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A political system that developed during the Middle Ages; nobles were granted the use of lands that legally belonged to their king in exchange for their loyalty, military service, and protection of the people who lived on the land (e.g., serfs).

the "plague"

A disease known as the "Black Death"; brought to Europe by the Mongols during the Middle Ages (14th century); killed 1/3 of the population (25 million people) and helped end feudalism


a Native American people of the Caribbean islands; the first group encountered by Columbus and his men when they reached the Americas


The great period of "rebirth" in art, literature, and learning in the 14th-16th centuries; marked (1) a renewed interest in classic Greek and Roman culture, (2) improvements in science and mathematics; (3) a period when the arts flourished, and (4) the transition from the Middle Ages into the modern periods of European history


Eeconomic principles and policies by which nations like Spain and Portugal tried to build a favorable balance of trade; a balance of trade occurs when a nation exports more goods than it imports, which allows it to increase its supply of gold and silver

Line of Demarcation ("Treaty of Tordesillas")

This was the imaginary north-to-south line drawn by Pope Alexander VI that gave Portugal land to the east of the line (most of Brazil) and Spain land to the west of the line (the remainder of South America)

Hernando Cortes

Spanish explorer and conquistador who led 500 men to Mexico (1519-1521) where they conquered and destroyed the Aztecs because (1) Spain had superior weapons, (2) the support of local enemies of the Aztecs, and (3) disease killed millions of natives (e.g., smallpox). The conquering Spaniards obtained vast amounts of gold and other wealth, which they sent back to Spain.

Francisco Pizarro

Spanish explorer and conquistador who led an expedition of 180 men and 37 horses to the Inca Empire in Peru, which he conquered and seized for Spain (1532). He took vast amounts of gold and other wealth from the natives and sent it back to Spain.

Northwest Passage

Water route that explorers hoped would flow through or above North America and connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; their purpose was to find a shorter trading route from Europe to Asia

Columbian Exchange

the movement of plants, animals, and diseases between the Eastern and Western hemispheres during the Age of Exploration

Middle Passage

The leg of the triangular trade route across which millions of slaves were transported by ships from Africa to the Americas.

African Diaspora

the forced removal of Africans from their homelands to serve as slave labor in the Americas

Christopher Columbus

An Italian navigator whose explorations were funded by the Spanish King & Queen; his mission was to find a water route to Asia. He is credited with discovering the "New World" even though, at his death, he wrongly believed he had made it to India.

Bartholemeu Dias

a Portuguese explorer who was the first European to sail to the "Cape of Good Hope" at the southern tip of Africa

Vasco de Gama

First European to reach India by sea; he completed his expedition by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Indian Ocean; his work helped end the Italian monopoly on trade with Asia

Great Law of Peace

Oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, which was later recorded in writing. The Iroquois nations adopted this constitution as a means to live together as equals and included some democratic ideals. In some ways, the Iroquois created a model for the U.S. Constitution.


Grants of Native American laborers made by the Spanish government to conquerors and settlers in Latin America; established a framework for relations with Native Americans based on economic dominance; laborers often worked on haciendas (plantations).

Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Spanish explorer who became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean (1510) while exploring Panama

Ferdinand Magellan

Portuguese-born navigator who led a Spanish expedition (1519-1522) that was the first to sail around the world. His expedition sailed around the Tierra del Fuego (South America) and on to Asia, although he died before reaching his destination. One ship returned all the way to Spain.

Amerigo Vespucci

Italian explorer who sailed for both Spain and Portugal; he was the first to suggest that South America was a new continent - not Asia, as previously reported by Columbus. The Americas are named after him.

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