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Posted on August 30th, 2012, by

The history of Mesoamerica and the Spaniard conquest is full of tragic events. At the same time, the Spaniard conquest of Mesoamerica, especially the conquest of the Aztec Empire is full of mysteries because the conquest and events accompanying the conquest were, to a significant extent, unclear, while evidences of participants of those events were highly controversial. In such a situation, it is very important to analyze carefully primary sources to distinguish motives of the parties involved in the war, i.e. Spaniards headed by Cortes and Aztecs, and their actions to understand what actually had happened and why Spaniards committed such terrible acts as the Cholula massacre and hostage of Moctezuma. In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the understanding of the Spaniard conquest of Mesoamerica should take into consideration the position of both Spaniards and Aztecs, while the adequate interoperation of events that had occurred during the conquest is possible only on the condition that motives and objectives of both parties are taken into consideration. At this point, primary sources are particularly important because they provide evidence of eyewitnesses who depicted the events that took place in Mesoamerica as they saw them and they did not convey the story of the Spaniard conquest from the position of the retrospection, which apparently involves subjective interpretation of facts and events accompanying the Spaniard conquest. In this regard, it is possible to refer to accounts of F. D. Duran and B.D. del Castillo.

First of all, it should be said that both Castillo and Duran attempted to depict the major events that became turning points in the Spaniard conquest of Mesoamerica. To put it more precisely, they focused on the major events that determined the outcome of the Spaniard conquest and led to the defeat of Aztecs and the following decline of their empire and civilization. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that Castillo seems to be more sympathetic in relation to Aztecs and, in a way, he admires with the civilization created by Aztecs. On the other hand, he is very critical in regard to actions of conquistadors headed by Cortes. In this regard, the position of Duran is more tolerant in relation to Spaniard. In fact, it is possible to estimate that Duran stands on the pro-Spaniard position because in his accounts of the events that had taken place during the Spaniard conquest of the Aztec Empire, he attempted to justify the cruelty of Spaniards appealing to such issues as the necessity of defense of Spaniards from possible aggression from the part of Aztecs.

The difference in the position of Duran and Castillo becomes obvious when key events described by both authors are discussed in details. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that even though Castillo is sympathetic in relation to Aztecs, he still had never condemned actions of Spaniards and, in this regard, his accounts are similar to those of Duran. The difference is that Duran stands on a more pro-Spaniard position, while Castillo attempts to criticize some actions of Spaniards which he believes to be unreasonable but not totally wrong or unworthy of true Christians (Castillo, 131). In such a way, on analyzing key events in the history of Spaniard conquest of Aztecs using accounts of Castillo and Duran, readers deal with a moderate criticism and justification of actions of Spaniards respectively.

In this regard, the massacre at Cholula is a very important event that caused the slaughter of many Aztecs. Duran depicts this event as an essential step to secure Spaniards arrival to the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan. He argues that the purpose of Spaniards was to undermine the power of Aztecs military and the entire empire through teaching them a lesson in Cholula. In fact, the massacre at Cholula showed the power of Spaniard and it was supposed to show the consequence of disobedience or betrayal of Spaniards. As a result, Duran concludes that the massacre at Cholula had the desirable effect on Aztecs because they were shocked by the power of Spaniards. In contrast, Castillo depicts the massacre at Cholula from the position of an ordinary soldier of Cortes’ army and his accounts are closer to real life. In fact, Castillo depicts the massacre at Cholula as a true slaughter of defenseless Aztecs, who could neither resist nor escape from Spaniards.

Furthermore, on discussing the Moctezuma hostage, Duran justifies such a step made by Spaniards by security considerations. He believed it was necessary to hostage Moctezuma to keep his people obedient to Spaniards and not to rebel or kill conquistadors. In contrast, Castillo justifies this step by sheer pragmatism of Spaniards, who took control over the empire and used Moctezuma as a puppet to have the formal power in his empire, which actually belonged to Spaniards but not Moctezuma. Therefore, Castillo views the Moctezuma hostage as an attempt of Spaniards to take control over the formal power in the empire to facilitate the conquest and put it on the legal basis.

Another massacre launched by Spaniards took place in Tenochtitlan, where conquistadores slaughters local nobles. At the same time, Duran that Cortes simple lost control over his people and could not prevent the massacre. In fact, he depicts this massacre as a kind of accident. In contrast, Castillo standing on the ground of a soldier of Cortes’ army pleads Cortes guilty of the massacre because Cortes, as the commander-in-chief, should and could stop the massacre but he was unwilling to do so. Castillo believes that Cortes intentionally eliminated nobles to strengthen the power of Spaniards in Mesoamerica.

Finally, the reappearance of Cortes in Tenochtitlan with Narvaez expedition is also depicted in a different way. Duran depicts this episode as a kind of rescue operation to save Spaniards and secure their position in the Aztec Empire. As for Castillo, he views this episode rather as a punishment of Aztecs for disobedience and attempt of resistance to Spaniards.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Duran and Castillo depict the Spaniard conquest in different ways. Castillo is definitely closer to the objective description of the conquest because he viewed the conquest as the soldier of the army which slaughtered defenseless people. As for Duran, he attempts to justify actions of Spaniards by some supreme goals and considerations of security of Spaniards. Obviously, he puts the security of Spaniards and interests of Spain above humanistic considerations. In fact, he views Aztecs rather as subjects to Spaniards influence than independent people who could choose their own way of life.

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