Gunpowder and Gold
Julius Caesar and the rulers that followed him had changed the nature of European society, creating an industrial system to replace the former feudal system. The industrial system had certain very serious problems. Constantine must have believed that the problems were so serious, that it was better to have things back where they were before. He destroyed the industrial society and all its books and other records, and replaced it with theocratic feudalism. In most ways, life had gone back to the way it was before Julius Caesar. Feudalism was back.
As long as there is no military pressure to innovate, feudal republics tend to be stagnant. Nothing much changes. For most historians, the period between the year 322 (by the calendar Constantine had created) and 1044 is basically a blank period in history. Nothing happened that historians consider worth recording.
But in the year 1044 by the calendar that Constantine had created, a discovery made thousands of miles away was to change human existence forever.
Zeng Gongliang was a chemist. He experimented with chemicals. A certain crystal grows in caves with a great many bats and therefore a great deal of bat manure. This same crystal grows in cool, damp areas, where a great deal of feces accumulates, including stables and human latrines. This crystal could be ground up and would yield a very fine white powder that is now called ‘saltpeter.’
Zeng was mixing different materials with saltpeter to see what would happen. At one point, he ground up charcoal into a fine powder and mixed it with the fine saltpeter, and set it on fire.
The mixture exploded.
He tested various different mixtures to see which one gave the most powerful explosion. His published findings indicated that the largest explosion came with a mixture of 3/4 saltpeter and 1/4 charcoal.
He tried various things with this mixture. At one point, he rolled up some powder inside of a paper and put it into a fire. The device exploded with an extremely loud noise and a very bright light. Zeng had invented firecrackers.
Modern chemists know why a mixture of saltpeter and charcoal explodes:
Normally, charcoal burns slowly because it needs to get oxygen from the air to burn. Only a small amount of air can get to the charcoal every second, so the charcoal can’t burn very rapidly. Saltpeter, with the chemical name ‘potassium nitrate’ (KNO3), has a large amount of oxygen in a solid form. When the mixture of saltpeter and charcoal burns, all oxygen (this solid form) combines with the carbon at the same time. The total amount of energy released is the same as burning the charcoal, but because it happens in a fraction of a second (rather than over a period of hours) the result is an explosion.
In 1044, Zeng and his colleagues Ding Du and Yang Weide published their findings about the exploding powder in the book Wujing Zongyao (武经总要 ;to source).
At first, the new technology was used for medical purposes. Chinese doctors believed that infections were caused by evil ‘humors’ or spirits that got into people’s bodies. They believed that the humors that caused certain diseases were sensitive to noise and could be frightened out of the body by loud and sudden noises. They found they could make very loud noises with firecrackers.
Over the next few decades, various researchers in China looked for other uses for the devices. It was ultimately found that a slight modification in the formula that Zeng and his colleagues reported could create an even more powerful explosion. The new formula was 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. This mixture of chemicals is now called ‘gunpowder.’
Military people started to do research on the produce. They found that there were ways to weaponize gunpowder. If they put the powder into a closed container, drilled a hole in the container, put a piece of paper with a little bit of the powder on it into the hole, then set fire to the paper, the device would explode with enough force to destroy anything within a few paces of the device. They had invented ‘grenades.’ If they put a very large amount of the powder into a container made to hold the explosive in (like a metal pipe), then set it on fire as described above, they would have a device that could explode with enough force to destroy a building or blow a large hole in a masonry wall. They had invented ‘bombs.’
They then found that they could coat the inside of a tube with the powder (by packing the tube first with powder, then drilling out the middle, leaving only a thin coating of powder on the inside of the tube). Then, if they blocked one side of the tube and set fire to the other, the tube would fly wherever it was pointing at a very great speed. This kind of device is called a ‘rocket.’ They also found they could attach a grenade to a rocket to create a very useful weapon called a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). The rocket would carry the grenade to wherever the rocket was aimed, and then the grenade would explode, killing anyone nearby. They found that if they had an extremely strong metal cylinder that was closed at one end, they could put powder in it, put some sort of projectile on the other side of the powder, then ignite the powder, and the device would send the projectile flying with enough force to destroy anything or anyone in its path. They had invented ‘cannons.’
