The Spanish and Portuguese were two of the world’s superpowers in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Conquest of the Americas and Asia was a major goal for the Spanish and Portuguese during this period of time, and these two empires started on an elevated platform, which propelled them to greatness in this time period. But what drove them to this greatness? Both the Portuguese and Spanish began their travels to the Americas and Asia only after establishing their dominance in Europe.
The Portuguese started their triumphs shortly after establishing their navy, while the Spanish began their exploration of the new world with Columbus’s trip to the Americas. The reason for the empires’ explorations to the Americas and Asia are often under the pretext that it was curiosity and the desire to spread Christianity that pushed them, but it was in fact greed that was the primary driving force behind every effort to colonize the Americas and Asia. Christopher Columbus’s arrival to Hispaniola is one of the most famous expeditions in history.
His initial plans to establish an alternate trade route to the Indies were thwarted when he came across the Americas, and although he arrived on the wrong body of land, he still found a way to make his travels seem profitable to his investors, the King and Queen of Spain. 1 In Columbus’s letter to Luis De San Angel, King Ferdinand II and queen Isabella’s finance minister, he wrote about his voyage to the Indies. In this letter, his tone when writing about the native people of the Indies came off as condescending. The reason for this is because upon Columbus’s arrival to the
Americas, he took by force some of the natives, and from then on was treated like a god. 2 One of Columbus’s main reasons for voyaging to the Indies was to spread Christianity, but when he realized that he was being treated like a divine being, he abandoned his efforts to spread the word of Christ and instead started thinking for himself. 3 The mental advantage that Columbus gained by being treated like a god made him begin to think about how he could make a profit off of the indigenous people rather than how he could save their souls by introducing Christianity to them.
Columbus’s actions were olely motivated by greed and not the desire to spread the word of Christ. He knew that slavery had not yet been a major source of income for the Spanish empire, and when he saw this opportunity arise, he seized it. Greed fueled the burning fire of exploration, and the Spanish empire’s desire for more grew and grew over the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Bartoleme de las Casas, a sixteenth century Spanish Dominican friar and social reformist, wrote the Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies in the midsixteenth century after his visit to the Americas. De las Casas brings o light the terrors of the Spanish empire in the Americas, and is a prime example of an individual who publicly came out against the Spanish empire. He did this when he stated in his piece that “Their [The Spanish] reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits.
It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. 5 The Spaniards ruthlessly killed the natives, and had no remorse when performing these horrifying acts. This account was written roughly fifty’ years after Columbus’s first expedition to the Americas. In that timeframe, Columbus pioneered the Atlantic slave trade, and the Spanish empire was already well into their colonization of the Americas. The church still did not punish the Spaniards, who went against all the fundamental principles of Christianity.
The barbaric lengths to which the Spaniards went just to continue their expansion only further proves that greed was the major role in he colonization Of the Americas. De las Casas Was a pioneer in social reform when he stood up for a race of people that could not stand up for themselves, but he was not the only one to criticize the evil ways of the Spanish empire. Michel de Montaigne, a F-rench renaissance writer from the sixteenth century, was also one to castigate the ways of empires that were colonizing the new world.
His piece, “Of Cannibals,” was a satire written in 1603, and compared the relationship between the Greeks and Romans with the relationship of Europeans and the indigenous people of the Americas. The piece begins with an anecdote, when Montaigne depicts a scene in which the Greek king Pyrrhus and his army invade the Romans. Pyrrhus, with the impression that all other nations besides Greece are barbarians, is flustered when he sees the Roman army s formation, and says, “What kind of barbarians these may be; but the disposition of this army that see has nothing of barbarism in it. “6 This anecdote represents the era of colonization perfectly.
King Pyrrhus and the Greeks, without even attempting to learn about the Romans or how they function, automatically classify the Romans as arbarians, but upon actually seeing their army and battle formation, Pyrrhus and the Greeks realize that they are not so different after all. In terms of the era of colonization, the Greeks represent the Europeans, specifically the Spanish and Portuguese, and the Romans represent the people of the new world. Montaigne does this to illustrate that even though the Spanish and Portuguese are fully civilized states at this point, they are not much different from the so called barbarians of the new world.
