Although Christopher Columbus is considered to have discovered America, the Vikings were the first Europeans to arrive on the north-east coast of North America. Thus, beginning from the Dark Ages, many European peoples began to navigate the seas and oceans in order to discover new lands and new riches. These people were: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Norwegians, Dutch, and English.
On the evening of the 3rd of August 1492, Christopher Columbus set off on his first trans-Atlantic voyage. This would be the first of four voyages made by the explorer. At the end of these, the Spanish crown had become the main colonial power in America. At the same time, the so-called columbian exchange began. This was a process in which people, plants, animals, but also ideologies and religious beliefs were transferred from the Old World to the New and vice-versa.
Information about the newly discovered territories, especially about the riches of these lands, spread fast through the Old Continent. This sparked the interest of the European regents, but also of explorers and adventurers. They wanted to rule those lands and become rich. The era of discovery, begun by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 15th century, was going full speed ahead.
With few exceptions, contact between European explorers and the native population was violent. Cultural, social and religious differences, together with the economical and political interests of the newcomers, caused military conflicts which ended with the destruction of the great Amerindian civilizations and the division of the discovered territories amongst the great powers of Western Europe.
After the defeat of the Aztecs, the Spanish headed south. They began a military campaign to conquer the Mayan towns. The campaign proved to be much more difficult than the one against the Aztecs: the last Mayan town was conquered almost a century later. Even so, the Spanish advanced rapidly along the coasts of Central America, since they had the advantage of maritime travel. They arrived in modern-day Peru, where they discovered the Inca Empire.
The colonization of North America was a more difficult process than that of Central and South America, for various reasons. On one hand, both the climate and the level of development of the local cultures were different. On the other hand, from the moment of the first explorations of the eastern coast, several different European powers disputed their right to occupy the western lands. These powers were: Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
On the 7th of June 1494, Portugal and the Spanish Crown signed the Treaty of Tordesillas. According to this treaty, the New World was divided, consecrating Spanish and Portuguese hegemony in America for the next four centuries. Today’s Latin America is the result of a process of fusion. Thus, Spanish, Portuguese and also African cultural elements would fuse with those of the native populations. African slaves were brought to exploit the conquered lands. Thus, a complex social, cultural and linguistic system was created, with great implications in the world’s geopolitical dynamic.
The French and Indian wars, as they have been called by American historians, represent a series of conflicts between France and Great Britain. The goal was to control the lands of the north-eastern part of the North American continent. The French and English took allies from the native populations. The French allied with the Algonquin tribes, and the British with the Iroquois people. Although Great Britain emerged victorious, occupying the French colonies, the Amerindian peoples suffered irremediable demographic, economic and cultural losses.
After the wars with France, the British obtained a favorable outcome. This created the conditions for political stability, which favored the rapid development of the 13 British colonies in North America. Other elements which contributed to their development were: the system of administration, the economic system and the abundance of resources, and the social and cultural peculiarities of the colonists. Thus the colonists began to rival, from an economic standpoint, the motherland, Great Britain.