On November 8, 1519, the Spanish conquistadors first entered the great city of Mexico, the metropolis the Aztecs had built on a lake island. Don Hernando Cortes, who was accompanied by six hundred Spaniards and a great many native allies, at last could see for himself the temples and palaces about which he had heard so many marvels. The Spaniards arrived from the direction of Tlalpan, to the south of the city, passing across one of the wide causeways that connected the island with the mainland. When they reached a locality known as Xoloco, they were welcomed by the last of the Motecuhzomas, who had come out to meet them in the belief that the white men must be Quetzalcoatll and other gods, returning at last from across the waters now known as the Gulf of Mexico. Thus Cortes and his men entered the city, not only as guests, but also as gods coming home. It was the first direct encounter between one of the most extraordinary pre-Columbian cultures and the strangers who would eventually destroy it.
Cortes landed on the coast at Veracruz on Good Friday, April 22, 1519; the Aztec capital surrendered to him on August 13, 1521. The events that took place between these two dates have been recounted in a number of chronicles and other writings, of which the best known are the letters Cortes wrote to King Charles V and the True History of the Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. These two works, along with a few others also written by Spaniards, until now have been almost the only basis on which historians have judged the conquest of one of the greatest civilizations in pre-Columbian America.
But these chronicles present only one side of the story, that of the conquerors. For some reason-scorn, perhaps-historians have failed to consider that the conquered might have set down their own version in their own language. This book is the first to offer a selection from those indigenous accounts, some of them written as early as 1528, only seven years after the fall of the city. These writings make up a brief history of the Conquest as told by the victims, and include passages written by native priests and wise men who managed to survive the persecution and death that attended the final struggle. The manuscripts from which we have drawn are now preserved in a number of different libraries, of which the most important are the National Library in Paris, the Laurenziana Library in Florence and the library of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
The Indian accounts of the Conquest contain many passages whose dramatic interest is equal to that of the great classical epics. As Homer, singing in the Iliad of the fall of Troy, depicted scenes of the most vivid tragic realism, so the native writers, masters of the black and red ink evoked the most dramatic moments of the Conquest. A few paragraphs from the documents presented in this book will make this clear.
The Indian chroniclers describe the beginning of the terrible slaughter perpetrated by Pedro de Alvarado in the patio of the main temple in Tenochtitlan. After mentioning the first rituals of the fiesta that was being celebrated-a fiesta in which "song was linked to song"- they tell how the Spaniards entered the sacred patio:
They ran in among the dancers, forcing their way to the place where the drums were played. They attacked the man who was drumming and cut off his arms. Then they cut off his head, and it rolled across the floor.
They attacked all the celebrants, stabbing them, spearing them, striking them with their swords. They attacked some of them from behind, and these fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out. Others they beheaded: they cut off their heads, or split their heads to pieces.
They struck others in the shoulders, and their arms were torn from their bodies. They wounded some in the thigh and some in the calf. They slashed others in the abdomen, and their entrails all spilled to the ground. Some attempted to run away, but their intestines dragged as they ran; they seemed to tangle their feet in their own entrails. No matter how they tried to save themselves, they could find no escape.
Another passage, a masterpiece of the descriptive art of the Aztecs, shows how the Indians pictured the "stags or deer" on which the Spaniards rode. Motolinia, one of the early missionaries, wrote that the Indians "were filled with wonder to behold their horses, and the Spaniards riding on their backs." Now they present their own description, so vivid that it recalls another extraordinary picture of the horse, written in Hebrew by the author of the Book of Job. They report:
The "stags" came forward, carrying the soldiers on their backs. The soldiers were wearing cotton armor. They bore their leather shields and their iron spears in their hands, but their swords hung down from the necks of the "stags."
These animals wear little bells, they are adorned with many little bells. When the "stags" gallop, the bells make a loud clamor, ringing and reverberating.
These " stags, " these "horses," snort and bellow. They sweat a very great deal, the sweat pours from their bodies in streams. The foam from their muzzles drips onto the ground. It spins out in fat drops, like a lather of amole.
They make a loud noise when they run; they make a great din, as if stones were raining on the earth. Then the ground is pitted and scarred where they set down their hooves. It opens wherever their hooves touch it.
The Valley of Mexico
The indigenous documents contain a number of scenes like these, so vivid that they seem to invite the artist to interpret them with his pen or brush. But to understand this epic narrative of the Conquest, it is important to know something of Aztec history, geography and culture. The following sketch is necessarily limited to the broad outlines, but at least it will provide a context in which the indigenous narratives can be seen more clearly.
Cultural Stages of Ancient Mexico
The grandeur that the conquistadors beheld in the Aztec capital was obviously not the result of spontaneous generation. It was the last phase of a long cultural sequence beginning well before the Christian era. In this brief review of the evolution of culture in ancient Mexico, we will attempt to correlate the various stages with well-known events in the history of the Old World.
Although man has existed on earth for at least half a million years, the first human beings to reach the American continent appear to have arrived only about twenty thousand years ago. Man is an even more recent phenomenon in the Valley of Mexico, since the most ancient human fossil-discovered in Tepexpan, near the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan-is probably no more than ten thousand years old.
The development of superior cultural forms also came much later in America than in the Old World. Egypt and Mesopotamia had contrived modes of writing as far back as the fourth millennium before Christ, but in America-specifically in Mexico-we must wait until the middle of the second millennium B.c. before we can discover the earliest vestiges of systematic agriculture and the making of pottery.
The most ancient architectural remains in Mexico, indicating the presence of ceremonial centers, date from about five hundred years before Christ, a time when the Old World had already heard the words of the Biblical prophets, and when the first pre-socratic philosophers had already spoken in Greece. Perhaps the earliest cultural ferment of any importance in pre-Columbian Mexico took place on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. A number of extraordinary artifacts have been found there, along with the oldest calendar inscription yet discovered. For lack of a better name, these mysterious artificers have been called the Olmecs, an Aztec word meaning "people of the region of rubber." At a later period their art, techniques and religious ideas influenced a number groups which had migrated from the distant northern shores of the Pacific Ocean. This cultural influence was to have significant and widespread consequences.
At the beginning of the Christian era, while Rome was consolidating her empire and Christianity had begun to spread through the Mediterranean world, Mexico witnessed the emergence of what can also be called true empires. The foundations of the earliest sacred cities of the Mayas-Tikal, Uaxactun, Copan and Palenque -were constructed in the jungles of Central America. And in the central region of Mexico, about thirty-five miles north of the modern capital, the great "city of the gods"-Teotihuacan-began to rise. Its pyramids, palaces, sculptures, frescoes and inscriptions would become a paradigm and inspiration for the artists and artisans of later peoples. Many of its inscriptions and representations of the gods were reproduced in the Aztec art and codices of the Conquest period. The apogee of Mayan and Teotihuacan culture coincides in time with the fall of the Roman Empire.
During the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. inscriptions based on a partly ideographic, partly phonetic mode of writing became extremely abundant, especially among the Mayas. They testify to the fact that these cultures possessed a profound sense of time and history. The Mayan calendar is further proof, for it was slightly closer to the astronomical year than our own present-day calendar, and much closer than that being used in Europe at the same period.
The great ritual centers at Teotihuacan and in the Mayan area began to decline in the eighth and ninth centuries and were eventually abandoned. The causes are for the most part unknown. Some authors have attributed their downfall to the arrival of new tribes from the north; at least it is certain that the northern barbarians like the Germanic tribes in the Roman world-were a constant threat to established cultures. In Europe the ninth century saw the consolidation of feudalism; a little later new kingdoms were founded within a cultural milieu composed of Greco-Roman and barbarian elements. A new state also arose in central Mexico and culturally it was also a composite, having been greatly influenced by the Teotihuacan civilization. This was the so-called "Toltec Empire," composed of people from the north who spoke the same Nahuatl tongue which a few centuries later became the language of the Aztecs.
The Toltecs settled in Tula, about fifty-five miles northeast of the City of Mexico, and under the aegis of their great culture-hero, Quetzalcoatl, they gradually extended the civilization created at Teotihuacan. A number of indigenous texts describe the Toltecs in detail: they were superb artisans, devout worshipers, skillful tradesmen- extraordinary persons in every way. Their prestige became so great that for the Aztecs the word "Toltec" was a synonym for "artist." The cultural achievements of the Toltecs spread far beyond their city at Tula; in fact their influence even reached down into Yucatan and Central America, where it can be clearly discerned in the Mayan religious center at Chichen-Itza. As a result of these Toltec influences, the Mayas experienced a major cultural renascence.
But Tula, like other cities before it, was finally abandoned, perhaps because of fresh invasions from the north. Quetzalcoatl departed eastward, promising that some day he would return from across the sea. The new arrivals adopted the cultures of Teotihuacan and the Toltecs, and a number of city-states began, to form along the shores of the great lake in the Valley of Mexico. This was the beginning of another cultural renascence, almost exactly contemporaneous with the early Renaissance in Italy.
In the thirteenth century two of the city-states achieved considerable splendor. One of them, the famous Culhuacan, was located on the southern shore of the lake, near what is now the University of Mexico. Much of its greatness resulted from the fact that many of its inhabitants were of Toltec origin. The other state, Azcapotzalco, which now forms part of the northeastern sector of the capital, was a mixture of a great many ethnic groups. Its people were especially gifted as warriors and administrators, and Azcapotzalco therefore became a good deal more powerful than its neighbor to the south.
The Aztecs or Mexicas were the last of the many nomadic tribes to enter the Valley of Mexico from the north. They arrived during the middle of the thirteenth century, and attempted to settle in one or another of the flourishing city-states, but wherever they appeared, they were violently driven away as undesirable foreigners. It is true that they spoke the same language as the old Toltecs, but otherwise they were almost totally uncultured. The only heritage they brought with them, besides the Nahuatl tongue, was an indomitable will.
