Whether you call it colonization or conquest, the Spanish definitely set out to make the Americas their own -- and that's exactly what they did. How much do you know about the Spanish takeover of the Americas?
Many historians see 1492 as the beginning of the conquests. Then, for hundreds of years, the colonization continued in earnest.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus (an Italian explorer working for Spain) set off to the New World. By the end of his life, he'd made four voyages to the Americas, jumpstarting European colonization.
Columbus was dispatched to find a western route to the Orient, one that would make trading easier and increase the wealth of European powers.
Columbus reached locations in the Carribean managed to establish permanent colonies. Those colonies, in turn, provided a critical link back to homelands in Europe.
The Spanish were often called conquistadors, the conquerors. The feats of the conquistadors completely altered the history of the Americas.
The early settlers of Hispaniola were often looking to get rich and then go home. Most of them simply perished from deadly tropical diseases long before realizing their dreams of wealth and glory.
Spain and Portugal had powerful navies that allowed them to explore the world, and the Treaty of Tordesillas helped them divide the goodies of the New World without conflict. Other European powers mostly ignored the treaty.
Spanish explorers dragged along all manner of disease to the Americas. From smallpox to measles, these infections wound up killing countless natives.
The Spanish were heavy into Catholicism, and they set out to spread their religion throughout the Americas. They sometimes found the locals less than receptive to their religious overtures.
Velazquez conquered Cuba and ruled it on behalf of Spain. He also played a role in the exploration of other areas of the Americas.
Cortes assembled a group of around 600 men and set off for what is now Mexico. Then, the men cleverly subverted the empire and managed to conquer a huge civilization without much of an army.
Cortez was raring to go to Mexico to set about on an exploration. When Velazquez forbade him from going, he simply ignored the order, packed up his men and left.
Cortez cleverly played various native factions against one another. He also created alliances with armed natives who were willing to fight alongside the Spanish.
Pizarro wanted to make his fortune, so he set off for what is now Peru. Through clever acts of brutality, he managed to conquer the area.
Pizarro, like many conquerors, was drawn to Peru by dreams of massive wealth. He wanted to take Peru's riches and make them his own.
At the 1532 Battle of Cajamarca, Pizarro captured Incan emperor Atahualpa. He decided to hold the emperor for ransom in hopes of getting rich quickly.
Atahualpa capitulated and gave Pizarro heaps of gold for his release. But Pizzaro decided not to release the emperor -- instead, he charged him with various crimes … and then executed him.
Once Cuba was conquered, Velázquez began reorganizing the island to better suit European needs. He moved Havana, for instance, and Cuba became an important staging area for future explorers.
Alvarado was a trusted assistant to Cortez, who placed Alvarado in important leadership positions during conquests. But Alvarado's cruelty soon made him a notorious conqueror in his own right.
Pedro de Alvarado was a ferocious and violent man with very blond hair. The natives called him "Tonatiuh," or "Sun God."
Pedro de Alvarado put his vicious streak to use in Guatemala, where he conquered the locals and then became governor of the area. But he kept right on conquering right up to his death in 1541.
A lot of natives resented the rule of the Aztec Empire. It was a perfect situation for the politically savvy Cortez to use to his advantage.
The Spanish often treated natives as subhuman. In their eyes, the locals were savages who needed to either accept European superiority … or be exterminated.
Cordoba and a group of settlers who were unhappy with Cuba set out for Mexico. But many of his men wound up being killed by a Mayan army.
The Spanish explorers pushed through the Yucatan Peninsula and encountered many Mayans. In less than 20 years, the Mayans were a conquered people.
de Soto wasn't satisfied after conquering the Incas. He then headed north and explored much of what is now the southeastern United States.
Pizarro created the capital of Lima on Peru's western coast. Today, Lima is still a very important metropolitan area.
Cortez conquered Tenochtitlán and took it for the crown of Spain. Then, he renamed it Mexico City.
Almagro competed with Pizarro for the wealth of South America. He later created an expedition and headed south, where he was the first European to explore Chile.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado spent years exploring lands north of Mexico City. He and his men plunged into unexplored areas all over the southwestern United States … but left him pretty much penniless.