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conquistador n : an adventurer (especially one who led the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru in the 16th century) [also: conquistadores (pl)]

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  1. A conqueror, but especially one of the Spanish soldiers that invaded Central and South America in the 16th century and defeated the Incas and Aztecs

Extensive Definition

This article is about the Spanish explorer soldiers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, for other uses see Conquistador (disambiguation)
A Conquistador (Spanish loanword: [kon.kis.t̪a'ð̞oɾ]) (English: Conqueror) is one of the Spanish soldiers, explorers and adventurers who took part in the gradual conquest of large parts of America and Pacific Asia, bringing them under Spanish colonial rule between the 15th and 19th centuries.
The term used for the Portuguese explorers and conquerors of Brazil is the Bandeirantes.

Characteristics of the conquistadores

The bulk of the Conquistadors were generally younger men, while their Captains and leaders were mostly middle aged.
"The Captains of the company were not conquering youth and adolescents as the rest of the host. They were, rather, mature men. Neither young nor old people, because the waiter he loses respect and the old force. The warlords of the conquest of Mexico (Cortes, Alvarado) was 34 years. Francisco Pizarro, was the oldest of all. Therefore, the Spaniards called him "El Viejo"(Old) and the Incas called him the "Apu Machu"." by Pablo Macera The relationship between the soldiers and heads Reaz was extremely vertical, servile and occasionally horizontal (according to some authorities). The authority of captain was assured by the royal commission, experience and control of the spoils. On some occasions, they had to resort to extreme measures to ensure their authority, as when Hernán Cortés ordered his men to burn their ships or Francisco Pizarro when he charted the bay with his sword on the island of Gallo. Since such actions, the soldiers began to see the Conquistador captains as heroes, legendary figures. In the case of the conquest of Peru, discipline was maintained until stiffbefore sharing the spoils}. Thereafter, the casualties were unleashed passions, murders, acts of indiscipline and civil wars.
Another feature of the Conquistadores was a tendency not to come from nobility. Julio R. Villanueva Sotomayor tells us that one only 30% of Conquistadores were noblemen, the lowest degree of Spanish nobility. The rest of the class consisted of commoners. The Conquistador company was a very attractive method of social advancement in a rigidly stratified society, and a particularly enticing one for un-employed veterans and mercenaries.

The conquest of the Americas by Spain

Spanish chroniclers have traditionally characterized the conquest of the Americas as an impressive and laudable feat, that occurred at a speed that has not been matched by any other people. On the contrary, the testimony of indigenous peoples as well as some Spanish humanists, clergymen and other writers have presented the Spanish Conquest of Americas as an unfortunate fact, morally questionable, driven by greed for gold, with the destruction and disappearance of cultures of native peoples as an unparalleled event which stands out above all other results of the Conquistadors' actions.
With the opposite direction Fray Bernardino Sahagun said:
" This point has happened to these Indians, Spaniards, because they were so hit and destroyed them and all their things, that no appearance of them was what they were before. [1]"
Historians have highlighted the short time that happened at the call of Americas conquest by Spain, placing emphasis also on the demographic catastrophe in Americas after the arrival of Europeans, in which diseases brought from Europe played a decisive role and that in a few decades decimated the indigenous population. The disease moved even faster than conquerors arrived and even many times before. This was the case in the Inca Empire, where, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived, it had already been decimated by a smallpox epidemic that also killed the emperor triggering a civil war.
For its part, the American historian Charles Mann said that Spain:
" ... would not have defeated the Empire (Azteca), while Cortes built boats, Tenochtitlan had not been wiped out by smallpox in the same pandemic that subsequently hit the Tahuantinsuyu ... The great city lost at least one third of population in the wake of the epidemic, including Caitlahuac. "[2]
Something similar is said by the chronicler Pedro Cieza de Leon in Chronicle of Peru:
"When I have to write for people of today and tomorrow, about the conquest and discoveries made here in Peru, I can only think that I am dealing with one of the biggest issues one of which could possibly write a whole establishment with regard to the secular history. Where before have men seen the things they have seen here? And to think that God has allowed something so great the world would remain hidden for a very long time, unknown to men, and then left to be found, discovered and won all in our time!"
The same Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who saw the Conquest of Americas as one of the "wonders" of the world, also defined as "the destruction of the Indies" and described as follows:
"Amongst these tame sheep, and the above-mentioned qualities for his Maker and Creator well equipped, entered the Spaniards, of course knew that, as wolves and tigers and lions cruelly hungry for many days. [ 3 ] And another thing they have not done forty years now, until today, and today on this day they do, but to fragment, kill them, distress, afflict, and destroy them tormented by the strange and new and several other such views and never read nor nor heard ways of cruelty."


