New World

Orfeas Katsoulis | Sep 15, 2023

Table of Content


New World is one of the names given to the Western Hemisphere, more specifically to the American continent. The term has its origins in the late 15th century due to Christopher Columbus' discovery of America.

The discovery of this new continent expanded the geographical horizon of Europeans who until then had considered Europe, Africa and Asia as the only constituents of the World. In contrast to the New World, the European, African and Asian continents formed the Old World. In turn, Oceania, discovered a few centuries later, became known as the New World.

The terms "Old World" vs. "New World" are significant in historical contexts and for the purpose of distinguishing the major biogeographic realms of the world and classifying the plant and animal species that originated there.

The words "Old" and "New" reflect the prehistoric fact that humans first occupied the eastern hemisphere, before some migrated and settled in the Americas.

The term "New World" was first used in the early 16th century in light of Christopher Columbus' voyages and the subsequent European colonization of the Americas. It is still commonly employed when discussing these events historically. For lack of alternatives, the term is also useful when collectively discussing the Americas and nearby oceanic islands, such as Bermuda and Clipperton Island.

In a biological context, species can be divided between those that can be found in the Old World (Palearctic, Afrotropic) and the New World (Nearctic, Neotropic). Biological taxonomists often attach the label "New World" to groups of species that are found exclusively in the Americas, to distinguish them from their counterparts in the "Old World" (Europe, Africa, and Asia), e.g., New World monkeys, New World vultures, New World warblers.

The label is also frequently used in agriculture. Asia, Africa, and Europe share a common agricultural history originating in the Neolithic Revolution, and the same domesticated plants and animals spread across these three continents thousands of years ago, making them largely indistinguishable and useful to be classified together as "Old World." Common Old World crops (e.g. barley, lentils, oats, peas, rye, wheat) and domesticated animals (e.g. cattle, chickens, goats, horses, pigs, sheep) did not exist in the Americas until introduced by post-Columbian contact in the 1490s. On the other hand, many common crops were originally domesticated in the Americas before spreading around the world after Colombian contact, and are still often called "New World crops"; common beans (phaseolus), corn, and squash - the "three sisters" - as well as avocado, tomato, and large varieties of chili (bell peppers, chili peppers, etc. ) and the turkey were originally domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples in Mesoamerica, while farmers in the Andean region of South America brought over cassava, peanuts, potatoes, quinoa, and domesticated animals such as the alpaca, guinea pig, and llama. Other famous New World crops include cashew, cocoa, rubber, sunflower, tobacco, and vanilla, and fruits such as guava, papaya, and pineapple. There are rare cases of overlap, for example the gourd (calabash), cotton and yam, and the dog, believed to have been domesticated separately in the Old and New Worlds, their first forms possibly brought over by Paleo Indians from Asia during the last ice age.

In wine terminology, "New World" has a different definition. New World wines" include not only wines from North and South America, but also those from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and all other locations outside the traditional wine regions of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East.

The Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci is usually credited with inventing the term "New World" (Mundus Novus) for the Americas in his 1503 letter, giving it its popular prestige, although similar terms were used and applied before him.

Previous use

The Venetian explorer Alvise Cadamosto used the term "un altro mundo" ("another world") to refer to sub-Saharan Africa, which he explored in 1455 and 1456 on behalf of the Portuguese.  This was just a literary flourish, not a suggestion of a new "fourth" part of the world; Cadamosto knew that sub-Saharan Africa was part of the African continent.

The Spanish-born Italian chronicler Peter Martyr d'Anghiera doubted Christopher Columbus' claims to have reached East Asia ("the Indies") and consequently came up with alternative names to refer to them.  Only a few weeks after Columbus' return from his first voyage, Martyr wrote letters referring to the lands discovered by Columbus as the "western antipodes" ("antipodibus occiduis," letter of May 14, 1493), the "new hemisphere of the earth" (" novo terrarum hemisphaerio, September 13, 1493), and in a letter dated November 1, 1493, refers to Columbus as the" A year later (October 20, 1494), Peter Martyr again refers to the wonders of the New Globe ("Novo Orbe") and the "western hemisphere" ("ab occidente hemisphero").

In Columbus' 1499 letter to the Catholic Kings of Spain, reporting the results of his third voyage, he relates how the huge waters of the Orinoco delta in South America rushing into the Gulf of Paria implied that a previously unknown continent must lie behind it.  Columbus proposes that the South American land mass is not a "fourth" continent, but rather the earthly paradise of biblical tradition, a land supposedly known (but not discovered) by Christendom.  In another letter (to Prince John's nurse, written in 1500), Columbus refers to having reached a "new heaven and world" ("nuevo cielo é mundo") and that he had placed "another world" ("otro mundo") under the rule of the kings of Spain.

