Civilizations: The Spanish and Aztec Worlds Collide

98 Exploring the European Past: Texts and Images Sample Module 99
A Meeting of Civilizations: The Spanish and Aztec Worlds Collide
The following two passages recount the first encounter between
Spaniards and Aztecs on the coast of Mexico. The first passage
relates this event through the eyes of a Spaniard, Bernal Diaz del
Castillo, who participated in the conquest of Mexico. The second
is an Aztec account as told to and recorded by a Spanish friar,
Bernardino de Sahagún, decades after the conquest. In short, the
two versions offer different perspectives of this initial meeting
between inhabitants of the Old World (Africa, Asia, and Europe)
and the New World (America).
Through great fortune, Hernan Cortés was accompanied by translators, a Spaniard named Jeronimo de Aguilar who while shipwrecked in Mexico had learned the Maya language, and an Aztec
woman, called Doha Marina by the Spaniards, who spoke Maya in
addition to her native Nahuatl (the Aztec language). Through
these interpreters, Cortés could communicate with and manipulate
the messengers sent by the Aztec emperor Montezuma (written as
MoteucHoma in Nahuatl). Mesoamerican mythology foretold the
return of the God-King Quetzalcoatl-Topiltzin in the very year of
Cortes’s arrival (1519). It is widely accepted that Montezuma mistook the Spaniards for gods and feared that Quetzalcoatl (Cortés)
intended to reclaim his throne.
A Spanish Account of the First Encounter
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the most famous chronicler of the conquest
ofMexico, was already a veteran of two previous voyages to the
coast of Mexico when he accompanied Cortés on the latter’s famous
expedition and 1521 conquest of the large and powerful Aztec
empire. Written nearly fifty years after the fall of Tenochtitldn, the
Aztec capital, Diaz’s text describes in meticulous detail that which
he recalls from the first meeting with the Aztec messengers.
Exerpted from Bernal Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain,
trans. J. M. Cohen, (London: 1963), 88, 89 -92, 93, 94.
On Holy Thursday 1519 we arrived with all the fleet at the port of
San Juan de Ulua. … [A]nd within half an hour of our anchoring
two large canoes or pirogues came out to us full of Mexican
Indians. Seeing the large ship with its standards flying, they knew
that it was there they must go to speak with the Captain. So they
made straight for the flagship, went aboard and asked who was
the Tatúan, which in their language means the master. Doña
Marina, who understood them, pointed him out; and the Indians
paid Cortes great marks of respect in their fashion. They said that
their lord, a servant of the great Montezuma, had sent them to
find out what kind of men we were and what we were seeking,
also to say that if we required anything for ourselves or our ships,
we were to tell them and they would supply it.
Cortes thanked them through our interpreters, and ordered that
they should be given food, wine, and some blue beads. After they
had drunk the wine he told them that he had come to visit and
trade with them, and that they should think of oui- coming to their
country as fortunate rather than troublesome. The messengers
went ashore very contented. .. .
On Saturday, which was Easter Eve, many Indians arrived….
They brought fowls and maize-cakes and plums, which were then
in season, and also, I think, some gold jewels; all of which they
presented to Cortes, saying that next day a governor would come
and bring more provisions. Cortes thanked them warmly, and
ordered that they should be given certain things in exchange, with
which they went away well pleased.
100 Exploring the European Past: Texts and Images Sample Module 101
Next day, Easter Sunday, the governor of whom they had spoken arrived.. .. [H]e bowed humbly three times, first to Cortes and
then to all the other soldiers standing near by.
Cortes welcomed them through our interpreters, embraced them,
and asked them to wait, as he wished to speak to them presently.
Meanwhile he had had an altar set up as well as could be done in
the time, and Fray Bartolome de Olmedo, who was a fine singer,
chanted mass with the assistance of Padre Juan Diaz, while the two
governors and the other Caciques [Indian Chieftains] who were
with them looked on. After mass Cortes and some of our captains
dined with the two officers of the great Montezuma, and …
explained to them that we were Christians, and vassals of the
Emperor Don Caídos, the greatest lord on earth .. . and that it was
at his orders we had come to their country, since for many years he
had heard rumours of it and of the great prince who ruled it. Cortes
said that he wished to be friends with this prince, and to tell him
many things in the Emperor’s name, which would greatly delight
him when he knew and understood them. Moreover he wished to
trade with their prince and his Indians in a friendly way, and to
know what place this prince would appoint for their meeting.
