Spanish conquistadors fought and explored their way through the Americas in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In their wake, they left destroyed empires and millions of lives lost. But beyond the pure number of people slain, what is most disturbing are the horrific ways conquistadors murdered the native population.
While the ways conquistadors killed people were no doubt brutal, many historians argue that some of the most extreme elements may have been exaggerated as part of an anti-Spanish smear campaign known as the Black Legend. Nonetheless, there is no doubt among historians that the Spanish conquistadors ruthlessly slaughtered millions of native people.
They Took The Lives Of Newborn Babies
The conquistadors' brutality wasn't limited to native soldiers, or even adults. According to contemporary reports by Spanish priest Fray Bartolome de Las Casas:
They snatcht young Babes from the Mothers Breasts, and then dasht out the brains of those innocents against the Rocks; others they cast into Rivers scoffing and jeering them, and call'd upon their Bodies when falling with derision, the true testimony of their Cruelty, to come to them, and inhumanely exposing others to their Merciless Swords, together with the Mothers that gave them Life.
They Threw Native People Into Pits And Left Them To Perish
The Spanish conquistadors would dig large pits and fill them with sharp stakes.
Then "pregnant and confined women, children, old men, as many as they could capture," were thrown into the pits, and left there - often impaled on the stakes - until the pits were filled and everyone had perished.
They Used Native People To Test The Strength Of Their Blades
Captured natives were sometimes butchered by conquistadors aiming to test the quality of their swords as well as their own strength.
The conquistadors would even "place bets on the slicing off of heads or the cutting of bodies in half with one blow..."
They Spread Devastating Diseases
The most effective tool of the conquistadors was inadvertent: disease. Like previous European explorers before them, when the conquistadors landed in the Americas, they unknowingly spread smallpox.
Since these diseases were new to the Aztec world, the epidemic spread quickly - eventually wiping out 90% of the indigenous population. According to Michael Oldstone in his book Virus, Plagues, and History:
As [smallpox] raged in the city, not only did the susceptible Aztec forces die in droves, but the psychological aspect of seeing Spaniards, who fought under a Christian god, resist this new malady while warriors of the Aztec gods were dying of infection demoralized the natives even further.