Mundus Novus

The term "New World" (Mundus Novus) was coined by Amerigo Vespucci, in a letter written to his friend and former patron Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de 'Medici in the spring of 1503, and published (in Latin ) in 1503-04 under the title Mundus Novus. Vespucci's letter contains arguably the first explicit printed articulation of the hypothesis that the lands discovered by European navigators to the west were not the edges of Asia, as Columbus claimed, but an entirely different continent, a "New World."

According to Mundus Novus, Vespucci realized he was in a "New World" on August 17, 1501 when he arrived in Brazil and compared the nature and people of the place with what the Portuguese sailors had told him about Asia. In fact, a famous chance meeting between two different expeditions had occurred at the water stop of "Bezeguiche" (the Bay of Dakar, Senegal) - Vespucci's own expedition, on its way to map the coast of the newly discovered Brazil, and the vanguard ships of Pedro Alvares Cabral's Second Armada of Portuguese India, returning home from India. Having already visited the Americas in previous years, Vespucci probably found it difficult to reconcile what he had already seen in the West Indies with what the returning sailors told him about the East Indies. Vespucci wrote a preliminary letter to Lorenzo, anchored at Bezeguiche, who returned it with the Portuguese squadron - at this point only expressing a certain perplexity with their conversations. Vespucci was finally convinced when he proceeded on his mapping expedition by 1501-1502, covering the huge expanse of the east coast of Brazil. Upon his return from Brazil in the spring of 1503, Amerigo Vespucci wrote the letter Mundus Novus in Lisbon to Lorenzo in Florence, with its famous opening paragraph:

In the days that have passed I have written to you very fully of my return of new countries, which have been found and explored with the ships, at the expense and command of this most Serene King of Portugal; and it is lawful to call it a new world, because none of these countries were known to our ancestors, and by all who hear of them they will be entirely new. For the opinion of the ancients was that most of the world beyond the equinoctial line to the south was not land, but only sea, which they called the Atlantic; and even if they claimed that there is some continent, they gave many reasons for denying that it is inhabited. But this opinion is false and totally opposed to the truth. My last voyage proved this, for I found a continent in that southern part; full of animals and more populous than our Europe or Asia, or Africa, and still more temperate and pleasant than any other region we know.

Vespucci's letter was a publishing sensation in Europe, immediately (and repeatedly) reprinted in several other countries.

Peter Martyr, who had been writing and circulating private letters commenting on Columbus' discoveries since 1493, often shares credit with Vespucci for designating the Americas as a new world.  Peter Martyr used the term New Orb (literally, "New Globe," but often translated as "New World") in the title of his history of the discovery of the Americas as a whole, which began appearing in 1511. (Cosmologically, "orbis," as used here, refers to the entire hemisphere, while "mundus" refers to the earth within it.)


Vespucci's passage above applied the label "New World" only to the continental mass of South America. At the time, most of the continent of North America had not yet been discovered, and Vespucci's comments did not eliminate the possibility that the islands of the West Indies discovered earlier by Christopher Columbus could still be the eastern limits of Asia, as Columbus continued to insist until his death in 1506.  A 1504 globe created by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the New World without North and Central America. A conference of navigators known as the Junta de Navegantes was convened by the Spanish monarchs at Toro in 1505 and continued at Burgos in 1508 to digest all existing information about the Indies, agree on what had been discovered, and define the future goals of Spanish exploration. Amerigo Vespucci attended both conferences and seems to have exerted an inordinate amount of influence on them - at Burgos, he was eventually appointed the first prefect pilot, Spain's chief navigator. Although the proceedings of the Toro-Burgos conferences are missing, it is almost certain that Vespucci articulated his recent 'New World' thesis to his fellow navigators there. It was during these conferences that the Spanish authorities seem to have finally accepted that the West Indies and the known stretch of Central America were not the Indies they originally sought (while Columbus insisted they were) and set the new goal for Spanish explorers: to find a sea passage or strait through the Americas that would allow them to sail to Asia proper. In English usage, the term 'New World' was problematic and only accepted relatively late.

