Was Hernan Cortes a Positive or Negative Force in History?
Villains aren’t always just found in the stories we pass down from generation to generation. They can be found in everyday life throughout history from all across the globe. But what makes someone a villain? The definition of villain is someone that is blamed for a particular evil or difficulty (Webster).
Hernan Cortes fits this description and the actions taken while in Mexico can be viewed as evil, making him a negative force in their culture. Some may see Cortes as a positive force due to how Mexico’s culture was shaped into what it is today, the building of Mexico City, the introduction of essential livestock, uncovering massive wealth from the Aztecs, and his success motivated the rest of Europe to explore the Americas.
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However, I believe that Hernan Cortes was a negative force in history due to the fact that he had no respect for the people with their own culture and religious beliefs and many people died in the name of Christianity, he used his superior technology and military skills to take everything from the Aztecs and torture them to fill his incessant greed and lust for power, and in the end after everything was said and done millions more died due to illnesses that Cortes and his men brought along with them on the journey. Even since first meeting of the indigenous people Cortes was on a mission to convert them to Christianity.
With every tribe that he came across he pressured them to leave their faith behind and to begin to serve his God. He did not respect their religion or their cultural beliefs because in his mind and by his religion they were wrong. He also used his religion as a bargaining chip for protection. “Every day Cortes and his men had witnessed this act, [practice of human sacrifice] this barbarity, and it simply must cease, or he could not in good conscience be their ally and protect them from their “false beliefs” (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, p. 4). He refused to help the outer lying tribes against Montezuma and his forced tributes if they continued their old ways. He forcibly destroyed their idols and places of worship so that they would follow his men and transformed their pyramids into a place of Christian worship by replacing native idols with their own. During this expedition Cortes used his superior technology and military skills to take everything from the Aztecs and torture them to fill his incessant greed and lust for power.
Cortes was taken aback by the magnitude of wealth that the indigenous people and Montezuma possessed and would do anything, including scuttling his own ships, to possess this great treasure. “Montezuma had allowed Cortes and the Spaniards into his wondrous city so that they might be awed by his immense wealth and power, realize it, succumb to it, and go away, but instead that wealth had only fortified Corte’s unyielding resolve” (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, pg. 183). The Aztecs were frightened by the power of Cortes’s army and this included his horses.
This allowed them the ability to take control of the great city of Tonochtitlan. Once Cortes had, in writing, relinquished the Aztec nation he then began collecting as much gold as possible explaining to them that he required this tribute for his king. Montezuma had even given him the rights to his father’s treasure located in his tomb that Cortes had already located prior to this moment (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, p. 139). Cortes and his men would do anything to continue to possess this power and treasures that came with it.
This meant that, even with Cortes temporarily away, Alvarado would do anything to keep the city under Spanish authority. With this in mind and threat of being attacked Alvarado preemptively strikes against the people killing “nearly the entire rank of elite nobles, the finest warriors, and the most skillful military leaders of the Aztec empire [using] inexplicable – acts of barbarity, defying all protocols of proper warfare” (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, p. 170). Even after the Aztec Empire had fallen and they possessed the city as well as its silver and gold mines, they were unhappy with the amount of treasure that was recovered.
Cortes had Cuauhtemoc tortured in order to find out more information about the possibility of gold and goods that they were not aware of. After he and the king of Tacuba were tortured they finally revealed that the remaining treasure had been thrown into the lake so that the Spaniards could not have it (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, pg. 316). Even with this remaining treasure found the men were unhappy with their bounty and began “waylaid[ing] the destitute stragglers, violently body-searching them.
They looked everywhere, including inside their noses, even within their genital cavities, hoping to find gold nuggets but often finding only jadestones or other gems” (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, pg. 313). Cortes and his men would do anything to obtain as much gold and power as they could from the Aztecs and indigenous people. The Aztec people stood no chance of survival because “even after the empire was under Spanish control, natives continued to die from smallpox because of their lack of immunity to the disease.
It is said that if the Spanish did not bring smallpox with them to the Aztec people, that the Aztecs would have kept control of most of Mexico, and history would have been completely different. ” (ColonialDiseaseDigitalTextbook). Using the statistics provided to us in class 90% of the population perished after the conquest of Cortes. This means that out of the 30 million people that thrived in that area only 3 million of them made it out alive in the end.
Some could argue that if Cortes wouldn’t have conquered the Aztecs and brought disease with him that another group of people would have conquered them and that the end result would be the same. Technically they would be correct, but it was Cortes that caused the mass murder, through force and illness, thus leaving him with being a negative force in history. I personally believe that Cortes was in no way a positive force in history. He did help motivate other countries to explore the Americas, but at what cost?
The battle for Tenochtitlan was, in terms of human life, the costliest single battle in history and it was fueled by greed (Levy, Buddy, Conquistador, pg. 320. Cortes did not care that almost an entire culture was destroyed in his lust for gold and power, as long as he got what he wanted in the end. Cortes used his superior weapons and military intelligence to take over the indigenous people all while pushing the Christian faith on them, and when it was all said and done the diseases that the Spaniards brought with them wiped out almost the entire population. In my opinion, this makes Hernan Cortes a negative force in history.
“ColonialDiseaseDigitalTextbook – 1.3 Smallpox in Mexico.” ColonialDiseaseDigitalTextbook – 1.3 Smallpox in Mexico. Creative Commons Attribution Share, 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2013. Gove, Philip Babcock. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, MA: Merriam, 1967. Print. Levy, Buddy. Conquistador: Hernán Cortés, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs. New York: Bantam, 2008. Print.