Native American Civilizations: The Conquest


Figure 1.--Cortez was able to seize control of Tenochititlan with such amall force by seizing the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. The Aztecs finanally grew desenchanted with Moctezuma. Here they are threatening the Spanish while Moctezuma attempts to calm here. Shortly afterwards a rock greviously wounded him and he died shortly afterwards. The artist seems to show one of his sons present. We do not know how acurate the depictions is. We are not sure who the painter was, presumably a Spanish painter some time in the 16th century.

The voyages of Columbus and the other European Voyages of Discovery had profound consequences for both Europe and the world. Following on Columbus' voyages, Spain rapidly beagan estalishing colonies. At first Columbus and the Spanish did not realize that they had chanced upon an entirely new continent--the Americas. They thought it ws India and thus called it the Indies and the Caribbean Islands have become known to us as the West Indies. Spanish colonization was at first in the Caribbean and extrodinarily brutal. The native Americans on the islands were for the most part exterminated. Here both Spanish brutality and the lack of immunity to European diseases were factors. Next the Spanish looked to the mainland where rumors described natin American civilizations of vast wealth. This led to Diego Cortez's Conquest of Mexico. Balboa had earlier found the Pacific across the Istmus of Panama. This led to Hernando Pizarro's Conquest of Peru. The gold and silver flowing from the Americas made Spain a European super-power and financed the Great Armada. The most significantimpact of the conquests, however, may well have been the introduction of the humble potato to Europe fom Peru. Another plant, corn, is even more important to our modern society.

European Voyages of Discovery

The voyages of Columbus and the other European Voyages of Discovery had profound consequences for both Europe and the world. Following on Columbus' voyages, Spain rapidly beagan estalishing colonies. At first Columbus and the Spanish did not realize that they had chanced upon an entirely new continent--the Americas. They thought it ws India and thus called it the Indies and the Caribbean Islands have become known to us as the West Indies.

The Caribbean (1492-1509)

The Spanish encontered primarily two peoples in the Caribbean, the Arawaks and more war-like Caribs, Some scholars, however, and begun to dispute this traditional assessment. Spanish colonization was at first in the Caribbean and extrodinarily brutal. Tales of Spanish britality circulated widely in Europe. The native Americans on the islands were for the most part exterminated. Here both Spanish brutality and the lack of immunity to European diseases were factors. The Spanish conquest was actually confined to the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. They did not bother to settle many of the smaller islands as their attention soon turned ti the mainland. Thus the conques of the other islands was pursued by the other European countries (Britain, France, and the Netherlands) on an island to island basis. Jamaica was only lightly settled by the Spanish and seized by the British. Native Americans managed to survive here by moving into the mountaneous interior of little agricultural value. Escape slaves joined with the Native Anericans who resusted the Spanish to resist the British.

Mexico (1519-21)

Next the Spanish looked to the mainland where rumors described natin American civilizations of vast wealth. This led to Diego Cortez's Conquest of Mexico. Spain at the beginning of the 16th century was a rising, newly unified power in Europe. Although it had lost some of its power with the rise of important nation states, the papacy at the beginning of the 16th century still had unrivaled moral aithority. Sanish diplomacy and a new pope obtained papal blessing for a new Spanish empire, in effect spliting the worls between Spain and Portugal. Spain then colonized the Caribbean and then hearing rumors of a rich inland empire began to plan to colonize the mainland. The Aztec were a war-like people located in the central valley of Mexico and dominated much of southern Mexico during the 15th and early 16th centuries until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Their capital Tenochtitlan was unknown to Europe, but was one of the great cities of the world. Diego Velasquez, Spanih Governor of Cuba, put a trusted soldier, Hernando Cortez, in charge of an expedition to the mainland. Hernando Cortés sailed from Cuba in 1519. He had only a small force, but it was equipped with horses, fire arms, and cannon. His men had steel body armor. Cortez confronted Indian armies that were vastly superior. He seized upon the strateguy of forming alliances with vassal Indian nations within the Aztec Empire that were willing to fight with him. The first alliance was with the Totonacs. Some of his soldiers, mostly Vlasquez loyalists planned to seize on of the ships and return to Cuba. Cortez took the dramatic action of sinking all but one of the shipps. He then made a dramatic appeal to the men, wining the support of mot of the expedition. Cortez's army left the Totonac capital (August 16, 1519). The expedition counted 400 soldiers, 15 horses, and 7 artillery pieces. With them were 1,300 Totonac warriors, and 1,000 porters. The Totonac force was small in comparison to the forces the Aztecs could marshall. Even so it was significant. Not only did it quadruple Cortez's force, but it provide allies which were familiar with local conditions. Without the Tononac alliance, Cortez's expedition may not have even reached Tenochtitlan. The tsory of the conquest is one of courage and audacity mingled with avarice, treachery, and crulty and stands in sharp contrast to that of North America where colonization was largely based on the desire for religious expression and land to farm. For Spain with it's poweful army, the gold and silver which began to flow from Mecico turned Spain for a century into a European super power. A new plant, corn, developed in Meso America has proven to be central to modern society.

