The Spanish colonization of American lands is a long process that has become important for world history. They were accused of real barbarism.
These myths were spread even by monks, not suspecting that they were becoming agents of someone's politics. This topic is practically not disclosed in mass culture today, remaining politicized. Plunging into the topic of colonization of America by the Spaniards, a lot of interesting things are revealed. The conquistadors are not at all ruthless exterminators of the Indian population. The most popular myths about these brave explorers will be dispelled.
The Spaniards quickly conquered America. Conquista usually refers to events in the 15th-17th centuries, starting with the discovery of America. It includes the activities of Cortes and the conquests of Pizarro. But the Spaniards themselves have abandoned this term since the second half of the 16th century. In fact, the process of conquering America stretched out for almost three hundred years. So, the last Mayan city that saw the first conquistadors, Tayasal, died only in 1697. Since the landing of Hernan Cortez in Mexico, a whole 179 years have passed by that time. It was already during the reign of Peter I, and meanwhile, the pre-Columbian civilizations of America were still resisting European expansion. Living in the territory of modern Chile and Argentina, the Araucans stopped fighting the Spaniards in general only in 1773. In fact, the Spaniards finally conquered the New World at the moment when they began to lose it. The history of the Conquest is inextricably linked with the war.
The conquistadors rode to the New World, driven by their thirst for gold. There are legends about the mysterious country of El Dorado, where countless treasures are hidden. And in general, the volumes of gold exported from America make it clear that the conquistadors were driven by greed. In the New World one could get rich quickly, simply by robbing the local population. This view seems overly simplistic. The Conquista was nevertheless precisely colonization, and not a banal squeezing out of all the juices from new territories. And the Spaniards themselves were not a gang of marauders, as they are often represented, but researchers and soldiers. In 1494, the Todesillas Treaty was concluded, it was supported by further formal and not very agreements. These documents determined the legal owners of Europeans, even not yet open lands. So even the most influential conquistadors could not particularly hope for enrichment. Their goal was to fill the Spanish treasury, and there is nothing to say about ordinary soldiers. The dream of the conquistadors at that moment was different. Most Spaniards saw the Conquest as a chance to display courage and military skills. Having gained fame in battles with the Indians, one could hope to get a good position in the colonies. And even the famous Pedro de Alvarado did not rest quietly on the stolen treasures, but personally traveled to Madrid to ask the king to give him the post of governor in Guatemala.
The conquistadors outnumbered the Indians in protection and weapons. This enduring myth is often replicated with colorful pictures. They clearly show all the helplessness of the Americans in comparison with the Europeans. Indians with bows were opposed by horsemen in armor and infantrymen with firearms. No one denies that the conquerors had technical superiority, but how important was it? Logistics played a role - delivering anything from Europe was expensive and difficult. It was initially impossible to produce an analogue on site. So in the first decades of the war, only a few conquistadors were equipped with modern weapons. The established image of the conquistador - in an iron helmet and a steel cuirass - had little in common with reality. In the first half century of the Conquest, most soldiers wore a leather helmet and quilted jacket. Eyewitnesses wrote that even noble hidalgo dressed like the Indians. The Europeans could only be recognized by their shields with swords. While the Spaniards in the Italian Wars presented everyone with advanced pike-style tactics, the conquistadors still managed with a sword and an archaic round shield. Those "rodeleros", which in Europe for the Great Captain, Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, played the role of auxiliary forces, for Cortez were the basis of his army. Yes, and firearms were originally rare. Almost until the end of the 16th century, Spanish arrows dispensed with crossbows. There is no need to talk about the spread of cavalry. Over time, the situation has already changed. So, in the middle of the XVI century, the colonists raised an uprising in Peru, fighting with other Spaniards. It turned out that the settlers had learned to make armor, arquebusses and even cannons. The Spaniards noted that the quality of the weapon was not much inferior to the European one.
The Indians were backward savages. It is a mistake to think that the conquistadors had to deal with savages. Initially, the Indians lagged behind not only in military equipment, but even in the simplest tactics. But the situation was changing rapidly. The Araucanians already mentioned surprised the Spaniards not only with their initial military skill, but also with their ability to quickly learn tactics from the colonialists. By the middle of the 16th century, these people began to use leather armor, similar to European pikes and halberds in weapons. The Araucanians had combat tactics - phalanxes of spearmen covered mobile groups of shooters. Connections were controlled using drums. The participants in the battles with the Indians quite seriously compare them with the Landsknechts, and not with the savages. The Araucans also knew the methods of fortification; they learned how to quickly build forts in the fields, with fortresses, ditches and towers. And by the end of the 16th century, the Indians even created their own cavalry, began to use firearms. And in Southeast Asia, there were situations when the Conquest was generally opposed by developed civilizations, with armies and war elephants.
