2. The Spanish Empire, long gone, continues to influence the world of the 21st century
The most-spoken native language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with over 1.3 billion using it as their mother tongue. The second most-spoken is Spanish, a remnant of the Spanish Empire which once covered a goodly portion of the globe, in Europe, Africa, North and South America, and across the Pacific. Beginning with the Age of Exploration under the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, Spain expelled the Moors from Iberia and conquered much of the overseas New World. Its empire included South America, Central America, and more than half of North America. It also held territories in what it called the Indies, today’s Philippines.
Vast wealth from its conquests flowed into Spain, making it the richest country in the world and the Spanish dollar the first truly global currency. The Spanish dollar, the most prevalent coin in colonial America, could be chopped into eight “bits”. They became known as “pieces of eight”. Across today’s United States Spain’s influence can still be measured by the number of place-names in Spanish, including among many San Francisco, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Montana. Spain also strove to convert the world to Roman Catholicism in the lands it conquered, including across the Pacific in the Philippines, a named which came to honor the Spanish King and Emperor, Philip II.
Eventually the vast empire became simply to large and distant for the monarchy to control. Illicit trade between points of the empire, bypassing Spain, deprived the crown of revenue. Nonetheless the cost of defending the empire remained a burden on the throne. By the beginning of the 19th century, rebellions shook its underpinnings. In the early 1820s Spain had become a constitutional monarchy and the empire reduced to island holdings in the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the Philippines. Nonetheless, the number of native speakers of Spanish, nearly half a billion people, continues to attest to the size of the Spanish Empire from the 16th to the 19th century.