In the space of 50 years, the Spanish Crown acquired vast territories & ten of millions of new subjects in America. How was this feat achieved?


Essay, 2001
5 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)

Excerpt

Course: HI3100 Spanisch America

Title:

In the space of 50 years, the Spanish Crown acquired vast territories & ten of millions of new subjects in America. How was this feat achieved?

U.C.C.

Renate Bagossy

ID: 101150324

15.12.2001

In the space of 50 years, the Spanish Crown acquired vast territories & ten of millions of new subjects in America. How was this feat achieved?

When Christopher Columbus set sail to the west in 1492, he thought, he was going to find the westward sea-route to India. At that time nobody knew that there was a big, undiscovered continent in-between. What started as a small excursion by Columbus, ended up in the conquest of rather big territories on the main land by men like Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. The ”discovery, conquest, and colonisation marks the Spanish Conquista as a turning-point in history and one of the most stupendous outpourings of human energies on record.”[1] Although during the conquest the natives were superior in numbers, the Spaniards managed it to make them to their subject. Many different factors played a role in this achievement.

One of them was the fact, that once the Spaniards realised, that there was a big possibility in front of them, they acted quickly and effectively. During the time the Spaniards were colonising the islands in the Caribbean, they also started to make some expeditions to the main land. Rumours about rich kingdoms arrived to them while having contact with natives, and so it lasted just a short time until Cortés and the others started to conquer the mainland.

These conquests were ”meeting[s] of two branches of humanity which had previously been unknown to each other”.[2] This was an important factor. The Spaniards, who were just ”a hand full” in comparison to the natives, possessed a far more advanced technology in fact, at this time they were the best soldiers in Europe, maybe even in the whole world. They were in full armour, they had cannons and the enormous tactical advantage of cavalry. The natives on the other hand were technically still in the stone age, had never seen such things before and were irritated and even shocked by the sight of it. „The Indians were at first awestruck by those monsters which they took for some sort of martial centaur until they found that rider and horse could suprisingly come apart.”[3]

The Spaniards could easily communicate with each other, even over big distances, as they could read and write. The different native groups were on a different level: some of them used hieroglyphs for writing purposes and others could not write at all, but none of them had such a distinctive written language system as it is known today and as the Spaniards had at that time. The Indians were impressed how these, in their eyes, strange humans acted and communicated with each other. As they could not explain the behaviour of the Spaniards, they could have thought everything, like, for example, that strange humans were talking to heaven.

There were also differences in the tactics of fighting. ”When Europeans fought to kill, occupy and plunder, the [Aztecs] regarded battle as a ritual of dominance and submission, in which it was preferable to take prisoners alive in order to have them ceremoniously sacrificed to their bloodthirsty gods.”[4] So the Spaniards killed their enemy, but the Aztecs just captured them, in order to sacrifice them later.

The Spanish conquistadores all had good qualities as leaders: Cortés, for example, was encomendero in Cuba before he came to the mainland to conquer Mexico, so he already had experiences with natives. When he set sail to conquer Mexico, his crew thought, that they were on an expedition to capture slaves. Cortés effectively persuaded his men to join him on his conquest and ”destroyed his ships to prevent any possibility of retreat”[5] When Pánfilo de Narváez had later landed at Veracruz with orders to punish Cortés for his insubordination, Cortés persuaded him too, to join him. On the other hand, the Inca empire for example ”was in complete turmoil, having been torn apart by a dynastic war of succession”[6] when Pizarro arrived there in 1530 in order to conquer it. That is, the Spaniards were well organised, could keep their soldiers together but the natives were not so well organised and, of course, they were not even „one nation” but different tribes, on different stages of development, partly in war with each other and partly separated form each other by natural barriers.

Here it is important to mention, that the conquest was not easy at all for the Spaniards. They were „[o]perating over immense distances and through terrain comprising some of the highest mountain rages, most impenetrable water-logged jungle, and most arid prairie and desert in the world.”[7] However, the Spaniards managed it to deal with these, and other minor difficulties.

Another very important factor was, that the conquerors brought a lot of diseases with them, which the Indians did not know. These were for example smallpox, malaria, yellow fever and influenza. The effect of this terrible diseases was a demographic catastrophe. The number of the Indian population fell drastically. It is not known by sure, how big the native population was before the Spaniards arrived but we can assume that within some decades 80% of the native population died because of these diseases. This made such a big impact of the population, that firstly it made it easier for the conquerors to fulfil their task and secondly after a time the Spaniards even started to import black slaves for working purposes, as there were not enough natives any more to do the work.

Another important factor was the stability of the „homeland” Spain. The Reyes Catolicos: Ferdinand and Isabela, and their successor Carl I were all strong and competent rulers. So the conquista had a stabile background, which - of course - makes it easier for the conquerors to operate.

When the Spaniards arrived on the islands and on the mainland, they encountered - in their eyes - pagans who never heard about the word of God. At this time the Catholic church had a big influence in Europe and first of all in Spain. The conquerors saw it as their duty to bring the word of God to these people. „The papal award in 1493 [...] endowed Queen Isabel with authority to direct the conversion of the newly found pagans”[8] So, the Spaniards had the Pope on their side while they were invading the land. The natives on the other hand started to loose their fate in their own religion as they could not believe in something which allows such an injustice happening to them. They suffered a cultural shock: there were so many new things they had never seen before, they could not understand how all these happened: they were full of despair. That is the reason why there was never a considerable insurrection by the natives. They had no strength and no hope left to do it.

Within a few decades the Spaniards conquered big territories of the American continent. „The European invasions brought much that was radically new in the realm of ideas and values, in agricultural methods, including new crops and animals, in technology, with the introduction of the wheel, iron, guns, ships, tools, and in the economy, where the use of money, profit-making and trade were far more developed than in Indian societies.”[9] With the help of many advantages the Spaniards managed it to overcome all the difficulties which have appeared during the conquest. Quickly and effectively they subdued the natives and use them for working purposes and began to colonise the new continent.

Bibliography

Stephen Clissold, Latin America: New World, Third World, Pall Mall Press, London, 1972

John Edwin Fagg, Latin America: A General History, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1969

Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, The Penguin Press, New York, 1992

[...]


[1] Stephen Clissold, Latin America: New World, Third World, Pall Mall Press, London, 1972 p. 35-6

[2] Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, The Penguin Press, New York, 1992, p. 75

[3] Stephen Clissold, Latin America: New World, Third World, Pall Mall Press, London, 1972, p. 36

[4] Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, The Penguin Press, New York, 1992, p. 18

[5] Stephen Clissold, Latin America: New World, Third World, Pall Mall Press, London, 1972, p. 29

[6] Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, The Penguin Press, New York, 1992, p. 23

[7] Stephen Clissold, Latin America: New World, Third World, Pall Mall Press, London, 1972, p. 37

[8] John Edwin Fagg, Latin America: A General History, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1969, p. 172

[9] Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, The Penguin Press, New York, 1992, p. 75

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Details

Title
In the space of 50 years, the Spanish Crown acquired vast territories & ten of millions of new subjects in America. How was this feat achieved?
College
University College Cork  (History)
Course
Spanish America
Grade
1,7 (A-)
Author
Year
2001
Pages
5
Catalog Number
V26386
ISBN (eBook)
9783638287357
File size
435 KB
Language
English
Tags
Spanish, Crown, America
Quote paper
Renate Bagossy (Author), 2001, In the space of 50 years, the Spanish Crown acquired vast territories & ten of millions of new subjects in America. How was this feat achieved?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/26386

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