Spanish Conquistadors

Spanish Conquistadors were explorers, soldiers and sailors of Spain and also Portugal during what is know as the "Age of Discovery". Conquistador means conquerer in Spanish as they explored and conquered the Caribbean, Central and South America. Conquistadors sailed from Spain (and Portugal) colonizing the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa and also Asia. The Conquistadors’ mission was to conquer these new lands in the name of their home countries "For Gold, For God, For Glory." The reference for gold is probably the most important as the pillaged and stole all the could from Native Empires. They also tried converting indigenous people to Christianity, for God. Glory was for the fame and lasting impact history that these men sought to achieve, and apparently have if I am writing this article about them.

After Christopher Columbus brought news back to Spain of the "new world" a lot of Europeans wanted to search for gold and treasure in this new found land. Spanish Conquistadors, some of the first men to travel to the "new world" were both explorers and conquerers. After first European expedition to the West Indies in 1492, the Spanish began to build an empire in the Caribbean. They used the islands of Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico for strategic bases and strongholds to defend their newly found territory.

The Conquistadors first found gold on the island of Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic/Haiti) in 1494 after encountering the native settlers, the Táino. The Spanish Colonization moved on to the island of Puerto Rico led by Ponce de León in 1508, then to Jamaica in 1509. The best source of gold at that time was found on Cuba which the Spanish settled in 1513. Spain built an empire by stealing a fortune from Indigenous people and grew to be a formidable world power. This was done by Conquistadors murdering native inhabitants and enslaving them to mine gold and silver.

Spain became the richest country in the world at that time from the sheer amount of gold that the Conquistadors extracted from the Caribbean. Spains unquenchable thirst for the the valuable metal resulted in subsequent waves of conquest after 1492. Spain used this wealth to pay for armies and ships. Over one fifth of Spain's budget, it is estimated by the 16th century came from gold and silver imports from the Caribbean islands. A number of artifacts were melted down that were created for religious and cultural purposes had been lost. The Spanish conquerors left behind murder, death and destruction while melting down this yellow metal. In most cases the natives gave the Conquistadors gold and silver hoping to spare their people. Instead doing so sealed their fate with their cultures having been lost forever.

The Amazon Jungle, interior of North America, including the Southwest United States, the Mississippi River, and the Pacific Ocean were all important explorations and discoveries made by Spanish conquistadors. Florida was also "discovered" by the conquistadors, and they established many cities all over the globe. Tampa Bay, Manila, and Mexico City are just a few of these.

Spanish Conquest

spanish conquest

After the discovery of the "new world" by Spain in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, expeditions increased led by Conquistadors. These expeditions increased even further after 1521 when Juan Sebastián Elcano circumnavigated the globe, opening up trade routes to Europe with all of the areas discovered.

The Age of Exploration reached a new height however in 1519, when Hernan Fernando Cortés discovered the Americas. Motivated by gold lust and greed he began his expedition into the Aztec empire. At first establishing relations with the Aztecs then later war, the conquest and development of towns brought more men for the Spanish colonization of present day Mexico. Trading routes were developed by Hernan Cortes on his way to conquer the capital city, just as sea routes were established by Columbus before him.

Just as these routes were opened for the first time to the Americas, Africa and the Eurasian continent, European diseases were also spread for the first time. European diseases such as: smallpox, typhus and the flu led to deaths of many indigenous peoples in the "new world" and beyond. Human infections had gained transmission for the first time in history.

Hernán Cortés waged war against Moctezuma II of the Aztec Empire from 1515-1521. Upon success of this campaign, Conquistadors then were able to expand Spanish rule to Central America and parts of what is now the Southwest United States, west of the Colorado River. After the discovery of the Pacific ocean they then sailed from Mexico to the Philippines. Other conquistadors Such as Francisco Pizarro subdued the last Incan Empire, allowing Conquistadors to conquer much of Chile and Ecuador from bases in Peru. Central Colombia, was conquered by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. It was later explored by Spanish Conquistadors Rodrigo de Bastidas, Alonso de Ojeda, and other explorers. Other Conquistadors arriving from the Caribbean conquered Southern Colombia, Bolivia and also Argentina from bases in Peru and Paraguay.

 Spanish Crown

spanish crown

Early on during the colonization of Spain, the Spanish grew rapidly into a dominant European power. This was able to take place do to the amount of gold and silver plundered and mined by Spanish Conquistadors, who were mercenaries of the Spanish Crown. Most of the Spanish Conquistadors were Iberian men who came to the "new world" in search of gold and other riches. They seen the "new world" as their opportunity to make wealth and often a name for themselves in society. This led the Conquistadors to commit inhumane actions.

