Cortes and the Conquering of the Great Aztec Empire
When Cortes heard of a vast and wealthy empire deep within the Mexican interior, the conquest of Mexico had already begun. The Aztec empire was what the ambitious Cortes had been looking for since his departure from Spain; he most certainly hoped that his wish to discover the empire would come true. The Aztecs, on the other hand, did not know Cortes. The empire was as it always had been; the Aztecs had no serious premonition of war. Cortes knew nothing of the size and power of the Aztec empire and if he did, his decision to bring only a few hundred men was certainly a gross misjudgment. The conquest of Mexico remains surprising for this reason: it seems puzzling that such a huge conflict could stem from two opposing forces, one of which was so terribly ill-prepared for war. As Inga Clendinnen states; "How was it that a motley bunch of Spanish adventurers, never numbering much more than four hundred or so, was able to defeat an Amerindian military power on its home ground in the space of two years?" The victory of the Spaniards has typically been associated with Cortes ' qualities as a leader, and in earlier accounts, with the idea that the culturally superior mental and moral qualities of the Spanish gave way to the defeat of the Aztecs. Moreover, the accounts of Cortes and Diaz point to a Spanish victory led by a God whose determination seemed to have been the eradication of an "empire which did so little to promote the happiness of its subjects, or the real interests of humanity." (2) It is remarkable that such an "uncivilized" civilization could impress the Spanish conquerors to the extent to which they did. The conquerors were, in a very real sense, in awe of the Aztec empire. They "beheld the evidence of a crowded and thriving population, exceeding all they had yet seen." (3) To explain the defeat of the Aztecs in terms of the ideas of manifest destiny purported by
Bibliography: Clendinnen, Inga. "Fierce and Unnatural Cruelty: Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico" from Stephen Greenblatt ed. New World Encounters. University of California Press, 1993. Cortes, Hernan. Anthony Pagden ed. Letters from Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986 Diaz, Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain. London: Penguin Books, 1963. Leon-Portilla, Miguel ed., The Broken Spears. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Prescott, W. H. History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru. New York: Random House, 1936.