The Conquest of Mexico and the conversion of the peoples of New Spain can and should be included among the histories of the world, not only because it was well done but because it was very great. . . . Long live, then, the name and memory of him [Cortés] who conquered so vast a land, converted such a multitude of men, cast down so many men, cast down so many men, cast down so many idols, and put an end to so much sacrifice and the eating of human flesh! —Francisco López de Gómara (1552)
When people are asked, “who were the Conquistadors and what did they do?” One may respond, “Conquistadors came from Spain and settled the Americas.” An answer such as that may suffice and is factual. However, the Conquistadors were more than settlers, their name, translated from the Spanish, literally means conqueror. They were on a mission from Spain to settle Mesoamerica and spread Christianity, but most Conquistadors desired fortune and fame. First, Conquistadors were much more than Spanish settlers; some began aggressive expeditions in search of great wealth and status. Others were financed by Spain to find a water route to the East. Second, Conquistadors dominated Mesoamerica from Cuba to Mexico. They defeated and subjugated the Aztec Empire decimating hundreds of people in the process. Third, Conquistador conquered many civilizations including the Mayans. Though it did not take much effort to dominate Mayan lands, they left a profound impact. Forth, all the expeditions of the Conquistadors had a profound impact on the existence of Mesoamerican civilizations. All of them left death and destruction in the wake of their desire to gain wealth, power and territory for themselves and Spain. The Conquers brought with them death and disease, infecting native people with fever, small pox and plague; killing them and forever decimating civilizations that stood for years without interference.
First, Conquistadors were much more than Spanish settlers; some took on aggressive campaigns in search of great wealth and status. The Spanish conquest and discovery of the Americas was and still is one of the greatest contributions to mankind. Restall discounts this idea and claims the Smithsonian’s display of Columbus next to a rocket ship shows how important it was (Restall, 2). However, Columbus sailed west because he thought he could find a water route to the East more rapidly. We have given a lot of credit to a Spanish sailor who discovered America by mere accident. Restall says, “His achievements were the result of historical accident and his role in an historical process that was far larger than he was.” Another great Conquistador was a Spaniard named Hernan Cortés. He is credited for conquering the great Aztec civilization and creating the first lasting Spanish empire in the Americas. The Spanish could not have conquered all the lands of Mesoamerica without help of indigenous people. Asselbergs tells us that many Central Mexican natives were granted special privileges for helping the Spanish (Asselbergs, 115). Conquistadors were not only great men like Columbus and Cortés, but men young and old in the search of wealth and power. They participated in expeditions across the world which led them to Cuba and Mesoamerica. Restall calls them ordinary Spanish men who joined expeditions for wealth and status (Restall, 35). The Spanish led many expeditions west of Spain; one of the most notable was the conquest of the Aztec Civilization.
Second, Conquistadors dominated Mesoamerica from Cuba to Mexico. They defeated and subjugated the Aztec Empire decimating hundreds of people in the process. Hernan Cortés led 600 Spanish and allies to the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (Portilla, xxvii). The Aztec empire was massive, so how could Cortés and a few hundred men defeat them? After all, the nature and will of the Aztecs allowed them to come from humble beginnings living in huts to one of the most highly regarded cities in history....
References: Asselbergs, Florine G. L., Conquered Conquistadors: The Lienzo de Quauhquechollan: A
Nahua Vision of the Conquest of Guatemala, (Boulder: CO, 2008)
Cecil, Leslie and Timothy Pugh W., Mesoamerican Worlds: Maya Worldviews at Conquest.
(Boulder, CO, USA: University Press of Colorado, 2009)
Elliott, J.H. William H. Prescott 's History of the Conquest of Mexico. (London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009)
Hanson, Victor D., Carnage and Culture. (Maryland: Westminster, 2001)
Portilla, Miguel L., The Broken Spears. (Boston: Massachusetts, 1992)
Restall, Matthew., Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. (Cary: NC: Oxford University Press, 2004)
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