Task* : Research Essay Using a variety of sources.

Essay question:

Why did the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez invade the Aztec Indian lands, and what effects did this invasion have on the Aztec people’s civilisation?



  • Use sources from the following collection of Secondary and Primary Sources in writing your essay.
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(Task* from http://www.interactive-learning.com.au )

         Part A. SECONDARY SOURCES  


Cortez was a young Spaniard who went to Cuba to find his fortune. He heard stories of gold in Mexico and South America . In 1519 Cortez left Cuba to find this gold. With 300 Aztecs  to every one of Cortez's men the Spanish fought. After 3 battles the Indians gave up. They could not complete against the guns and horses. The Spaniards also wore metal armor. More than this the Indians were afraid of the "god-like" warriors. On November 8, 1519 Cortez reached Mexico City and was received by Montezuma, the Aztec emperor. Cortez captured Montezuma and began to rule the empire through him. The Spaniards made the Aztecs work in the mines looking for gold and silver. This gold and silver was shipped back to Spain .

From http://www.mce.k12tn.net/explorers/spanishexplorers.htm


1520--The Aztecs & Cortes .  Hernando Cortez landed in Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1520.  He burned his boats upon arrival; he was there to stay. Cortez and his troops explored into the interior of Mexico and soon came to the the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan .  The Aztec empire was ruled by Montezuma.  The city was a gorgeous metropolitan center - it had a population of 250,000 at this time and was beautified with floating gardens and canals, along with a prolific amount of gold.  The Aztecs made a daily sacrifice of a human heart to keep the sun from falling out of the sky.

Cortez immediately wanted the Aztec gold.  He told Montezuma that the Spaniards, "have a strange disease of the heart, for which gold is the only cure."

When the gold was not forthcoming, Cortez began a war.  He broke the Aztecs with a combination of superior weapons and allying himself with enemies of the Aztecs, and inadvertently decimating the population with disease. 


“The long-term effects of the Conquest are no less fascinating. The 'Columbian Exchange' as modern historians call it, brought the potato, the pineapple, the turkey, dahlias, sunflowers, magnolias, maize, chillies and chocolate across the Atlantic . On the other hand, tens of millions died in the pandemics of the 16th century, victims of smallpox, measles and the other diseases brought by Europeans (and don't forget that the African slave trade was begun by the Europeans, to replace the work force they had decimated).”

From The Story of the Conquistadors

By Michael Wood      (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/discovery/exploration/conquistadors_02.shtml )  

Even with their Indian allies the Conquistadors never numbered more that 25,000 armed men in their initial move toward the Aztec Capital. Approximately 500 Spaniards with only 16 horses, plus their Indian Allies, engaged armies that outnumbered them at least ten to one.

What is most remarkable is that the Aztec account of the Conquest, is almost completely non-judgmental. Although they describe Spanish atrocities in gory detail, it is done factually, with little emotion. Additionally, they give Cortes credit for negotiating peace and joining forces with the various tribes, that were the enemies of the Aztecs that he met on his way to Tenochtitlan , the Aztec Capital.

When the Aztecs originally came to this area now called Mexico they raised their own war god, the blood-thirsty Huitzilopochtli, to an exalted status. They abandoned the more benevolent gods of the Toltecs, who had not required human sacrifice. Identified with the Sun, their "giver of life," their fear that it would not return, led to the daily ripping out of human hearts, to placate him.

At the beginning of the Spanish invasion the Spaniards were mistaken for a returning God and these doubts lingered long enough to enable the Conquistadors to gain a foothold and enlist allies before being attacked in force by the Aztec armies.

This belief that Huitzilopochtli demanded a steady stream of blood led to constant warfare, since they believed he preferred the blood of a brave warrior, captured in battle. Soon, human sacrifice to the rest of their gods became the rule. Thus, the Aztec concept of war after their empire was established was not the total defeat of an enemy, but rather a short skirmish to capture warriors to sacrifice to their Gods. Much of it was ceremonial, with well-established rules that minimized bloodshed. For example they constantly raided the Tlaxcalans, their bravest foe, never seeking to conquer them, but preserving them as a source for sacrificial material. This constant culling of Tlaxcalan warriors to be sacrificed, led to the alliance between Cortes and the Tlaxcalans.

