Paths of Conquest



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Paths of Conquest

  • Expeditions of men were followed by women, missionaries, artisans, and administrators to begin “settling”

  • Conquest wasn’t unified: it was “2-pronged”( one prong consists in Peru, and one in Mexico)

  • In 1519, Hernan Cortex led an expedition down the coast of Mexico and eventually moved inland

  • After various victories against the Aztecs, Cortes reached the capital of Tenochtitlan Moctezuma II was killed

  • Although Aztec resistance was extensive, disease along with starvation and fighting caused the city to fall in 1521  replaced by Mexico City

  • By 1535, most of Central America was part of “New Spain”

  • The “2nd Prong” was from the Caribbean down to Panama, and eventually down to South America

  • In 1532, Francisco Pizarro leads his men south to conquer the already divided Incas because of internal civil war

  • Cuzco fell in 1533, and the Spanish then moved the capital to a city on the coast  Lima

  • By 1540, most of Peru was conquered

  • From 1540-1542, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado led an expedition north into SW United States (Kansas) looking for gold

  • Pedro de Valdivia pushed south from Peru into Chile

  • By 1750, Spain controlled 192 colonies in Central and South America


The Conquerors

  • Around 20% of the money gained in the new world is sent back to the King

  • Men with special skills or horses earned double shares; relatives and close friends received extra money as well  led to dissatisfied conquerors who then were ready to organize new expeditions

  • Few were professional soldiers, and some women were included (Ines Suarez)

  • The encomiendas began to see themselves as a higher “casta” than the American Indians

  • Spanish success was due to : horses, firearms, and steel weapons

  • Disease played a major role

  • By 1750, the age of conquest was coming to a close and conquerors were replaced by bureaucrats, merchants, and colonists


Conquest and Morality

  • Spanish conquest led to a questioning of European morality

  • Juan Gines de Sepulveda argued that conquest was divinely justified

  • Mancio Serra and Bartolome de Las Casas argued that the natives, unlike Muslims, posed no threat to Christianity


Destruction and Transformation of American Indian Societies

  • Diseases killed a large percentage of the population, which had an extensive impact on society in general

  • In Central Mexico, natives were relocated to fewer towns, which made more land available for Spanish landowners.

  • Essentially, livestock replace the natives


Exploitation of Indians

  • Unlike the Inca and the Aztec, American Indians’ lives were left virtually untouched as long as they didn’t interfere with Spanish goals

  • Slavery was prohibited by 16th century

  • Demands on Native Americans were excessive, but they didn’t provide the protection like was given to Inca and Aztec

  • The colonial government extracted labor and taxes from the natives  “mita system”

  • Abuses of the mita system caused many natives to leave their villages and move to the estates of Spanish landowners because those landowners would pay them wages


Colonial Economies and Government

  • Spanish America was agriculturally based- around 80% of the people worked on the land

  • The main source of $ for the colonies was mining

  • Silver was more prevalent and important to Spain than gold


Silver Heart of the Empire

  • Major silver deposits were found in Mexico and Peru between 1545-1565

  • Potosi developed in upper Peru; it was home to around 160,000 people and produced 80% of Peru’s silver

  • Zacatecas emerged in Mexico

  • There is a shift in the source of labor: originally natives and encomiendas but switched to a labor draft system

  • Mining required the European process of “amalgamation”

  • Spanish discovered mercury mountain at Huancavelica in Peru

  • Mining stimulated many other aspects of Spanish-American colonies


Industry and Commerce


  • In “New Spain” and in parts of South America, sheep raising leads to textile mills who were managed by women  Americas were becoming self sufficient

  • Americas were only allowed to trade with Spain, and the trade was highly regulated

  • The consulado worked hard to keep prices high, and kept tight control over trading

  • To discourage economic rivals and pirates from trying to trade with the Americas, the Spanish create a “convoy system”

  • Two fleets travel to “both prongs”, trade silver for finished European goods, meet back in Cuba, and sail home

  • Convoy system made possible by “galleon”

  • The silver made conquest seem worthwhile for a while, but around 50% of the profit didn’t stay in Spain

  • Spain was paying for European war debts, and the purchase of manufactured goods

  • Pumping so much silver into the Spanish economy caused inflation


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