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Explain why the Aztec and Inca civilizations declined in the 16th century.
Topics on the Page
A. the encounters between Cortes and Montezuma
B. the encounters between Pizarro and the Incas
C. the goals of the Spanish conquistadors
D. the effects of European diseases, particularly smallpox, throughout the Western hemisphere
Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple, Architect of the U.S. Capitol
Focus Question: Why did Aztec and Inca civilizations decline in the 16th century?
For more on European encounters with the Aztec and Inca civilizations, see
A. the encounters Cortes and Montezuma
The arrival of
and the Spaniards in Mexico marked the beginning of the end of the Aztec empire.
Biography of Cortes
from BBC History
Cortes and his army first met the Aztec people in February of 1519, and completed their conquest two years later.
By allying with the Aztecs enemies, and deceiving their leader,
, the Spaniards were able to defeat an army that vastly outnumbered their own.
Meeting of Cortes and Montezuma. Edward R. Shaw, 1900
For more, see
The Conquest of Mexico
series of paintings.
Go here for a
biography of Cortes
from BBC History or
Here for a
explanation of his life.
Visit here for an
of the life of Hernan Cortes.
Click here to learn more about
the Fall of the Aztecs
Click here for Aztec Conquest lesson plan from
B. The encounters between Pizarro and the Incas
Pizarro siezes the Incas of Peru
and his men arrived from Panama during a time of civil unrest for the Inca.
Huayna Capac, the ruler at the time, had died and left his kingdom to his son Huascar. Enraged,
, Capac's other son, murdered his brother.
Taking advantage of the weakness of a culture in civil war, Pizarro attacked and killed Atahualpa, signifying the end of the Inca Empire, then melted down all of his gold.'
Click here to learn more about
the Conquest of the Incas
Click here for a
timeline of the Inca Empire
and here for an
interactive timeline of Pizarro's life
To learn more, National Geographic has an
article on the Inca Empire
, including more information on the succession crisis of Atahualpa. Additionally, they have an
of the empire.
C. The goals of the Spanish
Coronado Sets Out North by Frederic Remington
The primary reasons for the Spaniards' arrival in Mesoamerica was to for the three G's: gold, glory, and God. The Spaniards believed they would become rich and powerful if they were able to conquer a land full resources and gold, and also wished to convert the natives to christianity.
For a comprehensive view, see
Conquistadors from PBS.
Peruvian Ice Cap Harbors Evidence of Conquistadors' Greed
The article describes the earliest evidence of air pollution in South America from sliver mines where natives were forced to work by the Spanish.
Pizarro and the Conquistadors
from the Library of Congress
D. The effects of European diseases, particularly smallpox, throughout the Western hemisphere
A major contributor to the European conquer of Mesoamerica was disease.
European diseases, especially smallpox, decimated the native inhabitants.
With a decreasing, unhealthy population, there was little hope for the indigenous peoples to prevent the Europeans from conquering them.
For more, see
Disease and Catastrophe
from Learn North Carolina
European Disease in the New World
from University of Illinois at Chicago
When Cortes finally entered Tenochtitlan (Mexico City today) in 1520, the year after he first arrived in the New World, he found half of the inhabitants infected with smallpox
By 1595, over 18 million people had died of smallpox, mumps, measles and other European diseases.
Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond presents a theory of why civilizations decline.
For more on the impact of smallpox and other illness from Europe, see
, a website created by students in a history class at Gettysburg College.
Massive Population Drop found for Native Americans, DNA Shows
from National Geographic (December 5, 2011).
Quia games and jeopardy style PowerPoints about explorers
Inca empire map from
for Lesson plans on Aztec and Inca Empires
help on how to format text
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