Seven Myths of theSpanish ConquestBy: Chelsea EnglandHIST 2711990
IntroductionBernal Diaz was speechless when he first saw theAztec capital.Diaz wrote about his experiences in the Aztecempire, but struggled to describe the sights he saw,which included the metropolis of Tenochtitlan.Cortes was also challenged by finding acomparable city in the “old” world, just like BernalDiaz.They seven myths of the Conquest can be found inthe Cortes legend.Truth has been discredited as a concept relevant tohistorical investigation.Every chapter in this book is about a myth aboutthe Conquest, unveiling hidden truths.
IntroductionThe silences in Diaz’s narrative include his thoughtsas well as the thoughts of his Spanish comrades,the Africans and the central Mexican natives.This book is filled with uncertainty and endlesspossibilities to open one’s mind to newinterpretations about the world.Chapter 1 views the Conquest in a more conciseway through the eyes of many Spaniards.Chapter 2 explains the myth that the conquistadorswere soldiers sent to the Americas by the king ofSpain.Chapters 3 and 4 are about the Conquest written bythe conquistadors.Chapter 5 travels through the myth of (mis)communication.Chapter 6 involves the widespread misconceptionthat the Conquest reduced the Native Americanworld to a void.Chapter 7 is about the final myth which is theconcept that has served for five centuries and is the
EpilogueIn 1525, several thousand Mayas lived in the capitalof the kingdom of the Mactun people.The presence of Cortes, the emperor and the rulersof the other major cities that had once been part ofthe Mexica empire were not welcome to the Mayas.Cortes left within 5 days, leaving the body ofCuauhtemoc, headless, hanging by his feet from atree.The tale of Cuauhtemoc’s death has four stageswhich connect the perspectives of these accounts tothe seven myths of the Conquest.The incident at Itzamkanac reveals how misleadingthe image of the conquistadors as soldiers sent bytheir king as part of a Spanish army that invades andconquers with little assistance and against greatnumerical odds.The myths about Cuauhtemoc’s death, like those ofthe Conquest, are metaphors for everything that hadoccurred during the Spanish invasion of theAmericas.In conclusion, history is meant to explore those
Neither Paid Nor ForcedCortes avoids the word “soldier” when referring to hisarmy of 300 men on foot.Conquistadors were soldiers and nothing else whenIlarioneda Bergamo heard of the Conquest fromSpaniards in Mexico in the 1760s.The gradual adoption of soldado in the late sixteenthcentury related to wider shifts in the way Europeanswaged war.By the end of the century, Spanish armies had doubledin size.By 1710, there were 1.3 million Europeans at arms,creating the word, “army”.Spaniards joined conquest expeditions in hope ofacquiring wealth and status. James Lockhart calledthem, “free agents, emigrants, settlers, unsalaried andununiformed earners of encomiendas and shares oftreasure”.Conquistadors changed their self-identities in theirwriting such as claiming to be a professional man.Fully literate were limited in Spain among conquest
Neither Paid Nor ForcedConquistadors wrote reports in the standardized style ofthe probanza and about a quarter of the conquerors ofPeru and Colombia were unable to write their signature.It is a myth that literacy gave Spaniards an advantageover Native Americans, since members of conquistadorcompanies could most likely read and write no betterthan the literate native societies, like the Mayas.Francisco Pizarro, the early conquistador of Peru wasilliterate his entire life.The governor forced Cortes to marry Velazquez’s wife’smaid-in-waiting.Velazquez received word of Cortes’s recruit, Franciscode Montejo’s departure with letters and gold on his shipand Velazquez sent a ship on an unsuccessfultransatlantic chase after Montejo.Montejo made use of his own network of patronage alongwith the related Cortes network.Montejo’s company fell apart in 1532, as he wrote to theking.Alvarado’s expeditions brought veterans from theConquest wars in Mexico, Yucatan , Guatemala andmore.
Under the Lordship of the King“The New World is a disaster!” is what Queen Isabella says in the movie,Conquest of Paradise.The “myth of completion” is about how the Spaniards were so concernedto depict their adventures as conquests and pacifications and asfaitsaccomplis and why this was.One reason was the Spanish system of patronage, contract and reward,beginning with Columbus and his insistence until his death that he hadfulfilled his contract by discovering a route to Asia.The second reason was the ideology of imperial justification thatdeveloped rapidly during the sixteenth century to portray the Conquest asdivine intention and Spaniards as agents of providence.The Conquest still remained incomplete even after these claims.Columbus’ assertions of fulfullment or compliance were a crucial factor tohim being able to take his third of all trade revenues from the discoveredlands.The letters of Cortes to the king are the best-known series of contract-related documents.Spanish military activities were framed as campaigns of “pacification”rather than conquest and resistance leaders could be tried and executedfor treason.
