Modern History Sourcebook:
A Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico
In 1519 Hernan Cortés sailed from Cuba, landed in Mexico
and made his way to the Aztec capital. Miguel LeonPortilla,
a Mexican anthropologist, gathered accounts by the Aztecs, some
of which were written shortly after the conquest.
Speeches of Motecuhzoma and Cortés
When Motecuhzoma [Montezuma] had given necklaces to each one,
Cortés asked him: "Are you Motecuhzoma? Are you the
king? Is it true that you are the king Motecuhzoma?"
And the king said: "Yes, I am Motecuhzoma." Then he
stood up to welcome Cortés; he came forward, bowed his
head low and addressed him in these words: "Our lord, you
are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived
on the earth. You have come to your city, Mexico. You have come
here to sit on your throne, to sit under its canopy.
"The kings who have gone before, your representatives, guarded
it and preserved it for your coming. The kings Itzcoatl, Motecuhzoma
the Elder, Axayacatl, Tizoc and Ahuitzol ruled for you in the
City of Mexico. The people were protected by their swords and
sheltered by their shields.
"Do the kings know the destiny of those they left behind,
their posterity? If only they are watching! If only they can see
what I see!
"No, it is not a dream. I am not walking in my sleep. I am
not seeing you in my dreams.... I have seen you at last! I have
met you face to face! I was in agony for five days, for ten days,
with my eyes fixed on the Region of the Mystery. And now you have
come out of the clouds and mists to sit on your throne again.
"This was foretold by the kings who governed your city, and
now it has taken place. You have come back to us; you have come
down from the sky. Rest now, and take possession of your royal
houses. Welcome to your land, my lords! "
When Motecuhzoma had finished, La Malinche translated his address
into Spanish so that the Captain could understand it. Cortés
replied in his strange and savage tongue, speaking first to La
Malinche: "Tell Motecuhzoma that we are his friends. There
is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time,
and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that
we love him well and that our hearts are contented."
Then he said to Motecuhzoma: "We have come to your house
in Mexico as friends. There is nothing to fear."
La Malinche translated this speech and the Spaniards grasped Motecuhzoma's
hands and patted his back to show their affection for him....
Massacre in the Main Temple
During this time, the people asked Motecuhzoma how they should
celebrate their god's fiesta. He said: "Dress him in all
his finery, in all his sacred ornaments."
During this same time, The Sun commanded that Motecuhzoma and
Itzcohuatzin, the military chief of Tlatelolco, be made prisoners.
The Spaniards hanged a chief from Acolhuacan named Nezahualquentzin.
They also murdered the king of Nauhtla, Cohualpopocatzin, by wounding
him with arrows and then burning him alive.
For this reason, our warriors were on guard at the Eagle Gate.
The sentries from Tenochtitlan stood at one side of the gate,
and the sentries from Tlatelolco at the other. But messengers
came to tell them to dress the figure of Huitzilopochtli. They
left their posts and went to dress him in his sacred finery: his
ornaments and his paper clothing.
When this had been done, the celebrants began to sing their songs.
That is how they celebrated the first day of the fiesta. On the
second day they began to sing again, but without warning they
were all put to death. The dancers and singers were completely
unarmed. They brought only their embroidered cloaks, their turquoises,
their lip plugs, their necklaces, their clusters of heron feathers,
their trinkets made of deer hooves. Those who played the drums,
the old men, had brought their gourds of snuff and their timbrels.
The Spaniards attacked the musicians first, slashing at their
hands and faces until they had killed all of them. The singers-and
even the spectators- were also killed. This slaughter in the Sacred
Patio went on for three hours. Then the Spaniards burst into the
rooms of the temple to kill the others: those who were carrying
water, or bringing fodder for the horses, or grinding meal, or
sweeping, or standing watch over this work.
The king Motecuhzoma, who was accompanied by Itzcohuatzin and
by those who had brought food for the Spaniards, protested: "Our
lords, that is enough! What are you doing? These people are not
carrying shields or macanas. Our lords, they are completely unarmed!"
The Sun had treacherously murdered our people on the twentieth
day after the captain left for the coast. We allowed the Captain
to return to the city in peace. But on the following day we attacked
him with all our might, and that was the beginning of the war
From Miguel LeonPortilla, ed., The Brohen Spears: The
Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (Boston: Beacon Press,
1962), pp. 6466, 129131.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997