This paper is aimed at examining three primary documents that can throw light on the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire. Two of them have been written by Spanish authors, namely Cortez (1986) and Diaz (1956), whose letters and books can be of great value to historians. In turn, the third one is attributed to an unknown Aztec chronicler.
These chronicles are collected by Miguel Portilla (1992) who wants to present the viewpoint of Aztec people. Overall, it is possible to say that Diaz’s account and The Broken Spears are more credible because the authors of these narratives had no incentive to justify their actions or conceal facts from the audience.
Moreover, these texts include details suggesting that the authors could recognize the power of their opponents. In turn, Cortez is more extreme in his account of the events. These are the main issues that can be considered.
One should first mention that Cortez’s account of these events was written immediately after the conquest. Therefore, it is possible to say that he had the opportunity to record every important detail if he had wanted to do it. In contrast, Diaz’s narrative was written approximately twenty years after the fall of the Aztec Empire. In turn, historians do not know precisely when the chronicles included in The Broken Spears could be composed. According to this criterion, Cortez’s account is more credible. It is critical to remember that this author could be very biased in his presentation of this event. This is one of the limitations that should be considered.
Finally, it is important to consider the personality of the authors. Cortez and Diaz represent the Spanish Empire or invaders, and these people try to omit the details that could lead to the sharp criticism of Spanish soldiers or their actions. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about Cortez. In turn, historians do not know the names of people who wrote The Broken Spears.
The personality of the authors is closely related to their intentions. It should be kept in mind that these documents differ in terms of audience as well as the intention of the author. For example, Herman Cortez was intended for the Spanish monarch, King Charles V. To a great extent; he attempts to justify his actions and prove that he maintains full control over the situation. His word choice is very eloquent. For instance, while describing his attack, he makes the following statement, ‘so I left them pacified’ (Cortez 1). So, this author tries to describe Aztecs as some violent savages that had to be appeased.
Similarly, the purpose of The Broken Speaks is supposed to describe the experiences of Aztec people during the invasion. This manuscript was not supposed to embellish the Aztec state or its rulers. Moreover, this writer does not want to denigrate the Spaniards. They were described as “gods” (Portilla, 1992, p. 2). They were utterly astonished by the technological superiority of the conquerors. In this context, world superiority can be applied primarily to weaponry.
Furthermore, it is vital to speak about Diaz’s manuscript. This author attempts to create a historical narrative that could be read by educated people living in the Spanish Empire. Nevertheless, this author attempts to remain impartial and acknowledges the achievements of Aztec civilization. In particular, he says, ‘Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real’ (Diaz 1).
Finally, it is crucial to speak about the tone of the author. Cortez’s letter is intended for the king; this is why he does not want to talk about the atrocities that Spanish soldiers committed. This author seeks to sound calm and resolute. He notes that “Finally, they offered themselves as vassals in the Royal service of Your Majesty and offered their persons and fortunes and so they have remained until today and will, I think, always remain” (Cortez 2).
In turn, the person, who wrote The Broken Spears, sounds quite nervous since he represents a community that faces invasion. Moreover, he writes about the various misfortunes encountered by Aztec people, for example, plagues. In his turn, Diaz strives to remain impartial while describing his encounter with Aztecs.
There are several similarities that can be identified. In each case, the author was a first-hand witness of the event. Secondly, in each case, the author had an opportunity to face a culture that was utterly unfamiliar to him. More importantly, The Broken Spears and Diaz’s book are aimed at creating a more balanced account of the conquest. This is why historians should pay more attention to these sources.
Overall, this discussion suggests that while analyzing primary sources, one should concentrate on the author’s background, his/her intentions, the audience, and other factors that can impair his/her impartiality. Overall, it is possible to say that The Broken Spears and Diaz’s account are more impartial. These are the main points that can be made.
Cortéz, H. (1986). Second Letter to King Charles V of Spain. In A.
Pagden. Hernan Cortéz: Letters from Mexico (1-2). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Díaz, B. (1956). The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. New York, NY 1956.
Portilla, M. (1992). The Broken Spears. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.