The Atlantic world offered newly found economic and political opportunities for all who dared to make the voyage across the Sea of Sorrow. In the case of Spain, the study of the land and its properties helped them decide where it was best to send fleets,in hopes of giving Royal authoritiesthe needed information to control new and unseen lands. For centuries Spain had crossed the Atlantic in hopes of finding riches to bring back to Europe and help fuel Catholicism. Spain has had a tremendous influence on the world for a country that is relatively small in size. It has been  proven throughout history that Spain packs a punch and can have a concrete influence on countries all over the world.

Royal authorities needed specific information about the new world in order to control it: they needed to know about its geography and natural history, its peoples and types of government (Barrera, 2006). With explorations being charted in the new world, explorers like Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro were sent to Central and South America and laid the foundation for the Spanish empire with motives consisting of exploiting the native population, searching for gold and silver, and more importantly, a new quicker trade route to the Indies. Rumors about Cities of gold swept throughout the streets of Spain and Europe and many would present campaigns to the King of Spain to gain support financially. Others came as missionaries seeking to persuade the native Amerindians to convert to Christianity or perish by the hands of the conquistadors.

The Spanish who reached the Caribbean and moved onward into Central and South America were faced with climates of extreme contrast-tropical islands in the Antilles, barren scrubland in the Yucatan peninsula, the volcanic highland plateau or altiplano of northern and central Mexico and the dense tropical vegetation of the central American isthmus(Elliot, 2006). The extreme climate of the Peruvian Andes kept much of the early expeditions on the Eastern side of huge mountain chain stretching the length of the continent. The seaports coupled with the perfect climate for growing, made trade and agriculture an imperative for Spain’s motives to use this passage from Europe to the Atlantic. The Atlantic had provided Spain the necessary route to explore, conquer, and look for ways to make a richer economy. With motives to use indigenous peoples and slaves from Africa, Spain was ready to make its mark in the race for expansion in the Atlantic world.

The Roman law principle of res nullius which means basically that ownership of land requires that the land be made of some use or settled was practiced by the Spanish along with the English.Justification of Spanish crown or Kings superseded res nullius as the Spanish often preferred ownership of the people rather than the land claiming indigenous peoples were to be under Spanish lordship. The Spanish were professionals at bringing native peoples under their lead and in many instances used natives to help aid them in pushing out other civilizations looking to expand. Conquistadors appeared as Gods to the native population, riding on horseback was new to Amerindians. Their suits of armor only created more fascination. Some tribes would automatically become loyal to the Spanish while others resisted. Those who resisted became examples and were held as captives, killed or used as labor in search of gold and silver.

The first viceroyalty in the Atlantic world was the empire of Montezuma II, in Mexico, claimed for Emperor Charles V. After exchanging gifts, Montezuma believed that Cortes and his army were descendants of a great lord that once occupied their land. This ‘voluntary surrender’ of sovereignty, which is likely to have been no more than a Spanish interpretation, or a deliberate misinterpretation of characteristically elaborate Nahuatl expressions of courtesy and welcome, was followed by a further and more formal, act of submission a few days later, after Cortes, with typical boldness, had seized Montezuma and taken him into custody(Elliot, 2006). Whether these accounts are true or not remains.  Cortes did achieve control of the empire and was able to exploit the people that were once under Montezuma’s rein. This first viceroyalty was named ‘New Spain’. Mexico was a place that Spain could use the indigenous population to mine silver as to where in the Caribbean slaves of African descent were normally used.

The Spanish were able to use many of the natives in the Atlantic world as a significant labor force under their principle known as economienda. Economienda was a royal grant that gave the Spanish permission to use the natives as a labor force in exchange for Christian tuteledge. This helped to facilitate the conversion process and was brutal experience for the natives. Natives would be massacred and their bodies to be displayed as a sign that the Spanish were in control. If natives cooperated then they would be allowed to live and treated justly, and if they resisted then their wives and children would used as slaves and exchanged in the slave trade. The clashes over the institution’s legitimacy shaped not only relations between Spaniards and Indians in the New World but also the trajectory of the African slave trade in Spanish America(Schmidt, 2011). The Portuguese were known as the first to capitalize on the African slave trade that became one of the main reasons to use the Atlantic as a route.

African slaves had first entered the Atlantic world by hand of the Portuguese and this created an effect that others followed, including the Spanish, which lasted for centuries. African slaves made up a big part of the labor force used by the Spanish. African slaves were skilled workers unlike the natives who had most likely been decimated. A study of the sugar haciendas of Hernan Cortes and his descendants shows that in the early seventeenth century, African slaves were most likely to work in the milling and purging section of the hacienda because the colonial regime forbade the use of Indian workers in those areas (Schmidt, 2001). The Indians worked the land and African slaves held small administrative positions and worked in the silver mines or minas de plata. This became a decisive in the flux of slaves that were traded as the African became more valuable than American indigenous populations.

