Many historians’ interpretations of Spanish New World imperialism traditionally identified “conquest” and “colonization” as two distinct processes, with “conquest” having been completed first. More recent ethnohistorical and archaeological investigations have shown that both processes worked together and, in many parts of the Americas, “conquest” in terms of military defeat was not a significant part of the Spanish strategy.
In terms of military engagements, conflicting cultural visions of “battle” were one significant factor that contributed to many initial Spanish victories. Because the Spaniards were newcomers, they were unfamiliar with the cultural norms of armed conflict that predominated in most parts of the Americas. Warfare had a strongly ritualized component, and the rules of engagement included such features as auspicious times to conduct battle, taking and enslaving of prisoners who would later be exchanged, and ceasing combat after a fixed period of time.
Both from ignorance of those norms and disregard for the power of the rulers they encountered, the Spanish did not adhere to those rules. For example, once they had obtained the ransom they demanded for the Inca Emperor Atahuallpa, rather than releasing him as promised, the Spanish executed him.
The phases of colonization included negotiations and diplomacy, which was largely carried out by intermediaries who managed to learn both languages. These negotiations were both time-consuming and unreliable because of language barriers. Both outright deception and miscommunication resulted in numerous agreements being broken, often to the advantage of the foreigners.
Gender relations, reproduction, and reassignment of property through inheritance was another significant set of combined tactics. The Spanish learned that in many areas, women had rights to inherit property. Spanish men both married indigenous women and had non-marital arrangements, often in addition to having a Spanish wife back home. The children of elite Native women were often entitled to inherit property, which their fathers effectively controlled under Spanish law.
Rapidly increasing the population of part-European children substantially increased the ranks of those loyal to the Crown and to the Catholic church.