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Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world.

He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia-the Americas.

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There, bits of visible gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before.

Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

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