After a whole series of defeats and humiliations, the Aztecs succeeded in establishing themselves on an island in the lake; the ancient codices state that their city was founded in the year 1325. A little more than a century later, incredible as it may seem, this destitute tribe had been able to assimilate the old cultural traditions and, at the same time, to achieve complete independence. Then they began their career as conquerors, extending their rule from the Gulf coast to the Pacific and as far south as Guatemala-and again they accomplished all this in only one century. Their capital grew rich and powerful, much more powerful than Teotihuacan or Tula had ever been. Its temples, palaces and gardens were so magnificent that the Spanish conquistadors gaped in astonishment.
During this same period, however, the Old World had begun to discover new regions. Portuguese navigators reached Madeira and the Azores between 1416 and 1432- the first step toward the discovery of the New World. Other explorers crossed the Equator off the coast of Africa in about 1470, and in 1487 Bartolomew Diaz sailed as far as the Cape of Good Hope. Less than a decade later Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of America. Hence, the "explosion" which spread Aztec rule and planted Aztec culture over vast regions was contemporaneous with another expansionist movement, and the latter, with superior weapons, techniques and tactics, proved much the more powerful. When the Old World and the Aztecs in the New World met face to face on that November day in 1519, their attitudes toward each other very different. The Aztecs, as we have said, thought the strangers were Quetzalcoatl and other gods returning from over the sea, while the Spaniards-despite their amazement at the splendors of Tenochtitlan- considered the Aztecs barbarians and thought only of seizing their riches and of forcing them to become Christians and Spanish subjects.
This confrontation, vividly described both by the conquistadors and the natives, was something more than a meeting between two expanding nations; it was the meeting of two radically dissimilar cultures, two radically different modes of interpreting existence. Spain had recently brought the long wars of reconquest against the Moors to a triumphant conclusion and was now the greatest power in Europe. The Aztec state had also reached a climax, and its magnificence was evident in its capital city and its vigorous religious, social, economic and political structure. To understand more clearly the tragic loss that resulted from the destruction of indigenous culture, it will be useful to view the great city as the "gods" viewed it before they leveled it to the ground.
Tenochtitlan, the Aztec Metropolis
The beginnings of the Aztec capital were very humble. It was founded on a low-lying island so undesirable that other tribes had not bothered to occupy it. The indigenous chronicles describe the difficulties with which the Aztecs managed to build a few miserable huts and a small altar to their supreme deity, the war-god Huitzilopochth. But their fierce will overcame every obstacle. Less than two centuries later, the Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo thought that the wonders he beheld must be a dream. The Spaniards had been welcomed into the city as guests of Motecuhzoma, and a party of them-led by Cortes-climbed up to the flat top of the pyramid on which the main temple was built. They were met by the Aztec king himself, who pointed out the various sights.
So we stood looking about us, or that huge and cursed temple stood so high that from it one could see over everything very well, and we saw the three causeways which led into Mexico, that is the causeway of Iztapalapa by which we had entered four days before, and that of Tacuba, and that of Tepeaquilla, and we saw the fresh water that comes from Chapultepec which supplies the city, and we saw the bridges on the three causeways which were built at certain distances apart through which the water of the lake flowed in and out from one side to the other, and we beheld on that great lake a great multitude of canoes, some coming with supplies of food and others returning loaded with cargoes or merchandise; and we saw that from every house of that great city and of all the other cities that were built in the water it was impossible to pass from house to house, except by drawbridges which were made of wood or in canoes; and we saw in those cities Cues [temples] and oratories like towers and fortresses and all gleaming white, and it was a wonderful thing to behold; then the houses with flat roofs, and on the causeways other small towers and oratories which were like fortresses.
After having examined and considered all that we had seen we turned to look at the great market place and the crowds of people that were in it, some buying and others selling, so that the murmur and hum of their voices and words that they used could be heard more than a league off. Some of the soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, and all over Italy, and in Rome, said that so large a market place and so full of people, and so well regulated and arranged, they had never beheld before.
The Spanish soldier had good reasons for describing the city in such enthusiastic terms. Almost nothing remains today of what he saw, but his account is corroborated by other writings, ancient maps and archaeological investigations.
At the time of the Conquest, the area of the island on which the city stood had been increased by means of fills, until it comprised a more or less regular square measuring about two miles on each side. It was joined on the north to the island of Tlatelolco, originally an independent city, but annexed by the Aztecs in 147 3. Tlatelolco was connected with the mainland by a causeway that ran to the sanctuary of the mother-goddess Tonantzin on the northern shore of the lake. At the present day the site of her temple is occupied by the Basilica of Tepeyac, dedicated to Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
To the south of Tenochtitlan, another causeway-the one by which the Spaniards entered-joined the mainland at Iztapalapa. The eastern edge of the city bordered the wide expanse of the lake, and only during the clearest weather was it possible to see the city of Tezcoco, home of the famous poet-king Nezahualcoyotl, on the opposite shore. Finally, on the west, another causeway joined the city with the allied kingdom of Tlacopan or Tacuba; it was along this causeway that the Spaniards fled on the disastrous Night of Sorrows.
Tenochtitlan was divided into four great sections. To the northwest stood Cuepopan, "the place where flowers bloom," which now forms the barrio or sector known as Santa Maria la Redonda; to the southwest, Moyotlan, "the place of the gnats," later dedicated by the Spanish missionaries to the honor of St. John the Baptist; to the southeast, Teopan, "the place of the gods," which included the precinct of the main temple and which was known in colonial times by the name of San Pablo; and to the northeast, Atzacoalco, "in the house of the herons," which became the site where the missionaries built the church of San Sebastian.
The two most important places in the capital were the sacred precinct of the main temple, with its related temples, schools and other structures (in all, it contained seventy-eight buildings), and the huge plaza in Tlatelolco that served as the principal market place, offering an astonishing variety of products from far and near. The walled precinct of the main temple formed a great square measuring approximately five hundred yards on each side. Today nothing is left of the temple except a few remains that can be seen near the eastern walls of the Cathedral of Mexico. A model of the precinct has recently been installed there.
The palace of Axayacatl, who ruled from 1469 to 148 1, stood on the western side of the main temple, and it was here that the Spaniards were lodged when they arrived in the city as Motecuhzoma's guests. The palace of Motecuhzoma, facing a broad plaza, stood on the site now occupied by the National Palace of Mexico. And in addition to these and other structures, there was a large number of lesser temples and stone and mortar buildings reserved as living quarters for the nobles, merchants, artists and other persons. The streets of Tenochtitlan were comparatively narrow, many of them with canals through which canoes from the lakeshore could reach the center of the city. The capital boasted many other attractions, and the Spaniards were particularly impressed by the botanical and zoological gardens, as nothing of the kind existed at that time in their native land.
The population of Tenochtitlan at the time of the Conquest has been the subject of considerable controversy, but beyond question it must have amounted at least to a quarter of a million. The activities were many and colorful. Fiestas, sacrifices and other rituals were celebrated in honor of the gods. Teachers and students met in the various calmecac and telpuchealli, the pre-Hispanic centers of education. The coming and going of merchant canoes and the constant bustle in the Tlatelolco market impressed the Spaniards so much that they compared the city to an enormous anthill. The military exercises and the arrival and departure of the warriors were other colorful spectacles. In brief, the life of Tenochtitlan was that of a true metropolis. The city was visited by governors and ambassadors from distant regions. Gold, silver, rich feathers, cocoa, bark paper and other types of tribute, along with slaves and victims for the human sacrifices, streamed in along the streets and canals. The Spaniards were right: Tenochtitlan was indeed an anthill, in which each individual worked unceasingly to honor the gods and augment the grandeur of the city.
The Aztec Empire
The wealth and military power of Tenochtitlan were a result of the conquests accomplished by Itzcoatl, who ruled between 1428 and 1440. He had joined with Nezahualcoyotl, king of Tezcoco, to defeat Azcapotzalco and to form the so-called "triple alliance," made up of Tenochtitlan, Tezcoco and the relatively insignificant city of Tlacopan (Tacuba).
Another important factor in the growth of Aztec power was the shrewd work of the royal counselor Tlacaelel, nephew to Itzcoatl who instituted a number of significant reforms in the tribe's political, religious, social and economic structure. As a profound student of the cultural elements inherited from the Toltecs, he made use of everything that served his purpose-but he also gave everything a special slant, for his purpose was to consolidate the strength and wealth of the city. One of the indigenous texts in the Codice Matritense describes how Itzcoatl and Tlacaelel rewarded the principal Aztec chieftains with lands and titles after the victory over Azcapotzalco, and then says that the king and his adviser decided to give their people a new version of Aztec history.
The preserved an account of their history, but later it was burned, during the reign of Itzcoatl. The lords of Mexico decreed it, the lords of Mexico declared: "It is not fitting that our people should know these pictures. Our people, our subjects, will be lost and our land destroyed, for these pictures are full of lies....
In the new version, recorded in a number of extant documents, the Aztecs claim to be descended from the Toltec nobility, and their gods- Huitzilopochtli in particular-are raised to the same level as the ancient creative gods Tezcadipoca, and Quetzalcoatl. But most important of all is the exalted praise given to what can only be called a mystical conception of warfare, dedicating the Aztec people, the "people of the sun," to the conquest of all other nations. In part the motive was simply to extend the rule of Tenochtitlan, but the major purpose was to capture victims for sacrifice, because the source of all life, the sun, would die unless it were fed with human blood.
As a result, Huitzilopochtli ceased to be the tutelary god of a poor band of outcasts, and his rise to greatness coincided with that of the Aztecs themselves. The old Toltec prayers, most of them directed to Quetzalcoatl, were revised in his favor, and his priests composed a number of others. Since he was identified with the sun, he was called "the Giver of Life" and "the Preserver of Life." Tlacaelel did not originate the idea that Huitzilopochtli-the-Sun had to be fed the most precious food of all-human blood but he was unquestionably responsible for the central importance that this idea acquired in the Aztec religion.