To this Tendile [the Governor] replied somewhat proudly: ‘You
have only just arrived, and already you ask to speak with our
prince. Accept now this present that we give you in our master’s
name, and afterwards tell me whatever you wish.’
He took out of a petaca—which is a sort of chest—many golden objects beautifully and richly worked, and then sent for ten
bales of white cloth made of cotton and feathers—a marvellous
sight. There were other things too that I do not remember, and
quantities of food—fowls, fruit, and baked fish. Cortes received
all this with gracious smiles, and gave them in return some beads
of twisted glass and other little beads from Spain.. . .
… Cortes then asked that a day and a place might be fixed for
his meeting with Montezuma. Tendile accepted the present.
Observing that his great master would be glad to know our great
king, he promised to deliver it promptly and return with
Montezuma’s reply.
It appears that Tendile brought with him some of those skilled
painters they have in Mexico, and that he gave them instructions
to make realistic full-length portraits of Cortes and all his captains
and soldiers, also to draw the ships, sails, and horses, Doña
Marina and Aguilar, and even the two greyhounds. The cannon
and cannon-balls, and indeed the whole of our army, were faithfully portrayed, and the drawings were taken to Montezuma.
Cortes ordered our gunners to load the lombards with a big
charge of powder, so that they should make a great noise when
fired, and told Pedro de Alvarado that all his horsemen must be
ready with little bells tied to their breastplates, to gallop in front
of Montezuma’s servants. He too mounted his horse.. . .
The display was carried out in the presence of the two ambassadors, and in order that they should see the shot leave the gun
Cortes pretended that he wished to speak to them and some other
Caciques again, just before the cannon was fired. As it was very
still at that moment, the balls resounded with a great din as they
went over the forest. The two governors and the rest of the
Indians were frightened by this strange happening, and ordered
their painters to paint it, so that Montezuma might see. It appears
that one of our soldiers had a helmet that was half-gilt but somewhat rusty. This Tendile noticed, and being of a more inquiring
disposition than his fellow Cacique, he asked if he might see it,
since it was like one that they possessed which had been left them
by their ancestors of the race from which they sprang and placed
on the head of their god Huichilobos. He said that his master
Montezuma would like to see this helmet, and it was given to
him. Cortes said, however, that as he wished to know whether the
gold of their country was the same as the gold we find in our
rivers, they might send it back filled with grains of gold, as a
present for our great Emperor. After this Tendile took his leave of
us all…. He went with all haste, and gave his master a complete
account of events, showing him the pictures which had been
painted and the present that Cortes had sent him, which is said to
have astonished Montezuma, who accepted it with great satisfaction. And when he compared the helmet with that of his gold
Huichilobos, [i.e. Huitzilpochtli, the Aztec tribal God] he was
convinced that we were of that race which, according to the
prophecies of his ancestors, would come to rule the land. …
To return to my story, when these people arrived before our
Captain they kissed the earth and perfumed him and [gave him
presents]. . . . The first was a disk in the shape of the sun, as big
102 Exploring the European Past; Texts and Images Sample Module 103
as a cartwheel and made of very fine gold. It was a marvellous
thing engraved with many sorts of figures and, as those who afterwards weighed it reported, was worth more than ten thousand
pesos. There was another larger disk of brightly shining silver in
the shape of the moon, with other figures on it, and this was worth
a great deal for Ä°t was very heavy. [They] also brought back the
helmet full of small grains of gold, just as they come from the
mines and worth three thousand pesos….
.. . Cortes accepted the gifts with delight, whereupon the
ambassadors told him that they wished to repeat the message with
which Montezuma had charged them. First, that he was pleased
such valiant men as he had heard we were should come to his
country … and that he would much like to see our great Emperor,
who was such a mighty prince that his fame had reached him even
from the distant lands whence we came. Secondly, that he would
send the Emperor a present of precious stones, and serve us in any
way he could during our stay in that port. But as for a meeting, he
told us not to think of it, for it was not necessary. . . .
An Aztec Account of the First Encounter
In the late 1540s, a Franciscan friar named Bernardino de
Sahagún began orally collecting and recording Áztec history,
mythology and culture as part of his attempts to understand the
Aztecs better and facilitate their conversion to Christianity.
