An overview of Spanish Conquistador weapons – medieval weaponry used in the Spanish conquest of the New World from Conquistador swords to gunpowder weapons.
Superior weapons technology was by no means the deciding factor in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Strategy, tactics, European diseases and even the written word helped the numerically inferior Conquistadors overcome the likes of the Inca and Aztec civilizations.
However, Spanish offensive weaponry certainly gave the Conquistadors a distinct battlefield advantage. Here is an overview of the most commonly used Spanish Conquistador weapons.
Close Combat Weapons – Conquistador Infantry
The sword was the most widely used Conquistador weapon, and an effective one at that. Standard medieval Conquistador swords came in two varieties: the more common one-handed sword (approximately 3ft in length) and the two-handed sword (approximately 4.5ft). While native body armor provided efficient protection, the medieval steel sword still proved brutally effective.
Conquistador infantry also made use of the halberd. Measuring at least six feet in length, the halberd could be used effectively in both defensive and offensive situations. Oncoming Aztec or Inca warriors could be held off at greater length, buying time for swordsmen to reform or reposition themselves and for crossbowmen or gunners to reload. Combining an axe blade with a stabbing tip, the halberd was a versatile weapon.
Close Combat Weaponry – Conquistador Cavalry
Conquistador cavalry, where terrain allowed, would utilize their lances in an initial charge. The effect could be devastating; native warriors, unaccustomed to the sight of horses, would often break and run. If the enemy stood firm, the mounted Conquistadors could wreak havoc with their twelve foot lances before engaging with swords.
Conquistador knights were the most heavily armored troops in the New World, and the most mobile, but their effectiveness depended greatly upon the battlefield terrain.
Long Range Weapons – Conquistador Arquebus & Crossbow
The effectiveness of the Spanish arquebus, an early and inaccurate matchlock gunpowder weapon, was limited in the New World. As historians Pohl and Robinson state, “Guns could inflict horrifying damage on vastly superior numbers, but they took a great deal of time to prepare, load and fire.”
While, initially, the mere noise and smoke of the Spanish guns could break a native charge, Aztec and Inca warriors soon became accustomed to these new weapons. Native warriors could close quickly, and in loose formation, with the Conquistador gunners, nullifying the effect of the arquebus.
The crossbow also suffered from slow reload times, but was generally more effective in the New World. A crossbow bolt could easily penetrate the strongest native armor, and was far more accurate than the arquebus. For providing covering fire for both swordsmen and Spanish gunners, the crossbow was a valuable weapon. It was also easier to maintain in the humid climate of the New World.
Spanish Conquistador Artillery – Cannon
Without the means to haul heavy artillery across the New World, the Conquistadors made use of their lighter ship-based cannon. According to Pohl and Robinson, these breech-loading cannon, known as falconets, were “transported inland by the early Conquistadores who remounted them on makeshift carriages or even timber scaffolds.”
Again, the noise alone was enough to terrify native warriors. With a range of over 2,000 yards, the falconet could be put to good use if the battlefield situation allowed.
However, native warriors would soon become accustomed to the Spanish cannon and learn to adapt when faced with such weapons. As with the arquebus, loose formations and quick advances helped to minimize the effectiveness of Spanish artillery in open battle. In time, enemy warriors would also learn to predict the projectile path of the cannon and change their approach accordingly.