Founder of Nueva
España (New Spain)
For most people who only casually
understand the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the name Hernándo Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro (1485
C.E.-1547 C.E.) is a familiar one.
To be sure, he has both admirers and detractors.
That being said, he remains an important part of the history of
the Spanish Nuevo
Mundo (New World). Thus,
he’s included in this family history of the de Riberas.
by historians is an object lesson for those of us who have learned how
biased non-Spanish historians and commentators are when presenting
entrants to the Spanish Nuevo Mundo as one
dimensional cardboard cut outs.
fairness, Cortés was more than a “Conquistador.”
He was a law student at the University of Salamanca, a notary in
Sevilla, and a New World settler on the Island of Hispaniola. At
the age of twenty-six, he served as clerk to the treasurer of Cuba where
he kept account of the King's fifth (The Quinto
Real or the Quinto
del rey, the "King's fifth", the 20% tax established in
1504 C.E. that Spain levied
on the mining of precious metals.). He
was also the mayor of the capital of Cuba. He
did all of this before he entered Méjico
engage upon his fantastic journey into history.
exploring the entire life experience of the man, these historians and
commentators offer an image of “Cortés the Conqueror,” and that of
his men as only having a limited mission in life. That
mission was presumably to be bloodthirsty killers of innocents (Nobel
Savages) in order to relieve them of their riches (Gold and more gold)
and to force Christian conversion upon those remaining.
As my progenitors, the de Riberas,
were Españoles (Spanish) and settled North America’s Nuevo
Méjico (New Mexico) by 1599, it is left to me to
defend the long dead. Often
times it isn’t the content of what one says.
It just may be simply what one doesn’t say, or how one says
what they say. Given the
obvious bias of these historians and commentators against the Spanish
who settled the Nuevo
Mundo, I feel duty
bound to protect the good name and character of these Spanish families.
Remember, their entry into Nuevo
Méjico was only
some eighty years (Two generations) after Cortés entered Méjico.
These men and women of the
Spanish Empire held many of the same world views as their predecessors,
those for which they’ve been disparaged.
While preparing for this family history, I assessed Spanish New
World historical material published earlier by British, Northern
European, Anglo-Saxon Americans, and Indigenous with regard to the
Spanish, their empire, and the methods used in the conquest and
settlement of South, Central, and North America.
As a result, I felt it necessary to offer some objectivity on the
matter of the Españoles, their culture, and settlement
practices. And yes, there
were several De Riberas with Cortés.
These were Juan Martin
Ribera, Pedro, Ribera (Rivera), Diego de Ribera, Alvarado de Ribera
(Rivera), Juan de Ribera.
One of these was Lieutenant Juan de Ribera (Rivera). He
was from Badajoz, the capital of the Province of Badajoz in the autonomous
community of Extremadura, Spain. It
is situated close to the Portuguese border, on the left bank of the
river Guadiana. De Ribera
went to Méjico from Cuba with Narvaez in 1520
C.E. Cortés, anxious to
inform and to impress Charles V, sent his Juan de Ribera in 1522
C.E. to deliver samples of Aztec objets d'art and treasure to the
royal court. Ribera also
carried maps of Mexica origin. For
a period of time he lived in Coyoacán and Veracruz. As
did many, de Ribera traveled back and forth to Spain, finally leaving Méjico for Spain in 1529
C.E., where he died.
At best, I found non-Spanish
historians to be prejudiced on the matter of Spanish colonization of the
Americas. To be precise, we
Americans think nothing of the removal of tyrants, nation building, and
the placement of our cultural stamp of democracy and free market
economics upon those that we deem Americanization able (My new phrase).
Yet, non-Spanish historians and commentators look askance at what
the Spanish Monarchy did in a world without the benefit of modern-day
democracy, participatory citizenship, and capitalism.
What arrogance these historians exhibit looking back decades or
centuries later, into the murky past. They
offer judgments on the actions and activities of Spanish men and women
through the lens and prejudices of modern, present-day laws, standards,
ethics, morals, etc. This is
as if to say that these men and women should have known better.
At worst these historians,
willingly or unwillingly, could be viewed as playing the part of
intelligence operatives for their respective non-Spanish governments.
For those historians who do not understand what an Intelligence
Operative is, he/she carries out various intelligence-gathering
activities such as casing targets, testing security, or denial
and deception. It would
appear that these historians were guilty of political spinning and
created images of the Spaniards and their empire as religious fanatics
bent upon dominating and subjugating the “Noble Savage” of the New
World in order to steal away with their wealth.
To better inform those who follow in their footsteps, I’ve
provided an explanation of those activities in which they engaged.
In public relations, the “Spin”
is a form of propaganda. It
is achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event, such
as those of Spanish conquest of the New World.
It is also the campaigning to persuade public opinion
(Publications, film, other) in favor or against some organization
(Non-Spanish governments vs. Spain) or public figure (Cortés).
It is accepted that traditional public relations relies on
creative presentation of the facts, the "Spin."
It may also imply the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly
manipulative tactics (The Black Legend, etc.).
This has been the case with non-Spanish historians and
commentators (Intelligence Operatives) for hundreds of years.
This they’ve done over
generations, seeking to play up Spanish cruelty and greed and play down
the rapacious appetite for land and gold of their own nations.
They appear to have conveniently forgotten that their own nations
aggressively coveted and greedily grasped the lands of those same
“Noble Savages.” The
term "rapacious landlords" comes to mind when one thinks of
British colonial policy in North America.
Putting those issues aside, we
must first broaden the themes of the conquest and greed in the New World
to include the other “guilty” European nations.
As outlined in earlier chapters of this family history, Northern
European nations are guilty of historical covering-over.
One such case is that of anti-Semitism. These
have down played their anti-Semitic behavior, actions, activities, and
practices and played up those anti-Semitic actions of the Spaniards.
What an effective and efficient smoke screen.
Here we find the same processes being employed by the Northern
European nations in regard to their activities against the Indigenous of
the New World.
Before beginning to reviewing Cortés
and the Spanish conquest and colonization of the Americas, it’s
necessary to place the conquest and colonization methods of the other
European powers in their proper light.
Estimated population figures for
Indigenous peoples of the Americas before the 1492 C.E. voyage of Christopher Columbus are difficult to establish.
Scholars have relied on written records from governments and
their colonists and archaeological data.
Most scholars of the end of the 19th
Century C.E. estimated the pre-Columbian population to be at
approximately 10 million. However,
by the end of the 20th Century C.E., the consensus had shifted to about 50
million. Others argued that
the population was in excess of 100 million.
Here we shall focus on the land area defined as the 48 contiguous states of America, where my progenitors, the de Ribera, settled around 1599 C.E. It is suggested that prior to the arrival of Columbus this indigenous population numbered in excess of 12 million. Some suggest that four centuries later, it had been reduced to 237 thousand or by 95%. This area of land (contiguous 48 states) was by and large dominated and exploited by the Anglo-American powers, not Spain. Who then is responsible for the deaths of 95% of that Indigenous population?
To be fair, Europeans unknowingly
introduced diseases into North America which accounted for the vast
majority of Indigenous deaths. Each
brought destruction via sweeping epidemics which involved illness and
death. Many Indigenous
tribes experienced great depopulation, some suggesting they averaged
25-50 percent of tribal members lost to disease.
In addition, some of the smaller tribes neared extinction after
facing the spread of these diseases.
These included measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus,
influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, cholera,
diphtheria, chickenpox and sexually transmitted diseases.
Non-Spanish European colonization
of North America took on its own methods and policies.
John Willard Toland, the Pulitzer
Prize-winning historian writes in his book
Adolph Hitler, “Hitler’s
concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide
owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States
history. He admired the
camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the Wild
West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of
America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the
red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”
I leave interpretation of Hitler’s comments and intentions for
the reader to determine.
The North American Indigenous
found that they were the proud inheritors of the British Plantation
Policy toward Ireland made to work for the Americas.
The plantations in 16th
and 17th Century C.E. Ireland were the result of Irish land
confiscation by the English Crown. The
Crown then encouraged and assisted in the colonization of these lands by
settlers from England, as they would do later in the Americas.
The traditional counties of Ireland were subjected to the
plantations system from 1556 C.E.
through 1620 C.E. This allowed
the English the time necessary to refine their methods of conquest,
control, and displacement of their new wards.
It is probable that Ireland lost over a million souls during this
Throughout the country of Ireland
plantations of 16th Century C.E.
were established. This was
done through the confiscation of lands long occupied by Gaelic clans and
Hiberno-Norman dynasties. These
plantations tended to be based on small "exemplary" colonies.
The English Crown granted these Irish lands to
"planters" (colonists) from England.
The process began during the reign of Henry VIII (1509
C.E.-1547 C.E.) and continued under Mary I (1516
C.E.-1558 C.E.) and Elizabeth I (r.1558 C.E.-1603 C.E.).
The process was accelerated by granting land to Scottish planters
under James I (1566 C.E.-1625 C.E.),
Charles I (1625 C.E.-1649 C.E.)
and Oliver Cromwell (1599 C.E.-1658 C.E.).
In short, these later plantations were based on mass
confiscations of land from Irish landowners. It
succeeded via the subsequent importation of numerous settlers and
laborers from England and Wales, and later from Scotland.
The plantation approach for the
British Americas was well-crafted, effectively planned, efficiently
implemented, and tailor made to provide for the final Indigenous
(Indian) solution. I call it
the British-American Pagan/Racial Plantation Solution.
The official approach of the English Crown was followed by the
“turn a blind eye” solution. What
their English subjects did to the Indian was forgiven or forgotten.
We will first begin with the British policy of “Dispossession.” Here we find the colonists initially bartering for Indigenous lands. They claimed that they could make the region more profitable. When the Indigenous refused to sell, the colonists resorted to dispossessing lands by simply claiming the land, moving onto it, and refusing to leave.
Next we have British Removal
Policy. The colonists
reasoned that because they could use the land more profitably than
tribal nations. Therefore,
the Indigenous would have to remove themselves from their ancestral
lands and relocate beyond the boundaries of colonial settlement.
In the event that the Indigenous refused to relocate, colonists
threatened that they would be forcibly removed.
Which the English subsequently did!
Thirdly, we will entertain the
Policy of Assimilation. While
the colonists preferred that Indigenous people remove themselves from
their settlements, they were also reluctantly willing to accept some
Indigenous presence within the colonies.
This was, however, with the caveat that they assimilated into
their society, accept Christianity, and adopt British culture and
traditions. These activities speak volumes for British openness, racial,
religious, and cultural tolerance.
Finally, we must deal with the
policy of Elimination. If
the Indigenous refused to leave their lands, accept assimilate, and
accept colonial governance the colonists had the right to wage a
"just war" upon them. Here
are a few examples:
Powhatan Confederacy-1622 C.E.-1644 C.E.
Virginia-Following an initial period of peaceful relations, a
12-year conflict left many natives and colonists dead, but the remaining
colonists were victorious.
Pequot War-1637 C.E.
Connecticut and Rhode Island-The death of a colonist eventually led
to the immolation of 600-700 natives.
Those that remained were sold into slavery in Bermuda.
King Philip's War 1675 C.E.-1678 C.E.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Philip's attempt to drive out the
settlers, beginning at Swansea, Massachusetts, led to slaughter on both
sides and his own death.
Tuscarora War-1711 C.E.
Northern Carolina-The Tuscarora under Chief Hancock attacked
several settlements, killing settlers and destroying farms.
In 1713 C.E., James Moore and Yamasee warriors defeated the
Yamasee War-1715 C.E.-1718 C.E.
Southern Carolina, An Indian confederation led by the Yamasee came
close to exterminating white settlement in their region.
