The sudden destruction of the two major civilisation - those of the Aztecs and the Incas – in America highlights the contrasts between the two cultures in combat. Both with the Aztecs and the Incas, the nature of warfare played a crucial role in terrorising local inhabitants psychologically and physically.
The contest also revealed a fundamental difference in values. The Spanish avarice for gold and silver was incomprehensible to the natives.
The enslavement of the population was a sharp reminder of the brutality of the encounter. Slavery was not a new idea, but the South American experience was new in that it accompanied the emerging capitalist system of production. Working conditions were horrific, but the Spanish regarded the exploitation as essential to their economic gain.
In 1601, Philip II of Spain pubilicly banned forced labour, but made arrangements by a secret decree for its continuation. Things came to a head with the law of 1609, which gave full freedom to the local people, Christian and non-Christian alike.
The European settlers were enraged, and within two years they had forced the king to revoke this law and to permit enslavement once again.
As new economic activities began - cattle farming on lands cleared of forests, and mining after the discovery of gold in 1700 - the demand for cheap labour continued. It was clear that the local people would resist enslavement.
The alternative was to turn to Africa. Between the 1550s and 1880s (when slavery was abolished in Brazil) over 3,600,000 African slaves were imported into Brazil. This was almost half the total number of African slaves imported into the Americas. In 1750, there were individuals who owned as many as a thousand slaves.