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By Sharon Fabian

Conquistadors -- Conquerors -- Soldiers from Spain, one of the world superpowers of the 1500s, who explored, conquered, and settled in the New World. They came looking for gold, silver, land, and glory. Their equipment included cannons aboard their ships, iron weapons including crossbows, swords, and spears, and iron armor.

Aztecs and Incas -- Native Americans who had developed and maintained civilizations in America for hundreds of years. At the time of the conquistadors' invasion, the Aztec and Inca armies had been weakened by civil wars. Their equipment included bronze and copper shields, stone knives, and cloth armor.

Smallpox and measles -- Deadly diseases unknown in America before the arrival of the Europeans. Smallpox and measles arrived with the invaders, and may have done more to determine who would rule America than all of the weapons combined.

One historian who wrote about the Spanish explorers in the New World used these words to describe the conquistadors; bravery, cruelty, endurance, greed, and suffering. Could all of these words really describe the same group of people? Read about two of the Spanish conquistadors and decide for yourself.

Hernan Cortes had been Chief Magistrate of Santiago, Cuba, but in 1518 he was appointed "captain-general" of an expedition to search for gold and other riches in Mexico. To do that, he set out to fight the Aztec civilization that was led by Moctezuma (also spelled "Montezuma"). Cortes arrived with blasts of cannon fire from his ships. This must have frightened Moctezuma and his people, who had never used cannons, but they eventually welcomed Cortes and the Spanish troops. Cortes used this situation to get into a position where he was able to massacre thousands of Aztecs and take Moctezuma prisoner. At the same time, smallpox and measles killed and weakened many more Aztecs. By 1521, the Aztec civilization had been conquered.

Francisco Pizarro set out in 1523 to explore and conquer what is now Peru, along the Pacific Coast of South America. He too was searching for gold and other treasure. His journey took him over snow-covered mountains and through scorching deserts as he fought to take over the land of the Inca people. Pizarro captured the last Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, and had him killed by strangulation, but the Incas did not give up. Other Inca leaders led the fight to get their empire back until they were finally defeated in 1572.

Why were the Spanish explorers able to destroy the Incas and Aztecs? Here are some possible reasons. The Native American's armies had already been weakened by civil wars. Their armies were spread too thin, and the wars were getting too expensive. Also, their weapons were no match for the iron weapons of the Spanish.

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Finally, smallpox and measles wiped out thousands of the Incas and Aztecs and weakened their armies even more. The Aztec and Inca civilizations became so weakened that the Spanish conquistadors were able to take over. The same thing has happened over and over again throughout history in all parts of the world -- one civilization conquers another. What would you call these explorers of America? Some people call them heroes; some people call them criminals. The Spanish explorers of the New World in the 1500s were called conquistadors.

1. The _____ had iron weapons and 2. The Aztecs and Incas had _____.

armor. Iron armor Incas Cloth armor English Aluminum armor Spanish No armor Aztecs 3. _____ defeated the Aztecs. 4. _____ defeated the Incas. Moctezuma Atahuallpa Cortes Pizarro Pizarro Cortes Atahuallpa Moctezuma 5. _____ led the Incas. 6. _____ led the Aztecs. Moctezuma Moctezuma Cortes Atahuallpa Pizarro Cortes Atahuallpa Pizarro 7. The word conquistador means _____. 8. _____ contributed to the defeat of the Criminal Aztec and Inca civilizations. Explorer Iron weapons Hero Diseases Conqueror Civil wars All of the above

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Conquistadors - Answer Key

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Spanish Cloth armor Cortes Pizarro Atahuallpa Moctezuma Conqueror All of the above