The Spanish Conquest

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Although some may consider the fall of the Nahua and Inca empires an encounter of the Spanish, the meeting of the two cultures was a conquest because the Spanish brutally defeated and took over the indigenous cultures with the help of many advantages. There are three major factors which contributed to the successful conquest between the Spanish and the Nahuas, also known as the Aztecs, and Incas.  First, the Spanish leaders had experience in forming alliances with indigenous people.  Second, the Spanish had superior weaponry and military advantage, like steel, horses, and guns which made their weapons stronger and much more deadly. Third, the Spanish were physically capable of interacting with the indigenous people without suffering from unknown diseases, unlike the Nahuas and Incas who suffered from many diseases introduced by the Spanish.

In the conquest of Mexico, one of the leading factors that led to the success of the Spanish conquest was the experienced Spanish leader, Hernan Cortés. Luckily for the Spanish, Cortés had previous experience with making indigenous allies for fifteen years in Central and South America and Panama[1]. By making allies with surrounding rival cities, such as Totonacs, Cholulas, and Tlaxcalans, Hernan Cortés was able to overthrow the Nahua empire. Although some of the alliances began with battles, such as the Cholula and the Tlaxcala, Cortés successfully gained many allies[2]. In the conquest of Mexico, no other single Spanish advantage outweighed the simple fact that Cortés more or less knew what was happening, whereas Mexica leaders, including Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, had no earthly idea who, or what the Spaniards might be[3]. Like Hernan Cortés, Francisco Pizarro also had experience in making alliances, which aided the Spaniards in the conquest of Peru. In Born in Blood and Fire, Chasteen states, “Neither the Incas nor the Aztecs could have been defeated without the aid of the Spaniards’ indigenous allies[4].

The second major factor that contributed to the success of the conquests of the Nahua and Inca empires was the Spanish’s advanced military technology. Horses, steel, and (less importantly) gunpowder gave the invaders a devastating superiority of force, man for man, against warriors armed only with bravery and stone-edged weapons. Spanish weaponry produced staggering death tolls[5]. For the Conquest of Mexico, In Victors and Vanquished, by Stuart Schwartz, he says, “despite the Mexica’s experience in warfare their military objectives, weapons, tactics, and experience put them at a decided disadvantage in the face of Spanish steel and Spanish objectives even though they outnumbered the Spaniards. The Mexica could not compete with Spanish artillery, steel weapons, crossbows, and firearms, although they quickly learned to adjust their tactics.” In Pizarro’s case, “he drew on another tried-and true Spanish tactic, one repeatedly used in Mexico: the surprise slaughter of indigenous nobles within an enclosed space. At Pizarro’s invitation, Atahualpa’s multitude of followers entered a square where the Spaniards had hidden cannons. Without warning, the cannons fired into the crowd at close range, creating gruesome carnage. Then Spaniards on horses charged into the mass of bodies, swinging their long steel blades in bloody arcs, sending heads and arms flying, as no indigenous American weapon could do.”[6]

The last major factor that aided in the success of the fall of the two empires was disease. Luckily for the Spanish, they had already been exposed to different viruses, making them immune to the rapidly infectious diseases. For the conquest of the Nahua empire, during the siege of Tenochtitlan, the smallpox epidemic hit the Mexica population, killing hundreds of thousands. By mid 1521, smallpox and indigenous allies had helped Cortés almost completely demolish Tenochtitlan. On the other hand, for the Inca, the diseases had already hit before Pizarro arrived to Peru during the civil...
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