Topic A – Final
Felipe Fernandez- Armesto has written that the Spanish conquest of the Aztec has long been attributed to what he calls the “conquistador myth”: the notion that the Spanish were able to conquer the Aztecs “because they were in some sense better, better equipped, technically morally or intellectually”. Do you agree with Fernandez- Armesto that this is a myth? If explain why? If so explain why not. The question of how a small Spanish army was able to conquer one of the greatest ancient empires in history is one that has been raised countless times. Often there are no simple answers and frequently super natural omens and religious understandings are presented as the reason. The Spanish were also quick to present the answer that they were simply more intelligent, technically and morally and that they had a superior morale. Historians such as Prescott present the answer that Europeans will always triumph because they have superior mental and moral qualities.1 However historians like Clenninden, Fernandez-Armesto, Townsend and Toderov have argued against these explanations, considering them ‘Conquistador myth’. 2 This essay will discuss the traditional arguments and consider the flaws they present, aiming to challenge the idea of the ‘Conquistador myth’. The aim is in line with arguments by Toderov and Clenninden to prove that the Europeans did not manage to conquer the Aztec empire because of their natural superiority but rather a range of factors that included using different cultural understandings to their advantage, including their weapons, their native allies and the delayed initial reaction of the Aztecs. The main courses of action that took place between the Mexicans and the Spanish are well known and worth considering for deeper understanding. In 1519 Cortés was sent by the Cuban governor to Mexico, however he then forbid Cortés to go, but Cortés ignored him. He sailed with the Vera Cruz, declaring himself under the authority of the Spanish King Charles V. Him and several hundred men left to the Mexican coasts.3 On arrival Cortés learned of the Aztec empire and decided he must conquer them, and began his journey there. During this journey he made allies with the Indians he encountered, whether through promises or warfare. He created an alliance with the Tlaxcala, and they became his biggest and greatest allies, after a difficult war. When he reached Mexico City he was welcomed by the leader, Moctezoma, however soon after he took Moctezoma prisoner. Learning that the Cuban governor had sent men after him he returned to the shores to meet this army, while his men stayed behind looking after the captured Moctezoma. He overthrows the Cubans expedition’s leader, Panfilo de Narvaez, and convinces the rest to join him. On returning to Mexico City he learns his group has killed some Aztecs, and war has broken out. Soon after Moctezoma dies and this is seen as the end of the first phase of the conquest.4 The attacks remain so bad that the Spanish retreat, losing many. However they reorganize and return with a siege battle plan, by which they weaken the Aztecs cutting off means of access and build new sailing ships. After months of siege Mexico City falls, altogether over the span of two years. 5 Much of the information that is available today comes from letters written by Cortés, to the Spanish King Charles V. He was very concerned for control and had great ambition as to what he could achieve.6 The narratives of Cortes and Bernal Diaz, are commonly used but these accounts have been shaped into a success story from what was in reality a ‘messy series of events’.7 Diaz was a foot soldier who completed his “true history” in old age; he was good story teller but of course biased. It is important to remember that Cortés was formally in rebellion against the government in Cuba and his patron. Thus he was desperate to establish his credentials with the Spanish King and needed to impress him8 It is clear that his...
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