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Old December 16, 2000, 11:25 AM   #1
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I have done a bit of research into the Spaniards conquering of the Americas. I have a BA in Anthropology. Studied the King site a bit for one class. The King Site contains the
remains of Native Americans that appear to have been killed by the Spanish [not certain which group of spaniards though].

One of the things I noted was the distribution of wound patterns. Mainly long bones [ie arms and legs].
Nothing conclusive but I found it intersting that the limbs seemed to be a primary target.

Later I read the [translations] of the acounts of Pizarro's and Cortez's campaigns. I was surprised to learn that they had almost no guns with them. They were mainly armed with crossbows and swords [with bucklers and body I think]. Yet they defeated or at least drove off hundreds if not thousands of native americans that were armed about the same except stone based tech vs iron.

One of the conclusions I reached was that it was the Spaniards training & experiance as solders that gave them an edge. They were trained and practiced in fighting as a unit. From at least one account I read it seems clear that the swordmen formed a square or ring with the crossbows and couple of firearms in the center. And I assume the missle armed spanairds organized their fire somehow like modern infantry would.

Anyway I haven't found enough detailed information about Cortez, Pizzaro, or about the nuts and bolts of spanish fighting of the time period. So I figured I would post this thread and see what other might know or have to say. I figure Tamera and a few others have to know something about the tactics of this time period with their interest in Roman military history.
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Old December 16, 2000, 03:13 PM   #2
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has got a good bit of general info you might like.

Injuries to arms and legs are quite common in bladed weapon fights. The arms are out in front of the body and tend to get in the way of the hacking, slashing, cutting and thrusting.

Plus, it's generally a good idea to deal with the weapon arm before you get in close for the body cut, otherwise your opponent might return the complement with his last strength.

Cutting the leg is a good way to limit your opponents mobility, allowing you to finish him off at your leisure.

So, the large number of limb injuries is probably pretty standard for bladed weapon combat.


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Old December 16, 2000, 07:43 PM   #3
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"Discipline." It's how the Romans won, too.

In the kenjutsu (sword work) I study, attacks that begin by cutting limbs are common.
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Old December 17, 2000, 01:31 AM   #4
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I learned two things, which had little to do with individual weapons or wound patterns.

First, a belief in the "battle of annihilation." Whereas the Aztecs believed in ritualistic one-on-one combat to capture noble opponents for the subsequent sacrifices, the Spaniards believed in annihilating their opponents (both on and off the battlefield), taking their land and subjugating the remnant population.

Second, when outnumbered, it is imperative to find allies, particularly among the "opporessed" to defeat those in power. Then, once in power, subjugate the rest at leisure one-by-one (very similar to what Mao Tse-Tung said/did).

I think that it is a common misconception to say that the Spaniards conquered the Americas because of the horse and the gunpowder. I believe it was their warfighting doctrine and strategy (from a culture of warfare that was much more "realist" and developed) that gave them supremacy.

Cultures that maintain "arms control" may keep the peace internally, but become extremely vulnerable to outsiders who do not (something that the late Qing Chinese and late Tokugawa Japanese also learned - one successfully, one not).

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. Sun Tzu
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Old December 17, 2000, 04:02 AM   #5
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A few things to keep in mind:

1. Obsidian vs. metal armor, armor wins consistently.

2. With the Aztecs, capturing your enemy for sacrifice was more important than killing him. How else would the sun rise ?

3. Cortez had quite a few tribes as allies.

4. Cortez was treated with godlike status, he was welcomed with open arms. The Aztecs predicted his coming would be their demise.

5. The Aztecs were tiny compared to the Spaniards.

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Old December 17, 2000, 05:03 AM   #6
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Erick: The Spaniards didn't have more than a couple of horses or guns. They had no real tactical effect. The horses, and perhaps guns, did have some effect on the mindset of their opponents at first though.

I can't remember which account it was from, but I do recall that after the first few contacts the horsemen had to shorten their grip on the lances they were using because the native americans started just grabbing the lances.

Cortez did gain allies and such. Pizzaro did not though.

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Old December 17, 2000, 06:31 PM   #7
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Several factors

I'm just guessing at factors in Cortez' success:

-gunpowder might have had a big psych effect on the Aztecs. Although in terms of raw numbers the casualties they created might have been (most probably were) small, the horrific wounds and smoke and thunder they created might have scared the feces out of their opponents. Imagine one of your side gets ripped open by a hand cannon shot. Even better, what if he survives and dies horribly of blood poisoning a week later from the wound? (early black powder guns created very septic wounds) Now nobody wants to die that way when they confront the auslanders.

-Human nature is to focus on the worst and amplify it. If 8 Aztecs in a battle caught a volley of hand cannon fire and died horribly, by the time the story goes through a few villages, the tale might be "the white man launched thunder and smoke and whole armies fell from their wrath" Next battle a similar number of Aztecs fall to a volley and the rest might crap their loincloths and say "The tales are true!!!" All this would work to the Spaniards' advantage. This overexaggeration of casualties isn't limited to back then, either.

-From the sounds of it, Aztecs had their own honorific way of waging conflict. The Spaniards didn't play fair and fought hard and bloody. Always a good strategy is not play your opponent's game.

