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Lock, Stock, and History

The Unsung Conquerors of the Aztecs,

The history books tell us that the Spanish conquered Mexico with superior weapons such as guns, armor, and steel swords as well as a host of deadly diseases brought from Europe.  However despite their weapons and superior military tactics, the Spaniards were still little more than a pathetic band of mercenary’s that could have been wiped out at any time.  So why didn’t that happen?  One fact that has been nearly forgotten by history is that Cortes and the Spaniards had the help of Native allies who provided 80,000 - 200,000 warriors.  Often in common high school textbooks this fact is only briefly mentioned, leading one to believe that the Spanish were able to bring down a mighty empire with only 900 men.  In reality, the Spanish probably never would have been able to gain a foothold in Central America without the help of their native allies.

When Cortes and his Spanish conquistadors landed in Mexico in 1519, one of the first large states his expedition encountered was Tlaxcala, a union of city states and tribes in Central Mexico.  The Tlaxcalan’s were not like the Aztecs.  Suspicious of the Spanish, they didn’t buy into all the Quetzalcoatl humbuggery that was attributed to Cortes.  At the first sign of trouble, the Tlaxcalans attacked and surrounded the Spanish.  It seemed that Cortes’ expedition would end right then and there, despite their superior weapons the Spanish were outnumbered and surrounded.  When it seemed that the Tlaxcalans were going to strike their final death blow, a wise man and respected elder named Xicotencatl the Elder convinced the Tlaxcalan war leader to spare the Spaniards and strike an alliance with them instead.  A deal was brokered and the Tlaxcalans provided the Spanish with food, clothing, servants, and a 1,000 man escort to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire.  When Cortes and his men were ejected from Tenochtitlan after kidnapping the Aztec Emperor Montezuma, a rallying call went all over Mexico for allies to help bring down the Aztec Empire.  The Tlaxcalans donated tens of thousands warriors to the Spanish cause.  Other allies such as the Huexotzinco, Atlixco, Tliliuhqui-Tepecs, Tetzcocans, Chalca, Alcohua, Tepanecs, Tepeyac, Yauhtepec, and Cuauhnahuac also sent tens of thousands of warriors to join the alliance as well.

So why did the natives of Mexico join with a band of foreigners to overthrow the Aztec Empire?  Like all empires the Aztec Empire was built upon bloodshed, violence, tyranny, and oppression.  During the previous 100 years the Aztec brutally conquered the tribes and city states around them, until by 1519 they dominated most of Central Mexico.  People conquered by the Aztecs were brutally massacred, their people taken into slavery or sacrificed in Aztec rituals.  Those states, such as Tlaxcala, maintained their independence by paying a tribute, usually in the form of victims for Aztec human sacrifices.

Needless to say the people of Mexico hated the Aztec’s and all they stood for.  Central Mexico was ripe for rebellion, and all it took to spark the rebellion was the appearance of some strange foreigners with seemingly magical weaponry who claimed they wanted to destroy the Aztecs as well.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In the final showdown between the native alliance and the Spanish, the Spanish only had a little less than 1,000 - 1,300 men whereas the natives had brought an estimated 80,000 - 200,000 warriors. The large numbers of revolting natives combined with the superior arms of the Spanish overwealmed the Aztecs, already weakened by a terrible plague of smallpox.  After a mere 2 month siege, Tenochtitlan fell.

To the people of Central Mexico the fall of the Aztec Empire was greater than their most wonderful dreams.  However, the Spanish would bring thousands of more soldiers and colonists.  Over the next 60 years the Spanish would conquer the other city states of Mexico, bringing the natives under the yoke of Spanish rule.  As it turned out the Spaniards were no better than the Aztecs, forcing the people of Mexico under a system of disease, slavery, and poverty.  The new boss was the same as the old boss.       

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