Conquest of the Americas

Apr 2015
58
UK
I have often hear that the conquistadors only managed to conquer the great empires of the Aztecs and Incas with the help of large numbers of native allies, who made up the majority of the forces that defeated these two large empires. If this is the case, how did the Spanish end up being in charge and not the more powerful native allied groups?
 

Tairusiano

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,979
Brazil
I have often hear that the conquistadors only managed to conquer the great empires of the Aztecs and Incas with the help of large numbers of native allies, who made up the majority of the forces that defeated these two large empires. If this is the case, how did the Spanish end up being in charge and not the more powerful native allied groups?
Because it was Spain that united them, Cortez used the Tlaxcallas, otomis, the Aztec city of Texcoco and others to conquer Tenochtitlan, and altrough they formed the bulk of his army, the Spanish was the leadership, it was them that organized the alliances and took command the men, without Spain Texcoco would never became a ally of the Tlaxcalas, another point Cortez was very proactive in his job, like installing puppets in leadership of native kingdoms.
After the conquest spain would send soldiers, adventurers and governors to boost his powerbase, and the natives would suffer badly with the oldworld diseases.
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,414
Albuquerque, NM
The superiority of Spanish technology encouraged "cooperation" with the many who hated the Aztecs but were unable to escape their orbit. Firearms, horses and more effective armor, off-set the numerical advantages of the aboriginal forces.

We should not overlook the differences between the military doctrines of the Spanish v. their aboriginal opponents. The Spaniards had been fighting the Reconquista for several hundred years against the determined Islamic occupiers of much of the Spanish peninsula. They were battle-hardened men thirsty for fortune, and failure would mean their demise.

The native approaches to war were quite different. Their doctrine was not to kill the opponents, but to capture prisoners who might if they were lucky become slaves, or leave their hearts exposed to insure the rising of the Sun. War was still brutal, but it was mitigated by its ritual nature. The Butterfly Warriors made great show, but when one side or the other demonstrated "dominance" on the battle field, the war was largely over. This does not mean they were mock battles. The Aztec sword was a wooden paddle with grooves down its sides; Sharp chunks of obsidian were held in place with a sort of glue. Obsidian is as sharp as any modern razor, and when encountering flesh, the obsidian shards tended to come loose and remain fixed in the target's flesh. The Amerinds encountered by the Conquistadors had no metallurgy beyond producing some striking jewelry from rich ore deposits. Neolithic fighters really have no chance of defeating an enemy with steel and gunpowder.

Disease was an ally that served the Spanish well. Diseases unknown in the New World caused far more deaths and social disintegration than all the battles combined. Small pox and measles were not widely spread deliberately, but the effect was the same. Aboriginal populations were decimated, leaving them disheartened believing the favor of their Gods was lost. As population numbers contracted, the ratios of native Americans to the Spanish became less pronounced. As the Spanish seized control, they made of serfs of their defeated subjects; a permanent under-class who would serve their Masters indefinitely. Resistance proved futile, and over time, the population in Spanish colonies became largely Mestizo, with a thin layer of light skinned Masters who claimed relative pure Spanish blood-lines. Again, that wasn't so much deliberate as it was an un-intended consequence.

The Spanish invasion of Mexico was accomplished by a band of what were mercenary soldiers. They fought for plunder and prizes. Most of the native wealth was shipped off to Europe and/or distributed among the top ranking leaders. The ranks took what they could, and that included the best looking women. Spaniards settled in to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and a few generations later rebellion almost ceased. Not entirely.
some groups weren't deemed worth conquering, and others adopted passive resistance that in later years erupted into Mexico's many revolutions.
 
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Oct 2014
1,260
California
Using missionaries of the Catholic Church, Spain quickly converted Native Americans into the religion as a unifying move. While to modern thinking this was devastating the Indian's historical lifestyle, it none-the-less was successful for Spain.

The Spanish Catholic missions are found throughout Latin America and in the southern half of the United States that was under Spanish administration.

My interests are in the Spanish conquest of Old California (today's Baja California, Mexico) and to see the giant stone churches, reservoirs, canals, and farmlands, built in such a hostile and remote land is truly amazing, especially given the time in which this all happened.


LORETO, founded in 1697


SAN FRANCISCO JAVIER, founded in 1699


SANTA ROSALIA de MULEGE, founded in 1705


SAN IGNACIO, founded in 1728

These are just four of the 25 Spanish* missions in Baja California, eight are intact stone churches and used to this day by locals and visitors. A few have new buildings on the old sites and most are in ruins or have vanished.
[*Two more missions were founded after Mexico's independence]
 
Nov 2017
61
San Diego
Spain conquering them was not surprising. What was surprising was that a force little more than a scouting expedition did the job themselves.

Had Cortez failed, the second wave would have wiped them out properly and probably would not even used native allies
 
Oct 2014
1,260
California
Dave, did you ever get the little painting I did for you?
OH my, yes... I apologize if I did not send you an email of thanks!
Here it is to be enjoyed by all the Historum viewers... very cool!


It was a bit larger than my scanner, so some of it is off the screen.
Thank you Asherman!
 
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cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,359
His main allies, the Tlaxcallans, were defeated in battle before Cortez ever took on the Aztecs, so the pecking oreder was well established.
 

Jax Historian

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
The Spaniards had been fighting the Reconquista for several hundred years against the determined Islamic occupiers of much of the Spanish peninsula. They were battle-hardened men thirsty for fortune, and failure would mean their demise.
Are you sure about this? I've never heard that any of the men who fought the Aztecs had fought in the Reconquista. There was about 27 years between the two events. Cortez and Bernal Diaz were children when the Reconquista ended. How many of Cortez's men were old enough to have fought the Moors?