Both the Cempoalans and the Tlaxcalans tribes, from whom the  the Aztecs obtained victims, became willing allies of the Spaniards. The Aztec perception of them as valiant warriors was correct. Without them as allies, it is very unlikely that the Spaniards could have succeeded. Additionally, the Aztec tactics of quick raids, seizing prisoners, and then withdrawing, left them unprepared to fight an enemy like the Conquistadors. Also, human sacrifice had led to cannibalism based on the theory that eating the body of a brave warrior would increase their own prowess in battle. This above all else incited the Spaniards to use violence to destroy the Aztec religion.”

Spanish priests had preserved numerous original Aztec documents by devising a way to write the Nahuatal language of the Aztecs in the Latin alphabet. Original words, written or dictated by Aztecs, still survive. This enabled eyewitnesses to the Conquest to record an Aztec account of the entire invasion.

Both the Spaniards who first encountered them and latter historians, describe the Aztecs as highly skilled craftsmen, with a well organized system of government. They had a written as well as an oral language, compulsory education, even a health care system. According to Bernal Diaz, himself a Conquistador, at their first glimpses of Tenochtitlan , the Spaniards were awe struck. They saw a city with canals, bridges, a fresh water supply, floating markets, towering Temples and large paved plazas. Estimates of its population vary between 300,000 and 500,000 people. Few cities in Europe were as large or as clean. Despite this, the Spaniards still considered them barbarians, largely because human sacrifice and aspects of cannibalism were part of the Aztec religion. William Prescott persists in this, always referring to the Aztecs as barbarians …All historians recognize that in addition to seeking gold and new territory for Spain, the Conquistadors were strongly committed to spreading Christianity.

From The Aztecs Speak An Aztec account of the Conquest of Mexico By S. Lenchek


 Hernán Cortés (also spelled Cortez), was a Spanish adventurer and conquistador (he was also a failed law student) who overthrew the Aztec empire and claimed Mexico for Spain (1519-21).

Cortes sailed with 11 ships from Cuba to the Yucatan Peninsula to look for gold, silver, and other treasures. Hearing rumors of great riches, Cortés traveled inland and "discovered" Tenochtitlan , the capital of the Aztec empire. He then brutally killed the Aztec emperor Montezuma and conquered his Aztec Empire of Mexico, claiming all of Mexico for Spain in 1521. Treasures from the Aztecs were brought to Spain , and Cortés was a hero in his homeland. Cortés was appointed governor of the colony of New Spain , but eventually fell out of favor with the royals. He then returned to Spain where he died a few years later.
Explorers and Conquistadors of Mexico (http://www.enchantedlearning.com/explorers/mexico.shtml)


 Aztec Drawing

The priests that came to the New World were faced with the enormous job of converting the millions of indians who were at that time worshiping various pagan deities.  The priests used several strategies for conversion.  Many conversions were forced with the help of Spanish soldiers.

Accompanying the conquistadors during  the initial conquest was a priest that would read a ‘requirimiento’  (a warning letter of demand) to the indians in Latin or Spanish and after this formality, the Spaniards were allowed to pillage and plunder.  The ‘requirimiento’ was the only warning the natives had although they could not understand the language and sometimes it was not read in their presence!  The document stated that the indians would have to surrender unconditionally or face enslavement:

Excerpts from a Requirimiento (Spanish ‘warning’ letter.)


"...we will not compel you to become Christians, unless after being so informed regarding the truth, you desire to be converted to our faith..."


"But ...if you do not do this...I will come among you powerfully and make war upon you everywhere and in every way that I can"


"I will take your persons, your women and children, and will make slaves of them and sell them or dispose of them as their Highness shall command"


"...the damage and death which you suffer thereby shall be your own fault and not the fault of their Majesties, nor of mine, nor the knights who accompany me”


The priests that accompanied the waves of conquistadors to the New World were an elite group who through Pope Leo X were given the divine power of the Pope with "full authority...in matters relating to the conversion of the Indians."  

