Conquest of Mexico and Downfall of the Aztec Empire


While the human race takes great pride in the progressive nature of each subsequent civilization, human beings continue to harbor a keen interest on ancient civilizations. This interest in the past sometimes springs from specific attributes of certain ancient civilizations which are hailed as benchmarks in the civilization process. Some of the ancient civilizations gain their prominence primarily due to their old age while others are distinct as a result of the great organization that the civilization exhibited.

The Aztec empire falls under the second category and to the present time, modern day man marvels at how the civilization was able to grow in its size given the various environmental cultural and physical constraints that it faced. This paper shall set out to carry out a concise but informative analysis of relevant articles describing how this superior civilization was crashed by a less equipped adversary.

Conquest of Mexico: a brief overview

Up to date, the conquest of Mexico is of great importance since it showcases how cultural beliefs may be detrimental to the survival of a community. The Aztec empire was superior in terms of resources, army and level of organization. The fact that they were defeated by a small number of Spaniard explorers still eludes historical scholars.

As such, various accounts detailing the events that took place during the two years that the Spaniards conquered the empire have been document. However, disparities between the accounts have been noted. This in turn has led to many people doubting the credibility of the documented literatures. As such, it would be a worthwhile endeavor to compare and contrast some of the accounts in a bid to further our understanding on the matter.

Article analysis

“Fierce and Unnatural Cruelty”: Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico by Inga Clendinnen

In this article, the author seeks to explore the reasons as to why the Aztec empire was defeated by the Spaniards despite their superiority. In this regard, the author analyzes the cultural, intellectual and personal traits of the two civilizations in a bid to create a justifiable explanation to the outcome. By using credible sources, the author presents the reader with logical perspectives regarding the conquest.

In the article, Cortes (who led the army that conquered Mexico) is presented as an intelligent person with good communication and manipulation skills (Clendinnen 76). In a matter of two years, he was able to seize the empire, rule it through Moctezoma and form allies with other native tribes in a bid to ensure his safety and status (Clendinnen 67).

In addition, the credibility of the letters sent by Cortes is also scrutinized. Research indicates that his letters were manipulative efforts of a desperate man trying to secure his reputation through deception. The letters were characterized by numerous omissions, inventions and fictions. All this was geared towards impressing higher authorities all the while portraying Cortes as a mindful, obedient and law abiding subject.

On the other hand, the Author presents Moctezoma and his subjects as gullible and omen-haunted people who lack the ability to improvise due to rigid cultural beliefs. Further on, the author highlights political ambitions, miscommunication and strategy as contributing factors to the conquest of Mexico (Clendinnen 86).

Seven myths of the Spanish conquest by Mathew Restall

Mathew Restall critically analyzes the seven myths that have conveniently been used to describe the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The author explores ways through which the history of the conquest has been misinterpreted and consequently passed down as the truth about the events that took place during the conquest.

By using documented literature written by the conquistadors and explorers, the author provides the reader with fresh accounts of what may have happened during the conquest. The author uses a collection of sources to highlight the seven myths. To this end, the author uncovers the points of contention on each myth by providing the inaccuracies, misconceptions and fallacies on each.

This book shows that there were other important but undermined factors that contributed to the success of the conquest. In summary, Restall uses this book to prove that the conquest was subjected to more complexities and fascination that documented history portrays it. The book gives an unbiased account of specific events that contributed to the success of the conquest.

Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of Mexico

In this article, Bernal Diaz gives an account of the conquest of the Aztec. In this article, the author describes the events vividly from the time they entered Mexico, their actions and consequences. Though a personal journal, the author concentrates most of his descriptions on the events as carried out by Cortes.

Even though he is not pleased with Cortes’ actions, Bernal informs the reader of the events that took place throughout the conquest. As such, this article is an eye-witness account detailing the events of the conquest. It contains the letters that Cortes sent to his superiors as well as the conversations that were held between Cortes and Moctezoma throughout the conquest.

A comparison of the articles: similarities

History is based on investigations of the past. While most historical philosophies are based on facts, there exist some that are based on myths passed down as the truth. In these articles there are some aspects that the authors seem to agree upon. Firstly, Cortes is portrayed as a manipulative and deceptive individual whose desire for fame and fortune had negative effects on the lives of many people.

In addition, the articles acknowledge the fact that the Aztec empire was to be desired and well established. On the same not, the Aztec people were deeply cultural; a fact that contributed to their demise. Similarly, the authors agree on the fact that the whole truth regarding the conquest is not known. They detail certain events that could have been exaggerated in a bid to portray the Spaniards as a superior people.

A comparison of the articles: differences

The article by Restall disputes the myths that have been used to describe the conquest. In this article, Restall uses accounts from both sides to dispute issues such as: The Spaniard’s superiority in weapons, the fact that the Mexicans believed that Cortes was a deity and that the Spaniards conquered the empire by themselves. Another significant difference is in the way the authors address the issue.

Bernal Diaz gives a vivid eye-witness account (primary source) on the events that took place. On the other hand, Restall and Clendinnen rely on written literature (secondary sources) to describe the events leading to the conquest of Mexico.


While the exact reason for the downfall of the Aztec empire remains controversial, scholars and historical analysts agree on cultural beliefs as being among the core causes. In this essay, an analysis of relevant articles has been provided.

While there are divergent views regarding the conquest, the authors have effectively managed to provide their readers with an informative account of the conquest. However, more research regarding the matter should be carried out. This will in future, offer a more conclusive account about the conquest.

Works cited

Clendinnen, Inga. “Fierce and Unnatural Cruelty”: Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico”. Representations 33 (1991): 65-100. Print.

Diaz, Bernal. The Conquest of Mexico. Web.

Restall, Mathew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. London: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

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