Monday, August 13, 2007


History of Mesoamerica now known as Mexico

2500 BC - 1535 AD

excerpted from:

The Destruction of a Civilization by Evil, Greedy Men and a Rigid Theocracy




Early Civilizations

Ancient Mexico and Central America were home to some of the earliest and most advanced civilizations in the Western Hemisphere. This region is known historically as Mesoamerica, a term that refers to the geographic area and cultural traditions of the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Evidence indicates that hunting and gathering peoples populated Mesoamerica more than 15,000 years ago and that crop cultivation began around 8000 bc. The bottle gourd, useful for holding water and other liquids, is believed to have been one of the earliest domesticated crops; corn, beans, and squashes became the basis of the Mesoamerican diet during the period between 8000 and 2000 bc.

Mesoamerican civilization began to emerge around 2500 bc, as agriculture increasingly provided a reliable food source that could support larger and larger populations. Freed from having to constantly search for food, the formerly nomadic peoples were able to establish permanent settlements. The shift from a hunting-gathering existence to one that revolved around agriculture and village life also gave people more time to devote to architectural and cultural pursuits. This made possible large public projects such as irrigation canals and temples, as well as the creation of fired clay objects such as dishes and containers.

One of the first major Mesoamerican civilizations was established by the Olmec, a people who flourished between about 1500 and 600 bc in the swampy lowlands of what are now the Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Many scholars consider Olmec civilization to be one of the primary cultures from which subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations drew many of their beliefs, traditions, and architectural styles. The Olmec appear to have been the source of the widespread worship of several Mesoamerican deities. They began developing mathematics and a system of writing, used a calendar based on observation of the planets, and produced a variety of intricate jade figurines. Between 900 and 400 bc the major sites of the Olmec were destroyed.

The city-state of Teotihuacán, located in the Valley of Mexico about 40 km (25 mi) northeast of modern-day Mexico City, in turn became a powerful cultural center. Teotihuacán flourished as an important commercial and religious center between about ad 100 to 650. It had a population of at least 125,000 at its height, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Teotihuacán’s wealth and productivity enabled its inhabitants to construct great monumental structures, including the Pyramid of the Sun, more than 60 m (more than 200 feet) high, and the slightly smaller Pyramid of the Moon. Teotihuacán’s influence declined around ad 650, and the city was destroyed by a natural disaster or invasion. The fall of the “city of the gods” dispersed its people and culture across Mesoamerica.

The Zapotec people began building their religious center and capital at Monte Albán around 500 bc. Located on a mountaintop in what is now the state of Oaxaca, Monte Albán was one of the first cities in the Americas and rivaled Teotihuacán as a center of Mesoamerican culture. At its height, about ad 500, the city was home to approximately 25,000 people. The Zapotecs developed one of the earliest writing systems in the Americas, using pictorial characters known as hieroglyphics to convey simple ideas. They left numerous hieroglyphic inscriptions on the buildings and temples of Monte Albán.

Maya civilization flourished in southern Mexico and Central America between ad 300 and 900, a time known as the Classic period. The Maya built large religious centers that included ball courts, homes, and temples. They developed a method of hieroglyphic notation and recorded mythology, history, and rituals in inscriptions carved and painted on stone slabs or pillars known as stelae. Maya religion centered around the worship of a large number of nature gods and chronology among the Maya was determined by an elaborate calendar system. Although highly complex, this calendar was the most accurate known to humans until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.

About ad 900, the Maya centers were mysteriously abandoned, and some Maya migrated to the Yucatán Peninsula. During the Postclassic period, from 900 to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Maya civilization was centered in the Yucatán. A migration or invasion from central Mexico strongly influenced Maya culture and art styles during this period. Chichén Itzá and Mayapán were prominent cities.

The Toltecs rose to power in the 10th century ad and are the first people in Mesoamerica to leave a relatively complete history. Their capital of Tula, whose ruins are located near the town of Tula de Allende 75 km (47 mi) north of Mexico City, extended its political influence over much of central Mexico. Other groups paid them tribute. The Nahuatl-speaking Toltecs established colonies along their northern frontier, protecting the region against hostile groups and greatly expanding the amount of land given over to agriculture. In the 12th century droughts in the north central region weakened the Toltec hold on the region. Desperate and starving people from the north surged southward, eventually overwhelming the Toltecs and forcing them to abandon Tula. Toltec survivors migrated south to the Valley of Mexico, where they joined with other peoples.

