Analyse the main features of Spanish colonial empire by the European powers.
The first major impetus towards colonization in Africa, Asia, and America came from the Iberian Peninsula, which had promoted the most significant voyages of discovery in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Since the fall of Rome, there has been no empire based in Europe which extends outside the continent. This situation changes abruptly in the 16th century, when Spain and Portugal become the pioneers in a new era of colonization. The Spanish colonial empire centred in the western hemisphere after the discovery of America by Columbus. The Spanish colonial empire was spread in large territories of central and South America and the West Indies, described as the ‘New World’. The Spanish population in this region included a large number of officials, lawyers, landowners, mine owners, clergy, besides merchants and shopkeepers. It was essentially an urban empire confined to the territories which were known for mines and metals. Spain showed Europe how to establish a great territorial empire in the New World, making full use of its natural advantages. The Spanish colonies in Mexico and Peru were the first ‘mixed’ colonies in which a substantial minority of white settlers created societies as similar to that of Old Spain as alien conditions allowed, controlling, and absorbing the indigenous population. Spain established colonies of ‘occupation’, in which there were few settlers and the indigenous people were loosely supervised on a ‘frontier’ system. The special feature of Spanish colonies was that the more developed of them became ‘mixed’ societies, dominated by a minority of creoles (local born whites) and mestizos (half –castes), but based on native working population.

The settlements were widely dispersed and had an underdeveloped urban network. It revealed peculiar concentration and dispersal of population. These

centres were controlled by administrative authority with strings in Spain. The Spanish empire was initiated by private efforts and subsequently the Crown of Spain established its control. Immigrants from varied backgrounds went to the Spanish colonies in the New World. Individuals and families immigrated to the New World with diverse motives such as winning a fortune for higher status or to escape the Spanish laws, while several missionaries came to spread Christianity in order to increase the number of its followers. But a majority of them desired gold and silver or wanted to establish their own political power. Of these, the most well known group to contribute to the Spanish empire building was the conquistadors. The period 1520-50 was called the Age of the Conquistador – the professional conqueror. During this period, the soldiers who fought the Mors, occupied most of the settled areas of America and established the first great European land empire overseas. Spanish conquistadors, who were primarily poor nobles from the impoverished west and south of Spain, were able to conquer the huge empires of the New World with the help of superior military technology, disease, and military tactics including surprise attacks and powerful alliances with local tribes. Spain ruled a vast empire based on the labor and exploitation of the Indian population. Conquistadors descended on America with hopes of bringing Catholicism to new lands while extracting great riches. Religion and selfinterest combined to create a potent mixture that drew thousands of Spaniards across the ocean with hopes of finding riches and winning souls for God. Along with the Spaniards came diseases to which the New World natives had no immunities. During the Spanish colonial period, the economy was based on exploitation, both of land and of Indian labor. The first Spanish settlers organized the encomienda system by which Spaniards were given title to American land and ownership of the villages on that land. In return for promises to convert the Indians to Christianity, the Spanish were allowed to use the land and labor any way they saw fit. The Spanish believed that their God-given duty was to convert the Indians, and that the European notion of eternal salvation was a reward great enough to justify any possible mistreatment in this life. At the beginning of the 18th century, the distribution of Spanish settlements accurately reflected both Spanish colonizing objectives and the facts of the American environment. The Spanish did not initially go to America as missionaries or explorers, but for private profit and national wealth. The

institutions and concepts of Spanish colonial government closely resemble those of Old Spain. The other aspect of the Spanish colonial economy was the exploitation of land. Gold had always been a draw for conquistadors and later Spanish settlers; the gold and jewels stolen from the Aztecs were triumphantly displayed throughout Spain to drum up interest and support for the colonization venture. At first, gold was the primary mineral mined in the New World, and in various parts of the continent conquered Indians were given quotas of gold that they had to bring to the Spaniards as rent. Failure to adhere to these strictures often meant terrible punishment at the hands of the Spanish.

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