Central America (1523-1697)

The conquest of Central America is primarily the story of the conquest of the Maya states in northern Central America (1551–1697). There were, however, other tribes further south. Rodrigo de Bastidas established Spain's claim to the isthmus of Panama. He sailied along the Darién coast (March 1501). Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage, sailed along the Caribbean coast of Central America from the Bay of Honduras to Panama. The next forays to Central America were launched from the growing Spanish colony of Cuba. Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the firstv European to cross the Isthmus of Panama. Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and all the lands adjoining it for the Spanish Crown. The next Spanish expedition from Cuba on the Yucatán Peninsula looking for slaves to work the Cuban plantations as the Native American population on the island had been desimated. The focus of the Spanishm howevere turned north to the Aztec Empire. After defeating the Aztecs, the Spanish turned their attention south. The first Conquistador to lead an expedition south was Pedro de Alvarado, one of the most ambutious and cruel of the Conquistadores. The principal campaigns to control CentraL America were fought in the north by Alvarado. The strongrst tribes were located in the highlands of Guatemala and El Salvador. These were the Maya and related states. Alvarado reached Guatemala traveling down the Pacific coast (1523). He commanded a relatively small force made up of a few hundred horsemen, soldiers and Native American allies.

Peru (1532-72)

Balboa had earlier found the Pacific across the Istmus of Panama. This led to Hernando Pizarro's Conquest of Peru. The feats of the Spanish Conquistadores are some of the most dramatic accounts in history. The conquest of Peru is one of these epic feats. Here we can not begin to do justice to the story other than outline it for the casual reder. A great empire was destroyed by a handfull of Spanish adventurers led by an obscure, illiterate commander who grew up illigitimate and poor. Franciso Pizarro landed on the Pacific coast of South America with a force of only 167 soldiers. The Incas had constructed a great empire streaching from modern day Ecuador south to Chile. The Incas had not yet developed technologies common in the West such as metal tools, the wheel, and a written language, but they had developed a rich culture and agriculture which in many ways was more productve than modern Peruvian agriculture. The Inca Empire fielded vast armies and constructed powerful fortifications. Pizarro knew relatively little about the Inca, but he considered Cortez's strategy in Mexico as had decided to persue a similar approch. Pizarro on arriving in the Inca Empire sent message to the Inca Emeror Atahualpa and like Cortez in Mexico managedt take him prisoner and destroy a great empire. Pizarro was able to succeed with even a smaller force than Cortez. As in Mexico, the story is one of courage and audacity mingled with avarice, treachery, and crulty and stands in sharp contrast to that of North America where colonization was largely based on the desire for religious expression and land to farm. The gold and silver from Peru combined with that from Mexico turned Spain with its powerful army into a European super power. Ironically the most significant aspect of the Conquest may have been the introduction of the lowly potato to Europe.

Colombia (1525- )

Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to sail along the Caribbean coast of Colombia (1500-01). He sailed from the Cape of La Vela to Point Manzanilla in what is now Panama. The Spanish were at first draw to Peru and the wealth of the Aztec Empire. Francisco Pizarro sailed south along the Pacific coast (1525). Bastidas founded Santa Marta along the on the northern (Caribbean) coast (1525), the first step in the actual conquest of Colombia itself. Pedro de Heredia founded Cartagena (1533). It became one of the most important naval bases in the Spanish Empire. Cartagena was the first of the fortified ports built along the Spanish Main. The Spanish Main developed as a string of trading ports running north from Caetagena through Central America to the Caribbean. These ports were designed to safely transporting the riches of Spain's new South American colonies back to Spain. In Soon Colombian emeralds, Peruvian gold, and Bolivian silver would flow through Cartagena and the other ports of the Spanish Main. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada moved into Colombia's Andean interior and founded Bogotá (1538) followed by several other interior cities as well as strong points sequring routes to the coast. The Spanish completed the conquest (mid-16th century).

Brazil

There is some difference of opinion among historians as to the size of the Native American population in the Amazonian basin. One estimate suggests a Native American population of about 7 million people. The tribes have been described as peripatetic. We have noted varying assessments of the level of development of the tribes. They have been described a having only basic agricuktural trchnology. Other reports suggest a much more developed agricultural society. There are reports of high levels of intra-tribal warfare and canibalism. There was no monumental archiecture as was the case of the Andean peoples. Thus there is little physical evidence to assess these cultures. There are today in the jungle areas of the deep Amazon a number of surviving tribes with a population of about 0.2 million. Their culture is very primitive. There is evidence that the Native American tribes in the Amazon Basin at the time of the Conquest were more advanced. The Portuguese who for a century were moving south alonh the coast of Africa discovered Brazil after Columbus had shown that there was land to the west. The leading Portuguesr conquistadoer was Pedro Cabral (1500). Other Portuguese explorers followed in Cabral's wake. The nature of the Portuguese Conquest in Brazil was different from that of the Spanish in the rest of South American and Mexico. The Portuguese with considerable experience along the coast of Africa was primarily interested in trade. There was less concern with actual conquest. The Portuguese made little attemp to move inland and the interior was largely unexplored. Many early settklers were common sailors who lived on subsistence agriculture. The early Portuguese found little of value among the Native Americans. One item of value they found was the pau do brasil (brazil wood tree) which could be used to produce a valuable red die. from which they created red dye.