Pontiac’s Conspiracy-1763 C.E.
Ohio River Valley, Warrior chief Pontiac and a large alliance drove
out the British at every post except Detroit. After besieging the fort
for five months, they withdrew to find food for the winter.
Lord Dunsmore’s War-1774 C.E.
Southern Ohio River Valley, Alarmed tribes raided a wave of traders
and settlers. Dunmore, governor of Virginia, sent in 3,000 soldiers and
defeated 1,000 natives.
As provided above, one can see the extent to which the British went
to ensure their total control and confiscation of the lands of their
Nobel Savage vassals. As the
reader moves forward into this chapter, it will become apparent that
British responsibility for the killing of tens of millions of Indigenous
hardly qualifies them as arbiters of morality and ethics of the Spanish.
Now, we will
return to Cortés.
It was during
this period, that Cortés and the other Spanish explorers, conquerors,
colonizers, and settlers came from
all regions of Spain. Each
region would contribute men and arms to follow the cause of Columbus to
the New World. However, it
is the province of Estremadura that is often called the “Cradle of the
Conquistadors,” from which came both Hernán Cortés de Monroy y
Pizarro and Francisco Pizarro. And
it was from that province they recruited their best men.
region looks much as it did five hundred years ago.
A stark landscape with a high inland plateau and wide vistas, one
finds small villages perched on rocky outcroppings of the hills.
In that land ancient castles and broken fortresses dot a harsh
We know Hernán
Cortés was a religious man, a man with virtues, spiritual, and had
theological education. But,
what were his religious beliefs. Some
have suggested that he may have been of Sephardic Jewish origin.
Cortéz or Cortés was originally a Jewish Family name.
During the Spanish inquisition when the many were forced to
become Christians, the Jewish families to protect their heritage added
the suffix "ez" for "eres Zion" meaning "you
are of Zion" to remind the descendants that they were from the
House of Israel. When Cortés,
the famous Conquistador of Méjico, entered the military he may have
changed the spelling of his name hiding his heritage.
The suggestion may also be due to the fact that he had many
Conversos with him during and after his expedition to Méjico and that
he treated them well.
married first to Catalina Xuares, from which there were no children.
After her death, Cortés married Doña Juana de Zuñiga, niece of
the Duke of Bejar in 1529 C.E.
From this union there were several children, sons and daughters.
1. Luis - died a child in 1530
C.E. in Texcoco, 2. Catalina - died a short time after birth in 1531
C.E.-1533 C.E. Martin -
2nd Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, born in Cuernavaca in 1532 C.E.-1534
C.E. Maria - married Don Luis de Quinones, Count of Luna, 5.
Catalina - died unmarried in Sevilla after the funeral of her father, 6.
Juana - married the duke Don Fernando Enriquez de Ribera and was
given the title duchess of Alcala and Marquesa of Tarifa.
They had 3 daughters born in Cuernavaca between 1533 C.E.-1536
children of Don Hernándo Cortés:
1. Martin - son of Dona Marina (Malinche), 2. Luis - son of Doña
Antonia Hermosillo, 3. Doña Catalina Pizarro - daughter of Leonor
Pizarro, 4. Doña Leonor - oldest legitimate daughter of Montezuma,
Emperor of Méjico, 5. Doña Maria - daughter of a Mexica (Aztec)
princess. She was of the Mexica or Mexicas
were an indigenous people of the Valley of Méjico, the rulers of the
Aztec empire. The Mexica were a
Nahua people that founded their two cities Tenochtitlán and Tlatelolco on raised islets in Lake Texcoco around 1200
and Pizarro had incredible courage.
Each was a colorful explorer, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and
ambitious for advancement. This
I see as a far cry from the traits found in those historians that are
defenders of British Imperialism, arm chair experts of everything, and
of a lesser kind of courage and distinction.
One can only guess how these would have fared under the
conditions experienced by Cortés and Pizarro.
of the conquest of Méjico and Peru by these two men dominate Spanish
lore. However, it is Hernán
Cortés Captain-General, that born leader of men, who stands above and
beyond Pizarro. To his
misfortune, Pizarro's treachery and crudeness have always followed him
and taint even his greatest victories.
It was with such leaders that the self-confidence Spaniards
advanced using Old World military strategy against what might seem like
impossible odds. However,
before we proceed, one must remember the enormity and complexity of
their exploration and final conquests.
From a 21st
Century C.E. vantage point traveling to distant lands is an easy task.
Today, jets, sea craft of many kinds, all terrain vehicles,
communications technology, powerful weapons, and modern conveniences are
the norm. The Spaniards went
it alone in strange and unfamiliar lands without the aforementioned.
These men and women had very little with which to overcome their
circumstances other than sheer force of will and tenacity.
They had no logistical or technical support. They
carried what was needed with them and relied upon themselves for
technical fixes. There were
no avenues for guidance.
would have given in to fear early on and despaired.
Surely greed can do many things, but even the love of treasure
has its limits. These men
and women must have been driven by more that greed.
Very little of this is accentuated as it should be in the
writings of the non-Spanish historians.
If these admirable qualities are commented upon in regards to the
Spanish, it’s as an aside. For
these historians, positive attributes appear to only apply to
Anglo-Saxon or other Norther European trail blazers.
C.E., Martin Cortés de Monroy and Dona Catalina Pizarro Altamarino,
a distant cousin of the Pizarro's, gave birth to their son, Hernán.
He was born at the small Spanish town of Medellín, España (Spain).
The Cortés de Monroy family was of minor nobility with little
In all nations, the distinction between that of major nobility and
minor nobility was not always a sharp one.
Nobility descended from the first person of a family who was
raised to the nobility (or recognized as belonging to the hereditary
nobility) then to all their legitimate descendants, male and female, in
the male line. Thus, most
persons who are legally noble hold no noble title.
To make a point, generally the precedence of the ranks of a Baronet
or a Knight is accepted for where this distinction exists for most
nations. The rank of Baronet
(ranking above a Knight) is taken as the highest rank among the minor
nobility or gentry. The Cortés
de Monroy family must have fallen into this category of gentry as a condition
of rank. The title of
Baronet is a hereditary title ranking below Baron, but above Knight.
As this title is granted only in the British Isles and does not
confer nobility, it is only used to make the point of demarcation
between major nobility and minor nobility.
The meaning of the rank of a minor Portuguese and Spanish
aristocrat is taken respectively from filho d'algo, literally son of
wealth, mediaeval Galician-Portuguese "algo" = wealth, riches,
fortune, nowadays "algo" = something) Fidalgo or Hidalgo.
The ordinary Spanish nobility is divided into six ranks. From
highest to lowest, these are: Duque (Duke), Marqués (Marquis), Conde
(Count), Vizconde (Viscount), Barón (Baron), and Señor (Lord) (as well
as the feminine forms of these titles).
The title of Señor is, together with that of Conde, the oldest in
seniority of the Spanish realms. Many
of these lordships are among the oldest titles of nobility in Spain, and
the Señor usually exercised military and administrative powers over the
lordship. Although some
lordships were created by the kings of Spain, others existed before them
and have not been created by any known king.
Hidalgos, such as Cortés’ family, were a member of the minor
nobility in Spain. The term
Hidalgo is taken from Spanish, from Old Spanish fijo dalgo nobleman.
In some cases, these were exempted from taxation.
The hidalguía has its origins in fighting men of the Reconquista.
By the 10th Century C.E.,
the term infanzón appeared in Asturian-Leónese documents as a synonym for the
Spanish and Medieval Latin terms caballero and miles (both,
infanzones were members
of the middle and petty nobility in Castilla and Aragón from the 10th C.E.-15th Century
were vassals of the great magnates and prelates and managed their
estates for them as petty nobility.
In these first centuries it was still possible to become a
“miles” (The medieval knight was called miles in Latin.
In classical Latin it meant "soldier", normally
infantry.). One simply had
to have the ability to and afford the costs of, and provide, mounted
Cortés and many of the other entrants into the New World were of
this redundant nobility. When
he and the others left for Hispaniola in 1503
C.E., it had only been eleven years since the fall of the last
Moorish stronghold, Granada. Spain
was still an armed Christian camp of young warriors in waiting. They
sought any opportunity for glory on a battlefield. With
fewer opportunities for advancement and little wealth at their disposal,
their move out of and away from Spain was inevitable.
biographer and friend, Francisco López de Gómara, described him as being a sickly child, hardly the metal that
heroes are forged from. By
the age of fourteen, he was sent to study at the University of
Salamanca. For its time, it
was considered a great center of learning in Spain.
Accounts do vary as to the nature of Cortés' studies.
However, his later writings and actions suggest that he studied
law and probably Latin. To
the annoyance of his parents, after two years, he left his schooling and
returned home to Medellín.
These had hoped to see him prepared for a profitable career at
law. Despite his leaving his
studies, it is believed that those two years at Salamanca did have a
profound effect on his life.
As would be
expected, when the young sixteen-year old boy returned home to his small
provincial town, he became frustrated and bored with life.
Gómara also described Cortés as restless, haughty,
and mischievous. These
attributes probably served him well in his role of Conqueror.
long period of training and experience as a notary in Sevilla, Spain and
in Hispaniola gave him a fine grasp of the legal codes of Castille.
This knowledge was to assist him greatly in justifying the
unauthorized conquest of New Spain (Today’ Méjico).
young adventurous man made plans in 1502
C.E., to sail for the Americas with a family acquaintance, Ovando,
the newly appointed governor of Hispaniola.
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres (Brozas, Extremadura, 1460
C.E.-Madrid, May 29, 1511 C.E.) was born into a noble and pious
family. He was the second
son of Diego Fernández de Cáceres y Ovando, 1st Lord of the Manor
House del Alcázar Viejo, and his first wife Isabel Flores de las
Varillas (a distant relative of Hernán Cortés).
Ovando entered the military Order of Alcántara, where he became
a Master (Mestre
or Maitre) or a
He became a Spanish soldier and later, Governor of the Indies (Hispaniola)
from 1502 C.E.-1509 C.E.
But as fate
would have it, an injury prevented Cortés from making the journey.
Instead, Hernán spent the next year wandering the country,
probably spending most of his time in the heady atmosphere of Spain's
southern ports. There he
must have listened to the tales told by those returning from the Indies,
telling of magical discoveries, conquest, great storerooms of gold,
wildly fierce Indians, and strange exotic unknown lands.
C.E., the eighteen year old, Cortés finally sailed in a convoy of
merchant ships bound for Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola.
Upon his arrival, he registered as a citizen entitling him to a
building plot and land for cultivation.
Once settled in his new land, his friend Ovando, the governor,
presented him a repartimiento of Indians and made him a notary of the
town of Azuza. The Repartimiento
or Colonial forced labor was imposed upon the indigenous
population of Spanish America. Conceptually
it was similar to tribute-labor systems, such as the mita of the
Inca Empire or the Corvée
of Ancien Régime France. To
be clear, this was not a Spanish invention for the New World, but
instead used regularly elsewhere. Natives
were forced to do low-paid or unpaid labor for a certain number of weeks
or months each year on Spanish-owned farms, mines, workshops or Obrajes,
and public projects. Cortés'
next five years would see him established in the colony.
To clarify for non-Spanish historians and commentators, Cortés
became a settler. A settler
is a person who settles in an area, typically one with no or few
previous inhabitants. Synonyms
include colonist, colonizer, frontiersman, frontierswoman, pioneer,
immigrant, newcomer homesteader. Here
I must stress that American, Anglo-Saxon, and Northern European
historians and commentators appear bent upon viewing him solely as a
conquistador, conqueror. This
has served many aims for those who wish to promote an anti-Spanish
agenda. As the reader will
doubtlessly become aware, Spain fought many wars and had many, many
detractors and/or outright enemies.
