In the pages of the American history, it was the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec force that was considered a significant beginning of the process of the Spanish empire taking over the supposedly free people of America in the 1500s. During the time, Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, was the area first captured by the Spanish armada. Through historical data, it was noted that somehow, religious ignorance on the part of the Aztecs is what made it easy for the Spanish force to enter the empire and completely conquer it later on. In the discussion that follows, some of the highlights of the Spanish campaign towards the capture of the Aztec empire shall be given light and attention to.
The Omens, the Signs and The Waiting
The Aztecs, being ancient and all, is a community that is most dependent on its religious beliefs. Treating so many matters as ‘gods’, the people of this community intend to depend their lives on what they think the ‘gods’ suggest. A part of such belief is the consideration of the omens that their religious leaders perceive to happen in the future. Reading through leaves, the stars and many others, these religious leaders intend to impose that the future presents itself and should not be shunned but be heeded as warning for the people. Regarding the coming of the Spanish force, the Aztec’s religious leaders were not that ignorant of the event. To note, there were at least eight specific omens that the religious leaders believed to be coming true which they saw at least nine years prior to the coming of the Spaniards. The omens included fire falling from the sky, the fire that consumes the temple, the occurrence of the lightning bolt that consumes another religious temple, the fire that strikes the ocean, a woman weeping in the middle of the night for freedom and the fighting men as seen by Montezuma (Restall, 2003, 23). All these omens were considered by the religious leaders as signs to what was coming along.
As Montezuma, the highest priest in the Aztec empire during the time, believed that these omens, when put together entail to provide a message that they should be able to understand thus keep protection from what was coming along. Nevertheless, none of the other priests and fortunetellers were able to interpret any of the said omens, hence they remain as signs towards the future until the actual Spanish armada came along in 1519 (Hassig, 1994, 46). The long wait for nine years was noted to have even proven that the Spanish force was the one that the omens are trying to point to.
Regarding the truth behind these omens, it is considered by other historians that it could be the Spaniards who imposed of their existence. They [the Spaniards], wanted to impose that their conquest of the Aztecs was preordained by the gods. Relatively, this is one way by which they wanted to convince the people to follow their lead in a much easier way. This was considered as a basic fact that made up the Spanish description of this specific history because the existence of the omens has first emerged under Spanish notes and not on the Aztec records. The conquerors could have used such data to make the people believe that they are the ones sent by the gods as the representation of a higher force therefore inflicting fear and perhaps the motivation to willfully follow the lead of the Spanish government.
The First Arrival
Submission to the King, this was the offer that the Spaniards presented to the Mayans as they enter the territories of the Mayan community in the Yucatan peninsula in 1517 (Hassig, 1994, 46). At first, the connection of the two countries could be considered relative and mutual. However, Mochcouoh, the Mayan chief, believed that there was something more to the provision of protection from the Spanish king that the Spaniards wanted out of the Mayan community. Thinking that it was something that has to do with the integrity of their community and their resources, he then attacked the crew of Cordoba and killed each one of them living but one to return to Cuba and send the report to the Spanish government.
Because the first attempt to enter the Aztec territories relating to the provision of the King’s protection failed, the Spanish government tried another strategy to convince the community to let them enter the borders. Trade and commerce was one strong approach that the Spaniards used in other regions that worked well as the first step of conquest. This is the reason why in October 1518, another expedition was planned to be sent to the Americas to begin trading agreements with the tribes found at the coastal areas of the Aztec empire. However, there were several controversies as to who would lead the expedition and what its purpose would actually be to instantiate connection with the Aztec communities that later on led to the travel being revoked.
In 1519, all were set and everything was ready to set sail when an immediate change of command occurred between Cortes and Velasquez. However, with such keen tactic, Cortes was able to take over and set sail towards the target destination. Having 11 ships and at least 100 sailors to support his conquest (Thomas, 2003, 41), Cortes was confident enough that his fleet would be able to finally conquer the Aztec empire this time. Being his first time to command a fleet, Cortes’ approach to the mission was different than those of who embraced arms. For him, it was religion that he would like to use as a sword that would conquer the people he wanted to put under his wing.
Religion, Conversion and Beliefs
Collection of all the white men [Spanish descents] in the country was among the missions of Cortes. As he tries to convince and convert the people of Cozumel to Christianity, he also tried to strengthen his force through collecting survivors of past expeditions in the country. Among those who refused to follow this process of recollection was Guerrero who seem to have fallen in love with the Mayan culture and settled with a family in the community. He was noted to have been given a high rank in the community as well hence was expected to fight along with the Mayan force and not against it. However, later on, when the battle began, Guerrero was killed by a fellow Spaniard thus making him more of a Mayan than a Spanish man.
The entry to the Yucatan Peninsula was because of the desire of Cortes to christen Malintzin or Marina, a woman in the area. She was considered to belong to a high royal position among the natives but was kept captive under the Mayan force. Freeing her and christening her into Christianity would mean an immediate conquest of her people the Toltec. Marina played a great role on how the Aztec empire fell into the hands of the Spanish conquerors. She served as an interpreter to Cortes and somehow along the way, she also became the mother of Cortes’ son Martin. In the Mayan records of history, Marina was noted to be a traitor to her own people.
After this, battle after battle followed as part of the process and when Cortes’ finally found Veracruz, he began the conquest’s climax as he meets with the Aztec emperors and engulfed them in fear of fires and battle gears challenging them to fights and winning them over several times. This campaign continued and the approach remained intact until the army finally arrived and conquered Tenochtitlan in 1519 marking the great fall of the Aztec empire in the hands of the Spanish armada.
In the process of desiring and actually pursuing to conquer a huge community of people who are united by their religious beliefs, the Spanish people knew what arm to use. Making a diversion on their mission of actually conquering the land and enslaving its people, religion was used as an arm of division in the community hence making it easier to squander the loyalty that the people may have towards their leaders. Through the pages of world history, the Spanish Empire’s strongest arm was that of religion and successfully, they used such asset to conquer not only the Aztec empire but many other nations as well.
Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. Oxford University Press (2003).
Schwartz, Stuart B., ed. Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico. Boston: Bedforf, 2000.
Hassig, Ross, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. Longman: London and New York, 1994. p. 46.
Thomas, Hugh. Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the fall of Old Mexico. 2003. p. 141