Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cortez and the Conquest of Mexico

Aztec(Mexica)Emperor Moctezuma II, ruler of the empire when Cortez and his conquistadors arrived. His fatalistic view of history and religion influenced his decisions on how to deal with the Spanish Invaders. His original belief that the Spanish were of Divine orgin was a critical mistake. His apprehension at angering the gods caused him to delay any decisive action until it was too late-a fatal error for the Aztec Empire.

Cortez was quick to exploit Aztec weaknesses, he encouraged the belief that he was Divine with "supernatural powers," and exploited the hatred among neighboring tribes that the Aztec's had created in their endless wars for human sacrifices to their gods. Here the Lady Dona Marina (La Malinche), the main interpreter for Cortez, advises him as he meets with local leaders who have joined him in the war against the Aztecs. Note the feathered headdress of leadership that Cortez has adopted and the Spanish soldier that is leading Indian warriors.

One of the greatest "supernatural powers" of the Spanish was gunpowder. Cannons like this one were totally unknown in the "New World" and seemed to be the voice of doom from the gods to the Aztecs. Muskets, crossbows, warhorses, wardogs, steel armor and weapons were all unknown before the Spanish arrived and completely out classed the Stone Age weapons and armor of wood and cloth of the Aztecs.

The outcome of the initial engagements between the Spanish and Indians were overwhelmingly in favor of the Spanish. Each victory seemed to prove the divine nature of Cortez and brought more and more Indian Allies to his support, from the tribes hostile to the Aztecs.

The Emperor allowed the Spanish to enter his capital city. When Cortez and Moctezuma II met in person it took very little time for the latter to realize the Spaniard was not Divine but an all to normal greedy human. Cortez then seized the Emperor, making him a prisoner in his own palace.

Soon the people revolted against the Spanish, Moctezuma II was killed (by who is unclear to this day) and the Spanish had to fight their way out of the city. Unable to use their full strength while retreating along the causeways above the lake, the Spanish suffered their only defeat at the hands of the Aztecs.  So many fell, over 400 Spanish and thousands of their Indian allies, that the disaster became known as "La Noche Triste" (the Night of Sorrows).  Cortez saw this as a temporary setback, the riches of the capital and empire were too great to turn back now, revenge would be overwhelming and brutal.

Using modern European arms and armor and his Indian allies (eventually more than 50,000 Indian warriors fought as allies of the Spanish)Cortez defeated the Aztec Armies and fought his way back to Tenochititlan.

The Aztec Capital was built upon lake Texcoco with three causways connecting to the land. Fresh water was brought from the mountains by dual aquaducts, while food supplies were bought from the main land by cannoe or by human porters via the causeways. The lake was both the greatest defense and weakness of the capital, as it not only protected the city it also isolated it from food and clean water.

To subdue the city, Cortez destroyed the aquaducts, forcing the people of the capital to drink the polluted water from the lake. He then blockaded the city from food and reinforcements by using thirteen brigs (small sailing boarts that could also use oars) armed with cannon, musketeers, and crossbowmen that he designed and built at the lake. As the people became weaker, Cortez launched his attacks by destroying every building, street by street, throughout the city.

Starvation, foul water, and the greatest killer-smallpox, soon decimated the cities population. Tens of thousands died. The survivors fought on hoping for a miracle, but their gods had failed them and no miracle came, only death and destruction.

The fighting in the streets of the capital was brutal hand to hand. In a futile final stand the last Aztec warriors massed at the Great Temple Pyramid and fought step by step up its side until the last priests and warriors died near the alter stones that symbolized their lost culture. With religious zeal the Spanish and their Allies tore the hated temple down stone by stone. The materials from this and the other once great Aztec buildings were used as land fill and for the construction of a new European style city-Mexico City.

No comments:

Post a Comment