:''This article is about the Spanish and Portuguese explorer soldiers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For other uses see Conquistador (disambiguation)Francisco Pizarro
Conquistador ( ; ; ; "conqueror") refers to the Spanish and Portuguese soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain and Portugal in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The two perhaps most famous conquistadors were Hernán Cortés who conquered the Aztec Empire and Francisco Pizarro who led the conquest of the Incan Empire.
Conquistadors in the Americas resembled a volunteer militia more than than a regular organized military in that they had to supply their own materials, weapons and horses. Some were supported by governments, such as Hernán Cortés, who was funded by Spain.
Authors like Tzvetan Todorov and Jared Diamond have highlighted the short time required for the Spanish conquest and establishment in the Americas. Exposure of these previously remote populations to European diseases caused many more fatalities than the wars themselves, and severely weakened the natives' social structures. The Europeans brought small pox, chicken pox, and measles to South America. Recent genetic studies on the skeletal remains of native peoples found that while many hundreds of thousands were killed by violence, an even higher number died from disease. Some estimate that up to 85% of the drop in population was due to illness (see population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas) . Many oral stories maintain that the Indians saw this as a sign of lack of faith in their old customs. The people in the Americas were not previously exposed to the variety of European diseases that caused their eventual demise. The diseases moved much faster than the advancing Spanish. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Incan empire, a large portion of the population, including the emperor, had already died in a smallpox epidemic. When Francisco Coronado and the Spanish first explored the Rio Grande Valley in 1540, in modern New Mexico, many of the chieftains complained of new diseases that affected their tribes. The Spanish curandero (folk healers) recognized the symptoms and attempted to relieve some of the ailments.
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