing spread of industrialization in the empire-building
countries came a shift in the strategy of trade with the colonial world. Instead of being
primarily buyers of colonial products (and frequently under strain to offer sufficient
salable goods to balance the exchange), as in the past, the industrializing nations
increasingly became sellers in search of markets for the growing volume of their
machine-produced goods. Furthermore, over the years there occurred a decided shift in
the composition of demand for goods produced in the colonial areas. Spices, sugar, and
slaves became relatively less important with the advance of industrialization, concomitant
with a rising demand for raw materials for industry (e.g., cotton, wool, vegetable oils,
jute, dyestuffs) and food for the swelling industrial areas (wheat, tea, coffee, cocoa,
This shift in trading patterns entailed in the long run changes in
colonial policy and
practice as well as in the nature of colonial acquisitions. The urgency to create markets
and the incessant pressure for new materials and food were eventually reflected in
colonial practices, which sought to adapt the colonial areas to the new priorities of the
industrializing nations. Such adaptation involved major disruptions of existing social
systems over wide areas of the globe. Before the impact of the Industrial Revolution,
European activities in the rest of the world were largely confined to: (1) occupying
areas that supplied precious metals, slaves, and tropical products then in large demand;
(2) establishing white-settler colonies along the coast of North America; and (3) setting
up trading posts and forts and applying superior military strength to achieve the transfer
to European merchants of as much existing world trade as was feasible. However
disruptive these changes may have been to the societies of Africa, South America, and
the isolated plantation and white-settler colonies, the social systems over most of the
Earth outside Europe nevertheless remained much the same as they had been for
centuries (in some places for millennia). These societies, with their largely self-sufficient
small communities based on subsistence agriculture and home industry, provided poor
markets for the mass-produced goods flowing from the factories of the technologically
advancing countries; nor were the existing social systems flexible enough to introduce
and rapidly expand the commercial agriculture (and, later, mineral extraction) required
to supply the food and raw material needs of the empire builders.
The adaptation of the nonindustrialized parts of the world to become
adjuncts of the industrializing nations embraced, among other things: (1) overhaul of
existing land and property arrangements, including the introduction of private property in
land where it did not previously exist, as well as the expropriation of land for use by
white settlers or for plantation agriculture; (2) creation of a labour supply for commercial
agriculture and mining by means of direct forced labour and indirect measures aimed at
generating a body of wage-seeking labourers; (3) spread of the use of money and
exchange of commodities by imposing money payments for taxes and land rent and by
inducing a decline of home industry; and (4) where the precolonial society already had a
developed industry, curtailment of production and exports by native producers.
The classic illustration of this last policy is found in India. For
centuries India had been
an exporter of cotton goods, to such an extent that Great Britain for a long period
imposed stiff tariff duties to protect its domestic manufacturers from Indian competition.
Yet, by the middle of the 19th century, India was receiving one-fourth of all British
exports of cotton piece goods and had lost its own export markets.
Clearly, such significant transformations could not get very far in the
appropriate political changes, such as the development of a sufficiently cooperative local
elite, effective administrative techniques, and peace-keeping instruments that would
assure social stability and environments conducive to the radical social changes imposed
by a foreign power. Consistent with these purposes was the installation of new, or
amendments of old, legal systems that would facilitate the operation of a money,
business, and private land economy. Tying it all together was the imposition of the
culture and language of the dominant power.
The changing nature of the relations between centres of empire and
their colonies, under
the impact of the unfolding Industrial Revolution, was also reflected in new trends in
colonial acquisitions. While in preceding centuries colonies, trading posts, and
settlements were in the main, except for South America, located along the coastline or
on smaller islands, the expansions of the late 18th century and especially of the 19th
century were distinguished by the spread of the colonizing powers, or of their emigrants,
into the interior of continents. Such continental extensions, in general, took one of two
forms, or some combination of the two: (1) the removal of the indigenous peoples by
killing them off or forcing them into specially reserved areas, thus providing room for
settlers from western Europe who then developed the agriculture and industry of these
lands under the social system imported from the mother countries, or (2) the conquest
of the indigenous peoples and the transformation of their existing societies to suit the
changing needs of the more powerful militarily and technically advanced nations.
At the heart of Western expansionism was the growing disparity in
between those of the leading European nations and those of the rest of the world.
Differences between the level of technology in Europe and some of the regions on other
continents were not especially great in the early part of the 18th century. In fact, some
of the crucial technical knowledge used in Europe at that time came originally from Asia.
During the 18th century, however, and at an accelerating pace in the 19th and 20th
centuries, the gap between the technologically advanced countries and technologically
backward regions kept on increasing despite the diffusion of modern technology by the
colonial powers. The most important aspect of this disparity was the technical
superiority of Western armaments, for this superiority enabled the West to impose its
will on the much larger colonial populations. Advances in communication and
transportation, notably railroads, also became important tools for consolidating foreign
rule over extensive territories. And along with the enormous technical superiority and the
colonizing experience itself came important psychological instruments of minority rule by
foreigners: racism and arrogance on the part of the colonizers and a resulting spirit of
inferiority among the colonized.
Naturally, the above description and summary telescope events that
many decades and the incidence of the changes varied from territory to territory and
from time to time, influenced by the special conditions in each area, by what took place
in the process of conquest, by the circumstances at the time when economic exploitation
of the possessions became desirable and feasible, and by the varying political
considerations of the several occupying powers. Moreover, it should be emphasized
that expansion policies and practices, while far from haphazard, were rarely the result of
long-range and integrated planning. The drive for expansion was persistent, as were the
pressures to get the greatest advantage possible out of the resulting opportunities. But
the expansions arose in the midst of intense rivalry among major powers that were
concerned with the distribution of power on the continent of Europe itself as well as with
ownership of overseas territories. Thus, the issues of national power, national wealth,
and military strength shifted more and more to the world stage as commerce and
territorial acquisitions spread over larger segments of the globe. In fact, colonies were
themselves often levers of military power--sources of military supplies and of military
manpower and bases for navies and merchant marines. What appears, then, in tracing
the concrete course of empire is an intertwining of the struggle for hegemony between
competing national powers, the manoeuvring for preponderance of military strength, and
the search for greatest advantage practically obtainable from the world's resources.
EUROPEAN COLONIAL ACTIVITY (1763-C. 1875)
Stages of history rarely, if ever, come in neat packages: the roots of
periods begin to form in earlier eras, while many aspects of an older phase linger on and
help shape the new. Nonetheless, there was a convergence of developments in the early
1760s, which, despite many qualifications, delineates a new stage in European
expansionism and especially in that of the most successful empire builder, Great Britain.
It is not only the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain that can be traced to this period
but also the consequences of England's decisive victory over France in the Seven Years'
War and the beginnings of what turned out to be the second British Empire. As a result
of the Treaty of Paris, France lost nearly all of its colonial empire, while Britain became,
except for Spain, the largest colonial power in the world.
The second British Empire.
The removal of threat from the strongest competing foreign power set
the stage for
Britain's conquest of India and for operations against the North American Indians to
extend British settlement in Canada and westerly areas of the North American
continent. In addition, the new commanding position on the seas provided an
opportunity for Great Britain to probe for additional markets in Asia and Africa and to
try to break the Spanish trade monopoly in South America. During this period, the
scope of British world interests broadened dramatically to cover the South Pacific, the
Far East, the South Atlantic, and the coast of Africa.
The initial aim of this outburst of maritime activity was not so much
the acquisition of
extensive fresh territory as the attainment of a far-flung network of trading posts and
maritime bases. The latter, it was hoped, would serve the interdependent aims of
widening foreign commerce and controlling ocean shipping routes. But in the long run
many of these initial bases turned out to be steppingstones to future territorial conquests.
Because the indigenous populations did not always take kindly to foreign incursions into
their homelands, even when the foreigners limited themselves to small enclaves,
penetration of interiors was often necessary to secure base areas against attack.
Loss of the American colonies.
The path of conquest and territorial growth was far from orderly. It
diverted by the renewal or intensification of rivalry between, notably, England, France,
Spain, and the Low Countries in colonial areas and on the European continent. The
most severe blow to Great Britain's 18th-century dreams of empire, however, came
from the revolt of the 13 American colonies. These contiguous colonies were at the
heart of the old, or what is often referred to as the first, British Empire, which consisted
primarily of Ireland, the North American colonies, and the plantation colonies of the
West Indies. Ironically, the elimination of this core of the first British Empire was to a
large extent influenced by the upsurge of empire building after the Seven Years' War.
Great Britain harvested from its victory in that war a new expanse of territory about
equal to its prewar possessions on the North American continent: French Canada, the
Floridas, and the territory between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River. The
assimilation of the French Canadians, control of the Indians and settlement of the
trans-Allegheny region, and the opening of new trade channels created a host of
problems for the British government. Not the least of these were the burdensome costs
to carry out this program on top of a huge national debt accumulated during the war. To
cope with these problems, new imperial policies were adopted by the mother country:
raising (for the first time) revenue from the colonies; tightening mercantile restrictions,
imposing firm measures against smuggling (an important source of income for colonial
merchants), and putting obstacles in the way of New England's substantial trade with the
West Indies. The strains generated by these policies created or intensified the hardships
of large sections of the colonial population and, in addition, disrupted the relative
harmony of interests that had been built up between the mother country and important
elite groups in the colonies. Two additional factors, not unrelated to the enlargement of
the British Empire, fed the onset and success of the American War of Independence
(1775-83): first, a lessening need for military support from the mother country once the
menacing French were removed from the continent and, second, support for the
American Revolutionary forces from the French and Spanish, who had much to fear
from the enhanced sea power and expansionism of the British.
The shock of defeat in North America was not the only problem
society. Ireland--in effect, a colonial dependency--also experienced a revolutionary
upsurge, giving added significance to attacks by leading British free traders against
existing colonial policies and even at times against colonialism itself. But such criticism
had little effect except as it may have hastened colonial administrative reforms to
counteract real and potential independence movements in dependencies such as Canada
Conquest of India.
Apart from reforms of this nature, the aftermath of American
independence was a
diversion of British imperial interests to other areas--the beginning of the settlement of
Australia being a case in point. In terms of amount of effort and significance of results,
however, the pursuit of conquest in India took first place. Starting with the assumption
of control over the province of Bengal (after the Battle of Plassey, 1757) and especially
after the virtual removal of French influence from the Indian Ocean, the British waged
more or less continuous warfare against the Indian people and took over more and
more of the interior. The Marathas, the main source of resistance to foreign intrusion,
were decisively defeated in 1803, but military resistance of one sort or another
continued until the middle of the 19th century. The financing and even the military
manpower for this prolonged undertaking came mainly from India itself. As British
sovereignty spread, new land-revenue devices were soon instituted, which resulted in
raising the revenue to finance the consolidation of power in India and the conquest of
other regions, breaking up the old system of self-sufficient and self-perpetuating villages
and supporting an elite whose self-interests would harmonize with British rule.
Except for the acquisition of additional territory in India and
colonies in Sierra Leone
and New South Wales, the important additions to British overseas possessions between
the Seven Years' War and the end of the Napoleonic era came as prizes of victory in
wars with rival European colonial powers. In 1763 the first British Empire primarily
centred on North America. By 1815, despite the loss of the 13 colonies, Britain had a
second empire, one that straddled the globe from Canada and the Caribbean in the
Western Hemisphere around the Cape of Good Hope to India and Australia. This
empire was sustained by and in turn was supported by maritime power that far
exceeded that of any of Britain's European rivals.
The half century of global expansion is only one aspect of the
transition to the second
British Empire. The operations of the new empire in the longer run also reflected
decisive changes in British society. The replacement of mercantile by industrial
enterprise as the main source of national wealth entailed changes to make national and
colonial policy more consistent with the new hierarchy of interests. The restrictive trade
practices and monopolistic privileges that sustained the commercial explosion of the
16th and most of the 17th centuries--built around the slave trade, colonial plantations,
and monopolistic trading companies--did not provide the most effective environment for
a nation on its way to becoming the workshop of the world.
