Spanish Colonization Terms
Audencia, AudenciasA system of legal appeals courts that the Spanish set up in the New World to help govern the Americas. The first was organized in Hispaniola as early as 1511, but the first permanent one was set up in Mexico City in 1527. The audencias were staffed by judges who dispensed royal justice far from the court in Madrid. As the population of the Americas increased, so did the number of audencias. Many of the boundaries of modern-day Latin American nations correspond to the boundaries of the audencias from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Conquistador, Conquistadors, ConquistadoresFrom the Spanish conquistar (to conquer) this was the name given to the armies that first conquered Latin America for Spain. They were not part of any professional army, although many had military experience and training. Though their numbers were small, they used fear, intimidation and advanced military technology to defeat their enemies. Many of them became immensely wealthy and their descendants became the ruling class in South America.
Spanish for "conqueror," the conquistadores were adventurers who sought to conquer Indian nations and capture lands and treasures for Spain in the early years of European colonization of the Americas. Among the most famous conquistadores are Hernán Cortés (who defeated the Aztec) and Francisco Pizarro (who defeated the Inca).
Encomienda, Encomiendas, Encomenderos, EncomenderoThe encomienda system was a form of land ownership set up after 1492 to divide both the lands and peoples of the New World into workable—and exploitable—pieces that were run by Spanish settlers. These encomenderos were given rights to land and the ability to demand work from the natives under their control in exchange for a promise to the Spanish crown to teach the Indians Christianity. Imagine everyone's surprise when this system was abused, the Indians were worked like slaves, and the teaching of Christianity was dropped because it interfered with the profits of the Indians' forced labor. The practice, which was in practice a form of slavery, was officially outlawed in the 1550s, but the exploitation of Indians in America never disappeared.
Imperial SystemMaintenance of far-flung overseas empires required colonizing nations to develop complex imperial systems to organize and regulate colonial affairs. In an age when communication between the New World and the Old could take many months, American imperial systems tended to be much more decentralized in practice than they were in monarchical theory, as European leaders could exert only indirect control over events on the ground in America.
Mestizo, MestizosMestizos were the mixed-race offspring of Spaniards and Indians, usually with a Spanish father and Indian mother. This intermingling of Indians and Europeans quickly created a society numerically dominated by racially-diverse people, although those with pure Spanish ancestry controlled American society until the 20th century. The Spanish authorities devised a hierarchical system known as the casta, which graded the entire population according to the amount of Indian blood they possessed, and contained over 120 different grades. Those with more Indian blood were of a lower casta, those with more European blood were higher on the social list.
New WorldA European term for the Western Hemisphere, which seemed brand new following Columbus's "discovery," in contrast to the Old World of Europe, Africa, and Asia—all of which had been known to Europeans for centuries. Of course, nothing about the New World was new to the Indians who had been living there for centuries.
A European term for the Western Hemisphere, which seemed brand new following Columbus's "discovery," in contrast to the Old World of Europe, Africa, and Asia—all of which had been known to Europeans for centuries. Of course, nothing about the New World was new to the Indians who had long been living there.