The oldest known book that describes these weapons is the ‘The History of the Song Dynasty’ (宋史 , pronounced Song Shur), published in 1232. This book does much more than describe the weapons. It explains how to make all of the raw materials needed for the powder, how to prepare them and mix them, and how to build all of the devices listed above.
The Spread of Gunpowder to the Islamic World
Here is one description of a bomb detonation from 宋史::
He lit it and a clap of thunder was heard, the walls crumbled, and smoke covered the sky. Many soldiers outside died of fright. When the fire went out, they went inside and failed to find even the ashes of the 250 defenders; they had disappeared without trace. (to source)
As military planners heard about these devices, they started changing their military tactics to take advantage of them. As you might imagine, word of these new weapons spread fast. Military officials wanted gunpowder-based weapons very badly. At that time, the Kahns of China were at war with the Sultans of the Moslem world. The Khans began to use the weapons. The Sultans put their military researchers and spies on the project and got copies of the books that explained how to make them.
The earliest record of gunpowder-based weapons outside of China was in 1260, when the Moslems used cannon against the Mongols in the Battle of Ain Jalut, (Source, .) The 1270 (كتاب الفروسية العسكرية و الحيل الحرب) by Kitab Al-Furusiyyah Wa Al-Manasib Al-Harbiyyah, gives the first Islamic-world descriptions of gunpowder manufacture and explains how to make grenades, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, bombs, and cannons written in Arabic. By 1270, manufacturers were quite sophisticated and used different formulations of chemicals for each weapon. The 1270 book gives a total of 172 formulations for gunpowder for various uses.
The Absolute Need To Allow People To Use Their Minds
As I write this in 2015, the Christian parts of the world are far more progressive and open to research and acquisition of knowledge than the Moslem part of the world. In 1270, the opposite was true. Moslems were considered progressive, and the Christians were repressive. The Moslems tolerated research, at least if it had military applications.
The Catholic church prohibited any books other than the Bible. The Bible was only available in Latin and only priests were allowed to learn to read Latin. There was no reason for anyone else to learn to read any languages because there were no (legal) books.
At the time, the Moslem and Christian worlds were involved in a war that had been ongoing for more than a century, over possession of a piece of land in the middle east called the ‘Kingdom of Jerusalem.’ Both Moslems and Christians believed this city to have a special connection with God. Both believed the words of their holy books required them to control this part of the world.
By 1269, the Christians had gained total control over the Kingdom of Jerusalem and all surrounding land. They had a huge buffer around this land and had held it long enough to erect massive fortifications. The Moslems had been doing their best to take this land back, but as long as they were using nothing but swords, arrows, crossbows, and other simple weapons against fortified walls, they couldn’t make any progress.
In 1270, the Moslems attacked with rockets, grenades, cannons, and rocket-propelled grenades. The Christians had no chance at all. Within a few years, the buffer was gone and the Christians were fighting for the Kingdom of Jerusalem itself. Again, they didn’t stand a chance. By 1287, the Christians had lost all of the ‘holy land.’ Two years later, they had been driven out of the middle east entirely. In 1291 with the fall of Tripoli and Acre, they lost their last major bases in Africa and, by 1303, the Moslems controlled all of North Africa and the Middle East, with no Christian presence there at all.
The Christians not only didn’t have gunpowder-based weapons, they didn’t even have research facilities to study the technology their enemies used. Even if they had had the Chinese or Arabic books that explained how to make the weapons, this wouldn’t have done any good: it was illegal (punishable by death) to teach people how to read any language other than Latin, and only one book was allowed in Latin: the Bible.