These men including famous Spanish Conquistadors are responsible for the extermination of many native peoples of the Caribbean. Throughout the Southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America all the Conquistadors would plunder, rape, murder, enslave and overall mistreat native peoples without consequence. Not possessing any morality, the Conquitadores would approach native people, usually unarmed men and tell them in Spanish to give them a certain amount of gold. If the gold was not given to them they said that the had the right to kill them. The native inhabitants did not understand Spanish so were often slaughtered. These slaughters and raids on villages became common practices of the Spanish Conquistadors. Many natives such as the Táino of the Caribbean also died of E such as smallpox European diseases

The Spanish Crown mercenaries starting with Christopher Columbus , began the teenage female sex trade. These men would capture young Indian girls from the "new world" and take them across the Atlantic to Europe, where they were sold as prostitutes. Spanish expeditions would also take Indians from Mexico, Central and South America to the Caribbean to force them to work in gold mines. This was more cost efficient than buying African slaves.

This continued until Charles of Habsburg, king of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor had a passion for imposing order. He used this to enforce order in Spain's American territories where the great Spanish Conquistadors were looting empires and murdering innocent natives. The Spanish Crown began to establish a government to take control of affairs in the Americas. Unfortunately, the period of Spanish conquistadors had already ended.

Conquistadores and Spanish Colonization of North America, the Caribbean & South America

spanish soldiers

The Spanish colonization of the Americas began in 1493 when Columbus paved the way for for further Spanish explorations. Upon his return from his first voyage to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, he told stories of timid natives that were easy to subdue and endless streams of gold. Spanish explorers hoping to conquer the New World became conquistadores, and endlessly pursued gold. Another factor that played an important role in settling these new territories was religion. Spanish Conquistadors converted indigenous peoples to Christianity, often by force. The European colonists would settle in areas of large native populations, using them as forced labor to extract valuable resources such as gold and silver.

It has been estimated that nearly 2 million Spaniards settled the Americas, as the Spanish Empire expanded across the Caribbean, then around half of South America, Central America and most of modern day United States in North America. This expansion began in the 16th century often times at great detriment to the natives who were wiped out from European diseases and murder.



Most people consider Hernan Cortes to be the first Spanish Conquistador after he conquered the Aztec Empire in 1509. However others say Juan Ponce de León was the first when he conquered the island of Puerto Rico in 1508. Jamaica was first settled in 1509 with the establishment of Sevilla la Nueva. In fact, Christopher Columbus (real name in Spanish of Cristóbal Colón) actually started military campaigns as early as 1493 on Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic/Haiti. Columbus first landed in the Bahamas, later finding the island of Cuba, which he called Isla Juana. Then in 1511 Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded Baracoa, Cuba's first Spanish settlement. Havana would follow in the year 1515 . While Hernán Cortés may be one of the most famous Spanish Conquistadors, he was not the first.

Spanish Conquistadors did not encounter large central indigenous civilizations in the Caribbean, such as the Aztec in Mexico and the Inca in Peru. They did find populations of native people which they called the Taino. Settlement by Spain began in 1493 when upon his return on his second voyage, Christopher Columbus established the first settlement of La Isabela, named after Queen Isabella on the island of Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic/Haiti). He brought with him farming equipment, settlers, seeds and livestock.

The Tainos were mainly a fishing and agricultural peaceful population of indigenous inhabitants to the Caribbean islands who lived in small villages led by a cacique (chief). The men from the West saw these people as a free source of labor, to be used for their will, by supplying food and to mine for gold. The labor of dense populations of Taínos were forced into a system known as encomienda. This what was known as the strong protecting the weak, and Taínos worked for the settlers in exchange for education and a small yearly salary. The Taíno were forced into slavery to pan the placer gold found on the surface. Queen Isabella put an end to slavery declaring all indigenous peoples to be under the protection of the crown. However, the Taíno were still forced to work in gold mines after the surface gold had been exhausted. There was indigenous resistance to Spanish colonization in the form of many native uprisings, however these were always crushed by then governor Ponce de León.

