Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands)

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Oh, it has been reserved to you for a small time, it was conserved by those who have gone, your substitutes…. This is what has been told by our rulers, those of whom governed this city, ruled this city.

19.2.3: Spanish Exploration

That you would come to ask for your throne, your place, that you would come here. Come to the land, come and rest: take possession of your royal houses, give food to your body. For instance, when Moctezuma dined, he ate behind a screen so as to shield him from his court and servants. There were various restrictions on seeing and touching his person. Given Mexica feelings towards the dirty, rude, and unwashed Spaniard, it seems highly unlikely that Moctezuma would have personally met them as they came into the city: to do so would have been to profane himself in front of his people.

This contradiction between "the arrogant emperor" and the "humble servant of Quetzalcoatl" has been problematic for historians to explain and has led to a lot of speculation. All the proscriptions and prohibitions regarding Moctezuma and his people had been established by Moctezuma, and were not part of the traditional Aztec customs.

Those prohibitions had already caused friction between Moctezuma and the pillis upper classes. There is even an Aztec legend in which Huemac, the legendary last lord of Tollan Xicotitlan, instructed Moctezuma to live humbly, and eat only the food of the poor, to divert a future catastrophe. Thus, it seems out of character for Moctezuma to violate rules that he himself had promulgated.

All his demands were met.

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  • Cortés in Tenochtitlán.

Knowing that their leader was in chains and being required to feed not just a band of Spaniards but thousands of their Tlaxcalteca allies, the populace of Tenochtitlan began to feel a strain weighing upon them. Some describe it as absolutely reckless but he really had few other options. If arrested and convicted, he could have been executed. Considerable doubt has been cast by different commentators on this explanation, which may have been self-serving rationalization on the part of Alvarado, who may have attacked out of fear or greed where no immediate threat existed.

In any event, the population of the city rose en masse after the Spanish attack. The Aztec troops besieged the palace housing the Spaniards and Moctezuma.

Hernan Cortes: Famous Explorers of the World

Moctezuma was jeered and stones were thrown at him, injuring him badly. The Spaniards and their allies had to flee the city, as the population of Tenochtitlan had risen against them and the Spanish situation could only deteriorate. They took all the gold they could carry; Bernal Diaz relates that the men formerly of Narvaez' contingent particularly loaded themselves down.

On the rainy night of July 1, , the Spaniards and their allies set out for the mainland via the causeway to Tlacopan. They placed the bridge unit in the first gap, but at that moment their movement was detected and Aztec forces attacked, both along the causeway and by means of canoes on the lake. The Spanish were thus caught on a narrow road with water on two sides. The retreat quickly turned into chaos.

The Spanish discovered that they could not remove their bridge unit from the first gap, and so had no choice but to leave it behind. Many of the Spaniards, weighed down by gold, drowned in the causeway gaps or were killed by the Aztecs. Much of the wealth the Spaniards had acquired in Tenochtitlan was lost in this manner. During the escape, Alvarado is alleged to have jumped across one of the narrower channels.

Because it seemed that Alvarado crossed an invisible bridge in order to escape. In this retreat the Spaniards suffered heavy casualties, losing probably more than of their own number and several thousand Tlaxcalan warriors. The Aztecs pursued and harassed the Spanish, who, guided by their Tlaxcalan allies, moved around Lake Zumpango toward sanctuary in Tlaxcala.

On 8 July , the Aztecs attempted to destroy the Spanish for good at the battle of Otumba. The Spanish were able then to complete their escape to Tlaxcala. There they were given assistance and comfort, since almost all of them were wounded, and only 20 horses were left. The Aztecs sent emissaries and asked the Tlaxcalteca to turn over the Spaniards to them, but the people of Tlaxcala refused. While the flower wars had started as a mutual agreement, the Tlaxcala and the Aztecs had become entangled in a true war.

The Aztecs had conquered almost all the territories around Tlaxcala, closing off commerce with them.

Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire - Fast Facts - History

The Tlaxcalteca knew it was just a matter of time before the Aztecs tried to conquer Tlaxcala itself. Xicotencatl the Younger, however, opposed the idea, and instead connived with the Aztec ambassadors in an attempt to form a new alliance with the Mexicans, since the Tlaxcalans and the Aztecs shared the same language and religion.

Unfortunately for the Tlaxcalteca, the Spanish had no intentions of turning over the city of Tenochtitlan to them. While Tlaxcalteca troops continued to help the Spaniards after the fall of Tenochtitlan and the region received better treatment, the Spanish would be the new rulers and would eventually disown the treaty. Forty years after the conquest, the Tlaxcalteca would have to pay the same tributes as any of the other indigenous cultures. One by one they took over most of the cities under Aztec control, some in battle, others by diplomacy.