Not all Native American groups reached the complex levels of culture achieved by those of southern and central Mexico. In general, as one moved northward the indigenous peoples tended to be more tribal and nomadic, with exceptions such as the Pueblo in what is now the southwestern United States. Native Americans in northern Mesoamerica, typically warlike and nomadic, could not be easily conquered and resisted intruders until well into the 19th century in some areas.


The Aztec Empire

A century after the collapse of the Toltec civilization, several allied tribes of Nahuatl-speaking people moved into the Valley of Mexico from the north. The principal tribe was known as the Mexica and collectively the tribes came to be known as the Aztecs. The Mexica eventually dominated the other tribes and became the major force in the establishment of the Aztec Empire in central Mexico. The name Mexico is derived from the word Mexica. Aztec civilization, drawing on the cultural advances of the Toltec and other peoples that had lived in the region, reached high levels of artistic, economic, and intellectual development.

When the Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico, most likely in the mid-13th century, they were surrounded by powerful neighbors who exacted tribute from them. They were forced to occupy a swampy area on the western side of Lake Texcoco, where their only piece of dry land was a tiny island surrounded by marshes. According to legend, the Aztecs established their settlement on the site where they observed an eagle with a serpent in its grasp on top of a cactus. The eagle and the serpent are the state symbol of modern Mexico and can be found on the nation’s flag and currency.-10



As the Aztecs grew in number, they established powerful military and civil organizations. Their island settlement, known as Tenochtitlán, soon grew from a small village of huts into a large city of adobe houses and stone temples. It became the Aztec capital, serving as the center for Aztec trade and military activity throughout the region. It is estimated that at the time of the Spanish invasion in the early 1500s, the city was one of the largest in the world and supported a population of about 200,000 people.

Tenochtitlán’s military strength increased, and under Itzcoatl, the first Aztec emperor, the Aztecs extended their influence throughout the entire Valley of Mexico. By the 15th century, the Aztecs had become the preeminent power in central and southern Mexico.

The political organization of the Aztec Empire extended far beyond Tenochtitlán and rested on a triple alliance between the city-states of Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. The alliance, which was established in the mid-1400s, was soon dominated by the Aztecs. A series of military campaigns extended the Aztecs’ power and influence well beyond the central valley and across Mesoamerica. On the eve of the Spanish conquest, Aztec-controlled territory reached west to the Pacific Ocean, east to the Gulf of Mexico, and south nearly to the modern-day border with Guatemala. Because of resentment against Aztec rule and internal strife within the far-flung Aztec Empire, Spanish invaders would later be able to ally with a number of Native American peoples who would help them to defeat the Aztecs.



As an agricultural society, Aztec civilization was greatly affected by the forces of nature; Aztec mythology, consequently, revolved around the worship of gods who represented the Earth, rain, and the Sun. The appeasement of such gods through human sacrifice, a practice already well established in Mesoamerica, was an indispensable part of Aztec religion. According to one Aztec belief, the Sun required daily offerings in order to ensure that it would rise again the next day.

Aztec priests typically offered the gods human hearts and blood from just-killed victims—most often male prisoners who had been captured in battle and later marched or dragged to the top of a ceremonial pyramid. The need for new sacrificial victims was one factor that pushed the warlike Aztec to continuously seek new territory and peoples to conquer.

Aztec religion also included worship of the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and learning. According to Aztec legend, Quetzalcoatl had been tricked and disgraced by another god, Tezcatlipoca, and then traveled to the east. He vowed to return and destroy those who worshiped his enemies. By the early 1500s, word of the arrival of the Spaniards in the Caribbean Sea had traveled to the Aztecs, triggering rumors that an angry Quetzalcoatl had returned to exact his revenge. While the Aztecs would soon learn that the Spanish conquerors were not gods, the prophecies of great destruction coming from the east would prove to be a reality.


The Conquest

The Spanish assault on the Aztec Empire in 1519 represented the second major stage of Spanish expansion in the Americas. The first stage had established permanent settlements in the Caribbean Sea, including the city of Santo Domingo (now the capital of the Dominican Republic) and outposts on the island of Cuba. These settlements made it possible for the Spaniards to probe the mainland of Mexico and Central America knowing that they could quickly return to their island outposts.