Although estimates widely vary due to no census records back then, the Taino population of Hispaniola alone was thought to be between hundreds of thousands to a million. They were essentially wiped out a mere 20 years later due to disease, disruption of their agriculture, mistreatment and murder. After the native population collapse on the island of Hispaniola, the settlers began raiding other islands including: Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica to enslave those Taíno as well as their source of labor was at risk. The pattern of disease and murder continued causing those islands native populations to collapse as well. Enriquillo and Hatuey (caciques) in the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola), have successfully rebelled against Spanish colonization.

The Crown of Spain spent over the first 25 years in the Caribbean islands still with high expectations of wealth in the form of gold and spices. After the disapearance of local populations and exhausted gold mines, African slaves were brought in to work the new cash crops of sugar cane and coffee. In 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and in 1518 Juan de Grijalva expanded the Spaniards presence in the Caribbean with new expeditions in the region. The western Caribbean was largely unexplored by Spaniards even up to 1515. The governor of Cuba granted permission in 1519 to Hernán Cortés to explore only this Western region of the Caribbean. Well, it turns out he didn't listen and went a bit further, and that expedition was to make world history.

Over time the Caribbean islands became less important to Spain's dominance, as massive gold was found in Mexico and Peru. The islands of Hispaniola and Cuba did however remain strategically important. The smaller islands were eventually lost to England and France took over half of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti). Over half of the Caribbean islands once claimed by Spain were lost. The first Spanish settlements in the Caribbean were to have a lasting impact on the Spanish Empire. Columbus believed that he had reached the Indies, in Asia until the day he died. This very incorrect perception is what led the Spanish to call the natives Indians (indios). This caused all indigenous peoples of the Americas to be known as Indians, a name still wrongly used today, as it lumps multiple civilizations into one group.

North America

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Spanish Conquistadors did end up finding lots and lots of gold in the Americas. The native people did not value gold for any form of payment or consider it rare. They did however mine it to be used to adorn clothing and sculpt religious artifacts. The invaders from the West were wide eyed and anxious to get their hands on the glittering metal that they saw inside the native temples. This confused the native peoples who valued such items as jade, turquoise and exotic feathers.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba sailed to the Yucatan Peninsula in 1517 in search of slaves to mine gold. He returned from this expedition to Cuba to report finding this new land. The conquest of the Aztec Empire is one of the most important events in world history. In 1519 from Cuba, Hernán Cortés along with Pedro de Alvarado and Bernardino Vázquez de Tapia went on an expedition to Mexico. The Spanish army led campaigns against the Aztec Empire until 1521, when on August 13 victory was won. The Spanish army along with native Tlaxcalan warriors captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc. They also captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan beginning Spanish rule in Mexico, what they named New Spain at the time. The capital of Mexico City is founded on the ruins Tenochtitlan. Diego de Velasquez, then governor of Cuba, heard about gold in the area of Tabasco, Mexico, he sent an Armada with Hernán Cortés as appointed Captain.

Spain recognized the value of black fighters in their Armadas. There were African conquistadors in the early campaigns of the 1500's into the Caribbean and Mexico. There were free blacks and enslaved blacks crossing the Atlantic helping to conquer the Americas. After the conquest of Mexico in 1521, the wealth taken from the empire helped to fund forces of black conquistadors.

Juan Garrido was one such black conquistador, who fought against the Aztecs during the destruction of their people. Garrido was born in Africa, then was a slave in Portugal in his younger years. He gained his freedom after being sold to a Spaniard and took part in conquests of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other islands. He then went on to partake in other Spanish expeditions to Mexico (including Baja California) in the 1520s and 1530s. He raised his family in Mexico City on a plot that he was given and worked as a town guard. Juan Garrido is reported to be the first person to plant wheat in Mexico.

Sebastian Toral was another African slave who was one of the first black conquistadors. He first went to the "new world" with his Spanish owner in which tie he gained his freedom. He continued to fight as a free black conquistador in the Yucatán up until 1540 fighting the Mayans. He finally settled in the colony of Yucatán after his victories there. Sebastian Toral wrote a letter to the Spanish crown in 1574 protesting the new tribute they said all free blacks had to pay to the crown. This protest was successful as the Spanish King replied that he did not need to pay taxes due to his service. Upon his death his accomplishments include: being a black man who had petitioned the king and won, walking streets in Mexico City, Lisbon and Seville. He was also crucial in founding the capital city.

United States

Spain claimed most of what is now the Southern United States. They began exploring and establishing settlements in the early 1500's. Besides Puerto Rico being colonized during this time period, Spain would also claim what is modern day Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico and California. Juan Garrido, a free black slave was the first African to cross the Atlantic Ocean and have contact with the lands that would go on to become the United States becoming part of new world history.

