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Epidemics And The Spanish Conquest Of Mexico

2241 words - 9 pages

The Aztec and Mesoamerican indigenous civilizations were some of the most well developed pre-industrial civilizations with populations averaging approximately twenty million prior to Spanish conquest (Marr and Kiracoffe 2000). These same civilizations were also witness to one of the worst demographic tragedies in human history seeing population losses of almost ninety percent, down to one million inhabitants a century after conquest (Marr and Kiracoffe). These demographic tragedies were in the form of epidemics of both New and Old World origin and as a result of and major contributing factors to the success of the Spanish Conquest of the region. As the Spaniards infiltrated the region, introducing new cultural, political and socioeconomic practices, the indigenous peoples found themselves subordinated and severely weakened by plagues caused by the growing Spanish population and the unknown climatic factors of the period and unable to resist to Spanish dominance. The epidemics that ravaged the Mexican indigenous populations in the sixteenth century ensured the success of the Spanish Conquest forever altering the face of Mexican history, demography, and culture.
Historically, the epidemics that decimated the indigenous population permanently altered the trajectory of Mexican society. Pre-Conquest Mexican society was well developed, arguably more so than Spanish society:
Mexico was clean: wastes were hauled away by barge and composted for fertilizer; a thousand men swept and washed the streets each day…Most of Mexico’s streets were canals, laid out on a grid still followed by the modern city plan. Three great causeways with drawbridges ran north, west and south to the mainland, an aqueduct brought drinking water from the mountain springs (Wright 1992:21)
Given their technological advancement and development one has to wonder what modern day Mexico would look like had the Spaniards not succeeded in their conquest. There are multiple accounts citing the fear both the Aztecs and the Spaniards had toward the other. In fact, the Aztecs were regarded as being the most evenly matched opponents the Spaniards faced in their conquests: “Of all the European and American nations that clashed in the sixteenth century, the Aztecs and Spaniards had the most in common. Both were warlike, mercantile people, avaricious and quick to resort to force” (Wright 1992:31). The Aztecs even managed to defeat the Spaniards on what is now considered La Noche Triste, when three quarters of the twelve hundred Europeans in Mexico City died; this is considered the greatest indigenous victory in all the conquest wars to this day (Wright 1992:43). The one factor that the Aztecs did not have to their advantage was biology, specifically disease, and this would prove to be their downfall. Aztecs were vulnerable to the diseases the Spaniards brought over from the Old World as well as being particularly susceptible to a new strain of disease neither the Spaniards nor the Aztecs had...

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