What were the biggest wars/battles in America before 1492?

Pre-Columbian, that is before the Europeans pitched up and ruined everybody’s fun with smallpox.

Are there any educated guesses through archaeology or tribal oral history what serious conflicts happened in the Americas between the native inhabitants? Or what the most major battle fought there was?

I know the Pawnee and the Sioux had been traditional enemies for generations, still fighting well into the 19th century, and the Aztec Empire was by no means peaceable towards its neighbours, but other than that I’m drawing a bit of a blank. Any ideas?

Not quite what you’re looking for because it happened after Columbus but most Americans have never heard of the Beaver Wars even though it was one of the biggest wars fought in North America. It was basically the Iroquois fighting everyone else in order to gain exclusive control of the fur trade.

A good read on the subject is 1492. It opened my eyes. The world before Chris Columbus.

Do you mean 1491, by Charles Mann?

A fascinating book.
The 16th century in the Americas was a unique and fascinating time. I hope we learn more about it.

The Inca Civil War happened to be climaxing just as the Spanish moved into Perú, thus resulting in a worst-of-both-worlds perfect storm. Now, the succession crisis that caused it is linked to the spread of smallpox from indirect contacts, but still, they went at it with quite some violence before Pizarro actually intervened.

In terms of loss of life, it was almost certainly the wars involved in the expansion of the Aztec Empire from 1428 to 1521. These wars were carried out not only for political expansion but also to obtain victims for human sacrifice. (Sacrifices were also a tool of political intimidation and terror.)

The numbers are disputed but some authorities have put the toll of human sacrifice (most of the victims being captives obtained in warfare) in central Mexico as up to 250,000 victims per year. It is alleged that the number of victims sacrificed at the consecration of the Great Pyramid at Tenochtitlan was over 80,000 (although other estimates are as low as 4,000). The Aztecs also engaged in what were called Flower Wars in order to obtain captives for sacrifice.

Any conflict between tribes north of Mexico would have been trivial compared to these battles.

The Incas also engaged in major wars during their expansion from 1438 to 1533, but these would have certainly been much less lethal since the Inca did not engage in mass human sacrifice of prisoners as the Aztecs did.

There were major military campaigns during the expansion of earlier empires in Mesoamerica and in the Andes, as well as conflicts among the Mayan city states. However, since the populations and empires involved were smaller the battles probably were as well.

Beyond that the Inca wars of conquest and particularly the struggle with the older conquest state of Chimor involved large formed armies on both sides and sizeable battles. Similarly the struggles with the Mapuche, including the Inca reverse at Maule.

Thanks for the replies fellas, good stuff (I’ve never even heard of the Beaver Wars, despite all the factions it involved). Been wondering whether or not to pick up 1491, probably will pick it up now.

Another interesting but largely unknown war was the Pueblo Revolt. The Spanish had occupied New Mexico for decades when the local natives under a leader (with the unlikely name of Pope) united and rebelled. What’s unique about this war was the natives won and drove out the Europeans. (Granted, they came back twelve years later.)