While technological and cultural factors played an important role in the victories and defeats of the Conquistadores, one very decisive factor was diseases brought from Europe, especially smallpox, which in many cases annihilated entire nations before the arrival of the Spaniards. Another key factor was the ability of the Conquistadores to manipulate the political situation between indigenous peoples, either by supporting one side of a civil war, as in the case of the Inca Empire, or allying with natives who had been subjugated by more powerful neighboring tribes and kingdoms, as in the case of the Aztec empire.
Militarily, Conquistadores had several advantages over native peoples, especially firearms and steel. The indigenous peoples had the advantage of established settlements, determination to remain independent, and sheer numerical superiority, which in many cases was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Conquistadores.
In all cases indigenous nations which claimed the Spanish conquest exceeded these numbers: on average the Spanish population never exceeded 2% of the population of americas . The Spanish Conquistadores commonly allied with natives to bolster their numerically inferior ranks with thousands of indigenous auxilliaries. The army with which Hernán Cortés besieged Tenochtitlan was composed of 200,000 soldiers, [4] of which less than 1% were Spaniards. [5]
Although many American civilizations had developed sophisticated methods for working metals (gold, silver, bronze, tin, copper), this knowledge was applied mainly to the development of religious objects, artistic and symbolic, as well as household utensils for everyday use, as opposed to military applications. Only the Quechuas and Purépechas developed weapons of copper, but these did not reach the edge and hardness of iron and steel. Most used wooden weapons, Flint and Obsidian were also used. The iron armor and helmets used by the Spanish were an important factor. However, the refined textile technology of Andean civilizations, allowing tissues up to 500 threads per inch structured in successive layers, enabled them to develop efficient armor tissue cushioning (escaupil) that were eventually adopted by the Spaniards, leaving their helmets and metal breastplates, [6] as these were not suitable for tropical climates, both because of the heat which gave carriers such as that suffered by corrosion.
The main weapon of the Andean armies was the deep, made from fabrics, with whom were throwing stones heated to boiling point, wrapped in cotton and pitch. Using these weapons the Quechuas razed Cuzco occupied by the Spaniards in 1536. [7]
In the first moment of conquest firearms and especially arquebuses were very effective against natives, and caused a great impression on morale because of the noise, light and smoke. Pero su efecto militar fue escaso. But their military effectiveness was limited, as were their numbers. The swords of steel and iron knives and armor proved to be much more effective militarily. For this reason, when they took control in any nation, the Conquistadores banned access to weapons of iron by the subjugated peoples.
The animals were another military factor. On the one hand, the introduction of the horse by the Spaniards, in some cases allowed them to move quickly and launch quick attacks. But in mountain and jungle, the Spaniards were less technologically adapted to the Amerindian cultures, using the flame and special techniques to build roads and bridges adapted to such land. In some cases native peoples, mainly in North America, the pampas and Patagonia, appropriated and developed techniques of horse training and riding higher than those who were Spaniards, and became a decisive factor for resistance to the Spanish. The Spaniards also used dogs to track and attack indigenous people and slaves in the jungle and forests. Horses and war dogs both were more effective as psychological weapons than physical ones against the Indios, who in most cases had never seen dogs, and in all had never seen horses, and they both caused much terror amongst the natives.
The way of doing war of Spaniards, like that of most Europeans were more bloody and involved more than warriors Native Americans were accustomed to using. Weapons of iron and steel produced injuries as evident as those of the poisoned arrows. In addition, some native peoples did not have the habit of killing people on the battlefield, but that caught and held for occasions of ritual sacrifices , or as a festive banquets. Hence, European practice in the war become more brutal.
But the decisive factor in the defeat of American civilizations was the demographic collapse. Among researchers and social sectors there is no consensus on the causes of that collapse, giving each a genocide, others to the introduction of new diseases and a third group to a combination of both causes. The American researcher HF Dobyns [8] has estimated that 95% of the total population of americas died in the first 130 years after the arrival of Columbus. For his part, Cook and Borak, University of Berkeley, established after decades of research, that the population in Mexico declined from 25.2 million in 1518 to 700 thousand people in 1623, less than 3% of the original population. [9] In 1492 Spain and Portugal boards did not exceed the 10 million people. [10]
There is some consensus that the demographic collapse of the original population of americas was the main cause of its military defeat . Steven Katz has said about it:
"Muy probablemente se trata del mayor desastre demográfico de la historia: la despoblación del Nuevo Mundo, con todo su terror, con toda su muerte. [ 11 ] Very likely this is the greatest demographic disaster in history: the depopulation of the New World, with all its terror, with all his death. [11]"
The American historian Charles Mann said that Spain "would not have defeated the Empire (Azteca), while Cortés built boats, Tenochtitlan had not been wiped out by smallpox in the same pandemic that subsequently hit the Tahuantinsuyu ... The great city lost to least one third of population in the wake of the epidemic, including Caitlahuac. "[12]
Something similar happened with the Inca Empire, defeated by Francisco Pizarro in 1531. The first epidemic of smallpox in 1529 and killed, among others, the emperor Huayna Capac, the father of Atahualpa. New epidemics of smallpox were declared in 1533, 1535, 1558 and 1565, as well as typhus in 1546, influenza in 1558, diphtheria in 1614 and measles in 1618. [13] Dobyns estimated that 90% of the population of the Inca Empire died in these epidemics.
Authors like Jared Diamond summarizes the causes of the victory of Pizarro (paradigm of the Spanish conquest) in "military technology based on firearms and steel and horses, infectious diseases endemic in Eurasia, European maritime technology, centralized political organization of States Europeans, and in writing. "[14] In the latter regard, Diamond explained that the errors of judgement Atahualpa and Moctezuma, who led them to be deceived by the Spaniards were due to them belonged to a literate society that, thanks to writing, had at its disposal a huge body of knowledge about human behavior and its history, something that no American nations. Regarding the allegations of Jared Diamond, it must be borne in mind that companies had discovered Mesoamerican writing several millennia before the arrival of the Spaniards.

