The Conquistadors Pursuit of God, Gold, and Glory. Steel, Savagery, Plague, and DOMESTICATED Animals: How Europeans Conquered the ancient civilizations of America and created a “New World.”. What we believe we know about history influences our interpretation of events.
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Steel, Savagery, Plague, and DOMESTICATED Animals: How Europeans Conquered the ancient civilizations of America and created a “New World.”
In 1619, none of the rules regarding slavery had been established. Indeed, most of the servants who came to Virginia signed four to seven year contracts. If they lived, they became freeholders. Based on the large population of free blacks in Virginia – on the Eastern Shore, and in Portsmouth and Norfolk by the 1700s – we may conclude that at least some of these individuals were liberated.Probably False…
Prospects of gold in Africa.
The desire to obtain goods at lower prices.
Improvements in art, mapping, navigation and shipbuilding.
Government encouragement by Henry “the Navigator” in Portugal.Reasons for European Exploration – Portugal and Spain
Before the accidental discovery of the Americas by Columbus in 1492, American civilizations had already been established at Cahokia (central North American mound builders) present-day Mexico (the Aztecs and Mayans) and Peru (the Incan Empire).
Not only were these peoples advanced in their technological expertise, but also, they were enormous population centers.Pre-Columbian America
It is believed that Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, was a city of over 250,000 – larger than Madrid, Paris, and London.
The improbability that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez and his men could control such a vast population has led to the mischaracterization of the event historically. Neither military might nor deference alone allowed Cortez to gain the advantage. In fact, pathogens very likely played the largest role in his victorious assault on the Aztec civilization.The Aztecs
It may be best to view the “discovery” of North America as an environmental and ecological event. Historian Alfred Crosby has likened it to the crashing together of continental land masses. It was as though Europe, Africa, and Asia literally crashed into the Americas. Indeed, plants, animals, parasites, and diseases may have done more to subdue the continent under Europeans control than any actions on the part of explorers.First Contact and Virgin Soil Epidemics
When European plants and animals were introduced to the New World, they established themselves as invader species and recreated the environment in the image of Europe. Domesticated animals in Europe - the horse, cow, pig, and sheep – had virtually no predators in the New World, and thrived. European vegetation was transplanted as well, often taking over ecosystems before European explorers had ever seen the territory. Most importantly, though, European diseases – smallpox, influenza, typhus, malaria, and bubonic plague, just to name a few – wreaked havoc upon Native American immune systems. Epidemics wipe out entire societies.The Columbian Exchange, by Alfred Crosby
Horses, cows, pigs, and sheep were critical to the success of European conquistadors in both the subjugation of foreign cultures and the establishment of colonial empires. Spanish explorers in the Caribbean often “seeded” islands with pigs and cattle – simply leaving the animals to root – so that when they returned there would be a supply of livestock. Since there were virtually no predatory animals in North America – or at least so few that they could not wipe out the invader species – the barnyard animals thrived. They also unwittingly spread two other European imports – the seeds of plant life and contagious diseases, which often spread from animals to humans. Other than dogs, chickens, and llamas, Native American communities had relatively few domestic animals.The Columbian Exchange and the role of Domesticated animals
The “exchange” which took place between the “Old World” and the “New World” was not a zero sum game, but it did have implications which effected the course of history. Among the foods which were acquired by Europeans were corn (maize), potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and manioc (cassava). These vegetables became important sources of caloric intake and nutrition for European populations – starvation foods. Many nations were able to improve their overall public health as a result, including Southeastern European nations and Ireland, where diminishing farmland had begun to cause major problems in terms of supporting a growing population in times of warfare and conflict.The Columbian Exchange and the role of vegetation
Native Americans had lived in isolation from European and Asian civilizations for thousands of years, and accordingly, had not been exposed to the types of diseases which European nations had cultivated across centuries. One of the major reasons for infectious mutations was the exchange of viruses and bacteria between humans and animals – a common occurrence where humans and animals live in close proximity. Humans drank the milk of livestock animals, and exchanged contagious viruses and bacteria with animals unwittingly. Europeans, who had domesticated dozens of animals, were more frequently exposed to these mutations, and therefore developed superior immune systems to their American cousins. Native Americans, meanwhile would be subjected to waves of virgin soil epidemics in the 16th and 17th Centuries, decimating the population.The Columbian Exchange and the role of disease
Dr. Alfred Crosby was the historian who first suggested that ecological determinism played a role in the “conquest” of Europe. His theories were dubbed “The Columbian Exchange,” and the popularity of his work has prompted greater discussion of the role of germs, seeds, and technology in the conquest of Europe. More recently, Dr. Jared Diamond’s work, Guns, Germs, and Steel has sought to explain the relatively easy conquest of Europe by Spanish, French, and English conquistadors by demonstrating the military superiority of fighting on horseback and the role that disease played in the conquest of empires.The Columbian Exchange by Dr. Alfred Crosby
Although Cortez brought with him less than three hundred men, his expedition was able to topple the government of an enormous empire in present day Mexico. This despite any formal military training or a particularly complicated strategy on his part. Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztec Empire, had a population estimated at 250,000. It was much larger than Madrid, London, or even Paris in the year 1500. So how was Cortez able to take over the city?Cortez and the conquest of the Aztecs
Guns – the harquebus, which by today’s standards barely even qualifies as a gun at all, was used by the Spanish effectively.