The desired restructuring of policies occurred over decades of intense
the issues were not always clearly delineated, interest groups frequently overlapped, and
the balance of power between competing vested interests shifted from time to time. The
issues were clearly drawn in some cases, as for example over the continuation of the
British East India Company's trade monopoly. The company's export of Indian silk,
muslins, and other cotton goods was seen by all who were involved in any way in the
production of British textiles to be an obstacle to the development of markets for
competing British manufactures. Political opposition to this monopoly was strong at the
end of the 18th century, but the giant step on the road to free trade was not taken until
the early decades of the 19th century (termination of the Indian trade monopoly, 1813;
of the Chinese trade monopoly, 1833).
In contrast, the issues surrounding the strategic slave trade were much
complicated. The West Indies plantations relied on a steady flow of slaves from Africa.
British merchants and ships profited not only from supplying these slaves but also from
the slave trade with other colonies in the Western Hemisphere. The British were the
leading slave traders, controlling at least half of the transatlantic slave trade by the end of
the 18th century. But the influential planter and slave-trade interests had come under
vigorous and unrelenting attack by religious and humanitarian leaders and organizations,
who propelled the issue of abolition to the forefront of British politics around the turn of
the 19th century. Historians are still unravelling the threads of conflicting arguments
about the priority of causes in the final abolition of the slave trade and, later, of slavery
itself, because economic as well as political issues were at play: glutted sugar markets
(to which low-cost producers in competing colonies contributed) stimulated thoughts
about controlling future output by limiting the supply of fresh slaves; the compensation
paid to plantation owners by the British government at the time of the abolition of
slavery rescued many planters from bankruptcy during a sugar crisis, with a substantial
part of the compensation money being used to pay off planters' debts to London
bankers. Moreover, the battle between proslavery and antislavery forces was fought in
an environment in which free-trade interests were challenging established mercantilist
practices and the West Indies sugar economy was in a secular decline. (see also Index:
The British were not the first to abolish the slave trade. Denmark had
ended it earlier,
and the U.S. Constitution, written in 1787, had already provided for its termination in
1808. But the British Act of 1807 formally forbidding the slave trade was followed up
by diplomatic and naval pressure to suppress the trade. By the 1820s Holland, Sweden,
and France had also passed anti-slave-trade laws. Such laws and attempts to enforce
them by no means stopped the trade, so long as there was buoyant demand for this
commodity and good profit from dealing in it. Some decline in the demand for slaves did
follow the final emancipation in 1833 of slaves in British possessions. On the other hand,
the demand for slaves elsewhere in the Americas took on new life--e.g., to work the
virgin soils of Cuba and Brazil and to pick the rapidly expanding U.S. cotton crops to
feed the voracious appetite of the British textile industry. Accordingly, the number of
slaves shipped across the Atlantic accelerated at the same time Britain and other
maritime powers outlawed this form of commerce.
Involvement in Africa.
Although Britain's energetic activity to suppress the slave trade was
far from effective,
its diplomatic and military operations for this end led it to much greater involvement in
African affairs. Additional colonies were acquired (Sierra Leone, 1808; Gambia, 1816;
Gold Coast, 1821) to serve as bases for suppressing the slave trade and for stimulating
substitute commerce. British naval squadrons touring the coast of Africa, stopping and
inspecting suspected slavers of other nations, and forcing African tribal chiefs to sign
antislavery treaties did not halt the expansion of the slave trade, but they did help Britain
attain a commanding position along the west coast of Africa, which in turn contributed
to the expansion of both its commercial and colonial empire.
The growth of informal empire.
The transformation of the old colonial and mercantilist commercial
completed when, in addition to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, the Corn
Laws and the Navigation Acts were repealed in the late 1840s. The repeal of the
Navigation Acts acknowledged the new reality: the primacy of Britain's navy and
merchant shipping. The repeal of the Corn Laws (which had protected agricultural
interests) signalled the maturation of the Industrial Revolution. In the light of Britain's
manufacturing supremacy, exclusivity and monopolistic trade restraints were less
important than, and often detrimental to, the need for ever-expanding world markets
and sources of inexpensive raw materials and food.
With the new trade strategy, under the impetus of freer trade and
came a broadening of the concept of empire. It was found that the commercial and
financial advantages of formal empire could often be derived by informal means. The
development of a worldwide trade network, the growth of overseas banking, the export
of capital to less advanced regions, the leading position of London's money markets--all
under the shield of a powerful and mobile navy--led to Great Britain's economic
preeminence and influence in many parts of the world, even in the absence of political
The growing importance of informal empire went hand in hand with
expressions of dissatisfaction with the formal colonial empire. The critical approach to
empire came from leading statesmen, government officials in charge of colonial policy,
the free traders, and the philosophic Radicals (the latter, a broad spectrum of opinion
makers often labelled the Little Englanders, whose voices of dissent were most
prominent in the years between 1840 and 1870). Taking the long view, however, some
historians question just how much of this current of political thought was really
concerned with the transformation of the British Empire into a Little England. Those
who seriously considered colonial separation were for the most part thinking of the
more recent white-settler colonies, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and
definitely not of independence for India nor, for that matter, for Ireland. Differences of
opinion among the various political factions naturally existed over the best use of limited
government finance, colonial administrative tactics, how much foreign territory could in
practice be controlled, and such issues as the costs of friction with the United States
over Canada. Yet, while there were important differences of opinion on the choice
between formal and informal empire, no important conflict arose over the desirability of
continued expansion of Britain's world influence and foreign commercial activity.
Indeed, during the most active period of what has been presumed to be anticolonialism,
both the formal and informal empires grew substantially: new colonies were added, the
territory of existing colonies was enlarged, and military campaigns were conducted to
widen Britain's trading and investment area, as in the Opium Wars of the mid-19th
Decline of colonial rivalry.
An outstanding development in colonial and empire affairs during the
the Napoleonic Wars and the 1870s was an evident lessening in conflict between
European powers. Not that conflict disappeared entirely, but the period as a whole
was one of relative calm compared with either the almost continuous wars for colonial
possessions in the 18th century or the revival of intense rivalries during the latter part of
the 19th and early 20th centuries. Instead of wars among colonial powers during this
period, there were wars against colonized peoples and their societies, incident either to
initial conquest or to the extension of territorial possessions farther into the interior.
Examples are Great Britain in India, Burma, South Africa (Kaffir Wars), New Zealand
(Maori Wars); France in Algeria and Indochina; the Low Countries in Indonesia; Russia
in Central Asia; and the United States against the North American Indians.
Contributing to the abatement of intercolonial rivalries was the
of the British Navy during these years. The increased use of steamships in the 19th
century helped reinforce this supremacy: Great Britain's ample domestic coal supply and
its numerous bases around the globe (already owned or newly obtained for this
purpose) combined to make available needed coaling stations. Over several decades of
the 19th century and until new developments toward the end of the century opened up a
new age of naval rivalry, no country was in a position to challenge Britain's dominance
of the seas. This may have temporarily weakened Britain's acquisitive drive: the motive
of preclusive occupation of foreign territory still occurred, but it was not as pressing as
at other times.
On the whole, despite the relative tranquillity and the rise of
anticolonial sentiment in
Britain, the era was marked by a notable wave of European expansionism. Thus, in
1800 Europe and its possessions, including former colonies, claimed title to about 55
percent of the Earth's land surface: Europe, North and South America, most of India,
the Russian part of Asia, parts of the East Indies, and small sections along the coast of
Africa. But much of this was merely claimed; effective control existed over a little less
than 35 percent, most of which consisted of Europe itself. By 1878--that is, before the
next major wave of European acquisitions began--an additional 6,500,000 square
miles (16,800,000 square kilometres) were claimed; during this period, control was
consolidated over the new claims and over all the territory claimed in 1800. Hence,
from 1800 to 1878, actual European rule (including former colonies in North and
South America) increased from 35 to 67 percent of the Earth's land surface.
Decline of the Spanish and Portuguese empires.
During the early 19th century, however, there was a conspicuous
exception to the trend
of colonial growth, and that was the decline of the Portuguese and Spanish empires in
the Western Hemisphere. The occasion for the decolonization was provided by the
Napoleonic Wars. The French occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807, combined
with the ensuing years of intense warfare until 1814 on that peninsula between the
British and French and their respective allies, effectively isolated the colonies from their
mother countries. During this isolation the long-smouldering discontents in the colonies
erupted in influential nationalist movements, revolutions of independence, and civil wars.
The stricken mother countries could hardly interfere with events on the South American
continent, nor did they have the resources, even after the Peninsular War was over, to
bring enough soldiers and armaments across the Atlantic to suppress the independence
Great Britain could have intervened on behalf of Spain and Portugal,
but it declined.
British commerce with South America had blossomed during the Napoleonic Wars.
New vistas of potentially profitable opportunities opened up in those years, in contrast
with preceding decades when British penetration of Spanish colonial markets consisted
largely of smuggling to get past Spain's mercantile restrictions. The British therefore now
favoured independence for these colonies and had little interest in helping to reimpose
colonial rule, with its accompanying limitations on British trade and investment. Support
for colonial independence by the British came in several ways: merchants and financiers
provided loans and supplies needed by insurrectionary governments; the Royal Navy
protected the shipment of those supplies and the returning specie; and the British
government made it clear to other nations that it considered South American countries
independent. The British forthright position on independence, as well as the availability
of the Royal Navy to support this policy, gave substance to the U.S. Monroe Doctrine
(1823), which the United States had insufficient strength at that time to really enforce.
After some 15 years of uprisings and wars, Spain by 1825 no longer had
in South America itself, retaining only the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. During the
same period Brazil achieved its independence from Portugal. The advantages to the
British economy made possible by the consequent opening up of the Latin-American
ports were eagerly pursued, facilitated by commercial treaties signed with these young
nations. The reluctance of France to recognize their new status delayed French
penetration of their markets and gave an advantage to the British. In one liberated area
after another, brokers and commercial agents arrived from England to ferret out
business opportunities. Soon the continent was flooded with British goods, often
competing with much weaker native industries. Actually, Latin America provided the
largest single export market for British cotton textiles in the first half of the 19th century.
Despite the absence of formal empire, the British were able to attain
preeminence in South America. Spanish and Portuguese colonialism had left a heritage
of disunity and conflict within regions of new nations and between nations, along with
conditions that led to unstable alliances of ruling elite groups. While this combination of
weaknesses militated against successful self-development, it was fertile ground for
energetic foreign entrepreneurs, especially those who had technically advanced
manufacturing capacities, capital resources, international money markets, insurance and
shipping facilities, plus supportive foreign policies. The early orgy of speculative loans
and investments soon ended. But before long, British economic penetration entered into
more lasting and self-perpetuating activities, such as promoting Latin-American exports,
providing railroad equipment, constructing public works, and supplying banking
networks. Thus, while the collapse of the Spanish and Portuguese empires led to the
decline of colonialism in the Western Hemisphere, it also paved the way for a significant
expansion of Britain's informal empire of trade, investment, and finance during the 19th
The emigration of European peoples.
European influence around the globe increased with each new wave of
Europe. Tides of settlers brought with them the Old World culture and, often, useful
agricultural and industrial skills. An estimated 55,000,000 Europeans left their native
lands in the 100 years after 1820, the product chiefly of two forces: (1) the push to
emigrate as a result of difficulties arising from economic dislocations at home and (2) the
pull of land, jobs, and recruitment activities of passenger shipping lines and agents of
labour-hungry entrepreneurs in the New World. Other factors were also clearly at
work, such as the search for religious freedom, escape from tyrannical governments,
avoidance of military conscription, and the desire for greater upward social and
economic mobility. Such motives had existed throughout the centuries, however, and
they are insufficient to explain the massive population movements that characterized the
19th century. Unemployment induced by rapid technological changes in agriculture and
industry was an important incentive for English emigration in the mid-1800s. The surge
of German emigration at roughly the same time is largely attributable to an agricultural
revolution in Germany, which nearly ruined many farmers on small holdings in
southwestern Germany. Under English rule, the Irish were prevented from industrial
development and were directed to an economy based on export of cereals grown on
small holdings. A potato blight, followed by famine and eviction of farm tenants by
landlords, gave large numbers of Irish no alternative other than emigration or starvation.
