It could be a means to acquire great wealth as one might end up governor of Mexico itself. The Spaniards with Cortez were experienced at warfare but they were not soldiers.
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There were no professional soldiers in Europe at that point in history. All men, more or less, took part in warfare when required but there was no professional paid military yet. Instead, Cortes went to the Valley of Mexico with artisans and shop keepers. Village blacksmiths who somehow managed to get enough money together to pay for the trip to Cuba where Cortes recruited them for his expedition.
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And as for using guns, 16th century guns had to be reloaded after every shot and only worked if you managed to keep your powder dry. Once you were out of powder, you had to wait for more to arrive from Spain. That said, their steel swords were a tremendous advantage over the Aztecs, the Incas and all the rest.
While the native people had no horses before the Europeans arrived, nor pigs or dogs by the way, they were not frightened of them. They saw them as a sort of deer, which they had seen, and probably never thought the men who rode them were physically connected to them. Really, if you think about that one for a minute you can see just how improbable that was.
In fact, in no time at all the native people had horses of their own.
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As for the Spanish ruling the new world after Tenochtitlan fell to Cortes, not so fast. The Aztecs, the Maya, the Incas, all their rivals, existed as politically independent groups long after what we call the period of conquest ended. Some lasted until the very end of the 19th century. Okay, maybe not easily for many readers. I love this kind of stuff.
In deifying adventurers and writing them into history as heroes, we gloss over not only their weaknesses and failures but also fail to situate them within their own contexts and view other factors abetting their success. Hyperbole and exaggeration riddled these accounts and we must therefore take them with a huge grain of salt.
In retrospect, reasons always seem clearer for we have the luxury of formulating a narrative. We have this notion that conquistadors were mobilized by the King with grand visions of Empire. These men left Spain to prove themselves and improve their lots in life; the New World was a chance for them to rise up in nobility.
The next myth to debunk was that of singlehanded victory in which local indigenous elite and African slaves were invisible. In fact, as Restall traces even through Spanish accounts themselves, Spaniards were grossly outnumbered and much of the successes were due in part to the superior methods of African slaves and collaborations with locals.
This all speaks to the myth of completion — myth no. In travelogues, there was always a self-awareness at play and performance of heroic grandeur. In fact, as the next myths prove, in the new context of the Americas, Spaniards were actually quite irrelevant and impotent in their attempts to take over, let alone assimilate.
SEVEN MYTHS OF SPANISH CONQUEST
Much was lost in translation and in understanding indigenous culture the myth of miscommunication and Spaniards could rarely communicate well with local leaders despite translators because local leaders in Mexico did not all speak the same dialect. However, when we read accounts, it is as though this never existed. As Restall satirically comments, it is as though we are in the Hollywood cosmos in which everybody speaks English albeit with different accents. This too was the world Conquistadors portrayed they navigated in.
Of course, this was but wishful thinking on the part of conquistadors. In a reversal of roles, in fact, we are the noble savages who so eagerly buy into the flat myths of Spanish conquest. This is the classic case of what Restall coins as Double Mistaken Identity in which we are all the protagonists of our own stories. In Mexico, local leaders used the Spaniards towards their own means battling distant tribes for their own satisfaction. In their story, the Spaniards are the pawns.
In the West, as we all know, the opposite was the case. But, this is not the tragedy of the crimes perpetrated onto the new world by Spaniards nor the tragedies of disease that wiped out entire regions of the Americas. Rather, this is the tragedy of failure — failure to come to terms with impotence in the new world; failure, inapplicability, and irrelevance of the universal themes of European Enlightenment in new contexts; and failure of the individual actors to use the Conquest as their ticket to nobility and success.
Restall urges us to question these myths but, despite his abundance of sources, he has few that emanate from the Americas. We can posit at length and poke holes at myths of conquest but without the primary sources to back up our claims, as historians, we are useless.