A Forced Renaissance
Even the people high up in the church realized change was necessary. They had to be able to match the Moslem weapons, or they would never be able to retake the holy land. In fact, they were clearly vulnerable in Europe. If the Moslems decided to attack and fight them on their home ground, they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves. The reforms began in the early 1300s. By mid-century, reformist Cardinals controlled the conclave that elected the Pope. On November 6, 1362, the conclave of Cardinals selected Guillaume de Grimoard of France to be the new Pope. He took the name Urban V. Urban was an extremely progressive man and totally changed the architecture of the Catholic church.
His first act as Pope was to change the Roman constitution to allow open study of fields other than religion. He spent most of the rest of his term in office opening new schools all over the Empire. This is from the New Advent Christian Encyclopedia:
He founded universities at Cracow (by a Bull of 1364) and at Vienna (by a Bull of 1365), and caused the emperor to create the University of Orange; he revised the statutes of the University of Orléans; and gave great assistance to the universities of Avignon and Toulouse. At Bologna he supported the great college founded by Albornoz and paid the expenses of many poor students whom he sent thither. ( to source.)
Science had became a practical necessity.
Even the ruling power of the Holy Roman Empire—by many accounts the most repressive administration the world has ever seen—was forced to back down and allow people to use their minds, for the first time in more than a thousand years.
The Rediscovery of the Existence of the Rest of the World
Industrial Rome had been quite advanced and had developed a great many technologies. Although Constantine tried to destroy all of this knowledge, he wasn’t entirely successful. People hid books from the church. For a thousand years, the books existed but didn’t affect anyone’s behavior, because people couldn’t read them.
Once the church and governments began to allow research, people began to rediscover some of the pre-Constantine technologies. Progress was very fast and there were a lot of incredible discoveries.
Some of the more important rediscoveries, from the perspective of societal evolution, involve navigation:
In 1416, a businessman named Infante Dom Henrique de Avis opened a navigation school in the city of Sangres, Portugal. In 1419 de Avis became governor of the province of the Algarve in Portugal and began building enormous shipyards at the city of Tome. These began to build the first ocean-going ships that Europe had had in more than a thousand years. The navigation school began to collect as many of such pre-Constantine maps and texts as could be found. Infante Dom Henrique de Avis gained the nickname of ‘Henry the Navigator,’ and most historians refer to him by this nickname today.
Portuguese explorers, trained at Henry’s schools, started heading out into the ‘great ocean sea’ of the Atlantic in the 1420s. Some of the maps that had made their way to the school showed an archipelago of islands about 900 miles to the west of Portugal, deep in the Atlantic. The Romans called these the ‘Fortunate Islands.’ Henry sent more than a hundred different expeditions to try to find these islands before they finally rediscovered them. (Their navigation methods were very primitive; they perfected them in the attempts to find the Fortunate Islands.) Finally in 1427 , rediscovered this island chain. The Romans had built some structures there, and people had lived on the islands in prehistoric times, but when rediscovered the island chain was uninhabited. Henry claimed these islands for Portugal, and as the ‘discoverer’ had naming rights, so he called them the name they now bear: the ‘Azores.’
The Azores were an important discovery because they told the people of Europe that the Atlantic was not the end of land on Earth. There was land to the west. Some zealous map makers were soon to piece together information from old Roman texts that led them to believe there were continents to the west of the Atlantic.
We will get to that story shortly.
Africa, India and China
If you look at a map of the Earth, you will see that there are two ways to get to the Indian Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea. First, you can go east to the extreme end of the sea, travel across a short stretch of land to the Red Sea, and that connects directly with the Indian Ocean. Second, you can go west through the Straights of Gibraltar, out to the Atlantic, south along the coast of Africa, around the horn of Africa, and north up the other coast. This will take you to the same place as the first route.
