Conquest of the Aztec Empire Part I

Spanish Wars - Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés was born in Seville in 1485. By then America wasn't even discovered, but a few decades later he would be the one to conquer one of the most powerful empires in the new continent: the Aztec empire.

By the time Ferdinand I died, it was already "known" that there were tribes in the Americas that had wealth beyond imagining in gold and other precious metals. The ever ambitious empire wanted to get their hands on that gold so the Spanish course was to pass a law that was called gold rescue, which meant any Spaniard could to travel to America to "trade" with the natives as long as they gave 20% to the King (quinto real).

But this so called trade only meant that the conquistadors would end up subjugating, exploiting and enslaving the indigenous people

In 1517 Mexico was discovered, though at first they believed it was an Island. The first expedition, whose mission was to get more slaves to take to Cuba failed, most of its men died after being attacked by Mayan natives in different locations of the Yucatan peninsula. Two natives were captured who learned Spanish and either from mistranslations or misleading on behalf of the prisoners, it was confirmed that there was plenty of gold up for grabs.

Spanish Wars - Charles V

The second expedition was more successful, since the Spaniards that took sail had a more friendly contact with the natives and were gifted with masks adorned with gold and later gold pieces. When the Cuban governor Diego Velazquez de Cuellar heard the accounts of the voyage and saw the gold he immediately sent messages to the King Charles I (the Charles V), along with some golden objects

Hernan Cortez was chosen as captain of the third expedition. Of a total of 11 ships, he contributed 3. But little before the fleet set out Velazquez de Cuellar changed his mind and decided to remove Cortés from the expedition. Cortez, not happy with the news, decided to leave Santiago de Cuba, thus evading orders. However on the appointed day he did appear in the pier and left with the ships on November 18, 1518.

Hernan Cortez' expedition disembarked several times to replenish their food and water supplies. Most of the encounters with natives were of a friendly nature. Until then the Spanish school of thought was not the crushing one that would become famous worldwide. The Mayan natives believed that the best way to get rid of the Europeans was to give them gold and women, thinking that once they obtained what they wanted they wouldn't return, however, they produced exactly the opposite result. They didn't know that the message the Spaniards got was "never ending source of gold".

However the first battle took place in Centla in March 14, 1419, when the natives rejected subjugating to the Spaniards. The conquistadors obtained the victory, mainly due to their superiority in weaponry and the leverage the horses gave them: it was the first time the Mayan people had seen men mounted on horses and were deadly afraid of them. When the battle was over, the chaplain of the expedition performed the first Catholic mass in New Spain. Hernan Cortez founded Santa María de la Victoria (later the capital of Tabasco).

Once the chontales mayan natives were defeated they gave 20 women to the Spaniards as token, among them Mallinalli Tenépatl (known as Doña Marina by the Spanish and Malintzin by the natives), who once she learned Spanish became an invaluable translator and later had a son with Hernan Cortez who he called Martín just like his son by his Spanish wife. Martín, el mestizo would become a central figure in of the conquest: his presence and acts were invaluable in the emergence of a new race. Malintzinm (or Malinche) is considered the mother and icon of the mixed races, and representative of the Mexican nationality.

The Aztec Empire (the Mexica)

Spanish Wars - Aztec Empire

The Aztec Empire, like any proper empire needed to expand in order to grow and survive. During the 15th century they had spread over vast territories, subjugating various peoples and making them tributary. The aztec empire was feared and hated by the other native clans and tribes they had conquered. In 1517, the Mexica governor, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (also known as Montezuma) carried on with the expansion campaigns.

Moctezuma was a fervent believer in the religious mythology which said that the God Quetzalcoatl (feathered snake of beautiful plumage). His second coming was expected, much like the second coming of Jesus is expected nowadays by Christians. Most importantly, one of his representations was that of a white bearded man. Moctezuma had previously sent gifts: gold and turquoise masks, still convinced it was Quetzalcoatl. In turn Hernan Cortez gave them yellow and green beads, a chair and a helmet. To the Mexicas the latter represented Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. To make matters worse Cortez wanted to show-off his military power to impress the Mexica ambassadors, so he organized a a horse race with artillery shots.

Messengers were sent immediately to the Aztec empire's capital: Tenochtitlan. As soon as Moctezuma got the news he believed it wasn't Quetzalcoatl, but perhaps other darker and less benevolent deities. He felt afraid and sent further messages telling the Spanish that it would be impossible to receive them in Tenochtitlan and urged them to leave as soon as possible, along with sending more presents of gold and other treasures. Once again, this only woke the greed of the conquistadors: Hernan Cortez realized the Aztec empire's wealth was enormous...and also that the subjected peoples resented the Mexica. So instead, he went further inland instead of away.

When he first encountered the totonacs, he offered to free them from the Mexica in exchange for a military alliance. Thus began Hernan Cortez' strategy which would allow him to be captain of a rebellion of peoples subjugated by the Mexicas. If the Spaniards had stood alone, it's likely they'd had never made it. It was a stroke of genius.

If you want to continue reading about the Conquest of the Aztec Empire, go to part II.