55 Curious Conquistador Facts: Learn About These Portuguese Explorers

Sakshi Thakur
Jan 25, 2023 By Sakshi Thakur
Originally Published on Feb 07, 2022
Edited by Rhea Nischal
Fact-checked by Pratiti Nath
Modern day Mexico came under the jurisdiction of the Spanish

A conquistador was a Spaniard who served as a soldier, explorer, and adventurer.

The Spanish Conquistadors conquered most of America, the Philippines, and other Asia-Pacific islands. Several of them were hidalgos, or low-ranking noblemen.

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, their conquests led Spain to gain power over these areas. Beginning with Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival in what is now the Bahamas, they established what is today known as Latin America.

A few conquistador facts are:

  • Hernán Cortés was the first and most successful conqueror.
  • Cortés, allied with native foes of the Aztec empire and captured the Aztec capital in 1520-1521.
  • Modern-day Mexico came under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire as 'New Spain'.
  • Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca territory and the Inca empire, settling close to the Portuguese fort.
  • Not all conquistadors were Spanish; some were Portuguese soldiers.
  • Pedro de Candia, was a Greek explorer and artillery officer who supported the Pizarro expedition.
  • Two instances of this are Ambrosius Ehinger, a German who mercilessly tortured his way across northern South America in quest of El Dorado in 1533. In fact, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade.
  • The Spanish conquistadors enjoyed several military benefits over the inhabitants of the New World.
  • The Spanish used to have steel weapons and armor, making them nearly unstoppable.
  • Native arms could not penetrate Spanish armor, and native armor could not defend against steel swords.
  • Arquebuses, the smoothbore ancestors of rifles, were ineffective in combat since they were slow to load and could only kill or injure one adversary at a stretch, but the noise and smoke frightened local troops.
  • Cannons could knock out groups of opposing fighters at once, which the Indians had no idea about.
  • European crossbowmen could fire down devastating bolts on opposing troops who were unable to protect themselves against projectiles that could punch through steel.
  • The Spanish conquistadors discovered immense gold riches in Mexico, including large gold disks, masks, jewelry, and even gold dust and bars. In payment for his release, Spanish adventurer Francisco Pizarro requested that the Incan Emperor Atahualpa fill a vast chamber three times with gold and twice with silver. The emperor agreed, but the Spanish nonetheless executed him. Overall, Atahualpa's ransom was 13,000 lb (5896.7 kg) of gold and double that amount of silver. This does not include the enormous valuables looted later when the Inca capital city of Cuzco was sacked.
  • The ordinary troops in Pizarro's army fared well, with each receiving around 45 pounds of gold and double that much of silver out from the emperor's ransom. The men of conqueror Hernan Cortes' Spanish army in Mexico, on the other hand, did not fare as well.
  • After the Spanish King, Cortes and the other officers took their portion of the Spanish possessions and made different payoffs. The common troops were left with just 160 pesos of gold. Cortes' troops were convinced that he had hidden vast amounts of wealth from them.
  • On other European expeditions, men were lucky to return home safe, let alone with any gold.
  • Only four men endured the catastrophic Panfilo de Narvaez mission to Florida and the Mississippi River, which began with 400 men. Narváez was not one of the survivors.
  • When it came to conquering local cultures or collecting wealth from them, the conquistadors were brutal. The crimes they committed over the span of three centuries are just too many to recount here, but a few stick out.
  • Due to Spanish rapine and illnesses, the majority of the local inhabitants in the Caribbean were wiped off.
  • In Mexico, Hernan Cortes and Pedro de Alvarado carried out the Cholula and Temple Massacres, killing thousands of defenseless men, women, and children.
  • In Peru, Francisco Pizarro apprehended Emperor Atahualpa after an unjustified murder at Cajamarca. Death, sickness, and suffering accompanied the conquistadors everywhere they went in search of the native population.
  • Some may believe that the conquistadors, clad in superb armor and wielding steel swords, conquered the vast empires of Mexico and South America on their own.
  • The reality is that they had a lot of assistance. Cortes would not have gone very far if it hadn't been for Malinche. A slave native woman who served as his translator as well as being the mother of one of his kids.
  • The Mexica (Aztec) Empire was mostly made up of vassal kingdoms prepared to rebel against their despotic rulers. Cortes also formed a coalition with the free state of Tlaxcala, which supplied him with thousands of ferocious soldiers who despised the Mexica and their supporters.
  • Pizarro sought friends against the Inca among newly acquired tribes such as the Caari in Peru. These famous conquistadors would very definitely have failed if not for the thousands of local warriors who fought with them.
  • When news spread about the riches being shipped out of Mexico by Hernan Cortes, hordes of desperate, hungry would-be conquistadors rushed to the New World. These men organized themselves into expeditions that were specifically meant to make a profit. They were funded by wealthy investors.
  • The conquistadors themselves frequently gambled all they had on finding gold or people to subjugate. It should come as no surprise, then, that quarrels between groups of these highly armed robbers occur on a regular basis. The Battle of Cempoala in 1520 between Hernan Cortes and Panfilo de Narvaez, and the Conquistador Civil War in Peru in 1537, are two well-known instances.
  • Several of the conquistadors who discovered the New World were enthusiastic readers of popular romance novels as well as some of the more absurd aspects of historical popular culture. They even believed a lot of it, which influenced their view of New World reality.
  • It all started with Christopher Columbus, who thought he had discovered the Garden of Eden. Francisco de Orellana observed female soldiers on a grande river and called them after the popular Amazons. The Amazon River is still known by that name today.
  • Juan Ponce de Leon(the first European to arrive in America) is famed for his pursuit of the Fountain of Youth in Florida. The state of California was called after a mythical island in a renowned Spanish chivalry romance.
  • Between 1519 and 1540, Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro conquered and robbed the Aztec and Inca Empires, respectively, and thousands of men from Europe flocked to join the next expedition to strike it rich.
  • Dozens of expeditions started out, looking everywhere from North America's prairies to South America's jungles. The myth of a final opulent native kingdom known as El Dorado (The Golden One) persisted for so long that it wasn't until around 1800 that people gave up seeking it.
  • Conquistadors who toppled native civilizations are not revered in the places they conquered. In Mexico, there are no notable sculptures of Hernan Cortes. There are, however, magnificent monuments of Cuitláhuac and Cuauhtemoc, two Mexica Tlatoani (Aztec commanders) who opposed the Spanish on Reforma Avenue in Mexico City.
  • For many years, a monument of Francisco Pizarro stood in Lima's main square, but it was recently relocated to a tiny, out-of-the-way city park. Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado is laid to rest in a modest tomb in Antigua, Guatemala, yet his old nemesis, Tecun Uman, is immortalized on a banknote.