Although the people of the new world may not be “civilized” like the Europeans, both parties are still uman beings. They still eat, sleep, and perform the same fundamental human functions as the other. 7 Montaigne’s piece primarily is satirizing the European xenophobia towards the people of the new world, and does this by depicting the Spanish and Portuguese as the real cannibals, and because of their ruthless nature towards the people they are trying to colonize.
The topic of the colonization of Japan is a main theme of the novel Silence, by Japanese author Shusako Endo. The setting is seventeenth century Tokugawan Japan during the main point of the Japanese anti-Christian ampaign, when the Portuguese were converting the Japanese. The shoguns at this time were restricting foreign relations by banning foreign travel and trade, with the exception of the Dutch, who were more interested in trade rather than conversion-8 The story is of Fr.
Sebastian Rodrigues, who is sent to Japan with another priest, Francisco Garrpe, to investigate the possible apostasy of his mentor, Crist6vo Ferreira. Rodrigues’s presence in Japan is a risk in itself, because Japanese authorities were torturing suspected Christians until they apostatized or died. Rodrigues realizes this as soon as he arrives in Japan, and the rest of the plot is his struggle to hold onto his faith in the face of adversity. Rodrigues ends up apostatizing, and his point of view towards the face of Christ changes dramatically.
Before he stepped on the fumie, Rodrigues described the face of Christ as one with clear blue eyes that were gentle with compassion and filled with trust. 9 But after he apostatized, the face of Christ became worthless to him. He still had his faith, and he makes it very apparent, but he describes Christ’s face as just a face on copper plate, nothing more. 10 In the end, Rodrigues becomes closer with God by apostatizing because all he has left is pure faith, and no more formalities associated with the Church.
The Portuguese missionaries were facing much difficulty in Japan because of the anti-Christian campaigns that were in action during the time period. The Portuguese didn’t know what to do when faced with resistance, as the only defiance they encountered in the past the indigenous people of the Americas. Their plan, which was driven by greed, was identical to their plan in the Americas, to use Christianity as a front o they could convert and colonize the Japanese until their presence in Japan was strong enough where they could begin to completely govern the island. 1 The Mission, a 1 986 film by director Ronald Joff©, is a tale that highlights all of the parts of Spanish and Portuguese conquests in South America. The plot begins after the signing of the Treaty of Madrid, and Spain and Portugal are dividing the land between each other. The main protagonist, Father Gabriel, who is part of Spain’s Jesuit mission, travels to the jungle to convert the fictitious tribe the Guarani. During this time, a Spanish slave trader, Rodrigo Mendoza, kills his younger brother during a quarrel over a woman.
He immediately regrets what he has done, and falls into depression. At this time Father Gabriel visits, and tells Mendoza he must atone for what he has done. Mendoza quickly agrees, and they begin traveling together, but Mendoza with a large load tied to him. Father Gabriel, Mendoza, and the other Jesuits reach the Guarani again, and they build a mission. The mission is a safe haven for the Guarani, because under Spanish law, any converted people are protected. After his penance is completed, Mendoza wishes to ecome a priest himself, much to the joy of Father Gabriel.
A few years later, Cardinal Altamirano is sent from Spain to make a decision on if the mission that Father Gabriel and Guarani built protects the Guarani or not, as the Portuguese plan to enslave the Guarani upon receiving the land that they were promised. Altamirano makes the decision that Spanish law does not protect the Christian Guarani, and Gabriel and Mendoza are ordered to abandon the Guarani. They choose to stay with the Guarani even though it means that the church will excommunicate them. 12 The fate of Father
Gabriel and Captain Mendoza is a prime example of how greed dictated the Spanish and Portuguese empires during the eighteenth century. The Cardinal’s decision to not protect the Guarani in fear of the European Church proves the lengths the church took to keep their power. Greed was the primary driving force behind all of the conquests of the Spanish and Portuguese during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. It was the one thing that held constant through all the attempts at colonization, and was the true motivator that started the Spanish and Portuguese on their triumphs in the new world.