Sahagún titled the final product “General History of the Things of
New Spain, ” but the work is most commonly called the Florentine
Codex. Book Twelve of the Florentine Codex, produced around
1555, tells the story of the Spanish conquest through the eyes of
the Aztecs (at least those who were interviewed). The selection
below relates the same episodes as those recounted by Bernal
Díaz, but it naturally focuses on and emphasizes different factors.
Excerpted from James Lockhart, ed. and trans., We People Here:
Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico (Berkeley, 1993), 56,
58-60, 62, 64, 70-72, 76-86.
Second chapter, where it is said how the first boat that came
arrived; they say that there was only one boat….
These were die only ones who first went to see [the Spaniards].
They went as if to sell them things, so that they could spy on
them and contemplate them. They gave them precious cloaks, precious goods, the very cloaks pertaining to Moteucçoma which no
one else could don, which were assigned to him alone.
It was by boat that they went to see them….
. . . When they approached the Spaniards, they made the earth eating gesture at the prow of the boat(s). They thought that it was
Quetzalcoatl Topiltzin who had arrived.
The Spaniards called to them, saying to them, “Who are you?
Where have you come from? Where is your homeland?”
Immediately they said, “It is from Mexico that we have come.”
They answered them back, “If you are really Mexica, what is
the name of the ruler of Mexico?”
They told them, “O our lords, Moteucçoma is his name.”
Then they gave them all the different kinds of precious cloaks
they carried. .. .
For all these things that they gave them, [the Spaniards] gave
them things in return; they gave them green and yellow strings of
beads, which one might imagine to be amber. And when they had
taken them and looked at them, greatly did they marvel.
And [the Spaniards] took leave of them, saying to them, “Go off,
while we go to Spain; we will not be long in getting to Mexico.”
Thereupon they went, and [the local people] also came away,
coming back. And when they came out on dry land, they came
straight to Mexico, moving along in this direction day and night
to come inform Moteucçoma, to tell him and report to him the
truth. They took the goods they had received.
Then they spoke to him: “O our lord, o master, destroy us [if
you will, but] here is what we have seen and done at the place
where your subordinates stand guard for you beside the ocean.
For we went to see our lords the gods out on the water; we gave
them all your cloaks, and here are the fine things belonging to
them that they gave us. They said, ‘If you have really come from
Mexico, here is what you are to give the ruler Moteucçoma,
whereby he will recognize us.”’ They told him everything [the
Spaniards] had told them out on the water. . ..
104 Exploring the European Past: Texts and Images Sample Module 105
Third chapter, where it is said what Moteucçoma ordered when he
heard the statement of those who saw the first boat that came… .
When he heard it, he quickly sent out a party. He thought and
believed that it was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl who had landed. For they
were of the opinion that he would return, that he would appear, that
he would come back to his seat of authority, because he had gone in
that direction [eastward] when he left. And [Moteucçoma] sent five
[people] to go to meet him and give him things.. . .
He said to them, “Come, o men of unique valor, do come. It is
said that our lord has appeared at last. Do go to meet him; listen
well, make good use of your ears, bring back in your ears a good
record of what he says. Here is what you will take to our lord.”
[First] were the appurtenances of Quetzalcoatl: a serpent mask,
made of turquoise; a quetzal-feather head fan; a plaited neckband of
green-stone beads, with a golden disk in the middle of it; and a
shield with gold [strips] crossing each other, or with gold and
seashells crossing, with quetzal feathers spread about the edge and
with a quetzal-feather banner; and a mirror with quetzal feathers to
be tied on his back ….
Fifth chapter, where it is said what happened when
Moteucçoma’s messengers went into don Hernando Cortés’s boat.
Then they climbed up, carrying in their arms the goods. .. .
Then they dressed up the Captain. They put on him the turquoise
serpent mask attached to the quetzal-feather head fan, to which
were fixed, from which hung the green-stone serpent earplugs. And
they put the sleeveless jacket on him, and around his neck they put
the plaited greenstone neckband with the golden disk in the middle.
On his lower back they tied the back mirror…. And on his legs they
placed the green-stone bands with the golden bells….
When this had been done, the Captain said to them “Is this everything you have by way of greeting and rapprochement?”
They answered, “That is all with which we have come, o our lord.”
