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Explain the 15th-century rivalry between Spain and Portugal during the "Age of Discovery".

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The rivalry between Spain and Portugal in the "Age of Discovery" caused Spain, a rising power, to seek a new route to Asia like the one Portugal had found around the southern tip of Africa. This led Spain to be receptive to the claims of Christoper Columbus that he could get to India by sailing west. The rivalry between Spain and Portugal, therefore, led to Columbus's arrival in America.

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The defeat of the Byzantine Empire by the Muslim Ottoman Empire was a great blow to European trade with Asia. The Byzantines, who had been friendly towards European traders and charged reasonable tolls for overland travel through their territories, were replaced with a more hostile group. The Ottoman Empire demanded tolls for passage so high that they were taking the profit out of trade with India and China. Further, Barbary pirates now roamed the Mediterranean Sea, greatly adding to the risk to Europeans of sea passage to Asia.

The European nations were desperate for goods from the "Orient," such as spices and textiles which they could not produce at home. Portugal, which had been improving its navigation technologies, decided to find an alternate route to Asia that would avoid the Ottomans entirely. They managed to discover a route around the southern tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean to India. This made them a very wealthy and powerful nation.

Spain, at this time consolidating its power under Ferdinand and Isabella and poised to become a major force in Europe, looked at the growing power of neighboring Portugal with fear and envy. Spain realized that it too would have to find a different route to Asia. For this reason, the king and queen were quite receptive to Columbus's claim he could get to India by traveling west. This lead to Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

It is interesting to think that if Byzantium had not fallen, it might have taken centuries for the Europeans to realize that the Americas existed.

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Portugal and Spain emerged as the two strongest powers in the world in the fifteenth century. Although there was no actual war between the two nations, competition between them—particularly on the high seas—was intense. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) was an attempt to mitigate their rivalry.

This period in world history is known as the Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration. Europeans sought new trade routes to the silk and spices of Asia. These routes were blocked by hostile Muslim forces by the mid-fifteenth century. Seafaring techniques had improved, and Portugal and Spain were able to launch multi-ship voyages to distant lands.

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) of Portugal led the way. Under his patronage, Portuguese sailors began exploring the western coast of Africa. Portugal's ultimate goal—completed after Henry's death—was to find a route to India by going around Africa.

By 1492, Spain had emerged as Portugal's primary rival. The last Muslim stronghold in Spain had been conquered and Spain was ready for further expansion. Spain sought to reach India by sailing West. Christopher Columbus attempted to achieve this, but he was wrong in two ways. First, he underestimated the distance between Europe and Asia. Second, he did not know that the Americas were between Europe and Asia. Although Columbus had erred, his voyages laid the foundation for Spain's empire in the Americas.

Spain took over much of the Americas—from modern-day Florida to Argentina. Portugal settled Brazil. The two nations set up colonies elsewhere, too. As Portugal's power decreased in relation to that of Spain, the rivalry between the two faded.

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The rivalry between Spain and Portugal during this period was basically centered on territorial and economic supremacy. The two powers were engaged in rigorous efforts to discover new lands and routes of trade so as to expand their stakes. The spice trade was very lucrative at the time and the two took keen interest in it and expeditions were even sponsored to establish a route to the Spice Islands in Asia. Each side wanted to gain advantage over the other in the much coveted spice trade. However, Portugal’s interest and efforts to get to the Spice Islands started long before Spain’s and so once Portugal learned of Spain’s interests, they had the Pope declare a demarcation to separate the two sides’ territorial claims. Unfortunately, this demarcation left Spain disgruntled as they had been locked out in terms of access to the Spice Islands.

One year after the Pope’s declaration, the two signed the treaty of Tordesillas that gave Spain an entry point to Asia. In summary, during the 15th century, Spain and Portugal were engaged in conflicts because of their quests to expand their territories and discover trade routes which would bring them economic prosperity.

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Portugal and Spain were, in some ways, natural rivals because of geography.  The two countries are neighbors on the Iberian Peninsula, and neighboring countries have long had rivalries and conflicts in many parts of the world.  It was no different with Portugal and Spain (though we should note that the rivalry began before there was any unified country of Spain). 

The natural rivalry between Spain and Portugal was exacerbated by trade.  Both countries were very interested in exploring and developing trade.  They were both located in ideal places to start exploring Africa and to start thinking about trying to round Africa and find a way to the Spice Islands in Asia.  Because of this, they came to be rivals in exploration.  They competed with one another to “find” and to claim “new” lands.  This rivalry became heated enough that the two countries had to get the pope to divide up the New World into parts that would be Spanish and parts that would be Portuguese.  The line that was drawn in the Treaty of Tordesillas did this, leading to the situation where Brazil was Portuguese while the rest of South America belonged to Spain.

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