When Europe had a presence in the Middle East, it had access to goods produced in India and other areas along the Indian Ocean. Traders would bring goods by ship along the coast of India to the Red Sea. They would then carry the goods by road to markets in Jerusalem. When the Christians controlled Jerusalem, they could buy Indian items there and transport them to Europe for sale.
There were many things that were made in India that were not available in Europe at all. These included the important medicine opium, certain spices that could be sold for many times their weight in gold if they could be transported to Europe, and silk cloth. When the Europeans lost their facilities in these areas in 1300, they couldn’t get these goods anymore.
Of course, only a few people in Europe were rich enough to be able to afford to buy these medicines, spices, and silk. But they were willing to pay such fantastic amounts for them that people would go to fantastic lengths to get them. After the Christians lost their land in the Middle East, they lost access to these markets. The only way left to get items from India was over the ‘silk road,’ which stretched over 4,000 miles of some of the most rugged terrain on Earth. Few people were willing to try this and only a tiny percentage of the few who tried actually made it both ways with their trade goods. But those who did were able to sell their goods for such incredible prices that they became fantastically rich. In the 1400s, a great many people dreamed of finding a way to get these items to Europe.
By the mid 1400s, Henry’s school of navigation had discovered enough of the pre-Constantine Roman navigation charts to make it clear that it was possible to get to the Indian Ocean by going around the tip of Africa. In fact, the Romans had traded over this route both with Africans and with India and China. They knew it could be done, but they didn’t yet have the technology to do it. But they kept working on it. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias made it around the tip of Africa. A great many people tried to go further, but they never came back and we don’t know what happened to them. Finally, in 1497, Vasco De Gamma was the first to make a successful round trip, leaving Lisbon with trade goods, traveling to Calcutta to sell the goods and trade them for spices, silk, and opium, and returning to Lisbon to sell the oriental goods there.
Paul the Physicist and the Shortcut to India
By the mid 1471, some people in Europe had discovered Roman Maps that led them to believe that it would be possible to make the trip to India by an entirely different route.
Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli was an author, researcher, and map maker. He lived in Florence and his friends knew him as ‘Paul the Physicist.’ In the mid 1400s, Paul the Physicist was a member of a group of intellectuals who searched for and studied Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and other pre-Constantine works. Other members of the group were (writer, philosopher), (mathematician, writer), the , (religious leader) and (religious leader). Toscanelli’s library in Florence was said to have had the largest collection of pre-Constantine books that existed anywhere in Europe at the time, exceeding that of even the library of Henry the Navigator’s school.
On the 25th of June, 1474 Toscanelli wrote a letter to his friend Fernão Martins, a priest at the Lisbon Cathedral. This letter explained that Paul the Physicist and his collogues had discovered from the early texts that the world was a sphere. This meant it was possible to get to the east by going west.
Martins gave his letter to King Afonso V of Portugal. But the King did not act on it. The original, written in Latin, is currently part of the historical documents collection at the Seville Library in Spain.
A sailor who lived in Palos, Spain, heard of this letter. The sailor’s name was ‘Columbus.’ Columbus wrote to Toscanelli for more information. Tosconelli sent Columbus basically the same letter he had sent to Martins, with another copy of the map.
Here are some excerpts from the letter:
To Christopher Columbus, Paul the Physicist wishes health.
I perceive your noble and earnest desire to sail to those parts where the spice is produced, and therefore, in answer to a letter of yours, I send you another letter which, some days since, I wrote to a friend of mine, a servant of the King of Portugal before the wars of Castile, in answer to another that he wrote me by his highness’s order, upon this same account. And I also send you another sea-chart, like the one I sent to him, which will satisfy your demands.
This is a copy of the letter:
I have very often discoursed concerning the short way there is from hence to the Indies, where the spice is produced, by sea (which I look upon to be shorter than that you take by the coast of Guinea), yet you now tell me that his highness would have me make out and demonstrate it, so that it may be understood and put in practice.