Argentina

It was Portuguese explorrs that pushed moved south along the Atlantic coast of south America. And while they established the colony of Brazil, it was the Spanish who dominated in the far south. Spanish Conquistadores first reached the Rio de la Plata estuary (16th century). Juan de Solís landed therey, but was repelled by the Native Americans (1516). Magellan mainland lanfall (1520) during his circumnavigation expedition. Another Spanish expedition was repelled (1527). Sebastian Cabot and Diego García Sailed inland into the estuary and up the Paraná and Paraguay Rivers (1527). They festanlished the settlement of Sancti Spiritus where the Caraña and Coronda Rivers joined closeto the Paraná. Te small settlement could not hold out against hostile Native Americans and the settlement was destroyed (1529). Cabot and García were forced to return to Spain. It was Pedro de Mendoza with a much larger and better equiped force that established Santa María del Buen Aire (1536). This of course was the beginning of Buenos Aires. Mendoza's force was well armed and equipped with horses. Even so resistance from the Native Americans was fierce and this settlement also had to be abandoned and Mendoza returned to Spain. Berfore this occurred, however, Mendoza had dispatched a small group commanded by Juan de Ayolas up the Paraná River. Ayolas himself set out on an expedition to reach Peru which by that time was already firmly in Spanish hands. Ayolas never reaced Peru and his fate his lost to history. Domingo Martínez de Irala, a Conquistador of Basque origins, was elected by the larger body in what is now Paraguay as their leader. As a result, he has the destinction of being the first democratically elected official in the Americas. He founded the first cabildo in the Americas at Asunción (1537). Many survivors of the Buen Aire settlement which continued to threatened by hostile Native Americans moved to Asunción. The Natives Americans in Paraguay were friendlier giving the settlement a chance to get established. There were no further expeditions directly from Spain after Mendoza's failure. Irala proved to be a forceful and energetic govenor. Irala oversaw the founding of towns throughout Paraguay. The Spanish stamp was slowly placed on the colony. The settlers erected churches and public buildings The less fierce Native Americans were subjugated and distributed among the colonists in encomiendas--esentialy becoming serfs in a feudal system. The Asunción settlement thrived and became the ceter from which Argentina was eventually colonized. A force from Asución sent established Santa Fé (1573). Juan de Garay refounded the settlement at Buenos Aires (1580). This was a key step because of the strategic importance of the port. Resistance from the Native Americans continued, but under Garay's successor, Hernando Arias de Saavedra (1592-1614), finally suceeded in making Buenos Aires a secure Spanish colony. While no expeditions from Spain followed Mendiza, there were expeditions from the Spanish colonies in both Peru and Chile. These expeditions suceeded in founding the erliest cities in Argentina located in the eastern foothills of the Andes. The Spanish from Peru following the Inca roads founded Santiago del Estero, Tucumán, Córdoba, Salta, La Rioja and San Salvador de Jujuy. The Spanish from Chile founded San Juan, Mendoza, and San Luis. As a result Sopanish rule in northern Argentina was firmly established by te end of the 16th century.

Chile

Quechua-speaking tribes inhabited the northern region of what is now Chile. Araucanian tribes dominated central Chile. The Inca came to dominte much of Chile, but were resisted by the fierce Araucanian tribes who prevented the Inca from moving further south. At stake was Chile's fertile central valley south of modern Santiago. The Spanish after conquering the Inca in Peru began to move south into Chile. The First Spanish expedition commnded by Almagro was defeated by a combination of the northern deserts and the Araucanians in the south (1536). Valdivia led a susubsequent expedition. The Spanish after conquering the Inca in Peru began to move south into Chile. The First Spanish expedition commnded by Almagro was defeated by a combinatin of the northern deserts and the Araucanians in the south (1536). Valdivia led a susubsequent expedition. Their first settlements were Santiago (1541) and Concepcion (1550). The Spanish settlers had to face the same resistance the Inca faced--the Araucanians. The less civilized Araucanians proved less vulnerable to Spanish arms than the Inca. The Spanish War with the Araucanians continued into the mid-19th century.

Impact

The gold and silver flowing from the Americas made Spain a European super-power and financed the Great Armada. The most significantimpact of the conquests, however, may well have been the introduction of the humble potato to Europe fom Peru. The corn plant developed by Meso Americans may be even more important.





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Created: 5:03 AM 6/15/2008
Last updated: 5:03 AM 6/15/2008