The Spaniard and Aztec civilizations were two completely different worlds whose fated encounter caused some surprising reactions from both parties. Neither of these nations knew exactly what to expect or how to react to each other’s behaviors. Differences in religion, customs and weaponry became the deciding factors of who would be the dominant aggressor in these encounters. Even though both parties were unsure of what to expect, the Spaniards had already set a goal for themselves before they set foot in Mexico. They wanted to conquer the other nation and exploit them for anything of value.
The climax of the Aztec Empire and the conquistadors occurred when Motecuhzoma and Cortes met face to face for the first time. The Spaniards as well as the Aztecs had no clue what to expect. Motecuhzoma told Cortes, “Our lord, you are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived on earth… to sit on your throne, under its canopy.” This was due to the fact that the Aztec religion told of a god, Quetzalcoatl, who would come from the heavens and take his place as ruler of the Aztec Empire. Thus Motecuhzoma showered the Spaniards with many fine gifts. Unlike the Spaniards believed, these fine gifts were not really a sign of Aztec submission but rather as a sign of wealth and power. In order to give proper respect to their so-called god, the Aztecs had to show that they were a worthy and powerful nation. The Spaniards took this as a weakness. They thought the Aztecs feared them, which boosted up their confidence level even though they were greatly outnumbered.
The Spaniards had to communicate with the Aztecs by using La Malinche as an interpreter. She basically made the Aztecs believe that Cortes was a good man and would be cause them no harm. They also had other indigenous people who were allied with the Spanish. The Aztecs must have viewed this as a sign that these strangers would be peaceful since they had others of their kind on the Spaniard’s side. La Malinche translated all that Motecuhzoma had said to Cortes. On page sixty-four of The Broken Spears it says, “Cortes replied in his strange and savage tongue…” In other passages in the book it depicts the Spaniards as wild and uncivilized. This brings up another point that just as the Spaniards thought of the Aztecs as being barbaric, some Aztecs felt the same way about the Spaniards. The Aztecs also thought of the Spaniards as savages. Who would blame them? After all they must have heard stories of how the Spanish had killed thousands of indigenous people for apparently no reason, burning and pillaging all towns in his path.
The Aztecs were unaware of the trickery that Cortes would use on them. He had to catch the Aztecs unaware. He told La Malinche to tell Motecuhzoma that, “There is nothing to fear…tell him that we love him well and our hearts are contented.” He took this to his advantage by lying to him. The Spaniards later grasped Motecuhzoma’s hands and patted his back to show affection. The Aztecs were not at all prepared for an onslaught of fighting which would occur later on.
The Spaniards knew that they could not take on the whole Aztec Empire since they were so many compared to the number of conquistadors. They decided to take Motecuhzoma prisoner and keep him hostage in order to control the Aztecs. These people did not know what was going on. As it says on page sixty-five, many ran away and went into hiding. The Spaniards already knew that their weapons caused much confusion and struck some fear in these native people, so they fired one of their canons and people ran and fled. They used weapons unknown to them which gave the Spanish a slight advantage by method of intimidation so the Aztecs would not try anything. The Spaniards did not immediately begin to attack the Aztecs yet because they knew they could be crushed because of the immense size of their army.
Instead, when the Spanish captured Motecuhzoma, they kept him alive in order to control the Aztecs. They used Motecuhzoma so that he would tell his people to give the Spaniards provisions, supplies, and valuables, mainly gold. They had no choice but to obey the commands of their leader. The Aztecs were confused, scared, and angry all at the same time. It all seemed to happen so suddenly that no one exactly knew what to think.
Even though the Spanish kept their leader captive it is surprising that that the Aztecs planned no attempt to rescue their leader or fight back at first. Most people would think it was only out of fear. One must realize that the Aztecs thought the Spanish were gods so this could was a major reason why the Aztecs did not organize to attack the Spanish once Motecuhzoma was taken hostage. Many were frightened and just wanted the Spaniards to go away. When the Aztecs came to give the Spanish provisions, they gave them the supplies and shook in fear as they did so. After handing them the provisions they turned and hurried away. This seems strange that a people with a reputation of being very brave and warlike would be so scared of the small group of men which captured their king. I believe this is due to the fact that they thought the Spanish were powerful beings, thus they couldn’t really be hurt. There must’ve been a point when the Aztecs realized the Spanish weren’t supernatural beings and could be killed. I believe that at this point they started rebelling and fighting back against the Spaniards. This was also to the advantage of the Spanish that they struck at the Aztecs first before they had a chance to fight back.
There were many minor misinterpretations due to the differences in the two cultures that happened to give the Spanish the upper hand. The Aztecs were not a helpless group of people like I had thought before I had read this book. The Spanish account of the conquest of Mexico portrays Motecuhzoma as one who completely surrenders to them out of fear rather than a misconception of culture. It also portrays the natives as a helpless group of people who just constantly are slaughtered by the superiority of the Spanish and it seems to exclude the losses the Spanish had while fighting these natives. This is an example of how truth can be distorted if one only listens to one side of an argument. As a basic rule, one should always look at both sides of a story in order to have a more educated opinion on that matter.