Among these were England, France, the Netherlands, and the United
States, among others.
C.E., Cortés was sent with Diego Velázquez and three hundred men to conquer
Cuba. He would later serve
as clerk to the treasurer keeping account of the King's fifth at the age
of twenty-six. While in
Cuba, Cortés would become a man of substance with a repartimiento of
Indians, mines, and cattle. As
a man of means, Cortés would become related to Governor Velázquez by a
marriage to his sister-in-law, Catalina.
voyages of New World discovery were funded by Governor Velázquez.
One took place in 1517 C.E.,
and the second in the early part of 1518
C.E. The Córdoba
Expedition to the Yucatán Peninsula from the western end of Cuba
brought back gold, idols, and tales of large cities with sophisticated
Indigenous populations. This
was enough to suggest that in the Yucatán lay the wealth the Spaniards had
been hoping for since the days of Columbus.
Velázquez immediately outfitted and
dispatched another expedition. Under
the command of Juan de Grijalva, the Spaniards first discovered the
island of Cozumel and then sailed up the Gulf Coast of Méjico.
The expedition went almost as far as the modern port of Veracruz
but returned to Cuba. It was
Grijalva that opened the door to Méjico, but it was to be Cortés who
walked through it and claimed the prize.
After almost fifteen years in the
Indies, Cortés began to look beyond his substantial status as mayor of
the capital of Cuba. By
then, he was a man of position, wealth, and power in a thriving colony.
It would appear that this powerful position allowed him many
experienced in politics, law, and with considerable financial resources
he could take advantage of whatever opportunities might come his way.
And toward the end of 1518 C.E., a great opportunity finally presented itself.
proceed further, we should provide a broader context from which to gain
a better vantage point of the Spanish entry into Méjico, actions taken
there, and how other European nations conducted themselves in the New
Here I’m forced to contextualize the situation for the
non-Spanish historians and commentators before entering further into
Spain’s efforts in the New World of the Americas.
I do this in order to offer some fairness to the Spanish.
To clarify for the non-Spanish historians an enemy (England,
France, The Netherlands, and others vs. Spain) is one who is actively
opposed or hostile to someone or something.
Synonyms include opponent, adversary, foe, archenemy, rival,
antagonist, combatant, challenger, competitor, the opposition, the
competition, the other side, the opposing side.
This aptly describes the other European monarchies.
Each of the aforementioned had much to gain.
Spain would soon have huge amounts of gold and silver from its
New World colonies. This in
turn would make it the first European superpower of its time.
These enemy nations wanted its gold, silver, and to become
superpowers to be reckoned with.
The second determinant was the all powerful issue of religion.
Most of her enemies were Protestants with its beginning in 1517
C.E. or Protestants in making. These
viewed the Spanish Catholics as heretics and the embodiment of
antichrist religious practices which emanated from Roman Catholicism.
This alone forever made them determined enemies.
The third impediment to civility between the parties was land.
Spain held it all over the globe and the others wanted it.
The non-Spanish, Old World saw an immediate and urgent need to
expand its ownership of the New World.
Their roadblock was Spain. That
blockage had to be removed by any means necessary.
What was lacking was a pretext.
Here we must offer our non-Spanish historian friends a better
understanding of how. Obviously
there was a need for cover stories. These
are reasons given for
the justification of necessary actions against Spain.
These justifications promulgated by non-Spanish historians and
commentators hid the real reasons, greed and more greed.
Justifications included a war of lies
(Bloodthirsty conquest, The Black Legend - oppression of helpless
Indians, etc.). There were
also the wars of justification to protect Protestant religious freedom.
Fourthly, Spain’s enemies
practiced outright theft of Spanish cargo ships (Spanish Galleys) and
wealth (Precious metals and gems) shipped to Spain.
They also attacked Spanish New World cities and towns using
pirates, or privateers if you like.
Of importance was the distinction between a pirate and privateer
which has been historically subjective.
It has often depended on the source (Governments) as to which
label was correct in a particular circumstance (England vs. Spain). A privateer, corsair, or buccaneer was a private person or ship
authorized by a government by letters of marque.
A government issued a license (marque) authorizing a person,
known as a privateer, to attack and capture enemy vessels.
They then brought them before admiralty courts of their nation
for condemnation and sale. This
was usually done against foreign vessels during wartime, not as an
expedient way to steal from their neighbors in peacetime.
In short, privateering was a covert, clandestine method used by
Spain’s enemies to mobilize and launch armed ships and sailors without
having the vessels commissioned into regular service (England, France,
etc.) as warships. Thus, war
with no war.
This ongoing demonization of Spain over hundreds of years is
exemplified by the art of the positive spin as practiced perfectly by
England and the others. It
was, and is, no small feat. They
did an excellent job of providing the many necessary pretexts for their
New World antics at the expense of the Spanish
The darkly painted picture of Spain and its people by Britain,
France, the Netherlands, American Anglo-Saxons, Méjico, and Central and
South American historians has been wildly successful.
It was so successful that the United States used the same methods
(Yellow journalism) in its war against Spain, in 1898
By the late-1890s C.E.,
anti-Spanish propaganda fostered by journalists such as Joseph Pulitzer
and William Hearst, agitated United States public opinion.
Called “yellow journalism”, it was used to criticize the
Spanish administration of Cuba. With
the mysterious sinking of the U.S. Navy battleship, Maine, in
Havana harbor, political pressures by the Democratic Party and certain
industrialists became unbearable for the Republican administration of
President William McKinley. It
led to his being forced into a war he’d wished to avoid.
To be sure, the implication that the Aztecs exemplified the Nobel
Savage has been the underlying basis to legitimizing the theft of
Spanish treasure by its enemies. As
the thought runs, the Spanish deserved it. Didn’t
they? The kind and caring
Aztecs are depicted as buying and selling beautiful garments, food, and
other needs at their various city shops. They
lived quiet lives in their wonderfully built stone palaces. They’re
pictured as worshipping humbly and peacefully at their great stone
temples. But is this the
whole, true story? I think not!
At this juncture, we must explore further the concept of, and the
term "noble savage", in order to understand its strength and
power as it swayed the minds of so many.
It expresses the concept of the so-called “natural man,”
untouched by the corrupting influences of civilization.
The term is based upon the belief that in a state of nature,
human beings are essentially good. Evil
impulses such as slavery and ritual murder, sacrifice, and other
destructive behavior, manifest themselves only as a result of societal
stresses. However, what if a
nation and its people celebrate death and blood sacrifices as an
acceptable norm of the human condition?
One would assume that there are no conditions of societal
stresses forcing such conditions.
Moral decrepitude in Europe was showcased during the late-16th and 17 centuries C.E., by those wishing to highlight just
how morally decrepit their so-called advanced civilization was. Continuous
European religious wars were seen as the cause of horrifying mass
slaughters and the breakdown of civilized attitudes across the
continent. Would this not
also apply to Aztec actions in the areas of Mesoamerica?
In 1587 C.E., Michel de
Montaigne, a Catholic, wrote his famous essay "Of Cannibals."
The author’s essay noted how the Tupinamba people of Brazil
ceremoniously ate the corpses of their slain enemies.
He saw this as a matter of honor.
He proposed that they were not nearly as barbarous as Europeans
who he saw as killing one another over disputes about religion.
Would the Aztec’s need to make their gods greater than that of
the other tribes and city-states through barbarous wars and human
sacrifice not qualify them as religious haters?
Later, Western literature would spotlight the indigene (Indigenous
"savage" and gradually expanded this vision to include the
"Good Savage." This
aspect of Romantic "Primitivism", the figure of the "Good
Savage" was held up by many as a reproach to European civilization.
The logical outgrowth of the Good Savage would appear to be the
label applied to whichever Indigenous group the writes saw fit.
Here the Aztecs come to mind.
By 1672 C.E., John
Dryden's heroic play, The Conquest of Granada included the actual phrase
“noble savage.” The term
subsequently was identified with the idealized figure of "nature's
gentleman," as an aspect of 18th-Century C.E. sentimentalism.
At this time, the word "savage" didn’t connote
cruelty as it is applied today. Rather
it meant a sort of unencumbered freedom of an individual living in
harmony with nature. To
drive home this point Montaigne wrote, “Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.”
He offered that we as people are not usually accepting of others,
who are not like ourselves. If
others do not do things as we do, we refer to them barbarians.
One could hardly assume that Aztec barbarism and human sacrifice
qualified them as misunderstood noble savages.
The Earl of Shaftesbury also advanced the notion that in a state of
nature mankind was essentially good.
In his 1699 C.E.,
Inquiry Concerning Virtue Shaftesbury, he proposed that people could
form a proper sense of morality via their natural and innate emotions.
He felt strongly that there was no need for indoctrination by any
particular religion. However,
what if a religion as practiced by the Aztecs indoctrinated their
society with the idea of warrior castes, enslavement of others, blood
cults, and ritual murder? Would
his principles not apply in this case?
At the start of the early-18th-Century
C.E., the French Baron de Lahontan wrote a memoir in which he
included an account of his experiences while living among the Huron
Indians. It is suggested
that during the first half of the
18th-Century C.E. Lahontan's attacks on established religion and
social customs were immensely popular.
He described one particular Canadian Indian, Adario, as the
embodiment of the "Good" (or "Noble") Savage.
He asserted that, though Adario lived under comparatively
primitive conditions, he was in the author's estimation, measurably more
enlightened than the more "civilized" Europeans.
It was also common for 17th-
and 18th-Century C.E. literature to take up the theme of voyages to
distant, unspoiled, undiscovered lands, untouched by modern Western
thought. Life in these
primitive outposts was typically considered to be of higher quality and
was superior to that of its Western counterpart.
In the late-18th-Century
C.E., various published accounts of the voyages of Captain James
Cook and Louis Antoine de Bougainville suggested a glimpse of those
unspoiled Edenic cultures, delightful places, virtual paradises still in
existence in the un-Christianized South Seas.
If one could ask a non-Aztec Mesoamerican of the time whether
they viewed their life under Aztec domination as one of higher quality
to that of their Western counterpart, one can only guess the response.
I venture to say, no!
Whereas, Thomas Hobbes made his famous assertion (in justification
of royal absolutism) that in a state of nature men are depraved and
their lives are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
His view was offered as one who was considered the odd man out.
Unlike Hobbes, the 21st
Century C.E. political socialist left offers a similar perspective
by romanticizing the "Noble Savage" who has no need for
property or technology. The
political left forgives unsavory and/or barbaric elements of the
non-Western "Noble Savages" and whitewashes them, while
condemning the failings and transgressions of the West. This
they do because the west epitomizes for them greed and corruption.
It is with this in mind, one should examine how the Spaniards are
depicted by most non-Spanish historians and commentators when conquering
Méjico with its Aztec warrior culture and castes and blood cults.
Today, it would appear that many believe that the Aztecs would
have done alright without an intervention by an external force.
After all, slavery of surrounding tribes and the tens of
thousands of annual blood sacrifices of these captives is a small price
to pay for the allowances necessary for Aztec and other indigenous
populations to maintain existing social interactions.
This being the case, Western media should immediately cease their
unkind and unfounded denunciation of the grossly misunderstood deeds of
ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (The Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant). After
all, ISIL, that wonderful Islamist group of misunderstood warriors, is
just trying to get along and needs no repression by external powers
using outdated Judeo-Christian ethics and morality.
To further make the point, today’s Islamists represent many
states and cultures dominated by a religious bent.
