The Aztecs

Being a cruel group that did not get along with any others. No one could understand why they were able to stay isolated within their own group for so long. It was questioned as to whether or not they would ever be able to get along with anyone else peacefully. Dating all the way back to the first records of the Aztecs, priests say that they immigrated to Tenochtitlan from their home land of Aztlan. Aztlan was somewhere in north Mexico in the desert lands that didn't have an exact destination. This area was some what under control of the Toltec empire. The Toltec ordered the Aztecs to farm vast sections of their land, leading the Aztecs to flee there home land. From here they moved to Tizapan which is in the center of present-day Mexico. The main group of this land were the Culhuacan, who permitted the Aztecs to stay on their land as long as they became tributaries, the equivalent of European vassals.

Not too long after, a war broke out between the Aztecs and the Culhuacan, and the Aztecs lost. Fleeing once again, they were eventually able to settle in the land of the Tepanec and became King Tezozomoc's servants. The land on which they were allowed to stay in was a group of islands in the center of Lake Texcoco. Rumor had it that on one of these islands the Aztecs founded the sacred city of Tenochtitlan and immediately after built a type of shrine to their patron god, Huitzilopochtli, the God of War. As the city grew larger, a small group isolated away from the Aztecs and settled on a island close by. This group found the city of Tlatelolco. These two cities, overtime, finally merged with Tlatelolco becoming the trading center and Tenochtitlan becoming the political and religious capital of these two areas. With a rising power from both of these cities, it was known that they were under the power of King Tezozomoc.

 

The Tepanec were shortly pushed out of their land by a few of the groups that surrounded them. From then on the Aztecs were under the rule of King Itzcoatl. They started to conquer the remaining land in the Valley of Mexico and past these boundaries. With the large expansion of their land, they would celebrate by their ritual human sacrifices. Just like the way that they did after huge successes within their militaries, they would go up to the pyramid of Huitzilopochtli and sacrifice themselves to him. The flesh of the victims who gave themselves to the god was usually eaten as a form of communion with the Aztec's who had blessed their equals.

 

Moctezuma II was the last Aztec emperor, who became king in 1502. He was known as a "valiant captain" who led his armies in a good manner. He was known more for his religiousness. No one was allowed to look at him. If you were to go to speak with him you must keep your eyes lowered. No one would touch him. There were only a few who were actually allowed to visit him, but they had to enter barefoot and perform numerous worshiping acts while calling him, "My Lord, My Great Lord." During the first seventeen years of his heirarcy, there was a plage on the empire with many people who were subjected by the Aztecs and wanted to excape from the tributes held upon them. Moctezuma left his surroundings and devoted all of his time to worldly pleasures and religious duties in Tenochtitlan.

 

Path To Conquest

Just as Cortes learned of Moctezuma, Moctezuma learned about the coming of the Europeans. Later Aztec accounts, eight omens appeared to the people of Tenochtitlan telling the coming of the Spaniards:

A great column of fire burned in the night over Tenochtitlan.

The temple of Huitzilopochtli burned down mysteriously.

The temple of Xiuhtecuhtli was hit by lightning.

Fire, in three parts, streamed through the sky during the day.

Lake Texcoco boiled and flooded, destroying residences around the water.

A weeping woman was heard during the night, crying for the Aztecs to flee from the city.

A strange ashen crane appeared. Through a mirror in its head Moctezuma saw the stars, and when he looked again, he saw a land where men rode on the backs of animals and fought against each other.

Large, deformed men with two heads ran through the streets, but disappeared when they were brought to Moctezuma.

These stories [might not be true] show the Aztecs' strong belief in omens and warnings from the gods. When these issues dealing with the Spanish first got to Moctezuma, the king, who based quite a few of his decisions on his interpretations of "omens," believed that they might possibly be Quetzalcoatl and other gods or highly looked upon people returning to Mexico as ancient Mexican prophecies had told.

Cortes's fleet landed at what is now Vera Cruz on April 21, 1519. The native's were kind and brought gifts. When the chief arrived, the Spanish performed Easter Mass, the two leaders then exchanged gifts, and Cortes sent presents along with the first glass in the Americas).

Moctezuma, was still unsure whether the visitors were divine or
mortal, sent magnificent gifts of gold and silver back to the
Captain-General but at the same time with hleld the Spaniards from
approaching Tenochtitlan. There was tension among the troops
between those loyal to Cortes and those loyal to Velazquez. Some
wanted to strike the center of the empire immediately and take
control of the land for themselves. Others thought it would be
more prudent to return to Cuba and report their findings to the
governor.

