Aliki in Peru by Francisco Pizarro. They

Aliki DaviotisPaper #2 December 2nd, 2017            Extending along the valley of Mexico, with Tenochtitlan as its capital; the Aztec Empire resided. The Aztecs had significant wealth from trading and heavy payments of tribute from the conquered natives. From the years 1200-1520, the Aztecs prospered and expanded their empire immensely. However, all of this was going to change when the Spanish landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519. Following Christopher Columbus’ foundation of permanent settlement in the Caribbean, the Spanish were seeking conquest, expedition and colonization of new territory. Although there were multiple factors that contributed to the remarkable victory by the Spanish in the sixteenth century such as religion; it was the indigenous alliances, technological superiority, and disease that was most impactful.           The Spanish conquistadors were not your typical farmers or craftsmen – they were soldiers, travelers, and mercenaries in search of wealth. In their quests for fortune and land, they invaded and enslaved native communities and looted gold, silver, and other treasures that were up for grabs. The two prosperous conquests were those of the Aztec empire in Mexico by Hernan Cortes and the Inca empire in Peru by Francisco Pizarro. They both had unpretentious forces that were far outnumbered by the warriors of the empires they conquered. A vital element of their success was their progressed weaponry and durable armor. Spanish conquistadors fell in between two categories; the cavalry of horsemen and the infantry of foot soldiers. Cavalrymen were given greater shares of the treasure in comparison to infantrymen. In addition, soldiers would save up to invest in horses as a way to guarantee more success during conquests. Known for their brutality and strength, horsemen used twelve foot lances and swords when they were on their steeds. What made the cavalry more effective was the nature of armor that they wore to protect themselves from attacks and injuries. This armor was commonly created in the Spanish town of Toledo, and it was the most heavy-duty armor created at the time, making the Spanish technologically superior. While the cavalry made up the elite fighters, the foot soldiers provided the numbers that every battling force needed. Since it was difficult for a cavalrist to shoot a weapon from a moving horse they predominantly stuck to lances and swords, as the foot soldiers used weapons that could shoot bullets and arrows. The natives feared these powerful weapons as they were unseen to their eyes and grew very fearful of them. Being that the indigenous people were still set in the Stone Age and the Bronze Age in terms of their weapons; they had wooden spears, shields and maces. Their armor was generally meant to frighten more than to physically protect: it was often intensely hued and appealing. Regardless, the use of jaguar skins and eagle feathers provided no defense from the steel swords and did not intimidate the Spanish.            Making way inland in 1519, conquistador Hernan Cortes and his troops traveled over one hundred miles to find the city of Tenochtitlan, to claim the Aztec empire for Spain. Cortés had prior knowledge of the Aztecs and knew that they, and their leader Montezuma II, were a primary force in Mexico. Corte?s knew he could not defeat the Aztec with only 500 men, so he changed his plan of action. He found that many city-states despised being ruled by the Aztec and wanted independence from them. As an expert of manipulation and strategy, Cortes was able to use the existing political rivalries within the Aztec Empire to his advantage. He often annihilated the nobility of a city to deter it’s citizens into submission. “Spanish technology was important, but the key to the success of the conquest was acquiring native allies who magnified the impact of those arms.” (Ross Hassig, 121)  In his letter to the Spanish emperor, Cortes suggests that he was able to end fighting with the Tlaxcalans by persuading them to join him in an alliance against Montezuma. “Finally they offered themselves as subjects and vassals.” (Cortes,48-50) This was crucial as this strategy helped increase his army to fight the thousands of soldiers that the Aztec empire had. In eight months, he traveled from the east coast to Tenochtitlan. When they first arrived, the Aztecs thought they were sent by their god, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl, a significant god to the Aztecs, had vowed he would appear when the end of the world was approaching. This helped the Spanish as normally they would be snatched and sacrificed immediately. Instead, Corte?s and his men were treated lavishly and given extravagant accommodations. Moctezuma ordered his servants to prepare a palace for the Spanish and their allies. They were amazed at the marketplace and palaces, and were astounded at the size and architectural features of the beautiful temples. However, the longer the Spanish stayed as guests of the emperor, the more suspicious the Aztec leaders became. They realized that the Spanish did not act like gods. Not attending the sacrifice ceremonies that were given in their honor, the Aztecs decided it was time for the Spanish to leave. This indicates that the Aztecs grew doubt with the Spanish, and did not confide in them. Once the lack of faith is presented, did the Aztecs truly believe that the Spanish were gods afterall? In the back of his mind, Montezuma knew that these “gods” had the ability to take away his power, as well as claim their lands; so why didn’t they? Simultaneously, Cortes wished to convert the natives to Catholicism. The Spanish mainly used religion as a way to rationalize their misconduct. “And the justice of this war becomes even more evident when you consider that the Sovereign Pontiff, who represents Christ, has authorized it.” ( Bartolome De Las Casas, 164) The incentive was not to proselytize the natives to Catholicism, although they did so. Cortes arrived to the New World with his intent to seek his fortune. The eyes of the Spanish had widened with every glimpse of gold, silver, etc. They were fascinated with the resources of the land, and the purlieu itself. In my eyes, the drive was not necessarily religion. The motivation was entirely built off greed. The Spanish wanted to possess the native peoples luxuries such as: gold, silver, etc. However, what enabled the Spanish to conquer was not their desire to convert the ingenious, but, their desire for opulence.           Fearing that the susceptibility would not last for long; Cortés finally attacked and seized Montezuma where he held him ransom for gold and jewels. By 1520, the Aztecs repelled Cortés and his troops. Once again, a year after his retreat, Cortés besieged the Aztec Empire. Numbers were to his great advantage at this point in time. A horde of the Aztecs had fallen ill or demised from smallpox, which was transferred over by one of the slaves aboard Cortés’s ship. With the aid of health and numbers on his side, Cortés was able to reclaim the Aztec Empire. The Aztec population in 1518 estimated to be around 30 million, and by 1568, there was only three million left. Lacking immunity to Old World pathogens, such as various plagues, smallpox, influenza, etc. contributed to this severe population decline of the Aztecs. The New World was much more plant sourced and they did not have the domesticated animals that were brought by the Spanish. Two divergent hemispheres results in different immunities to illnesses. ( Crosby, p.53) Between the death tolls and ill-population, Cortés was able to capture the Aztec Empire which he was unsuccessful to do- before the uncorrupted population was infected.           Overall, although the Spanish viewed the natives as atheistic savages who worshipped devils: converting the natives to Catholicism was not what drove the Spanish to conquer, settle and govern the New World. Though both troops were outnumbered, Cortes and Pizarro used the same strategy to defeat the two vast empires. They each recruited other tribes that sought independence from their rule. Due to alliances, the conquest was not primarily a conflict between the natives and the Spaniards: rather, it was a war between the natives and the other indigenous groups which sided with the conquistadors. Secondly, the natives had minimal combat in comparison to the Spanish. The conquistadors had access to new weapons that could kill their opponents with a blink of an eye. A simple militaristic advantage such as the horse enabled the Spanish troops to move much faster to battle. The natives were simply not technologically equipped the way the conquistadors were; steel vs wood, horse vs feet. Thirdly, not suffering from the viruses they carried, the Spanish exposed multiple diseases to the natives. Having no immunities to the illnesses such as smallpox, the Aztec empire lost almost half of its population. Making the defense against the Spanish extremely difficult, resulted in a loss. As a result, the most convincing explanation for Spanish conquest of the Americas was their technological progression, deliberate alliances and the spread of deadly diseases.