The first governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, sponsored three expeditions in the early 1500s that sought to explore the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The first expedition, commanded by Spanish navigator and conqueror Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, set sail from Cuba in 1517 and explored uncharted territory along the Yucatán Peninsula. When Spanish soldiers went ashore to seek water and food they were often attacked by Maya warriors. The Spaniards and the Maya engaged in a major battle in Champóton, now a port in the modern state of Campeche. More than half the Spanish expedition was killed. While the expedition ended in failure, it provided the Spaniards with more detailed knowledge of the native inhabitants of the region and sparked new interest in Mexico.

In 1518 Governor Velázquez sponsored another expedition, this time under the command of his nephew, Juan de Grijalva. The Spaniards returned to Champóton, where they avenged the defeat of the previous expedition, forcing the Maya to retreat inland after three days of fierce fighting. The expedition continued exploring the Gulf Coast, eventually encountering friendly Mayan-speaking peoples who told the Spaniards of a powerful empire to the west. Although the Spaniards did not realize it, they had reached the outer limits of the Aztec Empire.

The ruler of the Aztec Empire at this time, Montezuma II, had received reports of the Spanish explorations, as well as the battles at Champóton. He ordered his subjects along the Gulf Coast to greet the foreigners, offer them a large feast and gifts of gold and jewelry, and then ask them to leave the region. Montezuma knew of the Aztec legends and omens predicting future destruction, and is reported to have wondered whether the arrival of the Europeans heralded the return of an angry Quetzalcoatl.


The Cortés Expedition

Grijalva returned to Cuba and relayed to Governor Velázquez the tales of a powerful and wealthy Native American empire located in the interior of Mexico. This news spurred Velázquez to authorize a third expedition, this time commanded by Hernán Cortés.

As Cortés loaded his ships and recruited additional men in Cuba, some of his enemies complained that he was a poor choice to lead the expedition. They convinced Velázquez to cancel Cortés’s commission to lead the force. Cortés ignored the orders and set sail in February 1519 with about 600 men, as well as a few cannons and horses. On the Yucatán Peninsula, the expedition rescued a shipwrecked survivor, Jerónimo de Agúilar, who had been held captive by the Maya for eight years. He would provide the Spaniards with a valuable translator of the Mayan language.

The expedition sailed west along the Yucatán Peninsula and the Gulf Coast, engaging in a major battle against Tabascan warriors at the mouth of the Grijalva River. Cortés quickly realized the value of horses in battling the Native American peoples—the Tabascans had never seen horses and many fled in fear. The expedition sailed north in search of a good harbor and established a town, La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, at what is now the city of Veracruz. Cortés organized an independent government, renounced the authority of Governor Velázquez, and acknowledged only the supreme authority of the Spanish monarchy. In order to prevent any of his men from deserting because of these actions, Cortés destroyed his fleet.

When Cortés started to march inland he had about 500 men remaining. The Spaniards soon encountered the Tlaxcalan people, who lived east of the Aztec Empire and resented Aztec domination. Despite this resentment, the Tlaxcalans initially battled the Spanish invaders. After two weeks of fighting and heavy native losses, the Tlaxcalans surrendered and became allies of the Spaniards against the Aztecs. Until the conquest was achieved in 1521, the Tlaxcalans were important allies of the Spaniards and helped create a combined European/Native American army that numbered in the thousands.

In October 1519 the Spaniards and several thousand of their Tlaxcalan allies marched into Cholula, an ancient city devoted to the god Quetzalcoatl. Cholulan priests and leaders welcomed the Spaniards but demanded that the Tlaxcalans camp outside the city. After three days in the city, the Spaniards were informed of an impending ambush. Cortés reacted by summoning all the nobles of Cholula and locking them in a room, which left the Cholulans leaderless. The Spaniards, with the assistance of the Tlaxcalans, then massacred many of the city’s residents, killing more than 3,000 people in all.

As the Spaniards subdued the region around Cholula and began exploring the road to the Aztec capital, an increasingly desperate Montezuma decided not to oppose the invaders. Although about 4,000 Tlaxcalans accompanied the Spaniards as they marched toward Tenochtitlán, the combined force was still relatively small and vastly outnumbered by the Aztec warriors. On November 8, 1519, Cortés met Montezuma outside the city, the two leaders politely greeted each other, and the Aztecs led the Spaniards into their city. The Spanish soldiers established a headquarters in a large communal dwelling and were allowed to roam through the city, where they found much gold and other treasures in Aztec storehouses.

