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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
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?


rotating gif.gifFor more on European encounters with the Aztec and Inca civilizations, see WHI.13


A. the encounters Cortes and Montezuma


external image Aztec_Empire_c_1519.png
  • 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, Montezuma, the Spaniards were able to defeat an army that vastly outnumbered their own.


Meeting of Cortes and Montezuma.  Edward R. Shaw, 1900
Meeting of Cortes and Montezuma. Edward R. Shaw, 1900

primary_sources.PNGFor more, see The Conquest of Mexico series of paintings.

Quill_and_ink.pngGo here for a biography of Cortes from BBC History or
Here for a short video explanation of his life.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngVisit here for an interactive timeline of the life of Hernan Cortes.

Multimedia.pngClick here to learn more about the Fall of the Aztecs from PBS

lesson_plan_icon.jpg
Click here for Aztec Conquest lesson plan from PBS



B. The encounters between Pizarro and the Incas
Pizarro siezes the Incas of Peru
Pizarro siezes the Incas of Peru

  • external image inca_empire_map3.jpgIn 1532, Francisco Pizarro 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, Atahualpa, 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.'

Multimedia.pngClick here to learn more about the Conquest of the Incas from PBS

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick 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 interactive map of the empire.


C. The goals of the Spanish conquistadors


Coronado Sets Out North by Frederic Remington
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.


external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngGuns, 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 Diseases, a website created by students in a history class at Gettysburg College.

See also, Massive Population Drop found for Native Americans, DNA Shows from National Geographic (December 5, 2011).


Teaching Resources


game_icon.svg.png Quia games and jeopardy style PowerPoints about explorers.
Inca empire map from
http://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cunniff/americanhistorycentral/04encountersintheamericas/Fall_of_the_In.html

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngClick here and here for Lesson plans on Aztec and Inca Empires