Therefore, though I could better show it to him with a globe in my hand, and make him sensible of the figure of the world, yet I have resolved, to make it more easy and intelligible, to show the way on a chart, such as is used in navigation, and therefore I send one to his majesty, made and drawn with my own hand, wherein is set down the utmost bounds of the earth, from Ireland in the west to the farthest parts of Guinea, with all the islands that lie in the way; opposite to which western coast is described the beginning of the Indies, with the islands and places whither you may go, and how far you may bend from the North Pole towards the Equinoctial, and for how long a time–that is, how many leagues you may sail before you come to those places most fruitful in spices, jewels, and precious stones.
Do not wonder if I term that country where the spice grows, West, that product being generally ascribed to the East, because those who sail westward will always find those countries in the west, and those who travel by land eastward will always find those countries in the east! The straight lines that lie lengthways in the chart show the distance there is from west to east; the others, which cross them, show the distance from north to south. I have also marked down in the chart several places in India where ships might put in, upon any storms or contrary winds, or other unforeseen accident.
From Lisbon directly westward there are in the chart twenty-six spaces, each of which contains two hundred and fifty miles, to the most noble and vast city of Quinsai [the city now called Hangzhou, slightly south of Shanghai, used to be called Quinsai] which is one hundred miles in compass–that is, thirty-five leagues. In it there are ten marble bridges. The name signifies a heavenly city, of which wonderful things are reported, as to the ingenuity of the people, the buildings, and the revenues.
From the island of Antilla, which you call the Island of the Seven Cities, and whereof you have some knowledge, to the most noble island of Cipango are ten spaces, which make two thousand five hundred miles. This island abounds in gold, pearls, and precious stones; and, you must understand, they cover their temples and palaces with plates of pure gold; so that, for want of knowing the way, all these things are concealed and hidden–and yet may be gone to with safety. ( to full text of letter.)
The original maps have not been found. However, various historians have reproduced them based on information in the letter and Toscanelli’s other maps. The most common reproduction is shown below, with Toscanelli’s land masses in orange, the latitude and longitude lines in black, and the actual land that we know now exists shaded in light blue:
Each square is 250 miles wide by 350 miles high. You can determine distances by counting the squares and multiplying. The distance from Portugal to Cipango (Japan) is shown on the map to be 5,000 miles, with mainland China another 1,500 miles to the west. The island of Atlantis is shown to be about in the middle. Atlantis is drawn at about 20 x 150 miles, so it could be easily missed in the vast ocean. The shortest route across the Atlantic to the closest island in the Indian Ocean would go from Spain to the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, then across on an almost even latitude for between 3,700 and 4,000 miles due west.
Shortly after Columbus got this map he began making attempts to get funding for a voyage to the west. On April 17, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain signed a document called the ‘’ which agreed to the terms that Columbus had demanded. This document granted Columbus the right to explore in the west. If he found any land, he would be made the ‘Governor, Admiral, and Vice-Roy’ of the lands he discovered.
Here are some excerpts from the text of the Capitulations:
For as much of you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some Islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance, some of the said Islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct, therefore it is but just and reasonable, that since you expose yourself to such danger to serve us, you should be rewarded for it. And we being willing to honour and favour You for the reasons aforesaid:
Our will is, That you, Christopher Columbus, after discovering and conquering the said Islands and Continent in the said ocean, or any of them, shall be our Admiral of the said Islands and Continent you shall so discover and conquer; and that you be our Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor in them, and that for the future, you may call and stile yourself, D. Christopher Columbus, and that your sons and successors in the said employment, may call themselves Dons, Admirals, Vice-Roys, and Governors of them, ( to full text.)
Columbus left Cadiz, Spain on August 3, 1492 with three ships. The first stop was the Canary islands, which are just off the coast of Africa about 1,250 miles southwest of his starting port. Columbus and his crew spent a month on the Canaries, getting the ships ready for the long voyage to the west. They set sail to the west on September 6, 1492 and made an average of about 100 miles a day for the next month.
