During the Middle Ages, Europeans had become keenly aware of the wealth existing outside of Europe, particularly in the Far East. Moreover, improvements in navigation and maritime technology during the 1400s meant that Europeans could access riches in other parts of the world with far more efficiency and effectiveness than ever before (McCannon 2008, 208).
Spain and Portugal were the first European nations to venture across the Atlantic (Page and Sonneburg 2003, 481). Spanish reaction to the New World cultures across the Atlantic is characterized as mixed. Spanish ranchers, miners and farmers saw the Indians as a source of fre labor and set about attempting to and ultimately achieving these ambitions. Other Spaniards, particularly Spanish missionaries preferred to treat the New World Indian natives with a degree of compassion and to convert them to Christianity. Spanish bureaucrats were frequently at a crossroad, attempting to temper the call for compassion and conversion with the a desire to secure wealth by virtue of exploiting free labor (Benton 2002, 84).
The Portuguese systematically took control of Asia building a commercial empire in the region. The Portuguese essentially established a monopoly over the Asian spices and other valuable products by seizing maritime control over Asian ports and acted as the sole trader between Asian nations and Europe (Love 2006, 27). Essentially, Spain and Portugal’s different treatment of their respective conquests were dictated by their respective discoveries. The Spanish encountered human capital rather than rich resources and therefore put their attention to reaping benefits in terms of free labor. The Portuguese encountered rich resources and focused their energies on taking control of those resources. In each case, the goal was to advance and improve economics and each conquering nation focused on how best to advance their economic positions by reference to the sources