Comparison of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in America

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Portugal and Spain in the Age of Discovery

Portugal and Spain were both considered as the Age of Discovery major exponents which stretched from early fifteenth century to early seventeenth century. According to history, Spain mainly dominated their empire in America. On the other hand, the Portugal Empire gained prominence in India, Brazil, and Africa as it continued to hold a powerful influence over the southern hemisphere sea. The two realms at some point have been seen being great rivals during their colonization of America. Furthermore, both had different ways of attacking their colonies; for Spain, they used Christianity criteria to try and win their territories even though their objective was to acquire material gains.

Similarities and Differences Between the Two Colonial Empires

On the other hand, Portugal interacted with their territories and adapted their culture and also went ahead and intermarried with them to win them on their side. Even though the two different on various issues, they both had multiple similarities. Therefore, the paper explores numerous similarities and differences between the two colonial empires in America (McAlister, and Lyle 44).

The Spanish Colonies: God, Glory, and Gold

The Spanish colonies are characterized as being interested in God, Glory, and Gold. Their character illustrates that they not only intended to get rich but also to promote Christianity religion in the countries they colonized. The Spanish empire was an organized empire which consisted of smaller districts such as Peru and New Spain viceroyalties. Moreover, significant disparities between classes existed in the Spanish realm which was based on how close an individual was to Spain (Daniela Bleichmar et al. 24). According to the category, the peninsulas who had been born in Spain got the highest share, the criollos who were Spanish individuals born in America came second in the list, the mestizos mixed race came after and lastly was the non-colonized Spanish member who was blacked came last. However, a lot of intermarriage cases that happened with the native following a fact that many the colonialists were mainly men. Therefore, colonies were brought about through the defeat of the indigenous individuals by the visitors unlike the Portuguese, Spanish colonialist highly valued plantations and mining since they were their primary source of income.

Portugal Expansion Beyond Peninsular Boundaries

Portugal expansion that took place past its peninsular boundaries started in the late 14th century and came to an end in the earlier years of the 15th century. During the two centuries, Spain and Portugal were mentioned to be dangerous rivals, especially in the expansion department. Moreover, when the canary island was rediscovered, the conflict between Castile and Portugal arose. In Spain, the Colombian petition was rejected therefore Colombia was forced to find refuge from Isabella and Ferdinand due to his connection by the Portuguese wife.

Disagreements Between Spain and Portugal

There exists a disagreement between Spain and Portugal and who among the two was civilized than the other. According to record, Portugal was more educated than the Spanish empire. The Spain Empire is reported to have forced the American and Indians citizens to work as slaves in mines that produced gold and silver also to work on their sugarcane plantations. Moreover, the government of Spain created a system for settlement referred to as the encomienda whereby big and broad land became disseminated together with the aim of enslaving Indian workers who settled in the territory (Daniela Bleichmar et al. 25).

Objectives of the Spanish Empire

According to Bodmer and Beatriz priests from Spain tried for many times to convert Indians into becoming Christians even though their primary objective was to destroy the Indian religion as an artifact pagan which would make sure that the Indian culture and religion had been lost forever (50). Therefore according to studies, the Spanish empire was much concerned with the acquisition of gold and silver more than the permanent establishment of settlements. Moreover, they were unable to come up with permanent settlements colonies that had an exceptional possibility of St. Augustus.

The Spanish Empire in the Northern Region of America

Furthermore, in the northern region of America, the primary objective of the Spanish empire was to guard their silver and gold shipment to compete with Portugal and European powers. The first settlements that included the Florida and St. Augustus were built so as they can protect the ship fleets from being attacked by privateers (Bodmer and Beatriz 55). Therefore, it is incorrect to state that the Spanish empire consisted of large firms with big cities. Nevertheless, the first American rebellion against the Spanish empire which was referred to as the Pope’s resistance resulted from various failures on the promises made by the Spain colonialists. During the rebellion period, more than four hundred Spanish individuals were murdered, and therefore they lost to New Mexico.

The Portuguese Approach to Colonization

Nevertheless, the Portugal Empire looked for knowledge left behind various texts that concerned the people they were involved with and also went from left to right to gather intelligence. In the end, they had written so much about India than America. In 1588, Portugal Empire had moved towards Africa and landed in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, in the year 1520, the Portuguese who had been sailing in the Spain service went round the South American tip and found themselves in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, following the exploration of Portugal, Spain developed a rivalry with them in Asia. However, there existed many complications in their relationship during the 16th century and part of the 17th century (Burbank, Jane, and Frederick 15).

Differences in Settlement Approaches

Unlike Spain, Portugal tried their level best in setting permanent settlements through trading with the Americans. The Portuguese realized that if they had a peaceful relation with the Yanks, then they would benefit a lot, unlike the Spanish empire that often confronted the Yanks. Portuguese easily adapted to American cultures, their mode of dressing and also they did intermarry with, therefore, treating them with respect and fairly. The Spanish colonies were said to be more intense in settlement and have more developed created economies, unlike the Portugal colonies. Portugal Empire had a scattered agreement, therefore, did not acquire large firms, mines plus other valuable things (Fieldhouse and David 8).


According to the discussion, it can be concluded that Portugal and Spain even though they had few similarities, they also had more significant differences during the colonial era. Both are seen to have an interest in colonizing not only America but also in India and African countries. However, the two colonies had different approach methods in having their ways to the state they wanted to colonize. For instance, the Spanish empire used Christianity as a method of entering India. They started converting Indian citizens into becoming Christians even though their main aim was to acquire gold and silver, plus other valuable materials.

On the other hand, the Portuguese decided to act like the owner of the country. They started adapting to their culture, wearing their clothes and also intermarrying with their daughters. By so doing, they gained trust from the country members, and even they treated them fairly.

Work Cited

Bleichmar, Daniela, et al., eds. Science in the Spanish and Portuguese empires, 1500–1800.   Stanford University Press, 2008.

Bodmer, Beatriz Pastor. The armature of conquest: Spanish accounts of the discovery of             America, 1492-1589. Stanford University Press, 1992.

Burbank, Jane, and Frederick Cooper. Empires in world history: Power and the politics of         difference. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Fieldhouse, David Kenneth. The colonial empires: a comparative survey from the eighteenth       century. Vol. 29. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson [c1966], 1967.

McAlister, Lyle N. Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700. Vol. 3.U of Minnesota       Press, 1984.

November 13, 2023


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