Native Population of Central Mexico, 1500-1620

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Cortes Conquers the Aztecs

  1. Native Population of
    Central Mexico, 1500-1620


    • 20


    c IS

    • 3

    2 0-

    1500 1540 1580 1620


    Source: The Population of Latin America. A History

    SKILLBUILDER: Interpreting Graphs

    1. Drawing Conclusions By what percentage did the native population decrease between 7519 and 1605?

    2. Making Inferences How did the sharp decline in the native population, due greatly to disease, affect the Spaniards' attempts to conquer the region?
    Soon after landing in Mexco, Cortes learned of the vast and wealthy Aztec Empire in the region's interior. After marching for weeks through mountain passes, Cortes and his force of roughly 600 men finally reached the magnificent Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (teh•r4Awctt.tee•TLAHN). Montezuma II, was convinced at first that Cortes was a god wearing armor. He agreed to give the Spanish explorer a share of the empire’s existing gold supply. The conquistador was not satisfied. Cortes admitted that he and his comrades had a "disease of the heart that only gold can cure."

In the late spring of 1520, some of Cortes's men killed many Aztec warriors and chiefs while they were celebrating a religious festival. In June of 1520, the Aztecs rebelled against the Spanish intruders and drove out Cortes's forces.

The Spaniards, however, struck back. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Cortes and his men conquered the Aztecs in 1521. Several factors played a key role in the stunning victory. First, the Spanish had the advantage of superior weaponry. Aztec arrows were no match for the Spaniards' muskets and cannons.

Second, Cortes was able to enlist the help of various native groups. With the aid of a native woman translator named Malinche, Cortes learned that some natives resented the Aztecs. They hated their harsh practices, including human sacrifice. Through Malinche, Cortes convinced these natives to fight on his side.

B. Art weaccer,
Finally, and most important, the natives could do little to

stop the invisible warrior that marched alongside the Spaniards—disease. Measles, mumps, smallpox, and typhus were just some of the diseases Europeans were to bring with them to the Americas. Native Americans had never been exposed to these diseases. Thus, they had developed no natural immunity to them. As a result, they died by the hundreds of thousands. By the time Cortes launched his counterattack, the Aztec population had been greatly reduced by small-

pox and measles. In time, European disease would truly devastate the natives of central Mexico, killing millions of them.

Spanish Conquests in Peru

In 1532, another conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, marched a small force into South America. He conquered the Incan Empire.

Pizarro Subdues the Inca Pizarro and his army of about 200 met the Incan ruler,
Atahualpa (AH•tuh•WAHL•puh), near the city of Cajamarca. Atahualpa, who com-
manded a force of about 30,000, brought several thousand mostly unarmed men for the meeting. The Spaniards waited in ambush, crushed the Incan force, and kidnapped Atahualpa.

Atahualpa offered to fill a room once with gold and twice with silver in exchange for his release. However, after receiving the ransom, the Spanish strangled the Incan king. Demoralized by their leader’s death, the remaining Incan force retreated from Cajamarca. Pizarro then marched on the Incan capital, Cuzco. He captured it without a struggle in 1533.

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