February 20, 2012 HIST 125 Comparison of the Spanish Conquest After the Spanish Conquest, many written document have become used as sources that help recount major events from the past. Therefore, it becomes that job of historians to analyze sources and determine their accuracy and relevancy. “The Conquest of New Spain” written by Bernal Diaz and “The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico” are two sources whose themes can be compared and contrasted in order to determine their accuracy as primary sources.
There are several themes portrayed throughout both sources such as: the civility of Cortez and Montezuma, initial encounters, the difference between the perception of gift versus greed, and the variation of religious beliefs between the Spaniards and the Aztecs. Through the comparison of these themes, we can determine that the Aztec account is more accurate based on certain aspects, such as bias, time the account was written after the event, who wrote the document, and the perspective of certain events, that help conclude the reliability of this specific source.
Both sources, “The Conquest of New Spain” and “The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico”, contribute completely different viewpoints despite the fact that both sources are written about the exact same series of events. The account written by Diaz, “The Conquest of New Spain”, does not perceive the Spaniards visit as threatening and demanding as the Broken Spears account claims it to be. “Montezuma had ordered his stewards to provide us with everything we need for our way of living” (Diaz, 601) shows how the Spaniards viewed Montezuma as welcoming and generous.
From the Spaniards point of view, they showed Montezuma the up most respect and civility in every one of their encounters. Not once did it mention any form of disrespect or any hostility between the two clans. However, from the Aztec’s point of view the Spaniards were greedy and disrespectful from the very beginning. “The placed Montezuma under guard and kept him under their vigilance…. the Spaniard fired one of their cannons, and this caused great confusion in the city…They were all overcome by terror” (Broken Spears, 609” depicts the amount of disrespect Cortez and his men were showing the aspects.
Cortez also tells Montezuma what supplies he needed, and Montezuma ordered that the supplies be sent to him. In the Spaniard’s account, never once did they mention that the Spaniards initially requested the supplies Montezuma ordered his stewards to supply. This is a prime example of how bias and who the author is affects the accuracy of a source. Diaz most likely does not want his fellow Spaniards to be viewed as disrespectful; therefore, he simply altered how events occurred in order to created a written document that sheds light to the Spaniards conquest.
While in comparison to the broken Spears account that portrays a different attitude about the Spaniards stay in Mexico. As opposed to Diaz’s account, which makes the Spaniards seem civil, the Broken Spears account creates a tense mode and makes the Spaniards seem hostile and disrespectful. The Broken Spears account has more description and detail in the initial encounter between Cortez and Montezuma which makes the account look more accurate and increases it’s reliability. There is also a different attitude portrayed about the Spaniards stay in Mexico, which creates a tense mode and makes the Spaniards seem hostile and disrespectful.
Multiple priests wrote the Broken Spear account; therefore, there are more witnesses of the events that allow for a more accurate representation. Another theme represented throughout both accounts is the difference in the perception of gift versus greed. This theme can be analyzed and can help establish the accuracy of each source. In the account written by Diaz, he states, “Montezuma sent one of his nephews to order his servants to bring certain pieces of gold, which he had apparently set aside as a gift for Cortes, and ten loads of fine cloaks which he divided. ” (Diaz, 603).
This quote helps reestablish the fact that who writes the account increases the bias, which in turn decreases the reliability of the source. Another aspect to take into consideration when determining the accuracy of the source is the amount of time between when the event actually occurred and when the account was written. Diaz wrote his account a little over 50 years after the conquest actually occurred; thus, decreasing the accuracy of his account. After so much time has passed, his perceptions of how things actually happened are at jeopardy of being altered to create a more desirable scenario, even if it did not actually happen.
The Spaniard have a different view point of what happened: “The Spaniards searched through the whole treasure house, questioning and quarreling and seized every object they thought was beautiful. ” (Broken Spears, 610) provides an inside look at how the Aztecs perceived the Spaniards greed. The Broken Spears account was written “some years” after the events actually occurred. That does not necessarily mean it was written right after the conquest; however, it was written by priests who and wise men “of the encounter between the Spanish and the Indians of Mexico” (Broken Spears, 607).
So, through deductive reasoning, we can assume that the priests and wise men were relatively elder when the encounter occurred; therefore, they would have needed to write this account more the 50 years later. The shorter the amount of time after an event a source is written, the more accurate and reliable it is. The last theme to compare that will help determine the sources reliability is the differentiating viewpoints between the Spaniards and the Aztecs as to how the Spaniards went about projecting their religious views. He very carefully expounded the creation of the world…so that they may give up the worship of idols and make no more human sacrifices and commit no more robbery or sodomy. (Diaz, 602) shows how Diaz sees the goal of familiarizing the Aztecs with Christianity as a civil discussion. Details and descriptions help judge the accuracy of a source, and not many details were provided throughout the conversation between Cortes and Montezuma.
Details are important in determine the accuracy of a source because it also reaffirms the fact that the account was written shortly after the events occurred because the author is able to provide so much description. The Aztecs, however, told of a very different story: “They had sworn to dance and sing will all their hearts, so that the Spaniards would marvel at the beauty of the rituals…when the dance was loveliest and when song was linked to song, the Spaniards were seized with an urge to kill the celebrants. Bernal Spear, 612-613). From the Aztec’s point of view the Spaniards used to force to thrust their religion upon them. Because of the amount of detail that went into the description of the fiesta, statues, dancing, and the attack from the Spaniards, it can be assumed that the priests and wise men wrote this account not very long as the events occurred; henceforth, strengthening the accuracy of the Aztec’s account.
In order to determine the accuracy of a source one must take into consideration many aspects that help determine if the source is reliable. Both “The Conquest of New Spain” and “The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico” share unique perspectives of the same series of events. They are both primary sources that were written by witnesses, and both sources are written with bias. However, there are a few strong differences between them that make the Aztec account more reliable than the Spaniards account.
The Aztec account was written by numerous priests and wise men, meaning more perspectives and more accurate recounts of certain situation, it was written in a shorter amount of time after the conquest than the Spaniards was, therefore the memory of what happened could not have been altered so much, and the significantly larger amount of details and descriptions that went into the Aztec account reiterate how the many perspectives of the authors allows for a more accurate and spot on narrative.
By comparing major themes, such as initial encounters and civility, greed versus gift, and religion, one can analyze the sources in order to determine their accuracy while taking into account potential bias, the amount of time it took to write the account after the events occurred, who wrote the document, and the perspective of certain events, in order to conclude which account has more plausibility and more accuracy.
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