On October 12, a sentry saw the first land they had seen since leaving the Canaries. This is from the ships logs:
The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o’clock that evening standing on the quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land.
At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.
On October 13 they landed. Here is the log entry for that date:
The Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing.
Later, in his personal logs, Columbus writes
The Indians then came to the ship in canoes, made of a single trunk of a tree, wrought in a wonderful manner considering the country; some of them large enough to contain forty or forty-five men, others of different sizes down to those fitted to hold but a single person. They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them.
I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of this metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities. I endeavored to procure them to lead the way thither, but found they were unacquainted with the route.
The next day (October 13), he had more interactions with these people and described them this way:
Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. It appears to me that the people are ingenious, and they very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them.
They are very gentile and without knowledge of what is evil, nor do they murder or steal. Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better or gentler people. All the people show the most singular loving behavior and they speak pleasantly. I assure Your Hignesses that I believe than in all the world there is no better people nor better country. They love their neighbors as themselves and they have the sweetest talking the world and are gentle and always laughing. [to source, The Logs of Christopher Columbus.]
Later that day, his log entry included the following sentence:
I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.
Why People Care So Much about Gold
His logs go on and on about something Columbus clearly cares deeply about: gold. He notes in passing that this land appeared to be the ‘terrestrial paradise’ (the Garden of Eden), that the land was densely inhabited with people who were prosperous, kind, generous, and peaceful, and that the land was fertile and the natives raised a great many wonderful food crops Europe didn’t have. He mentioned the immense beauty of the land, the amazing diversity of the forests (hardwood forests had disappeared centuries before Columbus was born; cut to make charcoal for steel for weapons), and the incredible friendliness, ferocity, and kindness of the people there. He mentions the virtual absence of crime, the unbelievable honesty and amazing order of their societies. But he mentions all of these things in passing, as if they are minor details. The most important characteristic of this new land, far more important than anything else, was that it had gold.
He, and thousands of people who followed him, would later commit atrocities that are so incredible they defy description to get this metal. He would destroy the beautiful forests to make charcoal to make weapons to conquer people and take even more gold away from them, before destroying them and their civilization.
Why would this metal be so incredibly important to him? Why would anyone care about it at all?
We need to know the answer to this question before we can understand the events of the next 200 years, which largely focused on attempts by eastern hemisphere people to get this metal. People were willing to do incredible things to get this metal back then and are willing to do the same things today.
Gold isn’t a particularly useful metal. It can’t be hardened to make tools, as can many extremely common metals. It has some special abilities to conduct electricity that other metals don’t have, but these didn’t matter before the discovery of electricity. It can be used for jewelry, but so can a lot of other metals which are a great deal more common.
So why would anyone care about it?
To really understand this, you have to understand the basic relationship between gold and the right to buy and own the streams of value that come from land. When Julius Caesar took over Rome, he intended to expand his area of control as much as he could. He needed to buy as many weapons and other supplies as he could get. The people that made these items needed some sort of tool to use as currency so they could make trades. Gold and sliver only existed in limited quantities and couldn’t be counterfeited.
Gold had the qualities they needed to use the metal as a currency. If sovereigns had grain and wanted to trade it for weapons, but the weapons makers had no need for wagon loads of grains, the sovereigns could offer to give them gold in exchange for the weapons, with a promise to then redeem the gold for grain later, to anyone who tendered it. The weapons makers could pay their workers and suppliers with gold. The workers and suppliers could then use the gold to buy food. If they had more gold than they needed for food, they could use it to hire servants. The servants would accept the gold because they knew they could always trade it for food. The gold eventually finds its way back to the sovereigns in exchange for grain. After this happens, the sovereigns have essentially traded their grain for weapons. The gold was only involved as a medium of exchange.