The Spaniards won both in number and skill. There could not have been many Spaniards in the New World. But we do not even suspect how few of them were, and not only in the early years of the Conquest. So, in 1541, the Europeans went on an expedition to Chile, where they founded the current capital of the country, the city of Santiago de Nueva Extremadura. In the detachment of the first governor of Chile, Pedro de Valdivia, there were only 150 people. And the first reinforcements and supplies from Peru arrived only two years later. The first colonist of New Mexico (now the southern regions of the United States), Juan de Onate, in 1597 came forward with 400 accomplices, of whom there were about a hundred soldiers. Hernando de Soto's expedition with 700 travelers was perceived by the conquistadors as a major operation. Almost always the Spaniards had only hundreds, if not dozens of soldiers. But even this made it possible to achieve military success.
The Indians were afraid of firearms. Of course, the new thundering weapon first frightened the Indians. But soon they ceased to be afraid of him. Cortez noted that during his second battle with the Tlaxcalans, the roar of guns did not bother them in the least. And the arquebus did not help the Spaniards to avoid defeat on the Night of Sorrow.
The Spaniards conquered America only with the help of the Indians. It is believed that the small number of Spaniards was offset by the large number of their local allies. They formed the basis of the allied forces. But in this case, not everything is so simple. First of all, the Spaniards were able to find allies on the territory of modern Mexico and adjacent countries. There, alongside the Aztecs, there were weak peoples who dreamed of destroying their cruel and powerful neighbors. And the participation of the Indians directly in hostilities was limited. Cases when a Spaniard commanded a detachment of natives were very rare. The Indians were recruited as trackers, porters, guides, workers, only occasionally as soldiers. If there was a need for it, the Europeans were disappointed. An example is the events of the Night of Sorrow, when the conquistadors had to leave Tenochtitlan with bloody losses. The allied Tlaxcalans at the decisive moment were completely helpless due to their lack of organization and fighting spirit. This situation is easy to understand. By the time the Europeans arrived, almost all the warlike and powerful tribes were already in a depressed and half-slave state. They had already lost the habit of fighting. And in the campaigns to the south, the Spaniards no longer had allies.
The conquest of America was a real genocide for the Indians. Legends paint the Conquista as an act of genocide. Nations and civilizations were destroyed, and all for the sake of greed and intolerance of Europeans, who sought to convert everyone into their culture. War and colonization are cruel things in themselves. The clash of two ancient civilizations is not complete without tragedies. Nevertheless, the policy of the metropolis was rather soft. In America, the conquistadors acted in different ways. In 1573, King Philip II issued an Ordinance for New Discoveries. In this decree, it was expressly forbidden to rob, enslave the Indians, and use weapons unnecessarily. Even the term "Conquista" was banned, the crown did not see the military conquest of new lands in colonization. These soft rules were not always followed. Somewhere this was due to circumstances, and the human factor played a role. But in history there are many examples of how the Spaniards tried to treat the Indians gently and humanely. For example, the governor of New Mexico at the end of the 16th century allowed any military operations to be carried out only with the permission of the court. The demographic catastrophe has occurred as a result of several factors. This is epidemics, and brutality in the suppression of uprisings, and hard work in the mines. And what kind of genocide can we talk about if in the former Spanish colonies the majority of the population are descendants of Indians or residents of the pre-Columbian era. In the same North America, only a few tens of thousands of Indians remained.
The Spaniards were able to defeat the Indians with the help of unusual, European diseases. The success of the Conquest is explained not only by the culture shock of the Indians, but also by the appearance of new diseases in their midst. What Europeans have long developed immunity to has become a terrible misfortune for the aborigines. But you have to understand that this stick has two ends. The conquistadors also had to face new conditions for themselves. They were not ready to survive in the hot conditions of the tropics, the flora and fauna were unfamiliar, as was the area in general. The Indians defended their home, and the Spaniards were isolated for months. Even from the nearest colony, help and supplies could go for months. This myth is debunked by the poisons that the Indians used in the fight against the colonialists. It took the conquistadors a long time to understand how to heal the wounds inflicted by poisoned arrows and traps. So the danger of new diseases was mutual.
