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111-112 - Aztecs + Cortés

113-114 - Inca + Pizarro

Conquest as a word implies winning, taking over, imposing your will on others.  The case studies this unit examines are the European expansion into the New World of the Americas from the 16th century onwards.  In South and Central America, this saw the Conquista of Spain defeat the major world civilisations of that era - the Aztecs and the Incas, both in most ways as advanced, if not more so, as many Western equivalents.  In North America, this  saw Spain's European adversaries, Great Britain and France, establish colonies which became politically and economically successful and then independent.  However, the story of that success is also the story of conquest, both over the indigenous First Nation peoples, and over the West African peoples who were enslaved then transported against their will over to the New World in their millions.  What did these conquests create at the time; and what are the legacies of these conquests in the modern world?

The Conquista

The Conquista was the successful conquest of South America by Spain from the 16th century onwards.  They established an Empire called New Spain that would last 300 years until the South American people, led by Simon Bolivar and others, rose up in revolution and fought for their independence in the 19th century.

The indigenous people of S America had by then been decimated by diseases such as smallpox and influenza, and then enslaved if they had somehow survived.  However, the initial conquest of this vast continent by a small number of Spanish invaders, or conquistadors, was not easy.  One reason was that these areas were already organised into empires ruled by people such as the Aztecs in modern-day Mexico, and the Incas in modern-day Colombia, Peru and Chile.

Your job is to investigate what made these Empires successful pre-Conquista, what people's lives were like, and ultimately why did they fail to defeat the invaders from Europe....


Who were the Aztecs?

fa3bdda5279e92af9175bd3bfce889cf-temple-pyramid-aztec-stroke-by-vexels (1).png
Role of sacrifice
Montezuma II
Hernan Cortes

How to revise - helping hand #2

- Visualisation of content to make it easier to remember

  • Visualisation is a study skill which depends on making visual representations of content

  • We can use images that relate to the content as a basis - for the Inca for example, a representation of a temple like this could help us create a memorable note sheet

  • The structure can be used for different themes, topics, categories either on different levels, or being attached at different heights around the outside, out front, on top etc...

  • The examples above are also colour co-ordinated to try and make them more memorable

  • Each colour represents a different influence on the Incan Empire - can you identify them..?

Role of Gods
Aztec Empire
Spanish Empire
End of World
World is Ours!
Social + economic beliefs

To start off with, using your colour text handouts, identify how the Aztecs conquered their Empire, what they believed, how they lived from day to day, and finally who their leader was by the time the Spanish arrived - Moctezuma (Montezuma) II

Use the poster-note framework Word document in the bottom right hand corner to compile a set of visual notes using mind-mapping, flow charts, bullet points to organise your information - remember to embrace the space and use plenty of colour...

aztec emp.png

Using your research, you must write a letter back to Spain as one of the first Europeans to visit Tenochtitlan. It must cover the wonders of the city itself (the surroundings, the architecture); the daily life of the people around you (how they dress, what they do, what they're like); as well as the aspects of life that terrifies you (the ritual sacrifice, the numbers of people, the insects and disease etc.)   These must be described in detail using examples and backed up with drawings and illustrations (at least one being your own...)

The rubric can be accessed  via the Word icon attached

Who was Hernan Cortés?

Click on the PDF top left

Read the pages 110-112 and answer the questions below

Use each question as a subtitle

Use bullet points to structure your answers

1) How did the Spanish settlers treat the peoples of the New World?

2) How did they defeat a much larger population time after time?

3) Who was Hernan Cortès and why did he become a conquistador?

4) Where did he land and how well equipped was he?

5) Who was Malinche and how did she help Cortès get to Tenochtitlan?

6) Who else joined Cortès against the Aztecs and why?

7) Who was the ruler of the Aztecs and what did he think about the Spanish?

8) How did he try to deal with Cortés, and why did this make him more     

    determined to get to Tenochtitlan?

9) Explain in detail using stages, how Cortés managed to beat the Aztecs

Then complete the storyboard cartoon strip, showing Cortés journey from deciding to be a conquistador, to landing in Mexico and then eventually discovering Tenochtitlan and so beating  the Aztec nation...

In 1518 Cortés was made commander of an expedition to Mexico. It had only recently been discovered by Europeans and was rumoured to contain great wealth. On arrival he established a settlement (now Veracruz) and made local allies.

