The Conquest Of Mexico
The Spaniards, in the conquest of the Mexican people, relied just as heavily on chance and luck as they did on their on their skills on diplomacy and military prowess. The sicknesses that the Spaniards brought over with them in addition to the political situation that the Mexica had established with their neighbors is what really brought about the downfall of the great Mexican civilizations. In addition to these factors there was also the fact that up to this point in history the Americas have had very little in the way of contact from the outside world and consequently had next to no knowledge of the civilizations across the sea.
When they first encountered the Spanish Conquistadors they held the belief that they were from the gods and that Cortez was the reincarnation of one of their gods and as such welcomed them with open arms. When you take into consideration all of the factors mentioned above you will see that the conquest of Aztecs and other Native American civilizations by the Spanish was accomplished by three major factors: diplomacy, military prowess, and no small amount of luck. The first of those factors is the diseases that the Europeans brought across the Atlantic with them.
The most notable disease that caused the majority of the deaths among the Native American people was the pestilence of smallpox. An account of just how devastating smallpox was among a populace whose immune systems had no prior experience with or any way to combat European diseases can be found in book twelve of the Florentine Codex. “Before the Spaniards came to us, first an epidemic broke out, a sickness of pustules. It began in Tepeilhuitl. Large bumps spread on people; some where completely covered. They spread everywhere, on the face, the head, the chest, etc.
[The disease] brought great desolation, a great many died of it. (Lockhart, 1993, 190)” The account goes on to describe the horrors that the disease had left behind in the lives of those who were lucky enough to survive. Many of the survivors had been left horribly scared or even blinded if they were unlucky enough for the disease to spread into their eyes. The main reason that these diseases had such a devastating effect on the natives and not on the Spaniards is the fact that the natives had very little in the way of domesticated animals.
The Europeans had for thousands of years been in possession of a great many domesticated animal, such as pigs, horses, chickens, and cows, and it is these animals that are usually the incubators and carriers of a great many deadly diseases. Since the Europeans had been around them for so long their immune systems had adapted to the situation and were able to combat the diseases. The Aztecs had no such advantage. The deadly diseases of Europe were something completely new to them and their immune systems had no way to combat them.
The Spaniards had no compunctions about taking advantage of the situation in their conquest of Mexico. Another huge factor that the Spanish had in their favor was the superior weapons that they had at their disposal and huge advantage that the weapons gave them in battle. The Aztec people were severely limited in the type of weapon that they could wield in battle due to the simple fact that their civilization had never discovered the art of metallurgy which Europe had discovered long prior. The weapons that they created were made from wood and stone.
One such weapon that the majority of the Aztec warriors had in their possession is described in the book titled Victors and Vanquished. “Their primary weapon was a kind of wooden sword set with obsidian blades designed for slashing and incapacitating rather than killing an opponent. (Schwartz 2000 11)” The weapons of the Aztec warriors were all similar to that in that they were designed to incapacitate instead of kill. The entire reason for the Aztecs to be at war was the capture of prisoners that they could sacrifice to their gods. The Spaniards were not like that.
Their weapons were designed for one purpose, to kill. Many of those weapons, such as the musket or crossbow, had a much greater range than any of the weapons that the natives could field in battle and they had no answer at all to the power of the Spaniards canons. The one factor that made all of every weapon that the Spaniards had at their disposal superior to any Aztec weapon is the simple fact that they were made of steel. There was one obstacle that the Conquistadors had that would prevent them from overwhelming the Aztecs even with their superior weaponry.
That aforementioned obstacle was the fact that the Spanish only numbered in the hundreds while the Aztecs had their entire civilization backing them. The way that they were able to overcome that obstacle was through the art of diplomacy. The constant invasions and taking of prisoners by the Aztecs for their human sacrifices had earned them many enemies among their neighbors. When Spain began its exploration of the new world those very same neighbors saw their chance to finally bring about the destruction of their oppressors.
An example of this can be found in a Spanish account of the invasion of Chapultepec. “The war was sustained fiercely on both sides, since on our side we had the help of many Tlaxacalan warriors …(Aguilar, 1993, 196)” The constant warfare and human sacrifice that the gods of the Aztecs demanded of them had finally helped to bring about the downfall of that great civilization. There was no one thing that brought about the downfall of the Mexican people. It was a conglomeration of events that finally toppled the great civilizations.
The sicknesses and plaques that the Europeans brought over with them played no small part. The way in which the natives waged war was also a significant factor. The factor that really broke the back of the Aztecs was the constant need for human sacrifice. In their dealings with their neighbors they had created the foundation that Spaniards used for the negotiating of allies in the conquest of Mexico. In this collision of two previously separate worlds it was the Spanish who came out as the victor and the Aztecs as the vanquished.