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Atlantic Civilization

The beginning of the Atlantic Civilization covers the huge period of time in the American history. It emerged in the result of the convergence in the Atlantic basin of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans in the period of numerous world discoveries. It was Columbus’ voyage to the “New World” (1492) that had given way to different social, economic, and cultural changes in the Atlantic basin as well as the number of Spanish conquests. The changes resulted in so-called discourse between the Spaniards and indigenous people in regard to their religious and ethnic views. This paper defines the ethnic and religious conflicts and the ways of their solution through considering the main events of the mentioned epoch: the conquest and the fall of the Aztec Empire and establishing a Virginia Colony.

Valuable historical documents and descriptions of crucial events which significantly influenced the emergence of the Atlantic Civilization were left by eyewitnesses for the coming generations. In 1521, the Aztec Empire became the starting point of the Spanish conquests on the North American continent. In his The True History of the Conquests of New Spain, Bernal Diaz del Castillo (ca. 1492-1581), an eyewitness and a participant of the Spanish conquests in Herman Cortés’s expeditions, vividly portrayed the scenes of native people’s life and striking sights of the altar for sacrifices in a local temple in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), the capital of the Aztec Empire. “The walls were so crusted with blood and the floor was so bathed in it that in slaughterhouses of Castile there was no such stink. They had offered to this idol five hearts from the day’s sacrifices”¹. After having observed the Aztec gods, the Spaniards were surprised by how Montezuma and two priests could take the idols as their gods: they looked devils much more than the gods they could worship. They expressed their attitude to the Aztec gods and rejection of native people’s religion. The Spaniards managed to evoke the prince’s hostility and annoyance. At that moment, it was obvious that the conflict between the sides was inevitable. Thanks to their wisdom and diplomacy, they found the solution to the conflict through revealing tolerance and patience to each other. However, the status quo remained unchangeable. The Spaniards were confident about praying to the only Goddess, their mighty and caring Lady whose image was everywhere. Although the Aztec prince was deeply insulted by his guests’ attitude towards his gods, he went on keeping his point of view. To defend his gods from dishonor, “… he said that before he left he had to pray and make certain offerings to atone for the great sin he had committed in permitting us to climb the great cu and see his gods and for being the cause of the dishonor that we had done them by speaking ill of them”.

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One of the manuscripts by an anonymous narrator describes the events of the Aztec Empire’s fall (1528) which were caused by the ingenious people’s tradition of blood sacrifices. Among the native habitants, Cortés had acquired the reputation of a ruthless leader striving to conquer and colonize the territories of the American continent.  He was a conquistador not knowing compromises. In turn, the Aztecs feared him and did not know how to cajole him. As every mighty being was to be worshiped, the Aztecs used to betake to blood rituals. They believed that they would succeed to keep the balance between the humans and gods. Cortés and one of his lieutenants were enraged saint beings for whom the Aztecs tried to do their best to prepossess them. “The envoys made sacrifices in front of the Captain. At this he grew very angry. When they offered him blood in an “eagle dish,” he shouted at the man who offered it and struck him with his sword”³. The Aztecs’ primitive ways to demonstrate their hospitality occurred unclear and unappreciated by the Spaniards. During the religious festival, they attacked unarmed participants and killed all of them. Eyewitnesses recalled that the massacre lasted for three hours. There were piles of corpses everywhere and everything was covered with blood. Therefore, the availability of blood for the Aztecs and the Spaniards implied the contradiction of their religious and ethnic views which had resulted in misunderstandings and conflicts between the parties. For the Aztecs, blood was a saint liquid worthy of the gods, the most powerful beings of their world. For the Spaniards, blood was a signal to attack and kill enemy, because by their nature, they were first of all warriors and conquerors.

The beginning of the XVII century was marked by exploring a vast territory – the Land of Virginia. One of the London Company’s expeditions including 144 new settlers reached the Bay of Chesapeake in 1606. There were 38 noblemen among newcomers on the board of the ship who had a permission to plant a colony with all the consequences running out of the situation. While exploring the coast, the expedition was greeted by native people with all honors of hospitability. The English had the chance to get acquainted with local rulers (Powhatan, Indian tribe’s king), visit their town – Kecoughtan, see their ceremonies – Idolatry,  taste their delicacy, watch local tribe’s dances and listen to their songs, get to know about their women’s and men’s occupations. Everything told about the formed society with its forms of governing, lifestyle, culture, religion, and traditions. The English were hasty about preparing to colonization in the North America without knowing what difficulties and obstacles the native Indians and nature itself had prepared for them. The Land attracted the English by its abundance of natural resources, enormously fertile soil, and new opportunities of getting wealth. While arranging the expedition, they seemed to predict everything in order to settle down in a foreign land: they made supplies of foodstuff, involved men of different working occupations to arrange their future settlement and serve the noblemen and a priest. Nevertheless, in about ten months, the first English settlement faced a number of problems related to the Indian tribes’ raids, new settlers’ unwillingness of doing their duties and responsibilities, their disorganization, accommodation conditions, shortage of foodstuff, and outbursts of epidemics. This is an uncompleted list of their misfortunes and mistakes. American wildness did not appreciate the noble intentions of the English to remake the existing foundations of its life. Although the English had suffered large losses by the fall of 1607, they (38 persons out of 140) still survived in an unequal battle with death.

The Starving Time at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia was a period of starvation during the winter of 1609-1610 in which 60 out of 500 colonists perished. Those who survived were waiting for the expedition’s returning from England carrying foodstuff supplies and new settlers. George Percy told in his memoirs about the Starving Time of 1609-1610: “If we truly consider the diversity of miseries, mutinies, and famishments which have attended upon discoveries and plantations in these our modern time, we shall not find our plantation in Virginia to have suffered to” 4. The neighboring colonies of Virginia faced much the same troubles: lack of enough food, high rate of deaths and crimes, particularly murders, and even the cases of cannibalism. Settlers were brought to the extreme because of a sharp feeling of hunger and a dreadful state of abandonment. They fed on everything what could be considered eatable: roots, lizards, snakes, worms, and even human corpses. The atmosphere in the colony was psychologically hard to live in there and watch men losing their human dignity and guise. The English noblemen could hardly manage furious and distracted crowd of men. Nobody of them believed in God and his blessing any more, because wild and frenetic shout made by distraught men had hung over Jamestown. Captain Gates issued the order about the abandonment of Jamestown in the spring of 1610. As men got together and embarked their penances, they went up the bay. On their way to the mouth of the bay, the explorers noticed long-expected ships of Lord Delaware. The God gave them one more chance to keep on their great affair – establishing the newly born US.

The religious essence of exploring the American continent by the English is reflected in Cotton Mather’s work about the ecclesiastical history of New England. The pastor compiled historical and theological reasons to prove the English domination in the North America and, what is more, to tell the Christians about Almighty God’s will of New England’s honorable mission to become the “New Jerusalem” after the second coming of Christ. “This at last is the Spot of Earth, which the God of Heaven spied out for the Seat of such Evangelical, and Ecclesiastical, and very remarkable Transactions…; ‘twas that our Blessed Jesus intended a Resting Place…5”. He preached the idea of the British dominance in the New World long before the Spaniards arrived there. He confirmed that the Popish Reliques had been found out among the Mexicans during the passage from Europe to the New World which was done by Christopher Columbus, the first European who had set foot on the American continent. However, the English explores went further. They declared that it was the English who did the most for establishing the new colonies. To Mather’s mind, the mentioned artifacts were undoubted arguments of the Almighty God’s will of settling the English in New World and establishing their colonies which were called New England.

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