The Spanish had no idea
how lucky they were that the Aztecs misunderstood who they were and why
they were there. The Spanish conquistadors were looking for lands to
conquer, gold to capture, and people to convert to the Catholic
Spanish were amazed at what they found in the capital city of
Tenochtitlan. Everything was clean. There were “eating houses” and
hairdressers. You could buy medicines and herbs and all kinds of food.
You could buy meat and game. There were streets that sold only pottery
and mats. Painters could
buy the paints they needed for their art.
In 1519, the Spanish conquistador, Hernan
Cortes, sailed from Europe to land in what is now Mexico. After a
difficult journey inland, Cortes and his men entered the Aztec capital
city and met , the Aztec leader.
Normally, the Spanish
adventurers would have been captured and sacrificed immediately, because
that is what the Aztecs did to invaders.
But the Spanish were
lucky. They were allowed to enter the city, and welcomed as valued
guests, all because of an old legend. This legend told of the god
Quetzalcoatl. The Aztecs believed that the god of night had defeated
Quetzalcoatl in a game of tlachtli. As the winner, the god of night
could decide what to do with Quetzalcoatl. The god of night decided to
banish Quetzalcoatl to the East. Quetzalcoatl had no choice but to
leave. He vowed that some day he would return, when the end of the world
was near, to save his people.
The Aztecs were always
worried that the end of the world was always near. That's why they
sacrificed so many people. They wanted to keep their gods very happy, so
they could save their people. When the Spanish arrived from the East,
the Aztecs believed that Quetzalcoatl had kept his promise and had
returned. They treated the Spanish as if they were gods.
mentioned in one of letters home that he believed there were
more than 60,000 people in the marketplace buying and selling
wares. No one used money. Goods were bartered and small
differences in value were evened up using cocoa beans.
wrote to the Spanish Emperor, back in the Spain, the
“We lodged in the
chief’s house, situated in the most refreshing gardens ever
seen. In their midst flows a beautiful stream, beset with gay
flower beds, an infinite number of different fruit trees, many
herbs and fragrant flowers. Three hundred men had charge of
these birds for their sole employment. Over each pool there
were beautifully decorated galleries and corridors, where Moctezuma
came to amuse himself by watching them. I do not mention the
other diverting things Moctezuma
had in the city, because they were so many and so various.”
Spanish made themselves very comfortable in the Aztec capital
city. As time went on, the Spanish became concerned that they
might never leave, not alive anyway. And, as time went on, the
Aztecs began to grow suspicious. The Spanish did not act like
gods. They did not do the things that gods did. They even
avoided the sacrifice ceremonies, which after all, were
conducted in their honor. The Aztecs decided it was time to
move the Spanish along. Carefully, so as not to upset the gods
(just in case), the Spanish were expelled from the city. But
they were allowed to leave. By the time they left, the Spanish
had learned how lucky they were to be leaving alive.
Spanish did return, but they were much better prepared to
fight the fierce Aztec warriors. It was not the Spanish
guns that won the day. It was the Spanish horses and dogs. The
Spanish brought huge fierce mastiffs with them into battle. Their
best weapon was disease. The Aztecs had never been
exposed to childhood diseases like measles. As well, the
Spanish had help from the other tribes in the area. These
tribes saw a chance to get even, and perhaps even to rid
themselves of the feared and hated Aztecs.
By the mid-1500’s, the
Aztec Empire had collapsed.
Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs - Interactive
of the Aztecs - Hernan Cortes