What is a conquistador?

The New World grabbed the interest of European adventurers from the moment Christopher Columbus discovered previously undiscovered territories in Europe in 1492.

  • Thousands of men arrived in the New World in search of riches, glory, and land. For two centuries, these warriors traveled the New World, conquering whatever local people they encountered in the service of King Ferdinand of Spain. They became known as the Spanish conquistadors.
  • 'Conquistador' is a Spanish term that means 'one who conquers.' Conquistadors were individuals who took up weapons in order to conquer, subdue, and convert local populations in the New World.
  • When Christopher Columbus found the New World in 1492, many Spaniards became conquistadors, dreaming of money, power, and adventure. Conquistadors, which means 'conquerors' in Spanish, are renowned for their cruelty toward indigenous people when invading whatever community they stumble across in the honor of the King of Spain.
  • Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Aztec and Inca empires, are two of the most well-known fighters of American colonialism.
  • Conquistadors, or conquistadores, were Spanish and Portuguese Empire invaders, knights, warriors, and explorers. Conquistadors went beyond Europe to the Americas, Oceania, West Africa, and Asia during the Age of Discovery. Conquering and exploiting the land and developing trade routes across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, they spread colonialism to most of the world for Spain and Portugal.
  • Francisco Pizarro, Juan Pizarro, Hernando Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Juan Ponce de Leon, Panfilo de Narvaez, Lope de Aguirre, and Francisco de Orellana are among the famous conquistadors recognized in history.

Origin Of Conquistadors

Conquistadors were recruited from all throughout Europe.

  • A few were German, Greek, Flemish, and so on, but the majority were Spanish, notably from southern and southwestern Spain.
  • The conquistadors came from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from the impoverished to the lower nobility. The really well-to-do were rarely required to set out in pursuit of adventure.
  • Conquistadors needed money to buy their instruments of trade, such as guns, armor, and horses. Many of them were seasoned soldiers who had fought for Spain in previous conflicts, such as the reconquest of the Moors or the 'Italian Wars.'
  • Pedro de Alvarado was a classic case in point. He was the youngest son of a modest aristocratic family from the region of Extremadura in southwestern Spain. He couldn't hope for a fortune, but his parents had enough money to buy him fine weapons and armor. In 1510, he traveled to the New World, particularly to seek his fortune as a conqueror.
You must have heard of Christopher Columbus. Learn interesting conquistador facts here.

