A. Western Africa
1. During the fifteenth century many Africans welcomed the Portuguese
and profited from their trade, in which they often held the upper hand.
In return for their gold, Africans received from the Portuguese
merchants a variety of Asian, African, and European goods including
firearms. Interaction between the Portuguese and African rulers varied
from place to place.
2. The oba (king) of the powerful kingdom of Benin sent an ambassador
to Portugal and established a royal monopoly on trade with the
Portuguese. Benin exported a number of goods, including some slaves, and
its rulers showed a mild interest in Christianity. After 1538, Benin
purposely limited its contact with the Portuguese, declining to receive
missionaries and closing the market in male slaves.
3. The kingdom of Kongo had fewer goods to export and consequently
relied more on the slave trade. When the Christian King Afonso I lost
his monopoly over the slave trade his power was weakened and some of his
subjects rose in revolt.
B. Eastern Africa
1. In Eastern Africa, some Muslim states were suspicious of the
Portuguese, while others welcomed the Portuguese as allies in their
struggles against their neighbors. On the Swahili Coast, Malindi
befriended the Portuguese and was spared when the Portuguese attacked
and looted many of the other Swahili city-states in 1505.
2. Christian Ethiopia sought and gained Portuguese support in its war
against the Muslim forces of Adal. The Muslims were defeated, but
Ethiopia was unable to make a long-term alliance with the Portuguese
because the Ethiopians refused to transfer their religious loyalty from
the patriarch of Alexandria to the Roman pope.
C. Indian Ocean States
1. When Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut in 1498 he made a very poor
impression with his simple gifts. Nonetheless, the Portuguese were
determined to control the Indian Ocean trade, and their superior ships
and firepower gave them the ability to do so.
2. In order to assert their control, the Portuguese bombarded the
Swahili city-states in 1505, captured the Indian port of Goa in 1510,
and took Hormuz in 1515. Extending their reach eastward, Portuguese
forces captured Malacca in 1511 and set up a trading post at Macao in
southern China in 1557.
3. The Portuguese used their control over the major ports to require
that all spices be carried in Portuguese ships and that all other ships
purchase Portuguese passports and pay customs duties to the Portuguese.
4. Reactions to this Portuguese aggression varied. The Mughal
emperors took no action, while the Ottomans resisted and were able at
least to maintain superiority in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Some
smaller states cooperated with the Portuguese; others tried evasion and
5. The Portuguese never gained complete control of the Indian Ocean
trade, but they did dominate it enough to bring themselves considerable
profit and to break the Italian city-states’ monopoly on pepper.
D. The Americas
1. While the Portuguese built a maritime trading empire in Africa and
Asia, the Spanish built a territorial empire in the Americas. The
reasons for the difference are to be found in the isolation of
Amerindian communities and their lack of resistance to Old World
2. The Arawak were an agricultural people who mined and worked gold
but did not trade it over long distances and had no iron. Spanish wars
killed tens of thousands of Arakaws and undermined their economy; by
1502, the remaining Arawak of Hispaniola were forced to serve as
laborers for the Spanish.
3. What the Spanish did in the Antilles was an extension of Spanish
actions against the Muslims in the previous centuries: defeating
non-Christians and putting them and their land under Christian control.
The actions of conquistadors in other parts of the Caribbean followed
the same pattern.
4. On the mainland, Hernan Cortes relied on native allies, cavalry
charges, steel swords, and cannon to defeat the forces of the Aztec
Empire and capture the Tenochtitlan. The conquest was also aided by the
spread of smallpox among the Aztecs. Similarly, Francisco Pizarro’s
conquest of the Inca Empire was made possible by the prior spread of
smallpox among the Inca population, the dissatisfaction of the Inca
Empire’s recently conquered peoples, and by Spanish cannon and steel
E. Patterns of Dominance
1. Three factors contributed to Spain’s ability to establish a vast
land empire in the Americas: (1) Amerindians’ lack of resistance to
diseases brought from the Eastern Hemisphere; (2) Spanish superior
military technology (swords, armor, horses, and some firearms), combined
with aggressive fighting techniques and local allies; and (3) Spain’s
ability to apply the pattern of conquest, forced labor, and forced
conversion—a pattern developed during the re-conquest of the Iberian
Peninsula—to the Americas.
2. In the Eastern Hemisphere, Africans and Asians shared the same
diseases as the Europeans and had enough numbers to resist European
forces when necessary. Furthermore, the Portuguese and the Spanish were
able to gain profit by engaging in already existing trade networks,
which meant that they could gain wealth without conquering territory.