From the 9th to the 12th centuries AD, Yucatan had been dominated by Chichen Itza. In the 12th century, the city of Mayapan surpassed Chichen Itza and become the leader of a great confederation of Maya states. However, in the 15th century a revolt split the confederation into individual city-states. By the time of the Spanish arrival, the Maya world of the Yucatan Peninsula had become politically fragmented into sixteen chieftaincies, constantly warring among themselves. Two of these, Chactemal and Uaymil, occupied most of the present Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The trading center of B'ak Halal (modern Bacalar) belonged to Uaymil, while the chieftaincy of Chactemal included the modern location of Quintana Roo's capital, Chetumal.
After two years, the two were separated when Guerrero was given as a gift to the chief of Chactemal. He assimilated into the Maya culture and took a Maya wife. His three children were the very first Mexican mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous). Using his Spanish military skills, he proved himself as a leader of warriors and rose to a high level in Maya society. In 1519, Hernán Cortéz arrived on the island of Cozumel, off the Yucatan coast. There, he found and rescued Jerónimo Aguilar, but could not persuade Guerrero to join his expedition. Guerrero clearly recognized that Cortéz represented the coming of the Conquest and decided that his loyalty was now to his Maya community. For several years he led their forces in fierce resistance to the Spanish invaders. Ultimately, Guerrero was killed battling them in Honduras.
The Spanish found the Maya a much more difficult population to conquer than the Aztecs of central Mexico. The hierarchical political structure of the Aztec Empire enabled the Spanish to quickly seize control. It took Hernán Cortéz only two years, from 1519 to 1521 to defeat the Aztecs and capture Tenochtitlán, their capital. On the other hand, Francisco de Montejo received permission in 1526 to conquer and colonize Yucatan. In contrast to the Spanish experience with the Aztecs, this task took 20 years, and was not completed until 1546. B'ak Halal was one of the last cities captured. According to a sign at Fuerte San Felipe, at Bacalar, "In 1544, on top of the corpses and rubble of B'ak Halal, the Spanish founded the Villa de Salamanca de Bacalar."
The primary difference between the Maya and the Aztec conquests was the decentralized Maya political structure. Each chieftaincy had to be conquered, one at a time. Often, they didn't stay conquered and rebellions had to be suppressed. Tayasal, located in northern Guatemala, was the last Maya kingdom to be captured. However, its conquest took until 1697. That was 171 years after Francisco Montejo began his assault on the Maya of Yucatan and 178 years after Hernán Cortéz marched on the Aztecs.
New World wealth flows to Spain
designed in the 1550s by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish admiral and advisor to the king. The raised structures on the bow and stern, called the forecastle and aftercastle, were good for defense but also made the galleon much less nimble than smaller, lighter ships. In the 17th century, the flagship of Spain's Flota de Indias (West Indies fleet) was called the San Martin.
Just as soon as a colony was established, commerce would begin to flow. Silver, gold, and other luxury products were shipped exclusively to either Seville or Cadiz in Spain, so that the king could be sure to receive his Quinta (Royal Fifth) of the treasure. All the products needed by the colonists were carried from Spain to Bacalar and the many other settlements on or near the New World's coasts. The Spanish Crown established strict rules for this commerce. Until the reforms of the 1780s, colonists were forbidden from trading with any other nation, or even with other Spanish colonies. All goods they imported had to be produced in Spain and transported by Spanish ships. As time went on, these rules were difficult to enforce and the result was considerable smuggling.
hip of the line (top) was a style of warship developed by Spain in the 17th century. The "line" refers to the battle line formed during naval warfare. Such ships continued in use into the second half of the 19th century. A ship of the line had three decks armed with cannon, making it a formidable instrument of battle. It had a lower aftercastle than a galleon, and no forcastle, so was quicker and more maneuverable.
The brig (bottom) was a fast and very maneuverable ship developed in the second half of the 17th century. It had two masts with large square sails as well as a jib sail on the mainmast. Because it was smaller and quicker than a ship of the line or a galleon, it was better suited to chase the pirates that began to plague the Caribbean as early as the 16th century.
African slavery follows native population crash
It was one thing for the Spanish to kill off some natives through massacres or abuse. It was disastrous to lose 90% of the workforce, since the Spanish depended on the native population for nearly all forms of manual labor. Every Spaniard, after all, wanted to consider him/herself part of the gentry and above all that. Burgeoning industries such as mining, textiles, and sugar production were very labor intensive and required a workforce that could survive long hours of work and periodic epidemics. The solution chosen by the Spanish (and later by the English and French) was African slavery.
first African slaves to arrive in mainland North America came in 1519 with the Cortéz expedition. One of them was infected with smallpox, leading to the first great epidemic among the native people. Smallpox caused the death of Cuitláhuac, Emperor Moctezuma's immediate successor, which weakened the Aztec defense against the Spanish invaders.
In 2006, the remains of four African slaves were unearthed at a colonial-era graveyard in Campeche, an early Spanish seaport on the Gulf Coast of Yucatan. The bones are those of young-to-middle aged men and date from about 1550 to the late 1600s. This period matches the time of the indigenous population crash. The Spanish bought their slaves through the Portuguese, who controlled the African slave trade from West African posts they had established in the late 1400s. In addition to working in mining, textiles, and sugar production, African slaves were employed as household servants by wealthy Spaniards living the colonial cities.
Since these horrific events occurred many centuries ago, there is sometimes a tendency to view them as just the way things were done in those days. We should not forget that the Nazis, Japanese, and Soviets all employed large-scale slave labor as recently as the mid-20th century. In fact, slavery continues to be a problem in many parts of the world. It is estimated that there are between 21 million and 70 million enslaved people worldwide, depending upon the the definition of slavery and the method of counting them.
The rise of piracy
Jean Fleury captured two Spanish galleons packed with Aztec treasure. Hernán Cortéz had overthrown the Aztec Empire only the year before and was sending the booty back to Spain.
Jean Fleury was a privateer, or state-sponsored pirate, who operated out of Dieppe on the coast of Normandy. The treasure he captured was intended for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose domain included Spain. Instead, it ended up in the hands of the French King Francis I, a rival of Charles V. Fleury's haul included gold bullion, enameled gold and jade, emeralds, pearls, works of art such as mosaic masks covered with fine stones, as well as exotic animals. On the same voyage, he also captured a Spanish ship out of Hispanola carrying gold, pearls, sugar and cowhides valued at 20,000 pesos.
Before these spectacular seizures, the other nations of Europe were unaware of the wealth to be had on the mainland of the Americas. Soon, however, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico swarmed with ships sent by the other European powers. Some were privateers, while others were outright pirates. A couple of years after his seizure of Cortéz' treasure ships, Fleury was captured by the Spanish while on another privateering voyage. Despite his legal status as a privateer, Charles V declared him a pirate and hanged him to set an example.
In the 16th century, the main sources of wealth flowing from the New World to the Old were precious minerals such as gold and silver, cotton, and wood from Campeche on the coast of Yucatan. As previously discussed, the lucrative African slave trade flowed in the opposite direction.
A Papal Bull, promulgated in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, had divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. This document excluded the other European powers, who were eager to gain markets and new sources of wealth. For almost a century, their attempts to set up their own colonies were blocked by the Papal Bull, backed up by Spanish military power. In response, the French, English, and Dutch governments licensed privateers to seize what they could of the Spanish largesse.
This completes my posting on the Conquest, Colonization, and Piracy that marked the colonial era in the Southern Yucatan Peninsula. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, that you will please leave any thoughts or comments in the Comments section below, or email me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim