Spanish Conquest of Guatemala

The Spanish conquest of Guatemala was a protracted conflict during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, in which Spanish colonisers gradually incorporated the territory that became the modern country of Guatemala into the colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain. Before the conquest, this territory contained a number of competing Mesoamerican kingdoms, the majority of which were Maya. Many conquistadors viewed the Maya as "infidels" who needed to be forcefully converted and pacified, disregarding the achievements of their civilization. The first contact between the Maya and European explorers came in the early 16th century when a Spanish ship sailing from Panama to Santo Domingo was wrecked on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in 1511. Several Spanish expeditions followed in 1517 and 1519, making landfall on various parts of the Yucatán coast. The Spanish conquest of the Maya was a prolonged affair; the Maya kingdoms resisted integration into the Spanish Empire with such tenacity that their defeat took almost two centuries.

Pedro de Alvarado arrived in Guatemala from the newly conquered Mexico in early 1524, commanding a mixed force of Spanish conquistadors and native allies, mostly from Tlaxcala and Cholula. Geographic features across Guatemala now bear Nahuatl placenames owing to the influence of these Mexican allies, who translated for the Spanish. The Kaqchikel Maya initially allied themselves with the Spanish, but soon rebelled against excessive demands for tribute and did not finally surrender until 1530. In the meantime the other major highland Maya kingdoms had each been defeated in turn by the Spanish and allied warriors from Mexico and already subjugated Maya kingdoms in Guatemala. The Itza Maya and other lowland groups in the Petén Basin were first contacted by Hernán Cortés in 1525, but remained independent and hostile to the encroaching Spanish until 1697, when a concerted Spanish assault led by Martín de Urzúa y Arizmendi finally defeated the last independent Maya kingdom.

Spanish and native tactics and technology differed greatly. The Spanish viewed the taking of prisoners as a hindrance to outright victory, whereas the Maya prioritised the capture of live prisoners and of booty. The indigenous peoples of Guatemala lacked key elements of Old World technology such as a functional wheel, horses, steel, and gunpowder; they were also extremely susceptible to Old World diseases, against which they had no resistance. The Maya preferred raiding and ambush to large-scale warfare, using spears, arrows and wooden swords with inset obsidian blades; the Xinca of the southern coastal plain used poison on their arrows. In response to the use of Spanish cavalry, the highland Maya took to digging pits and lining them with wooden stakes.

Read more about Spanish Conquest Of Guatemala:  Historical Sources, Background To The Conquest, Guatemala Before The Conquest, Conquistadors, Impact of Old World Diseases, Timeline of The Conquest, Conquest of The Highlands, Pacific Lowlands: Pipil and Xinca, Northern Lowlands, Legacy of The Spanish Conquest

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