Conquistador – The Fall of The Aztecs
This paper is in response to the 2001 documentary, “Conquistadors: The Fall of The Azetcs” hosted by Michael Wood. The film tells the story of Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes in his conquest of Mexico. Cortez is credited with the discovery and destruction of the Aztec empire by co-operating with enemies of the Aztecs and exploiting the prophecy of the ancient Native god Quetzalcoatl.
I was surprised to learn that Cortez was not a soldier by trade, that he actually studied law. This does however explain how he was able to be so persuasive, as the task of a lawyer is to sway ones opinion to match their own. It was also interesting to learn that he funded the journey by himself, which demonstrates to how important it was for him. This also demonstrates Cortez’ motive for the journey, it wasn’t about discovering new lands and learning from the natives. It was about gold, riches, land and conquest from the beginning. Cortez would not have come with over 500 soldiers if he didn’t intend on killing and war.
The introduction of Malinche to Cortez I found to be a turning point in the conquest, because without an interpreter he could not go very far in the country. However I do not agree with the negative opinions of Malinche, as a traitor to her people. She was given to Cortez as a slave by her own people. She was young, naive and unaware of Cortez’s true intentions. As a slave, doing whatever Cortez wished was part of her duty and she would have been killed and replaced if she hadn’t. Therefore I don’t see Malinche as a traitor at all, she was simply a girl put into a bad situation and did what she could.
On Easter 1519, Cortez meets Montezuma and is greeted with gifts of gold. This marked another pivotal moment, that showed Cortez’s complete lack of respect for the natives. Upon receiving gifts of gold, admiration and respect from the Aztecs, Cortez returns the kindness in useless trinkets and junk. Also upon learning about the prophecy involving the ancient Native god Quetzalcoatl, it is clear that Cortez begins to think of how he can manipulate it to use to his advantage. To make things worse, Montezuma reveals to Cortez that the Aztecs have more gold, only succeeding in fueling Cortez’s greed and nefarious plans. In the next series of events Cortez demonstrates his ruthlessness and determination.
When word of mutiny arises he kills all those involved, lands his ships and immobilizes them, showing that he would rather die than go back to Spain without a victory, and neither should his men. On the journey to Tenochetitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, Cortez does battle with the Tlaxcala. In the end they decide to unite against the Aztecs and become powerful allies against the Aztecs. Cortez’s scheming with the enemies of the Aztecs is a testament to his treacherous ways.
Upon his arrival in Tenochetitlan, Cortez is welcomed with great honor and brought to a temple. It is at this point where I start to doubt the objectivity of the documentary. The presenter describes the temple as being filled with severed heads and painted with blood, causing Cortez to denounce it and requests to put a cross in it. To which Montezuma is offended, refuses and says he will not bring Cortez there again. I believe the mention of the heads and the blood is either an exaggeration or completely fabricated to justify bringing christianity to the Aztecs. It is written that spreading chritistanity was Cortez’s motivation for the conquest but it is clear, riches, land and gold was always the goal.
The documentary then says after a week in Tenochetitlan, Cortez and his men decide to arrest Montezuma. During this time the faith of his people was waning and his power along with it. The murder of Montezuma is another point in which I believe the documentary is not very objective. It says that Montezuma’s people killed him because they were ashamed and savage. I find it highly unlikely that within a week, a civilisation that was successful and flourishing for years, would be so very ashamed of their leader to the point that they would murder him. It is far more logical that they would try to free him and kill Cortez and the other Spaniards. Also after arresting Montezuma, Cortez was able to get more gold, once he had all he could carry, Montezuma had no further use, therefore I believe it was Cortez who killed Montezuma.
Overall I found the documentary interesting and informative, but was very one sided and lacked more information from the native’s perspective. I would have liked to have heard more accounts of the story from the native’s point of view, but due to the war and the disease that the Spaniards brought to the Aztecs many died during the colonization. The lack of equal representation of events can be seen throughout history, because it is widely known that history is written by the winners of war, not the losers.