These priests got rich from the donations of the hacendados (large land owners) who used the encomenderos system which forced the Indians into a form of slavery.  The encomienda was the primary system of Indian debt servitude the Spanish established in the New World (The Americas).  The indian was forced to work for a land owner or in a mine in this system as payment for being given Christianity and land to live on.  …  Millions of Indians died in the encomiendas, working off their christianity. 

 The whole of the population of the island of Hispanola was wiped out under this system of labor.  Conditions under the encomienda were atrocious, they were worked 20 hours a day with very little food and in constant exposure to European diseases.  All Indians were burdened by excessive ecclesiastical fees as well as clerical exploitation's.  Many priests also had encomiendas were they could exploit the Indian labour.  Concubinage was very common among the priests of the later period excluding only the Jesuits.”
The Christianization of the Americas by Jennifer Stephens and Joseph Carter


            Part B. PRIMARY SOURCES

When some merchant friends of his heard that he had been made captain-general they lent him 4,000 pesos in coin, and another 4,000 in goods on the security of the Indians and land he owned. He then had two standards and banners made. They were worked in gold with the royal arms and a cross on each side and a legend that read:
               "Brothers and comrades, let us follow the sign of the Holy Cross in true faith, for under this
                 sign we shall conquer."
And he ordered a proclamation to be made to the sound of trumpets and drums, in the name of His Majesty and of himself as his captain-general, that anyone who wished to accompany him to the newly discovered lands, to conquer and settle, would receive a share of the gold, silver, and riches to be gained, and Indian slaves, once the country had been converted.
A description of Cortez by Bernal Diaz ,1516


From letters written in Mexico we have learned that Father Bernardino de Sahagun has composed a history of the most noteworthy things in New Spain . It is a large collection of all the rites, ceremonies, and idolatries practiced by the Indians when they were unbelievers of Christianity, divided into 12 volumes. Although it is understood that the zeal of Father Bernardino has been noteworthy, and that his intention was for the book to bear wholesome fruit, it seems that it is not proper that this book be published for several reasons.
We thus command that, upon receiving this notice, you obtain these books with great care, and that you make sure that no original or copy of them is left there, and that you have them sent in good hands at the first opportunity to the Spanish authorities in order that they may be examined,. And you are warned absolutely not to allow any person to write concerning the superstitions and ways of life of these Indians in any language.
Royal Decree of Charles I of Spain


All the wars called conquests were and are most unjust and truly tyrannical. We have taken over all the kingdoms of New Spain.Our king, with all the power God gave him, cannot justify the wars and robberies against the Indians.
All the gold and silver, pearls and other riches, brought to Spain and traded among Spaniards in the New World--all is stolen, save perhaps a very little that came from the islands and places we have already depopulated.
Those who stole it and today steal it by conquests cannot be saved unless they restore it.
The natives in any or all the areas we have invaded in the New World have acquired the right to make just war upon us and erase us from the face of the earth, and this right will last until the Day of Judgment.By all reasoning, the Indians--who never harmed nor were subject to Christians--freely possess and rule their own lands, and no one can make just war upon them.
From the beginning until now, Spain 's entire invasion of the New World has been wrong and tyrannical. And from 1510 on, no Spaniard there can claim good faith as an excuse for wars, discoveries, or the slave trade.
By Bartolomeo de las Casas  

God so loved the human race that He created man that he might participate, not only in the good that other creatures enjoy, but also in the capacity to seek the Supreme Good and behold it face to face. And since man, according to the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, has been created to enjoy eternal life and happiness, which none may obtain save through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary that he should possess the nature which allows him to receive that faith. For in the office "Go ye, and teach all nations," He said all, without exception; for all are capable of receiving the doctrines of the faith. ….

