History of Argentina

The population of the region now called Argentina may have totalled 300,000 prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Some of the Indigenous peoples were nomadic hunters and fishers, such as those in the Chaco, the Querandí and Puelche (Guennakin) of the Pampas and the Tehuelche of Patagonia, but others, such as the Diaguita of the Northwest practiced developed sedentary agriculture. The highlands of the Northwest were a part of the Inca Empire.

European discovery and settlement

The main Atlantic outline of Argentina was exposed to European explorers in the early 16th century. Discovery of the Río de la Plata estuary happened years before Ferdinand Magellan navigated the Strait of Magellan in 1520, but the estuary was first reached by Amerigo Vespucci in 1501–02 or by Juan Díaz de Solís in his ill-fated voyage of 1516 is a controversy still to be settled by historians. Solís and a small party had sailed up the Plata only to be ambushed by Indigenous peoples. Solís and most of his companions were killed, and many disappeared. The survivors of the voyage returned back to Spain.

After the ill-fated exploration of Solis, Río de la Plata was explored next only when Magellan arrived in 1520 and Sebastian Cabot arrived in 1526. Cabot has the credit of discovery of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and establishment of the fort of Sancti Spíritus (the first Spanish settlement in the Plata basin). He also sent home the message about the presence of silver.

In 1528 Cabot bumped into another expedition from Spain under Diego García (commander of a ship from the Solís expedition). Both Cabot and García had plans set to sail for the Moluccas but changed their courses, influenced by tales about an “enchanted City of the Caesars”, which later on prompted many more explorations and conquests in Argentina. While Cabot was making preparations to search for the fabled city, a shock attack by Indigenous people in September 1529 destroyed his Sancti Spíritus base.

Enthused by the conquest of Peru and the threat from Portugal’s mounting power in Brazil, Spain in 1535 sent a Pedro de Mendoza led expedition to settle the country. Mendoza initially succeeded in founding Santa María del Buen Aire, or Buenos Aires (1536), but acute shortage of food proved fatal. Mendoza, rendered hopeless by attacks by Indigenous people and mortally ill, sailed for Spain in 1537; he died on the way.

In the same year, a party from Buenos Aires led collectively by Juan de Ayolas and Domingo Martínez de Irala, lieutenants of Mendoza, moved a thousand miles up the Plata and Paraguay rivers. Although Ayolas got lost while on an exploring expedition, Irala founded Asunción (now in Paraguay). In the year 1541, the few remaining Buenos Aires inhabitants abandoned it and moved to Asunción. In the next half century Asunción played a key role in the conquest and settlement of northern Argentina. The main populace of Argentina was concentrated there until the late 18th century.

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