How did technology, disease, and other factors allow the Spanish to take over and defeat the Aztec Empire?
The Aztecs were fierce warriors and their numbers were immense compared to the Spanish. So how did the Spanish manage to defeat these fearless warriors? There were many factors that contributed to the outcome of this colossal and historical event and the result that came of it. Some of those factors were the technology difference between the Spanish and the Aztecs, and another was all the poor decisions that the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, made. Other contributions were disease and the role it played. Finally there was all the alliances Cortes, a Spanish leader, made, and lastly is all the other factors that don’t fit into any category that I have already stated. The battle for Tenochtitlan was an extremely important, substantial, interesting, and devastating event for the Aztecs and all the lives and culture lost.
The Aztecs might have had more warriors than the Spanish, but the Spanish were much more advanced in the technology aspect and that gave them a huge advantage. They had things like cannons and guns which were terrifying to the Aztecs because they were so loud and powerful. The Spanish warriors also had swords where the Aztecs had war clubs, and the Spanish had crossbows where the Aztecs had atlatl. Animals like war dogs and horses were used by the Spanish. Actually, the weapons the Aztecs used were almost no use against the Spaniards’ metal armor and horses who also wore armor. The Aztecs thought that the Spanish ships were as big as mountains because all they had were small canoes. Spanish troops built small but sufficient ships to fit in lake Texcoco so they could invade Tenochtitlan and keep people from going in and coming out of their city. They built all their small ships used in lake Texcoco from only what they had on the land, possibly from other ships, and the tribes Cortes made alliances with contributed parts as well. Overall, the weak Aztec weapons were no match for the high tech Spanish technology.
Moctezuma had to make some decisions that would decide the future for the Aztec civilization. Some of his mistakes were what helped cause the Spanish to slaughter so many of his people and wipe out their people’s culture extremely rapidly. There was a belief in the Aztec culture that one of their gods, Quetzalcoatl, would return to the Aztecs in the year 1 reed and come in from the west and bring destruction to Tenochtitlan. Cortes looked very odd to the Aztecs because his skin was fair, he had facial hair, and he wore metal clothes (armor). He also came in the year 1 reed, from the west, and brought destruction to Tenochtitlan. So really, Moctezuma did have a good reason to believe that Cortes was Quetzalcoatl. There were two choices Moctezuma had and one was to wait and give gifts and the other was to fight right away. The choice he made did not benefit him and it is possible that fighting right away could have saved their civilization. To put Moctezuma’s plan in action he gave Cortes gifts of gold and that was a mistake because Cortes and his men came to get gold and once he knew they had gold, they were not leaving until they got it. Some of the choices Moctezuma made were not the best things he could have done but it would have been what he believed was best for his people with the knowledge they had at that time.
Disease played a big role in the Spanish taking over the Aztecs. It wasn’t intentional, but smallpox was brought over to the Aztecs from Spain. When Cortes got his surprise ship sent to him after “the sad night” some Spanish people brought over smallpox which they didn’t even know they had yet because they were quite immune to it. The Aztecs on the other hand were not immune because they had never been exposed to it before. When the Spanish soldiers went back to Tenochtitlan after “the sad night” to defeat them they infected Aztecs with smallpox, but since the Aztecs had never seen a disease like this their doctors didn’t know how to treat it. Smallpox was a big factor in making it easy for the Spanish to take over because of how weak they were and how many Aztecs died.
That was not all that was an advantage for the Spanish. They made some very helpful alliances with the tribes living around Tenochtitlan. Cortes’ alliance with the Tabascan was extremely beneficial because when they were exchanging gifts the Tabascans gave Cortes Dona Marina. Another nation called the Totonacs were complaining to Cortes about the tribute they had to pay to the Aztecs. So Cortes made a deal with that tribe and that deal was that Cortes was to give them protection from the Aztecs in exchange for some of their warriors. Some tribes he came across were not so willing to help Cortes. Dona Marina overheard that the tribe called Cholulans, who seemed very loyal to Cortes and his allies, were planning to attack them. Of course, Dona Marina told Cortes right away so the Spanish had a chance to conquer the Cholulans before the Cholulans could conquer them. Just like the Totonacs, the Tlaxcalans were also willing to give up men to help the Spanish conquer the Aztecs because they did not want to fight the Spanish warriors. The Spanish didn’t have many men to start with at all, but by the time they got to Tenochtitlan their army had grown immensely. Even though it was still nowhere near the size of the Aztecs.
Many factors that lead the Spanish to victory were just good luck but others took much planning and/or guts. Cortes was a smart man, warrior, and strategizer. His strategy made all the difference in the battle of Tenochtitlan and that strategy was that with every tribe he met he must befriend or conquer. Once Cortes and his men landed in Mexico and all his men were asleep on the land Cortes went out to his ships and either burnt or sunk them so that the people still loyal to Velasques could not go back to him. After what is called “the sad night” there was a ship sent to Cortes. That ship contained things like more weapons and 300 Spanish warriors. Dona Marina was a gift from one of the tribes they befriended and she played such an important role in this historical event. The fantastic woman named Dona Marina was extremely smart, she knew the language the Aztec people spoke (Mayan and Nahuatl) and she also learned the Spanish language remarkably fast. Cortes was not going to let this magnificent woman who knew their language and his enemies go to waste, he made Dona Marina his translator so he could communicate with the Aztecs. Moctezuma’s death might not have been the biggest or most important advantage they had but it was still a historical event that I feel that I should mention. Nobody knows exactly how he died but it was either that after Cortes asked Moctezuma to speak in front of his people, they threw stones at him and he died later that day from one that hit him in the head. The other was that the Spanish stabbed him to death out of fear and after realizing he was no use to them any more. The man that lead the Spanish in the great fight for Tenochtitlan’s crafty mind came up with many things that lead the Spanish to victory.
The battle for Tenochtitlan was an extremely important, substantial, interesting, yet devastating event for the Aztecs and all the lives and culture lost. All the things that lead Cortes to victory were the technologies they had, Moctezuma’s mistakes, disease, alliances, and other factors. Change is necessary and though sometimes devastating our world would not be the way it is without them. The Aztec civilization is a great example of that because yes it is very sad what happened to the Aztecs but on the other hand, Mexicans would not speak Spanish, have the great ruins in Mexico, or maybe be such a big tourist attraction. Although the Aztec fate was disappointing, it might have been a good thing in the end.