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The Fall Of The Aztec Empire History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Many indigenous people had inhabited the Americas before the arrival of foreigners, one of those people was known as the Aztecs. The Aztec Empire had built itself around their religion and beliefs, standing strong as a community, or so they thought. The Aztecs lived in Central Valley of Mexico and ruled over the other indigenous peoples of the region (Perez). The empire was ruled by one emperor and consisted of many noble Aztecs who helped keep the empire running. Their beliefs on different gods were very strong, and so many rituals were kept alive up until Hernan Cortes showed up to Tenochtitlan. The events that took place between 1519 and August 13, 1521 between the Spaniards and the Aztecs, left a huge mark in the upcoming decades that shaped its people.

Hernan Cortes born in Medellin, Spain in 1484 where he grew up hungry for fame and instead of going to fight for the Borgia in Italy, he landed in Cuba and befriended the governor Diego Velazquez (Lyons). Velazquez had unsuccessfully sent two expeditions to Yucatan, but on Febuary 18, 1519, 500 men along with Cortes, a third expedition was set up (Lyons). The Spaniards traveled on 11 ships with 16 horses, many dogs, cannons, crossbows, glass beads, and mirrors (Lyons). “Hernan Cortes […] landed on the Mexican Coast in 1519 with armed troops” (Armitage 31).

Cortes arrived at Tlaxcala where at first, they were greeted with hostility and fights and small battles took place between the Spaniards and the Tlaxcaltecans, however on September of 1519 Tlaxcala greeted Cortes with plenty of joy because they now saw him as a potential ally. The Mexicans, as the people of Tenochtitlan called themselves, “had made enemies with other indigenous communities, including the Tlaxcaltecas, by the time the Spaniards landed in the Mexican Coast (Perez). The Aztecs had commercially blocked of Tlaxcala, and so the Tlaxcala and Cortes exchanged gifts and reinforced their alliance. “Hating the Mexicans […] Tlaxcaltecans became eager Castilian allies and Christian converters (Lyons). Cortes stayed in Tlaxca for 20 days, and in that time he began to concoct a wild scheme […] straight from the pages of a romance: march on it (Lyons). He rounded up 1,000 men, and on October 12, 1519, they began their march to Cholula.

By the time the march to Cholula began, Cortes had come across Malintzin Tenepal, also known as La Malinche. “Robbed of her birthright, Malintzin was sold to Maya merchants, who in turn sold her to Tabascans. At the age of 14, she became both slave and cultural translator to Cortes” (Perez). Malinche is the person most often blamed for the fall of Mexico (Perez). She leaves with Cortes to Cholula, where she plays out her loyalty to Cortes.

Cholula was the second biggest and most sacred city of Mesoamerica, which explained the very small army, and Cortes dared them to challenge him in battle. Malinche learned that the Cholula locals had planned a secret attack on the Spaniards while they slept and told Cortes about this arrangement. Cortes decided to take immediate action and killed many noble men from Cholula to show them a lesson (Lyons). As soon as he arrived to Cholula he seized their leaders Tlaquiach and Tlalchiac, and then ordered the city to be put in flames. Cortes had left his mark on Mesoamerica, and the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan was next on his list.

The Aztecs praised the god of sun, Huitzilopochtil, by sacrificing a human heart, known to them as an eagle cactus fruit, every morning (Lyons). These sacrifices were quite common, and widely accepted by the people. “Captives, or select locals, not excluding women and children were led “voluntarily” to the top, their hearts extracted, their limbs eaten with chocolate or chili by priests and court officials, their entails tossed to the beasts in the imperial zoo while the public gawked” (Lyons). Human sacrifices along with cannibalism and the fatting of people only to dress them and serve them in banquets was nothing new to the people (Lyons). However, by the time Moctezuma took rule, a couple hundred hears were being demanded by the sun of god every single day. And on November 8, 1519, Cortes entered this world to change it forever.

“Moctezuma prepared for Cortes’ arrival by doing astrology and eating sacred mushrooms” (Lyons). He believed Cortes was the second coming of the god, Quetzalcoatl, and so “Emperor Moctezuma himself was carried on an elaborate litter through the crowded streets to greet ‘Quetzalcoatl” (Lyons). He greeted Cortes saying “Oh lord of ours, be welcome, you have arrived in your land, among your people, and in your house Mexico […] you would return to rule these lands” (Moctezuma II). Cortes was taken to see the Huitzilopochtly pyramids and was very impressed by all the god and treasury he saw, yet very disgusted by the still warm hearts and dry blood on the wall (Lyons). Cortes became determined to attain the hidden gold, and clean the blood stained walls of not only the pyramid, but of the community as well.

