Research Paper: Why Did the Spaniards With Hernan Cortez Conquered the Aztecs?

Pages: 7 (2030 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Drama - World  ·  Buy This Paper

Spanish Conquest of Mexico

The Age of Expansion and the New World- From the High Middle Ages on (roughly 1200 AD +) Europe was exploding on all fronts in the historical period known alternatively as the Age of Exploration and Age of Expansion (Europe and the Age of Exploration 2007). Several factors acted in synergy to cause this upsurge: increase in technology (ship building, navigation), increased desire for trade with the Middle and Far East (spice, slaves, gems, etc.), spikes in European population after the Black Death, a desire for the major powers to establish colonies and secure trade routes to the East, and the general competitive nature of the ruling classes of the time. In general, the characteristic of Europe from the Renaissance to the late 1700s was organized expansion; capitalistic acquiring of goods, and establishment of secure and defendable trade routes.

There have been numerous historical works on the Great Explorers, Columbus, DeSoto, Cortes, Pizzaro, etc. But one thing that emerges from their accounts of the New World was that North America was populated sparsely and by groups of unorganized "tribal" cultures with no written language, no large architectural monuments, and no advanced civilization. This is further complicated by the contemporary Spanish accounts wherein an expected bias is evident. Moreover, writing history at the time as just as much about embracing factual information as it was about what "could have happened." History was an effort to provide meaning and structure for actions taken (justification), as well as ammunition for political or religious agendas.

However, new excavations and scholarship shows the paradigm of a "new world" to be false. North America was vast, and there were numerous indigenous cultures that had significant architectural technology and more (the Anasazi, Cahokia, and literally hundreds of tribal cultures).

The fallacy came about with the school of thought that North American "history" began in 1492, forgetting that many cultures had already passed their peak in North America prior to then.

In fact, recent revelations have shown that it is possible that the first Americans actually arrived 10-20,000 years prior to Columbus from the Pacific Coast; the Amerindian cultures were for more urban, had larger populations, and were far more technologically advanced than earlier assumed; and, instead of being the stoic "guardians of nature," the indigenous cultures often shaped the geography and natural history of the areas of habitation.

So, too, however, great civilizations populated Meso and South America long before the Spanish arrived. The Toltec, Maya, Aztec, and Inca were the predominant cultures who had reigned in the area at least 3500 BCE, with most of the advanced and classical civilizations from 200-1200, and then decline from 1200 to the Spanish Conquest.

While our understanding of the nature of the Classical civilizations in the area is skewed due to so much material being destroyed by the Spanish, we do know that for several hundred years before Cortes landed there had been a great deal of infighting and unrest between the indigenous tribes, weaking the culture through a combination of mass warfare and human sacrifice. Numerous scholars believe that it was a combination of technological advantage and shock and awe that made Cortes successful (groups of mounted calvary in armor).

Another view agrees with this, but indicates that Montezuma, in giving Cortes numerous gifts of gold and precious stones, intended to remind Cortes that he, Montezuma, was all powerful and could bestow any form of wealth on any lesser being. This, unfortunately, had the opposite effect and only made Cortes' avarice grow.

Much, too, has been said that the Aztec thought Cortes a reincarnation of one of their Gods, a fairhaired traveller from the sea. New scholarship, however, shows that Montezuma was never convinced of this trait.

According to the traditionalist view, the Spanish conquest of the Mexican peninsula began in February 1519 and victory achieved with the "fall" of the Aztec Empire in August 1521. This was a cataclysm of superior European technology and organization overwhelming Native American Civilizations.

The Conquest of Mexico and the conversion of the peoples of New Spain can and should be included among the histories of the world, not only because it was well done but because it was very great… Long live, then, the name and memory of him [Cortes] who conquered so vast a land, converted such a multitude of men, cast down so many idols, and put an end to much sacrifice and the eating of human flesh!

The ease of this conquest was held to be part spiritual and part practical. Spiritual in the sense of omens that the native peoples ascribed to the Conquistadors; practical in the use of various warring tribes from other city-states to make war on the capital of Tenochtitlan. However, although the Spanish historians of the time (typically Catholic priests) chronicle the date of the conquest to the surrender of then Aztec emperor Cuahtemoc to the Spanish.