Cartographic representation

Although after Vespucci it became generally accepted that Columbus' discoveries were not Asia but a "New World," the geographical relationship between the two continents was still unclear.  That there must be a large ocean between Asia and the Americas was implied by the known existence of a vast continuous sea along the coasts of East Asia. Given the size of the Earth calculated by Eratosthenes, this left a large space between Asia and the newly discovered lands.

Even before Vespucci, several maps, for example, Cantino's planisphere of 1502 and Canerio's map of 1504, placed a large open ocean between China on the east side of the map, and the incipient discoveries largely surrounded by water in North America and South America on the west side of the map. However, due to uncertainty, they depicted a finger of the Asian land mass extending from the top to the eastern edge of the map, suggesting that it was carried over to the western hemisphere (e.g., the Cantino Planisphere denotes Greenland as "Punta d'Asia" - "edge of Asia"). Some maps, for example, Contarini-Rosselli's 1506 map and Johannes Ruysch's 1508 map, bowing to Ptolemaic authority and Columbus' claims, have the land mass of northern Asia extending well into the western hemisphere and merging with what is known as North America (Labrador, Newfoundland, etc.). These maps place the island of Japan near Cuba and leave the South American continent - Vespucci's "New World" proper - separate and floating below itself.  The Waldseemüller map of 1507, which accompanied the famous Cosmographiae Introductio. The volume (which includes reprints of Vespucci's charts) comes closest to modernity by placing a completely open sea (with no fingers of land stretched out) between Asia on the eastern side and the New World (being represented twice on the same map in a different way: with and without a sea passage in the middle of what is now called Central America) on the western side - which (in what is now called South America) the same map calls simply "America." However, Martin Waldseemüller's map of 1516 steps back considerably from his earlier map and returns to classical authority, with the Asian land mass merging into North America (which he now calls Terra de Cuba Asie partis), and discreetly drops the label "America" from South America, Terra incognita.

The west coast of the New World - the Pacific Ocean - was not discovered until 1513 by Vasco Núñez de Balboa. But it would take several more years before another Portuguese - Ferdinand Magellan's voyage of 1519-1522 - determined that the Pacific definitely formed a single large body of water separating Asia from the Americas. It would still be several years before the Pacific coast of North America was mapped, dispelling the remaining doubts. Until the discovery of the Bering Strait in the 17th century, there was no absolute confirmation that Asia and North America were not connected, and some 16th century European maps still continued to depict North America connected by a land bridge to Asia (for example, Johannes Schöner's globe of 1533).

In 1524, the term was used by Giovanni da Verrazzano in a record of his voyage that year along the Atlantic coast of North America, land that is now part of the United States and Canada.


  1. New World
  2. Novo Mundo
  3. ^ "America." The Oxford Companion to the English Language (ISBN 0-19-214183-X). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 33: "[16c: from the feminine of Americus, the Latinized first name of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512). The name America first appeared on a map in 1507 by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, referring to the area now called Brazil]. Since the 16th century, the term "New World" has been used to describe the Western hemisphere, often referred to as the Americas. Since the 18th century, it has come to represent the United States, which was initially colonial British America until it established independence following the American Revolutionary War. The second sense is now primary in English: ... However, the term is open to uncertainties: ..."
  4. ^ Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro Di Medici, by Amerigo Vespucci; translation by George Tyler Northrup, Princeton University Press; 1916.
  5. ^ a b M.H.Davidson (1997) Columbus Then and Now, a life re-examined. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, p. 417)
  6. «Real Differences: New World vs Old World Wine». Wine Folly (em inglês). 21 de agosto de 2012. Consultado em 6 de setembro de 2021
  7. Colomb interprète au départ l'archipel où il se trouve comme faisant partie du Japon, « Cipango ». Colomb a aussi accosté sur le continent sud-américain (actuel Venezuela), lors de son troisième voyage, mais n'y a pas effectué d'exploration prolongée.
  8. de Madariaga, Salvador (1952). Vida del muy magnífico señor Don Cristóbal Colón (στα Castilian) (5th έκδοση). Mexico: Editorial Hermes. σελ. 363. "nuevo mundo", [...] designación que Pedro Mártyr será el primero en usar CS1 maint: Μη αναγνωρίσιμη γλώσσα (link)
  9. (Αγγλικά) «Edmundo O'Gorman - The invention of America, Greenwood Press, 1972».
  10. Zerubavel, Eviatar (2003). Terra Cognita: The Mental Discovery of America, p. 72. Citing: Thachohn B. (1903). Christopher Columbus, vol. 1, p. 62.
  11. James Loewen, (1970). Lies My Teacher Told Me. The New Press, pp. 65.

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