Then the Captain ordered that they be tied up; they put irons on
their feet and necks. When this had been done they shot off the cannon. And at this point the messengers truly fainted and swooned;
one after another they swayed and fell, losing consciousness. And
the Spaniards lifted them into a sitting position and gave them wine
to drink. Then they gave them food, fed them, with which they
regained strength and got their breath back. . ..
Sixth chapter, where it is said how Moteucçoma’s messengers
came back here to Mexico to tell Moteucçoma what they had seen.
Then [Cortés] let them go…. They fled with all possible speed,
saying to one another as they came, “O warriors, exert all your
strength, paddle hard! Let’s not do something [wrong] here, lest
something happen to us!” …
Then they quickly got on their way and soon reached Mexico. It
was night when they got there; they came in by night.
During this time Moteucçoma neither slept nor touched food.
Whatever he did, he was abstracted; it seemed as though he was ill
at ease, frequently sighing. He tired and felt weak. He no longer
found anything tasteful, enjoyable, or amusing.
Therefore he said, “What is to come of us? . . . My heart is tormented, as though chile water were poured on it; it greatly bums
and smarts. Where in the world [are we to turn], o our lord?”
Then [the messengers] notified those who guarded
[Moteucçoma], who kept watch at the head of his bed, saying to
them, “Even if he is asleep, tell him. ‘Those whom you sent out on
the sea have come back.”’
But when they went to tell him, he replied, “I will not hear it
here. I will hear it at the Coacalco; let them go there.” And he
gave orders, saying, “Let some captives be covered with chalk
[for sacrifice].”
Then the messengers went to the Coacalco, and so did
Moteucçoma. Thereupon the captives died in their presence; they
cut open their chests and sprinkled their blood on the messengers. (The reason they did it was that they had gone to very dangerous places and had seen, gazed on the countenances of, and
spoken to the gods.)
Seventh chapter, where is told the account that the messengers
who went to see the boat gave to Moteucçoma.
When this was done, they talked to Moteucçoma, telling him
what they had beheld, and they showed him what the [Spaniards’]
food was like.
And when he heard what the messengers reported, he was
greatly afraid and taken aback, and he was amazed at their food.
It especially made him faint when he heard how the guns went off
at [the Spaniards’] command, sounding like thunder, causing people actually to swoon, blocking the ears. And when it went off,
106 Exploring the European Past: Texts and Images Sample Module 107
something like a ball came out from inside, and fire went showering and spitting out. And the smoke that came from it had a very
foul stench, striking one in the face. And if they shot at a hill, it
seemed to crumble and come apart. And it turned a tree to dust; it
seemed to make it vanish, as though someone had conjured it
away. Their war gear was all iron. They clothed their bodies in
iron, they put iron on their heads, their swords were iron, their
bows were iron, and their shields and lances were iron.
And their deer that carried them were as tall as the roof. And
they wrapped their bodies all over; only their faces could be seen,
very white. Their faces were the color of limestone and their hair
yellow-reddish, though some had black hair. They had long
beards, also yellow-reddish. [The hair of some] was tightly curled.
And their food was like fasting food, very large, white, not heavy,
like chaff, like dried maize stalks, as tasty as maize stalk flour, a
bit sweet or honeyed, honeyed and sweet to eat. . . .
When MoteucHoma heard it, he was greatly afraid; he seemed
to faint away, he grew concerned and disturbed.
Eighth chapter, where it is said how Moteucçoma sent witches,
wizards, and sorcerers to do something to the Spaniards.. . .
They say that Moteucçoma sent the witches, the rainmakers, to
see what [the Spaniards] were like and perhaps be able to enchant
them, cast spells on them, to use conjury or the evil eye on them or
hurl something else at them, perhaps addressing some words of
wizardry to them so that they would take sick, die, or turn back.
But when they performed the assignment they had been given concerning the Spaniards, they could do nothing; they had no power at
all. Then they quickly returned to tell Moteucçoma what they were
like, how strong they were, [saying,] “We are not their match; we
are as nothing.” .. .
Ninth chapter, where it is said how Moteucçoma wept, and
the Mexica wept, when they found out that the Spaniards were
very strong.
And Moteucçoma lamented his troubles at length; he was afraid
and shocked. . . . And everyone was very afraid. Fear reigned, and
shock, laments, and expressions of distress. People talked, assembled, gathered, wept for themselves and for others. Heads hung,
there were tearful greetings, words of encouragement, and stroking
of hair. Little children’s heads were stroked. Fathers would say,
“Alas, my children, how is it with you, that what is about to happen
has happened to you?” And mothers said, “O my children, how is
it with you who are to behold what is about to happen to us?”
