The Conquest of America Characteristics Stages Causes consequences

Conquest of America

Exploration, occupation and settlement of the American continent by the main powers of Western Europe, beginning in the late 15th century. The conquest of America is called the processes of exploration, occupation and settlement of the American continent by the main powers of Western Europe .

It began in 1492 , after the arrival to the Caribbean islands of the expedition led by Christopher Columbus , a fact traditionally known as the discovery of America .

It was initially carried out by the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, which were later joined by France, England and the Netherlands .

Although the original peoples of America tried to resist the European conquest, they finally had to submit to the authority and laws of the invaders.

Despite this, there were societies that resisted the occupation of their territories throughout the colonial era. There were also some American peoples who remained alien to European domination, in areas of difficult access or far from the main colonization centers.

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Characteristics of the conquest of America

The main characteristics of the conquest of America were the following:

  • It was started by the Catholic kings (1479-1504), who financed and sponsored Columbus‘s four voyages to America (1492-1504). During the government of his successors, especially Carlos I (1516-1556) and Felipe II (1556-98), Spain managed to conquer most of America.
  • The main competitor of Spain in America was the kingdom of Portugal , which from 1500 began the occupation of the current territory of Brazil.
  • The delimitation of the territories under the influence of Spain and Portugal in America was established by the Treaty of Tordesillas , signed in 1494. This agreement was systematically violated by Portugal, which gradually occupied territories awarded to Spain.
  • During the second half of the 16th century and the 17th century , France, England and the Netherlands joined the conquest of America, competing with each other and trying to seize territories from Spain and Portugal.
  • The conquest of America was a very complex process, in which it is not possible to recognize successive stages, since exploration, occupation and settlement of the American territories were intertwined and often simultaneous processes.
  • It was a constant process , since, although it was concentrated in the 16th and 17th centuries, it lasted until the 18th century , due to the resistance of different indigenous societies and the incorporation of new States with claims on the territory.
  •  Its protagonists were very varied: adventurers and private conquerors who signed capitulations with the kings; religious dissidents; state officials; professional and religious military men who wanted to evangelize the indigenous people.
  • It was carried out from expeditions arriving directly from Europe or from urban enclaves founded by Europeans, following the models of European cities.
  • The conquest constituted a violent clash of civilizations , after which the world of the original peoples was destroyed . These were forced to submit to the domination of the Europeans, who imposed their language, religion and culture on them as well as different forms of forced labor and servitude.

Causes and consequences of the conquest of America


The main causes of the conquest of America were the following:

  • The need for the crowns of Western Europe to incorporate new sources of wealth to meet the increasing expenses of their centralized monarchies.
  • The scientific advances and technology of the time, as the compass, the astrolabe and the caravels, which allowed ocean sailing towards the American territories.
  • The demographic expansion of Europe , which demanded natural resources for its economy and food for its population.
  • The technological superiority of the European powers over the original peoples of America. Europeans had horses, armor, and firearms. The Americans, on the other hand, had basically lithic technology (spears, bows and arrows), they were unaware of gunpowder and lacked battle animals.
  • The establishment of alliances between the European conquerors and the leaders of peoples subjected to the power of the great American empires. These alliances were decisive in balancing the number of combatants.
  • The diseases that the Europeans brought to America, for which the indigenous organisms had no defenses. Smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases caused thousands of deaths and weakened American societies in the midst of the wars of conquest.

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The main consequences of the conquest of America were the following:

  • The loss of independence of the native peoples of America , who had to submit to the authority and laws of their respective metropolis.
  • The disappearance of a large number of American languages that were supplanted by those imposed by the colonial powers, especially Spanish, Portuguese, English and French.
  • The evangelization of the American peoples , sponsored by the Papacy and carried out by different religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians. In this way, Christianity spread in America, replacing or superimposing local religious beliefs.
  • The importation of African slaves to supplant the indigenous labor force, which was drastically diminished by the demographic catastrophe due to the wars of conquest, the diseases spread by the Europeans and the ill-treatment derived from economic exploitation.
  • The spread of miscegenation , as a result of unions between Europeans and indigenous people, encouraged by the lack of white women at the beginning of the conquest.
  • The introduction of a large number of plant species (wheat, barley, rye, sugar cane, etc.) and animals (cow, sheep, horse, etc.) from the European Mediterranean world. The uncontrolled extension of these species produced a substantial change in the agrarian landscape of the American continent.
  • The extraction of gold and silver and the incorporation of American products such as potatoes, cocoa and corn to world trade , had a great impact on the European economy, which during the 16th century experienced great growth and consolidated its transition to capitalism.

Stages of the conquest of America

Four stages can be distinguished during the process of the conquest of Americadiscovery, conquest, colonization and evangelization .


The discovery occurred on October 12, 1492, from the travels of Christopher Columbus, who had the financial support of the Catholic kings of Spain (Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel of Castile).

Through four trips, Spain toured different islands in the Caribbean, South America and Central America, and claimed for itself all the territories that it was exploring.


The conquest comprises the period in which the Europeans invaded the American lands and used force to conquer them, if they encountered indigenous resistance.

Despite strong resistance from some local civilizations, such as the Aztec and Inca , during this stage the Europeans won and began to exploit the natural resources of the American regions.


Colonization consists of the cultural imposition of the European language, customs and lifestyles, as well as the incorporation and integration of science, education and medicine in the American territories.

During the colonization stage the Catholic religion was imposed on the natives and, furthermore, during this process the American population was drastically diminished by diseases brought from Europe and by invasion battles.

On the other hand, the conquering Europeans had superiority in weapons and technologies that helped them to completely conquer the American territory.


The evangelization process consisted of substituting the religions of America for Catholicism, through religious missions throughout the entire continent.

In this way, fidelity to the conquering metropolises was imposed on the natives, who had to obey and learn about the new culture, and the European powers achieved a peaceful control over the American populations.

Protagonists of the conquest of America

The main protagonists of the Spanish conquest of America were the following:

  • Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) : Genoese navigator, leader of the expedition sponsored by Castile that reached America in 1492. He held the positions of viceroy and governor general of the West Indies.
  • Diego de Almagro (1475-1538) : advance and Spanish conqueror. He participated in the conquest of Peru and was the first European to explore the current territories of Chile and Bolivia.
  • Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541) : Spanish conqueror who led the expedition that defeated the Inca Empire and began the occupation of Peru. He was the founder of the city of Lima.
  • Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) : Spanish conqueror who commanded the expedition that destroyed the Aztec Empire and began the conquest of Mexico.
  • Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1490-1559) : Spanish advance and conqueror who explored the coasts of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, California, Paraguay and southern Brazil. He was the first European to reach the Iguazu Falls.

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