Inter caetera ("Among other [works]") was a papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on 4 May 1493, which granted to Spain (the Crowns of Castile and Aragon) all lands to the "west and south" of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde islands.
It remains unclear to the present whether the pope was issuing a "donation" of sovereignty or a feudal infeodation or investiture. Differing interpretations have been argued since the bull was issued, with some arguing that it was only meant to transform the possession and occupation of land into lawful sovereignty. Others, including the Spanish crown and the conquistadors, interpreted it in the widest possible sense, deducing that it gave Spain full political sovereignty.
Columbus' arrival in supposedly Asiatic lands in the western Atlantic Ocean in 1492 threatened the unstable relations between Portugal and Spain, which had been competing for power and possession of colonial territories along the African coast for many years. The King of Portugal asserted that the discovery was within the bounds set forth in the papal bulls of 1452 (Dum diversas), 1455 (Romanus Pontifex), 1456 (Inter caetera, not to be confused with the 1493 bull of the same name), 1481 (Aeterni regis), and 1484. The King and Queen of Spain recognized the authority of these papal bulls and initiated diplomatic discussions over the rights to possess and govern the newly found lands. Spanish and Portuguese delegates met and debated from April to November 1493, without reaching an agreement. At the same time Spain urged Pope Alexander VI, a Spaniard native of Valencia and a friend of the Spanish King, to issue a new bull favorable to Spain. The Pope did so, issuing four edicts dated 3 and 4 May 1493. The third superseded the first two, and the fourth, titled Inter caetera, superseded the third. A fifth edict, Dudum siquidem of 26 September 1493, supplemented the Inter caetera.
The Inter caetera and the following Treaty of Tordesillas defined and delineated a zone of Spanish rights exclusive of Portugal. In relation to other states the agreement was legally ineffective (res inter alios acta). Spain's attempts to persuade other European powers on the legal validity of the Inter caetera were never successful.
This bull was silent regarding whether lands to the east of the line would belong to Portugal, which had only recently reached the southern tip of Africa (1488) and had not yet reached India (1498). These lands yet "to be discovered" lay beyond those along the west coast of Africa as far as Guinea, and were given to Portugal via the 1481 bull Aeterni regis, which had ratified the Treaty of Alcáçovas. Moreover, in the bull Dudum siquidem, the Pope granted to Spain even those lands in eastern waters that "at one time or even yet belonged to India".
This nullification of Portugal's aspirations led to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal, which moved the line further west to a meridian 370 leagues west of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, now explicitly giving Portugal all newly discovered lands east of the line. Initially, the Tordesillas line did not encircle the globe. Spain and Portugal could pass each other toward the west or east, respectively, on the other side of the globe and still possess whatever lands they were first to discover. In response to Portugal's discovery of the Spice Islands in 1512, the Spanish put forward the idea, in 1518, that Pope Alexander had divided the world into two halves. By this time, however, other European powers had overwhelmingly rejected the notion that the Pope had the right to convey sovereignty of regions as vast as the New World. Even within Spain influential voices, such as Francisco de Vitoria, had denounced the validity of the Inter caetera. While Spain never gave up its claims based on papal bulls, neither did the Spanish crown seek papal sanctions over the Pacific Ocean line of demarcation. Rather, Spain negotiated directly with Portugal. The Treaty of Zaragoza (1529) settled the dispute by placing the antipodal line 17° east of the Moluccas.
Inter caetera states: "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. ...we (the Papacy) command you (Spain) ... to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents and dwellers therein in the Catholic faith, and train them in good morals." This papal command marked the beginning of colonization and Catholic Missions in the New World. An important if initially unintended effect of the combination of this papal bull and the Treaty of Tordesillas was that nearly all the Pacific Ocean and the west coast of North America were given to Spain. Consistent with these ancient claims, Spain made claims to British Columbia and Alaska as late as 1819 because they bordered the Pacific Ocean. The Adams–Onís Treaty resolved this by settling the border between Spain and the United States, limiting Spain's northward expansion to the 42nd parallel, south of Oregon.
Modern protests by indigenous peoples
Various groups representing indigenous peoples of the Americas have organised protests and raised petitions seeking the repeal of the papal bull Inter caetera which led to the subjugation of their peoples, and to remind Catholic leaders of the record of conquest, disease and slavery in the Americas, sometimes justified in the name of Christianity, which has a devastating effect on their cultures today.
- A single meridian is excluded because no lands can be south of it. Two partial meridians are possible, one extending north from a point west of the Azores and another extending south from a point south of the Cape Verde Islands, the two being connected by a north-northwest south-southeast line segment. Another possibility is a rhumb line west and south of the islands extending north-northwest and south-southeast. All rhumb lines reach both poles by spiraling into them.
- Verzijl, Jan Hendrik Willem; W.P. Heere, J.P.S. Offerhaus (1979). International Law in Historical Perspective. Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 230–234, 237. ISBN 978-90-286-0158-1. . Online, Google Books entry
- "The Möbius strip: a spatial history of colonial society in Guerrero, Mexico", Jonathan D. Amith, p. 80, Stanford University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8047-4893-4
- Columbus completed a report of the voyage on February 15 and mailed it, most likely from Lisbon, to the court in Barcelona on March 4, see The Conquest of Paradise, Kirkpatrick Sale, p. 123, ISBN 0 333 57479 6
- A copy of Columbus's letter is known to have arrived in Rome by mid-April (it is mentioned in a Venetian chronicle dated 18 April), see The Conquest of Paradise, Kirkpatrick Sale, p. 124, ISBN 0 333 57479 6
- Emma Helen Blair, James Alexander Robertson, "Preface to Volume I", The Philippine Islands 1493-1803.
- The Treaty of Tordesillas did not specify any longitude, thus writers have proposed several, beginning with Jaime Ferrer's 1495 opinion provided at the request of and to the Spanish king and queen.
- Edward Gaylord Bourne, "Historical Introduction", in The Philippine Islands 1493-1803 by Emma Helen Blair.
- "Indigenous demand revocation of 1493 papal bull", National Catholic Reporter, 27 Oct 2000, John L. Jr. Allen
- "Restore World Peace"