“It was not just the King of Spain who was interested in the precious metals , but all the merchants of Sevilla, and all  agents of foreign merchants at Sevilla, and all the merchants of Antwerp, Augsburg ,Genoa, and Rouen, who hastened to garner the profits on what they had exported .Once the returning flota hove into view… couriers carried the good or bad news to the four corners of the world “.Michael Morineau, Incroyables  gazettes et fabuleux metaux (Stein,2000). Spain was in economic turmoil by the mid  seventeenth century and silver mines in Mexico was a way to pay the deficits that existed from borrowed monies used to propel voyages to the Atlantic world. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, Spain’s existence depended on its colonial resources and defending the maritime route across the Atlantic. In the Caribbean, convoys were stationed to help defend ships that were loaded down with silver from the mines in Mexico. The Spanish were concerned with Dutch and English ships as well as pirates who would attack ports and individual ships coming from the Caribbean.The Dutch became a feared enemy on the seas as their ships were more powerful and larger, allowing them to hawk out Spanish ships loaded with gold, silver and other commodities.Production of silver at colonial mines and its flow eastward across the Atlantic into Spain and Europe was the foundation for the complex of economic structures selected and adapted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Spain’s bureaucrats and merchants(Stein,2000).

Trade triggered by the Columbian Exchange drove Spain to dabble in wool, silk, cotton and other various commodities. The Calico was a fabric woven from cotton that became very popular to Europeans. Calico was cheaper than silk and lighter than velvet and the craze was sweeping all over Europe and the Americas. In 1784 the real Compania de Hilados de America ( Royal Spinning Company),established to supply cotton manufacturers,many of whom served as company officials, boasted that Spanish calicoes (indianes)” are the most comfortable [fabric] for people’s everyday use ever invented, suitable for all seasons of the year and all climates and regions ; they dress the poor, the rich, they are the long-lasting fabric , which beautifies and cost the least”(Vicente,2006). The Spanish  had long considered the use of calico to trade with the newly established colonies in the Americas and thought it would help fuel the empire.Fashion designers would look to create garments made of calico  that would appeal to the women of the western world .The demand for calico created one the first fashion trends in the new world and Spain also wanted to spread the courts  fashion as they were involved in making decisions to bring the product to the Americas .

The establishment of sea ports in the Atlantic world was a crucial part in the race between Spain, England and France, without the ports then trade and colonization would have been nearly impossible. Many were carefully executed and were able to have immediate success others were in danger of being watched by pirates who would attack boats before they entered the ports. Gold, silver, textiles and spices, along with highly valued medicines were some of the items coming and going from these ports. Turnaround times also played an important role in choosing a port. The cost of shipping, the size of ports and vessels that were used were all agreed upon verbally with virtually no records in the early sixteenth century. Captains of ships usually had some claims or money invested in the cargo.

Hundreds of slaves went to and from as well with sugar, rum cotton. The inner Atlantic supported three types of shipping movement; inter-regional trade of bulk goods, international trade between states along the shores of the Atlantic and trade between areas of the Atlantic and the ports of the Mediterranean (O’Flanagan, 2008) Sugar was a product under the Columbian exchange that would have never reached Europe otherwise.  In a sense sugar connected the Atlantic in many ways and after it was brought back to Europe it influenced policy making politics and the rules to trade that led to bigger stronger and faster ships. In some instances sugar was used as money to repay debt as people realized all the hard work that went behind production and transport. Brazil often paid credit debt with Europe in sugar and with sugar came politicians who carefully chose their words. The Caribbean was a central hub for sugar along with the slaves who worked it.

As slaves, indigenous tribes and the Spanish were all living amongst one another, cultures and races started to blend, creating a very distinct culture that is evident today.  In Brazilian sugar zones, growing imports of African slaves helped to replace a rapidly diminishing indigenous population, contributed to the formation of a large class of mulattoes, and consolidated a social system whose primary relationship was between white masters and colored slaves( McAlister,1984). Near the end of the sixteenth century things started to change in the colonies started by the Spanish. Contracts between Spain and Portugal gave the Portuguese more land in the eastern side of the Andes mountains. The claims of land were  argued and disputed until they were resolved through the Treaty of  and was supposed a joint effort between Spain and Portugal that was eventually , enforced by the Papacy. The new world that Spain had constructed was different than that of the Portuguese. Spain had initially started their world in the Atlantic based on trade and exploitation, but the cultural legacy that left behind was overwhelming, influencing ideologies and language institutions all over the Atlantic world.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Spanish Viceroys were sending Jesuits and missionaries to areas of Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, this was known as the Rio de la Plata region. As they arrived stories of cannibalism emerged that stereotyped all indigenous peoples as savages. Peter Martyr was a contemporary writer who was the first to write about travels to South America and  describes the account of Juan Diaz de Solis and his  horrific encounter with Amerindians in 1516, he says [Solis] landed in a boat with fifty Spaniards,thinking the Indians would receive him in peace like the other time because that was the attitude they seemed to show this time too; but when they left the boat, many Indians were hidden attacked him and killed him and ate all the Spaniards that lived with him, and they even destroyed the boat.(Verdesio,2001).

