Columbian exchange

Dafato Team | May 26, 2024

Table of Content


The Columbus Exchange, also known as the Columbus Mutual, named after Christopher Columbus, was a widespread movement of large quantities of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, disease, and ideas between the Americas, West Africa, and the Old World during the 15th and 16th centuries. It was also associated with European colonization and trade after Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492. Invasive species, including infectious diseases, were a byproduct of this exchange. Changes in agriculture significantly altered the world's population. The most significant direct impact of the Columbian exchange was cultural exchange and the movement of people (both free and enslaved) between continents.

New contacts between world populations led to the spread of a great variety of crops and livestock, contributing to population growth in both hemispheres, although at first infectious diseases caused a sharp decline in Native American populations. Traders returned to Europe with corn, potatoes, and tomatoes, which had become very important crops in Europe by the eighteenth century.

The term was first used in 1972 by the American historian Alfred Crosby in his environmental history book The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. It was quickly adopted by other historians and journalists and became widely known.

In 1972, Alfred Crosby, an American historian at the University of Texas at Austin, published a study of the Columbus Exchange, and its sequels over the following decade. He studied the impact of Columbus's voyages between the Old and New Worlds--particularly the global spread of crops, seeds, and plants that radically changed agriculture in both regions. His research has contributed significantly to scholars' understanding of the diversity of modern ecosystems resulting from these movements.

The term became popular among historians and journalists, and has since been supplemented by Crosby's later book in 3 editions, Environmental Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, which Charles Mann in his book, 1493: The Discovery of the New World Created by Columbus, further expands and updates Crosby's original research.


Some plants native to North and South America have spread around the world, including potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and tobacco. Potatoes were not grown outside of South America until 1500. By the 19th century it was widely consumed in Europe and became an important crop in India and North America. Potatoes eventually became an important staple food in much of Europe, contributing to an estimated 25% increase in population in Afro-Eurasia between 1700 and 1900. Many European rulers, including Frederick II in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia, encouraged the cultivation of the potato.

Corn and cassava, imported by the Portuguese from South America in the 16th century, replaced sorghum and millet as the most important food crops of Africa. Sixteenth-century Spanish colonizers introduced new staple crops from the Americas to Asia, including corn and yams, and thereby contributed to population growth in Asia. On a broader scale, the advent of potatoes and corn in the Old World "led to improved caloric and nutritional quality over pre-existing staple foods" throughout Eurasia, as they created a more diverse and abundant food production.

Tomatoes, which came to Europe from the New World via Spain, were originally prized in Italy mainly for their decorative qualities. But beginning in the 19th century, tomato sauces became typical of Neapolitan cuisine and, eventually, of Italian cuisine in general. Coffee (brought to the Americas around 1720 from Africa and the Middle East) and sugar cane (brought from the Indian subcontinent) from the Spanish West Indies became the main export cash crops of the vast Latin American plantations. Chili peppers and potatoes from South America brought to India by the Portuguese became an integral part of Indian cuisine.

Rice was another crop that became widely cultivated during the Columbian exchange. As the demand for it grew in the New World, so did the knowledge of how to cultivate it. The main rice species used were Oryza glaberrima and Oryza sativa, originating in West Africa and Southeast Asia, respectively. Slaveholders in the New World relied on the skills of enslaved Africans to further cultivate both species. Key centers where rice was cultivated during the slave trade were Georgia and South Carolina, as well as Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico and Cuba. African slaves brought to the fields their knowledge of water management, milling, weeding, and other common agricultural practices. This knowledge, widespread among African slaves, eventually led to rice becoming a staple food in the New World.

Citrus and grapes were introduced to the Americas from the Mediterranean. At first these crops had difficulty adapting to the New World climate, but by the end of the 19th century they were growing more steadily.

Bananas were introduced to the Americas in the 16th century by Portuguese sailors who stumbled upon the fruit while engaging in commercial ventures in West Africa, primarily the slave trade. Bananas were still consumed in minimal quantities in the 1880s. In the United States there was no significant increase in banana consumption until the establishment of banana plantations in the Caribbean.

It took three centuries after tomatoes appeared in Europe before they became a widespread foodstuff.