Order Given to Twelve Franciscans to Proselytize in Mexico
The Spanish conquest of America was as much religious as it was
political and economic. Imbued with a religious fervor, a legacy
of the Reconquista, the centuries of religious crusade, the
Spaniards found in America millions of indigenous pagan worshipers, ripe for conversion to Christianity. The task of converting
the Amerindians was embraced by the monastic orders. Most
famous of these friars were twelve Franciscans (members of the
Franciscan Order also known as the Order of Minors) who began
the monumental task of converting the Indians of Mexico, just two
years after the fall of the Aztec empire. The following passage is
an excerpt from the orders given to the twelve Franciscans in
1523 to venture to Mexico and to convert the “infidels who dwell
in the lands of Yucatán. ”
Excerpted from Kenneth Mills and William B. Taylor, eds.,
Colonial Spanish America: A Documentary Reader (Wilmington,
DE, 1998), 48, 49, 50, 51.
Fray Francisco de los Angeles, minister general and servant of the
whole Order of the Friars Minor, to the venerable and his very
dear fathers in Christ: Fr. Martin de Valencia, confessor and
learned preacher, and to the other twelve friars of the Order of
Minors, who under his obedience are to be sent to the places of
the infidels who dwell in the lands of Yucatán . . . and to all the
others who there shall be received or in the future should be sent,
sempiternal health and peace in the Lord.
08 Exploring the European Past: Texts and Images Sample Module 109
Among the continuous cares and affairs which daily present
hemselves to me and occupy my mind, this one presses, worries,
nd afflicts me first of all, as to how with all the cunning of my
owels and continual sighs of my heart, I might labor with the
postolic man and father of ours, Saint Francis, toward liberating
nd snatching away from the maw of the dragon the souls
edeemed with the most precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
leceived by satanic wiles, dwelling in the shadow of death, held
n the vain cult of idols—and bring them to fight under the banner
if the Cross and to place their neck into the yoke of Christ. . .
To you, therefore, O sons, with the last end of the world at
land, I your father cry out and bestir your minds that you defend
ie King’s army already falling and presently fleeing from the foe,
nd, taking up the victorious contest of the heavenly Victor, you
reach by word and work unto the enemy. .. .
… I send you to convert with words and example the people
vho do not know Jesus Christ Our Lord, who are held fast in the
olindness of idolatry under the yoke of the satanic thrall, who live
nd dwell in the Indies which are commonly called Yucatán or
New Spain or Tierra Firme. With the authority of my office, in the
lame of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I charge
nd command you with the merit of holy obedience, so that you
nay go forth and bear fruit and your fruit may endure. . . .
And because you will for a long time endure such great hardhips and continuous vigils and cares in carrying out and executng such a great commission and trust, do not let them weaken or
exhaust your spirit, but rather find it relaxed and every’ day more
enewed and more completely and fully availing itself of merit. By
virtue of the Holy Spirit, and with greater emphasis under obedience, I enjoin you to exercise faithfully and diligently the afore-
¡aid office of pastoral commission and trust, and to carry it out
according to the grace which God has given you, and which He
vili henceforth give and amplify.
Go, therefore, my much beloved sons, with the blessing of your
Eather, to carry out what I have commanded you; and armed with
he shield of faith and with the breastplate of justice, with the
olade of the spirit of salvation, with the helmet and lance of perse-
¿erance, struggle with the ancient serpent which seeks and hastens
o lord himself over, and gain the victory over, the souls redeemed
with the most precious Blood of Christ. And win them for that
Christ in such a manner that among all Catholics an increase of
faith, hope, and love may result; and to the perfidious infidels a
road may be opened for them and pointed out; and the madness of
heretical evil may fall apart and come to nothing; and the foolishness of the gentiles may be made manifest to them, and the light
of the Catholic faith may shine forth in their hearts. And you shall
receive the eternal kingdom.
Fare ye well, remain with Christ Jesus, and pray for me.
Given in the friary of Santa Maria de los Angeles on October
30th of the year 1523.
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You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment  Help Service Works

1.      Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2.      Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3.      Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4.      Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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