There is good evidence that human sacrifices were performed in the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Aztecs, but apparently no other tribe ever performed them with such frequency. The explanation seems to be that Tlacaelel persuaded the Aztec kings (he was counselor to Motecuhzoma I and his successor Axayacatl after the death of Itzcoatl) that their mission was to extend the dominions of Huitzilopochtli so that there would be a constant supply of captives to be sacrificed. Fray Diego de Duran wrote that Itzcoatl "took only those actions which were counseled by Tlacaelel," and that he believed it was his mission "to gather together all the nations" in the service of his god. It was also Tlacaelel who suggested the building of the great main temple in Tenochtitlan, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. Before the Spaniards destroyed it, it was the scene of innumerable sacrifices of captives, first from nearby places and later from such distant regions as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guatemala.
The changes brought about by Tlacaelel in Aztec religious thought and ritual were his most important accomplishments, but he also reformed the judicial system, the army, the protocol of the royal court and the organization of pochtecas, or traveling merchants, and he even directed the creation of a large botanical garden in Oaxtepec, on the outskirts of Cuauhtla in the present-day state of Morelos. Despite his key role in Aztec history, Tlacaelel never consented to become king, even though the nobles offered him the throne on the death of Itzcoatl in 1440 and again on the death of Motecuhzoma I in 1469. He preferred to be the "power behind the throne," using his influence to realize what he considered to be the grand destiny of his people. He died a little before 1481, without suspecting, of course, that the magnificence and power for which he was so largely responsible would be destroyed in less than forty years. Considering the unquestionable brilliance of this unusual man, who has been seriously neglected by the historians, one is tempted to ask: What would have happened had the Spaniards arrived during his lifetime? The question is unanswerable, but at least it is an interesting topic for speculation.
To return for a moment to the conquests inspired by Tlacaelel's advice, they began, as we have seen, with the defeat of Azcapotzalco and the formation of the alliance with Tezcoco and Tlacopan. Then the Aztecs set out to conquer the other city states around the lake, and one by one Coyoacan, Cuitlahuac, Xochimilco and Chalco were forced to submit. Other states, alarmed by the Aztecs' growing power, elected to sign treaties with Tenochtitlan and to deliver it tribute. Among these was the city-state of the Tlahuicas, a people with the same language and culture as the Aztecs, in the southern part of what is now the state of Morelos.
Next the Aztecs marched eastward toward the Gulf coast, where the people of Cempoala also agreed to pay tribute. It was in Cempoala that the Spaniards later took excellent advantage of the enmity the Cempoaltecas bore toward their masters.
The succeeding phase of Aztec expansion was toward the south. Sometimes the armies arrived as conquerors, at other times in search of trade, but their constant aim was to increase the power of Tenochtitlan. They dominated the present-day states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, penetrated into Guatemala and even according to some accounts- reached the Isthmus of Panama, sending or bringing back tribute and trade goods to their capital.
The Aztecs, however, always respected the independence of their neighbors, the Tlaxcaltecas, whose state was a "confederation of four republics." There is no doubt that Tenochtitlan could have overwhelmed Tlaxcala without too much difficulty, and the reason it did not is probably that it wanted a nearby source of victims for the human sacrifices. Therefore the Aztecs maintained an almost perpetual state of war with Tlaxcala, but never actually conquered it. Also, the Aztecs seem to have regarded the frequent battles as a convenient way of testing and training their younger warriors. This situation was so hateful to the Tlaxcaltecas that when Cortes arrived they became his most loyal native allies, in the hope that with the aid of the strangers they could at last defeat their oppressors.
By 1519 the Aztecs ruled over several million human beings, who spoke a variety of languages. Their empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf coast and from central Mexico to the present-day Republic of Guatemala. The swift growth of their wealth and power naturally resulted in significant changes in their old way of life. The incipient social classes were consolidated, and the social-political structure became so elaborate that the Spanish conquistadors found it almost as astonishing as some of the city's architectural wonders.
The stratification into social classes of what had been a mere band of nomads developed in a rather unusual way. Once the Aztecs made contact with the advanced peoples who had inherited Toltec culture, they acquired a profound admiration for them and wanted to link themselves to the Toltec world by bonds of kinship. Hence, they chose as their first king, or tlatoani, a nobleman of Toltec origin named Acamapichtli from Culhuacan. He fathered a great many children by various Aztec women, and his descendants formed the nucleus of the social class of nobles, or pipiltin, which increased rapidly both in size and importance. The pipiltin received a much fuller education than other persons, were allowed to own land in their own names and filled the most important posts in government; the king, or tlatoani, could be chosen only from their ranks.
The ordinary citizens formed the social class of the macehualtin. They were divided into what have been called geographical clans, that is, groups of related families living in specific localities and making communal use of the land assigned to them. Like the pipiltin, the macehualtin were required to attend the communal schools, but they were not taught reading, writing, astrology, theology or the other cultural legacies of the Toltecs. They were trained in agriculture and warfare, and some of them became members of the artisan and merchant guilds.
In addition to these two major classes, there were also the mayeques, who worked the land for others as slaves or serfs (though almost always for a limited period of time), and a considerable number of actual slaves. It is necessary to point out that neither the mayeques nor the slaves were clearly distinguished from the macehualtin as social classes.
In Tenochtitlan, Tezcoco and other cities there were groups of wise men known as tlamatinime. These scholars carried on the study of the ancient religious thinking of the Toltecs, which Tlacaelel had transformed into a mystical exaltation of war. Despite the popularity of the cult of the war-god, Huitzilopochtli, the tlamatinime preserved the old belief in a single supreme god, who was known under a variety of names. Sometimes he was called Tloque-Nahuaque, "Lord of the Close Vicinity," sometimes Ipalemohuani, "Giver of Life," sometimes Moyocoyatzin, "He who Creates Himself." He also had two aspects, one masculine and one feminine. Thus he was also invoked as Ometeotl, "God of Duality," or given the double names Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, "Lord and Lady of Duality," Mictlantecuhtlitli and Mictecacihuatl, "Lord and Lady of the Region of Death," and others.
It is quite clear that to the tlamatinime the long list of names was merely a set of titles for a single god, but the people believed it referred to a whole pantheon of separate deities. This, along with the addition of tutelary gods like Huitzilopochtli, caused the Spaniards to regard the Aztecs as an incredibly idolatrous and polytheistic nation. But a closer analysis of the religious thought of the tlamatinime reveals that at least on the upper social levels, only one god was worshiped in Tenochtitlan: the Lord of Duality, the Giver of Life.
Warfare in Ancient Mexico
After Tlacaelel inculcated the idea that Huitzilopochtli- the Sun had to be fed with the blood of human sacrifices; war became a cultural institution of primary importance in Aztec life, since war was the means of obtaining victims to appease the god's insatiable hunger. Regardless of the ostensible purpose of a military campaign-to conquer new territory, punish a rebellious vassal state, or repel an aggressor-the Aztec warriors never forgot that their first duty was to take captives to be sacrificed. This religious conception of warfare motivated the expansion of the Aztec empire, but it also contributed to its destruction by the Spaniards. On several occasions the Aztecs probably could have wiped out the Spaniards to the last man-their best chance of all was on the Night of Sorrows-but the ceremonial elements in their attitude toward war prevented them from taking full advantage of their opportunities.
As in other cities in central Mexico, military training in Tenochtitlan began during early youth. The army was made up of squads of twenty men, which were combined to form larger units of about four hundred, under a tiachcauh who came from the same clan as the warriors he commanded. The more important leaders were usually Eagle or Jaguar Knights, with such titles as tlacatecatl (chief of men) and tlacochcalcatl (chief of the house of arrows).
The most important offensive weapon of the Aztecs was the Macana, a sort of paddle-shaped wooden club edged with sharp bits of obsidian. It was so awesomely effective that on more than one occasion during the Conquest warriors beheaded Spanish horses at a single stroke. Other widely used arms were the atlati, or spear thrower, bows and arrows of different sizes, blowguns and a variety of spears and lances, most of them with obsidian points. The defensive weapons were shields made of wood or woven fibers-often elaborately painted and adorned with feathers-and quilted cotton armor. Some of the warriors also wore various types of masks and headdresses to show that they were Eagle or Jaguar Knights or belonged to the higher military ranks.
A war or battle always commenced with a certain ritual: shields, arrows and cloaks of a special kind were sent to the enemy leaders as a formal declaration that they would soon be attacked. This explains the Aztecs' surprise when the Spaniards, their guests, suddenly turned on them without any apparent motive and-more important-without the customary ritual warning.
Pre-Hispanic Education For over a hundred years before the Conquest, education in Tenochtitlan was compulsory for all male children. They studied either in the specialized calmecac, of which there were at least six in the city, or the telpochcalli, which were attended by the great majority. The students in the calmecac were taught to read and interpret the codices and calendars; they also studied the tribe's history and traditions, and memorized the sacred hymns and other texts. So much emphasis was placed on accurate memorization that after the Conquest it was possible to record many poems and traditions that would otherwise have been lost forever. Most of the students in the calmecac were sons of nobles or priests, but there is evidence that children of humble origin were sometimes admitted if they showed exceptional aptitude.
Almost every sector or clan in Tenochtitlan had its own telpochcalli, dedicated to the god Tezcatlipoca. The students were taught the fundamentals of religion and ethics, and were also trained in the arts of war. In comparison with the calmecac, the telpochcalli offered a more basic and practical education. As we have said, every boy had to attend one of these two types of schools, and every father had to make a solemn vow, on the birth of a son, that he would send the boy to school when he reached the proper age, which seems to have fluctuated between six and nine years.