Under theLordship of the KingThere was a supposed completion of the Conquest.The incompleteness of the military conquest of Mexico in 1522 is one part of the mystery.Another piece of incompleteness connects to the protracted nature of the military conquest of the so-called fringe ormarginal regions of what became Spanish America.In 1701, Juan de Villagutierre Soto-Mayor, author, admitted that Spanish expansion had left “great portions” of theAmericas partially or entirely unconquered- due to the intractability of some natives and to the difficult terrain insome regions.He argued it was because God was saving some natives for generations of Spaniards.The first founders of Buenos Aires in the late 1520s turned to cannibalism.More aspects of the myth of completion include the pax colonial, the peace among naties and between them andthe Spanish colonists that supposedly came in the Conquest’s wake. The impression of a colonial peace overlooksthe ubiquity of everyday forms of resistance.Conquest’s incompleteness was the degree to which native peoples maintained a degree of autonomy within theSpanish empire.Spaniards did not seek to rule natives directly and take over their lands. They instead, hoped to preserve nativecommunities as self-governing sources of labor.Spiritual conquest and cultural conquests were both complex and protracted, defying completion to the point ofrendering the very concept of completion irrelevant.
The Lost Words of La MalincheIn 1519, Moctezuma met Cortes. This meeting has been seenas symbolic and with good reason.This was the first time a Native American emperor greeted aEuropean representative who had come to conquer and settlein his lands.Cortes had taken Marina back within a month.It was discovered that she was able to converse with the“Indians” through whose territory the Spaniards were nowmoving.The Nahuas dubbed Cortes with the name of Malinche, asthough captain and interpreter were one.The myth of communication was constructed by theconquistadors and predominated during Conquest and colonialtimes.This was convenient to Spaniards in that claims ofcommunication with native peoples bolstered claims thatnatives were subjugated, and converted.The themes of communication have been misused asexplanations of the Conquest.Malinche’s lost words are between the lines of sixteenthcentury texts, in glyphs of the Florentine Codex, and her ghost
The Lost Francisco de Jerez threw the Bible at the ground because he was too illiterate to read it. Historian Patricia Seed suggested that the text read by theWords of La friar to Atahuallpa was “presumably” the Requirement, which is “an imperialism of speech.” Malinche The Requirement is normally looked upon as a paragon of miscommunication or, in Las Casa’s words, communicational “absurdity.” Cortes has Moctezuma telling the Spaniards that his people had always awaited the arrival from overseas of a lord descended from their original ruler, and that they now believed the king of Spain to be that lord. Malinche was able to understand tecpillahtolli. It was a legacy of her noble birth, and she had been translating it into Spanish for months before the Cortes-Moctezuma meeting. Columbus eventually understood that the Native Americans on the river bank were hostile toward him but it made no difference to the natives in the village. Atahuallpa and Moctezuma learned of Spanish intentions and methods too late to save their own lives, but their successors led campaigns of resistance hampered not by lack of information but by crippling epidemics, native disunity, differences in weaponry, and other factors. In the early decades of the Conquest, the sword and the compass were the most successful ways of communication used by the Spaniards.
Apes and Men The Florentine Codex stated, “Many were the miracles which were performed in the conquest of this land.” Franciscans and Dominicans worked hard in order to promote their evangelization efforts in the Americas not just as God’s own work but as the very purpose and justification of the entire Conquest. Conquistadors, including Cortes, claimed to being agents of providence, and chroniclers such as Oviedo and Gomara constructed Conquest history around the nontion that it was in God’s plan to unite the world under Christendom and the Spanish monarchy. Cortes used this idea to convince people the Conquest was a “just cause”. The concept of Spanish superiority was always transparent. Mythic explanation blames natives for their own defeat, combining the notion that native resistance was hindered by the belief that the Spaniards were gods, with the interrelated blaming of the Mexica and Inca emperors for the collapse of their empires. It was argued that Mexica civilization “went down above all because its religious and legal conception of war paralyzed it”. The juxtaposition is between a progressive and traditional civilization.
Apes and Men The fourth myth-based explanation of the Conquest assumes a Spanish superiority in language, literacy, and reading “signs”. Antonio Nebrija said that “language has always been the partner of empire” which has been a very famous quote because it supports the idea of Samuel Purchas when he termed, “litterall advantage.” This was supposed to mean that literacy gave its possessors both a moral and technological advantage. “The Indians,” declared the Spaniard, were “little men in whom you will scarcely find traces of humanity, who not only lack culture but do not even know how to write.” The last myth-based explanation is about the notion that Spanish weaponry in and of itself explains the Conquest, something that not even the conquistadors believed. The conquistadors had two great allies which include disease and native disunity in its many forms and manifestations- if these did not exist, the Conquest would not have taken place. Horses and guns were of limited supply and were extremely important to the conquistadors. A steel sword was worth more than either of these. The culture of war played an important role as well because it is only one aspect of the combat that took place during the Spanish invasions of Mesoamerica.