Any of a small group of adventurers who took part in the Spanish conquest of South and Central America in the 16th century. Under Hernán Cortés a force of some 500 men with 16 horses conquered Mexico's Aztec empire. A force under Pedro de Alvarado subsequently subdued Guatemala. Francisco Pizarro defeated the Inca in Peru with 180 men and 37 horses; his companion Diego de Almagro led an expedition to Chile. Further expeditions extended Spanish rule over much of South America. Though renowned for their bravery, the conquistadores remain notorious for their avarice and the destruction they wrought on native populations and civilizations. They were soon replaced by administrators and settlers from Spain.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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