Spanish Conquistadors were explorers of the New World. The advent of the New World started with the expeditions of Christopher Columbus in 1492 which led to the Age of new discovery or new explorations.
The Age of Exploration, which began at the early 15th century and continued till the end of 18th century was a period of discovery of unknown continents, colonization of Europe and marked great changes in European culture.
So, during this new age, many new European territories were conquered, and new trade routes were discovered. The men who triumphed over these new lands were fierce warriors of Spain. They were known as conquistadors, a Spanish word meaning “he who conquers”.
Who were the Spanish Conquistadors?
The Spanish conquistadors mainly were people from Southern and southwestern Spain. But not all were from Spain. There were men from Germany, Greece and Flemish people who also joined the conquistadors in search of wealth and power. They not only ravaged the new lands but also brought in enormous riches in forms of gold, silver and spice trading.
The conquistadors mainly belonged to ordinary lower-class noble families. They had enough money to buy weapons, armours and horses for their expedition. Some of them were even veteran soldiers who had fought for Spain. They had modern steel armour and weapons, portable guns and canons. The native armies stood no chance against them.
The Spanish conquistadors had numerous journeys in search of new lands and wealth.
The conquest of the Aztec Empire
The conquest of the Aztec Empire is one of the most notable events in world history. In 1519, Hernán Cortés set out for Aztec (central Mexico) with a troupe of 600 men. On their way, they fiercely fought and defeated the Tlaxcalans. Cortés was accompanied by his trusted fellow conqueror Pedro de Alvarado. The natives popularly called him the “Sun God” because of his golden hair and pale white skin.
The Tlaxcalans were enemies of the Aztecs. So, after repeated defeat from the Spaniards, the Tlaxcalans allied with the Spanish army. The combined forces of the Tlaxcalans native army and Spaniards together fought and finally captured and defeated the Aztec emperor and took over the capital city of Aztec. It is now known as the Mexico City.
The conquest of Inca Empire
The conquest of the Inca empire consisting of the natives of South America was led by the famous Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro along with Diego de Almagro. In 1532, Pizarro along with his cavalry of 160 men, horses, four canons and arms set out for the town of Cajamarca.
Atahualpa was the ruler of the Inca empire. When the Spanish invaders reached Cajamarca, they took the natives by surprise. Atahualpa along with his warriors was unknown to the tactics of the Spanish warriors. The Spaniards had several advantages. The natives had never seen horses and they stood no chance against the steel armour and Spanish canons. The canons open fired among the natives from rooftops.
There were bloodshed and massacre that cost many native lives. No Spaniards were killed in the war. Atahualpa was captured. The Inca emperor managed to persuade the greedy Spaniards huge ransom money in exchange for his freedom. They collected around 13,000 pounds of gold and twice the amount of silver. But soon there were rumours of rebellion against the conquistadors to free Atahualpa. The Spaniards got frightened and executed Atahualpa.
The myth of El Dorado
During the 15th century, the rumours of El Dorado or “The Golden Man” was so popular that it even drove the Spaniards insane and they wanted to find about this new land.
The legend of El Dorado or “The City of Gold” states about the mythical tribe chief of the Muisca natives who covers himself in gold dust and plunged into the waters of Lake Guatavita.
The lake Guatavita was first discovered in 1537 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. The soldiers looted and ransacked the entire place and recovered some gold. But they hoped for more and kept on with their quest.
In 1559, around 370 Spanish soldiers under the command of Pedro de Ursúa set out for the El Dorado. He was joined by Lope de Aguirre, as a high-ranking officer. The soldiers went through the deep forest of South America and Amazon river but not much gold was retrieved.
Abuse of Native people
The Spanish Conquistadors made various expeditions in search of untold gold and wealth. This made them desperate and ruthless. They would attack the natives and torture the older people of the tribe so that they would tell them about their hidden treasures.
The poor native Indians were peaceful people devoid of hatred and conspiracy. They were aloof of the greed and ambitions of the Spanish warriors. They succumbed to their horrific treatments and were enslaved and made to work for the Spanish warriors.
The Encomienda System
The Encomienda System was first handed out to Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. The main purpose was to convert the natives into Christianity. The Spanish rulers wanted to have control over the natives and include them in their society. In the beginning, the natives worked as labourers, learned the Spanish language and even earned wages. But later on, the system became corrupt and they were abused and treated as slaves.
It was not until 1542, that new law was passed by Charles V of Spain and the system was abolished.