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Broken Spears

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Topics: Aztec, Mexico
The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico
Author: Miguel León-Portilla
History of the Spanish defeat of Mexico and the Aztecs has always been told in the words of the Spaniards. It has often been forgotten that with only having one impression of the events that took place during this time period, we can never be certain of the entire story, or what actually took place. For this reason, Miguel León-Portilla took it upon himself to further explore pre-Hispanic history and gain insight from the native perspective. With permission from Dr. Angel Maria Garibay K., director of the Seminary of Nahuatl Culture at the University of Mexico, León-Portilla was able to gain access to Spanish translations of several Nahuatl texts. The aforementioned texts provided “faithful representations of the indigenous originals” for which León-Portilla used to detail the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico.
Most history documents the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire having taken place between 1519 and 1521, but as told in Broken Spears, there is record of the Aztec’s having received a bad omen almost ten years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. In fact there were eight bad omens detailed by the Sahagun’s informants having occurred prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. The first bad omen appeared as a blaze in the sky and remained for one full year. Referred to as “wonders” rather than omens, the Munoz Carmago and the Tlaxcala also recorded eight occurrences of bad omens in very similar detail to what was recorded by the Sahagun’s informants. The final sign detailed by each was of two-headed creatures “taken to the Black House and shown to Motecuhzoma”.
The second chapters of the book, titled “First Reports of Spaniards’ Arrival”, sightings of floating mountains were reported to have been seen off of coast. Initially they thought they could be Quetzalcoatl and deities for which reason they chose to bring them gifts. It was in fact Cortez who had landed upon their shore with. Cortes was not pleased with their gifts. Cortes had the messengers chained and fired a cannon which scared the messengers causing them to faint. After having his men revive them, he said they were to fight to see who was strongest as he had heard the Mexicans were strong warriors. Despite the messengers informing Cortes that they were sent to offer him a place to rest, he demanded the messengers return in the morning to battle. The messengers then promptly returned to shore to speak with Motecuhzoma. Motecuhzoma was shocked by what the messengers had to report. He attempted to scare the Spaniards away with his magicians and warlocks, but was not successful. As detailed in the Codex Florentino, Motecuhzoma was quite fearful of the Spaniards after the failed attempt of the magicians and warlocks. Motecuhzoma had even pondered the thought of running away.
Motecuhzoma made every effort to keep the Spaniards away, but Cortes marched inland with his men. This was said to have been the first battle between the Spaniards and the Indians. The Massacre of Cholula occurred shortly after and was of complete surprise to their people. There are two accounts of the massacre on record, one from the Sahagun’s and informants, and the other from the Tlaxcaltecas. There is chance that the Tlaxcaltecas fabricated their version of the massacre to cover-up the part they took in the massacre, but there is no certainty behind this theory. Once the massacre had ended the Spaniards continued their march toward Mexico City.
When Cortes arrived in the City, he was greeted with excitement from the people. Due to the kind welcome of the Ixtlilxochitl and his brothers, Cortes chose to thank them through teachings of his religion and the “law of God” with help from his interpreter. Through these teachings Ixtlilxochitl became Christian; he as well the other princes were all baptized despite the initial objections of some of the Spaniards. Ixtlilxochitl received the name Don Hernando. Upon telling his mother, she at first had a poor reaction, but she then requested to be baptized as well and was given the name Dona Maria. With their newly strengthened forces, the Spaniards continued their march on to the Aztec capital.
Motecuhzoma, who has been informed of the events that took place and the recent baptisms, discussed how to greet the Spaniards upon their arrival. After much consideration, it was decided that it would be best to greet the Spaniards as friends. The Spaniards arrived on the 8th of November in 1519. Motecuhzoma and Cortes introduced themselves to each other, and Motecuhzoma invited Cortes to the Royal House to rest. It was at this point that Motecuhzoma as well as the princes were held captive while the lords ran away abandoning them. While Motecuhzoma and princes were held captive, Cortes had his men take all items of value. They demanded they receive items such as food and water as well as other resources to take when they departed.
After Cortes’ departure from the city, the Fiesta of Toxcatl took place. Cortes had been gone for twenty days when the massacre took place. The fiesta was that of most importance to the Aztec people, which is why they begged for the fiesta to take place. With the Spaniards taking part in the festivities, they danced with the Aztecs, but at one point, they blocked all exits of the building and immediately killed all of the dancers and the musicians at the festival. Upon hearing of the horrendous executions that had occurred, the Aztec people began to attack the Spaniards. They trapped them for twenty-three days and allowed no food to make it to the trapped Spaniards. Even upon Cortes’ return, the Spaniards were still held as prisoners; they attempted to scape at night when they were less likely to be seen by the Aztec’s, but were eventually spotted and killed. Ongoing killing occurred as a result of the realization of the Aztecs, that the Spaniards had no intentions of leaving their city. This sparked the beginning of a seven day battle which ended with the departure of the Spaniards and their allies.
Under the assumption that the Spaniards had left for good, the Aztecs continued their fiesta. Not long after they were plagued with disease and attacked during their time of weakness by the Spaniards. Although the Aztec warriors put up a good fight, the Spaniards were just too strong of a force to fend off. After continued battle for eighty days, it was no longer just the Spaniards fighting the Aztecs; the Aztecs began to fight each other. The city had reached its end in year three, they had been defeated.

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