Gold, Glory, and God - Spanish Motivations in the New World

The Spanish that explored and conquered parts of the New World had three basic ideas that motivated them--Gold, Glory, and God.


Upon his return from the New World, Columbus reported to the Spanish crown that he saw much potential for riches in the newly discovered territory. The natives that met Columbus and his party traded bits of gold to them for parts of Columbus's ships and other items of interest. In addition, the native chieftain reportedly gave Columbus a ceremonial mask inset with gold. Columbus also reported seeing gold in the rivers. He also told the Spanish that he believed there would be mines rich with gold and other metals. Columbus and the Spanish were extremely interested in wealth. That's what inspired his voyage in the first place!

While there were no mines on Hispaniola, as more explorers and conquistadors surveyed parts of the New World, they kept hearing of a rich empire that existed in the west (in Mexico.) The search for gold became an obsession with the Spanish. England, France and other European Nations were in search of riches too, but they tended to focus more on getting rich by way of trade.


Keep in mind that Western Europe was still at the tail end of the Middle Ages and feudalism. Europe had been at war, off and on, for centuries. This, along with the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors, had fostered a culture that glorified the military and its leaders. Men who won battles or performed other great deeds were often rewarded by titles of nobility, land, money, and laborers. Since there was little land to be had in Europe, the discovery of huge amounts of land in the New World became a big motivator for individuals to seek personal glory there.


In January of 1492, Spain had finally finished driving the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula. The end of this war helped feed religious fervor among the Spanish. In addition, the Papal decree of 1493 gave Spain the authority and duty of converting any and all natives in the New World to Christianity.

This trio of motivating factors, Gold, Glory, and God, along with superior technology and disease, would prove to be the fuel that propelled the Spanish to conquer most of South America, parts of the Southwestern United States, and all of Mexico and Central America. The legacy of Spanish culture and the tragedy of the extermination of the indigenous peoples of these areas would change the course of the world forever.

(update 8-24-16)  If this page was helpful, interesting, etc., please consider sharing the link with someone else.  Also, I'd love to get your questions and comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Mr. West 


  1. thanks, the summary of the 'god, glory, gold' was very helpful. I teach high school.

  2. Thank you for creating this resource. It has helped with virtual learning more than any other resource I have found!