The major civilisation in the region was that of the Aztecs, led by Montezuma II. Cortés headed for the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, which was a three-month journey over difficult terrain. It is thought that Cortés’ arrival coincided with an Aztec prophecy about a white-skinned god arriving from the east, which would explain why Montezuma welcomed Cortés and gave him lavish gifts. However, relations quickly deteriorated and, fearing an attack, Cortés took Montezuma hostage, demanding a huge ransom from his people.

In April 1520, Velázquez sent an expedition to capture Cortés. As Cortés left to fight the expedition, an Aztec revolt began in Tenochtitlán. Cortés returned and obliged Montezuma to face the crowd, but the Aztec leader was struck by a stone and died. The Spanish were driven out of the city, incurring heavy losses.

Cortés re-organised his forces and in 1521 returned to Tenochtitlán, which fell after a three-month siege. A new settlement, Mexico City, was built on the ruins and settled with Spanish colonists, becoming the centre of Spanish America. Cortés secured control over Mexico, inflicting great cruelty on the indigenous population. Western diseases such as smallpox also caused huge fatalities. (BBC History)

History Skills focus

For your Cortés storyboard, your task includes finding at least one extra digital source to provide information to help you complete your description of how Cortés beat the Aztec nation. 


Below are three examples of digital resources available on youtube. 


In 3s, choose 1 each to watch and judge how trustworthy you find the source. 


Rank 1-2-3 in order of trustworthiness...


What should we look for when using internet sources? 

What internet sources do we avoid and why?

Who were the Inca?

To start off with, again using your text handouts, identify how the Inca conquered their Empire, how they lived from day to day, what they believed and finally how they organised their rule by the time the Spanish arrived.  Once again, compile a set of visual notes using mind-mapping, flow charts, bullet points to organise your information - remember to embrace the space and use plenty of colour...

inca empire.jpg
incan emperor.png

How to study - helping hand #2

- Timelines


  • Timelines are diagrams that we use to represent what happens over time​

  • They are usually drawn horizontally left to right using landscape layouts BUT NO - STOP!!!!!
  • Vertical timelines going top to bottom or vice versa using portrait layouts are necessary

  • Both sides get equal coverage and we avoid the inevitable cramming of info in the top right

  • Timeline also give us visual appreciation of overall trends as well as helping us with dates...

  • The above timeline lets us see when the Maya, Aztec and Incan civilisations existed, with the more recent Inca and Aztec co-existing and succeeding the earlier Maya

  • It also shows us when they existed alongside other key world civilisations such as the Romans

  • Moreover, it shows us how the Spanish brought such a swift end to these well-established Empires

  • These patterns helps us understand history and remember the key patterns we need to identify if we are to successfully describe and explain events....

download (1).jpeg
Why did the Incan Empire collapse?

The Incan Empire had established itself as the world civilisation in South America by the 1520s.  Its lands stretched from modern day Ecuador in the North, to Chiles southern reaches; from the Pacific coastline far up into the tropical rainforest and snow clad peaks of the Andes.  How did this vast Empire of millions with a standing army numbering hundreds of thousands collapse in the face of a few hundred Europeans?  Just like Cortés' conquest the previous decade, there are numerous factors to uncover - the acts of the conquistadors themselves; the customs and traditions of the world they encountered; decisions made by the Incan leadership; and forces beyond any one people's control


Your job is to research these multiple factors using the website on the right, and the documentary underneath.  Create a timeline using the key dates from the website, and add extra detail from the documentary.  Once completed, you must find evidence that backs up each of the highlighted theories above.  Which one makes the strongest argument and why?

atahualpa arrest.jpg

BBC 'Conquistadors' (2002)

- episode 2 'Conquest of the Inca' 

- presented by Michael Wood


..start watching at 24.12

1532 saw the Incan Empire at its most powerful and furthest reaching. 

It also saw the entrance of Francisco Pizarro.

Who was he and how did he conquer the Inca?

..there is a summary of this collapse at 42.07

How had Pizarro won, and how had the Inca lost?




In pairs listen to the following songs once without looking at the lyrics and note down under the song title and artists what emotions you feel when you listen to the songs - what do you think the song is trying to say about slavery?

Next, listen and read the lyrics (Alicia Keys on the left has her lyrics attached via the question mark icon) - pick out 2-3 quotes that represent the song's lyrics - what does the song say about slavery, and how closely does it match your earlier conclusion about how the song's message was transmitted by the music.

