-What impelled European explorers to look west across the Atlantic?
The European conquest of America began as an offshoot of the quest for a sea route to India, China, and the islands of the East Indies, the source of the silk, tea, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods on which international trade in the early modern era centered. Profit and piety-the desire to eliminate Islamic middlemen and win control of the lucrative trade for Christian Western Europe-combined to inspire the quest for a direct route to Asia. Long before Columbus sailed, Europeans had dreamed of a land of abundance, riches, and ease beyond the western horizon. They hoped America would bring them a better life. Europeans envisioned America as a religious refuge, a society of equals, a source of power and glory.
-What happened when the peoples of the Americas came in contact with Europeans?
Whatever their numbers, the Indian population suffered a catastrophic decline because of the contact with Europeans and their wars, enslavement, and especially diseases like smallpox, influenza, and measles. Never having encountered these diseases, Indians had not developed antibodies to fight them. The result was devastating. Indians would engage in the ritual sacrifice of captives and others, sometimes thousands at a time. This practice reinforced the Spanish view of America’s native inhabitants as barbarians, even though in Europe at this time, thousands of men and women were burned at the stake as witches or religious heretics, and criminals were executed in public spectacles that attracted throngs of onlookers. Hernán Cortés was the first explorer to encounter a major American civilization. It was the Aztec empire. Cortés conquered the city. A few years later, Francisco Pizarro conquered the great Inca kingdom centered in modern-day Peru. Soon, treasure fleets carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the mines of Mexico and Peru... [continues]
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