The Turning Point for the Spanish
March 12, 2008
The Battle at Otumba is considered one of the turning points in the conquest of Mexico, giving the conquistadors a victory at a time when the Aztecs could have destroyed them. A statue of Cortés, with the name Otumba on it, stands in the conquistador’s home province of Medellin, Spain, to recall the event (Barghusen 2000:59). The Battle of Otumba Mexico would occur a few days later after La Noche Triste, "the sad night", as the conquistadors were fleeing towards their Native allies at Tlaxcala. It was fought on the 8th of July 1520, between 200 Spaniards, with some thousands of Tlaxcalan’s, under Cortés, and a force of about 200,000 Aztecs. Cortés was able to conquer the Aztecs for several very different reasons such as arriving at a fateful time in the Aztec Calendar associated with the great god Quetzalcoatl myth, the Aztec's cruel tribute system, Doña Marina “La Malinche” and Geronimo de Aguilar as translators, the Spanish military dominance, Cortés’ Indian allies, the smallpox epidemic, and wars being fought on completely different terms all contributed in the Spanish success. In combination these reasons gave Cortés the upper hand in his conquest of Mexico. According to Prescott (1966:271), yet it was undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable victories ever achieved in the New World. The purpose of this paper is to look at the history of the Battle at Otumba, as well as the psychological warfare tactics, weapons, and military leadership. Aztec Customs – Warfare Tactic
Hassig (as cited in Vigil, 1998, p. 52) noted that many Aztec customs weakened the Indian cause and added to the Spanish advantage. For instance, Cortés was captured by Aztec warriors on several occasions but was not slain. This transpired because the Indian goal in warfare was to capture, not kill, so that, the prisoners could later be ceremonially sacrificed to the gods.
Human sacrifice was a fundamental part of Aztec religion, and most victims were soldiers in battle. Success in warfare was an important part of male identity. Birth was compared to combat, and women who died in childbirth were likened to warriors (Smith 1996:170).
At first, however, the Aztec did not hold any notable advantages except for the élan that they always displayed in combat. At the end, they had developed a great army, but one which was more attuned to political expansion for the purpose of tribute than to defense. Spanish tactics and weapons, combined with Cortés’ strategic genius, finally prevailed (Adams 1991:398). Language – Warfare Tactic
The defeat of the Aztec nobles, warriors, and ruler was accomplished by many forces, including the power of language. The conquest of the Mexica capital would not have taken place without the work of translation. The Aztecs and the Spaniards spoke two entirely different languages –Nahuatl and Spanish. It is almost always overlooked how difficult communication was between these two people and how Cortés relied on not two but three languages to figure out what and where the Aztec empire was, to communicate with the great Motecuhzoma, and to organize his assault on Tenochtitlan. The key person, however, was neither Motecuhzoma nor Cortés, but an Indian woman known as Doña Marina. After the Spaniards won a battle against the local Indians, she was given along with some other Indian women, to Cortés. Speaking at least two Indian languages, Chontal Maya (the language Aguilar had learned) and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), Doña Marina became Cortés’ interpreter. Today in Mexico she is known as “La Malinche” and has been the subject of both derisive books about her as a traitor to the natives and admiring books about her intelligent and shrewd tactics of bridging the cultures that made up Mexico (Carrasco and Sessions 1998:214)....