Broken Spears Essay, Research Paper
Around 1519, a Spaniard by the name of Hernan Cortes sailed to what we now know as modern day Mexico. Diego Velazques, governor of Cuba, instructed Cortes to make contact with the New World. What was supposed to be an innocent journey of exploration and trading, became a horrific genocide of the Aztecs of the New World. Cortes was a violent, manipulative, and a greedy man.
To give you an idea of the violence Cortes and his men were capable of committing, I would like to relate a passage of a Nahautl account, from the book by Miguel Leon-Portilla, Broken Spears :
They ran in among the dancers, forcing their way to where the drums 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 the 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. (xxvi)
The previous passage took place during the Fiesta of Toxcatl. Although Cortes was not present at this time, I believe the actions of his men were a direct reflection of Cortes thirst for violence. I also came across different parts in the book where it described how Cortes and the Spaniards would hang, torture, and feed people to their dogs. Cortes was also involved in the killing of unarmed people in Cholula. Cortes would use any means necessary to conquer the Aztecs and rob them of their gold. Cortes most likely was a violent man due to the fact that he came from a greco-roman influenced society that was violent by nature. An example of the violence in this society was the type of sports and entertainment they used to enjoy, such as human and animal fighting. Most of the time the loser of the fight would pay with their life.
I think Cortes was a manipulative man as well. In the book it describes how he was able to gain allies such as the Tlaxcaltecas and increase the size of his army. Cortes also was able to cause great fear and confusion by the use of his weapons, dogs, and horses. The indigenous people had yet to see any of these types of weapons and animals. A good example of just how manipulative Cortes was takes place when Motecuhzoma meets him for the first time. Motecuhzoma believed Cortes was their god Quetzalcoatl returning to claim his empire. After Motecuhzoma tells Cortes how happy he is for returning to his people, Cortes replies:
Tell Motecuhzoma that we are his friends. There is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that are hearts are contented. Then he said to Motecuhzoma: We have come to your house in Mexico as friends. There is nothing to fear. La malinche translated this speech and the Spaniards grasped Motecuhzoma s hands and patted his back to show their affection for him. (65)
Little did Motecuhzoma know the great heartache his people would later come to endure.
Another trait of Cortes was that he was a greedy man. All the blood that was spilled was in the search for gold. Cortes would have liked one to believe that this senseless slaughter occurred in the name of the Lord, to spread Christianity. Cortes s true motive was the seizure of gold for his own personal gain. Any gold item that was seized was melted down in order to transport as much as possible. All the Aztec women would be searched under their clothing for gold. Cortes and the Spaniards would even go so far as to demand gold that was lost by the Spaniards when they retreated from the Canal of the Toltecs. A good portrayal of Cortes greed is from an account where Motecuhzoma sent his envoys to meet Cortes and brought him gifts of gold.
They gave the gods ensigns of gold, and ensigns of quetzal feathers, and golden necklaces. And when they were given these presents, the Spaniards burst into smiles; their eyes shone with pleasure; they were delighted by them. They picked up the gold and fingered it like monkeys; they seemed to be transported by joy as if their hearts were illumined and made new.
The truth is that they longed and lusted for gold. Their bodies swelled with greed, and their hunger was ravenous; they hungered like pigs for that gold. (51)
Cortes came to the New World with such few men, and such little resources. He was able to gain thousands of allies, and deceive thousands of men. He conquered one of the largest empires within a 2 year time period. Although I am not fond of Cortes character, and I am disgusted by the mistreatment of the Aztecs people, I must admit I admire Cortes as a great military leader.