List of Spanish conquistadores

See article: List of conquistadors

See also


  • 1. Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, TI, pag. ↑ Sahagún, Fray Bernardino, General History of the things New Spain, IT, pag. 29 29
  • 2. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 ; Madrid:Taurus, pag. ↑ Mann, Charles (2006). 1491; Madrid: Taurus, pag. 179-180
  • 3. De las Casas, Bartolomé. ↑ De las Casas, Bartholomew. Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias. (ver texto) Brevísima relation to the destruction of the Indies. (See text)
  • 4. 5. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 ; Madrid:Taurus, pag. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491; Madrid: Taurus, pag. 178
  • 6. 7. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 ; Madrid:Taurus, pag. Mann Charles (2006). 1491; Madrid: Taurus, pag. 123
  • 8. Dobyns, HF (1983). Their number become thined: Native American population dynamics in Eastern North America , Knoxville (Tenn.), University of Tennesee Press. Dobyns, HF (1983). Their number become thin: Native American population dynamics in Eastern North americas, Knoxville (Tenn.), University of Tennesee Press.
  • 9. Cook, SF y WW Borah (1963), The indian population of Central Mexico , Berkeley (Cal.), University of California Press Cook, SF and Boraha WW (1963), the Indian population of central Mexico, Berkeley (Cal.), University of California Press
  • 10. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 ; Madrid:Taurus, pag. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491; Madrid: Taurus, pag. 136
  • 11. Katz, ST (1994-2003). The Holocaust in Historical Context , (2 vols.), Nueva York, Oxford Universtity Press Katz, ST (1994-2003). The Holocaust in Historical Context, (2 vols.), New York, Oxford Press Universtity
  • 12. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 ; Madrid:Taurus, pag. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491; Madrid: Taurus, pag. 179-180
  • 13. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491 , Madrid, Taurus, pag. Mann, Charles (2006). 1491, Madrid, Taurus, pag. 133
  • 14. Jared Diamond, Guns, germs and steel , 1997, ISBN 0-09-930278-0 , pg. Jared Diamond, Guns, germs and steel, 1997, ISBN 0-09-930278-0, pg. 80.


  • Conquistadores, Michael Wood (BBC Books, 2000). Pathfinder, Michael Wood (BBC Books, 2000).
  • Los Conquistadores, Hammond Innes (Penguin, 2002). The Pathfinder, Hammond Innes (Penguin, 2002).
  • Born In Blood And Fire: Concise History of Latin America Summary of the History of Latin America, John Charles Chasteen,
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