Despite the friendly reception given the Spaniards, Cortés believed that the Aztecs would attempt to drive him out. To safeguard his position, he seized Montezuma as a hostage and forced him to swear allegiance to the king of Spain, Charles I, and to provide an enormous ransom in gold and jewels. Over the next several months the Spaniards began devising strategies to conquer the entire region.

Meanwhile, Governor Velázquez had dispatched an expedition to Mexico to arrest Cortés and return him to Cuba. In April 1520 Cortés received word that the expedition had arrived on the Gulf Coast. Leaving 200 men at Tenochtitlán under the command of Pedro de Alvarado, Cortés marched with a small force to the coast. He entered the Spanish camp at night, captured the leader, and induced the majority of the Spaniards to join his force.


Battle for Tenochtitlán

In Tenochtitlán, Alvarado feared an Aztec attack and instituted a number of harsh rules while Cortés was absent from the city. When Alvarado’s men attacked and killed hundreds of worshipers at a religious ceremony, the city’s outraged population revolted and besieged the Spaniards in the building where Montezuma was still being held prisoner. The revolt was underway when Cortés returned to the city.

Cortés and his men, as well as 3,000 Tlaxcalan allies, were allowed to enter the city and join Alvarado, but they were immediately surrounded and attacked. At Cortés’s request, Montezuma addressed the Aztecs in an attempt to quell the revolt. The Aztec ruler was stoned by his people, and he died three days later. Immediate retreat from the city appeared to be the Spaniards’ only option for survival. On June 30, 1520—a rainy night that became known as the Noche Triste (“Sad Night”)—the Spaniards attempted a panicked retreat. Fleeing across a causeway, they were chased by Aztec warriors and attacked on both sides by Aztecs in canoes. More than half the Spaniards were killed, all of their cannons were lost, and most of the treasure they attempted to carry out was abandoned or lost in the lake and canals. The Aztecs pursued the retreating Spanish troops, but the survivors of the Noche Triste managed to find refuge in Tlaxcala.

During the summer of 1520, Cortés reorganized his army in Tlaxcala with the aid of reinforcements and equipment from Veracruz. He then began his return to the capital, capturing Aztec outposts along the way and subduing Aztec settlements around Lake Texcoco. By May 1521 the island capital of Tenochtitlán was isolated and surrounded by the Spaniards. Spanish artillery mounted on ships specially constructed for the shallow lake bombarded Tenochtitlán. Spanish soldiers launched daily attacks on the city, whose supplies of food and fresh water had been cut. Famine, dysentery, and smallpox ravaged the Aztec defenders. In August, after a desperate siege of three months, Cuauhtémoc, the new emperor, was captured and Tenochtitlán fell. More than 40,000 decomposed bodies littered the destroyed city and bloated corpses floated in canals and the lake. A fabulous city and its empire had been destroyed. -11


Colonial Mexico

The Spaniards were well aware of the political importance of the Aztec capital, and they decided to raze the city and build their Spanish city on the same site. The Spaniards set about establishing a governing bureaucracy, known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and expanded the reach of Spanish power north and south of the Valley of Mexico. Colonists were brought over from Spain, and the city became the principal European metropolis in the Americas. Mexico City has been the political and economic center of Mexico ever since.



A defining characteristic of colonial Mexico was the position and power of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic missionaries entered the country with the Spanish conquerors and immediately began working to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The church became enormously wealthy. In 1859 church holdings were nationalized.

The church played an important role in transferring Spanish culture and civilization to Mexico. Missionaries set up hospitals, monasteries, and schools in urban areas, and they established missions on the frontiers. They helped to expand and solidify Spanish control over the indigenous peoples of colonial Mexico, introducing Spanish culture and language to the Native Americans as they attempted to convert them to Christianity. The missionaries also became important intermediaries in conflicts between Native Americans, colonial settlers, and royal officials.

The Spanish Inquisition, a judicial institution established in Europe during the Middle Ages, was formally established in New Spain in 1571. The Inquisition enforced Catholic doctrine. It identified, tried, and sentenced religious heretics—people who held beliefs or opinions that disagreed with official church doctrine. The Inquisition also banned books that the church considered to be heretical.

