The Conquests of the Spanish in the Americas

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The key question that the author addresses is, “how could empires as powerful as those of the Aztec or the Incas be destroyed so rapidly by a few hundred Spaniards?”

Important Information in the Text

The author’s conclusion is that a few hundred Spaniards and adventurers did not conquer these empires all by themselves. According to the author they were favored by the political and social structure at the time. The Royal patronage politics and the works of historians amplified the actions of few men to make it look like they had done all the work. Politically, after a conquest, the conquerors sent probanzas (proof of merit) to the king or other high ranking officials to petition for rewards. In these probanzas, the conquerors glorified their deeds and downplayed the contribution of others to gain individual recognition and achievement. With time probanzas evolved into chronicles which were used by historians to heap more praise for the heroes of the conquest. For example, the book, Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas, largely relied on the probanzas of conquerors as the source of information. In this book, Thomas testifies to the Spaniard's civilizational superiority and glorifies Cortes and a few other exceptional men to have made the conquest possible.

Main Conclusions

The main conclusions in the article include (1) that the decisions and actions of prominent conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro were not original – that most of their actions and decision-making aspects were part of the patterns that were already in use in Native American and western Europe warfare, and (2) that collective achievement in the conquests was less appealing to both the participants and the readers – people were looking for a protagonist (a hero or villain) in the conquests. The author follows an effective line of thinking in reaching these conclusions. According to him, there’s plenty of historical events that prove that the decision making and actions of the prominent conquistadors were not unique to them. For example, the author points out that decades before the major invasion of mainland America by the Spanish, Castilians as well as their neighbors had conquest practices and routines which had helped them to bequeath themselves a string of possessions in southern parts of Mediterranean, northern Africa, and in the Caribbean.

Author’s Main Assumptions

The main assumption of the author’s thinking is that the prominent conquistadors such as Columbus, Cortes, and Pizarro were just beneficiaries of serendipity – that, they lived in a time when things just happened to them. For instance, the author portrays the discovery of America by Columbus as purely accidental citing that the discovery would have been made in less than a decade by other sailors – that it was just a matter of time. He adds that both Cortes and Pizarro had no original ideas by themselves by linking their actions and decision making to historical events of past Castilians. The author assumes that these prominent conquistadors were not sagacious. A thinking that might be questioned because it took a sage character to effectively and successfully implement the seven Spanish conquest procedures. The conquest procedures were followed by many but none was more successful as the conquests of Peru and Aztec Empire by Pizarro and Cortes respectively.

The Text’s Main Point Of View

The main point of view as presented in this text is that the conquests that had dominated the Spanish history were all down to a handful of exceptional men. The author is not in agreement with this point of view but he shows some sensitivity to the alternative views of other authors, historians and scholars by pointing out that people wanted to link major events with a protagonist. Historians, scholars, and authors could only remain relevant if they gave people what they were looking for – which was heroes and villains in these historical conquests.


The author of this text was more critical of the historical events that shaped the actions and decision making of the prominent conquistadors. The author fails to consider the intellectual leadership and tactical capabilities of prominent conquistadors such as Cortes and therefore understates the role that they played in the Spanish historical conquests.

Works Cited

Restall, M. Seven myths of the Spanish conquest. 2017.

November 13, 2023


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