These three nationalities--English, German, and Irish--composed the largest group of
migrants in the 1850s. In later years Italians and Slavs contributed substantially to the
population spillover. The emigrants spread throughout the world, but the bulk of the
population transfer went to the Americas, Siberia, and Australasia. The population
outflow, greatly facilitated by European supremacy outside Europe, helped ease the
social pressures and probably abated the dangers of social upheaval in Europe itself.
(see also Index: human migration)
Advance of the U.S. frontier.
The outward movement of European peoples in any substantial numbers
tied in with conquest and, to a greater or lesser degree, with the displacement of
indigenous populations. In the United States, where by far the largest number of
European emigrants went, acquisition of space for development by white immigrants
entailed activity on two fronts: competition with rival European nations and disposition
of the Indians. During a large part of the 19th century, the United States remained alert
to the danger of encirclement by Europeans, but in addition the search for more fertile
land, pursuit of the fur trade, and desire for ports to serve commerce in the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans nourished the drive to penetrate the American continent. The most
pressing points of tension with European nations were eliminated during the first half of
the century: purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 gave the United
States control over the heartland of the continent; settlement of the War of 1812 ended
British claims south of the 49th parallel up to the Rocky Mountains; Spain's cession of
the Floridas in 1819 rounded out the Atlantic coastal frontier; and Russia's (1824) and
Great Britain's (1846) relinquishment of claims to the Oregon territory gave the United
States its window on the Pacific. The expansion of the United States, however, was not
confined to liquidating rival claims of overseas empires; it also involved taking territory
from neighbouring Mexico. Settlers from the United States wrested Texas from Mexico
(1836), and war against Mexico (1846-48) led to the U.S. annexation of the
southwestern region between New Mexico and Utah to the Pacific Ocean.
Diplomatic and military victories over the European nations and Mexico
were but one
precondition for the transcontinental expansion of the United States. In addition, the
Indian tribes sooner or later had to be rooted out to clear the new territory. At times,
treaties were arranged with Indian tribes, by which vast areas were opened up for white
settlement. But even where peaceful agreements had been reached, the persistent
pressure of the search for land and commerce created recurrent wars with Indian tribes
that were seeking to retain their homes and their land. Room for the new settlers was
obtained by forced removal of natives to as yet non-white-settled land--a process that
was repeated as white settlers occupied ever more territory. Massacres during wars,
susceptibility to infectious European diseases, and hardships endured during forced
migrations all contributed to the decline in the Indian population and the weakening of its
resistance. Nevertheless, Indian wars occupied the U.S. Army's attention during most of
the 19th century, ending with the eventual isolation of the surviving Indians on
reservations set aside by the U.S. government.
THE NEW IMPERIALISM (C. 1875-1914)
Reemergence of colonial rivalries.
Although there are sharp differences of opinion over the reasons for,
significance of, the " new imperialism," there is little dispute that at least two
developments in the late 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century signify a new
departure: (1) notable speedup in colonial acquisitions; (2) an increase in the number of
The annexations during this new phase of imperial growth differed
significantly from the
expansionism earlier in the 19th century. While the latter was substantial in magnitude, it
was primarily devoted to the consolidation of claimed territory (by penetration of
continental interiors and more effective rule over indigenous populations) and only
secondarily to new acquisitions. On the other hand, the new imperialism was
characterized by a burst of activity in carving up as yet independent areas: taking over
almost all Africa, a good part of Asia, and many Pacific islands. This new vigour in the
pursuit of colonies is reflected in the fact that the rate of new territorial acquisitions of
the new imperialism was almost three times that of the earlier period. Thus, the increase
in new territories claimed in the first 75 years of the 19th century averaged about
83,000 square miles (215,000 square kilometres) a year. As against this, the colonial
powers added an average of about 240,000 square miles (620,000 square kilometres)
a year between the late 1870s and World War I (1914-18). By the beginning of that
war, the new territory claimed was for the most part fully conquered, and the main
military resistance of the indigenous populations had been suppressed. Hence, in 1914,
as a consequence of this new expansion and conquest on top of that of preceding
centuries, the colonial powers, their colonies, and their former colonies extended over
approximately 85 percent of the Earth's surface. Economic and political control by
leading powers reached almost the entire globe, for, in addition to colonial rule, other
means of domination were exercised in the form of spheres of influence, special
commercial treaties, and the subordination that lenders often impose on debtor nations.
New colonial powers.
This intensification of the drive for colonies reflected much more than
a new wave of
overseas activities by traditional colonial powers, including Russia. The new imperialism
was distinguished particularly by the emergence of additional nations seeking slices of
the colonial pie: Germany, the United States, Belgium, Italy, and, for the first time, an
Asian power, Japan. Indeed, this very multiplication of colonial powers, occurring in a
relatively short period, accelerated the tempo of colonial growth. Unoccupied space
that could potentially be colonized was limited. Therefore, the more nations there were
seeking additional colonies at about the same time, the greater was the premium on
speed. Thus, the rivalry among the colonizing nations reached new heights, which in turn
strengthened the motivation for preclusive occupation of territory and for attempts to
control territory useful for the military defense of existing empires against rivals.
The impact of the new upsurge of rivalry is well illustrated in the
case of Great Britain.
Relying on its economic preeminence in manufacturing, trade, and international finance
as well as on its undisputed mastery of the seas during most of the 19th century, Great
Britain could afford to relax in the search for new colonies, while concentrating on
consolidation of the empire in hand and on building up an informal empire. But the
challenge of new empire builders, backed up by increasing naval power, put a new
priority on Britain's desire to extend its colonial empire. On the other hand, the more
that potential colonial space shrank, the greater became the urge of lesser powers to
remedy disparities in size of empires by redivision of the colonial world. The struggle
over contested space and for redivision of empire generated an increase in wars among
the colonial powers and an intensification of diplomatic manoeuvring.
Rise of new industrialized nations.
Parallel with the emergence of new powers seeking a place in the
colonial sun and the
increasing rivalry among existing colonial powers was the rise of industrialized nations
able and willing to challenge Great Britain's lead in industry, finance, and world trade. In
the mid-19th century Britain's economy outdistanced by far its potential rivals. But, by
the last quarter of that century, Britain was confronted by restless competitors seeking a
greater share of world trade and finance; the Industrial Revolution had gained a strong
foothold in these nations, which were spurred on to increasing industrialization with the
spread of railroad lines and the maturation of integrated national markets.
Moreover, the major technological innovations of the late 19th and
early 20th centuries
improved the competitive potential of the newer industrial nations. Great Britain's
advantage as the progenitor of the first Industrial Revolution diminished substantially as
the newer products and sources of energy of what has been called a second Industrial
Revolution began to dominate industrial activity. The late starters, having digested the
first Industrial Revolution, now had a more equal footing with Great Britain: they were
all starting out more or less from the same base to exploit the second Industrial
Revolution. This new industrialism, notably featuring mass-produced steel, electric
power and oil as sources of energy, industrial chemistry, and the internal-combustion
engine, spread over western Europe, the United States, and eventually Japan.
A world economy.
To operate efficiently, the new industries required heavy capital
investment in large-scale
units. Accordingly, they encouraged the development of capital markets and banking
institutions that were large and flexible enough to finance the new enterprises. The larger
capital markets and industrial enterprises, in turn, helped push forward the geographic
scale of operations of the industrialized nations: more capital could now be mobilized for
foreign loans and investment, and the bigger businesses had the resources for the
worldwide search for and development of the raw materials essential to the success and
security of their investments. Not only did the new industrialism generate a voracious
appetite for raw materials, but food for the swelling urban populations was now also
sought in the far corners of the world. Advances in ship construction (steamships using
steel hulls, twin screws, and compound engines) made feasible the inexpensive
movement of bulk raw materials and food over long ocean distances. Under the
pressures and opportunities of the later decades of the 19th century, more and more of
the world was drawn upon as primary producers for the industrialized nations.
Self-contained economic regions dissolved into a world economy, involving an
international division of labour whereby the leading industrial nations made and sold
manufactured products and the rest of the world supplied them with raw materials and
The complex of social, political, and economic changes that accompanied
industrialism and the vastly expanded and integrated world commerce also provided a
setting for intensified commercial rivalry, the rebuilding of high tariff walls, and a revival
of militarism. Of special importance militarily was the race in naval construction, which
was propelled by the successful introduction and steady improvement of radically new
warships that were steam driven, armour-plated, and equipped with weapons able to
penetrate the new armour. Before the development of these new technologies, Britain's
naval superiority was overwhelming and unchallengeable. But because Britain was now
obliged in effect to build a completely new navy, other nations with adequate industrial
capacities and the will to devote their resources to this purpose could challenge Britain's
supremacy at sea.
The new militarism and the intensification of colonial rivalry
signalled the end of the
relatively peaceful conditions of the mid-19th century. The conflict over the partition of
Africa, the South African War (the Boer War), the Sino-Japanese War, the
Spanish-American War, and the Russo-Japanese War were among the indications that
the new imperialism had opened a new era that was anything but peaceful.
The new imperialism also represented an intensification of tendencies
that had originated
in earlier periods. Thus, for example, the decision by the United States to go to war with
Spain cannot be isolated from the long-standing interest of the United States in the
Caribbean and the Pacific. The defeat of Spain and the suppression of the
independence revolutions in Cuba and the Philippines gave substance to the Monroe
Doctrine: the United States now became the dominant power in the Caribbean, and the
door was opened for acquisition of greater influence in Latin America. Possession of the
Philippines was consistent with the historic interest of the United States in the commerce
of the Pacific, as it had already manifested by its long interest in Hawaii (annexed in
1898) and by an expedition by Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan (1853).
The new imperialism marked the end of vacillation over the choice of
and political policies; similar decisions to push imperialist programs to the forefront were
made by the leading industrial nations over a relatively short period. This historical
conjuncture requires explanation and still remains the subject of debate among historians
and social scientists. The pivot of the controversy is the degree to which the new
imperialism was the product of primarily economic forces and in particular whether it
was a necessary attribute of the capitalist system.
Serious analysts on both sides of the argument recognize that there is
a multitude of
factors involved: the main protagonists of economic imperialism recognize that political,
military, and ideological influences were also at work; similarly, many who dispute the
economic imperialism thesis acknowledge that economic interests played a significant
role. The problem, however, is one of assigning priority to causes.
The father of the economic interpretation of the new imperialism was
the British liberal
economist John Atkinson Hobson. In his seminal study, Imperialism, a Study (first
published in 1902), he pointed to the role of such drives as patriotism, philanthropy, and
the spirit of adventure in advancing the imperialist cause. As he saw it, however, the
critical question was why the energy of these active agents takes the particular form of
imperialist expansion. Hobson located the answer in the financial interests of the
capitalist class as "the governor of the imperial engine." Imperialist policy had to be
considered irrational if viewed from the vantage point of the nation as a whole: the
economic benefits derived were far less than the costs of wars and armaments; and
needed social reforms were shunted aside in the excitement of imperial adventure. But it
was rational, indeed, in the eyes of the minority of financial interest groups. The reason
for this, in Hobson's view, was the persistent congestion of capital in manufacturing. The
pressure of capital needing investment outlets arose in part from a maldistribution of
income: low mass consuming power blocks the absorption of goods and capital inside
the country. Moreover, the practices of the larger firms, especially those operating in
trusts and combines, foster restrictions on output, thus avoiding the risks and waste of
overproduction. Because of this, the large firms are faced with limited opportunities to
invest in expanding domestic production. The result of both the maldistribution of
income and monopolistic behaviour is a need to open up new markets and new
investment opportunities in foreign countries.