Like Malinche, Moctezuma too believed that Cortes was the second coming of Quetzalcoatl, a very important god for the Aztecs (Perez). It was Cortes’ luck or maybe just coincidence that he arrived there the same year Quetzalcoatl’s prophecy was to come ( Because of this, Cortes was treated just as a god should. He was given freedom to roam and explore the city as he pleased, and although there were many people who did not believe Cortes was Quetzalcoatl, there was nothing they could do to go against Moctezuma’s word. Cortes and his 300 men were very well taken care of, and he took great advantage of this situation. He began to ask for more gifts, and demanded the two idols be removed in the temple pyramid, and be replaced by the Virgin Mary and St. Christopher (Lyons). With all this power that Moctezuma gave, Cortes made his move and imprisoned Moctezuma in his own palace. Moctezumas imprisonment was utilized by Cortes to the fullest, insuring the Aztec would not revolt or death would come upon their ruler.

At this time, “Cortes and most of his men had been called away from Tenochtitlan to battle an emissary sent by Diego Velazquez” (Armitage). Cortes left 140 men behind in Tenochtitlan with Pedro del Alvarado as the man in charge. Cortes defeated Narvaez very quickly with an overnight surprise attack. The defeated soldiers heard about the city of gold that Cortes had left, and with that said they decided to join Cortes on his quest back to Tenochtitlan.

Cortes arrives to Tenochtitlan a second time in June of 1520 and things had changed a bit (Armitage). When he arrived, he bowed to Moctezuma in order to have his brother Cuitlahauc released; he soon after became the new chosen leader of Tenochtitlan (Armitage). Moctezuma was ordered to speak upon the people of Tenochtitlan, so that the people would be persuaded to allow the Spaniards to leave the coast. “While standing on a parapet, invisible to the crowd below, Moctezuma was struck by arrows. He died three days later” (Lyons). Cuitlahauc declared himself emperor after his death.

During an attempt to flee the city, the Spaniards constructed a portable bridge to get across to the main city during the night. The night of June 30, 1520 became known as Noche de Triste, Sad Night. Cortes ordered a retreat but the Aztec woke up and attacked by arrows. The Bridge collapsed and many soldiers died (Perez), leaving Cortes in tears when he arrived to Tlacopan.

Cortes and his men reached Tlaxcala, and found refuge within the people. The Aztecs did not give up their hunt, asking Tlaxcala to turn in the Spaniards, but they refused. Cortes wanted the Tlazcala people to join him, but they were skeptical because they knew he could turn on them. Finally, Cortes promised them the Cholula land, the right to a fortress in Tenochtitlan, and control of the city. Of course, Cortes had no intention in actually giving them these rights, but the Tlaxcala people did not know this at the time.

Cortes had managed to build up an army of 200,000 Native American allies, and returned to Tenochtitlan a third time. At this time, the Aztecs suffered a devastating epidemic of small pox and measles that killed thousands, making it more irresistible for Cortes. This siege lasted for eight long months, and in August 13, 1521, Cauhtemoc, successor of Cuitlahuac, surrendered to Cortes (Perez). The Aztec civilization was destroyed (Perez).

“A government which does not rest on the sympathies of its subjects cannot long abide; that human institutions, when not connected with human prosperity and progress, must fall- if not before the increasing light of civilization by the hand of violence, by the violence within, if not from without” (Lyons). Cortes saw this in the Aztec Empire and decided to take action, and be the violence from without that made the change.

Cortes managed to bring down the most powerful empire in the Mexican land at that time. “It was an amazing defeat, the conquest of the mighty Aztec Empire by some 530 Spanish adventures under the resourceful leadership of hidalgo Hernan Cortes” (Lyons).

After the fall of the Aztec Empire, the colonization that took place shaped the world we live in now. Although Cortes’ desire for the take down of the Aztec Empire was driven “by a lust for gold, territory, and a hope of finding el Dorado (“the gilded one”)” (Elanor), “the Spanish Conquest and the subsequent colonization of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and the rest of the Americas led to the creation of a Spanish-Hybrid race” (Perez). This hybrid people today call themselves Chicanos/Chicanas.

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