Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hernando Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico

Hernando Cortes was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who landed on the coast of Mexico in 1519 in order to conquer it. Cortes description of the city ranges from its vibrant architecture to the horrible medieval customs and practices followed by the Aztecs.

He writes, “This great city of Tenochtitlan is built on the salt lake, and no matter by what road you travel there are two leagues from the main body of the city to the mainland. There are four artificial causeways leading to it, and each is as wide as two cavalry lances.” At the time, the city of Tenochtitlan, the erstwhile capital of Mexico was home to over 100,000 people and one of the largest cities in the world.

By the time Cortes arrived, the great market was attracting up to 60,000 people daily. Cortes’ description of this Aztec city was that of a well planned city with canals dug throughout the city for easy transportation of goods and people.

The Spaniards called this Aztec city, “the Venice of the New World”. Cortes admires the wide straight roads connected with canals that the Aztecs crossed paddling their canoes. After the fall of the Toltec civilization the Aztecs were forced to occupy marshy area around lake Texcoco.

The way they were able to convert their disadvantageous beginning into a powerful empire is a subject of Cortes’ admiration and surprise. The shallow lake bed was converted by the Aztecs into highly productive gardens formed by piling up mud from the lake bottom to make artificial islands.

Cortes praises the drainage system of the city and the ability of Aztecs to build bridges over canals and rivers. While Cortes focuses on the tall buildings in the city and magnificent temples he also focuses on the gory description of the terrible sight of human sacrifices that took place in those temples.

This, Hernando Cortes offered as a good justification for the conquest of Mexico. He said since the native people observed degrading and horrific customs, including human sacrifice, it was essential to conquer them and convert them to Christianity. READ MORE!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Europeans: Voyages of Discovery and Expansion

Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492 opened up a sea of opportunities for European countries. Portugal and Spain already had vast experience in colonization and conquest through various sea routes. Their ship navigation skills proved to be an added advantage. Driven by a strong desire to colonize the New World, they were the first European countries to create vast colonial empires in the western hemisphere.

The said age was indeed an age of unprecedented exploration, discovery and expansion. The voyages were the voyages of discovery and bold white expansion. European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial- empires and great political and economic revival. Spanish conquest of the New World was driven by the three 'G's—gold, glory, and gospel. The other European countries followed suit.

The European economy was dependent on gold and silver. Its severe shortage had brought about a recession in the European economy. Hence, the need to explore the outer world was imperative.

The English, French, and Dutch were comparatively slower to start; but in no way less interested or aggressive in claiming their share in the pie. The Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies sent home so much of wealth in the form of gold, silver, furs and sugar that it substantially stimulated the economy of Europe. This prompted other European countries also to see and seek westward.

The invention of heavy and technically sound ships like Carrack and highly maneuverable ships like Caravel in 15th century allowed the Portuguese and Spanish explores to make long and difficult voyages across the Atlantic and along the coastline of West Africa.

The discovery of the New World had set the stage for an unprecedented upheaval and action. A real life high drama was waiting to be played out in two distinctly different worlds; one Old and the other New. The Old World prepared itself to launch a bold onslaught on the New World to establish its supremacy and ownership over the vast riches of the new territories. The sense of mystery and adventure beckoned the explorers to embark upon newer expeditions. READ MORE!