Because history is usually written by the winners, there are only a few Aztec accounts of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Tenochtitlan in 1519. These stories were collected and written down some years later in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. The following account, written by an unknown Aztec chronicler, describes the first meeting of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma (spelled Motehcuhzoma by the Aztec writers) and the Spanish leader Hernan Cortes. Their translator was Malinche, a young Indian woman who spoke the Mayan and Aztec languages and quickly learned Spanish. As you read think about how this account differs from the Spanish point of view. Then on a separate piece of paper answer the questions that follow. Before you begin reading, find the meaning of these words in a dictionary: vigilance, apparition, and ingots
The Broken Spears
When Motehcuhzoma had given necklaces to each (of the Spaniards) Cortes asked him: “Are you Motehcuhzoma? Are you the king? Is it true that you are the king Motehcuhzoma?”
“The Spaniards searched through the whole treasure house, questioning and quarreling, and seized every object they thought was beautiful.” nd the king said: “Yes, I am Motehcuhzoma.” Then he stood up to welcome Cortes; he came forward, bowed his head low and addressed him in these words: “Our lord, you are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived on the earth. You have come to you city, Mexico. You have come here to sit on your throne, to sit under its canopy…
“(Your coming) was foretold by the kings who governed your city, and now it has taken place. You have come back to us; you have come down from the sky. Rest now, and take possession of your royal houses. Welcome to your land, my lords!”
When Motehcuhzoma had finished, La Malinche translated his address into Spanish so that the Captain could understand it. Cortes replied in his strange and savage tongue, speaking first to La Malinche: “Tell Motehcuhzoma that we are his friends. There is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our hearts are contented.”
Then he said to Motehcuhzoma: “We have come to your house in Mexico as friends. There is nothing to fear.”
La Malinche translated this speech and the Spaniards grasped Motehcuhzoma’s hands and patted his back to show their affection for him…
When the Spaniards entered the Royal House, they placed Motehcuhzoma under guard and kept him under their vigilance … Other lords were permitted to depart.
Then the Spaniards fired one of their cannons, and this caused great confusion in the city. The people scattered in every direction, they fled without rhyme or reason; they ran off as if they were being pursued. It was if they had eaten the mushrooms that confuse the mind, or had seen some dreadful apparition. They were all overcome by terror, as if their hearts had fainted. And when night fell, the panic spread through the city and their fears would not let them sleep.
In the morning the Spaniards told Motehcuhzoma what they needed in the way of supplies: tortillas, fried chickens, hens’ eggs, pure water, firewood and charcoal. Also, large clean cooking pots, water jars, pitchers, dishes and other pottery. Motehcuhzoma ordered that it be sent to them. The chiefs who received this order were angry with the king and no longer revered or respected him. But they furnished the Spaniards with all the provisions they needed – food, beverages and water, and fodder for the horses…
When the Spaniards were installed in the place, they asked Motehcuhzoma about the city’s resources and reserves and questioned the warriors’ ensigns and shields. They questioned him closely and then demanded gold.
Motehcuhzoma guided them to it. They surrounded him and crowded close with their weapons. He walked in the center, while they formed a circle around him.
When they arrived at the treasure house called Teucalco, the riches of gold and feathers were brought out to them: ornaments made of quetzal feathers, richly worked shields, disks of gold, the necklaces of the idols, gold nose plugs, gold greaves (leg armor) and bracelets and crowns.
The Spaniards immediately stripped the feathers from the gold shields and ensigns. They gathered all the gold into a great mound and set fire to everything else, regardless of its value. Then they melted down the gold into ingots. As for the precious green stones, they took only the best of them … The Spaniards searched through the whole treasure house, questioning and quarreling, and seized every object they thought was beautiful…
Next they went to Motehcuhzoma’s storehouse, … where his personal treasures were kept. They Spaniards grinned like little beasts and patted each other with delight.
When they entered the hall of treasures, it was as if they arrived in Paradise. They searched everywhere and coveted everything; they were slaves to their own greed. All of Motehcuhzoma’s possessions were brought out: fine bracelets, necklaces with large stones, ankle rings with little gold bells, the royal crowns and all the royal finery – everything that belonged to the king and was reserved to him only. They seized these treasures as if they were their own, as if this plunder were merely a stroke of good luck. And when they had taken all the gold, they heaped up everything else in the middle of the patio.
La Malinche called the nobles together. She climbed up to the palace roof and cried: “Mexicanos, come forward! The Spaniards need your help! Bring them food and pure water. They are almost fainting from exhaustion! Why do you not come forward? Are you angry with them?”
The Mexicans were too frightened to approach. They were crushed by terror and would not risk coming forward. They shied away as if the Spaniards were wild beasts, as if the hour were midnight on the blackest night of the year. Yet they did not abandon the Spaniards to hunger and thirst. They brought them whatever they needed, but shook with fear as they did so. They delivered the supplies to the Spaniards with trembling hands, then turned and hurried away.
What does Motehcuhzoma mean when he says to Cortes, “Now you have arrived on the earth”?
What details show the great wealth of the Aztec Empire?
Why did the Aztec chiefs lose respect for Motehcuhzoma after he ordered them to provide the Spaniards with supplies? Why did they obey his orders anyway?
In paragraph form, rewrite this account of “The Broken Spear,” but from the point of view of the Spaniards.