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date: 09 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Spain and Portugal were, for various reasons, the pioneers of European overseas expansion. Between c. 1450 and c. 1550 they constructed vast empires, different in character but with common features. This chapter identifies similarities and differences in the structuring of Portugal’s essentially mercantile empire based on trading posts in Africa and Asia, and that of Spain’s territorial empire, based on conquest and settlement in the Caribbean and the American mainland. It discusses the imperial bureaucracies, the approach to evangelization, the impact of the discovery of silver deposits in Mexico and Peru, the introduction of African slavery to America, and the growing importance of Portugal’s territorial empire in Brazil as its Asian empire succumbed to foreign attack. The rising costs of administration and defence generated reform programmes that led to serious tensions between the imperial governments and the creole elites of their American territories at the end of the eighteenth century.

Keywords: Empire, conquest, slavery, silver, bureaucracy, defence, creoles

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