Why do you think we study slavery as a topic in history?

Slavery has existed as long as humans have been living together in settled communities and established territorial borders.  Humans have bought and sold other humans as property for thousands of years.  The evolution of slavery in the centuries following the Conquista saw a dramatic increase in the numbers and organisation involved.  The result was one of humanity's greatest crimes - the capture, transport and enslavement of millions of West African people by Europeans to work on plantations in the New World.

How were these people captured and transported over thousands of kilometres away from their homes?

slave trade numbers map.jpeg

What was the Atlantic Triangular Trade?

The slave trade across North Africa had been established for millenia before the 15thC and had seen overland transport of people across the Sahara from sub-Sahara Africa to the Middle East and amongst the great kingdoms of Africa itself.  When the Portugese landed in the 1400s however, this largely inland and Old World system found the age old barriers of ocean navigation, ship technology and overseas destinations no longer impenetrable obstacles.  With the Portugese and Spanish Conquista of the New World came a new age of European expansion, with new economic demands and opportunities.  These demands for labour and resources was combined with the well established trade routes, which now started to focus on the supply of enslaved human cargoes to create the Atlantic Triangular Trade.

Click on the left-hand map above, watch the video, and answer the following questions:

  1. What was the Atlantic slave trade?

  2. How did the Atlantic slave trade start in the late 1400s?

  3. How did slavery exist in Africa already?

  4. What changed when Europeans arrived?

  5. How did it change the kingdoms involved in the slave trade?

  6. What was life like for the captured peoples on the journey to the New World?

  7. How did slavery affect Africa over its long-term future?

  8. How did slavery help create modern racist ideas and ideologies?

The Middle Passage


The Middle Passage typically took 3 months with ships crammed with people chained and taken against their will - slavers still made a profit even if 2/3 of the people died en route so they didn't spend any time or money on food or medicine.  These stark figures just underpin and reinforce how people from different parts of the world were viewed as property at this time by Europeans intent on profits rather than seeing others as human beings.


Your task is to use your existing knowledge along with the handout, the video clips above, and the website below to research what this journey was like for the people involved.....

Attention - some disturbing scenes are involved in these clips - be aware that they may be very upsetting before you watch - you can just use the website below if you wish.....

Arrival in the Americas

At the end of the Middle Passage, the enslaved individuals who had somehow survived their traumatic transportation would now have to face the slave auction, where people were bought and sold like property by white American plantation owners, farmers etc..

(A) Read the account of arriving in the Americas on board a slaver ship by Olaudah Equiano by clicking on book icon, right:

- what happened when the ship arrived?

- how did the European traders and American slaver owners feel about arrival?

- how did the West African people feel about arrival?

(B) Read the sources below, starting on the left  and answer the following questions:

  1. What similarities do you find in these accounts of slave auctions and the experience of being sold?

  2. How do the accounts differ? What might explain the differences?

  3. How were enslaved people prepared for sale?

  4. What humiliations did slaves endure when being sold and then transported to their new "homes"?



  • Language contained in these sources may offend

  • Please treat all source material as evidence + with respect

  • They contain racial terms commonly used at the time but which are now unacceptable

Plantation Life

The plantation economy which was the basis for the Atlantic slave trade supplied luxury goods to the European markets - sugar, cotton, tobacco.  Tobacco was this first type of 'cash crop' in the colonies of mainland USA until it was replaced by cotton by the end of the 18th century with the invention of the cotton engine.  Sugar was always grown in the sub-tropical Caribbean where the climate allowed this tropical plant to grow.  

Pairwork - each watch one of the videos above for 5 minutes and jot down at least 10 keywords about the work that the enslaved African peoples had to do - which type of plantation work do you think was harshest + why?

Having looked at the types of plantation work in the Caribbean and the USA, we now are going to focus on the lives of the enslaved peoples sent to Brazil where over a third of all West Africans transported were sent.  Why was this country such a huge part of the slave trade and what were the lives like for those who ended up here?

Watch the BBC Timewatch documentary and answer the questions in the Word document available at the side..
Abolitionist Protest Poster Project
Click on the image above to access project task sheet
Research how 'whiteness' has its basis in the economic reality of the New World plantation economy 
Research how 'plantation life' is now forming the basis for the new International African-American museum in Charleston, USA
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