How Battles Were Won (revised)
© 2001 Donald J. Mabry
1. The Amerind military’s disciplinary
structure was inferior to that of the Spanish.
2. This was partly related to the Aztec and other
Amerind social structure which was very hierarchical. When the leader was
killed, the others tended to give up.
3. The Aztecs and other Amerinds were superstitious and believed in bad portents or omens. The
Spanish used this factor.
4. The Amerinds did not have Spanish individualism.
The Amerind (Indians) were not as egotistical as the Spanish, who were most
reluctant to give up the ghost.
5. The Spanish had physical advantages such as war dogs, horses, firearms, steel
swords, and armor. Being charged by a horse or a mastiff was frightening. Steel
cut efficiently and quickly.
6. The Spanish had better war tactics and
technology. They knew how to win battles, in Europe and America.
7. The Spanish had psychological advantages. If the Amerinds
had realized how little difference Spanish arms meant, they would
have done better. The Spanish engaged in psychological warfare and, also, never
vastly outnumbered. The invaders numbered in the millions, for millions and
millions of microbes carrying disease to which the Amerinds had no
immunity. These invaders (microbes)
attacked Amerind populations and weakened and killed them. Disease was
It is difficult to know how many people the Spanish killed. They exaggerated or
boasted because they were trying to impress the Crown so they would be rewarded more or because they wanted to assert how
manly they were or both. Bartolomé de las Casas' figures on the numbers
killed were polemics; he was not trying to be objective. How many were killed
in battle? Not many. Most of them gave up.
of the records of the Conquest period are misleading. The conquistadores did not think much of the Amerinds; their interest was in not
believing good things about them. They had no reason, therefore, to pay much
attention to casualties. They were too busy conquering and, after all, from
their viewpoint, their opponents were just heathens who stood in the way of
Spaniards. Many of the casualty records exist in letters written back to
officials and others in Spain. The conquistadores were
trying to make the case that they had suffered so much but had won against
formidable odds and, therefore, they should be amply rewarded by the Crown! For example, Bernal Díaz, in his True History of the Conquest of New Spain,
wrote of how many Amerinds were killed but his figures do not bear close
scrutiny. He was very old when he wrote the book and sought to convince his
readers that the conquest of Mexico was very dangerous and that the conquistadores deserved great
rewards. Further, he was defending Cortez. In short, he was biased. An
Aztec view of the Conquest can be found in The
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, edited by
Miguel Leon-Portilla. While there is no doubt that the conquistadores
faced mortal danger in fighting Amerinds, they claimed too much. In fact, they
did not conquer the New World. Microbes did.
© 2001 Donald J. Mabry
You can read about other topics in colonial Latin American history by buying and reading
Colonial Latin America by Don Mabry.
Click on the book cover or the title to go to Llumina Press.