Steel – the Toledo swords and metal armor worn by the Spanish gave them a huge advantage over their rivals.
Horses – even more critical was the advantage given to the Spanish by their ability to fight from on horseback. Other domesticated animals provided food and labor for the Spaniards, as well.
Disease – Smallpox, influenza, plague, typhoid, and a host of other diseases were unknown in the Americas, and the virgin soil epidemics which ensued wiped out up to 90% of the population of the American continents. The chaos which coincided with Spanish invasions was largely a result of societies in collapse, as pandemic disease and military attack coincided.Spanish Conquistadors
The Incan Empire was probably more sophisticated than the Aztecs, and certainly vast enough in scope and in power to subdue the small, patchwork army led by Francisco Pizarro which attempted to subject them in the 1530s. Atahualpa, “the Inca” who was believed to be a direct descendent of God by his people was supremely confident in his over 80,000 soldier ability to defend his empire.Pizarro and the Conquest of the Incans
Jared Diamond, author of the book Guns, Germs, and Steel estimates that as many as twenty million Native Americans inhabited North and South American prior to the arrival of Columbus and the Spaniards.
Of those, close to ninety-five percent were wiped out by smallpox and other epidemic diseases. Other historians propose that the number could easily have been much higher – perhaps as a many as one hundred million.
Virgin soil epidemics left the survivors of these plagues in patchwork societies – where social structure, medical traditions, and cultural values were breaking down – or at the very least enduring enormous transformations.
European explorers, moving into these regions during the years after these pandemics had taken their devastating toll, often did not even recognize the scale of the devastation. They had no knowledge of these societies prior to their collapse, and could not have known the extent of their empires or their cultural presence prior to the onset of these devastating diseases.
What European imperialists did in pursuit of gold, out of a desire to spread Christianity, and in the name of their nations, was largely an accident of biology and geography.The number of indigenous people
Advantages of the Europeans – Literacy and Writing. Most Native American cultures did not have any recorded history. Historians worked in the oral tradition, and while there were sophisticated methods of preserving history via beads, illustrations, or storytelling, there was no written account.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzos4IddtIkGuns, Germs, and Steel – Part I
When Pizarro and his men met Atahualpa at Cajamarca, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered. Yet, he and his men won a convincing military victory. What factors allowed them to do so?
What cultural differences incensed the Spanish and caused them to resort to violent conflict instead of coexistence?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udtBpQpmcYkGuns, Germs, and Steel, Part II
The role of disease – pathogens cultivated in Europe and transmitted unknowingly by Europeans to cultures that were unprepared biologically to handle them – was decisive in determining the outcome of the First Encounters between cultures. Smallpox was especially virulent.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt5g-1DtVL0Guns, Germs, and Steel – part III
In his book, Germs, Seeds, and Animals: Studies in Ecological History, a follow-up to The Columbian Exchange, Alfred Crosby proposes that horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and other domesticated animals – along with the seeds they carried in their fur and the germs they cultivated – did more to conquer the Americas than all of the great conquistadors of Spain or the imperialist explorers of Europe combined. Is this argument valid, or do the actions of human being have a greater impact upon history than the accidents of ecology, biology, and geography which Crosby and Diamond have identified in their work?Dr. Alfred Crosby