When Julius Caesar conquered land, he sold large parts of it to both individual farmers and corporations (called ‘publicans’). He needed to get paid for the land in a currency he could use to pay his troops (so they could buy food) and buy weapons (so he could hold his land and conquer more). He needed whatever currency the weapons makers accepted. They accepted gold, so he needed gold when he sold the land. Because sellers of parts of the world accepted gold, people who wanted to buy parts of the world could do so if they could get gold.
In ownability-based societies, people with no land have no incomes unless they work. No income means no food. It means death. If you live in such a society and don’t own income-producing land, you are a kind of economic slave. You will have masters (your employers) and have to do whatever they tell you to do or you will be punished (by the society you live in) with death. Gold and silver could buy an income. If you bought an income, you bought your way out of slavery. You essentially bought your freedom. The more gold and silver you got, the more freedom you had and the more security you had in your freedom.
Natural Law Societies And Gold
Natural law societies don’t accept that people can buy and own parts of the world. The rights to get the bounty the land produce are not for sale for any price, payable in gold or anything else. The land produces gifts. These gifts go to the people, who distribute them as they decide in forums and elections.
People are not economic slaves in this society. They don’t have to get jobs or die.
Since they are not slaves, they don’t have any need to scrape in the ground for something they can use for money to buy their way out of slavery. To them, gold is just another metal. Since gold doesn’t have any really outstanding uses (at least not relative to relative to other, far more common metals like copper, tin, and lead) there is no reason to consider it any different than other metals. The people in the natural law societies in the western hemisphere didn’t care about gold. To them, it was just another metal.
The Value of Gold
In the eastern hemisphere, gold had been used as money for many centuries. People who found it could use it to buy their way out of slavery, as described above. Gold is often found in tiny amounts mixed with the sand in rivers. People can remove it by using a metal pan and water: the gold is very heavy and sinks to the bottom. Spin the water to suspend the sand, shake it, and the sand falls to the bottom of the pan. Wash off the sand and you are left with gold.
There is only a tiny bit of gold in the sand, but gold is so incredibly valuable that even a tiny bit of gold will buy a great deal of freedom. We will see later that most of the land in North America was sold to corporations that paid in gold, at the rate of 4/1000th of a gram of gold per acre of land. In other words, an amount of gold dust that weighed 1 gram would be enough to purchase 200 acres.
In virgin streams, people can often extract a gram a day of gold by processing several tons of sand. The streams of Hispaniola had never been panned for gold. They were virgins. Columbus did some test pannings and found that a man could get enough gold in a day to buy an estate.
And that wasn’t all. From time to time, natives would bring him large items, some weighing several hundred grams, and trade them for manufactured goods. This seemed to indicate that the island had more than just gold dust. It had gold mines where people could remove immense amounts of this incredibly valuable metal.
The Hasty Return to Spain
With such massive amounts of money at stake, Columbus began to mistrust other people. He particularly mistrusted the two men he had hired to be captains of the two smaller ships, Martin and Vincente Pinzón. One day, Martin Pinzón came to him and told him that he had heard of a gold mine on the north end of the island and wanted to check it out. Columbus was worried that Pinzón would possibly find the mine and hide it, or find it and steal some of the gold, so he refused permission.
The next day, Martin Pinzón was gone. Pinzón returned a few days later: he had gone to the north side of the island. When he returned, he claimed he had not found the gold mine. Columbus didn’t believe him. He began to be very suspicious of Martin Pinzón.
On the morning of January 12, Columbus sentry woke him up early to tell him that Martin Pinzón’s ship was gone. The local people told him that it had hoisted sails and departed in the middle of the night.
Columbus thought that Martin Pinzón had decided to head back to Spain and claim the discovery of the gold-bearing islands for himself. Columbus decided he had to get back so he could defend his rights, and left the next day.
He had been in the western hemisphere for 92 days. He had found many things that the people back in the eastern hemisphere didn’t even know existed. A few days or weeks more, and he would have discovered much more. The return voyage was perilous and he may not make it back. If he did make it, and tried to return, he may not make it back. He was taking a big risk to return. But we know he did return.