Pre-Hispanic Writing and Calendars
The highest cultures in ancient Mexico-especially the Mayas, Mixtecs, Toltecs and Aztecs-succeeded in developing their own systems of writing, as we can see from their carved inscriptions and the few pre-Columbian codices that have been preserved. The Aztec system was a combination of pictographic, ideographic and partially phonetic characters or glyphs, representing numerals, calendar signs, names of persons, place names, etc. The Aztecs came closest to true phonetic writing in their glyphs for place names, some of which contained phonetic analyses of syllables or even of letters. For example, the sounds a, e and o were indicated by the symbols for water (ati), bean (etl) and road (otli). The paper used in the codices was made by pounding and burnishing strips of bark from the amate tree (ficus petiolaris). The illustrations in the present book have been adapted from post-Hispanic codices, of course, but the original artists used the old modes to depict their version of the Conquest.
Like the Mixtecs and Mayas, the Aztecs had two principal types of calendars. One was the xiupohualli, or "year-count," based on the astronomical year and made up of eighteen groups or months of twenty days each, with a remaining period of five days, called nemontemi, "those who are there," that was considered extremely unlucky. Despite the additional five days at the end, it became obvious that the calendar was moving ahead of the actual year, and therefore an extra day was added to every fourth year, as with our leap year. The other form of calendar was the tonalpohualli, or "day-count." It was not based on the astronomical year, for its twenty months had only thirteen days each; instead it was calibrated to a fifty-two-year "century." The xiupohualli and tonalpobualli were related in various ways, but the whole topic of preHispanic calendars is far too complicated to be explained in a brief space. We have kept a few of the Aztec year, month and day names in this book, with explanatory footnotes where needed.
The literary "remains" that have survived the Conquest and the intervening years are not as well known as the sculpture and architecture of ancient Mexico, but they are surprisingly rich and abundant. As we have seen, the Aztecs, Mayas and other peoples had their own modes of writing, and some of the pre-Conquest codices are still in existence. In addition, the system of memorization employed in the calmecac and telpochcalli preserved many of the ancient hymns, myths, epic narratives and other literary compositions. It is true that the Spanish conquistadors - along with certain churchmen - burned almost all of the codices and destroyed the pre-Hispanic centers of education. But a few remarkable missionaries, particularly Bernardino de Sahagun and Diego de Duran, undertook to gather up whatever they could of indigenous literature. They managed to acquire a few codices that had escaped the flames, but their major accomplishment was to save a great many of the old songs and narratives that were still faithfully remembered after the Conquest. They worked out means of writing the native languages with the Latin alphabet, and this enabled them-and their Indian pupils-to record the texts in the original words.
Dr. Angel Maria Garibay K., the most important modern authority on pre-Hispanic literature, has shown that more than forty manuscripts containing Aztec literature are extant in various European and American libraries. They offer a broad range of literary types: religious, lyric, epic and dramatic poetry, and prose history, legends, moral teachings, etc. Some of them also present poems and prose narratives describing the Conquest, written or dictated in Nahuatl by persons who witnessed that tragic drama with their own eyes, and the major part of this book is made up of selections from these indigenous accounts. The Appendix gives a brief description of the main sources from which we have drawn.
Pronunciation of Nahuatl Words
The Nahuatl language, which is also known as Aztec or Mexican, is part of the great Uto-Aztec linguistic family. It has been spoken in central and southern Mexico, as well as in various parts of Central America, from Toltec times to the present.
Written Nahuatl, using the Latin alphabet, was introduced by the Spanish missionaries soon after the Conquest. With the exception of x, which is pronounced like the English sh, the letters have the same phonetic value as in Spanish.
Practically all Nahuatl words are accented on the next to last syllable. This is often indicated today by accents used according to rules of Spanish accentuation.
Omens Foretelling the Arrival of the Spaniards
The documents presented in the first thirteen chapters relate the events that began a few years before the arrival of the Spaniards on the east coast of Mexico and ended with the fall of Tenochtitlan to the conquistadors. The last two chapters offer, by way of conclusion, a somewhat different account of the Conquest written in 1528 by the anonymous informants of Tlatelolco, and three of the icnocuicatl (threnodies, or songs of sorrow) lamenting the defeat and destruction of the Aztec capital.
The texts have been arranged to give a chronological narrative of the Conquest, and they contain a number of obvious
discrepancies and contradictions. We have not attempted to solve all of the problems which these discrepancies pose for the historian. Our fundamental concern is with the human interest of the accounts, which reveal how the Nahuas interpreted the downfall of their civilization. This first chapter begins with a passage from the Codex Florentino; the original text is in the Nahuatl of Sahagun's native informants. It is followed by two selections from the Historia de Tlaxcala by Diego Munoz Camargo, who married into the nobility of Tlaxcala. The Tlaxcaltecas allied themselves with Cortes, and Munoz Camargo wrote from their point of view, but his description of the omens which appeared in Mexico agrees quite closely with that of Sahagun's informants.
The first bad omen: Ten years before the Spaniards first came here, a bad omen appeared in the sky. It was like a flaming ear of corn, or a fiery signal, or the blaze of daybreak; it seemed to bleed fire, drop by drop, like a wound in the sky. It was wide at the base and narrow at the peak, and it shone in the very heart of the heavens.
This is how it appeared: it shone in the eastern sky in the middle of the night. It appeared at midnight and burned till the break of day, but it vanished at the rising of the sun. The thine during which it appeared to us was a full year, beginning in the year 12-House.
When it first appeared, there was great outcry and confusion. The people clapped their hands against their mouths; they were amazed and frightened, and asked themselves what it could mean.
The second bad omen: The temple of Huitzilopochtli burst into flames. It is thought that no one set it afire, that it burned down of its own accord. The name of its divine site was Tlacateccan [House of Authority].
And now it is burning, the wooden columns are burning! The flames, the tongues of fire shoot out, the bursts of fire shoot up into the sky!
The flames swiftly destroyed all the woodwork of the temple. When the fire was first seen, the people shouted: "Mexicanos, come running! We can put it out! Bring your water jars ... ! " But when they threw water on the blaze it only flamed higher. They could not put it out, and the temple burned to the ground.
The third bad omen: A temple was damaged by a lightning-bolt. This was the temple of Xiuhtecuhtli which was built of straw, in the place known as Tzonmolco. It was rainIng that day, but it was only a light rain or a drizzle, and no thunder was heard. Therefore the lightning-bolt was taken as an omen. The people said: "The temple was struck by a blow from the sun."
The fourth bad omen: Fire streamed through the sky while the sun was still shining. It was divided into three parts. It flashed out from where the sun sets and raced straight to where the sun rises, giving off a shower of sparks like a red-hot coal. When the people saw its long train streaming through the heavens, there was a great outcry and confusion, as if they were shaking a thousand little bells.
The fifth bad omen: The wind lashed the water until it boiled. It was as if it were boiling with rage, as if it were shattering itself in its frenzy. It began from far off, rose high in the air and dashed against the walls of the houses. The flooded houses collapsed into the water. This was in the lake that is next to us.
The sixth bad omen: The people heard a weeping woman night after night. She passed by in the middle of the night, wailing and crying out in a loud voice: "My children, we must flee far away from this city!" At other times she cried: "My children, where shall I take you?"'
The seventh bad omen: A strange creature was captured in the nets. The men who fish the lakes caught a bird the color of ashes, a bird resembling a crane. They brought it to Motecuhzoma in the Black House.'
This bird wore a strange mirror in the crown of its head. The mirror was pierced in the center like a spindle whorl, and the night sky could be seen in its face. The hour was noon, but the stars and the mamalhuaztli could be seen in the face of that mirror. Motecuhzoma took it as a great and bad omen when he saw the stars and the mamalhuaztli.
But when he looked at the mirror a second time, he saw a distant plain. People were moving across it, spread out in ranks and coming forward in great haste. They made war against each other and rode on the backs of animals resembling deer.
Motecuhzoma called for his magicians and wise men and asked them: "Can you explain what I have seen? Creatures like human beings, running and fighting ... But when they looked into the mirror to answer him, all had vanished away, and they saw nothing.
The eighth bad omen: Monstrous beings appeared in the streets of the city: deformed men with two heads but only one body. They were taken to the Black House and shown to Motecuhzoma, but the moment he saw them, they all vanished away.
The Omens as Described by Munoz Camargo
Ten years before the Spaniards came to this land, the people saw a strange wonder and took it to be an evil sign and portent. This wonder was a great column of flame which burned in the night, shooting out such brilliant sparks and flashes that it seemed to rain fire on the earth and to blaze like daybreak. It seemed to be fastened against the sky in the shape of a pyramid, its base set against the ground, where it was of vast width, and its bulk narrowing to a peak that reached up and touched the heavens. It appeared at midnight and could still be seen at dawn, but in the daytime it was quelled by the force and brilliance of the sun. This portent burned for a year, beginning in the year which the natives called 12-House-that is, 1517 in our Spanish reckoning.
When this sign and portent was first seen, the natives were overcome with terror, weeping and shouting and crying out, and beating the Palms of their hands against their mouths, as is their custom. These shouts and cries were accompanied by sacrifices of blood and of human beings, for this was their practice whenever they thought they were endangered by some calamity.
This great marvel caused so much dread and wonder that they spoke of it constantly, trying to imagine what such a strange novelty could signify. They begged the seers and magicians to interpret its meaning, because no such thing had ever been seen or reported anywhere in the world. It should be noted that these signs began to appear ten years before the coming of the Spaniards, but that the year called 12-House in their reckoning was the year 1517, two years before the Spaniards reached this land.
The second wonder, sign or omen which the natives beheld was this: the temple of the demon Huitzilopochtli, in the sector named Tlacateco, caught fire and burned, though no one had set it afire. The blaze was so great and sudden that wings of flame rushed out of the doors and seemed to touch the sky. When this occurred, there was great confusion and much loud shouting and wailing. The people cried: "Mexicanos! Come as quickly as you can! Bring your water jars to put it out!" Everyone within hearing ran to help, but when they threw water on the fire, it leaped up with even greater violence, and thus the whole temple burned down.
