The Spanish Empire was a highly influential empire that lasted from 1492-1976, although it is arguable that its greatest extent was from 1500 to 1800. During this period, the empire received a great influx of wealth and resources, as a result of obtaining new colonies in the Americas. This led to them colonizing even more, and with this, some of their ideals, such as Catholic Christianity spread rapidly throughout their colonies, and was even driving force in politics. The natives that lived on these colonies were also poorly treated. The spread of Christianity, the introduction of new crops and trade, as well as poor treatment of the natives were all parts of the influence of the Spanish on others.
The Spanish colonies were economically important to the empire, as now the Spanish had pieces of land that only served to supply resources and wealth to the mother country. The Spanish were firm believers in mercantilism, or the belief that colonies solely existed to benefit the mother country. The Spanish quickly began to reap the benefits of colonizing land. Many new crops were brought from the Americas back to Europe. These new resources, such as maize and cotton, were highly sought after and the Spanish could trade these to other Europeans. (Post) In exchange, the Spanish brought over new goods to their colonies, such as livestock and fruit (such as bananas and peaches). (Post) The new crops that the Spanish gained from their colonies were very important to them and gave them a more open world view, and they could now see that different places from around the world could offer new resources. European life spans were increased, as they now had a more balanced diet, and the same could be said for the native people. This exchange of goods was known as the Columbian Exchange. This occurred during colonization, where the colonies and the mother countries could receive and trade goods with each other. The natives were amazed by the new crops that were being brought over from Europe, as they had never seen such different and unique crops. However, the Spanish also brought over diseases, such as smallpox, influenza, and whooping cough. (Post) These diseases took a large toll on the population of the natives, as they had not built up an immune system strong enough to fight them off . While it was not the intention of the Spanish to kill the natives, many were killed as a result of new foreign diseases emerging in their land. Aztec doctors and medical figures were baffled by some of these illnesses, and their normal remedies were not working. This detriment to their population was not the only effect that the Spanish had on their colonies, however, as religion was another area in which the Spanish greatly impacted others.
The Spanish Empire was a predominantly Christian empire, and they spread Christianity (particularly the Roman Catholic denomination) to their colonies, as well as other parts of Europe. In their colonies, for instance, there was constant active missionary work, with their goal being to convert as many natives as they could to Christianity. Since religion was such an important part of everyday life for them, they believed it was their calling to spread Christianity to all people and places in the world, and spread their message to everyone (Matthew 28: 19-20). When the conquistadors arrived, their first goal was to convert the leaders of the Aztec and Inca to Christianity (which would ease tensions between them). They also converted many of the natives’ temples and places of worship into churches, often destroying relics and holy objects, and replacing them with Christian holy objects and symbols. (World) This Christianization was not a new idea, as it is common for rulers of a land to promote their own religion (such as the Parthenon originally being a temple to Athena, then a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and then a mosque.) The desire to convert the world to Christianity was the driving force to begin conquering, and Catholicism was a very important part of life. Other than Christianization, Syncretism (or the blending of elements of different religions to form a new one ) also occurred during this time period, with elements of both Christianity and Aztec religion being melded. This made conversion to the faith more ideal, and Christianity spread rapidly throughout the empire. For instance, when trying to tell the Aztecs that Jesus Christ was the son of God, they eventually convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God and the Sun God at the same time (Syncretism: Aztec). This syncretism helped to smooth out the conversion process, and allowed Christianity to have a stronger grasp on the natives living in the Americas. The Christianization of the natives, as well as syncretization had major impacts on the Americas. Whether the natives genuinely or artificially converted to Christianity is unknown. It appeared that the Spanish were able to successfully convert the natives to Christianity. Today, as a result, South America is predominantly Roman Catholic. These social impacts were not the only ones that the Spanish had on the natives.
The Spanish also had a grasp on the natives in many negative ways, most notably their inhumane treatment and persecution of the natives. When the Spanish first arrived, they saw the potential of the land, and the wealth and riches it may have. They quickly came into contact with the natives and empires in the Americas (such as the Aztec and the Inca). Even though the Spanish originally planned on treating the natives fairly (with passing laws such as the Laws of Burgos in 1512), they soon, after realizing the amount of wealth that could be made, began to establish colonies in many places, such as Santiago, Lima, and Buenos Aires, starting with the Potos mine in 1546. (Encyclopedia) This helped the Spanish economy greatly, and the influx of wealth they received made many hungry for money. While some would mine for riches or find natural resources, others resorted to destroying villages and towns. Alonso de Hojeda, seeking loot and wealth, went into native towns, and looted and ransacked the towns of their wealth, and on some occasions, went into villages to simply to massacre the people, and nothing else. (Encyclopedia) Conflicts between the natives and colonists over land were frequent, and the colonists usually had the upper hand, due to the more advanced weaponry the Spanish had. The brutality by the Spanish did not stop there, however. In these mines and plantations, natives were forced to work, and often were overworked, and many died due to this. People had their property stripped, and were forced to work on their own land. Everyone had some sort of job, whether it was work down in the mines, or hard labor picking crops. Life on these plantations was a mixed bag. On these plantations, the only person who would live on the land with the natives was a priest. This priest would educate them on Christianity, and lead them in reading of the Bible, baptisms, and reading the Divine Liturgy. (Khan) They would also defend the natives from outside invaders and harm. Many priests were protectors and were beloved by the natives for their compassion and respect, and were seen as role models. (Khan) A large number of priests, however, did not fulfill this. Many mistreated the natives, stole from them, and often slept with multitudes of native women, and did things that were not very “Christian”. (Khan) The native people were taken advantage of, and these examples illustrate this point.
The Spanish Empire was a very large and powerful empire, and it influenced many different groups of people throughout its history. While some of these led to syncretism of cultures, they also led to a resentment of being colonized. The spread of Roman Catholic Christianity, the introduction of new crops and ideas, and the persecution of the natives are just some of the influences that the Spanish had on their colonies. These influences shaped the people and land that the Spanish had colonized, and it eventually led to many different empires exploring the world. Without the Spanish finding new territory to rule, it would have taken many more years to colonize. While the Spanish colonization has both pros and cons, its influence on the world cannot be forgotten.
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