500 years ago this year

Key developments of 1520

The best listing I’ve found of the events of 1520 is this one, on Wikipedia. There is also one on the New Zealand/Aotearoa-based website On This Day. Both lists are fairly Euro/Atlantico-centric, leaving out what I’m sure were significant developments in East Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc. But the Wikipedia one does at least tell us that there are 30 other different ways of numbering/tagging calendar years in addition to the Gregorian/ “Common Era” method. Personally, I rather like the Holocene one.

So from the 1520 (CE) listings, it seems  that the events of that year that over time proved to be particularly significant to the development of the European-dominated world were as follows:

  • In June, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés defeated and deposed, in Tenochtitlan– present-day Mexico City– the Aztec leader Moctezuma II. (In July, Moctezuma’s brother Cuitláhuac mounted a successful counter-attack. But  in August 1521, Cortés mounted his own comeback, seizing Tenochtitlan; and under pressure from both the conquistadores and the smallpox they brought with them, the whole once-massive Aztec Empire then crumbled…)
  • Toward the end of 1520, Martin Luther was getting active. On December 10, he burned copies of The Book of Canon Law and the Papal bull Exsurge Domine, which had required he recant his heresies.
  • In late November, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sailed from the Atlantic Ocean around the southern tip of South America, into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Suleiman the Magnificent succeeded his father as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which during the 46 years of his rule expanded greatly into Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

And from this intriguing UC Irvine event listing, I learned, that 1520 also saw a notable development in the transatlantic slave trade:

  • On November 15, 1520, the ship Santa María de la Luz disembarked in San Juan, in today’s Puerto Rico, a shipment of  Africans who had earlier been captured in “Portuguese Guinea”, most likely located in today’s Mauretania. Just two years earlier Spanish King Charles I had first authorized Spanish ships to transport enslaved people directly from Africa to the Americas, without having to go through a European port first, a move that led to a rapid increase in the numbers of enslaved Africans transported across the Atlantic.

In 1521, all the above story-lines would continue to develop… But another development of world-historical impact was that in Spring 1521, a Ming imperial fleet defeated a Portuguese fleet in the Battle of Tunmen (thought to be near today’s Hong Kong.) Apparently the Chinese at the time were upset that a Portuguese trader, the brother of the head of a Portuguese trading mission in the area had begun “purchasing as well as kidnapping child slaves along the Chinese coast to sell in Portuguese Malacca.[2] Even children from well-off families were stolen and found years later at Diu in western India.”

Well, further exploration of that episode should rightly– according to my still-evolving view of how this writing project will proceed– wait till next year.

In the meantime: Adios, 1520!