European Colonization of North America

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What was the impact of Hernan Cortes on the European colonization of North America?

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Hernán Cortés had a major impact on Europe by showing Europeans how to conquer indigenous tribes with relatively few men and amass great riches by stealing their gold and silver. He set an example that many of his fellow Europeans were unfortunately keen to follow.

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Hernan Cortes was the Spanish conqueror of the Aztec Empire in Mexico. Remarkably, Cortes did this with only a handful of Europeans, but he was able to use tribes who had been subjugated by the Aztecs to fight with him. Cortes's men brought diseases such as smallpox to the Americas; these wiped out millions. Cortes's men also brought horses. While the Spanish made it illegal for Native Americans to have horses, some of the horses escaped and were mastered by Native Americans in the West. Cortes also enslaved many Native Americans and destroyed their art. Thousands of golden artifacts from Aztec culture were melted down and shipped back to Spain. Cortes built Mexico City on the ruins of the Aztec capital and also requested Catholic friars from Spain to become missionaries in Mexico.

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“I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart which can be cured only with gold.”-Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes was the Spanish conquistador that destroyed the empire of the Aztecs and claimed Mexico for the Spanish crown. He became governor of the territory at the behest of King Charles I. His greatest impact in history is that he established a firm Spanish presence in the New World after conquering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

The impact that he had on the native populations was very negative. He introduced smallpox to Mexico with devastating consequences. When Cortes arrived in Mexico, around 30 million Aztecs lived there. In a short fifty years, only 3 million people lived in the region that the Aztecs occupied. Disease and warfare had destroyed a very strong Mesoamerican civilization.

Cortes also introduced the African slave trade to Mexico. Over 200,000 slaves were brought to Mexico before it was abolished in 1829.

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What impact did Hernán Cortés have in Europe?

Hernán Cortés' biggest impact was obviously in the Americas, where he effectively wiped out the ancient Aztec Empire. In the process of conquering the Aztecs, Cortés slaughtered, enslaved, and subjected them. What's more, he brought European diseases with him that killed many indigenous people, as they had no natural immunity to them.

In addition, Cortés stole vast quantities of gold and silver from the Aztecs, which brought him and the Spanish Crown vast riches. It was this particular aspect of Spanish exploration of the Americas that caught the attention of Europeans.

For generations, many Europeans had believed in the myth of El Dorado, the city of gold. Now that Cortés was bringing home vast quantities of gold from Mexico, it seemed that El Dorado was no longer a myth but a reality.

Europeans had watched with keen interest as Cortés established a Spanish Empire in Mexico with relatively few men—the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by the Aztecs—and brought untold riches to his native land. Inspired by his example, they thought they could do the same.

In his various endeavors, Cortés provided added impetus to the Age of Exploration, encouraging Europeans to set out into the world in search of conquest and the enormous wealth it could potentially bring.

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