Besides the view that the Amerindians were barbarous and ill-fitted to be called human, it is quite likely that Cortes vastly misunderstood the inner alliances within the Tlaxcallan tribal structure. Instead, he focused on virtu and fortuna, the spinning wheel of fortune and the concept of gold. By stranding his loose confederation of men he ensured that he would have an army of some type. His personal bravery notwithstanding, this view holds that Cortes was a pawn within a larger political structure that simply did not realize what the consequences might be too allow Cortes to march on Montezuma.

What is not general knowledge, however, is that through a series of political machinations, the governor of Cuba, who had commissioned Cortes to a trading mission with the native populations, tried to replace Cortes, suspecting that Cortes would be disloyal and not follow Governor Velazquez' orders. In fact, after some exploration and the founding of the city of Veracruz, Cortes had his fleet scuttled to prevent those still loyal to Velazquez from returning to Cuba. It was also at this time, around the summer of 1519, that Cortes formed an alliance with Tlaxcala, a loose confederacy of about 200 towns who had a long tradition of animosity toward the Aztecs. Thus, between European disease, the declining power of the Aztec, animosity between the Maya and other Mexican peninsula tribes, Cortes was able to overpower the Empire almost from within.

However, the actual conquest of Mesoamerica was incredibly complex -- scholars estimate from 60 -- 170 years, and might have lasted longer had European epidemics not killed almost 75% of the native populations.

Essentially, it appears that Cortes wanted a continuation of the Aztec Empire, but with himself as the titular head. He banned human sacrifice, but allowed most of Aztec culture to continue. The problem was economics, to fund the Spanish army that captured the area; large grants of land were given to those soldiers causing a semi-feudalistic culture. Although the natives could not become slaves per se, a system called encomienda caused the upper crust of society, the Spanish, and the priests to live off the work of the native peoples. By 1537 Bishops such as Bartolome de las Casas pushed for greater rights for both the Aztec peasants and the imported African and East Indian slaves. Back in Europe, however, King Charles V was experiencing a great deal of success with the conquests of both the Aztec and Incan empires, convincing him of his diving mission to become the leader of a Christian world. This was summed up in Conquistador Bernal Diaz' statement: "We came to serve God and his Majesty, to give light to those in darkness, and also to acquire that wealth which most men covet."

In fact, because of numerous letters and protestations regarding the treatment of the native populations in Spain's New World, Charles convened a conference at Valladolid in northern Spain in 1550 to consider the question of the morality of force and whether the indigenous populations were actually entitled to some form of human rights.

Arguing for the rights of the Amerindians was Dominican Friar Antonio de Montesinos who said: "I am the voice crying from the wilderness… the voice of Christ in the desert of this island… [saying that] you are all in mortal sin… on account of the cruelty and tyranny with which you use these innocent people. Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Must not you love them as you love yourselves?" Countering this view, and primarily utilizing some of the written records of the Aztec/Inca's own use of slaves, their own religious practices and customs, and the views of many of the observers for some of their bloodier rituals, Juan Gines De Sepulveda, a scholar, justified the conquest and evangelical use of force with the native peoples.

Although Charles did outlaw outright slavery, we must also remember that serfdom and slavery were considered two very different things, as was the paying of subsistence wages or pressing the natives into work crews based on some legal infraction. Most Spaniards… [END OF PREVIEW]

Hernan Cortez With the Discovery Thesis


Hernan Cortes and Bernal Diaz Research Paper


Aztec's Capital Investment Company Overview Aztec Caterings Case Study


Aztec Business Culture Thesis


Aztec Influence Over Pre-Colonial Mexico the Aztecs Research Proposal


View 1,000+ other related papers  >>

Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Why Did the Spaniards With Hernan Cortez Conquered the Aztecs?.  (2010, May 11).  Retrieved September 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/spaniards-hernan-cortez-conquered-aztecs/677864

MLA Format

"Why Did the Spaniards With Hernan Cortez Conquered the Aztecs?."  11 May 2010.  Web.  17 September 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/spaniards-hernan-cortez-conquered-aztecs/677864>.

Chicago Format

"Why Did the Spaniards With Hernan Cortez Conquered the Aztecs?."  Essaytown.com.  May 11, 2010.  Accessed September 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/spaniards-hernan-cortez-conquered-aztecs/677864.