With the quincentennial of Columbus's "discovery" of America upon us, it now is, perhaps more than ever, an appropriate time to reevaluate the actions of the European explorers who subjugated the Native American peoples and their civilizations. Undoubtedly the most glorified and heroically portrayed of these figures of the European conquest of the New World were the conquistadores, the Spanish conquerors of Mexico and Peru in the 16th century. These men, under leaders such as Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, nearly eliminated the Aztec and Inca peoples. Surely many of these soldiers were extremely cruel and intolerant of the native populations. But it is important to consider, with the push of both sides toward territorial expansion, how these groups (European and American) could remain isolated from each other. Furthermore, with the meeting of these two imperialist cultures, it must be considered whether it would be possible for the two to peacefully coexist.
This paper focuses specifically on the expansionist policies of both the Aztec and Spanish empires and on Cortes's expedition, which brought the two powerful cultures together in a final confrontation.
According to their first records, the Aztecs, or Mexica, originally lived to the north of the Valley of Mexico, partially under the control of the Toltec empire. Driven to leave by the pressure of their Toltec oppressors, who demanded huge tributes from the farming Aztecs, the Aztecs fled from their home city of Aztlan. After settling in and being evicted from various different areas, the Aztecs settled in Tizapan at the relative center of present-day Mexico. These lands were then under the yoke of the Culhuacan, and the Aztecs were allowed to stay on the land only if they became tributaries, the equivalent of European vassals.
Shortly after, war broke out between the Aztecs and Culhuacan, and the Aztecs were routed.