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The Depopulation of Hispanic America after the Conquest


  • Massimo Livi-Bacci


During the century following Columbus's landfall, the population of America experienced a precipitous decline. A widely accepted explanation is the diffusion of Eurasian pathogens among the nonimmune Indians with the attendant catastrophic mortality. Contemporary observers-conquerors, administrators, missionaries, and chroniclers-while mentioning disease among factors in the decline, were convinced that the demographic collapse was due to a plurality of factors, such as serfdom and the confiscation of labor, excessive work, economic and social dislocation, wars and conflicts, and impediments to reproduction. Reconsideration of historical evidence supports the notion that new pathologies cannot satisfactorily explain the varying demographic impacts of Conquest. The Tainos of the Antilles were on the verge of extinction before the first smallpox epidemics struck the islands in 1518; the Guaranís of Paraguay were flourishing in spite of recurrent epidemics; in Peru civil wars were the major cause of decline during the first two decades of Spanish rule. A reappraisal of the Indian catastrophe must consider-together with the impact of the new viruses-the modes and circumstances of European domination. Copyright 2006 The Population Council, Inc..

Suggested Citation

  • Massimo Livi-Bacci, 2006. "The Depopulation of Hispanic America after the Conquest," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 32(2), pages 199-232.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:popdev:v:32:y:2006:i:2:p:199-232

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    Cited by:

    1. Meisel, Adolfo, 2014. "No Reversal Of Fortune In The Long Run: Geography And Spatial Persistence Of Prosperity In Colombia, 1500-2005," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(03), pages 411-428, December.
    2. Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2009. "Five Centuries of Latin American Inequality," NBER Working Papers 15305, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Mejía Cubillos, Javier, 2014. "Apuntes acerca de la población del territorio colombiano al momento de la Conquista
      [Notes about the population of Colombia on the eve of the Spanish conquest]
      ," MPRA Paper 60611, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Javier Mejía, 2015. "La población del territorio colombiano al momento de la Conquista: Una revisión crítica de estudios," REVISTA ECONOMÍA & REGIÓN, UNIVERSIDAD TECNOLÓGICA DE BOLÍVAR, vol. 9(2), pages 7-46, December.
    5. Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2009. "History without Evidence: Latin American Inequality since 1491," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers 3, Courant Research Centre PEG.
    6. Enriqueta Camps & Stanley L. Engerman, 2016. "The Impact of Race and Inequality on Human Capital Formation in Latin America During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," Working Papers 885, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.

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