The Conquest of Mexico
There is a lot to say about the conquest of Mexico. Nearly 500 years ago Spanish conquistadors started their conquest of the Americas. The most successful of them all was Hernan Cortez. When Cortez and his men first landed in Mexico in 1954 they carried weapons like swords, guns, and knifes. The people he faced, the Aztecs under Montezuma. Were using less primitive weapons. We are trying to find the simplicity of conquering the Aztecs. Why was it so easy for the Aztecs to be taken over by a handful of Spanish soldiers?
When the Spanish conquistadors reached New Spain Hernan Cortez was having trouble with almost being mutinied. The men wanted to end the expedition and return to Cuba. But there is no turning back for Cortez. He actually ended up making it impossible for retreat. He would set fire to his vessel once they reached their destination. His motivation was either you like and emerge victorious, or you die along with all of your men on this land you just discovered. Some called this the most daring acts in the history of conquest. The only option for his soldiers is victory or death.
The Aztecs have a very odd story as to what went down with the Spaniards. They were told as if Omens were bringing the coming of the Spaniards to the Aztecs attention. These omens would let the Aztecs know the day of Hernan Cortez’ arrival. Some omens would come in the form of a comet drizzling stardust, or a lightning bolt striking a temple on a sunny afternoon. But Montezuma was confused with what these omens were trying to say. Montezuma and the rest of his tribe were convinced that Cortez would be a god returning to them. When they first spotted the Spaniards they stated that they saw “towers or mountains floating on the waves of the sea” (Leon Portilla 13). The Aztecs told their leader that the men have very light skin and beards. Which made Montezuma very weary thinking that they were Quetzalcoatl or gods of learning and wind.
Aztecs were very intelligent people but they did not have firearms. The Aztecs had more hand built hand-based weapons, like the obsidian blade or a shank. They liked using bows and arrows along with spears. The Spaniards kept it simple with what they had. They would use a Spanish style sword with guns and ammo. They also got accustomed to using a new form of weapon. A crossbow. The crossbow is able to shoot accurately up to distances within one hundred yards.
Montezuma decided that he needed to send a couple messengers to go talk to Cortez. I think that was a bad idea on the part of the Aztec chief. Right when the messenger got to Cortez he immediately kissed the ground at his feet. Telling him that they welcome his presence here and that Montezuma would like to meet with him. Hernando Cortez was very upset with what they brought him. He spoke to the messengers like they were trash deserving nothing. “Then the captain gave orders, and the messengers were chained at the feet and neck”(Leon Portilla 24). Once they were hog-tied cannons were fired into the ears of the messenger so they would loose consciousness. The captain would then ask if the Aztecs were great warriors what were their plans and all. Cortez told the messengers that he wanted to see for himself if the Aztec tribes were really brave and powerful, as they seem. When Montezuma heard this report he was filled with terror. “It was if his heart had fainted,” (Leon Portilla 31).
The Aztecs had a very different wild way of fighting that the Spaniards have never seen before. I am actually surprised how well the Spaniards were able to catch on to what was happening around them and stand their ground. Aztecs were guerilla fighters which mean they fight very fast paced and very hard. Usually used to keep off opponents and bring in an easy win. Since day one boys live and breathe the art of war. In Aztec society intimidation is key. The Aztecs would beat on their drums, yell shout, scream, and blow their whistles all in open battle hoping to throw off their opponent. This tactic was very useful against the Spanish who were in unknown jungles and territory. At that time the Spanish used conventional European warfare. This is when all the soldiers would get together stand still and all shoot at once. This confused the Aztecs a lot. The musket frightened them as well. Probably because of all that thick smoke rising from the barrel after a very loud bang.
Hernan Cortez gets word of Spanish ships arriving on the coast. He must have no idea who this mysterious ship holds. Cortez set out with a few of his crewmembers to check out the situation. While he was gone his second hand man Pedro de Avarado took command of the soldiers. Cortez had not been back for several days and it is now the Aztec’s Fiesta of Toxcatl celebration. The Spanish left the palace where they were staying, during the celebration and began slaughtering the unarmed dancing Aztecs. The Spanish realized they needed to retreat to back to their palace and take cover from the dangerous Aztec warriors that realized what was going on.
Cortez came to a realization that the Spanish ships belonged to Pánfilo de Narváez. Narváez had been sent by the governor of Cuba apprehend the Spanish commander, Cortez. Cortez then quickly came out from under the brush and attacked Narváez ultimately killing him and his crew. The Spaniards are very ruthless people, they did not believe in failure. They only came up with something else they could do or get.
A natural element was on Hernan Cortez and the Spanish side. Actually it turned out to be one of his deadly weapons. Small pox and measles became a more frequent death scale than a crossbow, gun, or sword. The diseases joined the Spaniards in laying waste to the Aztec Empire. Some historians believe that the diseases were not that much of a factor to the Aztec world, so doctors had no clue how to treat what was happening. So there was a large death toll for that group of Aztecs. Some Aztec warriors abandoned their weapons, so they could gather their dead.
The Spaniards were always the underdogs and extremely disliked. Known for being crude. They managed to conquer a whole country of warriors with just a little technology difference, weaponary, and tactics. Advanced warfare was the best way to go. That is how the Aztecs were captured. They did not fully understand what was going on with the fighting and the pilgrimage. The Aztecs thought that their main conquerer was a god sent to help them for the longest time until he decided to take the Aztecs over. “When Cortez saw, heard, was told that the great Montezuma is coming he dismounted his horse and when he came near each bowed to each other deeply” (Diaz 217).
Spanish conquistadors had a difficult time taking over the Aztec tribe, But not too difficult. They thought of it as victory or death and they emerged victorious. The Aztec tribes had never seen anyone but other main land people. Aztecs assumed the Spanish were gods, so they were very venerable. The Aztecs were slaughtered and unaware of the full situation at all. What would have been different if the Aztecs predicted the Spanish coming? Instead of thinking that they were gods right off the bat they probably would have been more able to fight and not so off guard in the first place. The Aztecs had the numbers but the Spanish had the tactics.
Castillo, Bernal Díaz Del, and J. M. Cohen. The Conquest of New Spain. Baltimore: Penguin, 1963. Print
Portilla, Miguel León, and Lysander Kemp. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon, 1962. Print.