The Spanish conquests of South America

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered a new world in search of a trade route to India. Overwhelmed and fascinated by the unknown, peaceful colonization soon turned into exploitation, oppression and annihilation. Especially the South American indigenous people, whose indigenous people created great empires like the Incas or Mayas, suffered from the Spanish conquests and were almost completely wiped out.


The conquests began in mid-Latin America in 1519 when the Spanish conquistadore Cortés entered the then Aztec empire. Through an ancient prophecy, the Aztecs believed that their feathered serpent god Quetzalcóatl would come to them over the eastern ocean and bring about the annihilation of the Aztecs. Cortés took advantage of this prophecy and spread the myth that he himself was the serpent god with the desired effect of intimidating the people.


Hernán Cortés (1485-1547)

Hernán Cortés (1485-1547)


He also sowed the enmities of the different peoples, which were already present, in order to ally with his Nahua lover with the Tlaxcaltecs, who felt threatened by the Aztec empire. At their insistence, Cortés and his men killed more than 3,000 Aztec men in Cholula. The effect was a total frightening of the inhabitants, who had never before had to deal with such modern weapons as the Spaniards. As a result, Cortés was able to move non-violently to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. He captured the local ruler Montezuma II and used him as his puppet for 6 months to rule over the Aztec empire itself.


Ausdehnung des aztekischen Herrschaftsgebietes zu Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts

Extension of the Aztec dominion at the beginning of the 16th century


Startled by the rumor of an uprising, Cortés left countless Aztec nobles to kill, causing the actual uprising to break out and the Spanish soldiers having to fight their way out of town. Cortés then besieged the city with the surviving 200 men and their allies. Since in the meantime, the smallpox had broken out among the population and the natives had until the arrival of the Spaniards still had no contact with this disease, died in tenochtitlan alone about 40% of people. So the city fell on August 13, 1521 again in Spanish hands.


In 1531, in South America, the conquest began on the territory of the Incas. The campaign of Cortés was astonishing due to its small number of soldiers due to its boldness and unscrupulousness, the conquistadores Francisco Pizarro succeeded with 128 soldiers an even greater success.


Francisco Pizarro (um 1476-1541)

Francisco Pizarro (um 1476-1541)


Due to the civil war of the Incas ruler Atahualpa against his half-brother, what the Inca empire weakened so much that his ruler could not take care of the Spanish "bandits and thieves" or wanted. So Pizarro marched far south into the interior of the empire, where he first met with the Incas at Cajamarco in northern Peru. The Spaniards first sent a priest to preach Atahualpa and convince him of the Christian mission of the conquistadors. When this failed, the Spaniards found themselves confirmed in their view of the pagan Incas and attacked. With the benefit of their modern weapons and their shocking effect on the Incas, it was possible within a short time to kill the 7000 Incas and capture Atahualpa. This should be free again for the payment of a high ransom sum, but was in the end still ermodert. In its place Manco Capac was used as ruler of the Incas, but soon pulled back into the mountains and led an uprising against the Spaniards.


Der Eroberungszug der Spanier nach Peru

The conquest of the Spaniards to Peru


In 1536 the last remnants of the resistance were defeated and the Spaniards consolidated their position in South America and began with the complete exploitation of the countries for gold and silver.




Interesting to know:
1. Priceless quantities of gold were brought from South America to Spain, making the country one of the richest in Europe for centuries to come. Alone 7000 tons of purest silver were brought to Spain between 1556 and 1783.
2. Although the Spanish soldiers were militarily superior to the aborigines by their muzzleloader rifles and cannons, most of the dead brought the introduced diseases like smallpox. Alone only the illnesses killed scarcely 90% of the population in the first 50 years of the conquest.






You can find the right literature here:


The Conquest of New Spain

The Conquest of New Spain (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 30, 1963

Vivid, powerful and absorbing, this is a first-person account of one of the most startling military episodes in history: the overthrow of Montezuma's doomed Aztec Empire by the ruthless Hernan Cortes and his band of adventurers. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, himself a soldier under Cortes, presents a fascinatingly detailed description of the Spanish landing in Mexico in 1520 and their amazement at the city, the exploitation of the natives for gold and other treasures, the expulsion and flight of the Spaniards, their regrouping and eventual capture of the Aztec capital.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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The Last Days of the Incas

The Last Days of the Incas Paperback – June 17, 2008

The epic story of the fall of the Inca Empire to Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, and the recent discovery of the lost guerrilla capital of the Incas, Vilcabamba, by three American explorers.

In 1532, the fifty-four-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother Huascar. Pizarro and his men soon clashed with Atahualpa and a huge force of Inca warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca. Despite being outnumbered by more than two hundred to one, the Spaniards prevailed—due largely to their horses, their steel armor and swords, and their tactic of surprise. They captured and imprisoned Atahualpa. Although the Inca emperor paid an enormous ransom in gold, the Spaniards executed him anyway. The following year, the Spaniards seized the Inca capital of Cuzco, completing their conquest of the largest native empire the New World has ever known. Peru was now a Spanish colony, and the conquistadors were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

But the Incas did not submit willingly. A young Inca emperor, the brother of Atahualpa, soon led a massive rebellion against the Spaniards, inflicting heavy casualties and nearly wiping out the conquerors. Eventually, however, Pizarro and his men forced the emperor to abandon the Andes and flee to the Amazon. There, he established a hidden capital, called Vilcabamba—only recently rediscovered by a trio of colorful American explorers. Although the Incas fought a deadly, thirty-six-year-long guerrilla war, the Spanish ultimately captured the last Inca emperor and vanquished the native resistance.

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Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs

Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs Paperback – July 28, 2009

It was a moment unique in human history, the face-to-face meeting between two men from civilizations a world apart. In 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived on the shores of Mexico, determined not only to expand the Spanish empire but to convert the natives to Catholicism and carry off a fortune in gold. That he saw nothing paradoxical in carrying out his intentions by virtually annihilating a proud and accomplished native people is one of the most remarkable and tragic aspects of this unforgettable story. In Tenochtitlán Cortés met his Aztec counterpart, Montezuma: king, divinity, commander of the most powerful military machine in the Americas and ruler of a city whose splendor equaled anything in Europe. Yet in less than two years, Cortés defeated the entire Aztec nation in one of the most astounding battles ever waged. The story of a lost kingdom, a relentless conqueror, and a doomed warrior, Conquistador is history at its most riveting.

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