Many rumors of foreign kingdoms containing gold northwest of the island of Hispaniola led the Spanish to begin to explore and colonize North America in the early 1500s. Juan Ponce de León was the first European to see Florida, what he called Bimini at the time in 1513. He took over 200 men and 3 ships to set out to find the rumored "Fountain of Youth" to cure his aging health issues. Ponce de León died trying to establish a settlement at Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, set out in 1526 to establish yet another settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape in present day South Carolina.

Another rumor thought to have existed was the Seven Cities of Gold or Cibola, the place where gold was born. It was thought to have been built by Native Americans in the Southwestern desert. Francisco de Ulloa in search of this city was the first European to reach the Colorado River and sail into the Gulf of California in 1536. Another settlement established by Spain in Florida, that has lasted until the present day is Saint Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565. In the modern day state of New Mexico settlements begun being founded in 1598, with Santa Fe being founded in 1610.

The Spaniard known as Cabeza de Vaca (cow head) set out from Tampa Bay, Florida in 1528 in an expedition to explore the mainland of North America, that lasted until 1535. The traveled through Florida, Texas, parts of Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona on foot, no small feat for it's time or any time. After several months of fighting native people they finally reached Apalachee Bay with less than half of the numbers they set out with. Following the coast West, they reached the Mississippi River near modern day Galveston Island. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca landed on present day Follet's Island, Texas in 1528 as well.

One reason that this expedition took 8 years was that they were enslaved by Native American tribes of the upper Gulf Coast. In an ironic twist, the conquerors spent years enslaved by the the Ananarivo of the Louisiana Gulf Islands, the Hans, the Capoques and others. They were finally able to escape in 1534 into the American Desert. Out of the 600 men who had set out originally only 4 returned to Mexico city. Those who returned were: Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and a Moroccan named Estevanico. Marcos de Niza set out in 1539 in search of Cibola with Estevanico, who continued by himself into New Mexico and Arizona before Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. He died at Zuni hands however in present-day New Mexico.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado set out in 1540-1542 to explore and establish settlements in the northern lands of New Spain. He reached central Kansas in the settlement of Quivira. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado originally set out in search of the mythical Cities of Gold but learned of a large river to the west from local natives. García López de Cárdenas, with the guidance of Hopi Indians was the first non native to see the Grand Canyon after Francisco Vásquez de Coronado sent him to the river. However, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was not impressed by the canyon. His depth perception must have been way off because he mistakenly assumed the Colorado River to be 6 feet wide. He also said the rock formations were only the height of an average person. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo explored the western coastline of Alta California in 1542–43.

Hernando de Alarcón went to bring Coronado's people supplies in these new lands in 1540. He never met up with Coronado but reached the mouth of the Colorado River. He is thought to have sailed the Colorado as far upstream as the present-day California–Arizona border. The same Melchior Díaz  attempted to meet Alarcón, but he had left. Diáz gave a small tributary of the Gila River the moniker "Red River," but not the Colorado River. He gave the Colorado Riveranother name of, Rio del Tizón. In 1540 further expeditions sent by Hernando de Alarcon and Melchior Diaz saw a narrow crossing area of the Colorado River near Yuma that was less than 100 feet wide. Juan Bautista de Anza would use the Yuma Crossing for a military expedition in 1774.

In the year 1565 in Saint Augustine (Spanish Florida) the first Christian marriage took place between a black servant Luisa de Abrego and d Miguel Rodríguez a white conquistador. Some parts of New Mexico visited by Coronado and other regions of the southwestern United States were explored by the Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition in 1581-1582. In 1648 Don Diego García Sarmiento of New Spain sent an expedition to conquer California. Many towns and cities to this day bear Spanish names.

Interesting to note that while the Spanish Conquistadors were doing their thing plundering gold, the Portuguese were also exploring new lands across the Atlantic Ocean. Estêvão Gomes explored Nova Scotia in 1524 then sailing down to Maine. He continued South entering New York Harbor and the Hudson River. He ended up in Florida a year later, and as a result Diego Ribeiro was able to map the East Coast of America perfectly in 1529.

Aztec Empire

aztec empire

The Aztecs controlled vast expanses of territory in the early 16th century. There was an estimated 400-500 states subjugated to the ruler. At it's height the ruler or (tlatoani) Montezuma II overseen the entire empire. The Aztecs believed that they needed to repay the gods in the form of blood. A part of the Aztecs belief system was that the gods gave their lives to create the world for them. To quench the thirst of the gods with blood, the Aztecs demanded conquered subjects to be offered. This proved to be the empires weakness as the subjugated tribes did not like the ritual of human sacrifice, and often aligned themselves with the Conquistadors.

Arrival of the Conquistadores

In 1519 500 soldiers and 100 sailors landed on the Yucatán Peninsula of what is now Mexico led by Hernán Cortés. This was not the first expedition to explore the region however as Spain had sent other expeditions in the past. Cortés helped a group of locals defeat a Mayan tribe. As compensation for his effort he was "gifted" several girls who were slaves. One of these girls was named Malintzin or Marina. She spoke several dialects including Mayan and the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. This made her an important woman to Cortés as she could translate local languages which helped him conquer as he marched forward.

In what is now Veracruz, Mexico Cortés founded La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, a base and stronghold. Over the next few months Cortés and his conquistadores moved west, inching ever closer to Aztec lands. Montezuma II heard of his approach and in an attempt to be diplomatic, lavish gifts to the Spanish. Cortés, not impressed by the gifts and wanting all of the gold, made alliances with the Totonac and the Tlaxcalans. The Tlaxcalans were old rivals of the Aztecs as they did not approve of ritual human sacrifice. They had a large army that boosted the number of Cortés’ mere 500 men. This proved critical to Cortés’s future successes, as they took the important Aztec city of Cholula in October of 1519. It was here that after learning of an ambush, Cortés slaughtered thousands of unarmed men and woman.

Not satisfied with the victory and wanting to overthrow Montezuma, left for Tenochtitlán a month later. In an attempt to size of his army, Montezuma did not attack but again offered Cortés treasure as gifts, when he reached the city. However, this was also an opportunity for Cortés to size up Montezuma’s army. Despite the emperor’s hospitality, Cortés seized this opportunity to place Montezuma under house arrest, still allowing him to govern on Cortés orders.

Cortés’s victory however was very short lived, as he received word that Spain declared to arrest him for going well beyond what was sanctioned. He returned to his base at La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz to attack the arrest party, his own people. He set out to conquer the arrest party leaving Tenochtitlán in the hands of Pedro de Alvarado. Cortés did surprisingly defeat the arrest party in a surprise attach and if that wasn't incredible enough, he actually convinced them to join him in destroying the Aztec empire. Back in Tenochtitlán, Alvarado had slaughtered a few hundred Aztec nobles during a religious ceremony. Many members of Cortés’s army were killed in a retaliatory revolt. Cortés returned and demanded that his puppet king Montezuma stop the rebellion. But the emperor was either killed fighting or assassinated.

After Montezuma’s death, his brother, Cuitláhuac, was named the new ruler.Cuitláhuac led a very bloody assault know as "Le Noche Triste" driving Cortés and his army out of the city of Tenochtitlán. Cortés retreated east to Tlaxcala, spending more than five months there giving his men an opportunity to regain their strength. Meanwhile, during those five months a smallpox outbreak killed half of Tenochtitlán’s inhabitants. The new emperor Cuitláhuac died during this outbreak. Cortés once again set out for Tenochtitlán in December after constructing 13 small boats to use in his next attach plan. During this time, Cuauhtémoc was made the next tlatoanior ruler.

Battle of Tenochtitlán, took pace from (May 22–August 13, 1521), commanded by Hernán Cortés and local native tribes was a battle to conquer once again the capital city of Tenochtitlán. For 93 days Cortés, his army and the native allies assaulted the city with cannons while cutting off the Aztecs’ food and water supply. Tenochtitlán was located in the middle of lake Lake Texcoco on a manmade island. It was connected to the mainland by three causeways, thus allowing him to surround the city from the water and through the causeways due to the ships he brought. In may of 1521 Cortés coalition army of more than 800 conquistadores and tens of thousands of indigenous warriors, laid siege to the Aztec capital. This assault gradually broke down the Aztecs.

By August they at last broke through the city’s defenses. Once inside the city, Cortés and his native allies in an attempt to rid themselves of the Aztecs for good were ruthless. The went through the city street by street killing and looting whoever and whatever they could. After the sack of Tenochtitlán, Cortés demolished temples and burned houses, declaring the city his. Ruler Cuauhtémoc tried to sneak away at night with a handful of his most loyal advisors. However this plan was thwarted and they were all captured with Cuauhtémoc being hanged. Cortés’s victory did indeed destroy the Aztec empire, allowing Spain to consolidate control and power in the region of what became the colony of New Spain.

South America

south america old mapPlease note the Sea Monsters on the map above.

The first mainland explorations by Spaniards before discovering Spanish Florida in 1513 were inland expeditions and conquest to expand the Spanish Empire in South America. The city of Nueva Cádiz, on the island of Cubagua, Venezuela was founded in 1500 and also Santa Cruz by Alonso de Ojeda on the Guajira peninsula. Franciscan friars settled the first permanent settlement in the Americas in 1501 Cumaná in Venezuela. The Spanish founded San Sebastián de Uraba in 1509 but abandoned it by 1510. Many claim however, the the first mainland permanent Spanish settlement was Santa María la Antigua del Darién.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Spanish soldiers claimed the Pacific Ocean for Spain in 1513. The conquistadors conquered the Pacific coastal regions and Michoacán between 1522-1524. Pedro de Alvarado and Cristóbal de Olid led expeditions to Pedro de Alvarado and Cristóbal de Olid and Honduras. Juan Díaz de Solís discovered the confluence of the Uruguay and the Paraná Rivers in 1516. The first Spanish expedition south of Peru was led by Diego de Almagro into Chile in 1535.

Sebastián de Benalcázar led multiple expeditions into Colombia from Peru, expanding Spain's control over the area. However he had to share rule of this area with Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada who appeared at the exact same time by traveling interior from the coast of the Caribbean.
Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago, Chile in 1541. Administrators and settlers from Spain were sent in to govern the region as conquistadores cared mainly for gold. Francisco de Orellana and crew became the first Europeans to travel the entire length of the Amazon River in 1541–1542.

Pedro Arias Dávila, in 1524 founded Darién, founded Panama City and moved his capital there. Exploration of South America's west coast and other successful expeditions left from this base. King Ferdinand made him commander of the largest Spanish expedition at the tender age of 70. Around this time Portuguese settlers were arriving on the Cape Verde Islands. Pedro Arias Dávila was responsible for sending Pedro Arias Dávila to explore North and also for sending Pedro de Alvarado to explore into Guatamala. By the time he was 85 years old, Dávila sent Francisco Hernández de Córdoba on his expedition. His daughters would go on to marry Rodrigo de Contreras and Hernando de Soto. Hernando de Soto was the governor of Cuba and the conquistador of Florida and Mississippi.

In Colombia, Santa Marta was established in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas. Pedro Fernández de Lugo arrived in Santa Marta in the early months of 1536 and embarked on a number of excursions into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Fernández de Lugo was looking for a path over land into Peru, and sent an expedition to follow the Magdalena River. Licentiate Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led this expedition and ended up conquering the native Muisca people, who he believed to have knowledge of El Dorado, the lost city of gold somewhere in the jungle. Jiménez de Quesada also established the Kingdon of Granada and the capital city of Colombia, Santafé de Bogotá, today known as Bogotá.

In 1532 Francisco Pizarro attacked and conquered the ruler, Atahualpa and the Incan Empire. At this time Alvarado arrived wanting to capture Quito. Francisco Pizarro instead persuaded him to sell his ships and army to Pizzaro and Almagro. Pizzaro later won a civil war between himself and Almagro in 1538. Francisco Pizarro was later murdered in 1941. When Juan Daz de Sols returned to the area, he found that the river he had discovered in 1515 had been given the new name, "River of Silver," or Rio de la Plata. He was trying to figure out a method to get the silver from the Incan mines back to Spain. Potosí became the location of the Spanish colonial mint because of this effort by de Solís. In 1527 he first established a simple fort Sancti Spiritu on the Paraná River. He later established the Governorate of the Río de la Plata, and the city of Buenos Aires in 1536.

The people of the Inca civilization had thought gold to be the sweat of the sun god, Inti. Because of this all kinds of religious artifacts were made out of gold including sun disks and masks. In Cusco they constructed the Coricancha Temple of the Sun.This temple was covered in gold in the form of sheets that had been beaten into squares each weighing 2 kilograms. Outside of the temple there was a garden made of gold and silver for Inti. Everything was detailed and life size with depictions including: a field of corn and wheat, jaguars, monkeys, birds, llamas and even tiny detailed insects and butterflies.

Today all that survived being melted down by the greedy invaders from Spain is a single wheat stalk from the golden garden of Inti in Cusco.

Famous Spanish Conquistadors

  • Hernan Cortes (1495 - 1547)

    Hernan Cortes was one of the first and most famous Spanish Conquistadors. He heard of the great riches of the Aztec Empire and in 1519 sailed to the Yucatan Peninsula from Cuba. He was responsible for conquering the Aztec Empire in search of treasure and claiming Mexico for Spain after killing the Aztec Emperor Montezuma.

  • Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541)

    Pizarro explored much of the west coast of South America and conquered the great Incan Empire of Peru. He took over the capital of Cuzco when he killed the last Incan Emperor, Atahualpa. He also founded the city of Lima, Peru as well as obtained massive amounts of gold and silver.

  • Juan Ponce de Leon(1474 - 1521)

    Ponce de Leon sailed first sailed to the "new world" with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. He went on to become the first governor of Puerto Rico in 1508. Then in 1513 he left to explore the Caribbean in search of slaves, gold and the"Fountain of Youth" leading him to land on Florida, which he called Bimini. He later died from wounds he received fighting Native Americans, while trying to start a settlement in Florida.

  • Hernando de Soto (1497? - 1542)

    Hernando de Soto's first accompanied Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to Nicaragua, then with Pizarro to parts of Peru. However in 1539 the King of Spain gave him permission to conquer Florida. In doing so he made his way further inland being the first European to cross the Mississippi River. He died in 1542 and is buried near the river he discovered.

  • Pedro de Alvarado (1485–1541)

    Pedro de Alvarado, governor of Guatemala, participated in the conquest of Cuba. He also participated in Juan de Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. Most importantly, Pedro de Alvarado assisted Hernán Cortés in the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

  • Diego de Almagro (1475–1538)

    Diego de Almagro, also known as El Adelantado, was a Spanish conquistador. El Viejo as he was also known, participated with Francisco Pizarro in the Spanish conquest of Peru.

  • Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546)

    Francisco de Orellana was a Spanish explorer and conquistador, managed to sail the length of the Amazon River, arriving at the river's mouth on 24 August 1542.

  • Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (1510–1554)

    Francisco Vázquez de Coronado explored much of what is present day Kansas and the American Southwest between 1540-1542

  • Lope de Aguirre, Madman of El Dorado(1510-1561)

    Lope de Aguirre had a reputation for being violent and mentally unstable when he joined in on an expedition looking for the legendary El Dorado in 1559. While searching in the jungle, Aguirre began murdering his fellow Conquistadors. Who let this guy on the team?

Many Conquistadors Didn't Get Much Gold

spanish army

While no none knows for sure exactly how much gold was plundered from the Americas, it was A LOT! Most of the items that were taken or gold from mines and placer surface gold was melted down first in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico then in Mexico after it's conquest. Other gold was melted in Spain itself, but either way the crown, not the Conquistadors, got most of the gold to enrich their empire. English pirates also attacked many Spanish Galleons loaded with gold on it's journey through the Caribbean. Therefore some of the new world gold in fact ended up in England.

The soldiers in Peru in Pizarro's army did very well for the time. Each of the men received around 45 pounds of gold worth about 1 million dollars at todays gold prices. However in the 1500's 45 pounds of gold was worth only around $2000. The men of Pizarro's army also received twice the amount, or 90 pounds of silver directly from the Emperor's ransom. Hernan Cortes' forces in Mexico, faired way worse. Most common foot soldiers ended up with 160pesos of gold. That is how much was left after the King of Spain, Cortes and higher up officers took their large cuts.

Even more valuable than gold was their lives. Most of these men were lucky to even get back home with their life. Panfilo de Narvaez set out on an expedition to Florida with over 400 men. Only four men survived, Narváez was not among them as he was last seen floating on a raft.

Diseases from Europe

european diseases

While all the Conquistadors had military strategy, superior weapons and forged alliances with other local populations, another factor played greatly into them being able to conquer lands so fast. Their conquest was helped largely in part by diseases of the "old world" such as: smallpox, typhus, measles, influenza and chicken pox. The natives of the Americas had no natural immunity to these new infections, they built civilizations but never resistance to these diseases. The diseases were carried to distant villages much faster than the Conquistadors could travel. This meant that as they advanced the natives were already weakened and dying when they arrived.

It is estimated that 95% of the populations of all the tribes combined of the Americas perished in 130 years from disease. It is further estimated that around 90% of the population of the Inca Empire died in a smallpox epidemic. When Francisco de Coronado arrived in New Mexico some natives chiefs said that there were new diseases affecting their peoples. A large part of the population of the Incan empire had already died in a smallpox epidemic by the time Spanish conquistadors arrived. An epidemic killed the emperor Huayna Capac in 1529, and is the first recorded such epidemic to take place. Further smallpox epidemics followed in 1533, 1535, 1558 and 1565, as well as typhus in 1546, influenza in 1558, diphtheria in 1614 and measles in 1618.

Recent evidence of drought in Mexico, by studying tree rings shows that in the 16th century suggests that disease reduced the population by the time of Spanish conquest. This evidence suggests that cocoliztli epidemics the native name for viral haemorrhagic fever were indigenous fevers transmitted by rodents. The drought aggravated the rodents causing them to spread in search of water transmitting the disease. It estimated that 80% or up to 15 million indigenous natives died in the cocoliztli epidemic from 1545 to 1548. There was also another cocoliztli outbreak that killed another 2 million people. That was 50% of the population left at the time.

The indigenous population in Mexico declined from 25.2 million in 1518 to 700,000 by 1623, less than 3% of the original native population.

    Mythical Lands That Never Existed

    el dorado lost city of gold

    Although the Conquistadors did find many new animal species and previously never before cities to European eyes, stories abounded of giants, dragons, ghosts, mysterious castaways on several islands and lost cities of gold. In fact an early reason for exploration was to find one such city, Cipango where gold was actually born. Talk about being obsessed with and having a lust for gold! This mythical city was thought to been built by Hopi Indians or other Native American tribes somewhere in the Southwest dessert of the modern day United States.

    Sebastián Vizcaíno set sail in 1611 searching for two mythical islands off the East coast of the the Japanese mainland. One was called Rico de Oro (Rich in Gold) as the other island was called Rico de Plata ( Rich in Silver) because...why not. Other stories included the Christian Emprire of "Prester "John", a White King who had an empire on the Western Nile River and kingdoms of the Ten Lost Tribes. Of course there were other stories about mythical cities of gold in the Americas such as Zuni-Cibola Complex, Quivira and the most famous city of El Dorado "The Lost City of Gold" that was believed to be located in Colombia.

    Sebastián Vizcaíno reached the Amazon River in 1542, naming for a tribe of warrior woman he claimed to have encountered and beat there. Antonio de Montezinos of Portugal said that some of the Lost Tribes of Israel were living amongst the natives of the Andes in South America. Then we have Ponce de León, who was looking for the waters of Bimini (modern day Florida) to cure his aging. He "discovered Florida while doing so. Even more strangely, in 1575 Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, claimed he did find the Fountain of Youth after living with the Native Americans of Florida. He said Ponce de León had been looking in the wrong place. The present day Guianas were named after a wonderful empire called Guiana that never existed but was searched for by Walter Raleigh and some other Italian, Spanish and Portuguese explorers.

    Many expeditions set off in search of these mythical places only to return with nothing, or if anything much less gold than they had hoped for. Although they never found these magical places they did find other riches such as silver in Bolivia. They did however find many things more important than gold on their journey, such as: trade winds, new routes, ocean currents, new crops, spices and other precious stones. Numerous places in the Americas have been named after these mythical cities and rivers of gold.

    Aleixo Garcia was shipwrecked off Santa Catarina island in present-day Brazil, when he heard about the "White King". In 1524 he set off West to find this land of riches and magic. Although he never found the "White King" he did cross South America from East to West, being the first European to ever do so. He also discovered a great waterfall, the Chaco Plain, and defeat defenses of the Inca Empire, eight years before Francisco Pizarro.

    What did Spanish conquistadors do?

    Spanish Conquistadors were plunderers, pirates, explorers and conquerers. They exploited native peoples and lands for gold and other riches. They also conquered in the name of God and forced Christianity on indigenous people of the new world.

    What are Spanish Conquistadors?

    In Spanish the word “Conquistador“ mean conqueror. That is a good title for these savage Spanish and also Portuguese explorers, whose goal was to capture and settle new lands driven by their lust for gold. Conquistadors decimated native populations in their never ending quest for riches by disease and murder.

    Who were the first Spanish Conquistadors?

    Juan Ponce de Leon was the first Spanish explorer to travel into the South Eastern United States when he landed in Florida in 1513. He first traveled with Columbus on his second voyage to the "new world in 1493 and subsequently conquered Puerto Rico in 1508.