Hobson's study covered a broader spectrum than the analysis of what he
economic taproot. It also examined the associated features of the new imperialism, such
as political changes, racial attitudes, and nationalism. The book as a whole made a
strong impression on, and greatly influenced, Marxist thinkers who were becoming more
involved with the struggle against imperialism. The most influential of the Marxist studies
was a small book published by Lenin in 1917, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of
Capitalism. Despite many similarities, at bottom there is a wide gulf between Hobson's
and Lenin's frameworks of analysis and also between their respective conclusions.
While Hobson saw the new imperialism serving the interests of certain capitalist groups,
he believed that imperialism could be eliminated by social reforms while maintaining the
capitalist system. This would require restricting the profits of those classes whose
interests were closely tied to imperialism and attaining a more equitable distribution of
income so that consumers would be able to buy up a nation's production. Lenin, on the
other hand, saw imperialism as being so closely integrated with the structure and normal
functioning of an advanced capitalism that he believed that only the revolutionary
overthrow of capitalism, with the substitution of Socialism, would rid the world of
imperialism. (see also Index: Marxism)
Lenin placed the issues of imperialism in a context broader than the
interests of a special
sector of the capitalist class. According to Lenin, capitalism itself changed in the late
19th century; moreover, because this happened at pretty much the same time in several
leading capitalist nations, it explains why the new phase of capitalist development came
when it did. This new phase, Lenin believed, involves political and social as well as
economic changes; but its economic essence is the replacement of competitive
capitalism by monopoly capitalism, a more advanced stage in which finance capital, an
alliance between large industrial and banking firms, dominates the economic and political
life of society. Competition continues, but among a relatively small number of giants who
are able to control large sectors of the national and international economy. It is this
monopoly capitalism and the resulting rivalry generated among monopoly capitalist
nations that foster imperialism; in turn, the processes of imperialism stimulate the further
development of monopoly capital and its influence over the whole society.
The difference between Lenin's more complex paradigm and Hobson's shows
in the treatment of capital export. Like Hobson, Lenin maintained that the increasing
importance of capital exports is a key figure of imperialism, but he attributed the
phenomenon to much more than pressure from an overabundance of capital. He also
saw the acceleration of capital migration arising from the desire to obtain exclusive
control over raw material sources and to get a tighter grip on foreign markets. He thus
shifted the emphasis from the general problem of surplus capital, inherent in capitalism in
all its stages, to the imperatives of control over raw materials and markets in the
monopoly stage. With this perspective, Lenin also broadened the concept of
imperialism. Because the thrust is to divide the world among monopoly interest groups,
the ensuing rivalry extends to a struggle over markets in the leading capitalist nations as
well as in the less advanced capitalist and colonial countries. This rivalry is intensified
because of the uneven development of different capitalist nations: the latecomers
aggressively seek a share of the markets and colonies controlled by those who got there
first, who naturally resist such a redivision. Other forces--political, military, and
ideological--are at play in shaping the contours of imperialist policy, but Lenin insisted
that these influences germinate in the seedbed of monopoly capitalism.
Perhaps the most systematic alternative theory of imperialism was
proposed by Joseph
Alois Schumpeter, one of the best known economists of the first half of the 20th
century. His essay "Zur Soziologie des Imperialismus" ("The Sociology of Imperialism")
was first published in Germany in the form of two articles in 1919. Although
Schumpeter was probably not familiar with Lenin's Imperialism at the time he wrote his
essay, his arguments were directed against the Marxist currents of thought of the early
20th century and in particular against the idea that imperialism grows naturally out of
capitalism. Unlike other critics, however, Schumpeter accepted some of the
components of the Marxist thesis, and to a certain extent he followed the Marxist
tradition of looking for the influence of class forces and class interests as major levers of
social change. In doing so, he in effect used the weapons of Marxist thought to rebut the
essence of Marxist theory.
A survey of empires, beginning with the earliest days of written
history, led Schumpeter
to conclude that there are three generic characteristics of imperialism: (1) At root is a
persistent tendency to war and conquest, often producing nonrational expansions that
have no sound utilitarian aim. (2) These urges are not innate in man. They evolved from
critical experiences when peoples and classes were molded into warriors to avoid
extinction; the warrior mentality and the interests of warrior classes live on, however,
and influence events even after the vital need for wars and conquests disappears. (3)
The drift to war and conquest is sustained and conditioned by the domestic interests of
ruling classes, often under the leadership of those individuals who have most to gain
economically and socially from war. But for these factors, Schumpeter believed,
imperialism would have been swept away into the dustbin of history as capitalist society
ripened; for capitalism in its purest form is antithetical to imperialism: it thrives best with
peace and free trade. Yet despite the innate peaceful nature of capitalism, interest
groups do emerge that benefit from aggressive foreign conquests. Under monopoly
capitalism the fusion of big banks and cartels creates a powerful and influential social
group that pressures for exclusive control in colonies and protectorates, for the sake of
Notwithstanding the resemblance between Schumpeter's discussion of
that of Lenin and other Marxists, a crucial difference does remain. Monopoly capitalism
in Lenin's frame of reference is a natural outgrowth of the previous stage of competitive
capitalism. But according to Schumpeter, it is an artificial graft on the more natural
competitive capitalism, made possible by the catalytic effect of the residue from the
preceding feudal society. Schumpeter argued that monopoly capitalism can only grow
and prosper under the protection of high tariff walls; without that shield there would be
large-scale industry but no cartels or other monopolistic arrangements. Because tariff
walls are erected by political decisions, it is the state and not a natural economic
process that promotes monopoly. Therefore, it is in the nature of the state--and
especially those features that blend the heritage of the previous autocratic state, the old
war machine, and feudal interests and ideas along with capitalist interests--that the cause
of imperialism will be discovered. The particular form of imperialism in modern times is
affected by capitalism, and capitalism itself is modified by the imperialist experience. In
Schumpeter's analysis, however, imperialism is not an inevitable product of capitalism.
Quest for a general theory of imperialism.
The main trend of academic thought in the Western world is to follow
conclusion--that modern imperialism is not a product of capitalism--without paying
close attention to Schumpeter's sophisticated sociological analysis. Specialized studies
have produced a variety of interpretations of the origin or reawakening of the new
imperialism: for France, bolstering of national prestige after its defeat in the
Franco-German War (1870-71); for Germany, Bismarck's design to stay in power
when threatened by political rivals; for England, the desire for greater military security in
the Mediterranean and India. These reasons--along with other frequently mentioned
contributing causes, such as the spirit of national and racial superiority and the drive for
power--are still matters of controversy with respect to specific cases and to the
problem of fitting them into a general theory of imperialism. For example, if it is found
that a new colony was acquired for better military defense of existing colonies, the
questions still remain as to why the existing colonies were acquired in the first place and
why it was considered necessary to defend them rather than to give them up. Similarly,
explanations in terms of the search for power still have to account for the close
relationship between power and wealth, because in the real world adequate economic
resources are needed for a nation to hold on to its power, let alone to increase it.
Conversely, increasing a nation's wealth often requires power. As is characteristic of
historical phenomena, imperialist expansion is conditioned by a nation's previous history
and the particular situation preceding each expansionist move. Moreover, it is carried
forth in the midst of a complex of political, military, economic, and psychological
impulses. It would seem, therefore, that the attempt to arrive at a theory that explains
each and every imperialist action--ranging from a semifeudal Russia to a relatively
undeveloped Italy to an industrially powerful Germany--is a vain pursuit. But this does
not eliminate the more important challenge of constructing a theory that will provide a
meaningful interpretation of the almost simultaneous eruption of the new imperialism in a
whole group of leading powers.
PENETRATION OF THE WEST IN ASIA
Russia's eastward expansion.
European nations and Japan at the end of the 19th century spread their
control throughout the continent of Asia. Russia, because of its geographic position, was
the only occupying power whose Asian conquests were overland. In that respect there
is some similarity between Russia and the United States in the forcible outward push of
their continental frontiers. But there is a significant difference: the United States advance
displaced the indigenous population, with the remaining Indians becoming wards of the
state. On the other hand, the Russian march across Asia resulted in the incorporation of
alien cultures and societies as virtual colonies of the Russian Empire, while providing
room for the absorption of Russian settlers.
Although the conquest of Siberia and the drive to the Pacific had been
absorbing Russia's military energies since the 16th century, the acquisition of additional
Asian territory and the economic integration of previously acquired territory took a new
turn in the 19th century. Previously, Russian influence in its occupied territory was quite
limited, without marked alteration of the social and economic structure of the conquered
peoples. Aside from looting and exacting tribute from subject tribes, the major objects
of interest were the fur trade, increased commerce with China and in the Pacific, and
land. But changes in 19th-century Russian society, especially those coming after the
Crimean War (1853-56), signalled a new departure. First, Russia's resounding defeat in
that war temporarily frustrated its aspirations in the Balkans and the Near East; but,
because its dynastic and military ambitions were in no way diminished, its expansionist
energies turned with increased vigour to its Asian frontiers. Second, the emancipation of
the serfs (1861), which eased the feudal restrictions on the landless peasants, led to
large waves of migration by Russians and Ukrainians--first to Siberia and later to
Central Asia. Third, the surge of industrialization, foreign trade, and railway building in
the post-Crimean War decades paved the way for the integration of Russian Asia,
which formerly, for all practical purposes, had been composed of separate
dependencies, and for a new type of subjugation for many of these areas, especially in
Central Asia, in which the conquered societies were "colonized" to suit the political and
economic needs of the conqueror.
This process of acquisition and consolidation in Asia spread out in
Siberia, the Far East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This pursuit of tsarist ambitions
for empire and for warm-water ports involved numerous clashes and conflicts along the
way. Russian expansion was ultimately limited not by the fierce opposition of the native
population, which was at times a stumbling block, but by the counterpressure of
competitive empire builders, such as Great Britain and Japan. Great Britain and Russia
were mutually alarmed as the distances between the expanding frontiers of Russia and
India shortened. One point of conflict was finally resolved when both powers agreed on
the delimitation of the northern border of Afghanistan. A second major area of conflict
in Central Asia was settled by an Anglo-Russian treaty (1907) to divide Persia into two
separate spheres of influence, leaving a nominally independent Persian nation.
As in the case of Afghanistan and Persia, penetration of Chinese
clashes with both the native government and other imperialist powers. At times China's
preoccupation with its struggle against other invading powers eased the way for Russia's
penetration. Thus, in 1860, when Anglo-French soldiers had entered Peking, Russia
was able to wrest from China the Amur Province and special privileges in Manchuria
(Northeast Provinces) south of the Amur River. With this as a stepping-stone, Russia
took over the seacoast north of Korea and founded the town of Vladivostok. But,
because the Vladivostok harbour is icebound for some four months of the year, the
Russians began to pay more attention to getting control of the Korean coastline, where
many good year-round harbours could be found. Attempts to acquire a share of Korea,
as well as all of Manchuria, met with the resistance of Britain and Japan. Further thrusts
into China beyond the Amur and maritime provinces were finally thwarted by defeat in
1905 in the Russo-Japanese War.
The partitioning of China.
The evolution of the penetration of Asia was naturally influenced by a
factors--economic and political conditions in the expanding nations, the strategy of the
military officials of the latter nations, the problems facing colonial rulers in each locality,
pressures arising from white settlers and businessmen in the colonies, as well as the
constraints imposed by the always limited economic and military resources of the
imperialist powers. All these elements were present to a greater or lesser extent at each
stage of the forward push of the colonial frontiers by the Dutch in Indonesia, the French
in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), and the British in Malaya, Burma, and
Yet, despite the variety of influences at work, three general types of
out. One of these is expansion designed to overcome resistance to foreign rule.
Resistance, which assumed many forms ranging from outright rebellion to sabotage of
colonial political and economic domination, was often strongest in the border areas
farthest removed from the centres of colonial power. The consequent extension of
military control to the border regions tended to arouse the fears and opposition of
neighbouring states or tribal societies and thus led to the further extension of control.
Hence, attempts to achieve military security prompted the addition of border areas and
neighbouring nations to the original colony.
