The Spanish Conquest

The conquest of Mesoamerica by Spanish explorers and colonists began in the 1500s and was led primarily by Cortes in Mexico and Alvarado in Guatemala. The brutality of these Europeans in battling the Mayan and Aztec peoples is legendary. Weakened by deadly diseases, the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were conquered fairly quickly, and colonial rule was established.

Some aspects of life remained fairly stable for the Mayan people: farmers still farmed and taxes were still paid to the ruling elite. Only now the ruling elite were Spanish instead of Mayan. And the Spanish forced many of the people in rural areas to live in villages rather than dispersed throughout the countryside. This allowed the colonial government to better control its subjects, provided a workforce for the local haciendas, and provided a congregation for the Catholic churches that were established throughout the area.


The Conquest had great impact on the people of Mesoamerica, including the Maya. Every aspect of life was affected in some way, from the types of animals available for farmers to raise to the undermining of traditional religion and culture. Even weaving was impacted, as the Spanish introduced the treadle loom. The treadle loom provided an alternative way to weave fabric and allowed for some households to specialize in the production of treadle loomed cloth. Unlike the backstrap loom, the treadle loom is very large, expensive, and relatively immobile. It was not a type of technology available to all people, whereas almost every woman owned her own backstrap loom.



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