The third wonder and sign was this: a lightning-bolt fell on a temple of idolatry whose roof was made of straw. The name of this temple was Tzonmolco, and it was dedicated to their idol Xiuhtecuhtli.The bolt fell on the temple with neither flash nor thunder, when there was only a light rain, like a dew. It was taken as an omen and miracle which boded evil, and all burned down.
The fourth wonder was this: comets flashed through the sky in the daytime while the sun was shining. They raced by threes from the west to the east with great haste and violence, shooting off bright coals and sparks of fire, and trailing such long tails that their splendor filled the sky. When these portents were seen, the people were terrified, wailing and crying aloud.
The fifth wonder was this: the Lake of Mexico rose when there was no wind. It boiled, and boiled again, and foamed until it reached a great height, until it washed against half the houses in the city. House after house collapsed and was destroyed by the waters.
The sixth wonder was this: the people heard in the night the voice of a weeping woman, who sobbed and sighed and drowned herself in her tears. This woman cried: "0 my sons, we are lost ...!" Or she cried: "0 my sons, where can I hide you...?"
The seventh wonder was this: the men whose work is in the Lake of Mexico-the fishermen and other boatmen, or the fowlers in their canoes-trapped a dark-feathered bird resembling a crane and took it to Motecuhzoma so that he might see it. He was in the palace of the Black Hall; the sun was already in the west. This bird was so unique and marvelous that, no one could exaggerate its strangeness or describe it well, A round diadem was set in its head in the form of a clear and transparent mirror, in which could be seen the heavens, the three stars in Taurus and the stars in the sign of the Gemini. When Motecuhzoma saw this, he was filled with dread and wonder, for he believed it was a bad omen to see the stars of heaven in the diadem of that bird.
When Motecuhzoma looked into the mirror a second time, he saw a host of people, all armed like warriors, coming forward in well-ordered ranks. They skirmished and fought with each other, and were accompanied by strange deer and other creatures.
Therefore, he called for his magicians and fortune-tellers, whose wisdom he trusted, and asked them what these unnatural visions meant: "My dear and learned friends, I have witnessed great signs in the diadem of a bird, which was brought to me as something new and marvelous that had never been seen before. What I witnessed in that diadem, which is pellucid like a mirror, was a strange host of people rushing toward me across a plain. Now look yourselves, and see what I have seen."
But when they wished to advise their lord on what seemed to them so wondrous a thing, and to give him their judgments, divinations and predictions, the bird suddenly disappeared; and thus they could not offer him any sure opinion.
The eighth wonder and sign that appeared in Mexico: the natives saw two men merged into one body-these they called tlacantzolli ("men-squeezed-together") -and others who had two heads but only one body. They were brought to the palace of the Black Hall to be shown to the great Motecuhzoma, but they vanished as soon as he had seen them, and all these signs and others became invisible. To the natives, these marvels augured their death and ruin, signifying that the end of the world was coming and that other peoples would be created to inhabit the earth. They were so frightened and grief-stricken that they could form no judgment about these things, so new and strange and never before seen or reported.
The Wonders and Signs Observed in Tlaxcala
Other signs appeared here in this province of Tlaxcala, a little before the arrival of the Spaniards. The first sign was a radiance that shone in the east every morning three hours before sunrise. This radiance was in the form of a brilliant white cloud which rose to the sky, and the people were filled with dread and wonder, not knowing what it could be.
They also saw another marvelous sign: a whirlwind of dust that rose like a sleeve from the top of the Matlalcueye, now called the Sierra de Tlaxcala.' This sleeve rose so high that it seemed to touch the sky. The sign appeared many times throughout a whole year and caused the people great dread and wonder, emotions which are contrary to their bent and to that of their nation. They could only believe that the gods had descended from heaven, and the news flew through the province to the smallest villages. But however this may have been, the arrival of a strange new people was at last reported and confirmed, especially in Mexico, the head of this empire and monarchy.
The Cronica Mexicana by Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc relates how Motecuhzoma consulted various seers and magicians to learn whether the omens meant an approaching war or some other crisis. They could not give him a satisfactory answer. However, a poor macehual (common man) arrived shortly afterward from the Gulf coast, bringing the first word of the appearance of "towers or small mountains floating on the waves of the sea." A later report said that the mountains bore a strange people who "have very light skin, much lighter than ours. They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears."
Motecuhzoma was even more distressed by this news than he had been by the omens. Therefore, he sent messengers and gifts to the strangers, believing that they might be Quetzalcoatl and other divinities returning to Mexico, as the codices and traditions promised they would.
Motecuhzoma Questions the Magicians
Motecuhzoma summoned the chief officials of all the villages. He told them to search their villages for magicians and to bring him any they found. The officials returned with a number of these wizards, who were announced and then brought in to the king's presence. They knelt before him, with one knee on the floor, and did him & greatest reverence. He asked them: "Have you not seen strange omens in the sky or on the earth? In the caves under the earth, or in the lakes and streams? A weeping woman, or strange men? Visions, or phantasms, or other such things?"
But the magicians had not seen any of the omens that Motecuhzoma sought to understand, and therefore could not advise him. He said to his petlacalcatll [head steward): "Take these villains away, and lock them up in the Cuauhcalco prison. They shall tell me against their will." The next day he called for his pettacalcatl and said to him: "Tell the magicians to say what they believe: whether sickness is going to strike, or hunger, or locusts, or storms on the lake, or droughts, and whether it will rain or not. If war is threatening Mexico, or if there will be sudden deaths, or deaths caused by wild beasts, they are not to hide it from me. They must also tell me if they have heard the voice of Cihuacoatl, for when something is to happen, she is the first to predict it, even long before it takes place."
The magicians answered: "What can we say? The future has already been determined and decreed in heaven, and Motecuhzoma will behold and suffer a great mystery which must come to pass in his land. If our king wishes to know more about it, he will know soon enough, for it comes swiftly. This is what we predict, since he demands that we speak, and since it must surely take place, he can only wait for it."
The petlacalcatll returned to Motecuhzoma and told him openly what they had said, that what was to come would come swiftly. Motecuhzoma was astonished to find that this agreed with the prediction made by Nezahualpi king of Tezcoco.' He said to the petlacalcatl: "Question them again about this mystery. Ask them if it will come from the sky or the earth, and from what direction or place it will come, and when this will happen."
The petlacalcatl went back to the prison to question them, but when he entered and unlocked the doors, he was terrified to discover that they were not there. He returned to Motecuhzoma and said to him: "My lord, command that I be cut to pieces, or whatever else you wish: for you must know, my lord, that when I arrived and opened the doors, no one was there. I have special guards at the prison, trustworthy men who have served me for years, but none of them heard them escape. I myself believe that they flew away, for they know how to make themselves invisible, which they do every night, and can fly to the ends of the earth. This is what they must have done."
Motecuhzoma said: "Let the villains go. Call the chiefs together, and tell them to go to the villages where the magicians live. Tell them to kill their wives and all their children, and to destroy their houses." He also ordered many servants to go with them to ransack the houses. When the chiefs arrived, they killed the women by hanging them with ropes, and the children by dashing them to pieces against the walls. Then they tore down the houses and even rooted out their foundations.
A few days later a macehual [common man] came to the city from Mictlancuauhtla. No one had sent him, none of the officials; he came of his own accord. He went directly to the palace of Motecuhzoma and said to him: "Our lord and king, forgive my boldness. I am from Mictlancuauhtla. When I went to the shores of the great sea, there was a mountain range or small mountain floating in the midst of the water, and moving here and there without touching the shore. My lord, we have never seen the like of this, although we guard the coast and are always on watch."
Motecuhzoma thanked him and said: "You may rest now." The man who brought this news had no ears, for they had been cut off, and no toes, for they had also been cut off.
Motecuhzoma said to his petlacalcath "Take him to the prison, and guard him well." Then he called for a teuctlama cazqui [priest] and appointed him his grand emissary. He said to him: "Go to CuetlaxtIan, and tell the official in charge of the village that it is true, strange thin have appeared on the great sea. Tell him to investigate these things himself, so as to learn what they may signify. Tell him to do this as quickly as he can, and take the ambassador Cuitlalpitoc with you."
When they arrived in Cuetlaxtlan, the envoys spoke with the official in charge there, a man named Pinotl. He listened to them with great attention and then said: "My lords, rest here with me, and send your attendants out to the shore." The attendants went out and came back in great haste to report that it was true: they had seen two towers or small mountains floating on the waves of the sea. The grand emissary said to Pinotl: "I wish to see these things in person, in order to learn what they are, for I must testify to our lord as an eyewitness. I will be satisfied with this and will report to him exactly what I see." Therefore he went out to the shore with Cuitlalpitoc, and they saw what was floating there, beyond the edge of the water. They also saw that seven or eight of the strangers had left it in a small boat and were fishing with hooks and lines.
The grand emissary and Cuidalpitoc climbed up into a broad- limbed tree. From there they saw how the strangers were catching fish and how, when they were done, they returned to the ship in their small boat. The grand emissary said: "Come, Cuitlalpitoc." They climbed down from the tree and went back to the village, where they took hasty leave of Pinotl. They returned as swiftly as possible to the great city of Tenochtitlan, to report to Motecuhzoma what they had observed.
When they reached the city, they went directly to the king's palace and spoke to him with all due reverence and humility: "Our lord and king, it is true that strange people have come to the shores of the great sea. They were fishing from a small boat, some with rods and others with a net. They fished until late and then they went back to their two great towers and climbed up into them. There were about fifteen of these people, some with blue jackets, others with red, others with black or green, and still others with jackets of a soiled color, very ugly, like our ichtilmatli. There were also a few without jackets. On their heads they wore red kerchiefs, or bonnets of a fine scarlet color, and some wore large round hats like small comales, which must have been sunshades. They have very light skin, much lighter than ours, They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears."
Motecuhzoma was downcast when he heard this report, and did not speak a word.
