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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 May 2017/10 Flint
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Article suitable for older students

Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Question for February 2017

What did the Spanish do after the native population collapsed [in the century after the Conquest]? Asked by Crosshall Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto.

Detail from a 1951 mural by Diego Rivera in the National Palace, Mexico City depicting Spanish slavery in Mexico
Detail from a 1951 mural by Diego Rivera in the National Palace, Mexico City depicting Spanish slavery in Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

All demographic disasters, like ostensibly ill winds, benefit survivors because there are more resources to go round. Although Spanish imperialism in Mesoamerica relied on the continuity of existing economic practices and on abundant indigenous labour, the fearsome mortality enriched some of the Spaniards’ key indigenous collaborators. The manpower shortfall could be met in some places by imported slaves, in others by peasant colonists from Europe. The monarchy’s main resources, however, were new, labour-saving biota [eg working animals], technologies and economic practices. Mining, sheep- and cattle-ranching, pig-farming and breeding of horses and mules, as well as silk production and leather manufactures, yielded relatively high returns per unit of manpower. Mines and sugar estates and mills could employ imported slaves. Dyestuffs, especially cochineal, could be farmed on marginal land. Because the range of trade was hugely bigger under the Spanish monarchy than under the polities that preceded it, economic opportunities multiplied in spite of the loss of people.

Image photo by and thanks to Mary Ann Sullivan, from -
https://www.bluffton.edu/homepages/facstaff/sullivanm/mexico/mexicocity/rivera/cortez.html.

Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto has answered 3 questions altogether:

Why did Moctezuma think that Cortés looked like Quetzalcóatl?

How did the Spanish translate what the Aztecs wrote?

What did the Spanish do after the native population collapsed [in the century after the Conquest]?

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