Tobacco, potatoes, chili peppers, physalis, and tomatoes belong to the nightshade family. All of these plants bear such a resemblance to the European nightshade that even an amateur can conclude that they are a variety of nightshade simply by observing the flowers and berries. Like some European nightshade varieties, tomatoes and potatoes can be harmful or even deadly if some parts of these plants are eaten in large quantities. Thus, sixteenth-century physicians had good reason to fear that this native Mexican fruit was poisonous and produced "melancholy humors.

In 1544 Pietro Andrea Mattioli, a Tuscan physician and botanist, suggested that tomatoes might be edible, but there is no record of anyone consuming them at this time. However, in 1592 the head gardener of the Aranjuez botanical garden near Madrid under the patronage of Philip II of Spain wrote, "they are said to be good for sauces." Despite these comments, tomatoes remained exotic plants, grown for ornamental purposes but rarely for culinary use.

On October 31, 1548, the tomato got its first name in Europe when the house manager of Cosimo I de' Medici, Duke of Florence, wrote to the Medici's personal secretary that a basket of tomato d'oro "arrived safely. At this time, in the treatises of scholars, the term tomato d'oro was also used to refer to figs, melons, and citrus fruits.

In the early years in Italy, tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamental plants. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovan Vettorio Soderini wrote that they "should be sought only for their beauty" and that they were grown only in gardens or flower beds. Tomatoes were grown in elite urban and rural gardens for some fifty years after their arrival in Europe and were only rarely depicted in works of art.

The combination of pasta and tomato sauce was developed only at the end of the nineteenth century. Of all the New World plants introduced into Italy, only the potato took as long as the tomato to gain recognition as a food.

Today about 32,000 acres (13,000 ha) of tomatoes are grown in Italy, although there are still areas where relatively few tomatoes are grown and consumed.


At least initially the Columbians' exchange of animals went mainly in one direction, from Europe to the New World, since many more animals were domesticated in the Eurasian regions. Horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, big dogs, cats and bees were quickly adopted by indigenous peoples for riding, eating and other purposes. One of the first European commodities exported to the Americas, the horse, changed the lives of many Indian tribes. The hill tribes moved from farming to a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting bison on horseback and moved down into the Great Plains. The existing tribes of the plains expanded their territories at the expense of horses, and the animals were considered so valuable that herds of horses became the measure of wealth.

The impact of the introduction of European livestock on the environment and population of the New World has not always been positive. In the Caribbean, the breeding of European animals has had a significant impact on local fauna and undergrowth and has damaged conucos, areas cultivated for subsistence by indigenous peoples.

The Mapuche of Araucania quickly adopted the horse from the Spanish, which increased the Mapuche military power during the raging Araucan wars. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuche had chilliueke (llama) livestock. The introduction of sheep caused some competition between both domestic species. Evidence from the mid-17th century shows that both species co-existed, but there were many more sheep than llamas. The number of llamas reached a minimum at the end of the eighteenth century, when they were raised only by the Mapuche of Marikina and Huequén (Huequén) near Angola. The Spaniards successfully introduced pigs to the Chiloé archipelago as their sustenance was aided by the abundance of shellfish and algae that brought large tides.


Before there was regular communication between the two hemispheres, varieties of domestic animals and infectious diseases such as smallpox were much more abundant in the Old World than in the New, because of more extensive long-distance trade networks. Many migrated westward through Eurasia with animals or people or were brought by traders from Asia, so all inhabitants of these continents suffered from disease. While Europeans and Asians were affected by Eurasian diseases, their endemic status on these continents over the centuries led many people to acquire immunity.

Old World diseases had a devastating effect coming to the Americas with European carriers because Native Americans had no natural immunity to the new diseases. Measles caused many deaths. Smallpox epidemics are thought to have caused the greatest mortality rate among Native Americans, surpassing any war and far exceeding the comparative loss of life in Europe due to the Black Death:164. It is estimated that within the first 100 to 150 years after 1492, over 80 to 95 percent of the Native American population died from these epidemics. Many regions of the Americas lost 100 percent of their indigenous population:165. The beginning of the demographic collapse on the North American continent is usually attributed to the spread of the well-documented smallpox epidemic in Haiti in December 1518. At that time there were still about 10,000 indigenous people alive in Haiti.

European exploration of tropical areas was aided by the discovery in the New World of quinine, the first effective treatment for malaria. Europeans suffered from the disease, but some indigenous peoples developed at least partial resistance to it. In Africa, resistance to malaria has been linked to other genetic changes among sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants that can cause sickle cell anemia:164. The resistance of Africans to malaria in the southern part of the present-day United States and in the Caribbean contributed greatly to the specific nature of African slavery in those regions.

Similarly, yellow fever is thought to have been introduced to the Americas from Africa through the Atlantic slave trade. Because it was endemic in Africa, many people there acquired immunity. Europeans suffered higher mortality rates than people of African descent when exposed to yellow fever in Africa and the Americas, where numerous epidemics swept through the colonies beginning in the seventeenth century and continuing through the late nineteenth century. The disease caused mass deaths in the Caribbean during the heyday of slave sugar plantations. The displacement of natural forests by sugar plantations and factories contributed to its spread in the tropical zone by reducing the number of mosquito-eating predators. The mechanism of yellow fever transmission was unknown until 1881, when Carlos Finlay suggested that the disease was transmitted through mosquitoes, now known as female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

The history of syphilis is well-studied, but the exact origin of the disease is unknown and remains a subject of debate. There are two main hypotheses: one suggests that syphilis was introduced to Europe from America by the crew of Christopher Columbus in the early 1490s, and the other suggests that syphilis had previously existed in Europe but had gone undetected. They are called the "Columbian" and "pre-Columbian" hypotheses. The first written descriptions of the disease in the Old World appeared in 1493. The first major outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494

Cultural exchanges

One result of the movement of people between the New and Old Worlds was cultural exchange. For example, in "The Myth of Early Globalization: The Atlantic Economy, 1500-1800," Peter Emmer notes that "from 1500 onward a 'clash of cultures' began in the Atlantic. This clash of cultures entailed a transfer of European values to indigenous cultures. Examples include the emergence of the concept of private property in regions where property was often seen as communal, the concept of monogamy (although many indigenous peoples were already monogamous), the changing role of women and children in the social system and the entrenchment of 'the superiority of free labor', although slavery was already an established practice among many indigenous peoples. Another example is the European condemnation of human sacrifice, an established religious practice among some indigenous peoples.

When European colonizers first arrived in North America, they encountered unfenced land. For the Europeans, eager for new economic opportunities, this meant that the land was uncultivated and available for occupation. When the English came to Virginia, they encountered a fully established culture of a people called the Powhatans. Their cultivated lands in Virginia were placed in large cleared areas that served as a common place for the cultivation of useful plants. Since the Europeans considered fences a sign of civilization, they set about transforming "the land into something more suitable for themselves. Using their methods, the Europeans enslaved, murdered, and exploited the indigenous population.

Tobacco was a New World agricultural product, originally a common luxury item within the Columbian exchange. As discussed regarding the transatlantic slave trade, the tobacco trade increased the demand for free labor and spread tobacco around the world. In reviewing the widespread distribution of tobacco, the Spanish physician Nicolás Monardez (1493-1588) observed that "the black people who moved from these parts to India adopted the same manner and use of tobacco as the Indians. As Europeans traveled around the world, they took tobacco customs with them. The demand for tobacco grew through cultural exchange between peoples.

One of the most prominent areas of cultural encounters and exchanges was religion, which was often a leading point of cultural transformation. In the Spanish and Portuguese possessions, the spread of Catholicism, imbued with a European value system, was one of the main goals of colonization and was often accomplished through an explicit policy of suppressing indigenous languages, cultures and religions. In English North America missionaries converted many tribes and peoples to the Protestant faith, while the French colonies had a more direct religious mandate, as some of the early explorers, such as Jacques Marquette, were Catholic priests. Over time, and with European technological and immunological superiority aiding and abetting their dominance, indigenous religions declined in the centuries following European settlement of the Americas, though not without considerable conflict and indigenous rebellion in defense of their cultural practices.

Although the Mapuche Indians adopted the horse, sheep, and wheat, their generally meager acceptance of Spanish technology is characterized as a means of cultural resistance.

The transatlantic slave trade represented the movement of Africans mainly from West Africa to parts of the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries, making up a prominent part of the Columbian exchange. Some 10 million Africans arrived in the Americas on European ships as slaves. The route that enslaved Africans took from parts of Africa to the Americas is commonly known as the middle way. Today, millions of people in the Americas, including the vast majority of the Caribbean population, are descended from these Africans brought to the New World by Europeans.