In the meantime, messengers from the Totonac nation, who had been
recently conquered by the Aztecs, urged Cortes to ally with them
against the Aztecs. Realizing the importance of dissension within
the empire, Cortes ordered his fleet to sail north to the Totonac
capital at Cempoalla. The cacique of Cempoalla offered to provide
Totonac troups to assist the Spanish in defeating Moctezuma and
explained that many of the subjugated peoples under the Aztecs
would most likely also wish to ally with Cortes. Before Cortes
left, he established the first Spanish colony of Villa Rica on the
mainland at Cempoalla to be used as a launching point for future
expeditions.

Cortes's army continued on to Chiahuitztla where the cacique
provided them with four hundred bearers to carry supplies. The
army continued on to another town where they encountered five of
Moctezuma's tribute collectors. Cortes ordered the Totonacs to
imprison the Aztecs, and then, after harassing them, released two
with a message of respect toward the king. This insult to the
Aztecs further encouraged other nearby communities to join the
Spaniards.

Hearing of a plot by some soldiers to take a ship and sail back to
Cuba, Cortes had all but one of the vessels sunk and gave a
dramatic speech to his soldiers by which he won back most of their
support. The army left the Totonac capital on August 16, 1519,
with 400 soldiers, fifteen horses, seven artillery pieces, 1,300
Totonac warriors, and 1,000 porters.

After a brief skirmish with the Tlascalans, Cortes was
assured of passage through the republic. Ten miles into Tlascalan
land though, Cortes's army encountered a hostile force of around
30,000 Tlascalans. Despite the tremendous size of the army, the
Spanish managed to fend them off. On September 5, Cortes's army
faced an even larger Tlascalan host which they again managed to
fend off. The Tlascalan council then decided on a night attack
against the Spaniards and their allies, but they found to their
surprise that Cortes's troups were ready for them and reversed the
ambush. Without energy left to fight once again, the Tlascalans
agreed to let Cortes's army pass through their lands and furnish
any necessary provisions. The army marched on to the Tlascalan
capital where they erected a cross and performed mass and were
given 500 porters and 1,000 soldiers. This change from hostility
to neutrality to alliance was brought on by Cortes's claims that
he was opposed only to the Aztec empire and that there would be a
place for Tlascala in Spanish-dominated Mexico.

From there Cortes decided to march through Cholula despite the
urging of the Tlascalans who warned that the Cholulans were pawns
of Moctezuma. As the army approached the Cholulan capital, they
were greeted by the caciques and Cortes was allowed to select
6,000 soldiers from the ranks of the Cholulan army. The chiefs
also agreed to supply the Captain-General with porters. Here
Diaz's account and the Aztec account totally diverge. Diaz's
account tells of a Cholulan conspiracy sponsored by Moctezuma to
ambush and slaughter the Spaniards. Cortes apparently learned
of this plan from Marina and intended to ambush the Cholula first.
According to the Aztec account, it was the Spaniards who were
treacherous and who planned a show of strength by massacring the
Cholulans. Whatever the reason, when the caciques brought the
porters to Cortes, the Spanish and their allies set upon the
Cholulans and completely massacred them. Then the Cholulan army
assembled and counter-attacked the Spanish. After two hours of
fighting, the two sides agreed to end the fighting and the
Cholulans returned to their homes and Cortes's army marched on but
not before erecting a cross.

Cortes's army then descended into the Valley of Mexico, for the
first time witnessing in the distance the splendor of
Tenochtitlan. On the road to the capital, the army passed through
hamlets where they were offered generous bribes from Moctezuma's
emissaries to turn back. When Cortes failed to accept the bribes,
Moctezuma sent his nephew to welcome the Spaniards and their
entourage of 7,000 Mexican soldiers to Tenochtitlan.

 

Moctezuma arrived at the gates and welcomed Cortes when he arrived to tenochtitlan. The army was given the palaces of his father, Axayacatl, to be used as barracks. To then prevent the Aztecs from attacking the Spaniards in the position of the less advantage, Cortes took the king prisoner and brought Moctezuma to the barracks. He was then able to persuaded the king to send out messengers to the nearby communities to collect gold and silver. Part of this was sent to the Spanish monarch in the name of Moctezuma and part was divided amongst Cortes' army.

Tenochtitlan -- Conquest Home - Video Journey

 

Return to All Projects Home