A second type of expansion was a response to the economic opportunities
exploitation of the colonial interiors. Traditional trade and the free play of market forces
in Asia did not produce huge supplies of raw materials and food or the enlarged export
markets sought by the industrializing colonial powers. For this, entrepreneurs and capital
from abroad were needed, mines and plantations had to be organized, labour supplies
mobilized, and money economies created. All these alien intrusions functioned best
under the firm security of an accommodating alien law and order.
The third type of expansion was the result of rivalry among colonial
possible, new territory was acquired or old possessions extended in order either to
preclude occupation by rivals or to serve as buffers for military security against the
expansions of nearby colonial powers. Where the crosscurrents of these rivalries
prevented any one power from obtaining exclusive control, various substitute
arrangements were arrived at: parts of a country were chipped off and occupied by one
or more of the powers; spheres of influence were partitioned; unequal commercial
treaties were imposed--while the countries subjected to such treatment remained
The penetration of China is the outstanding example of this type of
expansion. In the
early 19th century the middle part of eastern Asia (Japan, Korea, and China),
containing about half the Asian population, was still little affected by Western
penetration. By the end of the century, Korea was on the way to becoming annexed by
Japan, which had itself become a leading imperialist power. China remained
independent politically, though it was already extensively dominated by outside powers.
Undoubtedly, the intense rivalry of the foreign powers helped save China from being
taken over outright (as India had been). China was pressed on all sides by competing
powers anxious for its trade and territory: Russia from the north, Great Britain (via India
and Burma) from the south and west, France (via Indochina) from the south, and Japan
and the United States (in part, via the Philippines) from the east.
The Opium Wars.
The first phase of the forceful penetration of China by western Europe
came in the two
Opium Wars. Great Britain had been buying increasing quantities of tea from China, but
it had few products that China was interested in buying by way of exchange. A resulting
steady drain of British silver to pay for the tea was eventually stopped by Great Britain's
ascendancy in India. With British merchants in control of India's foreign trade and with
the financing of this trade centred in London, a three-way exchange developed: the tea
Britain bought in China was paid for by India's exports of opium and cotton to China.
And because of a rapidly increasing demand for tea in England, British merchants
actively fostered the profitable exports of opium and cotton from India.
An increasing Chinese addiction to opium fed a boom in imports of the
drug and led to
an unfavourable trade balance paid for by a steady loss of China's silver reserves. In
light of the economic effect of the opium trade plus the physical and mental deterioration
of opium users, Chinese authorities banned the opium trade. At first this posed few
obstacles to British merchants, who resorted to smuggling. But enforcement of the ban
became stringent toward the end of the 1830s; stores of opium were confiscated, and
warehouses were closed down. British merchants had an additional and longstanding
grievance because the Chinese limited all trade by foreigners to the port of Canton.
In June 1840 the British fleet arrived at the mouth of the Canton River
to begin the
Opium War. The Chinese capitulated in 1842 after the fleet reached the Yangtze,
Shanghai fell, and Nanking was under British guns. The resulting Treaty of Nanking--the
first in a series of commercial treaties China was forced to sign over the
years--provided for: (1) cession of Hong Kong to the British crown; (2) the opening of
five treaty ports, where the British would have residence and trade rights; (3) the right of
British nationals in China who were accused of criminal acts to be tried in British courts;
and (4) the limitation of duties on imports and exports to a modest rate. Other countries
soon took advantage of this forcible opening of China; in a few years similar treaties
were signed by China with the United States, France, and Russia.
The Chinese, however, tried to retain some independence by preventing
entering the interior of China. With the country's economic and social institutions still
intact, markets for Western goods, such as cotton textiles and machinery, remained
disappointing: the self-sufficient communities of China were not disrupted as those in
India had been under direct British rule, and opium smuggling by British merchants
continued as a major component of China's foreign trade. Western merchants sought
further concessions to improve markets. But meanwhile China's weakness, along with
the stresses induced by foreign intervention, was further intensified by an upsurge of
peasant rebellions, especially the massive 14-year Taiping Rebellion (1850-64).
The Western powers took advantage of the increasing difficulties by
pressing for even
more favourable trade treaties, culminating in a second war against China (1856-60),
this time by France and England. Characteristically, the Western powers invading China
played a double role: in addition to forcing a new trade treaty, they also helped to
sustain the Chinese ruling establishment by participating in the suppression of the Taiping
Rebellion; they believed that a Taiping victory would result in a reformed and centralized
China, more resistant to Western penetration. China's defeat in the second war with the
West produced a series of treaties, signed at Tientsin with Britain, France, Russia, and
the United States, which brought the Western world deeper into China's affairs. The
Tientsin treaties provided, among other things, for the right of foreign nationals to travel
in the interior, the right of foreign ships to trade and patrol on the Yangtze River, the
opening up of more treaty ports, and additional exclusive legal jurisdiction by foreign
powers over their nationals residing in China.
Foreign privileges in China.
Treaties of this general nature were extended over the years to grant
further privileges to
foreigners. Furthermore, more and more Western nations--including Germany, Italy,
Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Austria-Hungary--took advantage of
the new opportunities by signing such treaties. By the beginning of the 20th century,
some 90 Chinese ports had been opened to foreign control. While the Chinese
government retained nominal sovereignty in these ports, de facto rule was exercised by
one or more of the powers: in Shanghai, for example, Great Britain and the United
States coalesced their interests to form the Shanghai International Settlement. In most of
the treaty ports, China leased substantial areas of land at low rates to foreign
governments. The consulates in these concessions exercised legal jurisdiction over their
nationals, who thereby escaped China's laws and tax collections. The foreign
settlements had their own police forces and tax systems and ran their own affairs
independently of nominally sovereign China.
These settlements were not the only intrusion on China's sovereignty.
In addition, the
opium trade was finally legalized, customs duties were forced downward to facilitate
competition of imported Western goods, foreign gunboats patrolled China's rivers, and
aliens were placed on customs-collection staffs to ensure that China would pay the
indemnities imposed by various treaties. In response to these indignities and amid
growing antiforeign sentiment, the Chinese government attempted reforms to modernize
and develop sufficient strength to resist foreign intrusions. Steps were taken to master
Western science and technology, erect shipyards and arsenals, and build a more
effective army and navy. The reforms, however, did not get very far: they did not tackle
the roots of China's vulnerability, its social and political structure; and they were
undertaken quite late, after foreign nations had already established a strong foothold.
Also, it is likely that the reforms were not wholehearted because two opposing
tendencies were at play: on the one hand, a wish to seek independence and, on the
other hand, a basic reliance on foreign support by a weak Manchu government beset
with rebellion and internal opposition.
The Open Door Policy.
In any event, preliminary attempts to Westernize Chinese society from
within did not
deter further foreign penetration; nor did the subsequent revolution (1911) succeed in
freeing China from Western domination. Toward the end of the 19th century, under the
impact of the new imperialism, the spread of foreign penetration accelerated. Germany
entered a vigorous bid for its sphere of influence; Japan and Russia pushed forward
their territorial claims; and U.S. commercial and financial penetration of the Pacific, with
naval vessels patrolling Chinese rivers, was growing rapidly. But at the same time this
mounting foreign interest also inhibited the outright partition of China. Any step by one
of the powers toward outright partition or sizable enlargement of its sphere of influence
met with strong opposition from other powers. This led eventually to the Open Door
Policy, advocated by the United States, which limited or restricted exclusive privileges
of any one power vis-à-vis the others. It became generally accepted after the
anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion (1900) in China. With the foreign armies that had been
brought in to suppress the rebellion now stationed in North China, the danger to the
continued existence of the Chinese government and the danger of war among the
imperialist powers for their share of the country seemed greater than ever. Agreement
on the Open Door Policy helped to retain both a compliant native government and equal
opportunity for commerce, finance, and investment by the more advanced nations.
Japan's rise as a colonial power.
Japan was the only Asian country to escape colonization from the West.
nations and the United States tried to "open the door," and to some extent they
succeeded; but Japan was able to shake off the kind of subjugation, informal or formal,
to which the rest of Asia succumbed. Even more important, it moved onto the same
road of industrialization as did Europe and the United States. And instead of being
colonized it became one of the colonial powers.
Japan had traditionally sought to avoid foreign intrusion. For many
years, only the Dutch
and the Chinese were allowed trading depots, each having access to only one port. No
other foreigners were permitted to land in Japan, though Russia, France, and England
tried, but with little success. The first significant crack in Japan's trade and travel barriers
was forced by the United States in an effort to guarantee and strengthen its shipping
interests in the Far East. Japan's guns and ships were no match for those of
Commodore Perry in his two U.S. naval expeditions to Japan (1853, 1854).
The Japanese, well aware of the implications of foreign penetration
what was happening to China, tried to limit Western trade to two ports. In 1858,
however, Japan agreed to a full commercial treaty with the United States, followed by
similar treaties with the Low Countries, Russia, France, and Britain. The treaty pattern
was familiar: more ports were opened; resident foreigners were granted extraterritorial
rights, as in China; import and export duties were predetermined, thus removing control
that Japan might otherwise exercise over its foreign trade.
Many attempts have been made to explain why a weak Japan was not taken
over as a
colony or, at least, did not follow in China's footsteps. Despite the absence of a
commonly accepted theory, two factors were undoubtedly crucial. On the one hand, the
Western nations did not pursue their attempts to control Japan as aggressively as they
did elsewhere. In Asia the interests of the more aggressively expanding powers had
centred on India, China, and the immediately surrounding areas. When greater interest
developed in a possible breakthrough in Japan in the 1850s and 1860s, the leading
powers were occupied with other pressing affairs, such as thhe 1857 Indian mutiny, the
Taiping Rebellion, the Crimean War, French intervention in Mexico, and the U.S. Civil
War. International jealousy may also have played a role in deterring any one power
from trying to gain exclusive control over the country. On the other hand, in Japan itself,
the danger of foreign military intervention, a crisis in its traditional feudal society, the rise
of commerce, and a disaffected peasantry led to an intense internal power struggle and
finally to a revolutionary change in the country's society and a thoroughgoing
modernization program, one that brought Japan the economic and military strength to
resist foreign nations.
The opposing forces in Japan's civil war were lined up between the
supporters of the
ruling Tokugawa family, which headed a rigid hierarchical feudal society, and the
supporters of the emperor Meiji, whose court had been isolated from any significant
government role. The civil war culminated in 1868 in the overthrow of the Tokugawa
government and the restoration of the rule of the Emperor. The Meiji Restoration also
brought new interest groups to the centre of political power and instigated a radical
redirection of Japan's economic development. The nub of the changeover was the
destruction of the traditional feudal social system and the building of a political, social,
and economic framework conducive to capitalist industrialization. The new state actively
participated in the turnabout by various forms of grants and guarantees to enterprising
industrialists and by direct investment in basic industries such as railways, shipbuilding,
communications, and machinery. The concentration of resources in the industrial sector
was matched by social reforms that eliminated feudal restrictions, accelerated mass
education, and encouraged acquisition of skills in the use of Western technology. The
ensuing industrialized economy provided the means for Japan to hold its own in modern
warfare and to withstand foreign economic competition.