At the end, only Tenochtitlan and the neighboring city of Tlatelolco remained unconquered. The siege of Tenochtitlan lasted months. The besiegers cut off the supply of food and destroyed the aqueduct carrying water to the city. Even worse, many of the inhabitants of the city were also being ravaged by the effects of smallpox, which was spreading rapidly across most of Mexico, killing hundreds of thousands. In fact, a third of the inhabitants of the entire valley died in less than six months from the new disease brought from Europe.

Cannons, horse cavalry, and starvation did the rest. Still the Spaniards asked for a last tribute to secure peace: gold, food and women of fair skin. The city had been almost totally destroyed by fire and cannon shot during the siege, and once it finally fell the Spanish continued its dismantlement, as they soon began to establish the foundations of what would become Mexico City on the site. Meanwhile the surviving Aztec people were forbidden to live in Tenochtitlan and the surrounding isles. The survivors went to live in Tlatelolco.

The Fall of Tenochtitlan is usually referred to as the main episode in the process of the conquest of Mesoamerica. Even after the fall of Tenochtitlan, most of the other Mesoamerican cultures were intact. The Tlaxcalteca expected to get their part of the treaty; the Purepechas and Mixtecs were happy at the defeat of their longtime enemy, and possibly other cultures were equally pleased.

During this time three separate epidemics that took a heavy toll on the Native Americans, killing almost 75 percent of the population and causing the collapse of Mesoamerican cultures. Some believe that Old World diseases like smallpox caused the death of 90 to 95 percent of the native population of the New World. The upper Aztec classes, at first, were considered as noblemen to this day, the title of Duke of Moctezuma is held by a Spanish noble family.


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The upper classes learned Spanish, and several learned to write in European characters. Some of their surviving writings are crucial in our knowledge of the Aztecs. But soon all that changed. To pay off the Spanish army that captured Mexico the soldiers and officers were granted large areas of land and the natives who lived on them as a type of feudalism.

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Although officially they could not become slaves, the system, known as encomienda , became a system of oppression and exploitation of natives, although its originators may not have set out with such intent. In short order, the upper echelons of patrons and priests in the society lived off the work of the lower classes. La Casas later repented when he saw the even worse treatment given to the black slaves.

The other discovery that perpetuated this system was extensive silver mines discovered at Potosi in Peru and other places that were worked for hundreds of years by forced native labor and contributed most of the wealth that flowed to Spain. Spain spent enormous amounts of this wealth hiring mercenaries to fight the Protestant Reformation. The conquistadors brought with them many priests, and the population was converted rapidly, or at least, nominally so.

Aztec capital falls to Cortés

Because of their success in administrating the territories of reconquered Al-Andalus in Spain, the Catholic Church operated almost as an arm of the Spanish government. It soon became apparent that most of the natives had adopted "the god of the heavens," as they called it, as just another one of their many gods.

While it was an important god, because it was the god of the conquerors, they did not see why they had to abandon their old beliefs. As a result, a second wave of missionaries began a process attempting to completely erase the old beliefs, and thus wiped out many aspects of Mesoamerican culture.

Hundreds of thousands of Aztec codices were destroyed, Aztec priests and teachers were persecuted, and the temples and statues of the old gods were destroyed. The Aztec education system was abolished and replaced by a very limited church education. Even some foods associated with Mesoamerican religious practice, such as amaranto, were forbidden. Eventually, the Indians were not only forbidden to learn of their cultures, but also were forbidden to learn to read and write in Spanish. In some areas, some of the natives were declared minors, and forbidden to learn to read and write, so they would always need a Spanish man in charge of them to be responsible of their indoctrination.

Unlike the English-speaking colonists of North America, the majority of the Spanish colonists were single men who married or made concubines of the natives, and were even encouraged to do so by Queen Isabella during the earliest days of colonization. As a result of these unions, as well as concubinage and secret mistresses, a vast class of people known as "Mestizos" and mulattos came into being. But even if mixes were allowed, the white population tried, largely successfully even today, to keep their status via a caste system. He began the construction of Mexico City on the Aztec ruins and brought many Spaniards over to live there.

It soon became the most important European city in North America.

Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands) Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands)
Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands) Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands)
Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands) Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands)
Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands) Hernando Cortes And The Fall Of The Aztecs (Explorers of New Lands)
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