Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

In the 16th century, the Spaniards began to send one expedition after another across the ocean and "settle down" North and South America. Somewhere they were received amicably, and somewhere with weapons, but in any case, everything ended very badly for the Indians. But is it possible to believe everything that was written in textbooks? It turns out that there is not, and much of what we were taught is nothing more than a myth.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

We know from the history school curriculum that the conquistadors were greedy and cruel conquerors who mercilessly exterminated the indigenous population. At the same time, our idea of these events is based on several myths that do not correspond to reality. Next, we will expose the most popular of them.

The myth of millions of Indians killed by the conquistadors has been spread for centuries by opponents of Catholicism, who are enough all over the world. Yes, the Spanish conquerors did not stand on ceremony with the locals and were cruel and treacherous, but they were unable to destroy millions because of their small number.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

Do not forget that during the Conquest there were no powerful weapons capable of wiping out cities and armies from the face of the earth. Much more damage to the native inhabitants of America was caused by epidemics brought from overseas, and also by hard labor in mines and plantations.

The Indians were not immune to the diseases that the Spaniards spread. What put the brave hidalgo to bed for a couple of days was simply killing the Aztec. As for deadly diseases, they spread much faster among the Indians. When the first Spanish ships arrived on the shores of Mexico, there were at least 20 million Aztecs. In 1521, a smallpox epidemic that broke out in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) destroyed 10% of the population of this large city.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

Another 50 years of typhus and smallpox epidemics reduced the number of Aztecs by 40%. In just half a century, the population of present-day Mexico has decreased by half! Things were no better in other places, which were blessed with the presence of the Spaniards. After 15 years of endless pestilence, only 3 million Incas remained from 30 million.

This is how an eyewitness, the Franciscan monk Juan de Torquemada, described this disaster.

You can often hear stories that the Spaniards indiscriminately destroyed everything that Indian civilizations had built and created for centuries. The ruins of ancient cities in Peru, Mexico and Honduras are sometimes passed off as the consequences of the activities of the conquistadors.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

But this does not correspond to reality – the conquerors did not destroy the cities, since they themselves had to live somewhere and defend themselves. Only the temples of local gods were destroyed. Almost all the Indian cities lying in ruins today disappeared from the face of the earth in the 10th century and even earlier, that is, long before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The cities that existed at the time of the arrival of the conquerors have mostly been preserved and some of them are now flourishing, for example, Mexico City. However, there are very few architectural monuments of the pre-Hispanic period left in them.

It is difficult to deny the advantage of muskets, arquebuses and cannons over arrows and spears. But it is impossible to say that it was firearms that helped to enslave the Indians. The horror of the indigenous population before spewing fire and death with sticks and shiny armor passed quite quickly, and the numerical superiority was always with the Indians.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

Often, an army of tens of thousands of Aztecs gathered against a couple of thousand conquistadors. Their defeat was not due to bad weapons – arrows killed at almost the same distance as muskets, and the Indians were skilled warriors. Their trouble was in the complete lack of combat tactics.

The Indians simply rushed in a crowd at the Spaniards lined up in battle formations, who had everything arranged on the battlefield according to all the canons of military science. Because of this, the losses of the Indians were sometimes ten times greater.

The disunity of tribes and even individual clans also played a role. The Indians were prevented from rallying by constant internecine strife, as well as the venality of the leaders. Often the Indians fought on the side of the conquistadors with their brethren, as it was during the siege of Tenochtitlan by the detachment of the conquistador Hernan Cortez.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

In the army of Cortez there were several tens of thousands of Indians who, for some reason, had a grudge against the proud and cruel Aztecs. In battle, they were much more merciless with their fellow countrymen than the Spaniards.

We were told that the conquistadors treated the Indians with bestial cruelty, which they had never known before. This is not true, since it is very difficult to call the same Aztecs innocent angels. The first to note the ferocity of the Indians was the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

He also wrote in his travel diaries that the locals of the new lands are not averse to tasting human meat at all. The Aztecs adored religious holidays and none of them was complete without human sacrifices. The Indians treated the rituals on a grand scale, destroying several dozen or even hundreds of unfortunate people at a time.

The Indians killed in a sophisticated way, for example, throwing the victim into the fire, then extracting it still alive in order to cut out the heart, and throw it back into the flames. The Aztecs and Mayans constantly fought with neighboring tribes and captured many prisoners. It was not supposed to use the spoils of war as slaves, so all outsiders were sacrificed.

For some reason, everyone is sure that there was no slavery in America before the arrival of Europeans. But this is a misconception – the Indians had slaves, and even in the most peaceful tribes. Prisoners of war were almost always sacrificed to the gods, so the slaves, most often, became tribesmen.

Debunking 5 popular myths about the conquistadors and the conquest of America

It was possible to get into slavery for debts, theft and many other domestic offenses. The slaves worked in the fields, went hunting, did housework. In this respect, the Spaniards did not teach the Indians anything new, except that they treated the slaves worse and did not skimp on punishments.

The Catholic Church did not teach at all to make slaves of Indians, as many believe. On the contrary, the churchmen ordered the conquistadors to convert the Indians to Christianity, teach them to read and write, and wear European clothes. But in reality everything was different and the Indians who fell into the hands of the Spaniards simply turned to free labor.

Keywords: Mexico | Indians | South America | North America | Spain | History | Maya | Aztecs

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