Analysis of Views on the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico

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Kevin Napier


Analysis of Views on the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico

In the year 1519, Hernando Cortes and the rest of the Spaniards landed at Veracruz. The Spaniards easily dismantled the Aztecs and took over the capital, Tenochtitlan. When the Spaniards arrived at Veracruz they came in with much force. They took control of the Aztec civilization. In Bernal Diaz’s “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico,” Diaz describes what he saw when the Aztec and Christian civilizations collided. In “The Broken Spears,” a few accounts are used to describe what was seen in the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. According to Bernal Diaz’s documentation of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Spanish portrayed the Aztecs as sophisticated, wealthy, and respectful of their ruler. According to “The Broken Spears,” the Aztecs portrayed the Spanish as demanding, greedy, and deceiving.

Based on the writings of Bernal Diaz, the Spanish viewed the Aztecs as a very sophisticated group of people. When the Spaniards entered the great marketplace, Tlaltelolco, they were in awe of the different scenes that they witnessed. Diaz noted, “Some of the soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world…said that so large a marketplace and so full of people, and so well regulated and arranged, they had never beheld before.”1 This quote is very striking because it points out that Tlaltelolco was viewed by the visiting soldiers as more sophisticated than areas such as: Constantinople, Italy, or even Rome. These high class markets were mentioned because they were places that many individuals were familiar with. The quote also speaks about how the marketplace was regulated and arranged. It was said that Tlaltelolco was regulated in a very organized manner and that it was professionally arranged. World travelers, like the soldiers who visited the great marketplace, were usually well versed in distinct landmarks in certain countries. For the Spaniard soldiers to be so taken aback by something as simple as a marketplace, it is evident that the Aztecs took pride in their architecture and way of life. This may lead individuals, such as the Spaniards, to claim the Aztecs as a sophisticated civilization.

Another interesting aspect of Bernal Diaz’s “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico” is how he describes the amount of wealth that the Aztecs had obtained. Diaz first noted this when he describes how Montezuma dressed. He said, “The clothes that he wore one day, he did not put on again until four days later.”2 This quote definitely shows that the Spanish portrayed the Aztecs as wealthy. For the average person in the Aztec civilization, it would have been uncommon to go four days without wearing the same outfit twice. Montezuma’s wealth was definitely shown when he continuously changed outfits. Even though that the majority of the Aztecs may not have been wealthy, the fact that Montezuma portrayed himself in a high class manner may have led people to believe that the Aztecs were wealthy.

In “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico”, Bernal Diaz describes the common Aztec people as respectful of their ruler. Anytime that the Aztecs were in the presence of Montezuma, they were inclined to act in a certain way. Diaz wrote, “When they [Aztec Chieftains] went to speak to him they were obliged to take off their rich mantles and put on others of little worth…and they had to enter barefoot with their eyes lowered to the ground.”3 This quote discusses how the Aztecs were forced to look up to Montezuma as a sign of respect. When the Aztecs were in the presence of Montezuma they had to bow down to him and take their shoes off. They did this simply because Montezuma asked them to, and because it was his property and they wanted to respect their ruler’s belongings. The fact that the Aztecs had little freedom in what they did around Montezuma shows that they were respectful of their ruler. The Spaniards, in particular Bernal Diaz, were astonished at the way the Aztecs treated their ruler.

Based on “The Broken Spears”, the Aztecs clearly portrayed the Spaniards as demanding. When the Spaniards took possession of the city they demanded many items. The article specifically states, “The Spaniards told Montezuma what they needed in way of supplies: tortillas, fried chickens, hens’ eggs, pure water, firewood and charcoal.”4 This quote specifically states that the Spaniards thought that they were in sole control of the Aztecs. It was completely unjust for the Spaniards to barge into the Aztec’s territory and demand whatever they wanted. The Spaniards showed no respect for the Aztec’s way of life, and due to this the most appropriate term to describe the Spaniards in this situation is the word demanding.

According to “The Broken Spears,” the Aztecs saw the Spaniards as extremely greedy. “The Broken Spears” states, “They gathered all the gold into a great mound and set fire to everything else, regardless of its value.”5 When analyzed, this quote is very striking. For the Spaniards to demand gold like they did initially is one thing, but for them to find a large amount of gold and set fire to a large portion of it is another. It was obviously greedy for the Spaniards to act the way that they did. Anyone who reads “The Broken Spears” would find it unfathomable for a nation to find such wealth and waste it like the Spaniards did. Not only did the Spaniards burn a huge amount of gold, but they also were very picky when it came to the precious green stones that they found. The article states that the Spaniards would only take the best of the best when it came to the green stones. The Spaniards were so greedy that the term “greed” is almost too weak of a word to describe them.

Based on “The Broken Spears,” the Aztecs portrayed the Spaniards as deceiving. In “The Broken Spears,” La Malinche, the translator for Cortes, replied to Montezuma, “Tell Montezuma that we are his friends. There is nothing to fear.”6 It is clear that Cortes was attempting to portray his people, the Spaniards, as individuals who meant no harm. The Spaniards obviously meant harm because they went on to barge into the Aztecs territory and disrupt their peace. Another way that the Spaniards deceived the Aztecs was when Cortes went along with the people who thought that he was fulfilling the prophecy of an ancient god. In the passage, “The Broken Spears,” it even states that Emperor Montezuma went against the advice of many and considered Cortes the fulfillment of a prophecy. There are definitely a couple of examples in “The Broken Spears” that show that the Spaniards were deceiving. It was unfortunate that the Aztecs so easily went along with everything that the Spaniards said and did.

The two articles show that the Aztecs and the Spaniards had very different views of one another. The Aztecs thought that the Spaniards were demanding, greedy, and deceiving, based on “The Broken Spears.” The Spaniards thought that the Aztecs were sophisticated, wealthy, and respectful of their ruler, based on Bernal Diaz’s eyewitness account. The Spaniards were thought to be demanding because of their asking of supplies, greedy because of their impractical use of treasures, and deceiving because of their claim to cause no harm. The Aztecs were thought to be sophisticated because of their well-arranged marketplace, wealthy because of Montezuma’s constant changing of clothes, and respectful of their ruler because of the way Montezuma was treated. The conflicts between the Aztecs and the Spaniards are definitely important to world history. Various different thoughts can be drawn from the way these two civilizations interacted with each other. Hopefully, in the future other civilizations in the world will handle confrontation better than the Aztecs and Spaniards did.

1 Bernal Diaz, “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico,” page 363.

2 Bernal Diaz, “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico,” page 362.

3 Diaz, page 362.

4“The Broken Spears, The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico,” page 70.

5 “The Broken Spears, The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico,” page 71.

6 “The Broken Spears,” page 70.

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