The Spanish monarchy controlled the church through the device of the Patronato Real, or royal patronage, which gave the king the ability to select clerics and collect tithes. A tithe was a donation, equivalent to one-tenth of a person’s income, that Catholics were expected to give to the church for its support. Even papal bulls, or decrees, had to be approved by the king before they could be sent to the Americas.

Overall, the Catholic Church affected virtually every aspect of life in colonial Mexico. Social services—including education, hospital care, and assistance for the elderly, the poor, or the mentally disturbed—were offered primarily by the church rather than the colonial government or private operations. The church provided loans for some business ventures and kept records of births, deaths, and marriages. Priests taught in primary and secondary schools, as well as in universities, and they frequently counseled colonial officials on government matters.


Race and Social Class

The intermingling of races and cultures created a hybrid society in colonial Mexico. After the conquest, the Native American population declined dramatically due to European diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which the Native Americans had no resistance. These diseases spread quickly through the Native American population, killing large numbers of people. Estimates of the population decline vary, with the most extreme calculations suggesting a drop from about 25 million in 1519 to about 1 million by 1620.

Whatever the actual figures, the decline resulted in the emergence of a multiracial society made up of people of mixed Native American, European, African, and Asian heritage. Mestizos, or people of mixed European and Native American descent, were the biological and cultural bridge between Spaniards and Native Americans. The number of mestizos grew rapidly, as many Spanish men took Native American wives and had large families; by the 19th century mestizos would form the largest ethnic group in Mexico.

African contributions to the region began as soon as the Spaniards arrived. A free black, Juan Garrido, took an active part in the conquest of the Aztec Empire, and Hernán Cortés introduced African slaves into central Mexico shortly after the fall of Tenochtitlán. Several hundred slaves arrived in the first decade after the conquest; an estimated 200,000 African slaves were brought to New Spain over the course of the colonial period. Racial mixing and intermarriage produced a sizable population of mulattoes, or people of European and African descent, as well as zambos, who were people of African and Native American descent. By the 19th century, however, people of African descent had been almost completely absorbed into Mexico’s mestizo population.

Race was a sure indicator of social class immediately after the conquest. The highest social class was the peninsulares, a racial distinction that referred to people who were living in Mexico but had been born in Spain. The peninsulares were sent from Spain to hold the highest colonial offices in both the civil and church administrations. The peninsulares never made up more than 1 percent of the population of the colony and they held themselves aloof from the criollos (Creoles), people of European descent born in the Americas, who occupied the next step on the social ladder. Criollos were almost never given high office. The resentment of the criollos against the more privileged peninsulares became an influential force in the later movement for Mexican independence. Below the criollos were the mestizos, followed by the Native Americans and the blacks.

Gradually class became more important than race as a measure of social status in colonial Mexico. Individuals of mixed racial background who became wealthy and socially important often claimed criollo status. The number of claimants to criollo status prompted the Spanish monarchy in the 18th century to create a legal device that, in return for a fee, would establish a person’s legal whiteness.



An important aspect of the early colonial economy of Mexico was the exploitation of Native Americans. Although thousands of Native Americans were killed during the Spanish conquest, they were still the great majority of inhabitants and inevitably became the laboring class. Native Americans performed much of the farming, mining, and ranching work in the colony. Although Spain had decreed that the Native Americans were free and entitled to wages, they were often treated little better than slaves. Their plight was initially the result of the encomienda system, by which European settlers, explorers, and soldiers were granted access to Native American labor to work their large land holdings.

The government of Spain made several attempts to regulate the exploitation of Native American labor on farms and in mines in the mid-16th century. The New Laws of 1542 forbade the enslavement of Native Americans, prevented the granting of any new encomiendas, and declared that existing encomiendas would revert to the Spanish monarchy upon the death of their holders. Because the colonists strongly opposed the reforms and threatened general revolt, Spain relaxed its position on the inheritance of encomiendas. Spanish officials were largely unable to enforce the remaining measures.

Another system of forced labor, known as the repartimiento (division), emerged in the mid-16th century. The repartimiento required Native American communities to supply a quota of workers that would be available for hire by the Spanish settlers. This system could be burdensome and harsh, especially in silver mines, and it diverted native laborers away from their own agricultural tasks.