Soon Japan not only followed the Western path of internal
industrialization, but it also
began an outward aggression resembling that of the European nations. First came the
acquisition and colonization of neighbouring islands: Ryukyu Islands (including
Okinawa), the Kuril Islands, Bonin Islands, and Hokkaido. Next in Japan's expansion
program was Korea, but the opposition of other powers postponed the transformation
of Korea into a Japanese colony. The pursuit of influence in Korea involved Japan in
war with China (1894-95), at the end of which China recognized Japan's interest in
Korea and ceded to Japan Taiwan, the Pescadores, and southern Manchuria. At this
point rival powers interceded to force Japan to forgo taking over the southern
Manchuria peninsula. While France, Britain, and Germany were involved in seeking to
frustrate Japan's imperial ambitions, the most direct clash was with Russia over Korea
and Manchuria. Japan's defeat of Russia in the war of 1904-05 procured for Japan the
lease of the Liaotung Peninsula, the southern part of the island of Sakhalin, and
recognition of its "paramount interest" in Korea. Still, pressure by Britain and the United
States kept Japan from fulfillment of its plan to possess Manchuria outright. By the early
20th century, however, Japan had, by means of economic and political penetration,
attained a privileged position in that part of China, as well as colonies in Korea and
Taiwan and neighbouring islands. (see also Index: Russo-Japanese War)
ARTITION OF AFRICA
By the turn of the 20th century, the map of Africa looked like a huge
jigsaw puzzle, with
most of the boundary lines having been drawn in a sort of game of give-and-take played
in the foreign offices of the leading European powers. The division of Africa, the last
continent to be so carved up, was essentially a product of the new imperialism, vividly
highlighting its essential features. In this respect, the timing and the pace of the scramble
for Africa are especially noteworthy. Before 1880 colonial possessions in Africa were
relatively few and limited to coastal areas, with large sections of the coastline and almost
all the interior still independent. By 1900 Africa was almost entirely divided into
separate territories that were under the administration of European nations. The only
exceptions were Liberia, generally regarded as being under the special protection of the
United States; Morocco, conquered by France a few years later; Libya, later taken
over by Italy; and Ethiopia.
The second feature of the new imperialism was also strongly evident. It
was in Africa
that Germany made its first major bid for membership in the club of colonial powers:
between May 1884 and February 1885, Germany announced its claims to territory in
South West Africa (now South West Africa/Namibia), Togoland, Cameroon, and part
of the East African coast opposite Zanzibar. Two smaller nations, Belgium and Italy,
also entered the ranks, and even Portugal and Spain once again became active in
bidding for African territory. The increasing number of participants in itself sped up the
race for conquest. And with the heightened rivalry came more intense concern for
preclusive occupation, increased attention to military arguments for additional buffer
zones, and, in a period when free trade was giving way to protective tariffs and
discriminatory practices in colonies as well as at home, a growing urgency for protected
overseas markets. Not only the wish but also the means were at hand for this carving up
of the African pie. Repeating rifles, machine guns, and other advances in weaponry gave
the small armies of the conquering nations the effective power to defeat the much larger
armies of the peoples of Africa. Rapid railroad construction provided the means for
military, political, and economic consolidation of continental interiors. With the new
steamships, settlers and materials could be moved to Africa with greater dispatch, and
bulk shipments of raw materials and food from Africa, prohibitively costly for some
products in the days of the sailing ship, became economically feasible and profitable.
Penetration of Islamic North Africa was complicated, on the one hand,
by the struggle
among European powers for control of the Mediterranean Sea and, on the other hand,
by the suzerainty that the Ottoman Empire exercised to a greater or lesser extent over
large sections of the region. Developments in both respects contributed to the wave of
partition toward the end of the 19th century. First, Ottoman power was perceptibly
waning: the military balance had tipped decisively in favour of the European nations,
and Turkey was becoming increasingly dependent on loans from European centres of
capital (in the late 1870s Turkey needed half of its government income just to service its
foreign debt). Second, the importance of domination of the Mediterranean increased
significantly after the Suez Canal was opened in 1869.
France was the one European nation that had established a major
beachhead in Islamic
North Africa before the 1880s. At a time when Great Britain was too preoccupied to
interfere, the French captured the fortress of Algiers in 1830. Frequent revolts kept the
French Army busy in the Algerian interior for another 50 years before all Algeria was
under full French rule. While Tunisia and Egypt had been areas of great interest to
European powers during the long period of France's Algerian takeover, the penetration
of these countries had been informal, confined to diplomatic and financial manoeuvres.
Italy, as well as France and England, had loaned large sums to the ruling bey s of
Tunisia to help loosen that country's ties with Turkey. The inability of the bey s to
service the foreign debt in the 1870s led to the installation of debt commissioners by the
lenders. Tunisia's revenues were pledged to pay the interest due on outstanding bonds;
in fact, the debt charges had first call on the government's income. With this came
increased pressure on the people for larger tax payments and a growing popular
dissatisfaction with a government that had "sold out" to foreigners. The weakness of the
ruling group, intensified by the danger of popular revolt or a military coup, opened the
door further for formal occupation by one of the interested foreign powers. When Italy's
actions showed that it might be preparing for outright possession, France jumped the
gun by invading Tunisia in 1881 and then completed its conquest by defeating the
rebellions precipitated by this occupation.
The Europeans in North Africa.
The course of Egypt's loss of sovereignty resembled somewhat the same
Tunisia: easy credit extended by Europeans, bankruptcy, increasing control by
foreign-debt commissioners, mulcting of the peasants to raise revenue for servicing the
debt, growing independence movements, and finally military conquest by a foreign
power. In Egypt, inter-imperialist rivalry, mainly between Great Britain and France,
reached back to the early 19th century but was intensified under the circumstances of
the new imperialism and the construction of the Suez Canal. By building the Suez Canal
and financing Egypt's ruling group, France had gained a prominent position in Egypt. But
Britain's interests were perhaps even more pressing because the Suez Canal was a
strategic link to its empire and its other Eastern trade and colonial interests. The
successful nationalist revolt headed by the Egyptian army imminently threatened in the
1880s the interests of both powers. France, occupied with war in Tunisia and with
internal political problems, did not participate in the military intervention to suppress the
revolt. Great Britain bombarded Alexandria in 1882, landed troops, and thus obtained
control of Egypt. Unable to find a stable collaborationist government that would also
pay Egypt's debts and concerned with suppressing not only the rebellion but also a
powerful anti-Egyptian Mahdist revolt in the Sudan, Britain completely took over the
reins of government in Egypt.
The rest of North Africa was carved up in the early 20th century.
for possession of Morocco, which bordered on her Algerian colony, tried to obtain the
acquiescence of the other powers by both secret and open treaties granting Italy a free
hand in Libya, allotting to Spain a sphere of influence, and acknowledging Britain's
paramountcy in Egypt. France had, however, overlooked Germany's ambitions, now
backed by an increasingly effective army and navy. The tension created by Germany led
to an international conference at Algeciras (1906), which produced a short-lived
compromise, including recognition of France's paramount interest, Spanish participation
in policing Morocco, and an open door for the country's economic penetration by other
nations. But France's vigorous pursuit of her claims, reinforced by the occupation of
Casablanca and surrounding territory, precipitated critical confrontations, which reached
their peak in 1911 when French troops were suppressing a Moroccan revolt and a
German cruiser appeared before Agadir in a show of force. The resulting settlements
completed the European partition of North Africa: France obtained the lion's share of
Morocco; in return, Germany received a large part of the French Congo; Italy was
given the green light for its war with Turkey over control of Tripoli, the first step in its
eventual acquisition of Libya; and Spain was enabled to extend its Río de Oro
protectorate to the southern frontier of Morocco. The more or less peaceful trade-offs
by the occupying powers differed sharply from the long, bitter, and expensive wars they
waged against the indigenous peoples and rulers of Islamic North Africa to solidify
European rule. (see also Index: Algeciras Conference)
The race for colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.
The partition of Africa below the Sahara took place at two levels: (1)
deals made among colonial powers who were seeking colonies partly for the sake of the
colonies themselves and partly as pawns in the power play of European nations
struggling for world dominance--and (2) in the field--in battles of conquest against
African states and tribes and in military confrontations among the rival powers
themselves. This process produced, over and above the ravages of colonialism, a
wasp's nest of problems that was to plague African nations long after they achieved
independence. Boundary lines between colonies were often drawn arbitrarily, with little
or no attention to ethnic unity, regional economic ties, tribal migratory patterns, or even
Before the race for partition, only three European powers--France,
Britain--had territory in tropical Africa, located mainly in West Africa. Only France had
moved into the interior along the Sénégal River. The other French colonies or spheres of
influence were located along the Ivory Coast and in Dahomey (now Benin) and Gabon.
Portugal held on to some coastal points in Angola, Mozambique (Moçambique), and
Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau). While Great Britain had a virtual protectorate
over Zanzibar in East Africa, its actual possessions were on the west coast in the
Gambia, the Gold Coast, the Sierra Leone, all of them surrounded by African states that
had enough organization and military strength to make the British hesitate about further
expansion. Meanwhile, the ground for eventual occupation of the interior of tropical
Africa was being prepared by explorers, missionaries, and traders. But such penetration
remained tenuous until the construction of railroads and the arrival of steamships on
navigable waterways made it feasible for European merchants to dominate the trade of
the interior and for European governments to consolidate conquests.
Once conditions were ripe for the introduction of railroads and
steamships in West
Africa, tensions between the English and French increased as each country tried to
extend its sphere of influence. As customs duties, the prime source of colonial revenue,
could be evaded in uncontrolled ports, both powers began to stretch their coastal
frontiers, and overlapping claims and disputes soon arose. The commercial penetration
of the interior created additional rivalry and set off a chain reaction. The drive for
exclusive control over interior areas intensified in response to both economic
competition and the need for protection from African states resisting foreign intrusion.
This drive for African possessions was intensified by the new entrants to the colonial
race who felt menaced by the possibility of being completely locked out.
Perhaps the most important stimulants to the scramble for colonies
south of the Sahara
were the opening up of the Congo Basin by Belgium's king Leopold II and Germany's
energetic annexationist activities on both the east and west coasts. As the dash for
territory began to accelerate, 15 nations convened in Berlin in 1884 for the West
African Conference, which, however, merely set ground rules for the ensuing intensified
scramble for colonies. It also recognized the Congo Free State ruled by King Leopold,
while insisting that the rivers in the Congo Basin be open to free trade. From his base in
the Congo, the King subsequently took over mineral-rich Katanga, transferring both
territories to Belgium in 1908.
In West Africa, Germany concentrated on consolidating its possessions
and Cameroon (Kamerun), while England and France pushed northward and eastward
from their bases: England concentrated on the Niger region, the centre of its commercial
activity, while France aimed at joining its possessions at Lake Chad within a grand
design for an empire of contiguous territories from Algeria to the Congo. Final
boundaries were arrived at after the British had defeated, among others, the Ashanti, the
Fanti Confederation, the Opobo kingdom, and the Fulani; and the French won wars
against the Fon kingdom, the Tuareg, the Mandingo, and other resisting tribes. The
boundaries determined by conquest and agreement between the conquerors gave
France the lion's share: in addition to the extension of its former coastal possessions,
France acquired French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, while Britain carved
out its Nigerian colony.
In southern Africa, the intercolonial rivalries chiefly involved the
British, the Portuguese,
the South African Republic of the Transvaal, the British-backed Cape Colony, and the
Germans. The acquisitive drive was enormously stimulated by dreams of wealth
generated by the discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West and gold in Matabeleland.