At the extreme is ISIS or ISIL, who revere a religious book (The
Koran) which is used to espouse conquest for the purpose of religious
domination, slavery, torture, and murder of Muslims and non-Muslims
alike to further those ends. To
facilitate these religious ends this so-called extreme Islamic tendency
beheads (Sacrifices) its victims (Captured Believers and Non-believers)
and places their severed heads on poles, fences, and other well traveled
locations. They do this to
appease their god (Allah) and gain his favor.
This cannot be reasonably differentiated from Aztec religious
Would today’s United Nations accept the Aztec’s endless
conquests of peaceful neighboring tribes and city-states?
Would modern governments accept wholesale slavery by the Aztecs
of helpless surrounding tribes? Could
today’s religions accept or condone the tens of thousands of Aztec
blood sacrifices made to their gods on an annual basis?
The obvious answer to these questions is, no!
Noble Savage or not, that dog don’t hunt.
thoughts in mind, we return to Cortés.
On October 23, 1518 C.E.
Velázquez and Cortés signed an agreement
appointing Hernán Captain-General of a third expedition.
To be sure, it was his willingness to help finance the expedition
that gained him the appointment. At
one fell swoop, Cortés’ could add to his résumé entrepreneur, financier, and venture capitalist
by using his personal wealth and mortgaging his lands in Cuba to finance
the expedition. Calling on
friends, they helped prepare for the trip and to join his small army.
The enterprising Cortés also borrowed an additional thousand
gold pesos from the merchants of Santiago.
Hernán was prepared to gamble everything he owned on the success
of the venture.
clearly stated the mission and objectives of the voyage.
Hernán was only to explore and discover lands, convert of the
natives to Christianity, and ensure their acceptance of Spanish
sovereignty. But jealous
gossip recommended to the governor that Cortés was the wrong man for
the command. Accused of
being ambitious, it was suggested that Cortés might take the prizes of
the voyage for himself, eliminating the Governor's claims.
Velázquez's suspicions grew and Cortés,
fearing he might be recalled as captain of the venture, ordered his
ships to sail for Trinidad.
he finished provisioning and took under his command two hundred of
Grijalva's (The governor’s nephew) soldiers who had recently returned
from the Yucatán voyage. By
this action, Cortés recruited to his standard several experienced
captains, each a veteran. These
included Montejo, Sandoval and the now famous, four Alvarado brothers.
Most certainly, Cortés may not
have been the most qualified to lead the expedition. However,
fate would ready him quickly. He
would gain the necessary experience and be forced to prove his courage.
He finally set sail on February 19, 1519.
Under his command were eleven ships, five hundred and eight
ballestero (crossbowmen), 16 harquebusiers (cavalry), 508 rodeleros
(swordsmen), 13 musketeers, and others), one hundred sailors, two hundred Cubans, several blacks, a number
of Indian women, and sixteen horses.
For its time, the expedition was a well-equipped and superbly
manned. It was this group of
men that was soon to become a disciplined fighting force under the
unique leadership of Cortés.
The first Jewish presence in Méjico came with the arrival of
Conversos who accompanied Hernán Cortés in 1519
C.E. These were members
of Jewish families, “Marranos” or “Crypto-Jews,” forcibly
converted to Catholicism due to the Spanish Inquisition.
Over the colonial period, a number came to Méjico despite
Mexican Inquisition persecutions in the late 16th and mid-17th centuries
C.E. However, most Conversos
eventually assimilated into Mexican society with no immigration of
observant Jews allowed into the country until the 19th Century C.E.
Religious freedom was established in the second half of that
century and around that time, Jews began emigrating to Méjico from
Europe and later from the crumbling Ottoman Empire and what is now Syria
continuing into the first half of the 20th Century.
The persecution of Jews came to New Spain along with the
conquistadors. Bernal Díaz
del Castillo described in his writings various execution of soldiers
during the conquest of Méjico because they were accused of being
observant Jews, including Hernándo Alonzo, who built the boats Cortés
used to assault Tenochtitlán. Alonso
was the first Jew to be burned at the stake in North America
on October 17, 1528 C.E. He
was a successful colonizer who served under Cortés and officially lived
as a Christian until a Dominican friar accused him of secretly observing
the Jewish faith.
Alonso was a Jew, a secret Jew, as was his deceased
first wife Beatriz, the sister of Diego Ordaz, one of Cortés’
five captains. The Dominican
friar who charged him claimed that years previous in Santo Domingo he
had secretly observed Alonso and Beatriz, following their son’s
baptismal ceremony, “washing the boy’s head with wine to cleanse him
of the Holy Water.” Alonso
when threatened with torture confessed that after the wine ran down the
child’s body and “dripped from his organ,” he caught it in a cup
and drank it “in mockery of the sacrament of baptism.”
Cortés’ bookkeeper, a Converso
named Alonso de Ávila, reached a high position as mayor
of the new Spanish city of Veracruz.
He was later arrested by the Mexican Inquisition on a trumped-up
charge, accused of stepping on a crucifix under his desk.
expedition with great hopes of expanding the Spanish Empire followed the
news given to Velázquez, the governor of Cuba.
Cortés and his party had found the land past the oceanic horizon
where the sun sets. Velázquez was proven right for having
appointed Cortés as his Captain-General of the Armada and for having
sent him off to follow that foolish rumor.
After sailing up the Gulf Coast of Méjico, Cortés finally
landed in March 1519
C.E. During that spring,
he quickly founded a base of operations there at Veracruz, later
building a small settlement.
the first to set to work at the settlement at Veracruz.
He carried the earth and stone on his back.
He dug foundations. All
of his captains and soldiers followed his example.
“……and we kept on laboring without pause so as to finish
the work quickly, some of us digging foundations and others building
walls, carrying water, working in the lime kilns, making bricks and
tiles, or seeking for food. Others
worked at the timber, and the blacksmiths, for we had two blacksmiths
with us, made nails. In this
way we all labored without ceasing, from the highest to the lowest; the
Indians helping us, so that the church and some of the houses were soon
built and the fort almost finished.
…..As soon as we had made this federation and friendship with
more than twenty of the hill towns, known as the towns of the Totonacs,
which at this time rebelled against the great Montezuma, and gave their
allegiance to His Majesty, and offered to serve us--we determined with
their ready help at once to found the Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on a
plain half a league [a mile and a half] from this fortress-like town
called Quiahuitzlan, and we laid out plans of a church, market-place and
arsenals, and all those things that are needed for a town, and we built
a fort, and from the laying of the foundations until the walls were high
enough to receive the woodwork, loopholes, watch-towers, and barbicans,
we worked with the greatest haste.”
Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Méjico,
XXXIII, pages 94-95.
He manned it
with appropriate forces. Had
he left it poorly protected it could have been easily destroyed.
From there, the ill-prepared force would begin moving inland in
search of fabled riches. What
he wound find is the great empire of the Aztecs, the largest and
strongest empire in the history of pre-Hispanic Méjico.
The size and strength of the Aztec Empire was massive and
disciplined. A warrior race,
they were born to war.
forces marched inland toward the central plateau of Méjico and the
great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, along the way he studiously
attracted and recruited thousands of Indian warriors to his army.
Capitalizing brilliantly on the obvious discontent of the local
populations, he stoked the fires of their resentment for the heavy
burden of tribute imposed by the fighting forces of the Aztec emperor
Moctezuma, the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlán (Reigned 1502 C.E.-1520 C.E.). His
new allies were ready and willing to follow his lead.
There was no “love loss” between the hated Aztecs and the
other Indigenous tribes and city-states.
These were only too willing to destroy their enemy.
One must keep in mind the sophistication of the Aztec Empire’s
strategy for political expansion, dominance, and tribute from conquered
states. When one reads most
comments on the Aztecs, they are seen as master builders and warriors.
Few are aware of the complexity and highly developed nature of
their governmental structures, religious functions, and society.
This was not a simple tribal environment.
On the contrary, the Aztecs were a well-organized bureaucratic
state with strategic planners like none other in the Americas.
They should be more likened to Nazi Germany of the 1930s
C.E. and 1940s C.E.
The anti-Spanish sentiments of the non-Spanish historians caused
them to simply neglect the obvious. They
purposefully did not properly accentuating these points.
The concept of the “Noble Savage” aside, the Aztecs were
hardly defenseless, backward Indians.
They were in fact a highly-evolved society. The
Aztecs, without provocation, seized any opportunity to take over other
city states and tribes. In
fact, once the Spanish arrived they were under constant threat of being
attacked, overcome, and sacrificed to the Aztec gods as part of their
cultural and religious norms.
Secondly, warfare was the underpinning of Aztec politics.
Their society celebrated war and its accompanying atrocities.
Basic military training was provided to every Aztec male from an
early age. To encourage
warlike behavior, upward social mobility was only possible for commoners
through military achievement, the taking of captives, and their
subsequent murder. The Aztec
military was composed of a large number of commoners, "those who
have gone to war" who possessed basic military training.
A smaller, but considerable number of professional warriors
belonged to the nobility. It
was these that organized themselves into warrior societies and were
ranked according to their warrior caste and death cult accomplishments.
Thus, warfare became the main driving force both behind the Aztec
economy and its blood cult religion.
The sacrificing of war captives became all important for the many
Aztec religious festivals.
Aztec history records that once they decided to conquer a
particular city they sent an ambassador from Tenochtitlán to offer the city protection,
which one might call an attempt at extortion. However,
this does not suggest that the Aztecs did not practice diplomacy.
For those anti-Spanish historians and commentators who are
unaware, diplomacy is the profession, activity, or skill of managing
international relations typically conducted by a country's
representatives abroad. The
assigned the equivalent of an ambassador-at-large to oversee diplomacy
in a region. They in fact,
practiced statesmanship, statecraft, negotiation(s,) discussion(s),
held talks, and carried on a dialogue with their neighbors.
This in essence constituted something akin to international
relations and foreign affairs. This
level of sophistication suggests that the Aztecs were something other
than simple tribesmen.
The Aztecs were hardly naive or
ignorant. To the contrary,
they were clearly shrewd and calculating.
Again, an attempt by anti-Spanish historians at coloring them as
the “Noble Savage” is in the best case, an error.
In the worst case, these historians practiced calculated and
gross distortions of the realities at-hand.
would then point out very politely the advantages of being able to trade
with the Empire. They first
asked only for was a small gift of gold or precious stones for their
emperor. The targeted city
was allowed twenty days to ponder the request.
If the city refused, additional ambassadors arrived.
The ongoing discussions would then move to destruction and death
for those who did not submit. The
Aztecs then gave the enemy chief, magic potion to make him strong in
battle. They also provided
presents of weapons for his warriors.
This they did to exhibit their confidence in the successful
outcome of a future war. If
this failed, within twenty days a third ambassador arrived.
He persuaded with threats in which he outlined what was about
happen after the city lost the war.
Included in the fate of the fallen city was the destruction of
the city's temples, enslavement of its people, and large and crippling
tributes which would be forthcoming for decades.
If the city remained steadfast in its resistance and refused to
join the Aztecs, a war of vengeance was waged.
this highly organized Empire began to gather its forces.
War messengers were sent to cities throughout the Empire
spreading the news of the glorious upcoming war.
Aztec priests then chose the most favorable day to start the
campaign. Sounds from great
Aztec war drum exploded over all of Tenochtitlán.
Once ready, the army gathered in a Temple Precinct to prepare for
the attack. Next, the
priests and nobles presided over their war councils. Finally,
the huge military force set out. It
was complete with priests, women cooks, porters, and engineers.
Soldiers from each city were organized and marched off to war as
separate groups. The large
Aztec army was fed by the allied cities it passed through.
Strong military discipline was maintained. Should
a warrior steal from a civilian who was about to be attacked or had been
attacked, the warrior was executed.
Experienced Aztec generals always sought to attack from high
ground. Victories were often
taken by shattering the enemy’s center with the use of shock troops.