The Viceroy’s conquest in areas of South America presented dangers from warfare that had made trade illegal for a ten year span in the early 1800s.The political circumstances also changed at the turn of the century, in part because the political leadership of the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata had become rather erratic due to the sudden death of two viceroys, and the inability of the crown to secure long-term appointments (Grieco, 2009). Loans and debt had accumulated leaving Spain with harsh economic conditions. The English and Portuguese were giving Spain problems militarily and politically in the area around Rio del Plata. Spain was also dealing with problems of facing France’s Napoleon, who had captured the Spanish Monarch. This brough the moral of all Vice Royalties in South America  to an all time low.

The Greed to gain riches for the Atlantic world eventually took its toll on the Spanish campaigns at home and abroad .Spain, despite a significant period of hegemony in Europe and the Atlantic world, eventually found itself weakened by its emphasis on mining in the colonial economy and by its reliance on monopolistic interests, infiltrated by foreign merchant communities with special prerogatives, in the management of colonial and European trade(Nowara,2004). The Spanish had once had plans to continue northward into present day United States but were quickly taken by storm in Cuba during the Spanish American War.The issue of Cuba’s independence would eventually raise American eyebrows as Spain had  been rumored to have destroyed an American naval vessel.

The history of the Spanish occupation in the Atlantic world is vague; in the sense that it’s hard believe some of the accounts written by Jesuits and Viceroys, due to the fact that some encounters seem overly exaggerated. The impact Spain had on countries like Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina is clearly evident today, with influences that have shaped these countries socially, economically and distinctly different than that of the Portuguese based country of Brazil. Spain set its aim high and accomplished more in 20 years than any other European country and with Spain’s achievements came war and debt. Spain wanted a piece of the Atlantic pie and took the means to do so by occupying and influencing much of the Atlantic world  by doing what seemed to be natural in a society where they felt that the rest were simply inferior. The conquistadors were feared by the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic world, ironically the Spanish feared the Amerindians. Spain’s interaction with native cultures destroyed much of their culture’s history but also created a new world for the present day population that has left inhabitants rather confused of their ancestry.

Spain was able to spread Catholicism all throughout the Americas. The riches that they amassed will truly never be revealed .The impact is seen very clear today with countries like Mexico and  islands in the Caribbean where people speak Spanish. This cultural fusion allowed connections, that in some places, outer influences were welcomed and molded their societies, while others resisted and were punished for hundreds of years in doing so. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, which demonstrates how much influence Spain had in the Atlantic world. Spain today is still a major player in this world’s economy and by spreading the Catholic faith; there are people all around the world who have converted to Catholicism. Even though Spain is relatively a small country, the influences that have shaped the Atlantic world and today’s societies, proving that indeed Spanish cultures are not likely going any where.



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Elliott, John H(2006) Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 Yale University Press New Haven, CT, USA

Butel, Paul (04/1999)Atlantic Routledge : London, GBR

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher(2011) Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World University of New Mexico Press Albuquerque, NM, USA

Stein, Stanley J. Stein, Barbara H.(2000) Silver, Trade, and War: Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern Europe Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore, MD, USA


Vicente, Marta V. (2006)Clothing the Spanish Empire: Families and the Calico Trade in the Early Modern Atlantic World Palgrave Macmillan Gordonsville, VA, USA

O’Flanagan, Patrick (2008)Port Cities of Atlantic Iberia, c. 1500-1900 Abingdon, Oxon, GBR Ashgate Publishing Group

McAlister, Lyle N.(1984) Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700 University of Minnesota Pres Minneapolis, MN, USA

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher(2011) Latin American Research Review Fordham University

Verdesio, Gustavo(2001) Forgotten Conquests: Rereading New World History from the Margins Temple University Press Philadelphia, PA, USA
Viviana Grieco(2001) Socializing the King’s Debt: Local and Atlantic Financial Transactions of the Merchants of Buenos Aires, 1793-1808 University of Missouri, Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri