Conquistador is a term used to refers to explorers, adventurers and soldiers in the Spanish conquest of America between the 16th and 18th century (Levy, 2009, p. 8-9). It originates from a Spanish word meaning conqueror. Conquistadors are believed to have sailed beyond Europe to the Americans, Africa and Asia with the aim of opening trade routes and conquering territories (Diaz del Castillo et al., 1939, pp. 1517-1521).
Hernan Cortes who conquered the mighty Aztec Empire of Central America and Francisco Pizarro who led the conquest of the Incan Empire of Aden's mountain are the two most famous conquistadors (Ford, 2007, pp. 358-692; Haring, 1952, pp. 689-772) What is intriguing about Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro is that they had modest forces that were far outnumbered by native. American soldiers of the empires they conquered. For example, Hernan Cortes army consisted of around 600 army soldiers while Francisco's had about 160 soldiers, defeating much larger bands of soldiers in their thousands (Levy, 2009, p. 132; Pohl and Robinson, 2005, pp. 55-63).
Spanish conquistadors can be categorized into two, the cavalry of horsemen or the infantry of foot soldiers. Infantry soldiers had less share of the treasure in comparison to the cavalry horsemen. Interestingly, some soldiers would save up some of their wealth to buy horses as an investment in future success during the conquest. Typically, the cavalry soldiers carried swords and lances while infantry used firearms known as harquebus and crossbows in addition to Toledo swords (Schwaller, 2016, pp. 167-177)
There are many strategies and tactics that conquistadors developed in conquering Latin America. Some of the most significant factors that led to their success are but not limited to superior military technology, diseases, animals they used in the battlefields among many others tactics as discussed below against unknowing indigenous population.
Superior military technology
One of the vital elements of the success of the Spanish conquistadors was their advanced fine armour and weaponry. According to (Derr, 2005, pp. 45-67), the conquistadors had many military advantages over the natives of America. All over the world, Toledo, a city in Spain was the best known in making army weapons and armour equipment. The conquistadors highly valued their fine steel made Toledo swords. In fact, the swords were not to be sold to anyone until proven they could bend half a circle and could not withstand forceful impact with a steel made helmet. The conquistadors made it illegal for the American natives to possess Toledo swords because of their valued benefits (Pohl and Robinson, 2005, pp. 70-87). The Spanish developed steel weapons such as swords that were very sharp, strong and more deadly than the soft-metals weapons of the native Americans. The steel weapons nearly made Spanish army unbeatable, as native's weapons could not pierce Spanish's armour nor could native's armour shield against steel swords (Johnson, 2009, pp. 127-128; Kellogg, 1991, pp. 81-83).
Aside from advanced weapons, Spanish conquistadors used fine armour to defeat their opponents. Like their trustworthy swords, they had the most exquisite shields in the world made in Toledo. One of most-well known conquistadors armour was a helmet known as morion. The conquerors wore a heavy breastplate, gorget and greaves as body armour. Greaves was for covering their legs and arms while gorget was used to protect their throats and necks. They also used overlapping plates to protect shoulders and elbows while they covered their feet and hands using armoured boots and gloves (Hassig, 2006, p. 119).
Conquistadors protected their soldiers from head to foot using steel, making them practically indestructible. No spot in their body that was left unprotected. The natives fighting against the Spanish conquistadors were unaware of such superb weapons and were unable to kill many armoured infantry and cavalry soldiers using their primitive weapons (Haring, 1952, pp. 332-337). Most of the native's cultures in Latin America were in between stone and bronze ages. The native soldiers mainly used spiked clubs, stone axes and maces in the battlefield which could not seriously harm steel armoured conquistador's soldiers (Robinson III, 2014, pp. 42-53).
The success of the conquistadors was rapid due to the diseases they brought to Latin America. Millions of the natives died from diseases they had never been exposed to such as smallpox brought by the Spanish conquistadors (Restall, 2004, p. 48). In Europe, the diseases had existed for hundreds of years and the conquistadors had already developed immunity to the disease (Restall, 2004, pp. 48-49). Many of the Europeans carried the smallpox virus in their bodies but didn't suffer from it. The natives were newly exposed to the diseases, and their bodies had to take time to develop resistance (De Alva, 2006, pp. 108-116). Smallpox successfully helped a small group of Spanish soldier's defeat massive American's native. Moreover, Cortez surrounded Aztec capital and managed to cut off the food supply to the empire. Due to starvation and the highly contagious diseases, the Aztec empire weakened on a massive scale. (Adams, 1995, p. 516).
Use of Animals in the battlefield
Animals played one of the most significant roles for Spanish conquest against the American natives. The introduction of horses and other domesticated pack animals such as dogs propelled their movement in ways unknown to the New World. The horses gave the conquistadors ability to attack from a higher position and more swiftly. Besides, the Spanish horsemen had weapons such as laces and swords. The laces were made of long wooden spears with steel and iron points on the ends making it easier for the Spaniard's to kill vast masses of Latin Americans foot soldiers (Haring, 1952, p. 235; Prescott and Kirk, 1901, p. 20).
The Spaniards were also highly skilled in breeding dogs for hunting, protection and war. The Spanish conquistadors used dogs in the battles field and it turned out to be an effective psychological weapon against the natives, who had never seen domesticated dogs in their lifetime (Derr, 2005, p. 152). The Spaniard's dogs were well trained and feared because of their ferocity and strengths. The strongest breeds of broad mouth dogs were explicitly trained for war and used against barely clothed native soldiers. According to Stannard (1993) the dogs were armoured and trained to kill and paunch (p. 87).
Development of Strategies and tactics
The Spanish conquistadors developed many strategies and tactics to defeat the native empires despite their numerical inferiority. Indeed, the formation of alliances with neighbouring native tribes was essential for outnumbering the Aztec Empire. The alliances formed resulted in increased manpower and strength in numbers for the conquistadors. The two major tribes that Cortez made allies with were the Cempoala and Tlaxcala. These tribes hated the Aztec empire, due to demands for taxes, tributes and human sacrifices. The allied American natives trained and fought alongside conquistador's soldiers. They provided Cortez soldiers with shelter, refuge and food (Mann, 2005, pp. 320-337).
The conquistadors played psychological warfare, unknowingly. For example, Montezuma was afraid of Cortes, thinking he was a god after relating him to an Aztec prophecy. The people of the new world believed the horses were demonic immortal beings. Upon seeing the firearms for the first time, they thought they had mystical properties. The guns and cannons produced noise and fire that struck fear into the Aztecs (Thomas, 2013, p. 479).
Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru at a time when civil war was in progress. During this time, the Incan empire was stronger than the Aztec empire. The implication of the civil war in Peru meant that only fewer tribes would be recruited. Francisco Pizarro maximized on the split in leadership among the tribes of native America to conquer the Incan empire (Maltby, 2008, pp. 46-59).
In conclusion, the success of conquistadors in conquering Latin America did not solely depend on armour and weapons, but there were other critical deciding factors. They employed, diseases, tactics and many strategies to conquer empires such as Aztecs and Inca. Even though native soldiers were strong, fierce and outnumbered the conquistadors, they certainly lacked experience on the battlefield. One of their primary disadvantage is that they lacked technology to defend themselves reasonably. The Spanish conquistadors used this to their advantage in the battlefield, making their invasion in the native's location much accessible and their influence was felt in ways unimaginable
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