Spanish Empire > Spanish Silver Train
Spanish Silver Train
The Spanish Silver Train was a massive land caravan that traveled from the Viceroyalty of Peru through Central America to Panama and was responsible for transporting the massive wealth that the Spanish were drawing out of this area of the New World. The silver was either plundered from the Inca civilization or mined from the legendary Potosi and transported to the coast at where it was picked up by the annual Spanish Treasure Fleet.
The silver was first brought to the city of Nombre de Dios however, after successive raids on the city by Francis Drake during the Privateering Era the major silver exporting port was established at the better fortified Portobello. Drake was even able to capture part of the Silver Train with Guillaume Le Testu itself by making an overland invasion that would later be recreated by many buccaneers during the Buccaneering Era.
During the 17th and the 18th centuries Portobello became one of the most important silver exporting ports available on the Spanish Main. While the word train might invoke images of a steam-driven locomotive we can assure you there were none of them available during the 17th century and it would not have worked well anyways. The path from Peru to Panama involved a treacherous voyage through mountain passes, jungle and involved a massive caravan of mules and slaves.
The purpose of the Spanish Silver Train was to facilitate the interaction between the Pacific Coast of their territories and link all of the settlements in the New World so goods could flow more easily. Essentially they built the worlds first true international trade network by making this connection, a feat that would only be rivaled by the development of the Panama Canal in the 20th century which truly did making voyage around the world much easier. Before this brave captains would have to round the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America so it is easily understandable why the Spanish sought a more efficient route.
The Spanish Silver Train developed following the conquering of the Inca civilization by the Conquistador named Francisco Pizzaro. They soon annexed the Inca empire into their new colonial empire as the territory of Peru and later even expanded into Chile to the south. This region of the world however, was famous for its mass material wealth. Where as the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians used clay to make their pots the Inca used silver and gold because they simply had so much of it.
To the Spanish this was exactly what they had been searching for, a long lost civilization rich in silver and gold. In addition to looting and plundering all of the vast artifacts and treasures of the defunct Inca empire the Spanish began on a quest to enslave the natives and build mines to extract even more wealth. The silver that was drawn out of Peru at this time was used to help fund the endless wars of Europe and was actually so immense that it ended up causing inflation in Spain and the demise of the Spanish Empire.
However, having thousands of tons of silver is one thing and transporting it is another thing. To accomplish this the Spanish carried the silver on the backs of mules and humans across the Pacific Coast to the Isthmus of Panama. It was then brought to either Nombre de Dios or Portobello to be picked up the annual treasure fleet. It would remain in warehouses in the cities which made them prime target for overland invasions to loot and plunder the towns.
The Spanish Silver Train had many weaknesses and vulnerabilities which made it a target for privateers and buccaneers alike. The massive wealth that it carried made it slow and easy to spot and the planned voyage made it easy to ambush. In 1572 Francis Drake did exactly that and organized an ambush of the Silver Train along with Guillaume Le Testu. They managed to capture a great deal of treasure before returning to the coast. Overall the Spanish Silver Train was one of the largest facilitators of piracy in the West Indies because it was responsible for transporting the massive quantities of material wealth so desired and valuable in Europe at the time.
It is one of the major mechanisms like the Spanish Treasure Fleet that were responsible for the movement of wealth around the New World which was the major attraction that drew the attention of the other European colonial powers. By the end of the 16th century both of these had been captured between Drake on the train and Jean Fleury on the fleet and this provided even more inspiration for later generations to take to the sea and try their hand at gaining a massive fortune. It also inspired the Spanish to fortify their settlements more in a back and forth venture that would continue throughout the Golden Age of Piracy.
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