The pre-Conquest Lenca Empire consisted of four interrelated regions. These were the Care, Cerquin, and Lenca in Honduras and the Potón in El Salvador. The Lenca were not originally indigenous to this area; they emigrated to the region from South America. Their contact with the various Mayan groups and the Aztecan Pipil contributed much to their culture. It is estimated that, at the time of the Conquest, the Lenca numbered between three and six hundred thousand and occupied around 26,000 square kilometers.
In the 1520s Spanish forces under Cortés entered the Lenca region and attempted to conquer them. The Lenca tried to defend themselves but were unable to resist. In the years immediately following, European diseases and forced labor took their toll on the Lenca. By 1550, there were only 25,000 Lenca Indians left. This population level remained relatively stable throughout the colonial period.
In contrast to many other groups in the area who lost their communal lands during the colonial period, many Lenca communities were able to retain their communal lands and to continue their agricultural way of life into the present. Others migrated for wage-labor jobs on the coffee and banana plantations or in the mines. Because the Lenca have been heavily involved in Honduran society, much of traditional Lenca culture has been lost through the process of acculturation.