Hernan Cortes and Mayan Collapse

Hernan Cortes, the Mayans and The Spanish Conquest

The Classic period of the Mayan civilization lasted from 200 A.D. to the 9th century A.D.

In the 9th century, the Classic Mayan polities underwent rapid collapse and the center of the Mayan civilization was shifted to the Yucatan Peninsula and the Highlands.

By 16th century, a number of Mayan kingdoms and Empires had come into being and disintegrated.

At the time of the arrival of Spaniards in the 16th century, the Mayans were divided into different regions.

The Spaniards profited from this and defeated Mayans in different regions piecemeal, taking over one Mayan territory after another.

The conquests of the Mayan territories by the Spaniards began in 1524 and lasted all the way until the 17th century.

Hernan Cortes Spanish Explorers

Hernan Cortes Spanish Explorers

Beginning of the Mayan conquest in 1524

By 1524, the Spaniards had already subdued the Aztec Empire under Hernan Cortes and were now making their way towards the Mayans in the Highland regions.

The first of these to face the might of the Spaniards was the Mayan Kiche kingdom.

In early 1524, Spaniards under Pedro de Alvarado advanced into the Kiche territory and began the conquest.

They faced opposition from a number of Kiche warriors but were able to defeat them in a number of conflicts.

After important Kiche cities fell to the Spaniards, the region effectively came under Spanish control although intermittent opposition continued at more remote sites.

Spanish Explorers

In 1518, following on the reports of the Cordoba expedition, Cuban governor Velazquez sent his nephew Juan de Grijalva to further explore the Yucatan region.

Conquest of the Tzutujil Kingdom

After conquering the Kiche kingdom, Alvarado led his men against the Tzutijil kingdom, another significant Mayan polity at the time.

Alvarado’s attempts to exact a surrender from the Tzutijil failed and he then marched into the heartland of the Tzutujil kingdom.

During the first confrontation with the Tzutujil warriors, Alvarado was able to rout the opposition by using his Spanish cavalry.

He then pursued the Tzutujil force on an island where the latter fled.

Soon afterwards, Alvarado marched with his men into the Tzutujil capital city of Tecpan Atitlan which had been deserted.

Alvarado again reached out to the Tzutujil leaders who agreed to surrender to the Spanish crown.

Spanish Conquistadors

Conquest of Zaculeu

Zaculeu was the capital of the Mam kingdom when the Spaniards arrived in the region.

While they subdued neighboring Mayan regions, large numbers of Mayans fled to the city of Zaculeu which was well fortified.

Alvarado’s brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, marched upon the city in 1525. On the way, he was confronted by a sizable army of Mam warriors but routed them with his cavalry.

He then marched on the city of Zaculeu which had been fortified and laid siege to it.

Under the Mam leader Kaybil Balam, the Mayans initially tried to fight back, failing which they sought help from neighboring towns.

As a relief army of Mayans arrived from the neighboring areas, Gonzalo routed them as well.

After a siege lasting many months, the city of Zaculeu finally surrendered to the Spanish in October 1525.

Conquest of other Mayan Territories

The Spanish continued their conquests into the Mayan regions.

From 1525 to 1532, Spanish conquered the Mayans in Guatamalan Highlands.

The Yucatan region was conquered between 1527 and 1528 while the Chiapas Highlands were subdued between 1527 and 1547.