Advantages Of Conquistadors

Spanish soldiers were some of the best in the world at the time of the conquest.

  • Veterans from scores of European wars went to the New World, carrying with them their weapons, expertise, and tactics. Their fatal mix of avarice, religious zeal, brutality, and better equipment was enough for native forces to manage, especially when paired with terrible European illnesses like smallpox, which devastated native ranks.
  • The Conquistadors also left cultural legacies. They demolished temples, melted down gold pieces of art, and burnt indigenous texts and codices. Natives that were defeated were frequently enslaved via the encomienda system, which lasted long enough to leave a cultural impression on Mexico and Peru. The riches delivered back to Spain by the conquistadors ushered in a Golden Age of imperial expansion, art, architecture, and culture. An ancient city, now São Paulo, is also such a place. Under the Castilian crown, women could not go to America unless they were married and escorted by a husband.
  • Some conquistadors believed that they were assaulting the inhabitants of the New World in order to propagate Christianity and save them from damnation. Many of the Spanish conquistadors were devout Christians.
  • Some conquistadors, on the other hand, were significantly more interested in riches and treasure. The Aztec and Inca empires were wealthy in gold, silver, precious stones, and other items considered less valuable by the Spanish, such as beautiful clothing made of bird feathers.
  • Spanish conquistadors who took part in a strong run were allocated shares based on a variety of considerations. The ruler and expedition leader (such as Hernan Cortes) each earned 20% of the plunder. Following that, it was split among the males. Officers and riders, as well as crossbowmen, harquebusiers, and artillerymen, received a higher pay reduction than foot troops.
  • After the king, commanders, and other troops had their portion, there was frequently little left for the ordinary soldiers.
  • The gift of an encomienda was one incentive that might be used to buy off Spanish conquistadors.
  • An encomienda was territory granted to a conqueror with Indians already living on it.
  • The term 'encomienda' is derived from a Spanish verb that means 'to entrust.'
  • In principle, the conquistador or colonial official who received an encomienda was obligated to protect and educate the locals on his property.
  • In exchange, the indigenous peoples would work in mines, produce food or sell commodities, and so on. In practice, it amounted to little more than captivity.

Armor And Weapons Used By Conquistador

Armor and weaponry were critical for a conqueror.

  • Unless they couldn't afford it, footmen wore thick armor and swung swords made of superb Toledo steel.
  • Crossbowmen possessed their crossbows, which were complicated weapons that they had to keep in working condition.
  • The harquebus, a hefty, slow-loading rifle, was the most prevalent armament of the period.
  • Most expeditions included at least a few harquebusiers. In Mexico, most Spanish conquistadors soon abandoned their heavy armor in favor of the Mexicans' lighter, cushioned protection.
  • Horsemen fought with lances and swords. Larger campaigns may include artillery and cannons, along with shot and powder.

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Written by Sakshi Thakur

Bachelor of Science

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Sakshi ThakurBachelor of Science

Sakshi is a skilled content writer with extensive experience in the education industry. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for helping others, she has developed a reputation for excellence in academic content writing. She has worked with esteemed professionals such as Mr. Kapil Raj, a professor of History of Science at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, further enhancing her knowledge and expertise. Sakshi is well-versed in the latest developments in e-learning and has a deep understanding of how to engage students and make learning fun and accessible. In her spare time, she indulges in her creative passions, including painting, embroidery, and listening to soft music. She also enjoys exploring new cultures and traveling, which helps her broaden her perspectives and inspire her writing. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Science from Panjab University.

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Fact-checked by Pratiti Nath

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology, Masters of Science specializing in Biotechnology

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Pratiti NathBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology, Masters of Science specializing in Biotechnology

A Master's in Biotechnology from Presidency University and a Bachelor's in Microbiology from Calcutta University. Pratiti holds expertise in writing science and healthcare articles, and their inputs and feedback help writers create insightful content. They have interests in heritage, history, and climate change issues and have written articles for various websites across multiple subjects. Their experience also includes working with eco-friendly startups and climate-related NGOs.

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