African slaves helped shape the nascent African American culture in the New World. They participated in both skilled and unskilled labor and gave way to a new population that was a hybrid of the two cultures. The Birth of African American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective is a book written by Sidney Mintz and Richard Price detailing the cultural influence of African slaves in America. Mintz and Price's book has helped spread the knowledge of how integral to the structure of black culture was socialization in plantation life.

The treatment of Africans during the Atlantic slave trade was one of the most controversial subjects in New World history. Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 and ended in Brazil in 1888, but it remains a key theme in politics, pop culture, and the media.

Plants introduced into Europe after 1492 are referred to in the scientific literature as "neophytes" and those that had made the "overseas journey" before that time point as "archaeophytes. Invasive plant species and pathogens were also brought in by accident, including such weeds as tumbleweed (Salsola spp.) and wild oats (Avena fatua). Some plants introduced deliberately, such as the kudzu vine, imported in 1894 from Japan to the United States to control soil erosion, have since been recognized as invasive pests in new environments. Plantain, whose seeds Europeans unknowingly brought back on cargoes and shoe soles, was called the "white man's footprint" by the Indians.

Fungi, such as the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease, killing American elms in North American forests and cities, many of which were planted as street trees, have also been carried. Some of the invasive species have become serious ecosystem and economic problems since spreading to the New World. A useful, though probably unintentional, case of introduction is Saccharomyces eubayanus, the yeast used to make light beer now thought to have originated in Patagonia. Other species crossed the Atlantic into Europe and changed the course of history. In the 1840s, Phytophthora infestans crossed the oceans, damaging potato crops in several European countries. In Ireland, the potato crop was completely destroyed; the Irish potato famine caused millions of people to die of malnutrition or emigrate.

In addition, many animals were unintentionally introduced to new habitats on the other side of the world. These include animals such as gray rats, earthworms (apparently absent from some parts of the pre-Columbian New World), and river dreissen, which arrived by ship. Escaped and feral populations of foreign animals flourished in both the Old and New World, often negatively influencing or displacing native species. In the New World, populations of feral European cats, pigs, horses, and cattle are common, while in Florida the Burmese python and common iguana are considered problematic. In the Old World, the eastern gray squirrel has been particularly successful in colonizing Great Britain, and raccoon populations can now be found in parts of Germany, the Caucasus and Japan. Fur farm fugitives, such as the nutria and American mink, have extensive populations.

The discovery of the Americas led to a number of large-scale demographic consequences.


  1. Columbian exchange
  2. Колумбов обмен
  3. ^ a b c d e McNeill, J. R.; Sampaolo, Marco; Wallenfeldt, Jeff (September 30, 2019) [28 September 2019]. "Columbian Exchange". Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on April 21, 2020. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Nunn, Nathan; Qian, Nancy (2010). "The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 24 (2): 163–188. CiteSeerX doi:10.1257/jep.24.2.163. JSTOR 25703506.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Nunn, Nathan; Qian, Nancy (2010). "The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 24 (2): 163—188. CiteSeerX doi:10.1257/jep.24.2.163. JSTOR 25703506.
  6. 1 2 Carney, Judith. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. — United States of America : Harvard University Press, 2001. — P. 4–5.
  7. de Vorsey, Louis. The Tragedy of the Columbian Exchange // North America: The Historical Geography of a Changing Continent. — Lanham, MD : Rowman&Littlefield, 2001. — P. 27. — «Thanks to…Crosby's work, the term 'Columbian exchange' is now widely used…».
  8. a b c McNeill, J. R.; Sampaolo, Marco; Wallenfeldt, Jeff (30 de septiembre de 2019) [28 September 2019]. «Columbian Exchange». Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archivado desde el original el 21 de abril de 2020. Consultado el 5 de septiembre de 2021.
  9. a b Crosby, Alfred (2003). The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. pp. 184.
  10. Milton, 2005, p. 486. "a trade that had ensnared at least one million Europeans and Americans over the previous three centuries”
  11. Mann, Charles C. (2011). 1493. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 286. ISBN 9780307265722.
  12. (en) Nathan Nunn et Nancy Qian, « The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas », Journal of Economic Perspectives, printemps 2010, vol. 24, no 2, 2010, p. 163-188,

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