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Native American History: The Zapotecs and European Contact

Unfortunately for the Indigenous Peoples of Mesoamerica, it was the Spaniards who first explored the area with the intent to discover and colonize. The Spaniards had a less diplomatic approach to colonization than the French and English did in the same era. Whereas the French and English initially sought to trade with and learn from the Indigenous Peoples they encountered, the Spaniards were known as more ruthless colonizers; they killed as many Indigenous People as possible and tried to conquer and wipe out the cultures as much as possible. 

Right around the time that the Europeans were first exploring the region now known as Mexico, the Zapotecs were engaged in a series of battles with the Aztecs. The Aztecs were becoming the dominant force between the two although they had yet to conquer the Zapotecs. 

Shortly after the final battle between the Zapotecs and the Aztecs, the Spaniards arrived. They first encountered the Incas and Aztecs. Like the other European explorers and traders, The Spanish conquistadors spread diseases throughout the Indigenous villages, immediately lowering the populations and limiting their ability to adequately defend themselves. The Aztecs and Incas were the first of the Mesoamerican civilizations to be conquered by the Spaniards. 

Having heard this news, the Zapotecs, hoping for a more diplomatic outcome, attempted to avoid the same fate by avoiding attacking the Spaniards. The tactic did not work and ultimately the diseases and the conquistadors decimated the Zapotecs as well. After the Spaniards conquered Mexico, very few Indigenous People remained alive and many of those who did survive were ill-fated to become enslaved by the Spanish colonies. 

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