History : Aug-Sep 2015
16 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 MILESTONES East Asian seas falling under Portuguese influence. However, there were sufficient doubts about the exact position of the treaty’s dividing line to encourage Span- ish exploration of the area in the hope of challenging Portugal’s monopoly of the lucrative spice trade with Asia. To gain a foothold in the region Spain sent expedi- tions from the west coast of Mexico, tak- ing a relatively fast and safe route across the Pacific Ocean. However, the return journey was a much more difficult and T he expedition that set out in 1519 under Ferdinand Magel- lan completed the first cir- cumnavigation of the globe i n 1522. This feat opened up the East Asian seas to adventurers from the maritime nations of Europe, prompting sailors to set out to explore and exploit archipelagos such as the Moluccas, the Philippines, and Japan. Spain and Portugal had already carved up the new territories in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) , with the dangerous proposition. Contrary currents and winds made it impossible to sail back to Mexico along the outward route. Various attempts were made in the first half of the 16th century—all failed. Cut off from their American colonies, Spanish ships had to continue westward to return to Spain itself. This was a long and hazard- ous journey around India and then Africa. It entailed rounding the notorious Cape of Good Hope, then skirting the African coastline northward to Europe. From Asia to America: Conquering the Pacific In the 16th century the world’s most profitable trade routes started or finished in the exotic East. But while sailing from the New World to Asia was relatively easy, finding a fast, safe, and direct return route back across the Pacific eluded all best efforts until a seafaring friar took up the challenge.