After a long silence, Motecuhzoma finally spoke: "You are the chiefs of my own house and palace and I can place more faith and credit in you than in anyone else because you have always told me the truth. Go with the petlacalcati and bring me the man who is locked up in the jail, the macehual who came as a messenger from the coast." They went to the jail, but when they opened the doors, they could not find him anywhere. They hurried back to tell Motecuhzom \a, who was even more astonished and terrified than they were. He said: "It is a natural thing, for almost everyone is a magician. But hear what I tell you now, and if you reveal anything of what I am about to command, will bury you under my halls, and your wives and children will be killed, and your property seized. Your houses will be destroyed to the bottom of their foundations, until the water seeps up, and your parents and all your kin will be put to death. Now bring me in secret two of the best artists among the silversmiths, and two lapidaries who are skillful at working emeralds."'
They went and returned and said to him: "Our lord, here are the craftsmen you commanded us to bring you."Motecuhzoma said: "Tell them to enter." They entered, and he said to them: "Come here to me, my fathers. You are to know that I have called for you to have you make certain objects. But take care that you do not reveal this to anyone, for if you do, it will mean the ruin of your houses to their foundations, and the loss of your goods, and death to yourselves, your wives, your children and your kin, for all shall die. Each of you is to make two objects, and you are to make them in my presence, here in secret in this palace."
He told one craftsman: "Make a throat-band or chain of gold, with links four fingers wide and very thin, and let each piece and medallion bear rich emeralds in the center and at the sides, like earrings, two by two. Then make a pair of gold bracelets, with chains of gold hanging from them. And do this with all the haste in the world."
He ordered the other craftsman to make two great fans with rich feathers, in the center of one side a half-moon of gold, on the other a gold sun, both well burnished so that they would shine from far away. He also told him to make two gold armlets rich with feathers. And he ordered each of the lapidaries to make two double bracelets-that is, for both wrists and both ankles-of gold set with fine emeralds.
Then he ordered his petlacalcatltl to bring in secret many canutos of gold, and plumage of the noblest sort, and many emeralds and other rich stones of the finest quality. All of this was given to the artisans and in a few days they had finished their work. One morning, after the king had risen, they sent a palace hunchback to the king Motecuhzoma, to beg him to come to their workroom.
When he entered, they showed him great reverence and said: "Our lord, the work is finished. Please inspect it." Motecuhzoma saw that the work was excellent, and he told them that all had been done to his satisfaction and pleasure. He called for his petlacalcatl and said: "Give each of these, my grandfathers, a portion of various rich cloths; and huipiles and skirts for my grandmothers; and cotton, chiles, corn, squash seeds and beans, the same amount to each." And with this the craftsmen returned to their homes contented....
The Messengers' journeys
The native documents-principally those by Sahagun's informants- describe the various journeys made by Motecuhzoma's messengers to the Gulf coasts where the strangers had appeared. The texts describing the instructions that Motecuhzoma gave to his envoys are presented first. These show clearly how the Nahuas attempted to explain the coming of the Spaniards by a projection of earlier ideas: they assumed that the new arrivals were Quetzalcoatl and other dieties.
Then the documents relate how the messengers reached the coast and were received by the Spaniards, to whom they brought gifts from Motecuhzoma. The descriptions of the gifts offered to Cortes, and of his successful attempt to frighten the messengers by firing an arquebus in front of them, are especially interesting.
The third part of this chapter deals with the messengers' return to Tenochtitlan and the information they brought back to Motecuhzoma about the Spaniards, their firearms, the animals they rode (a species of huge "deer," but without horns), their mastiff dogs and so on.
All the texts in this chapter are from the Codex Florentino.
Motecuhzoma Instructs His Messengers
Motecuhzoma then gave orders to Pinotl of Cuetlaxtdan and to other officials. He said to them: "Give out this order: a watch is to be kept along all the shores at Nahuatl, Tuztlan, Mictlancuauhtla, wherever the strangers appear." The officials left at once and gave orders for the watch to be kept.
Motecuhzoma now called his chiefs together: Tlilpotonque, the serpent woman, Cuappiatzin, the chief of the house of arrows, Quetzalaztatzin, the keeper of the chalk, and Hecateupatiltzin, the chief of the refugees from the south. He told them the news that had been brought to him and showed them the objects he had ordered made. He said: "We all admire these blue turquoises, and they must be guarded well. The whole treasure must be guarded well. If anything is lost, your houses will be destroyed and your children killed, even those who are still in the womb."
The year 13 -Rabbit now approached its end. And when it was about to end, they appeared, they were seen again. The report of their coming was brought to Motecuhzoma, who immediately sent out messengers. It was as if he thought the new arrival was our prince Quetzalcoatl.
This is what he felt in his heart: He has appeared! He has come back! He will come here, to the place of his throne and canopy, for that is what he promised when be departed!
Motecuhzoma sent five messengers to greet the strangers and to bring them gifts. They were led by the priest in charge of the sanctuary of Yohualichan. The second was from Tepoztlan; the third, from Tizatlan; the fourth, from Huehuetlan; and the fifth, from Mictlan the Great. He said to them: "Come forward, my Jaguar Knights, come forward. It is said that our lord has returned to this land. Go to meet him. Go to hear him. Listen well to what he tells you; listen and remember."
Motecuhzoma also said to the messengers: "Here is what you are to bring our lord. This is the treasure of Quetzalcoatl. This treasure was the god's finery: a serpent mask inlaid with turquoise, a decoration for the breast made of quetzal feathers, a collar woven in the petatillo style with a gold disk in the center, and a shield decorated with gold and mother-of-pearl and bordered with quetzal feathers with a pendant of the same feathers.
There was also a mirror like those which the ritual dancers wore on their buttocks. The reverse of this mirror was a turquoise mosaic: it was encrusted and adorned with turquoises. And there was a spear-thrower inlaid with turquoise, a bracelet of chalchihuites hung with little gold bells and pair of sandals as black as obsidian.
Motecuhzoma also gave them the finery of Tezcatlipoca. This finery was: a helmet in the shape of a cone, yellow with gold and set with many stars, a number of earrings adorned with little gold bells, a fringed and painted vest with feathers as delicate as foam and a blue cloak known as "the ringing bell," which reached to the ears and was fastened with a knot.
There was also a collar of fine shells to cover the breast. This collar was adorned with the finest snail shells, which seemed to escape from the edges. And there was a mirror to be hung in back, a set of little gold bells and a pair of white sandals.
Then Motecuhzoma gave them the finery of Tlaloc.This finery was: a headdress made of quetzal feathers, as green as if it were growing, with an ornament of gold and mother-of-pearl, earrings in the form of serpents, made of chaicbibuites, a vest adorned with chalchihuites and a collar also of chalchihuites, woven in the petatillo style, with a disk of gold.
There was also a serpent wand inlaid with turquoise, a mirror to be hung in back, with little bells, and a cloak bordered with red rings.
Then Motecuhzoma gave them the finery of Quetzalcoatl. This finery was: a diadem made of jaguar skin and pheasant feathers and adorned with a large green stone, round turquoise earrings with curved pendants of shell and gold, a collar of chalchihuites in the petatillo style with a disk of gold in the center, a cloak with red borders, and little gold bells for the feet.
There was also a golden shield, pierced in the middle, with quetzal feathers around the rim and a pendant of the same feathers, the crooked staff of Ehecatl with a cluster of white stones at the crook, and his sandals of fine soft rubber.
These were the many kinds of adornments that were known as "divine adornments." They were placed in the possession of the messengers to be taken as gifts of welcome along with many other objects, such as a golden snail shell and a golden diadem. All these objects were packed into great baskets; they were loaded into panniers for the long journey.
Then Motecuhzoma gave the messengers his final orders. He said to them: "Go now, without delay. Do reverence to our lord the god. Say to him: 'Your deputy, Motecuhzoma, has sent us to you. Here are the presents with which he welcomes you home to Mexico."
The Messengers Contact the Spaniards
When they arrived at the shore of the sea, they were taken in canoes to Xicalanco. They placed the baskets in the same canoes in which they rode, in order to keep them under their personal vigilance. From Xicalanco they followed the coast until they sighted the ships of the strangers.
When they came up to the ships, the strangers asked them: "Who are you? Where are you from?"
"We have come from the City of Mexico."
The strangers said: "You may have come from there, or you may not have. Perhaps you are only inventing it. Perhaps you are mocking us." But their hearts were convinced; they were satisfied in their hearts. They lowered a hook from the bow of the ship, and then a ladder, and the messengers came aboard.
One by one they did reverence to Cortes by touching the ground before him with their lips. They said to him: "If the god will deign to hear us, your deputy Motecuhzoma has sent us to render you homage. He has the City of Mexico in his care. He says: 'The god is weary."'
Then they arrayed the Captain in the finery they had brought him as presents. With great care they fastened the turquoise mask in place, the mask of the god with its crossband of quetzal feathers. A golden earring hung down on either side of this mask. They dressed him in the decorated vest and the collar woven in the petatillo style-the collar of chalchihuites, with a disk of gold in the center.
Next they fastened the mirror to his hips, dressed him in the cloak known as "the ringing bell" and adorned his feet with the greaves used by the Huastecas, which were set with chalchihuites and hung with little gold bells. In his hand they placed the shield with its fringe and pendant of quetzal feathers, its ornaments of gold and mother-of-pearl. Finally they set before him the pair of black sandals. As for the other objects of divine finery, they only laid them out for him to see.
The Captain asked them: "And is this all? Is this your gift of welcome? Is this how you greet people?"
They replied: "This is all, our lord. This is what we have brought you."
Cortes Frightens the Messengers
Then the Captain gave orders, and the messengers were chained by the feet and by the neck. When this had been done, the great cannon was fired off. The messengers lost their senses and fainted away. They fell down side by side and lay where they had fallen. But the Spaniards quickly revived them: they lifted them up, gave them wine to drink and then offered them food.
The Captain said to them: "I have heard that the Mexicans are very great warriors, very brave and terrible. If a Mexican is fighting alone, he knows how to retreat, turn back, rush forward and conquer, even if his opponents are ten or even twenty. But my heart is not convinced. I want to see it for myself. I want to find out if you are truly that strong and brave."
Then he gave them swords, spears and leather shields. He said: "It will take place very early, at daybreak. We are going to fight each other in pairs, and in this way we will learn the truth. We will see who falls to the ground! "
They said to the Captain: "Our lord, we were not sent here for this by your deputy Motecuhzoma! We have come on an exclusive mission, to offer you rest and repose and to bring you presents. What the lord desires is not within our warrant. If we were to do this, it might anger Motecuhzoma, and he would surely put us to death."
The Captain replied: "No, it must take place. I want to see for myself, because even in Castile they say you are famous as brave warriors. Therefore, eat an early meal. I will eat too. Good cheer!"
With these words he sent them away from the ship. They were scarcely into their canoes when they began to paddle furiously. Some of them even paddled with their hands, so fierce was the anxiety burning in their souls. They said to each other: " My captains, paddle with all your might! Faster, faster! Nothing must happen to us here! Nothing must happen ..."
They arrived in great haste at Xicalanco, took a hurried meal there, and then pressed on until they came to Tecpantlayacac. From there they rushed ahead and arrived in Cuetlaxtlan. As on the previous journey, they stopped there to rest. When they were about to depart, the village official said to them: "Rest for at least a day! At least catch your breath! "
They said: "No, we must keep on! We must report to our king, Motecuhzoma. We will tell him what we have seen, and it is a terrifying thing. Nothing like it has ever been seen before! " Then they left in great haste and continued to the City of Mexico. They entered the city at night, in the middle of the night.
While the messengers were away, Motecuhzomaa could neither sleep nor eat, and no one could speak with him. He thought that everything he did was in vain, and he sighed almost every moment. He was lost in despair, in the deepest gloom and sorrow. Nothing could comfort him, nothing could calm him, nothing could give him any pleasure.
He said: "What will happen to us? Who will outlive it? Ah, in other times I was contented, but now I have death in my heart! My heart bums and suffers, as if it were drowned in spices ... ! But will our lord come here? "
Then he gave orders to the watchmen, to the men who guarded the palace: "Tell me, even if I am sleeping: 'The messengers have come back from the sea."' But when they went to tell him, he immediately said: "hey are not to report to me here. I will receive them in the House of the Serpent. Tell them to go there." And he gave this order: "Two captives are to be painted with chalk."
The messengers went to the House of the Serpent, and Motecuhzoma arrived. The two captives were then sacrificed before his eyes: their breasts were torn open, and the messengers were sprinkled with their blood. This was done because the messengers had completed a difficult mission: they had seen the gods, their eyes had looked on their faces. They had even conversed with the gods!
The Messengers' Report
When the sacrifice was finished, the messengers reported to the king. They told him how they had made the journey, and what they had seen, and what food the strangers ate. Motecuhzoma was astonished and terrified by their report, and the description of the strangers' food astonished him above all else.
He was also terrified to learn how the cannon roared, how its noise resounded, how it caused one to faint and grow deaf. The messengers told him: "A thing like a ball of stone comes out of its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks and raining fire. The smoke that comes out with it has a pestilent odor, like that of rotten mud. This odor penetrates even to the brain and causes the greatest discomfort. If the cannon is aimed against a mountain, the mountain splits and cracks open. If it is aimed against a tree, it shatters the tree into splinters. This is a most unnatural sight, as if the tree had exploded from within."
The messengers also said: "Their trappings and arms are all made of iron. They dress in iron and wear iron casques on their heads. Their swords are iron; their bows are iron; their shields are iron; their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.
"The strangers' bodies are completely covered, so that only their faces can be seen. Their skin is white, as if it were made of lime. They have yellow hair, though some of them have black. Their beards are long and yellow, and their moustaches are also yellow. Their hair is curly, with very fine strands.
"As for their food, it is like human food. It is large and white, and not heavy. It is something like straw, but with the taste of a cornstalk, of the pith of a cornstalk. It is a little sweet, as if it were flavored with honey; it tastes of honey, it is sweet- tasting food.
Their dogs are enormous, with flat ears and long, dangling tongues. The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there panting, with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.
When Motecuhzoma heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if his heart had fainted, as if it had shriveled. It was as if he were conquered by despair.
Motecuhzoma's Terror and Apathy
When Motecuhzoma heard the messengers' report, with its description of strange animals and other marvels, his thoughts were even more disturbed. Sahagun's informants tell us how he sent out his magicians and warlocks in the hope that they could harm the Spaniards with their magic, or at least prevent them from approaching Tenochtitlan. In his uncertainty about the nature of the strangers-he still thought they might be gods-he also sent out captives to be sacrificed in their presence. The informants give us a vivid account of the Spaniards' reactions to this rite.
The magicians failed completely in their attempts either to harm the Spaniards or to drive them away. The messengers reported all this to Motecuhzoma in Tenochtitlan. Both he and his people lived through days of intense fear, because it was now certain that the "gods" intended to march on the Aztec capital. The informants offer what could almost be called a psychological portrait of Motecuhzoma as he struggled with his fears and uncertainties. Finally we see how the grand tlatoani (king) resigned himself and waited for the inevitable.
The texts in this chapter are from the Codex Florentino.
Motecuhzoma Sends Out Wizards and Magicians
It was at this time that Motecuhzoma sent out a deputation. He sent out his most gifted men, his prophets and wizards, as many as he could gather. He also sent out his noblest and bravest warriors. They had to take their provisions with them on the journey: live hens' and hens' eggs and tortillas. They also took whatever the strangers might request, or whatever might please them.
Motecuhzorna also sent captives to be sacrificed, because the strangers might wish to drink their blood. The envoys sacrificed these captives in the presence of the strangers, but when the white men saw this done, they were filled with disgust and loathing. They spat on the ground, or wiped away their tears, or closed their eyes and shook their heads in abhorrence.
They refused to eat the food that was sprinkled with blood, because it reeked of it; it sickened them, as if the blood had rotted.
Motecuhzoma ordered the sacrifice because he took the Spaniards to be gods; he believed in them and worshiped them as deities. That is why they were called "Gods who have come from heaven." As for the Negroes, they were called "soiled gods."
Then the strangers ate the tortillas, the eggs and the hens, and fruit of every variety: guavas, avocados, prickly pears and the many other kinds that grow here. There was food for the "deer" also: reed shoots and green grasses.
Motecuhzoma had sent the magicians to learn what sort of people the strangers might be, but they were also to see if they could work some charm against them, or do them some mischief. They might be able to direct a harmful wind against them, or cause them to break out in sores, or injure them in some way. Or they might be able to repeat some enchanted word, over and over, that would cause them to fall sick, or die, or return to their own land.
The magicians carried out their mission against the Spaniards, but they failed completely. They could not harm them in any way whatever.
Cautions before read : Please forget all you believed or read about the Conquest of Mexico. Most of the versions were redacted by the spaniards are way too biased and from conqueror point of view.
By 1519 the hopes to find Gold and other precious metals in the Caribe were exhausted. Plus the caribean native population was completelly exterminated by the deseases brought by the spaniards.
Under those circunstances, the Governor of Cuba, Diego de Velazquez, organized expeditions crossing the Gulf of Mexico.
The first expedition departed from Cuba leaded by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba with 2 merchant ships an one bergantin and a crew of 210 men. Bernal Diaz del Castillo ( a spaniard historian of the Mexican Conquest was on the crew ).
They were received at the shores of Tabasco by the natives, but once they landed , the natives attacked to the spaniards. Once 100 men returned safely back to the ships, Hernandez de Cordoba himself died 10 days later due the wounds on battle.
Juan de Grijalva ( 1519 Expedition )
Despites the failure of the first expedition. Diego Velazquez organized a second expedition leaded by Juan de Grijalva. Grijalva and his men landed at Champoton and were attacked by the natives. However, the use of the artillery on board inflicted heavy casualties to the natives. Grijalva sailed to the Veracruz coast. Grijalva stablished a post at the Island of San Juan de Ulua and sent back to Pedro de Alvarado with a shipment of gold back to Cuba. Grijalva explored on the rivers inland and was attacked at Cazones River. Grijalva decided to return back to Cuba.
The gold sent by Grijalva, started the ambitions of a Captain named Hernan Cortes.
Hernan Cortes Expedition.
Cortes departured from Cuba on February 1519 commanding 11 ships, 508 soldiers and 100 sailors. The militar equipment was 16 horses, 14 cannons, 32 ballests and 13 match lock guns.
Cortes landed at the Yucatan Peninsula and learned about the presence of 2 spaniards survivors of the previous expeditions. They were Jeronimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero. Only Jeronimo de Aguilar accepted to join to Cortes expedition due Guerrero was married already with the daugther of a local Cacique.
By March 22th, Cortes reached Grijalva┤s river. Cortes┤s troops marched inside Tabasco to the town of Centla, where they were attacked. Cortes defeated to the natives supported by the cavalry and his cannons. The next day, the local Cacique sent to Cortes 20 young women as a gift. One of them was Malintzin ( Marina or La Malinche ). She became Cortes┤s translator and his lover.
Cortes used to Aguilar to translate from Spanish to Maya with Malinche and she translated from Maya to Nahuatl.
Moctezuma was alerted of the presence of " floating houses " on the sea and bearded men mounted on deers. Armed with sticks that shoots fire at great distance. Moctezuma sent ambassadors and priests to invite them and prevent their visit to Tenochtitlan.
Something that I would like to clarify and point out is that Mexico at that time WAS NOT an Aztec Nation. The Aztecs leaded a Triple Alliance with the City States of Tlacopan and Texcoco. Tenochtitlan was a the time, a quarter million people city controlling a 15 million people empire.
Cortes really soon discovered this difference and used the traditional rivalry and the wish of freedom from the Aztec domination of all the people from the Gulf to Central Mexico.
