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7 - The Indian and the Spanish Conquest


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Nathan Wachtel
Élicole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
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America, isolated from the rest of the world for thousands of years, had a distinctive history, free of external influences. It was, therefore, a complex interplay of internal factors which had by the beginning of the sixteenth century bestowed upon the various indigenous societies many different forms: highly structured states, more or less stable chiefdoms, nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes and groups. And it was this hitherto completely self-contained world which suddenly experienced a brutal and unprecedented shock: the invasion of white men from Europe, the clash with a profoundly different world.

The reaction of the native Americans to the Spanish invasion varied considerably: from offers of alliance to more or less forced collaboration, from passive resistance to unremitting hostility. Everywhere, however, the arrival of these unknown beings caused the same amazement, no less intense than that experienced by the conquistadores themselves: both sides were discovering a new race of man whose existence they had not even suspected. This chapter examines the effects of the Spanish invasion on the Aztec and Inca empires during the first stage of colonial rule (to the 1570s) with particular emphasis on the case of the Andes; it also looks briefly at the ‘peripheral’ areas, north of the central Mexican plateau, south and south-east of the central Andes, in order to present the broadest possible picture of the ‘vision of the vanquished’.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1984

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