They also used enveloping strategies for one or both flanks.
Aztec armies often seized the advantage by turning a flank in
battle, though difficult. Signal
flags were used. Reserve
units would be assigned to weak areas of the Aztec line, also in places
where the enemy line was weakened.
Feints and concealment were Aztec strategies.
Often they used a feigned retreat to lure the enemy into a chosen
killing ground. To
compliment this, they sometimes hid their troops in prepared positions.
They also outfitted their youths as false army forces.
They then used them to fool the enemy into moving against them.
This put the enemy in an inferior battle position once the real
Aztec forces closed on them.
Military membership for a warrior was based upon ferocity and
success in personal combat. The
Aztecs established two military brotherhoods or fraternities.
These wore distinctive suits based upon their namesakes, the
Eagle and Jaguars. They
formed the tough backbone of the Aztec armies.
Eagle and Jaguar Warriors were the only two types of Aztec warriors
who would be considered full-time warriors.
These warriors were the leaders and commanders on and off the
battlefield. Upon reaching
this rank, they were considered nobles and elite members of Aztec
society. The warrior's path
was one way to change one’s social status in Aztec culture.
These were granted many of the same privileges as the nobles.
After becoming an Eagle or Jaguar Warrior, he was allowed to
drink pulque, have concubines, and dine at the royal palace.
They also worked for the city-state protecting its merchants and
the city itself. The
Warriors resembled a police force in Aztec society.
Jaguar warriors were participants in gladiatorial sacrifices.
The First class of Aztec warrior was the Eagle Warrior.
These were well-trained, excellent fighters.
The Eagle Warriors acted as scouts, the eyes and ears of the
army. As messengers, they
would gather necessary information with which to lead and strategize for
an attack. They often wore
helmets adorned with eagle feathers and heads, carried brightly colored
shields, and adorned their armor with feathers.
The second class of Aztec warrior was the Jaguar Warrior.
The Jaguars were the main battle group, fighting troops.
They were the brute force of the Aztec army.
These wore Jaguar skins over their heads, with their faces
peering out from beneath the jaguar’s mouth.
on an enemy city, the army sent Jaguar Knights to spy out the land.
were an elite military unit similar to the Eagle Warriors.
To become a Jaguar Warrior, a member of the Aztec army had to
capture twelve enemies during two consecutive battles.
It was considered clumsy for a warrior to kill an enemy.
Therefore, capturing an enemy was said to honor their gods in a
way far greater than killing him on the battlefield.
Warriors were used at the battlefront of a military campaign.
As the Jaguar Knights encircled their enemy, they signaled one
another by imitating bird calls. The
Eagle knights attacked at dawn, with a great noise, stamping their feet,
chanting, and whistling loudly to frighten the enemy.
They were also used to capture prisoners for sacrifice to the
Aztec gods. They fought with
a wooden sword studded with obsidian volcanic glass blades, spears, and
atlatls. These Aztec
warriors used the atlatls to great effect.
It used leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing.
It included a bearing surface which allowed the user to store
energy during the throw. It
consisted of a shaft with a cup or a spur at the end which supported and
propelled the butt of the dart.
Most Aztec warriors wore only a quilted vest made of cotton as
their armor. Some warriors
wore tight-fitting body suits which indicated their rank.
These suits conveyed a great deal of information about the wearer
and not a matter of personal choice.
The information included status, relative experience, and ability
in battle. The suits were
brilliantly colored with paint or meticulous layers of feathers.
The warriors often combined these with semi-heraldic helmets.
The most respected and prestigious Aztec warrior rank was the
“Shorn Ones”. This Aztec
warrior’s dress was unique to his rank.
The Shorn Ones had cleanly shaved heads with a single long braid
at the back of their head. They
painted their faces with vivid colors which showed their ferocity.
These were renowned for not taking a backwards step in combat,
forever moving forward against an enemy.
Aztec warriors called “Quachic veterans were among the
fiercest and most skillful. They
were used as elite shock troops, often placed in ambush.
These refused promotion to officer in order that they could
remain in the front lines of combat. They
wore distinctive uniforms and Mohawk haircuts.
A small number of Toltec-Chichimec mercenaries were common in Aztec
armies. In the 15th
Century C.E., for a couple of decades one or more Chichimec
city-states were allied to the Aztecs, supplying major allied
contingents for their constant wars. These represented many bands and
tribes of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited northern
modern-day Mexico. The word
Chichimeca carried the same sense as the Roman term
described a people living outside settled, agricultural areas.
The name, and its pejorative sense, was adopted by the Spanish to
describe this wild, nomadic people who lived north of the Valley of Méjico.
They wore no clothes, lived by hunting, had no fixed dwelling
places, and resisted fiercely any foreign intrusion into their
Otomi mercenaries inhabited the central Altiplano (Mexican Plateau)
region of Méjico were favored and widely respected for their fierceness
by the Aztecs and all the Mexican city states.
They were one of the early complex cultures of Mesoamerica.
The Otomi were likely the original inhabitants of the central
Mexican Altiplano before the arrival of Nahuatl speakers around ca.
1000 C.E. The Otomi name
is based upon the Otomi, who were respected for their vicious fighting
style. What is unclear is
whether the Otomi held an Aztec rank or whether it was a band of
outsiders who fought alongside the Aztec’s.
The Aztecs also employed large contingents of peasants as
light troops as an important component of their armies.
These were equipped with slings and some bows, to shower the
enemy with missiles before the initial attack.
These troops closed on the enemy at a run, making loud noises in
an effort to frighten the enemy.
As the aforementioned indicates, the Aztec Empire’s military was
well-structured, highly organized, and well-trained. Its
officer class was composed of seasoned veterans and it had excellent
planning, logistics, communications, and support functions.
This was not a simple tribal arrangement.
It was in fact a well-oiled killing machine quite good at its job
and capable of wreaking great havoc on those it wished to offend.
It also served the priestly caste very well.
fighting could be fierce, Aztecs attempted to only wound or capture
their enemies rather than kill them.
The Aztec general would decide when the battle was won. Messengers
were then sent to call on the enemy to surrender.
Once the beaten enemy surrendered, a peace treaty was drawn up. It
listed the amount of tribute to be paid and other demands.
The conquered city would then be governed by an Aztec noble.
kill their enemies in battle, Aztec warriors preferred to capture them
and lead them back to the capital to be offered up to the gods.
Prisoners (Men, women, and children) were taken back to each of
the respective, victorious Aztec cities until time for sacrificing them.
Victims were stretched out over the sacrificial stone. Then
within seconds, a priest broke open the prisoner’s chest with an
obsidian knife and ripped out his/her heart while still beating. It
was then dashed against the sacrificial stone.
This was the highly ritualized act of human sacrifice as
practiced by Aztec priests.
To close on this point, a bit of instruction is in order for those
anti-Spanish historians that preferred to view the Aztecs as
misunderstood and maligned Noble Savages.
In one Aztec religious ritual, the terrified prisoners were
forced to walk up the many stairs of the temple until they reached the
top where they were to meet their expected fate. What
must they have been going through their minds as they were led up those
stairs, knowing what was in store for them once they reached the top?
Once there, the victim without struggle awaited the priest’s
actions. The priest would
then ceremoniously cut them open from throat to stomach and rip out
their beating heart as an offering to the Aztec gods.
The writhing bodies vacant of its heart continually twisted, made
squirming movements or contortions of the body.
For a very short time, the offering writhed in agony on the
ground. The body might
squirm and wriggle. It may
have thrashed about, flailing, as it tossed then turned.
It would have twisted in agony before being tossed down the many,
many steps until it hit bottom as a lifeless heap.
The body would then be dismembered or carried off depending on
In their defense, these non-Spanish historians argued that human
sacrifice was not only an Aztec event.
It happened all over the world in several different cultures.
However, it’s hard to believe this type of Aztec religious
ceremony happened regularly and as such a celebrated public event in
many other nations. The idea
that Aztecs gathered in the square to watch and take part in the
savagery, leaves one speechless. The
excuse used is that it was a part of their religion, a way to please
their gods. It was for the
Aztecs the only way that they felt they could avoid disaster.
That being said, no amount of human sacrifice stopped their
collapse and demise at the hands of the Spaniards who were rightfully
revolted by the carnage of innocents.
There were, however, periods of peace.
In those times, the three city-states of the triple alliance of
Nahua “altepetl" of Méjico - Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and
Tlacopan ruled the area in and around the Valley of Méjico would
arrange to fight "Wars of the flowers." This
they did with certain neighbors, such as Tlaxcala. The
Aztecs particularly valued these as offerings.
These battles functioned as ceremonial tournaments. The
battle ended, when each side decided that they had enough prisoners and the
armies returned home with their spoils.
It should now
be amply clear to the reader that for many, many years the Aztecs had
been terrorizing their neighbors. Those
conquered were forced to pay crippling taxes as tribute and many of
their brethren were taken into slavery.
Even more odious was the Aztec practice of sacrificing tens of
thousands of captives to their gods on an annual basis.
Thus, the conquered tribes would willingly join the
Spanish in the destruction of their bloodthirsty enemy and future
captors, the Aztecs. This
they did to end being offerings to the Aztec gods.
superstitious Aztecs lived as if the end of the world was imminent.
As such, they continually sacrificed many in order to appease
their gods in the hope that they would postpone the world’s end.
One god, Quetzalcoatl, was a very important to the Aztecs. He was described as
having pale skin, red hair, and light eyes.
According to legend, he had left vowing to return to
the earth when the end of the world was near
to save his Aztec people.
Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, first entered Aztec territory
with a small band of men, this left the Aztecs confused as to why they
were there. They soon came
to believe that the Spaniards had been sent by their god, Quetzalcoatl, and greeted them with food, gold, and women.
This was due to the remarkably similar physical appearance of the
Europeans to that of a Quetzalcoatl.
circumstances the Spanish would have been attacked, captured, and
sacrificed immediately upon arrival, as was the Aztec religious custom.
Spaniard was General Alvarado. While
traveling ahead of Cortés, he attacked a Maya temple.
Cortés had lingered behind the rest of the fleet to bring in a
vessel that had been disabled during a storm, when he reached the island
of Cozumel or Kùutsmil, known by the local Maya as the Island of
Swallows. Upon landing, he
was informed that Alvarado, one of his officers, had spent the short
time on the island robbing the temples of their valuable possessions and
terrifying the natives. Cortés
later reprimanded him for such impetuous aggression which could have
brought their expedition to a disastrous and sudden end.
Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras (Badajoz,
Extremadura, Spain, ca. 1485 C.E.-Guadalajara,
New Spain, July 4, 1541 C.E.)
was one of the many multi-faceted Spanish conquistadors.
Like other younger sons of minor nobility, Pedro and his brothers (Jorge, Gómez, and Juan "El Bastardo") could not expect much of an
inheritance. It was expected
that they would become priests or soldiers, as working the land was
considered beneath those of their social class.
As a result, by 1510 C.E.,
he made his way to the New World with several brothers and an uncle to
find their fortunes.
soon find work as soldiers on various expeditions of conquest that
originated from the Island of Hispaniola.
By the time he had arrived Puerto Rico had been conquered in 1508
C.E., and Jamaica in 1509 C.E.
He participated in the conquest of
Cuba in 1511 C.E. In
1518 C.E., he joined Juan de
Grijalva's exploration of the coasts of the Yucatán Peninsula and the
Gulf of Méjico. By 1519 C.E., Alvarado and his brothers quickly
signed on with Hernán Cortés for his expedition to Méjico.
commanded one of the eleven vessels in the fleet and his leadership was soon recognized by Cortés.
He would later take
part in the conquest of Méjico led by Hernán Cortés.
would prove himself time and again as a brave, capable soldier as the
conquistadores moved into central Méjico for the inevitable and decisive
confrontation with the Aztecs.
He would later be referred to as "Tonatiuh" or
"Sun God" by the Aztecs because of his blonde hair, blue eyes,
and white skin. Unfortunately,
he had a cruel streak. He
was also known to be violent and ruthless.
Despite his shortcomings, he eventually became Cortés'
right-hand man and was often entrusted with important missions and
expedition moved to Punta Catoche, Cortés came across the sailor,
Geronimo de Aguilar, a native of Écija, Spain.
Aguilar had survived a shipwreck and spent nine years as a slave
to a warlord. He had
previously been at the colony of Darien.
Eight years previous, on a voyage to Hispaniola, he was wrecked
near the coast of Yucatán.
He escaped with several of his companions in the ship s boat.
Some later perished from hunger and exposure, while others were
sacrificed by cannibal natives of the peninsula upon their reaching
had been preserved from the same fate by escaping into the interior
where he fell into the hands of a powerful cacique (A leader of an indigenous group)
and his life spared. His
initial treatment was quite harsh. However
Aguilar’s patience and humility touched the chieftain.
He soon was entrusted with the care of his master’s household
and numerous wives. Aguilar
was a considered by the chieftain to be a man of discretion, virtue, and
he was consulted on all important matters.
In short, Aguilar became a great man among the Maya.
When his master received the Spanish proposals for his return,
the rich treasures of glass beads, hawk-bells, and other jewels sent for
his ransom were accepted and he was released.
Aguilar's long residence in the Yucatán had made him familiar with Mayan dialects. As
he gradually revived his Castillian, he became essential as an
saw the advantage of this and quickly enlisted the man.
His knowledge of Maya would prove invaluable to the explorer.
The conquest of the Aztec Empire would take two long, hard years.
Many good men were lost on both sides.
As Cortés' forces closed on the
Aztec Empire's capitol in November of 1519 C.E.,
Moctezuma sent envoys to greet the newcomers.
The Spaniards fired shots to intimidate the greeting party.
They reported back to Moctezuma, saying: "The noise weakened
one, dizzied one. Something
like a stone came out of their weapons in a shower of fire and sparks.
The smoke was foul; it had a sickening, fetid smell."
Another message characterized the visitors as people with
"very light skin, much lighter than ours.
They all have long beards and their hair comes only to their
The envoys also described the visitors who
traveled on horseback as beasts with "two heads and six legs".
Upon hearing these reports Montezuma decided to meet Cortés.
Ultimately, aware of his superiority, Cortés entered
Tenochtitlán, the capitol of the Aztecs on November
8, 1519 C.E. Fortunately,
Cortés was aided by the legend of Queztalcoatl, the feathered serpent
god who was to return one day from the east as a fair-skinned, bearded
god. Since the Aztecs
believed Cortés to be a god, he gained easy access to the Tenochtitlán.
Upon entering the island city of Tenochtitlán, the capital of
the Aztec Empire, the Spaniards found it to be a city with a population
of approximately 300,000.
Empire itself was comprised of some 15 million
people, living in thirty-eight provinces.
At least 490 communities paid tribute to the Aztec emperor. The
Empire’s land mass at that point extended from the Gulf of México to
the Pacific Ocean, and southward to Oaxaca, over 80,000 square miles of
In the beginning, the Spanish had no idea how fortunate they were
to be alive after they entered the Aztecs’ magnificent capital city.
About 60,000 people sold and bought in the shops each day.
The city was kept very clean. It
had restaurants, hairdressers, and many shops.
There were many fine pieces of gold jewelry intricately encrusted
with jewels offered for sale in shops.
Other displayed gold statues.
Aztec artisans were everywhere painting, sculpting, and
The Spanish remained as guests of Emperor Montezuma for quite a
while. Cortés later wrote a
letter to the Spanish Emperor in which he said, “We lodged in the
chief’s house, situated in the most refreshing gardens ever seen.
In their midst flows a beautiful stream, beset with gay flower
beds, an infinite number of different fruit trees, many herbs and
fragrant flowers. Three
hundred men had charge of these birds for their sole employment.
Over each pool there were beautifully decorated galleries and
corridors, where Moctezuma came to amuse himself by watching them.
I do not mention the other diverting things Moctezuma had in the
city, because they were so many and so various.”
in 1520 C.E., Cortés
had to leave the Aztec capital to meet an opposing Spanish force.
This was to be a bad omen. It
would be no easy matter to meet and defeat his Spanish rival, Pánfilo de Narváez, who had been sent to Méjico by the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.
His mission was to stop the invasion of Méjico by Hernán Cortés
which had not been authorized by the Governor.
Even though Narváez had 900 men and out-manned those
of Cortés 3 to 1, Narváez was outmaneuvered and taken prisoner.
absence, Alvarado acted as Cortés' second in command during the expedition's first stay
in Tenochtitlán. While
there, relations between the Spaniards and their hosts had become
strained. This was as a
direct result of Cortés' repeated insistence that the Aztecs cease idol
worship and the act of human sacrifice.
As tensions grew, the Spaniards took the Aztec king Moctezuma
hostage in an effort to ensure their own safety.
As fate would have it, Cortés was forced to return to the Gulf
Coast to deal with the newly arrived hostile expedition of Pánfilo de
Narváez. Alvarado was
appointed commander of the Spanish garrison and remained in Tenochtitlán.
He had strict orders to make sure that Moctezuma was not
permitted to be rescued by the Aztecs or escape.
Inevitably, during Cortés' absence from Tenochtitlán relations between
the Spanish and their unhappy hosts continued to worsen.
The tension soon reached a fevered pitch between the Aztecs and the
Spanish. The noble class and
priests were angered by the audacious invaders who were demanding their
wealth and property, and taking their women.
had requested permission of Alvarado to hold their traditional
celebration of Toxcatl. This
he granted. Alvarado then
heard rumors that the Mexica (Aztecs) were about to rise up and
slaughter the intruders during the festival.
According Spanish records, they attacked those assembled because
they had proof that the festivities were a prelude to an attack designed
to kill all of the Spanish in the city.
Clearly, the Spaniards did not want to take the long walk up the
pyramid to their deaths by sacrifice.
the Aztecs later claimed that the Spanish intent was to secure the
ornaments of gold worn by many of the nobility.
Whatever was the truth of the matter, on May 20, 1520 C.E. as the Aztec nobles and priests gathered for the celebration to observe
their Festival’s religious activities, Alvarado ordered a pre-emptive attack.
His men fell on the unarmed nobles, slaughtering thousands during the
hurriedly returned to Tenochtitlán, he found the Aztecs in complete
rebellion and his Spanish force under siege.
On June 29, 1520 C.E. or
July 1, 1520 C.E., the Spanish then forced Moctezuma to appear on
the balcony of his palace and appeal to his countrymen to retreat.
The Aztec people were appalled by their emperor's complicity in
the Festival massacre which had led to the Aztec revolt and began
pelting him with rocks and darts. Moctezuma
(Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin or Moctezuma the Young), the ninth tlatoani or
ruler of Tenochtitlán, who had reigned from 1502
C.E. to 1520 C.E, was
killed by the wounds he suffered at the hands of his own people.
young nephew, then succeeded him as emperor.
The Aztecs soon attempted to drive the Spaniards from the city.
The Spanish determined to escape across one of the causeways that
led from the city across the lake, fought their way to the mainland.
Alvarado led the rear-guard and was badly wounded in a bloody
nocturnal action of July 1, 1520
C.E., known as La Noche Triste.
According to sources, Alvarado employed his lance to vault across
a gap in the causeway. This
valiant feat has come to be known as the Salto de Alvarado
Later, Cortés mounted an offensive against Tenochtitlán with the
help of the Aztecs’ native rivals.
He finally defeated Cuauhtémoc’s resistance on August 13, 1521 C.E. In
all, some 240,000 Aztecs are believed to have died in the city’s
conquest, thus effectively ending the Aztec civilization.
After Cortés victory, he razed Tenochtitlán and built Méjico City on its ruins.
It was to quickly become the New World’s premier European
Alvarado’s bravery and skill aided in his being forgiven for the
episode. He is renowned for his skill as a soldier
and considered the conquistador of much of Central America, including
Guatemala and El Salvador. In
fact, he would become the governor of Guatemala.
Pedro de Alvarado (1485 C.E.-1541
C.E.) led the Conquest of the Maya in 1523 C.E. and destroyed the Quiché capital city of Utatlán.
The Mayan culture had by that time grown to
encompass the Yucatán and Chiapas regions of Méjico, Guatemala, and
even parts of El Salvador. The
total area once occupied by the Maya was around 400,000 to 500,000
square kilometers and is referred to collectively as El Mundo Maya or in
Spanish “the Maya World.” After the Conquest of Guatemala, he served as governor of the
region, although he continued to campaign until his death in 1541
C.E. Indeed, Alvarado
would become known as one of Cortés’ “great captains.”
It is well to
remember that the average Spanish soldier who came to settle the New
World were generally not farmers and craftsmen but soldiers,
adventurers, and mercenaries looking for fortune and possibly fame.
And yet, given their small numbers, how were these Spanish
conquistadors able to accomplish their feats? Perhaps,
in some small part it was Spanish armor and weapons that had to do with
two sorts of Spanish conquistadors: horsemen or cavalry and foot
soldiers or infantry. It was
the cavalry that would usually carry the day in the battles of the day.
They received a much higher share of the treasure than foot
soldiers when the spoils were divided. Perhaps
this is why some Spanish soldiers would save up and purchase a horse as
an investment which could pay off on future conquests.
assume incorrectly that it was the use of firearms and other technically
advanced European weaponry doomed the New World inhabitants. This
was not the case. Spanish
horsemen generally carried two weapons, lances and swords. Their
lances were long wooden spears with iron or steel points on the ends. These
were used with devastating effect on masses of Indigenous foot soldiers.
In close combat, a rider
used his sword. Spanish
steel swords used during the conquest were approximately three feet long
and relatively narrow, sharpen on both sides.
city of Toledo was known as one of the best places in the world for
making arms and armor. A
fine Toledo sword was considered a valuable weapon for its time.
steel and sword blades have been well known since the 1st Century B.C. These
finely crafted weapons did not pass inspection until they could bend in
a half-circle and survive a full-force impact with a metal helmet. The
fine Spanish steel sword was of such an advantage that for quite some
time after a conquest, it was illegal for natives to obtain or own one.
foot soldier differed greatly from the horsemen.
He used a variety of weapons. Like
the cavalry, Spanish foot soldiers made good use of swords.
A heavily armored Spanish foot soldier could devastate large
numbers of the enemy within minutes with a well crafted Toledan blade.
soldiers used a harquebus, a type of early musket. Undeniably,
the harquebus could be an effective weapon against any one opponent.
However, it was difficult and slow to load and quite heavy. It
also fired only once, which was a complicated process involving the use
of a wick which must be kept lit. The
harquebus therefore was most probably effective only for terrorizing
native soldiers, who believed the Spaniards could create thunder.
harquebus, the crossbow was a European weapon designed to defeat armored
knights. It too was bulky
and cumbersome. The weapon
was not of much use in the conquest, especially against the lightly
armored, maneuverable Indigenous. Few
soldiers used the crossbow. They
were very slow loading, broke easily and/or malfunction easily. In
short, their use was not terribly common.
was in the main crafted in Toledo. Their
armor was some of the finest in the world. A
Spanish conquistador encased from head to foot in a steel shell, was all
but invincible when engaging Indigenous in battle.
