Cortés & The Conquistadors

 

Cow Conquistador.jpg

For no other reason than the fact it’s a cow in a conquistador outfit …I had to put it in! But this raises some big questions!! What is a conquistador? and where do I get one of them fancy outfits?!

 

After the Treaty of Tordesillas the new world was split between Spanish and Portegeuse settlers. The Spanish settlers were known as the Conquistadors (Conquerers) who were seeking Gold and Silver.

 

Hernando Cortés

Cortez 2

Hernán (or Hernando) Cortés was born in 1485 in Medellín, western Spain. He initially studied law but left university to make his fortune in the Americas. In 1504 he sailed for Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), moving to Cuba in 1511 where he assisted Diego Velázquez in his conquest of the island and made his reputation for courage and daring.

In 1518 Cortés persuaded Velázquez, who was now governor, to make him commander of an expedition to Mexico. It had only recently been discovered by Europeans and was rumoured to contain great wealth.

Shortly before Cortés set sail, Velázquez, who was now suspicious of his motives, cancelled his commission. Cortés ignored Velázquez and set out. On arrival he established a settlement (now Veracruz) and made local allies.

The major civilisation in the region was that of the Aztecs, led by Montezuma II. Cortés headed for the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, which was a three-month journey over difficult terrain. It is thought that Cortés’ arrival coincided with an Aztec prophecy about a white-skinned god arriving from the east, which would explain why Montezuma welcomed Cortés and gave him lavish gifts.

Montezuma of course believed that Cortes was Quetzalcoatl – a Meso-American Mayan God. Actually reading the description you might not think it so foolish of Montezuma! More on him here.

However, relations quickly deteriorated and, fearing an attack, Cortés took Montezuma hostage, demanding a huge ransom from his people.

In April 1520, Velázquez sent an expedition to capture Cortés. As Cortés left to fight the expedition, an Aztec revolt began in Tenochtitlán. Cortés returned and obliged Montezuma to face the crowd, but the Aztec leader was struck by a stone and died. The people feared Montezuma had betrayed them. The Spanish were driven out of the city, incurring heavy losses.

Cortés re-organised his forces and in 1521 returned to Tenochtitlán, which fell after a three-month siege. A new settlement, Mexico City, was built on the ruins and settled with Spanish colonists, becoming the centre of Spanish America. Cortés secured control over Mexico, inflicting great cruelty on the indigenous population. Western diseases such as smallpox also caused huge fatalities.

In 1523 Cortés was named governor and captain general of New Spain. In 1528, amid Spanish fears that he was becoming too powerful, he was forced to return to Spain where the king reinstated him as captain general, but not to the position of civil governor. On his return to Mexico, his powers were significantly limited and his activities monitored. He continued to explore Central America, hoping to find a strait from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He failed, instead discovering, and naming, California.

In 1541, Cortés returned to Spain an embittered man and retired to an estate near Seville where he died on 2 December 1547.

Aztecs & Human Sacrifice

human sacrifice

 

In spite of all the great accomplishments of the empire, it’s the Aztec sacrifice that the people are often remembered for.  Why were sacrifices offered?  What were they like?  Read on…

Types of sacrifices

Though the human sacrifice is the most talked about, there were actually many types of sacrifices in the empire.  The people believed that they owed a blood-debt to the gods.   They wanted to avert disaster by paying the endless debt.  Blood was a common theme – the sacrifice that the gods required.

So, animals would be sacrificed, as well as humans.  Also, there was ritual blood-letting, where people would cut themselves to offer their blood to the gods.

Aztec sacrificeA picture taken from the Codex Mendoza,
created by native scribes for the Spanish in 1541-1542,
showing a ritual Aztec sacrifice.

 

Human Sacrifice

 

Human sacrifice was practised to some extent by many peoples in Mesoamerica (and for that matter, around the world) for many centuries.  But it was the Aztec empire that really took the ritual to new heights.  How many people were sacrificed by the Aztecs?  We don’t know how many were sacrificed over the years – it’s possible that some accounts are exaggerated – but it was probably thousands each year – tens of thousands or more all together.  Some estimates claim 20,000 a year.

The Aztecs had 18 months in one cycle, and for each of the 18 months there was ritual sacrifice.  The victim would be painted as a part of the ritual, they would be placed on a slab where their heart would be removed and held up to the sun.  The body would be thrown down the stairs of the temple/pyramid.

The body would be disposed of in various ways, such as feeding animals at the zoo or putting on display (the heads).  There are some accounts of cannibalism, but it’s uncertain if this was practised to any great extent.

There were other ways that humans would be sacrificed – shot with arrows, drowned, burned, or otherwise mutilated.  Killing in a fight (like the Roman gladiators) also took place.

Both the empire’s own people, and their enemies were sacrificed. The warriors were often involved in a special ritual war called axochiyaoyotl (or flower war/flowery war).  The object was not to gain territory or kill the enemy, but to capture them as food for the gods.  Both sides of the battle were required to fight, and they usually were willing participants.  The people would be captured instead of killed, and then sacrificed.

Aztec sacrifice – why?

Of course, as we mentioned there was great religious significance to the Aztec sacrifice.  What its purposes were beyond that are debated.

There’s no doubt that it would have struck fear in the hearts of the natives that were not in the empire, and perhaps terrified the people in the empire as well.  Surely the consolidation and power, not to mention wealth, was in mind as the leaders continued to promote the practice.  But in the end, the incredible loss of human life would weaken an otherwise powerful nation.

 

What Happened the Aztecs?

After Cortés regrouped, he managed to gain the help of an estimates 100,000 people. These were mainly found from other rival tribes who did not like the heavy taxes placed on them by the Aztecs and did not appreciate the aul’ sacrifice! Cortés and his army captured Tenochtitlán and destroyed it! It was later rebuilt by Cortés using Aztec slaves and the city was renamed as Mexico City.

tenochtitlan
What Tenochtitlán was believed to have looked like

 

For more of this kinda brutality and other interesting conquering stories…keep it here !

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