European Colinization of Latin America By Matthew Elton Copyright 2006 Matthew Elton Ever since Christopher Columbuss discovery of the New World, European nations rushed to explore, conquer, and colonize foreign lands. Throughout the sixteenth century, Spain and Portugal competed for territory in the Americas. Differences in their methods of exploration and settlement have had a great impact on world history. For thousands of years the native peoples of the Americas remained isolated from the rest of the world. While Europeans on the other side of the world advanced technologically, the native peoples of the Americas continued their ancient traditions in peace. However, when expansionistic European nations began exploring the rest of the world in the fifteenth century, conflict between the Europeans and Native Americans became imminent. Columbus discovery of the New World in 1492 led to a series of massive wars between dozens of European nations and countless Native American tribes. European conquistadores led armies deep into the New World, and showing no mercy towards the Native Americans, they conquered entire continents. War would rage between Europeans and Native Americans for centuries, and in the end an entire hemisphere of civilization would be destroyed. As European explorers began exploring and mapping the Americas, which at that time was called the New World, it became clear that what Columbus had discovered was not a sea route to India, but rather two continents, which would become known as North America and South America. Seeing that the people living on these continents had inferior technology, Spanish conquistadores rushed to the New World. These conquistadors were military commanders that led armies to the New World for the sole purpose of mercilessly destroying Native American civilizations, in order to claim the land for their nation. For many centuries the people of the Aztec civilization of present day Mexico dwelled in peace. Then the Spanish came. The conquest of the Aztecs began as soon as the Spanish first arrived. Just three years afterwards, the Aztec empire was destroyed. On April 21st, 1519, a group of eleven Spanish galleons led by conquistador Hernndo Cortes reached the island of San Juan de Ula. The ships contained five hundred and fifty Spanish soldiers, and sixteen horses. Cortes was determined to crush the Aztec empire and make the land part of Spain. As his soldiers unloaded from the ships, the conquest of the Aztecs began. After Columbus discovery of the Americas in the late 1400s, explorers from ma different European nations journeyed to the New World to claim land for their country. The Americas were filled with natural resources that were valuable to Europe, especially gold, and the Europeans would not let the primitive civilizations dwelling in the Americas stop them from taking over the land. As Cortes and his Spanish soldiers arrived at the beach of San Juan de Ula, they were greeted by friendly Totonac natives. The Totonacs were amazed by the Spanish, for they had never seen such amazing things as horses or giant ships before. Montezuma II, the ruler of the Aztec Empire at the time, soon learned of Cortes arrival from the Totonacs. Cortes and his army then sailed to the island of Cozumel, off the Yucatan Peninsula of present day Mexico. It was there that Cortes found another Spanish explorer named Gernimo de Aguilar. Aquilar journeyed to the Aztec region eight years earlier; however, his ship crashed and he became stranded. Fortunately for Cortes, Aquilar had learned the Aztec language in the eight years he spent with the Aztecs. Aquilar agreed to travel with Cortes and act as a translator between Spanish and Aztec. Meanwhile in Tenochitln, the capital of the Aztec Empire, Montezuma II was worried about what Cortes and his band of explorers might do. Word had spread that Cortes had left the islands of the Caribbean and landed on the mainland.
Montezuma II sent Cortes a message, encouraging peace but warning Cortes not to come near the Tenochitln. Cortes sought to destroy the Aztecs; however, he knew that he could not go against the Aztec army (which had thousands of soldiers) with his mere band of five hundred and fifty men. So to increase the size of his army, Cortes rallied the support of the Totonacs. Over a thousand Totonac soldiers pledged their loyalty to Cortes, and Cortes led his new army towards Tenochitln. Before reaching Tenochitln Cortes had to first get past Popocatpetl and Ixtacchuatl, two giant volcanoes that acted as geographic barriers to those traveling from the eastern coats towards Tenochitln. In the region near these volcanoes was a small kingdom called Tlaxcala. Cortes and his army quickly destroyed this kingdom, rampaging through villages and defeating a resistance. Ma Tlaxcalas agreed to join Cortes, and with an even larger army, Cortes continued towards Tenochitln. On the way to Tenochitln, Cortes and his army destroyed ma Aztec cities. A surprise attack on the city of Cholula left thousands dead. Finally, Cortes reached the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochitln. Cortes was greeted with a fanfare by Aztec nobles, who gave Cortes a tour of the city. Cortes then met with Montezuma II himself. Montezuma II sought peace; however, Cortes led his army against Montezuma II and took him captive. For eight months, Montezuma remained a prisoner to the Spanish, until more Spanish soldiers arrived from Spain. It was then that the Aztec people rebelled against the Spanish. In an attempt to stop the rebellion, Cortes forced Montezuma II to stand on the rooftop of the palace at Tenochitln and speak to the Aztec people, trying to convince them to stop warring against the Spanish. However, this did not help. The Aztec people grew furious and threw stones and arrows at Montezuma II, killing him. An organized Aztec rebellion against the Spanish, led by Cuitlhuac, forced the Spanish out of Tenochitln. In what became known as La Triste Noche, or The Sad Night, hundreds of Spanish and Aztec soldiers died in a massive battle. The surviving Spaniards and their allies retreated back into Tlaxcalan territory. Devising a new strategy, Corts built a massive fleet of ships for his next attack. In January 1521 Cortes and his army returned to Tenochitln. They staged a series of raids and took the Aztec stronghold at Texcoco, from whence they could launch the newly built fleet of warships. In May, Corts began his final assault on Tenochtitln, attacking it from every direction, with separate divisions assigned to each of the city's three causeways and the warships moving in by water. The Aztecs fought courageously however, the Spanish were too powerful for them. On August 15, 1521, the last surviving Aztecs were killed With the Aztecs defeated, Cortes and his Spanish army erased the remnants of the Aztec culture as best they could, scorching Tenochtitln by fire, and leveling its majestic