The Americas 1200–1650
The expansion of European sea exploration during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought explorers like Columbus and Cortés into contact with various cultures in the New World, including the Aztec Empire (in modern-day Mexico and Latin America) and the Incan Empire (in modern-day South America). One of the map illustrations (1) depicts Cortés' meeting with Toltec dignitaries on arriving in Teotihuacan with his army in Mexico in 1519. However, explorers, and particularly conquistadors such as Hernán Cortés and Pedro Cieza de León, did not just arrive to the New World to map the coast and meet with dignitaries. More often, European explorers proceeded inland (as is depicted in the map inset) with the express purpose of conquering any native populations that they encountered and securing land for European powers back home. The militaristic "explorations" of Cortés, for example, ultimately caused the fall of the Aztec Empire, and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under Spanish control. Ruins of conquered civilizations such as the Aztec Empire ruins at Tenochtitlan (2) and the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu (3) remain to this day important reminders of these past empires.