& Terms in
Fasttrack to America's Past
Section 1: Discovery and Exploration
|Aztec - a Native American group
was built on an island in a lake located where Mexico City is
By the time Europeans arrived, the Aztecs ruled an empire of about five
million people. They are famous for their high level of
and crop irrigation system. An elaborate calendar governed their
civic activities and religious rituals.
The Aztec are also known for their oppressive treatment of neighboring tribes. Human sacrifice to their sun god was practiced on a staggering scale. A thousand or more captives a week were sacrificed in some periods. Priests cut the hearts from the living victims, who were captured from other Indian groups.
The Aztecs and their leader, Montezuma, were overthrown by the Spanish under Hernando Cortes in 1521.
Church - the Christian church that developed in the Roman Empire
the death of Jesus Christ. Catholic monasteries kept learning
during the Middle Ages, and the Church itself was a key force in the
life of European kingdoms.
Columbian Exchange - the exchange of previously unknown plants and animals between the Old World and the New World after the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Corn and the potato came back to Europe, along with scores of other new plants and animals. The horse and the cow were introduced to the New World. Disease, especially smallpox from Europe, was also part of the exchange.
Christopher - the famous explorer who discovered the New World in
Born in Genoa, Italy, he was already a very experienced captain when he
conceived his plan to reach the lands of the Far East by sailing west
the Atlantic. After years of trying to find a backer, he finally
convinced king Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Spain to support his
He took three ships, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa
The exact island where he first landed in the West Indies is still
conquistadors - the Spanish word for the soldiers and their leaders who conquered the Native Americans of the New World in the early 1500s. With guns and horses, both unknown to the Indians, they had a tremendous military advantage. The writings of the Spanish priest Bartolome de Las Casas revealed the terrible cruelties committed by many of the conquistadors against the Native Americans.
de Las Casas, Bartolome - a Spanish soldier involved in the conquest of Cuba in the early 1500s who later became a priest in the Catholic Church. After studying the teachings of the Bible, he concluded that many of the activities of the Spanish in the New World were morally wrong. As a missionary, he dedicated his life to the protection of Native Americans. His writings and arguments helped convince the Pope and the king of Spain to issue an order against the enslavement and abuse of Indians.
de Soto, Hernando - a Spanish explorer who took an army of about 600 men through much of what is now the southeast United States in search of gold and other riches. In 1541 he became the first European to see the Mississippi River. De Soto overcame incredible difficulties along the way, but his expedition is also known for mistreatment of many of the Indian groups he met. He died of a fever, and only about half of his army survived. They never found the gold or riches they sought, but did strengthen Spain's claim to the Gulf Coast region from Florida to Texas.
exploitation - to take unfair advantage of a person or group for one’s own gain, especially in an organized or systematic way.
Inca - the greatest of the New World empires,
west coast of South America in what is now Peru. Their capital
at Cuzco, high in the Andes mountain range.
Lost Colony, The - a common name for the colony at
(now in North Carolina) that was started in 1587 by the English.
Sir Walter Raleigh was among the key promoters of the venture.
colony is famous because all its residents disappeared, including the
English child born in North America, Virginia Dare.
Magellan, Ferdinand - the famous explorer from Portugal who led a Spanish expedition that was the first to sail around the world. Magellan and five ships left from Spain in 1519. Only one ship and 18 men made it home to Spain in 1522. Magellan was killed in the Philippines in a battle with a group of natives who were enemies of another group he befriended. But the voyage proved the basic layout of the continents, and helped extend the area claimed by the Spanish.
missions - religious “outposts” in a foreign land aimed at winning converts. In the centuries after 1492, Catholic priests from Spain established many mission settlements in the New World to convert Native Americans, and teach them Europeans ways of life and agriculture. They attempted to protect the native population from exploitation by Spanish conquistadors and landowners. But they have also been criticized in modern times for the role they played in forcing Europeans ways on Indians. Some of the Spanish missions built in what is now California are popular stops for tourists.
plantation - a large farm that typically raises one or two large cash crops like sugar cane or tobacco. Often, the term is applied to farms using forced labor, although sometimes it is applied to any farm, or even a settlement, such as Plymouth Plantation.
- in Europe, the period that lasted from about 1350 until about
The word means the “rebirth” of European civilization after the Middle
Ages. Growing trade, contact with the Arab and Chinese
and the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman books all helped trigger
smallpox - a disease common in Europe until modern times that caused disfiguring pustules on the skin, and sometimes death. It killed millions of Indians in the New World when it spread from ships’ crews to the natives after 1492, because the Indians had none of the resistance that Europeans had built up. Today vaccines have eliminated the disease, but there are fears it could re-emerge in germ warfare.
Spice Islands - known today as the Molucca Islands, they lie off the coasts of Asia and Australia. This small group of islands was the main source of valuable spices like pepper in ancient times. Trade routes carried small amounts of the spices to Europe, where they were highly desired by the wealthy nobility and merchant classes. One of the key goals of early explorers was to find a sea route from Europe to these islands and other lands of the Far East.
Copyright 1999, 2015 by David Burns. All rights reserved.