Sailing beyond their home shores, the conquistadores explore, conquer, and colonize on behalf of the Spanish crown.
The exploration and conquest of the territories of Central and South America, triggered by Christopher Columbus’s expeditions to the Caribbean (1492–1504), were done by a small group of soldiers. These Spanish warriors, mostly descendants of minor nobles (hidalgos) and infantry divisions (tercios), funded their own expeditions to the New World in the hope of titles and loot. The first Spanish military campaigns in Mesoamerica and the Andes (1519–1532) resulted in the Spanish capture of the imperial capitals of Mexica and Inca, Tenochtitlan and Cuzco, and the toppling of their ruling powers. These conquests only involved a few thousand conquistadors backed by groups of Indigenous Americans and laid the foundations for Spanish colonization of the Americas. Making use of their powerful firearms, the political uprisings caused partially by epidemics introduced by the conquistadors, and the tensions dividing the empires, they were able to defeat much larger native armies.