This tells us his priorities.
The Papal Bull
Isabella of Castille was the queen of Spain. Her brother-in-law was Rodregio DeBorgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI. They didn’t waste any time. On May 4, 1493, the Pope issued a formal proclamation known as ‘The Bull Inter Caetera.’
The still didn’t know whether the land Columbus had landed on was in the Indian Ocean or in some other sea. It didn’t matter. The Pope, acting on behalf of God Himself (as the bull notes) had decided to draw a line from the ‘arctic pole’ to the ‘Antarctic pole’ that ran through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Everything west of this line that was not already claimed by a Christian king would belong his sister in law and her husband for the rest of time. Here are some excerpts from the document:
We have indeed learned that you, who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and mainlands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others and you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through the sea; and they at length discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh.
In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. We, by the authority of Almighty God which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents; we give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores.
Columbus immediately began outfitting for his second voyage. He equipped a total of 17 ships and over 1,000 men, most of whom assumed the title that implied their mission: Conquistadors.
They were going to conquer the lands that the Creator of existence had just given to their bosses, the King and Queen of Spain.
The Most Important Priorities of Discovery
Under the terms of the Capitulations of Santa Fe, Columbus was made ‘Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor’ of the new discoveries. After he returned, he began laying out his priorities. Here is what he considers important to the King and Queen:
Most High and Mighty Sovereigns,
In obedience to your Highnesses’ commands, and with submission to superior judgment, I will say whatever occurs to me in reference to the colonization and commerce of the Island of Espanola. In the said island there shall be founded three or four towns, situated in the most convenient places. For the better and more speedy colonization of the said island, no one shall have liberty to collect gold in it except those who have taken out colonists’ papers. None of the colonists shall go to seek gold without a license from the governor or Mayor of the town where he lives; and that he must first take oath to return to the place whence he sets out, for the purpose of registering faithfully all the gold he may have found, and to return once a month, or once a week, as the time may have been set for him, to render account and show the quantity of said gold; and that this shall be written down by the notary before the Mayor.
That all the gold thus brought in shall be smelted immediately, and stamped with some mark that shall distinguish each town; and that the portion which belongs to your Highnesses shall be weighed, and given and consigned to each Mayor in his own town, and registered by the above-mentioned priest or friar, so that it shall not pass through the hands of only one person, and there shall he no opportunity to conceal the truth.
That all gold that may be found without the mark of one of the said towns in the possession of any one who has once registered in accordance with the above order shall be taken as forfeited, and that the accuser shall have one portion of it and your Highnesses the other.
As regards the division of the gold, and the share that ought to be reserved for your Highnesses, this, in my opinion, must be left to the aforesaid governor and treasurer, because it will have to be greater or less according to the quantity of gold that may be found. Or, should it seem preferable, your Highnesses might, for the space of one year, take one half, and the collector the other, and a better arrangement for the division be made afterward.
As, in the eagerness to get gold, every one will wish, naturally, to engage in its search in preference to any other employment, it seems to me that the privilege of going to look for gold ought to be withheld during some portion of each year, that there may be opportunity to have the other business necessary for the island performed.
It goes on and on about the details of the security of this metal and ends:
I beg your Highnesses to hold me in your protection; and I remain, praying our Lord God for your Highnesses’ lives and the increase of much greater States.
This letter really illustrates the point made above. In societies that are built around the idea of ownability of parts of the world, people can gain virtually unlimited wealth if they can buy parts of the world. (The land produces value indefinitely; any flow of value extended forever is an unlimited amount of wealth.) To become the owner of a part of the world, they need to get something that people who make weapons will accept in exchange for the weapons. They need gold.
The western hemisphere had a great many things of value but, as the letter above shows, none of them matter when compared to the really important thing, gold.