Cortes met at Cempoala with the Fat Cacique, the local Lord with such obesity that he was not able to walk by his own foot. The Fat Cacique saw the opportunity to be released of the Aztec tribute impossition by supporting Cortes. The spaniards forgued an alliance with Cempoala.
Some men were affraid of the idea to get inland into the Aztec territory and were planning to return back to Cuba. I have to recognize that Cortes had guts . He ordered to destroy the 11 ships at the shore to prevent anyone to go back.
Cortes marched then the Tlaxacala kingdom. Cempoala dispatched ambassadors to Tlaxcala to invite them in an Alliance agaisnt the Aztecs, but the Tlaxcas decided to attack to the spaniards and their cempoaltecas allies. However, they were not match for the first artillery volley at open field. Xicotencatl , one the youngest and respected leaders of Tlaxcala was not agreed to receive to Cortes in town. Cortes showed one of his prefered practices during the conquest of Mexico. He ordered to kill Xicotencatl. At the same time, Cortes offered friendship and help to defeat to their deadly enemies: the Aztecs.
Now, Cortes was marching with an Army of 6-8 thousand and 400 spaniards. Soon, they reached the Holly town of Cholula at Puebla state. This city was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl and had really strong ties with the Aztecs. Cortes decided to send a strong message to Moctezuma and requested an audience with the Cholultecas. The meeting was accorded at the major square. The Cholultecas attended the meeting unarmed and were slaugthered unmercifully by Cortes and his troops.
Moctezuma was in shock. The Holy town was destroyed.
NOTE:At this point the Aztecs were aware that Cortes was not Quetzalcoatl as they believed at the beginning. How a God destroys a town consagrated to himself ?
Now Cortes was marching unchallenged to Tenochtitlan with an army composed with enemies of the Aztecs.
Moctezuma wellcomed to Cortes on November 8th, 1519. The spaniards were hossted at the Axayacatl Palace. Cortes used as an excuse a skirmish between a spaniard post and natives in Veracruz and in Nov 14th, Moctezuma became Cortes prisioner. From now on, Cortes will lead the Empire thru Moctezuma.
In the meantime, Diego Velazquez got furious with Cortes, because he explored inland against his original orders to stablish a post on the shores of Mexico. He sent an expedition to capture Cortes. Cortes learned about this even and he leaded 300 spaniards and thousands of his natives allies agaisnt Panfilo de Narvaez and his 1,200 men.
Pyramid at Cempoala where CortÚs and Narvßez fought
Cortes contacted with Narvaez men offering rivers of Gold and Silver in exchange of his support. Many men deserted from Narvaez and join to Cortes. The battle took place on May 28, 1520 at Cempoala. Narvaez was completelly defeated and even lost an eye during the battle.
Pedro de Alvarado known by his cruelty, heard rumors spread by the Tlaxcas about a conspiration to revolt against the spaniards during the festivities of Tezcatlipoca. On May 16, Alvarado assembled his troops and slaughtered to the Top officials of the aztec goverment, also the priests and the General Aztecs, while unarmed, they were parte of the celebrations. That action almost beheaded to the Aztec leadership.The death toll was 600 men.
Cortes, after defeating Narvaez returned to Tenochtitlan under an open hostility enviroment.
The conquistadores took Moctezuma up on the roof, and he tried to calm his people. A stone hurled from the crowd hit him on the head, and a couple of days later he died, perhaps from the wound, perhaps killed by the spaniards because he was not usefull anymore.
On July 1st, CortÚs decided to make a run for it over the Tacuba Causeway that led out of the city to the west. He had a portable bridge constructed and that night, in a pouring rain, they headed out. The streets were deserted, but as they approached the causeway, a sentry let out a call and soon thousands of warriors had descended upon the fleeing conquistadors. All night they battled across the causeway, and when they reached the far shore, two thirds of them had been killed, along with a thousand of their Tlaxcalan allies, and untold riches had been lost in the sludge at the bottom of the shallow lake. CortÚs, legend has it, sat under a tree in Tacuba and wept. For his fallen comrades? The lost gold? The seeming destruction of his great enterprise? Since the victors write history, that night has been known as la noche triste, the sad night.
Cortes lost 2 fingers of his left hand.
Photo the tree where Cortes cried that night.
Cuitlahuac, Moctezuma┤s brother became the new emperor. His troops reached Cortes at Otumba on July 8th,1520.
The spaniards launched a desperate attack and luckilly killed the Aztec Cihuacoatl in charge of the Army and took his banner. The Aztecs fled the field.
The legend has it that the same Saint Santiago appeared at the Battle of Otumba and saved Cortes from attacking Aztecs.
Cuitlahuac tried desperates measures as sending ambassadors to their all times enemies, the Tlaxcas and the Purepechas. His requests did not found echo. The allies warlords abandoned to Cuitlahuac seeing on this an opportunity to get their freedom from the Aztecs.
NOTE: It┤s said that a few hundreds of spaniards and their horses conquered Mexico, but in fact, Cortes was able to assemble a mixture force of subdits and declared enemies of the Aztecs. Here┤s the list of kingdoms that accepted to forge and alliance with Cortes:
Tlaxcala, Chalco, Huexotzingo, Cempoala, Totonacos, Otomies and the defeated Cholultecas. The account was estimated by Cortes on 150,000 men agaisnt a devasted town by the smallpox of 200,000 men , women and children.
The small pox outbreak killed thousands of the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, including the Emperor Cuitlahuac.
Cuahutemoc took his place in November 25, 1520.
On April 21 of 1521 , Cortes was speeding up the arrangements to siege Tenochtitlan and ordered to build 13 bergantins and 6,000 canoes to attack the town from the lake.
The water of the Lake Texcoco was not potable due the high percentage of minerals, so the Aztecs were depending on the acueducts to bring potable water to Tenochtitlan. The acueducts were destroyed by the artillery on board of the bergantis.
The siege lasted months. Tenochtitlan was cut off from external food supplies; The water of the Lake Texcoco was not potable due the high percentage of minerals, so the Aztecs were depending on the acueducts to bring potable water to Tenochtitlan from Chapultepec. The acueducts were destroyed by the artillery on board of the bergantins. The Spaniards and their allies fought their way across the causeways, were driven back and again advanced. When they got the city, every rooftop was an enemy stronghold. Most of the city was destroyed, because the only way for CortÚs to hold a sector was to raze it. The Aztecs, hungry, thirsty and stricken with smallpox, refused to give up. By August they were confined to the formerly great market precinct of Tlatelolco.
With CortÚs closing in, CuauhtÚmoc decided to try to escape to the mainland where he could keep up the struggle guerrilla fashion. He was captured, effectively ending the Aztec resistance.
NOTE: It┤s said by the spanairds accounts that the Aztecs practied canibalism. If that was true, how come the population suffered that badly by the famine , product of the siege, if they could eat the flesh of the dead ones ?
At that point , the heavy casualities depopulated the town, at the point that the women had to fight as well.
By order of the Supreme Council of Anahuak, Cuauhtemoc makes known his final decree. His words contain a message for the Mexicans then and of the future.
TOTONAL YE IXPOLIUH IUAN ZENTLA YOUAYAN O TECH CATEH MACHTICMATIH MAN OKZEPA UALLA MAN OKZEPA KIZAKIN IUAN YANKUIOTIKA TECH TLAUILIKIN
Our Sun has hidden itself Our Sun is lost and has left us complete darkness but we know that it will return another time that it will come out at another time to light our way once again.
But while it is there in the Mansion of Silence very soon let us meet, let us come together, and in the center of our Being let us hide all that our heart loves, that which is our great treasure.
MAN TIKIN POHNOLOKAN TOTEOKALUAN, We must hide our houses of creation, TOKAL MEKAHUAN, TOTLACHKOHUAN, our schools, our ball courts, TOTELPOCHKAHUAN, TOKUIKAKAHUAN, our houses of youth, our houses of flower and song, MAN MOZEL KAHUAKAN TOHUMEH IUAN MAN TOCHAHUAN KIN IHKAUK KIXOUAZ TO YANKUIK TONAL. That the roads remain empty, we take refuge in our homes, conserve our traditions and our Mexican language until the new Sun dawns.
IUAN MATECHNAZKEH MO PIPIOLHUAN INOKA NEMIZKEH UEL KENIN YOKO KIN AXKAN TOTLAZOH ANAHUAK. IN TLANEKILIZ IUAN TLAPELUILIZ IN TONECHTOLTILIZ.
Teach the children and the youth how our Beloved Mother, Tonantzin Anahuak, was and will be great and how the destinies of our people will be realized.
Cuauhtemoc is captured and he addressed to Cortez on this terms:
Chik azi in tepoz uan xinech mikti Take that knife from your belt and kill me if you can.
At first, CortÚs treated his foe chivalrously. "A Spaniard knows how to respect valor even in an enemy," he declared. Then, to his eternal discredit, he allowed Aldrete, the greedy royal treasurer, to have Cuauhtemoc tortured to make him reveal the whereabouts of hidden treasure.
Cuauhtemoc, insisting that there was no hidden treasure, heroically stood up under the ordeal. In the end, a shamed CortÚs delivered him from Aldrete's hands. But there was a final horror. In 1525, Cuauhtemoc was serving as an auxiliary on a CortÚs-led expedition into Honduras. Convinced by an Indian convert to Christianity that Cuauhtemoc was conspiring against him, CortÚs had him tried for treason. Found guilty, he was sentenced to hang. Though even some of the Spaniards -- notably Bernal Diaz de Castillo -- believed the former emperor innocent, the sentence was carried out. Cuauhtemoc's last words to CortÚs demonstrate his unconquerable spirit: "I knew what it was...to trust to your false promises; I knew that you had destined me to this fate since I did not fall by my own hand when you entered my city of Tenochtitlan."
August 13, 1521 Heroically defended by CuauhtÚmoc, Tlatelolco fell to the power of Hernßn CortÚs. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat. It was the painful birth of the mestizo nation that is the Mexico of today.
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