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Why Did He Do It? an Exploration of the Motives of Hernan Cortes

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Why Did He Do It?

An Exploration of the motives of Hernan Cortes


IB History of the Americas Period 4

Sam Sugerman

Word Count: 1768

Hernan Cortez was a powerful man in the sixteenth century. Cortez discovered a number of complex civilizations in what was then the New World. He was the primary explorer for the inland of Mexico, representing the nation of Spain. His task was to explore and colonize the land, as well as question the natives about local gold. Cortez successfully negotiated with some of the natives, but the greatest nation of all, the Aztecs, he destroyed. Why did Cortez eliminate the Aztecs?

First, some background on Hernan. Cortez was a sickly child in Spain. He was sent to boarding school, but left after two years without leave. From that point on, he decided to pursue a life of adventure. He joined Cordova's conquest, but he grew ill on the way to Italy, and was stuck there for two years. He sailed to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1504. He was a soldier there, and went on a mission to populate Cuba. Cortez was given the task of colonizing Mexico, and was almost stopped by the governor of Cuba as he left. Cortez landed on the mainland and burned his ships so the men could not commit mutiny. From there, he marched inland towards the native civilizations. (

Cortez had the means to communicate with the natives. Upon reaching the New World, he learned of a Spanish citizen who had shipwrecked recently named Geronimo de Aguilar. Geronimo had been living in the New World, was dressed as a Mayan native, and fluently spoke the Mayan language. This did not give Cortez the means to communicate with the Aztecs, however. The Spanish could not communicate with the Aztecs until a native tribe, the Tabasco, gave them numerous women who spoke both Mayan and the Aztec language, Nahuatl. The most remembered of these women was Malinche, who soon learned Spanish and replaced Aguilar altogether. (

Now, you as a reader might be thinking at this moment, "But maybe the Aztecs didn't like Cortez, and so he had to kill them before they killed him." Not so, brave reader. The Aztecs believed that Cortez was Quetzalcoatl. Who is Quetzalcoatl? "Quetzalcoatl was a god of such importance and power that nearly no aspect of everyday life seemed to go untouched by him." ( He was blessed with good fortune, since he appeared from the direction that the Aztec lore had said the god Quetzalcoatl would appear, on the very day he would appear, wearing shiny armor, all exactly as the ancient predictions said. The Aztecs believed he was a god, and they told him so. Cortez had his translators, and so he fully understood what they said. The emperor, Moctezuma, was quite unsure of how to approach this man, whom he believed was the Aztecs primary god. And so, he decided to play it safe, and lavished them with gold and gifts, food and drink. The Spanish were astounded that this nation could have so much. (

Cortez was well aware of the advanced society of the Aztec nation. The Aztecs had adopted many advanced practices from the earlier native nations, the Mayans and the Toltecs, when they had conquered them. This included a solar calendar, advanced irrigation techniques, and a religious almanac. They had an advanced and complex barter system and trade routes. The Aztecs were a warrior nation, and so they had many fighters. Cortez immediately disregarded their complex religion involving human sacrifice, and attempted without success to convert them to Christianity. The Aztec religion was focused on appeasing the gods and living in harmony with nature. "The Aztec religion was one of constant effort to propitiate the gods in order that they might look favorably upon mankind. The Aztecs, through their religious practices, endeavored to keep a balance in nature. One religious practice to accomplish this was human sacrifice." ( Finally, Cortez knew of the great amount of gold in the nation and surrounding regions. (

Soon after Cortez arrived, Moctezuma decided to throw him a large banquet. Cortez and his men were bloodthirsty for some reason, so they hung a guard and shot one of the Aztec's tributary tribe's leader. After that, they took Moctezuma and Itzcohuatzin, the Aztec's military leader, prisoner. For these reasons, the remaining Aztec leaders elected to have a guard posted at the banquet. The first day of the fiesta went smoothly, but on the second night, the Spaniards began to massacre the Aztecs. describes it in depth: "The Spaniards attacked the musicians first, slashing at their hands and faces until

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