temples. The rubble would make up the foundations of a new world, and mark the beginning of a new empire. Hernando Cortes was not the only Spanish Conquistador to destroy a great Native American empire. Francisco Pizzarro, also Spanish, conquered the Inca Empire, in present day Peru. He had only a small army of men; however, he managed to destroy the greatest of all ancient South American empires. The Inca Empire was isolate in the mountainous regions of Peru, and was extremely powerful, with thousands of soldiers. Unlike the Spanish soldiers that conquered the Aztecs, the Spanish that conquered the Incas were unable to rely on native tribes for allies. The conquest of the Inca Empire was one of the greatest feats in Spanish history, and one of the greatest tragedies in South American history. By 1532, the Spanish had conquered a great amount of Native American land and set up colonies in Mexico. After destroying the Aztec Empire and pillaging its gold, Spanish soldiers attacked other native peoples of Mexico, seeking more gold. Spanish explorers moved south, and soon discovered another great empire filled with gold. It was known as the Inca Empire, and was located mainly in present day Peru. With an army of 90,000 men, the Inca Empire was the most powerful Empire in the Americas at that time. Although their army was massive, their lack of
technology was a great weakness. The Inca Empire had not discovered how to use metal for weapons, and still relied on wooden spears. In 1531, an expedition led by Francisco Pizarro headed towards the Inca Empire. The army of 180 men, thirty seven horses, and two cannons made their way through the Andes Mountains until they reached Caljamarca, an Inca city on the eastern slopes of the Andes. On November 16, 1532, Pizarro met with Atahualpa, the emperor of the Inca Empire. Atahualpa was guarded by 30,000 Inca warriors during the meeting. Pizarro encouraged Atahualpa to accept Christianity; however, Atahualpa threw the Bible that Pizarro presented him to the ground. The Spanish soldiers opened fire on the Inca warriors, killing thousands and taking Atahualpa prisoner. However, after being taken captive, Atahualpa would never experience freedom again. The brave Inca warriors battled against the Spanish in an attempt to free their leader; however, their wooden weapons were futile against the steel armor of the Spanish soldiers. Pizarro demanded a huge ransom of gold from the Inca people in exchange for Atahualpas release. Pizarro received the gold, but did not keep his promise. After taking the gold, Pizarro killed Atahualpa. With their emperor dead, the Inca warriors surrendered, and Pizarro plundered all the gold and silver from the Inca capital of Cuzco. The Spanish colonized through conquest. They sent conquistadors to battle further and further inland, taking control of huge amounts of land by killing thousands of natives. However, the Portuguese colonized in a very different way. In 1494, the Treaty of Todesillas split the New World in two when the pope drew the Line of Demarcation. Spain would obtain most of the New World, while Portugal would acquire only a part of modern day Brazil. However, the pope ordained that Portugal would get all lands to the east of the Line of Demarcation, which included Africa and Asia. While the Spanish carried out huge military campaigns deep into the New World, Portugal would only establish colonies on the coast. On April 22, 1500, Portuguese explorer Alvares Cabral reached what is now Porto Seguro, Brazil. It was there that Portugal established one of its first colonies in the New World. By 1532, what was originally a small outpost had grown into the city of Sao Vicente. The city of Salvador was then established in 1549. Salvador served as the capital of Brazil, the name for the Portuguese territory in South America. The first Jesuit missionaries arrived in Brazil in 1549, to spread Catholicism to the natives. In 1567, the city of Rio de Janeiro was built over the ruins of a French outpost called France Abtarctique. While the French made some attempts at colonizing South America, for the most part it was the Spanish and the Portuguese that dominated. The Spanish had divided their land in the New World into several territories, each with its own government under the Spanish monarchy. However, the Portuguese did not divide their New World territory. Salvador remained the capital of Brazil, which made up all Portuguese land in the New World. A centralized government in Salvador reported all decisions and information directly to the Portuguese monarchy. Because the Portuguese did not divide Brazil into separate colonies, Brazil remained a unified nation when it achieved independence in 1822. The homogeneous unification of Brazil, combined with the centralized government established there, contributed to the rise of monarchy in Brazil following its assertion of independence. Unlike Brazil, the Spanish colonies each formed separate nation, often constitutionalist, upon achieving independence. This created the vast array of Spanish speaking countries found in Central American and South America, such as Mexico and Guatemala. Portuguese cities would remain on the coast of Brazil, and although the Portuguese did not establish many settlements inland, Portuguese influence slowly leaked deeper and deeper into the interior of Brazil. The Portuguese had no need to explore inland. They were uninterested in acquiring huge amounts of land through conquest. Rather, the Portuguese wanted to ship raw materials from the New World back to Portugal. For this reason, coastal cities were most practical. Dense rainforest hindered exploration and settlement inland. Furthermore, any
settlements formed deep inland would not be practical, since raw materials produced there would have to be brought back through the dense forests to the coastal cities in order to be shipped over the Atlantic Ocean to Portugal. The Spanish colonized through conquest of native civilizations. The Portuguese colonized by establishing settlements on coastlines. However, both Spain and Portugal were leading nations in exploration and colonization. Both Spain and Portugal came to the New World for three main reasons. One was to spread Christianity, by force if necessary. Another was to search for gold and other valuable natural resources. The third reason was glory. The pursuit of glory was what drove brave explorers and conquerors from both Spain and Portugal to travel to the New World, map strange new lands, and destroy the greatest civilizations of the western hemisphere. Both Spain and Portugal sought to increase their power by expanding their influence out of Europe and across the globe. Their contrasting methods of colonization would eventually lead to the vast array of different modern Portuguese and Spanish speaking nations now present in both North and South America.
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