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The Aztecs and Incas were extremely affluent with precious metals, and the Spanish were able to bring much of those riches back to Europe , boosting the economy by adding more wealth . Even the furs of the North American animals were extremely valuable back in Europe for fashion purposes, so the trading of furs became highly profitable . The economic system of mercantilism aided this influx of wealth; the newly prosperous nations gained maximum capital from their trading by establishing colonies. In mercantilism, the European nations exported much more than they imported to increase the wealth of the nation.
The newfound wealth of the Americas affected the upper and middle classes, who benefited from the profits. Governments used the money to sponsor research in industry and to build up their militaries . The flourishing economy led to improved technology and militaries, thus causing a significant change in European society. Another major product of the Columbian Exchange was the introduction of new crops and animals from the Americas.
The most important crop brought to Europe was the potato. The potato was a staple, since it provided key essential nutrients.
Thus, it provided a reliable source of nutrients to sustain peasants during grain shortages, allowing for a population increase. The potato’s versatility led to its expansion, and it became a major food source for Ireland, Scotland, and Germany. It was more efficient to grow than the European wheat, yielding more crops per acre, meaning the potato would feed more people than wheat given a limited amount of land.
The efficiency also contributed to a population increase. The potato became part of European food so much so that it eventually became known as the food of the poor.
Other crops besides the potato also were integrated into the European diet, including maize, tomatoes, peppers, and chocolate, to a lesser extent. The North American turkeys also became part of the European diet . In addition, Columbian Exchange created the slave trade which heavily influenced Europe. In the New World, certain crops such as cotton, sugarcane, and tobacco were cultivated. However, these crops require a great deal of labor and attention in order to grow in mass quantity , since the harvesting a large amount of those crops required manual labor .
The first Spanish conquistadors enslaved the native population or used an encomienda to meet those labor needs. However, the Spanish also sent missionaries to the New World to convert the natives to Catholicism, thus many of the natives converted; and since it was not acceptable to enslave a Catholic, the European nations looked to Africa to provide the need for labor. Slaves were sent from Africa to the New World and Europe. Eventually, many wealthy households in Europe had at least one slave. Owning a slave became a sign of money and power .
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