Slaves and free blacks worked in the ports of cities such as Veracruz and Acapulco, and labored in mines, factories, plantations, and sugar mills. Some slaves worked as household servants in urban areas, while some free blacks managed rural properties for absentee owners or were put in charge of Native American workers. Colonial Mexico witnessed several slave riots and some runaway slaves managed to establish independent communities in rugged, isolated regions.

European crops such as wheat, oats, barley, and a variety of secondary items were introduced after the conquest and soon flourished. Cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, oxen, mules, burros, and horses added new food stocks as well as draft animals. By 1600 an estimated 10 million animals of European origin roamed the countryside. Land holdings varied in size depending on climate. In the north, scarce water and dry grasses required vast haciendas, or estates, to support cattle. In more fertile areas in central Mexico, the land holdings were much smaller, and hacienda owners generally engaged in mixed agricultural activities.

Mining operations centered on silver deposits. Cortés owned the first silver mine in New Spain, which opened in Taxco (Taxco de Alarcón), located about 110 km (70 mi) southwest of Mexico City. Small, but disappointing strikes followed until 1546, when rich silver deposits were discovered to the northwest of the capital, in what is now the state of Zacatecas. Other major strikes followed, mostly in the north, drawing miners and settlers into that region. Unlike agricultural items, silver enjoyed an instant market in Europe and Asia, and its high value covered the cost of transportation. Mining, exporting, and trading silver made possible a complex and diversified economy in colonial Mexico.

Large merchants tended to dominate commerce in New Spain. Merchants dealt in products imported from Spain, as well as items obtained from trade with other nations. This trade was illegal, as Spain required Mexican colonists to export to Spain raw materials such as silver and sugar, and to buy processed goods only from Spanish merchants. These attempts at strict regulation of trade in colonial Mexico were largely ineffective. Thus, much of Mexico’s silver was used to buy goods from foreigners and found its way into the pockets of Spain’s competitors; an estimated one-third of the silver mined in colonial Mexico ended up in Asia.



According to royal decree, every municipality in New Spain had the obligation to operate a primary school; most did not do so. People with sufficient resources sent their children to church schools; in a small village a priest might offer some instruction. Young girls sometimes attended convent schools or private secular schools operated by women, and secondary schools for young women opened shortly after the conquest. Secondary education for males was largely in the hands of Jesuit missionaries, who arrived in Mexico in 1572. Only a limited number of students attended school at any level, however. In general, wealthy individuals employed private tutors and the lower class remained illiterate. Blacks, Native Americans, people of mixed ethnicity, and women of any race had limited educational opportunities. Nevertheless, a determined individual could acquire a basic education, regardless of class.

Higher education began with the founding of the University of Mexico in 1551. Theology and law dominated the curriculum, but the university had chairs in medicine and Native American languages. Mexican-born don Carlos de Sigüenza y Gongora, who held the chair of mathematics and astronomy, demonstrated the high intellectual achievement made possible by the colonial educational system. Women could not attend the university, however. The great 17th-century Mexican intellectual, Juana Inés de la Cruz, begged to be allowed to enter the university, even offering to attend dressed as a man.-12



Soon after the conquest, Hernán Cortés established a basic but functional local governmental structure based on the municipality, or city. Municipalities controlled smaller towns and villages. In 1528 the Spanish monarchy established a high court, known as the Audiencia, and by 1530 it was staffed by well-trained judges and had established a degree of royal control. In 1535, nearly 15 years after the fall of the Aztec empire, the Spanish government established the Viceroyalty of New Spain and appointed the first Spanish viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, who was an accomplished administrator. The viceroy served as the head of the Audiencia, chief executive of New Spain, and military leader of the viceroyalty under the title of captain-general.

Theoretically, the viceroys controlled all of New Spain, which eventually included what is now Mexico, the Philippine Islands, Central America, the islands of the Antilles, California, New Mexico, and uncharted territory along the Gulf Coast. In reality, however, the viceroy exercised direct authority only over the central regions of New Spain. In other areas, distance and poor communications made it necessary to rely upon governors and other officials.

The administration of New Spain also relied on other bodies, including the Consulado (merchant guild), which dealt with commercial matters. A special tribunal, the Juzgado de Indios, was established in 1573 to hear appeals from Native Americans against the actions of district governors. A variety of lesser bodies dealt with the needs of a complex colonial society.



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