Encouraged by these discoveries, Cecil Rhodes (heading the British South Africa
Company) and other entrepreneurs expected to find gold, copper, and diamonds in the
regions surrounding the Transvaal, among them Bechuanaland, Matabeleland,
Mashonaland, and Trans-Zambezia. In the ensuing struggle, which involved the
conquest of the Nbele and Shona peoples, Britain obtained control over Bechuanaland
and, through the British South Africa Company, over the areas later designated as the
Rhodesias and Nyasaland. At the same time, Portugal moved inland to seize control
over the colony of Mozambique. It was clearly the rivalries of stronger powers,
especially the concern of Germany and France over the extension of British rule in
southern Africa, that enabled a weak Portugal to have its way in Angola and
The boundary lines in East Africa were arrived at largely in
settlements between Britain
and Germany, the two chief rivals in that region. Zanzibar and the future Tanganyika
were divided in the Anglo-German treaty of 1890: Britain obtained the future Uganda
and recognition of its paramount interest in Zanzibar and Pemba in exchange for ceding
the strategic North Sea island of Heligoland (Helgoland) and noninterference in
Germany's acquisitions in Tanganyika, Rwanda, and Urundi. Britain began to build an
East African railroad to the coast, establishing the East African Protectorate (later
Kenya) over the area where the railroad was to be built. (see also Index: eastern
Rivalry in northeastern Africa between the French and British was based
of the upper end of the Nile. Italy had established itself at two ends of Ethiopia, in an
area on the Red Sea that the Italians called Eritrea and in Italian Somaliland along the
Indian Ocean. Italy's inland thrust led to war with Ethiopia and defeat at the hands of the
Ethiopians at Adwa (Adowa) in 1896. Ethiopia, surrounded by Italian and British
armies, had turned to French advisers. The unique victory by an African state over a
European army strengthened French influence in Ethiopia and enabled France to stage
military expeditions from Ethiopia as well as from the Congo in order to establish
footholds on the Upper Nile. The resulting race between British and French armies
ended in a confrontation at Fashoda in 1898, with the British army in the stronger
position. War was narrowly avoided in a settlement that completed the partition of the
region: eastern Sudan was to be ruled jointly by Britain and Egypt, while France was to
have the remaining Sudan from the Congo and Lake Chad to Darfur. (see also Index:
Adowa, Battle of, Fashoda Incident)
Germany's entrance into southern Africa through occupation and conquest
West Africa touched off an upsurge of British colonial activity in that area, notably the
separation of Basutoland (Lesotho) as a crown colony from the Cape Colony and the
annexation of Zululand. As a consequence of the South African (Boer) War
(1899-1902) Britain obtained sovereignty over the Transvaal and the Afrikaner Orange
WORLD WAR I AND THE INTERWAR PERIOD (1914-39)
Postwar redistribution of colonies.
After World War I the Allied powers partitioned among themselves both
overseas colonial holdings and the vast Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. They
carried out this operation through the League of Nations, which awarded mandates
under varying conditions. Great Britain received as mandates Iraq and Palestine (which
it promptly split into Transjordan and Palestine proper); the Palestine mandate obligated
Britain to respect its contradictory wartime commitments to both Jews and Arabs.
France assumed a mandate over both Syria and Lebanon. In Africa the two powers
divided Togo and Cameroon between them, Britain acquired Tanganyika (with a few
thousand German settlers), Belgium took Rwanda-Urundi, and South Africa received
German South West Africa. Italy, as compensation for not sharing in the award of
mandates, obtained from Britain the Juba (Giuba) Valley on the Kenya-Somali frontier,
and France eventually ceded to Italy a desert area that rounded out Libya's southern
The interwar years marked the apex of colonial empires throughout the
indirect forms of colonial penetration grew with the development of the petroleum
industry. Nevertheless, most colonial systems began to show clear signs of strain and
even revolt. The Russian Revolution, the Nationalist and Communist successes in China
during the 1920s and '30s, the radical nationalism of Kemal Atatürk, all contributed to
the rise of political movements opposed to colonialism. The very process of economic
modernization, however--with the rise of factories, coordination with the world market,
and mass urbanization--did more than any political or cultural factor, taken in itself, to
undermine the paternal-militaristic forms of direct colonial domination.
The British Empire.
Britain tended toward a decentralized and empirical type of colonial
which some degree of partial decolonization could prepare the way for eventual self-rule.
Realizing that direct rule over ancient civilized lands could not last indefinitely, Britain
worked for a continued British presence in areas where the empire conferred
At the outset of World War I, Britain had proclaimed a protectorate
over Egypt, annulling
Ottoman sovereignty; afterward, Egyptian nationalist leaders finally brought the British to
recognize Egypt as an independent kingdom in 1922. In 1936-37 Egypt received control
over its own economic development, and British military forces were confined to the Suez
Canal area. Britain granted Iraq independence in 1932 but retained a military power base
in the new kingdom. Both the world strategic balance and the British petroleum industry
ruled out any possibility of a real British withdrawal from either of these Middle Eastern
In Palestine the political claims of Arabs and Jews proved to be
insurrection, terrorism, and occasional guerrilla warfare marked the whole period of British
rule. Finally, in 1939, with war looming, the British decided to limit and eventually
terminate the flow of Jewish refugees into Palestine, though not proposing to force the
more than 500,000 Jewish inhabitants to live under an Arab national regime. Transjordan,
detached from Palestine, became a British protectorate.
In India Britain faced a powerful adversary, the Indian National
businessmen and working classes, Hindus of high and low caste, in a common drive
toward independence. The Congress never, however, succeeded in bridging the gap that
separated the country's Hindu and Sikh majority from its 90,000,000 Muslims. The British
met the Indian anticolonial movement half way. In 1919-23 a series of measures gave the
Indians a certain degree of self-rule in a "dyarchy" in which elected Indian ministers
governed together with British administrators. These constitutional reforms, however,
failed to bring the princely states into line with the new trend toward self-rule. Though
Mahatma Gandhi denounced the new system as a "whited sepulchre," Congress in fact
began to participate in the governmental process. Under the constitution granted in
1935-37, the British maintained separate voting rolls for the Muslim minority, in order to
ensure its proportional representation; in 1939 relations between Britain and the Congress
Party were tense, but India was clearly headed for independence in some form.
In 1937 the British gave a separate constitution to Burma. Ceylon
(renamed Sri Lanka in
1972) had been separate and self-governing from 1931.
In British Africa decolonization progressed more slowly, but London
began to accept it as
an ultimate outcome. In Kenya, for example, the British government refused to grant the
20,000 European settlers in the "white highlands" any kind of direct political power over
the mass of tribal blacks who constituted the colony's overwhelming majority. In British
West Africa the passage from direct colonial government to self-rule by a black elite had
started by 1939, there being no white settlers or Indian merchants (as there were in East
Africa) to complicate matters. Only in the mining areas of Northern Rhodesia (the
Copperbelt) and in Southern Rhodesia, where white farmer settlers enjoyed
self-government and caste privileges over a disenfranchised black majority, did
decolonization make no headway at all.
France, in contrast to Britain, preferred centralized and assimilative
methods in an effort to
integrate its colonies into a greater Overseas France. It made no progress in colonial
devolution and refused even to grant independence to Syria and Lebanon. In North Africa
the French energetically implanted large agrarian capitalist enterprises as well as some
industries connected with the area's mineral wealth. These modern production centres and
infrastructures were directed and financed by metropolitan French business and were
staffed and operated by a large, politically aggressive European settler population. The
Muslim majority was subordinate both politically and economically; North African
peasants struggled to subsist on the margins. Overt resistance was strongest in Morocco,
where a rural Muslim rebellion endangered both the French and the Spanish protectorates.
Abd el-Krim, a Berber Moroccan leader who combined tradition with modern
nationalism, waged a brilliant five-year campaign till a combined French and Spanish force
finally defeated him in 1926. After 1934, resistance to France revived in Morocco, this
time in the cities. In Tunisia resistance was centred in Habib Bourguiba's constitutional
party; in Algeria the urban Muslim middle classes merely sked for true civil rights and
integration. The French Communist Party did not move to mobilize the peasant masses in
an anticolonial struggle, and, in consequence, future rebellion in the Maghrib was to be
Arab nationalist and not Marxist in its leadership and doctrines.
Matters were different in French Indochina, where the growth of a
French-directed agricultural economy had thrown masses of peasants into debt slavery.
The circumstances favoured the formation of an independence movement much influenced
by both the Chinese Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) and the Chinese Communist Party;
the movement in the 1930s took the form of a Communist party under the leadership of
Ho Chi Minh.
French sub-Saharan Africa attracted no European settler population. The
authorities promoted a shift from subsistence to market economies, and their methods,
including labour conscription for public works, led to protest and questions in the French
parliament. The results, guaranteed by a protective tariff linking the colonies to France,
were solid but unspectacular.
In the 1930s an aggressive new colonialism developed on the part of the
which developed a new colonial doctrine ("living space" in German geopolitics, the
"empire" in Italian Fascist ideology, the "co-prosperity sphere" in Japan) aiming at the
repartition of the world's colonial areas, justified by the supposed racial superiority, higher
birth rates, and greater productivity that the Axis Powers enjoyed as against the
"decadent" West. To this the Japanese added a slogan of their own, "Asia for the Asians."
In fact, the three powers aimed at carving out for themselves vast, self-sufficient empires.
Though intent on a new colonialism of their own, they had to use anticolonialism as a
political instrument before and during World War II; in doing so, they helped in the
process of world decolonization.
Fascist Italy's first colonial war was a long, bloody campaign in
Cyrenaica that lasted until
the early 1930s, when Italy began developing Libya as a place of settlement for Italian
peasants. Then a dispute over the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia (1934)
gave the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, the opportunity to move against the African
power that had routed Italian armies at Adwa. In October 1935 Italian troops from Eritrea
moved into the Tigray province of northern Ethiopia, although war was never declared.
Ethiopia, underequipped and feudal, could not long hold out in open combat, especially
against Italian air attacks. In May 1936 Italian motorized columns reached Addis Ababa,
and the Emperor went into exile. Mussolini proclaimed the Italian "empire" in East Africa.
In reality, however, Ethiopian feudal chiefs continued violent resistance, even in the
environs of the capital, while the Italians massacred hundreds of nobles, clergy, and
commoners in an effort to repress Ethiopia by terror. In this their success was limited. The
Italians built roads and kept control over all principal communication lines, but they never
subdued the mountainous hinterland.
The Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, Japan's new order, amounted
self-contained empire from Manchuria to the Dutch East Indies, including China,
Indochina, Thailand, and Malaya as satellite states. Japan intended to exclude both
European imperialism and Communist influence from the entire Far East, while ensuring
Japanese political and industrial hegemony.
The United States and the Soviet Union.
During World War I the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from
(1917), but it acquired no new colonies thereafter. In the 1920s the United States agreed
to leave unfortified its possessions beyond Hawaii, in exchange for Japan's accepting naval
limitations. The Philippines, by the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, were to become
independent on July 4, 1946. Until U.S.-Japanese relations began to worsen, in 1939,
U.S. possessions in the Pacific counted for little in world affairs. On the other hand, the
United States established or continued virtual protectorates in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican
Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama during the Harding and Coolidge administrations
(1921-29), a trend reversed under Hoover and Roosevelt, particularly under the latter's
Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America.
The new Soviet Russian regime succeeded, after years of civil and
foreign war, in regaining
the Asian possessions of its tsarist predecessor. The Caucasus was repossessed step by
step between 1919 and 1921; after the mountain areas and Azerbaijan were brought back
under Soviet control, Armenia was partitioned between Russia and Turkey. Then Georgia,
an independent parliamentary republic, was overrun by the Red Army. Russian Turkistan
was subdued by 1922, and the khanates of Khiva and Bukhara were suppressed. By
1922, Outer Mongolia was also solidly linked to the Soviet state. Nevertheless, the
Russian revolutionary government was ideologically opposed to colonialism, especially
where it had no colonial interests that it cared to defend. In general, the Soviet authorities
hesitated during the interwar period between the alternatives of backing liberation
movements of "national bourgeoisies" and supporting peasant revolutionary parties.
In Central Asia the Soviet authorities followed a moderate line up to
1928, but with the
advent of Stalin a new policy, consisting in purges of national leaders, increasing
industrialization, and forced settlement of nomad populations, led to a great increase in the
proportion of European settlers, mostly Russians and Ukrainians, to native Muslims.
During the 1930s the Kazaks declined sharply in absolute numbers as well as in ratio to
the Europeans in their areas. Other Muslim nationalities, especially the Uzbeks, stemmed
the Slavic tide of settlement only by virtue of their birth rates, which greatly exceeded
those of the Russians and Ukrainians
WORLD WAR II (1939-45)
Although the Axis Powers failed in their global strategy, they crippled
rule in Asia.
Japan conquered its Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere and arrived
at the gates of
India, displacing British, Dutch, and French colonial rulers as well as the Americans in
Guam and the Philippines. The Japanese had to allow some margin of freedom to their
satellite regimes in Burma and Indonesia in both of which preexisting local parties proved
capable of creating sovereign states after the war. On August 17, 1945, Sukarno declared
Indonesia independent. Indonesia had had a long history of Muslim, nationalist, and
Communist agitation against the Dutch; with captured Japanese arms, Indonesia could
resist reimposition of Dutch authority.
