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Tordesillas, Treaty of

Tordesillas, Treaty of (tōrˌħāsēˈlyäs) [key], 1494, agreement signed at Tordesillas, Spain, by which Spain and Portugal divided the non-Christian world into two zones of influence. In principle the treaty followed the papal bull issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, which fixed the demarcation line along a circle passing 100 leagues W of the Cape Verde Islands and through the two poles. This division gave the entire New World to Spain and Africa and India to Portugal. However, the Treaty of Tordesillas shifted the demarcation line to a circle passing 370 leagues W of the Cape Verde Islands and thus gave Portugal a claim to Brazil. There was little geographic knowledge at the time the treaty was signed, and it remains controversial whether the Portuguese then knew of the existence of Brazil.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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