-I read that smallpox and other European diseases, even chicken pox, killed huge numbers of native Americans. Coupled with their legends of doom, perhaps another psych advantage is realized: White man shows up, natives start dying. Throw in some native superstition and you might have a full scale panic spreading.

That's my amateur guesswork.

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Old December 19, 2000, 02:44 PM   #8
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the aztec's belief in the god status of cortez adversely effected their timely response to his "invasion"

their style of waging war, honor and hostages, was inferior in terms of defeating the enemy

as to the wounds - until the advent and common use of ammour, most dibilitating wounds were the severing of major limbs and blood vessels...left lots of stuppy folks about. the use of ammour lead to more stabbing wounds, through openings in ammour, which lead to the developement of our current style of carry blades (pokers not choppers) even after the demise of ammour.
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Old December 19, 2000, 05:23 PM   #9
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Mindset and Morale

are teriffically important in shock combat. Casualties in this type of warfare really don't start to mount until one side realizes that the other: A) has no fear of them, whatsoever and B) is implacably determined to run them through with cold steel. At this point the side whose morale breaks gets massacred when they turn and flee. This is why bayonet charges by units like Gurkhas and the USMC were succesful in an era long after massed fire from repeating weapons had rendered the bayonet obsolete.

If you and 1,000 of your best Neolithic buddies faced 100 men who came at you while your flint-tipped javelins shattered on their steel cuirasses, then when your 50 bravest guys jumped forward to call their champions out for single combat only to be dismembered by halberds and broadswords, it's a safe bet that most of the remaining 950 would suddenly remember they had urgent appointments elsewhere.
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Old December 20, 2000, 01:38 PM   #10
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A very interesting thread.

Where is "The King Site?"

A great book on the subject of Cortez's expedition is: The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz. He was with Cortez during the Mexican conquest and wrote his memoirs in Guatamala before he died in his 80s.

Your conjecture about the Spanish fighting in organized formations is correct. Diaz notes that they formed up in a square, closed ranks, and fought shoulder to shoulder for an entire day at a time. IIRCC, he noted that ALL of the Spanish soldiers were wounded multiple times during such engagements. To break ranks was to be dragged off by the locals and be killed.

Although, much has been made about the horse in the Spanish forces there were about 600 Spaniards and only 18 horses with the expedition, so the Spanish fought as infantry. I don't recall the number of firearms, but Diaz does note the making of bolts for the crossbows when they fighting was over for the day.

I am surprised that disease did not stop the Spanish. When Cortez burned the ships at Veracruz he left the group no way back. I guess that is one way to motivate the troops. He would have made a great moral officer.

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Old December 20, 2000, 07:49 PM   #11
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Let me also say, thanks for an interesting thread.

All of the above, quite true. As a medieval reanactor, I'm always getting hit in the arms or legs first. Generally, a precursor to dropping out of the fight and bleeding to death in those times.

Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, let me expound on the pyschological advantage of the Spanish. The Aztecs were unfamiliar with horses, and most sources suggest that they believed (initially at least) that horse and rider were one, fantastic and horrifying creature. Wouldn't need too many for a telling effect on enemy morale under those circumstances.

I would like to add my personal thoughts on the nature of combat and its ritualistic beginnings. Casual observation suggests that many cultures start out with a very narrow, ritualistic style that through the forces of violent "Darwinism", gradually evolve toward "total" warfare as we more understand it. David and Goliath might best typify the stylized combat between champions that many cultures start out with; Homer's description of events at Troy also illustrate this. The Zulu king Shaka shook people up when instead of throwing spears at a distance, he shortened the spear to what is now known as the Assegai and had massed regiments close with the enemy and actually started killing people.

Again, a casual observation. The history major in me wants to write that reseach paper; alas I have a real job that pays well!
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Old December 20, 2000, 08:51 PM   #12
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An interesting book that has some good info on the mechanics of ancient battles is "On Killing" by Grossman. The topical part is that most of the true killing was accomplished after one side was fleeing. The victors chased down the vanquished and the slaughter commenced.

I imagine that the Spanish tactics were an enourmous shock. That alone probably won the day.

I'll hit Amazon and look up the Diaz book!

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Old December 21, 2000, 11:44 AM   #13
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The King site is located in NW Georgia, in Floyd county, by the Coosa river near the Foster Bend.

The book that I used for the class and where I have got my information about the King site is: The King Site edited by Robert L. Blakely. University of Georgia Press: 1988.

The ISBN is 0-8203-1078-6

If anyone is interested in this book but has trouble finding it email me and I will try to locate a source for you.

If anyone knows of in print books that deal with Spanish or European military history [tactics and equipment] around this time period--1500 to 1570--I would appreciate the info.
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Old December 22, 2000, 09:51 PM   #14
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Well, here is my humble contribution. As mentioned, the intent of warfare was vastly different. The Aztecs were dumbed-down from the "Flower Wars" which meant capturing prisoners of war for their protein (cannabilism). But the Spanish just finished a war of annihilation against the moslems during the Reconquista. So the Spaniards were of much more deadly intent. The Reconquista was no mean feat of arms

Also the Spaniards enlisted former slave populations against the Aztecs.

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