We define and declare that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.
Papal Decree 1537

Each Indian is to be given a house of his own for his family and a farm for cultivation and cattle raising. The Indians are to be persuaded to go about dressed like "reasonable" men. The Indians are to be persuaded to abandon their ancient evil ways, and they are not to bathe as frequently as before, as we are informed that it does them much harm.
Royal Decree 1501 Ferdinand and Isabella

Informed of the arrival of Cortez and his victories and his intention to go to Mexico under the supposed reason of a conference, Montezuma sought all possible means to keep him from his plan. Failing in this, terrorized and filled with fear, he received him in the city with about 300 Spaniards.

Cortez for his part, after taking possession of the city, forced the king and his subjects through terror to receive the yoke and rule of the King of Spain, but also imprisoned King Montezuma himself because of his suspicion that a plot was on foot to kill some Spaniards. This he could do because of the stupidity of the people. And thus Cortez, though aided by so small a number of Spaniards and so few natives, was able to hold them, oppressed and fearful at the beginning, for many days. Could there be a better or clearer testimony of the superiority that some men have over others in talent, skill, strength of spirit, and virtue? Is it not proof that the Indians are slaves by nature?

I have made reference to the customs and character of the barbarians. What shall I say now of the unholy religion and wicked sacrifices of such people, who believed that the best sacrifices to offer were hair and human hearts?
Juan de Sepulveda argues about the treatment of the Aztecs


This great city contains many mosques, or houses for idols, very beautiful buildings situated in the different precincts. I overturned the idols in which these people believed the most and rolled them down the stairs. Then I had those places cleaned, for they were full of blood from the sacrifices. And I set up Christian images in them. This disturbed Montezuma and the natives a good deal. And they told me not to do it. They said that if it became known, the people would rise against me, as they believed that these idols gave them all their goods. If the people allowed them to be ill-treated, they would be angered and give nothing, and would take away the fruits of the soil and cause the people to die of want.

The figures of the idols exceed in size the body of a large man. They are made of all the seeds and vegetables which they eat, ground up and mixed with one another, and kept together with the heart's blood of human beings. When the statues are finished, the priests offer them more hearts, which have also been sacrificed, and smear the faces with the blood. The idols are dedicated to different things. To obtain favors in war these people have one idol, for harvests another, and for everything they desire they have special idols whom they honor and serve.
Cortez describes his treatment of the Aztecs


We are engaging in a just and good war which will bring us fame. Almighty God, in whose name and faith it will be waged will give us victory. Here I offer you great rewards, although they will be wrapped about with great hardships. And if you do not abandon me, as I shall not abandon you. I shall make you in a very short time the richest of all men who have crossed the seas, and of all the armies that have here made war.

You are few, I see, but such is your spirit that no effort or force of Indians will prevail against you. For we have seen by experience how God has favored the Spanish nation in the Americas , and how we have never lacked courage or strength, and never shall.
A Speech made by Cortez to his men recalled years later by Cortez in a conversation
Documents from http://www.thecaveonline.com/APEH/conquistadorsdbq.html

The Spanish Conquistadors : Gold, Glory, And GOD

Unknown to the Indians of Florida, their destiny was being determined by political and economic forces taking place across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. At the end of the fifteenth century, thousands of daring adventurers would be crossing the ocean to
conquer within a few centuries what had taken the Indians thousands to years to inhabit.

The conquistadors of Spain who ventured into the lands of the Indians were motivated by many forces. The discovery of gold in Mexico and Peru caused thousands of impoverished Spanish peasants to join the military. Under the rules of primogeniture, younger sons of the nobility would not inherit much of the family estate, but leading a successful colonial mission could give you the funds to build a castle.

Others sought glory and fame, now that the wars with the Moors were over. Only in the New World was there the opportunity for quick advancement in the Spanish military and diplomatic careers.

Finally, there were those who came for spiritual reasons. They were more than just the priests and church leaders. Catholic Spain had a strong missionary zeal, for they had engaged the Muslim infidels for four centuries. The eternal blessing of God would be earned by converting the Americas into Catholic lands.
From http://.
www.2000orlando-florida.com/ Orlando/spanishco...