The conquistadors conquered only America. Conquest is considered to be the conquest of the New World. Long-term colonization of America is not all that the Spanish conquistadors did. There is also a dramatic, eventful history of the development of Southeast Asia. In the 16th century, the Spaniards appeared in the Philippines, trying to spread their influence from here. The Asian conquistadors were practically deprived of support from the metropolis. But this colony lasted until the 19th century, the Europeans had a significant impact on the local culture. The Spaniards began their colonial campaigns to the mainland from here. It was they who became the first Europeans on the territory of Laos, in fact, ruled Cambodia. The Spaniards fought against the Chinese and supported the Japanese. Few people know about this side of the history of the Conquest.
The conquistadors were greeted as invaders. The Europeans, having come to a new continent, met powerful civilizations of the Incas and Aztecs there. They were created forcibly, turning neighboring peoples into slavery. The success of the Spaniards was also based on the fact that they were helped by other tribes. They saw the Europeans as liberators, not conquerors.
It was easy for the conquistadors to defeat the peace-loving Indians. Historians today do not deny the sheer brutality of Indian civilizations. The locals were warlike and aggressive. The Aztecs are mired in bloody sacrifices, doing it in an extremely sophisticated way. So, young Indians had their hearts ripped out. They were eaten by priests, and their bodies were eaten by aristocrats during a ritual feast. Girls were sacrificed to the goddess of fertility, children to the rain god. The priests and even the king adorned themselves with scalps and the skin of the victims. The Aztecs could sacrifice thousands of people every year. This tribe even started wars just to get new captives. Other tribes had similar customs. So the Spaniards had to deal with cruel peoples who, without hesitation, killed their enemies.
The conquistadors destroyed the great cities and culture of ancient civilizations. The Spaniards did not destroy the cities, it simply contradicts common sense. The conquistadors needed strongholds for further conquests. Pagan temples with their idols were destroyed or altered. But after all, there used to be bloody and inhuman rituals. The cities whose remains rest in the jungle are not traces of the activities of the conquistadors. This is how the remains of the Mayan civilization look like, which died back in the X century, long before the conquistadors. You can blame the Spaniards for destroying gold items - they were simply melted down for easy transportation.
The conquistadors made slaves of the freedom-loving Indians. You should not idealize the Indians and consider them freedom-loving. Even before the Europeans, they were perfectly familiar with the institution of slavery. Moreover, it was common among the peace-loving tribes. The Spaniards simply tweaked a working system to fit their needs. The Incas and Aztecs mastered slavery especially well. But if in other cultures war prisoners became slaves, then the Indians also used their fellow tribesmen. One could become a slave for debt or for betrayal. The Aztecs made the slave trade a big business - markets worked in the largest cities. The most massive structures of civilization were erected precisely with the help of the labor of slaves. With the advent of the Spaniards, nothing really changed - the slaves were not given freedom, sacrifices and wars did not stop. Despite all their respect for white people, the Indians did not abandon their habits. Europeans, on the other hand, were drugged by the possibility of quickly becoming rich and powerful. The Spaniards introduced the encomienda system, which assigned the conquistadors the land immediately with the local population, who worked there. True, this applied to men from 15 to 50 years old, women and children were not involved in work.
The conquistadors were interested in new lands, not the Indians. There were different people among the colonialists, with their own goals and methods. Some wanted power and money, others dreamed of making ideological Christians out of Indians. The official authorities wanted to see the emergence of new states that would pay tribute to the crown. And there was a struggle between these directions. The remoteness from Europe untied the hands of the conquistadors, they could ignore the decrees. But in Mexico, a camp of those who called for the avoidance of cruelty towards the Indians gradually began to form. This is how New laws appeared, which prescribed to treat the Indians humanely. They were most fiercely defended by Catholic monks.In addition, even before the bloody events, the Indians were recognized as people of equal rights with Christians. Queen Isabella has promised to reduce taxes for converts to the Catholic faith. Many villages voluntarily began to serve the Spaniards, which was required by the authorities.
The conquistadors are invaders, and the Indians fought for their land. Central America has long been a battleground for various tribes and civilizations battling for control of this fertile region. The Spaniards had little less rights than the same Aztecs. They were also invaders. Mayan cities and states also fought each other for control of the land. A hostile ruler and prisoners were sacrificed. In the 7th century, the Maya tribes invaded the Teotihuacan tribes, and soon the city itself fell victim to the northern tribes. From the west, the Maya attacked the Pipil tribes, which destroyed the original civilization in the 9th-10th centuries. From the north, warlike Toltecs invaded it. The population of the region assimilated with the invaders, a new culture appeared. And the Inca empire was not born in a peaceful way. This tribe, living in the area of the city of Cuzco, eventually subjugated its neighbors. In the middle of the 15th century, the main rival on the way to supremacy in the region fell - the kingdom of Chimor. The Inca met the arrival of the conquistadors in the prime of their state.