PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Inter caetera by Pope Alexander VI (May 4, 1493)

SUMMARY

In this bull, Pope Alexander VI is responding to Christopher Columbus’ exploration of North and South America, which was sponsored by the king and queen of Spain. The Pope decrees that land “discovered” by envoys of the Spanish kingdom–and not already claimed by Christians–now belonged to it. These rights were already granted to Portugal and its own discoveries. He further specifies that land west of an imaginary line of longitude running through the eastern part of present-day Brazil belonged to Spain, and everything east to Portugal. This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims to colonize the Americas. The text was originally written in Latin and takes its name, Inter caetera from the opening phrase (“Among other”).

FULL TEXT

Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son
in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castile, Leon,
Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction. Among other works well pleasing
to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times
especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased
and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and
brought to the faith itself. Wherefore inas- much as by the favor of divine clemency, we, though
of insufficient merits, have been called to this Holy See of Peter, recognizing that as true
Catholic kings and princes, such as we have known you always to be, and as your illustrious
deeds already known to almost the whole world declare, you not only eagerly desire but with
every effort, zeal, and diligence, without regard to hardships, expenses, dangers, with the
shedding even of your blood, are laboring to that end; recognizing also that you have long since
dedicated to this purpose your whole soul and all your endeavors–as witnessed in these times
with so much glory to the Divine Name in your recovery of the kingdom of Granada from the
yoke of the Saracens–we therefore are rightly led, and hold it as our duty, to grant you even of
our own accord and in your favor those things whereby with effort each day more hearty you
may be enabled for the honor of God himself and the spread of the Christian rule to carry
forward your holy and praiseworthy purpose so pleasing to immortal God. 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, to the end that you might
bring to the worship of our Redeemer and the profession of the Catholic faith their residents and
inhabitants, having been up to the present time greatly engaged in the siege and recovery of the
kingdom itself of Granada were unable to accomplish this holy and praiseworthy purpose; but
the said kingdom having at length been regained, as was pleasing to the Lord, you, with the wish
to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and

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of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, whom you furnished with
ships and men equipped for like designs, not without the greatest hardships, dangers, and
expenses, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through
the sea, where hitherto no one had sailed; and they at length, with divine aid and with the utmost
diligence sailing in the ocean sea, 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. Moreover, as your aforesaid
envoys are of opinion, these very peoples living in the said islands and countries believe in one
God, the Creator in heaven, and seem sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be
trained in good morals. And it is hoped that, were they instructed, the name of the Savior, our
Lord Jesus Christ, would easily be introduced into the said countries and islands. Also, on one of
the chief of these aforesaid islands the said Christopher has already caused to be put together and
built a fortress fairly equipped, wherein he has stationed as garrison certain Christians,
companions of his, who are to make search for other remote and unknown islands and
mainlands. In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many
other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and
princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic
faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with
the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their
residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. Hence, heartily commending in
the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and
that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the
Lord and by your reception of holy baptism, whereby you are bound to our apostolic commands,
and by the bowels of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoy strictly, that inasmuch as with
eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and despatch this expedition, you purpose also,
as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the
Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout
hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings. And, in order
that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed
with benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of
anyone else in your regard, but out of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the

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fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed
Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents,
should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, 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 and Cape Verde. With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands,
found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west
and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our
Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred ninety-three
begins. And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them
with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however,
that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be
in actual possesssion of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus
Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taking away. Moreover we command you
in virtue of holy obedience that, employing all due diligence in the premises, as you also
promise–nor do we doubt your compliance therein in accordance with your loyalty and royal
greatness of spirit–you should appoint to the aforesaid mainlands and islands worthy, Godfearing, learned, skilled, and expeienced men, in order to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and
residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals. Furthermore, under penalty of
excommunication “late sententie” to be incurred “ipso facto,” should anyone thus contravene, we
strictly forbid all persons of whatsoever rank, even imperial and royal, or of whatsoever estate,
degree, order, or condition, to dare without your special permit or that of your aforesaid heirs and
successors, to go for the purpose of trade or any other reason to the islands or 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 to the Antarctic pole, no matter whether the mainlands
and islands, found and to be found, lie in the direction of India or toward any other quarter

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whatsoever, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south, as is
aforesaid, from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde; apostolic
constitutions and ordinances and other decrees whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding. We
trust in Him from whom empires and governments and all good things proceed, that, should you,
with the Lord’s guidance, pursue this holy and praiseworthy undertaking, in a short while your
hardships and endeavors will attain the most felicitious result, to the happiness and glory of all
Christendom. But inasmuch as it would be difficult to have these present letters sent to all places
where desirable, we wish, and with similar accord and knowledge do decree, that to? copies of
them, signed by the hand of a public notary commissioned therefor, and sealed with the seal of
any ecclesiastical officer or ecclesiastical court, the same respect is to be shown in court and
outside as well as anywhere else as would be given to these presents should they thus be
exhibited or shown. Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our
recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation,
decree, mandate, prohibition, and will. Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to
him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord one thousand four
hundred and ninety-three, the fourth of May, and the first year of our pontificate.

MAP
TIMELINE
May 4, 1493
Pope Alexander VI issues a bull, Inter caetera, that decrees that all newly discovered lands west of a line of longitude running through the eastern part of present-day Brazil belong to Spain, and everything east to Portugal.
FURTHER READING

Mundus novus (1503) El Requerimiento by Juan López de Palacios Rubios (1513) “The natives are white men”; an excerpt from De Orbe Novo by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (1530) The Healers; an excerpt from La Relación by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1542) The Black Legend; an excerpt from A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas (1552) The Story of Juan Ortiz; an excerpt from The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by a Gentleman of Elvas (1557) The Story of Marguerite de La Roque; an excerpt from The Heptameron of Margaret, Queen of Navarre by Marguerite de Navarre (1558) The Story of Guillaume Rouffi; an excerpt from Relación e información de los Franceses by Hernando de Manrique de Rojas (July 9, 1564) “The people of America crye oute unto us”; an excerpt from Discourse on Western Planting by Richard Hakluyt (the younger) (1584) John White Returns to Roanoke; an excerpt from “The fift voyage of Master John White into the West Indies and parts of America called Virginia, in the yeere 1590” (1600) Relation of Juan de la Carrera (March 1, 1600) Letters between King Philip III and Don Pedro de Zúñiga (1607–1608) Letters between King Philip III and Don Pedro de Zúñiga (1609–1610) “In wishing him well, he killed him”; excerpt from Relation of Juan Rogel (ca. 1611) Arriving in Virginia; an excerpt from “Observations gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia” by George Percy (1625)

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Pope Alexander VI. Inter caetera by Pope Alexander VI (May 4, 1493). (2021, October 04). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/inter-caetera-by-pope-alexander-vi-may-4-1493.
MLA Citation:
Pope Alexander VI. "Inter caetera by Pope Alexander VI (May 4, 1493)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (04 Oct. 2021). Web. 27 Oct. 2021
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