It is an accepted fact that in Europe, the armored knight with
horse, lance, and sword had dominated the battlefield for centuries. The
harquebus, crossbow, and other such weapons were specifically designed
to pierce armor and defeat the wearer. The
New World Indigenous had no such weapons therefore they were able to
kill few armored Spanish in battle.
Is this true? Or, does technology always favor the victor in war?
we should ask the question, how significant of a role does technological
superiority assume in the determination of victory?
Though the study of 20th Century C.E. warfare, it provides
interesting cases in military history.
War can be a chaotic system, complex, with many variables and
conditions. Analysts of both
recent and historical conflicts suggest that there are factors that play
larger roles than others in the decisiveness of battle or war.
Advancement of weapons technology changes how wars are fought. However,
it is political strategy that dictates how wars are won and morale,
training, and leadership fall closely behind.
regard, the 20th Century C.E., Russian army is a prime example.
It surprised the world and prevailed in several conflicts against
modernized Western nations. Lacking
comparable armaments, Russia repeatedly won engagements it should have
lost against superior firepower and the obvious advantages of modern
weaponry. After initial
devastating losses, it fought the militarily superior German Army to a
standstill and then after many set-backs, overcame them.
drive home this point, we will use the United States, with its
technologically advanced military capabilities of land, air, and sea. Today,
she struggles to overcome and destroy ISIL insurgents across the Levant.
Yet ISIL is comprised of an ongoing flood of new recruits,
largely untrained volunteers, poorly armed, and led only by religious
Islamist zealots. These have
held the world at bay.
All of this
is to say that Spain may have had superior weaponry.
However, the Aztecs were incredibly advanced, had superior
numbers, well-trained and well-led troops, used excellent strategies,
had proper logistical support, were motivated by religious zeal, knew
the terrain, and fought on home ground.
Given all of this they should have won.
To make a point, the Aztec’s lost not due to being the Noble
Savage, but due to the overwhelming convictions held by those Indigenous
tribes and city states supporting Cortés.
quick to exploit Aztec weakness. First,
he encouraged the belief that he was Divine with "supernatural
powers." Next, and most
importantly, he exploited the hatred among neighboring tribes that the
Aztec's had created in their endless wars for human sacrifices to their
gods. It would be these
Indigenous allies that would eventually reach more than 50,000 warriors,
join with Cortés, and help defeat the Aztec Armies.
On August 13, 1521 C.E., the Aztec Empire fell.
With five hundred Spanish soldiers and ten thousand Indian allies
behind him, Cortés charged the Aztec capital.
In the summer of 1521 C.E., Spanish cannons and guns proved too much for the Aztecs.
They were quickly defeated and their last king executed.
At the campaign's end, a final three-month siege brought the
downfall of Tenochtitlán. The
victorious Spanish and their brave Indian allies took the magnificent
had smiled upon Cortés for a while.
It must be remembered that Hernán Cortés had only a small army
of soldiers, sailors, slaves, several horses, and cannons when he landed
on the shores of modern day Méjico in 1519
C.E. This was not an
army of tens of thousands of Europeans.
It was instead a small, quickly gathered force of soldiers under
the new inexperienced leadership of Cortés.
Yet the Spanish Conquistador defeated tens of thousands of Aztec
However, he did have superior
Spanish armaments. Cortés
had firearms and armor.
No Aztec weapon made from stone or bone could compete with
cannon, gun, and armor of metal.
Although, the armor of a 15th
Century C.E. Spanish halberdier and the Early-16th
Century C.E. armor of King Charles V. were limited, Cortés’
Spanish arms were for the moment superior to
those of the enemy.
soldier's armor was made simply with some type of fabric or tinning
covering large, wide, bands of metal.
Brads were connecting both the metal and cloth together.
Chain mail and stiff metal armor rounded out his outfit.
The armor was enough to give the Spanish a great advantage.
upper class gentleman’s armor was very finely crafted.
The metal bands were thinner and much more numerous. The
rivets were also more numerous and positioned closer together and were
monogrammed with royal markings. The
king's armor also had full sleeves along with a pair of shorts.
Some historians have speculated that this fine form of brigandine
armor was the fashion for upper class gentlemen who need good protection
from a knife or rapier blade, but probably not from a heavy sword or
At Choctawhatchee in Emerald Coast region of the
Florida Panhandle, in 1955 C.E., brigandine armor was found.
It appears to be better made than the halberdiers but less finely
than a gentleman’s. Historically,
the cavalry and the crossbowmen of Spain favored this type of armor
since it was lighter and allowed more flexibility.
Hale Smith, an expert in the field wrote of the Choctawhatchee
find. Mendel Peterson,
another expert in Spanish armor, stated "most of the identifiable
fragments of the brigandine came from the back of the garment.
The armor appears to be Italian made and tests indicate that the
plates were originally tinned on the outside (This tinning may
approximate the armor of the halberdier, see picture).
It dates from the Early-16th Century C.E., but to no later than 1525 C.E."
This date seems to suggest that the armor came from a pre-Luna (1559 C.E.)
contact group. This armor is
similar to that worn by Cortés’ troops.
when it was found out that the natives of the Southeast and Southwest
could penetrate much of the armor with their arrows and spears, the
Spanish abandoned some of their body armor in favor of heavy layers of
cloth and cotton sewn together. They
discovered that this was a more practical way of stopping the wooden and
stone-tipped projectiles of the Native-Americans.
superiority of armaments aside, Cortés viewed the death of Indians as a
tragedy. This fateful
encounter of two different worlds would result in the rapid
disintegration of the Aztec world. Death
from war and European diseases would hasten the destruction of one of
the greatest empires of the New World.
These Spanish explorers would soon come to regard their defeated
Indians as subjects of the Crown, to be converted to Christianity, and
taught useful crafts in order to ensure their contribution to the
Spanish colonization efforts. Cortés
sincerely believed that he could be of help to the Spanish Crown in
exploring and developing the resources of the land.
Throughout the warfare, the Spaniards would be aided by the gruesome
advantage of disease, for the Europeans brought ailments that the Aztecs
had no immunity to. It is
estimated that three-quarters of the native population died of violence
or diseases like small pox and measles in just the first century of the
conquest. After capturing
Tenochtitlán on August 13, 1521
C.E., the Spaniards destroyed the city, and built Mexico City on top
of it. In
doing so, he destroyed Aztec temples previously used for blood sacrifice
and other buildings.
It is an important fact that King Charles I of Spain, who had
become Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519
C.E., had appointed Cortés as governor, captain general, and chief
justice of the newly conquered territory which had been dubbed "New
Spain of the Ocean Sea". Additionally,
a surprised Cortés was now only one of five royal officials appointed
to govern. He would then be
under close observation and administration.
Despite these inconveniences, Cortés initiated the construction
of Mexico City on the Aztec ruins what would soon become the most
important European city in the Americas.
The new city was laid out in essentially the same grid pattern of
the Aztec capital and all of the major plazas were established in
locations that had been occupied by Aztec ceremonial centers.
C.E., Velázquez then in Spain mounted an insidious political
campaign against Cortés through Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca (1451
C.E.-1524 C.E.) and the fearful Council of the Indies.
Rodríguez de Fonseca was a worthy advisory.
Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca (1451
C.E.-1524 C.E.) was the first President of the Indies (1493
C.E.-1523 C.E.). He came
from a distinguished Castillian family.
It gave the Church no fewer than four archbishops and one bishop
during the period of America's discovery.
His father was Alonso de Fonseca.
He held an ancestral title that had been in the family for many
generations, the Senoria of Coca and Alaejos.
An older brother of Bishop Juan, Don Antonio, succeeded at his
father's death in 1505 C.E. Don Antonio
was Ambassador to the Holy See in 1495
C.E. and later held the important post of Comptroller-General of
Castille. The family was
connected by marriage with some of the most influential nobles of the
time, including the families of Gonzalez de Mendoza, the "Great
Cardinal of Spain," and of Henry, Count of Nassau.
Sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, had entrusted Fonseca with the
development and implementation of a colonial administration from as
early as Columbus’ second voyage in 1493
C.E. By 1496 C.E.,
Columbus was brought back to Spain from the Indies for a trial of
charges akin to misuse of power against him.
It was at this time that Columbus considered Fonseca as an enemy.
an excellent organizer. He
steadily had gained increasing influence over Castillian colonial
policy. So much so as to and
emerge as the kingdom’s de facto Minister of Colonial Affairs.
By 1503 C.E., Fonseca
had organized and supervised the important new institution called,
“the Board of Trade.” It
soon assumed major responsibilities over the management of the new
overseas settlements. He
also took a leading role in the evolving “Council of the Indies,”
which in time would become the most influential royal institution
governing new settlements. Upon
the death of Queen Isabella in 1504
C.E., King Ferdinand allowed him almost unlimited control over the
administration the overseas colonies.
It was Cortés’ acceptance by the Indigenous city states and
their inhabitants, his popularity as a relatively benign ruler, and the
fact that Cortés could establish Méjico as an independent kingdom that
the Council of the Indies feared. However,
it was his family’s position as nobility and Cortés’ upbringing in
Spain’s feudal system where the king commanded absolute allegiance
that he would not allow it. Yet,
Cortés was fully conscious of his vulnerability as the successful
conqueror of Méjico with his operations 5,000 miles away from the
center of political power. As
a result, he countered with five lengthy, detailed letters to the
Spanish king Charles V.
Despite his letters, Velázquez and Fonseca persuaded the regent to
appoint a commissioner empowered (a Juez de residencia, Luis
Ponce de León) to investigate Cortés's conduct and arrest him.
One can accept why Cortés was once quoted as saying that it was
"more difficult to contend against (his) own countrymen than
against the Aztecs." Governor
Diego Velázquez would continue to undermine Cortés as he joined with
Fonseca, chief of the Spanish colonial department, in the Council of the
Cortés's fifth letter to Charles V attempts to justify his
conduct: “It happened...that a Spaniard saw an Indian...eating a piece
of flesh taken from the body of an Indian who had been killed.... I had
the culprit burned, explaining that the cause was his having killed that
Indian and eaten him which was prohibited by Your Majesty, and by me in
Your Royal name. I further made the chief understand that all the
people...must abstain from this custom.... I came...to protect their
lives as well as their property, and to teach them that they were to
adore but one God...that they must turn from their idols, and the rites
they had practiced until then, for these were lies and deceptions which
the devil...had invented.... I, likewise, had come to teach them that
Your Majesty, by the will of Divine Providence, rules the universe, and
that they also must submit themselves to the imperial yoke, and do all
that we who are Your Majesty's ministers here might order them....”),
concludes with a bitter attack on “various and powerful rivals and
enemies” who have “obscured the eyes of your Majesty.”
for Cortés, the Holy Roman Emperor had little time for distant
colonies. Much of his reign
was taken up with wars with France, the German Protestants, and the
expanding Ottoman Empire. In
1521 C.E., year of the
Conquest, Charles V was attending to matters in his German domains and
Spain was ruled by Bishop, and later Pope, Adrian of Utrecht, who
functioned as regent.
By 1523 C.E., the Crown
sent a military force under the command of Juan de Garay to conquer and
settle the northern part of Méjico, the region of Pánuco.
It is suggested that this move was influenced by Cortés' enemy,
Bishop Fonseca. This became
another setback for Cortés who mentions it in his fourth letter to the
King. In the letter he
describes himself as the victim of a conspiracy by his archenemies.
These included Diego Velázquez, Diego Columbus, Bishop Fonseca,
and Juan Garay. The
influence of Garay was effectively stopped by Cortés' appeal to the
King. Charles V sent out a
decree forbidding Garay to interfere in the politics of New Spain. This
caused Garay to give up without a fight.
