Columbus’ voyage of 1492 was intended to discover a shorter all-water route to China and India than the route around Africa that was being opened up by the Portuguese, and the aim of both was to be able to bypass the Muslim and Byzantine middle-men through which the spices of the East reached Western Europe. Although Columbus died still believing that he had opened up the Indies to Spain – which is why Europeans called the native inhabitants of the Americas “Indians” – most realized that a great land mass lay between them and the spices of the East, and also began to realize that there were sources of gold and silver there.
The natives had amassed a great deal of golden treasure over the centuries, and the first flood of “new” gold into Spain and Europe came as a result of the conquistadores [Spanish for “conquerors”] seizing this accumulation. With the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro, new gold began to be mined; and, with the discovery of the silver veins of San Luis Potosi in Mexico, vast amounts of silver began to appear.
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