Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire
The people known as the Aztecs (who referred to themselves as the Mexica or Tenocha) originated from a place called Aztlan, somewhere in North or North west Mexico. Sometime in the 12th century they embarked on a period of wander- ing and in the 13th century settled in the valley of central Mexico. About 1345 they founded the town of Tenochtitlan.
The Aztecs of Tenochtitlan ruled by Montezuma II became the greatest power in Mexico. The city of Tenochtitlan formed an alliance with the neighboring cities of Texcoco and Tlacopan but later became the dominant partner and gained total control of the entire valley.
Conquering city after city, Moctezuma and his warrior empire took food, luxury goods, exotic raw materials and war captives. The prisoners of war were saved for sacrifices to the gods. Embarking on a journey of his own in search of gold, General Hernando Cortes lead his group of Spanish troops into the path of the powerful Moctezuma monarchy. After meeting face to face, both men seemingly viewed the other with mutual respect after a friendly exchange of greetings. Trust was not to be gained quite as easily as each leader kept their warriors on constant alert.
Even after General Cortes and his troops were settled into luxurious apartments and given a sumptuous meal, they remained very cautious. By placing their cannon into position and readying the cavalry and infantry, they could be ready in a moment s notice. Moctezuma remained alert as well, and had even gone so far as to have his secret room of riches and treasures cemented. He was still uncertain as to whether Cortes was god or man, friend or foe. There is no doubt that the Spaniards viewed Montezuma as mighty, great and wise.
I m certain they were astonished and awed over his great fortune, works of gold, jewels, magnificent arts, architecture, and the like. He was definitely not lacking in pomp and splendor. Everything Montezuma owned was excessive and everything he did was carried to the extreme. He surrounded himself with guards, servants and beautiful women. Great respect was shown to him even though all of his empire did not think he was deserving of it. Cortes and his men surely did not agree with Moctezuma s political ways.
He controlled conquered people and his empire was held together by mere force rather than loyalty. The state controlled every aspect of life. Of course, Cortes himself was a conqueror, but his people were not controlled and forced as the Aztecs were. Many of the Aztec people looked upon the Spaniards with curiosity. They did not know how to judge these strange people. Some thought Cortes to be the legendary ruler Quetzalcoatl, whose return to earth had been prophesied. In fact, that may be the only reason Cortes was not met with stronger initial opposition.
The Aztecs also resented the kindness and favors their king bestowed upon the general and his men. The Spaniards had freedom that they did not, so I m sure that they viewed them with envy. If they had spoken out against their king, it would have meant instant death. Other people of the Aztec empire saw the Spaniards as powerful allies against Moctezuma and his imposed rule. Many of the Amerindian people had already began to form allies with Cortes on his way into the capital city of Tenochtitlan. In Aztec Mexico, religion was ever present.
The Aztecs worshipped a multitude of gods, each of whom demanded offerings and sacrifices. They considered themselves the chosen people of Huitzilopochtli, the sun and war god, in whose name they were destined to conquer all rival nations. Huitzilopochtli occupied the main temple at Tenochtitlan. He was worshipped daily with offerings of human blood and fresh throbbing hearts, torn from the bodies of sacrificial victims. It was during a tour of the temple that General Cortes tried to convey to Moctezuma that he was being deluded by his idols of evil.
Cortes request to erect an image of the Virgin Mary was angrily denied. The Europeans very much believed in the Christian religion and were totally appalled by the Aztec customs. They earnestly wanted permission to build a church there and introduce Christianity. After days of watching the Aztec people build an almost humanlike statue of their sun and war god, the Spanish troops were provoked into an attack. Their mission all along was to invade and assault the Aztec empire, but it was momentarily put on hold when Moctezuma welcomed them.
The Spaniards chose to capture Moctezuma and attack the Aztecs during their annual festival of worship and sacrifice to their gods. This festival was equivalent to the Christian version of the Easter holiday. The Spaniards caught the Aztecs off guard and immediately slaughtered many warriors, but the Aztecs quickly revolted against the invaders and killed 53 Spanish prisoners for sacrifice. Moctezuma was killed in the uprising. Cortes, with new troops from Cuba, along with the aid of thousands of Indian allies, finally conquered the Aztec in 1521.
Legend would have us believe that Hernando Cortes was totally ruthless and did nothing but conquer, rape and plunder (rather than trade), but eye witness accounts of the Aztec conquest are few. Some say the conquest was a bloody massacre, others say it was a glorious conquest. Seemingly during that era of time, it was every man for himself. Personally, I do not think Cortes had much of a choice once he was inside the empire because Moctezuma would have inevitably come after him. He could have chosen not to go but, at that time it was take or be taken.
Their is no easy way to wage war and under the circumstances Cortes probably did just as other warriors before him had done. The Aztec empire collapsed almost instantly after the conquest. The warriors and noblemen who were not killed immediately died later from rampant smallpox and other diseases. The conquest of the Aztecs marked a significant period for the Spanish. It opened new doors by broadening economic and political gain. In short, the European expansion paved the way for a new age, a new beginning, and a major turning point in history.