Despite the politics of Spain, Cortés managed to found of new
cities and appointed men to extend Spanish rule to all of New Spain. He
also imposed the encomienda land tenure system by 1524
C.E. He supported
efforts to evangelize the Indigenous to Christianity and sponsored new
explorations. He then spent
the next seven years establishing peace among the Indians of Méjico and
developing mines and farmlands.
Cortés was also one of the first Spaniards to attempt to grow
sugar in Méjico. He was one
of the first to import African slaves.
At the time of his death his estate contained at least 200 slaves
who were either of native Africans or African descent.
His restless nature which had brought him to explore and conquer
Honduras took him south into the jungles of that country.
Through 1526 C.E.,
Cortés remained head of the expedition to Honduras where he defeated
Cristóbal de Olid, who had claimed Honduras as his own under the
influence of the Governor of Cuba Diego Velázquez.
Fearing that Cuauhtémoc might head an insurrection in Méjico,
he brought him with him in Honduras and hanged him during the journey.
Raging over Olid's treason, Cortés issued a decree to arrest Velázquez,
whom he was sure, was behind Olid's treason.
Those two difficult years which he spent on that disastrous
expedition damaged both his health and position.
However, the decree to arrest Velázquez only served to further
estrange the Crown of Castille and the Council of Indies.
While on expedition, Cortés's property had been seized by the
officials he had left in charge. Reports
of the cruelty of their administration and the chaos it created aroused
further concern in Spain. Both
the Crown of Castille and the Council of Indies were already anxious
about Cortés's power. It
was Cortés’ need for power and wealth was one of the keys to his
success, but would eventually prove to be his downfall.
A few days after Cortés's return (1526
C.E.) from his expedition, Ponce de León suspended Cortés from his
office of governor of New Spain. The
Licentiate then fell ill and died shortly after his arrival, appointing
Marcos de Aguilar as alcalde
Despite all of these difficulties, Cortés had the first cathedral
built in 1525 C.E., although
it was little more than a tiny church by European standards. It
an important concern for him, as it was at this time that the teaching
of Christianity to the Indigenous was beginning.
By 1527 C.E., the Spanish Crown revoked Cortés’
title of governor. It did so
because the Crown feared it was losing its sovereignty over New Spain. Cortés
was replaced with a five person ruling council.
However, eventually that power would find itself back in the
hands of a single viceroy who would ensure efficient administration of
the new colony.
By August 1527 C.E., Aguilar
became sick and appointed Alonso de Estrada as governor. His
new functions were confirmed by royal decree. Cortés,
who had earlier been suspected of poisoning them, refrained from taking
over the reins of government. Estrada
then sent Diego de Figueroa to the south; but de Figueroa raided
graveyards and extorted contributions. He
would meet his end when the ship carrying these treasures sunk. Later,
when Cortés complained angrily after one of his men's hands was cut
off, Estrada ordered him exiled. Cortés
sailed for Spain in 1528 C.E.
to appeal personally to Emperor Charles V.
By 1528 C.E., Cortés
had returned to Spain to appeal for justice from Charles V, who had just
returned. He presented
himself at court in great splendor. Cortés
responded forthrightly to his enemy's charges. He
denied that he had held back any wealth due the Crown. Cortés
provided evidence that he had contributed more than the quinto, the
King’s one-fifth. Indeed,
he reminded as many as would listen that he had spent lavishly to
rebuild Tenochtitlán which had been damaged during the siege that
brought down the Aztec empire.
It is recorded that he was respectfully received by Charles and
decorated with the Order of Santiago (Christian military-religious order of knights). In
return for his efforts, Cortés was rewarded in 1529
C.E. by being named the "Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca"
(Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley). It
was a noble title and senorial estate with 23 000 vassals which was
passed down to his descendants until 1811
C.E. The Oaxaca Valley
was one of the wealthiest regions of New Spain. Yet,
while given his land holdings and vassals, he was not reinstated as
He would return to Méjico in 1530
C.E. with new titles and honors.
However, Cortés would never again be given any important office
in the administration of New Spain.
It had been power which he had enjoyed and had sustained him.
It was from that point forward diminished.
Unfortunately, during his travel to Spain his property had been
mismanaged by unscrupulous colonial administrators.
Without power, his means of overcoming his enemies was also
diminished. He would later
side with local Indians in a lawsuit over abuses which they documented
in the Huexotzinco Codex.
The country was in a state of anarchy.
There were strong suspicions at Court of an intended rebellion by
Cortés. Charges were soon
brought against him. These
cast several doubts about his character, allegiance to the Crown, and
his plans for the future. Then
he was accused of murdering his first wife.
The investigation and proceedings were kept secret.
No report was published, either exonerating or condemning Cortés.
Had the Government declared him innocent, his popularity would
have greatly increased. Had
the investigation declared him a criminal, a crisis would have been
precipitated by his popularity and his associates.
He remained silent, the only safe course of action. He
would remain a danger and be feared by those in power.
He remained in Méjico between 1530
C.E. and 1541 C.E. Cortés
quarreled with the powerful Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán (ca.
1490 C.E.-1558 C.E.). He
was a Spanish conquistador and colonial administrator in New Spain.
He had originally been a bodyguard of Charles V of Spain, and
sent to Méjico to counterbalance the influence of Hernán Cortés.
He was Governor of the province of Pánuco from 1525
C.E.-1533 C.E., and of Nueva Galicia from 1529
C.E.-1534 C.E., President of the first Royal Audiencia of Mexico
(High Court) from 1528 C.E.-1530
C.E. Guzmán also
founded several cities in Northwestern Méjico, including Guadalajara.
Cortés also disputed the right to explore the territory that is
today California with Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy (1535 C.E.). Mendoza had
been entrusted with the administration of civil affairs.
Cortés was allowed to retain military authority and with
permission to continue his conquests.
This division of power led to continual dissension.
It also caused the failure of several enterprises in which Cortés
By 1536 C.E., Cortés
had explored the northwestern part of Méjico.
He also discovered the Baja California Peninsula.
In addition, he spent time exploring the Pacific coast of Méjico.
This was his last major expedition by Cortés.
The Gulf of California was originally named the Sea of Cortés by
its discoverer Francisco de Ulloa in 1539
For a while, Cortés would retire to his estates at Cuernavaca,
about 30 miles south of Méjico City, after he had reasserted his
position and reestablished order. There
he concentrated on the building of his palace and on Pacific
Cortés was forced to return to Spain in 1541 C.E. He hoped to
win against angry civilians who had brought many lawsuits against him
for debts, abuse of power, etc. Upon
his return, he was shunned and unable to obtain an audience. In
desperation, he forced his way through a crowd that surrounded the
emperor's carriage. Cortés
then mounted himself on the carriage footstep. The
emperor, astounded his audacity, demanded to know who he was. Cortés
responded proudly, "I am a man, who has given you more provinces
than your ancestors left you cities."
Perhaps, this incident caused the Emperor to rethink his feelings
Later, Emperor Charles V, permitted Cortés to join him and his
fleet commanded by Andrea Doria or D'Oria
(November 30, 1466 C.E.-November
25, 1560 C.E.). Doria
was a Genoese admiral, at the great expedition against Algiers in the
Barbary Coast in 1541 C.E.
Algiers, then part of the Ottoman Empire, was used as a base by
the famous Turkish corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa who was also the
Admiral-in-Chief of the Ottoman Fleet.
During Cortés’ last campaign he was almost drowned in a storm
that battered his fleet. This
occurred while he was pursuing Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, who had
managed to defeat the fleet of Charles V for a second time after the 1538
C.E. battle of Preveza.
By then, he had spent a great deal of his own money to finance
expeditions. By February 1544
C.E., he was heavily in debt. To
improve his situation, Cortés made a claim on the royal treasury for
which he spent the next three years attempting to satisfy.
In 1547 C.E., frustrated at the inability to obtain his claimed monies,
he decided to return to Méjico. Unfortunately
when he reached Sevilla, he was stricken with dysentery and died on December
2, 1547 C.E. at the age of 62. The
great Cortés met his end not on a battlefield, but at Castilleja de la
Cuesta, Sevilla province from a case of pleurisy.
Like Columbus, Cortés died a wealthy but embittered man.
Before his death, he had the Pope remove the "natural"
status of three of his children (legitimizing them in the eyes of the
church). This included
Martin, the son he had with Doña Marina (also known as La Malinche).
She was said to have been his favorite.
He would leave his many children, both mestizo and white, well
cared. He provided for their
mothers as well. In his
will, he also requested that his remains eventually be buried in Méjico
in the monastery he had ordered to be built in Coyoacán, but the monastery was never built.
After his death, his body has been moved more than eight times for
several reasons. On December 4, 1547 C.E., he was buried in the mausoleum of the Duke of
Medina in the church of San Isidoro del Campo, Sevilla.
Three years later (1550 C.E.), due to the space being required by the duke, his body
was moved to the altar of Santa Catarina in the same church.
By 1566 C.E., his body
was finally sent to New Spain and buried in the church of "San
Francisco de Texcoco", where his mother and one of his sisters were
In 1629 C.E., Don
Pedro Cortés fourth "Marquez del Valle, his last male
descendant, died. The
viceroy decided to move the bones of Cortés along with those of his
descendant to the Franciscan church in México.
This was delayed for nine years, while his body stayed in the
main room of the palace of the viceroy.
Eventually it was moved the Sagrario (Sanctuary) of Franciscan
church, where it stayed for 87 years.
In 1716 C.E., it was
moved to another place in the same church.
In 1794 C.E., his
bones were moved to the "Hospital de Jesus" (founded by Cortés),
where a statue by Tolsa and a mausoleum were made.
There was a public ceremony and all the churches in the city rang
In 1823 C.E., after the
independence of México, it seemed imminent that his body would be
desecrated. As a result, the
mausoleum was removed. The
statue and the coat of arms were sent to Palermo in Sicily, Italy to be
protected by the Duke of Terranova.
Cortés’ bones were hidden, and everyone thought that they had
been sent out of México. By
1836 C.E., his bones were
moved to another place in the same building.
It was not until 1947 C.E.
that they were rediscovered, thanks to the discovery of a secret
document by Lucas Alemán. Cortés’
bones were placed in the care of the "Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia" (INAH). Once
the remains were authenticated, they were then restored to the same
place, this time with a bronze inscription and his coat of arms.
In 1981 C.E., when a
copy of the bust by Tolsa was put in the church, there was a failed
attempt to destroy his bones.
In both life
and death, Cortés never ceased to be a controversial figure.
Loved and feared, in life he was a celebrated hero of Spain and
much feared by the Spanish Monarchy and their political appointees.
His position and power were continually challenged by his
detractors and enemies. Cortés’
lands and wealth would be fought over, even after his death.
In life his restless soul experienced little peace.
In death, Cortés’ remains were subject to abuse and precious
He has been
the subject of much historical treatment by anti-Spanish commentators
who saw him only as a one dimensional figure, a conquistador.
It is their negligence that has allowed generations to see him as
less than he was, a man of many gifts and talents.
This is the same legacy that the anti-Spanish historians have
left for his men. They have
been characterized as greedy, bloodthirsty, warriors.
These have also painted the Aztecs as “Good Savages”,
misunderstood by Europe and its peoples.
Aztec blood lust and savagery has been set aside in order that
Spain’s fall from the world stage can be understood as payment in full
for its deeds against the “Noble Savage”.
that served with Cortés were only flesh and blood men.
Yes they were Spanish soldiers with a warrior’s spirit, but
still only men. This list of
Cortés’ soldiers taken from http://garyfelix.tripod.com/~GaryFelix/index1A.htm
List of Those
Who Served with Cortés (A-E)
List of Those
Who Served with Cortés (F-L)
List of Those
Who Served with Cortés (M-Q)
List of Those
Who Served with Cortés (R-T)