In India the Congress Party, though totally unsympathetic to the Axis,
tried to take
advantage of Britain's wartime extremity in order to secure immediate independence. The
Muslim League supported the British administration during the war but demanded a
sovereign Muslim homeland (Pakistan) as a postwar objective. By 1945 direct British rule
in India was coming to an end, but the contest between Britain, the Congress Party, and
the Muslim League clouded any final settlement.
In the Middle East, Britain returned to forms of direct colonial
control as Axis forces drew
near, and in June-July 1941 it occupied Syria and Lebanon, under the guise of Free
French administration. With Beirut and Damascus secured, the British supported Syrian
and Lebanese independence from France; the two states were incorporated into the
sterling area. Only U.S. and Soviet support guaranteed the independence of the two
republics (1944) and their subsequent admission to the United Nations.
In Egypt, when Axis forces in 1941 and 1942 came within striking
distance of Alexandria,
both the king, Farouk, and groups of dissident army officers were ready to welcome them
and turn against the British. In February 1942 the British minister forced the King to
appoint a government willing to cooperate with the Anglo-Americans; the defeat of the
Germans in the Egyptian desert later that year put Egypt firmly in the Allied camp.
Nevertheless much anti-British and anticolonial bitterness remained in Egypt, with postwar
At the outset of World War II Iran was pro-German, and in August 1941
Union and Britain jointly occupied the country, which then became the main supply line
connecting the Soviet Union with the Western Allies. In 1942, in a three-power treaty,
both Britain and the Soviet Union promised to leave Iran six months after the end of the
war. Notwithstanding such commitments, the Soviet Union began to build spheres of
influence in northern Iran; in 1944 the Soviet Union brought pressure to bear on Iran for
an oil concession.
During the final years of World War II the United States became vitally
interested in the
Middle East because of United States petroleum ventures in Saudi Arabia and because of
strategic considerations. By the end of the war it was clear to both the Soviet Union and
Britain that the United States, as a world power, would support no imposition of direct
colonial controls in the postwar Middle East.
During World War II Italy lost its entire colonial domain. Ethiopia was
restored as an
independent empire, and the other colonies eventually came under UN jurisdiction, in the
first step toward decolonization in the African continent.
DECOLONIZATION FROM 1945
In the first postwar years there were some prospects that (except in
the case of the Indian
subcontinent) decolonization might come gradually and on terms favourable to the
continued world power positions of the western European colonial nations. After the
French defeat at Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam) in 1954 and the abortive Anglo-French Suez
expedition of 1956, however, decolonization took on an irresistible momentum, so that by
the mid-1970s only scattered vestiges of Europe's colonial territories remained.
The reasons for this accelerated decolonization were threefold. First,
the two postwar
superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, preferred to exert their might by
indirect means of penetration--ideological, economic, and military--often supplanting
previous colonial rulers; both the United States and the Soviet Union took up positions
opposed to colonialism. Second, the mass revolutionary movements of the colonial world
fought colonial wars that were expensive and bloody. Third, the war-weary public of
western Europe eventually refused any further sacrifices to maintain overseas colonies.
In general, those colonies that offered neither concentrated resources
advantages and that harboured no European settlers won easy separation from their
overlords. Armed struggle against colonialism centred in a few areas, which mark the real
milestones in the history of postwar decolonization.
British decolonization, 1945-56.
General elections in India in 1946 strengthened the Muslim League. In
negotiations, punctuated by mass violence, the Congress Party leaders finally accepted
partition as preferable to civil war, and in 1947 the British evacuated the subcontinent,
leaving India and a territorially divided Pakistan to contend with problems of communal
strife. (see also Index: British Empire)
Far more damaging to Britain's world position as a great power was the
end of the
Palestine mandate. The British would have favoured an Arab state in Palestine, tied to the
British system in the Middle East, with Jews as a permanent minority. The Jewish national
movement, however, succeeded in making this policy both costly and unpopular; in
particular, the U.S. and Soviet governments began to see a Jewish state in Palestine as a
necessary solution to the problem of Europe's surviving Jewry. All Arab spokesmen
expressed intransigent opposition to any two-nation solution. Britain, isolated
internationally, threw the problem into the lap of the United Nations; in November 1947
the General Assembly voted for partition. Britain, exhausted both politically and financially,
decided to leave by May 15, 1948. The Jewish national movement's military branch
succeeded in defeating the Palestine Arab terrorist and guerrilla bands step by step, and
after British evacuation, and the declaration of Israel's independence, the Arab states in
turn suffered a series of military defeats. The new Jewish state, recognized by the United
States, the Soviet Union, and France, reached an uneasy armistice with the Arabs in 1949,
and Britain's position in the Middle East began to crumble.
The Arab chain reaction against Britain started in Egypt, where in July
1952 a group of
army officers seized power. By the end of 1954, Gamal Abdel Nasser had induced Britain
to accept total withdrawal by June 1956 and set to work to undermine Britain's position in
Iraq and Jordan. In June 1956 the British troops quit Suez on schedule. At that point
Britain's Middle Eastern position, which depended on a chain of bases and friendly
governments, was imperilled. Iran had moved close to the United States, warding off
Soviet penetration and expropriating British oil holdings. Now Cyprus and the Persian Gulf
oil ports remained the last outposts under British control in the Middle East. Nasser's next
move was to cut the link between them. On July 26, 1956, he nationalized the Suez Canal
Company, ending the last vestiges of European authority over that vital waterway and
precipitating the most serious international crisis of the postwar era.
Wars in overseas France, 1945-56.
The constitution of the French Fourth Republic provided for token
colonial rule, and cycles of revolt and repression marked French history for 15 years after
the end of World War II. The first colonial war was in Indochina, where a power vacuum,
caused by Japan's removal after wartime occupation, gave a unique opportunity to the
Communist Viet Minh. When in 1946 the French Army tried to regain the colony, the
Communists, proclaiming a republic, resorted to the political and military strategies of Mao
Tse-tung to wear down and eventually defeat France. All chances for maintaining a
semicolonial administration in Indochina ended when the Communists won the civil war in
China (1949). Eventually, in 1954, when the French engaged the Communist armies in a
pitched battle at Dien Bien Phu, the Communists won with the help of new heavy guns
supplied by the Chinese. The Fourth Republic left Indochina under the terms of the
Geneva Accords (1954), which set up two independent regimes.
By 1954 French North Africa was beginning to stir; guerrilla warfare
occurred in both
Morocco (where the French had deposed and exiled Sultan Muhammad V) and Tunisia.
On November 1, 1954, Algerian rebels began a revolt against France in which for the first
time urban Muslims and Muslim peasants joined forces. In March 1956 France accorded
complete independence to Morocco and Tunisia, while the army concentrated on a
"revolutionary" counterinsurgent war in order to hold Algeria, where French rule had solid
local support from about a million European settlers. The Muslim rebels depended on
help from the Arab world, especially Egypt. Hence the French took the initiative, in
October 1956, in forming an alliance with Nasser's principal adversaries, Britain and
Israel, to reclaim the Suez Canal for the West and overthrow the pan-Arab regime in
The Sinai-Suez campaign (October-November 1956).
On October 29, 1956, Israel's army attacked Egypt in the Sinai
Peninsula, and within 48
hours the British and French were fighting Egypt for control of the Suez area. But the
Western allies found Egyptian resistance more determined than they had anticipated.
Before they could turn their invasion into a real occupation, U.S. and Soviet pressure
forced them to desist (November 7). The Suez campaign was thus a political disaster for
the two colonial powers. The events of November 1956 showed the decline of European
colonialism to be irreversible.
Algeria and French decolonization, from 1956.
Between 1956 and 1958 French army commanders in Algeria, politically
to promote a new Franco-Muslim society in preparation for Algeria's total integration into
France. Hundreds of thousands of rural Muslims were resettled under French military
control, Algiers was successfully cleared of all guerrilla cells, French investments in
Saharan petroleum grew, and, in a dramatic climax, a coalition of European settlers,
colonial troops, and armed forces commanders in May 1958 refused further obedience to
the Fourth Republic.
Charles de Gaulle, first president of the Fifth Republic, thought that
the effort of fighting
colonial wars had prevented France from developing nuclear weapons and also came to
realize that Algerian Muslims could not be converted to a French identity. He began to
negotiate with the rebels; the negotiations culminated in a plebiscite, French evacuation,
and proclamation of the independence of Muslim Algeria (July 1962). De Gaulle then
proceeded to develop a nuclear striking force as the new foundation of France's status as
a great power. The Fifth Republic moved rapidly toward freeing the colonies of
sub-Saharan Africa, and France's colonial realm became vestigial and insular.
British decolonization after 1956.
During the 15 years after the Suez disaster, Britain divested itself of
most colonial holdings
and abandoned most power positions in Africa and Asia. In 1958 the pro-British
monarchy in Iraq fell; during the 1960s Cyprus and Malta became independent; and in
1971 Britain left the Persian Gulf. Of the imperial lifelines, only Gibraltar remains. After
1956 Britain moved rapidly to grant independence to its black African colonies. One
British colony, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), broke away unilaterally in 1965.
In Malaya the British fought a successful counterinsurgent war against
Chinese guerrilla movement and then turned over sovereignty to a federal Malaysian
government (1957). In 1971 the Royal Navy left Singapore (an independent state since
1965), thus ending British presence in the Far East except (until 1997) at Hong Kong and
(until 1983) at Brunei.
Britain's world position shrank, in effect, to membership in the North
Organization and the European Economic Community, with the postcolonial
Commonwealth decreasing in importance.
Dutch, Belgian, and Portuguese decolonization.
After World War II the Dutch tried to regain some of their lost control
in Indonesia. The
Sukarno regime held fast through three years of intermittent war, however, and the Dutch
found no allies and no international support. In 1950 Indonesia became a centralized,
The Belgian administration in the Congo had never trained even a small
number of Africans
much beyond the grade-school level. When Britain and France began to divest themselves
of their colonies, Belgium was in no position to impose on the Congo a schedule of its own
for gradual withdrawal. The abrupt granting of independence to the Belgian Congo in the
summer of 1960 led to a series of civil wars, with intervention by the UN, European
business interests employing white mercenaries, and other outside forces. In 1965 Joseph
Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) gained control over the central government and
created an independent African state, renamed Zaire in 1971.
Portugal, in the 20th century the poorest and least developed of the
powers, was the first nation (with Spain) to establish itself as a colonial power and the last
to give up its colonial possessions. In Portuguese Africa during the authoritarian regime of
António de Oliveira Salazar, the settler population had grown to about 400,000. After
1961 pan-African pressures grew, and Portugal found itself mired in a series of colonial
wars, while the development of mining in Angola and Mozambique revealed hitherto
unknown economic assets. In 1974 the armed forces overthrew the successors to Salazar,
and in the unstable political situation it became clear that Portugal would cut its colonial ties
to Africa. Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau) became independent in 1974. In June 1975
Mozambique achieved independence as a people's republic; in July 1975 São Tomé and
Príncipe became an independent republic; and in November of the same year Angola,
involved in a civil war between three rival liberation movements, also received sovereignty.
Historians will long debate the heritage of economic development, mass
cultural cleavage that colonialism has left to the world, but the political problems of
decolonization are grave and immediate. The international community is laden with minute
states unable to secure either sovereignty or solvency and with large states erected without
a common ethnic base. The world's postcolonial areas often have been scenes of
protracted and violent conflicts: ethnic, as in Nigeria's Biafran war (1967-70);
national-religious, as in the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the civil wars in Cyprus, and the clashes
between India and Pakistan; or purely political, as in the confrontation between
Communist and Nationalist regimes in the divided Korean Peninsula. The end of
colonialism did not bring with it the spread of new, neatly divided nation-states throughout
the world, nor did it abate or ease rivalry between the great powers.