“Early Encounters”

ryanAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

Common Sense American History: New World Revolutions

Less than a quarter century after Columbus’s arrival in the New World, Hernán Cortéz encountered the first major American civilization, the Aztecs, when he arrived at Tonochtitlán, a city of 200,000 people in 1519. Cortéz’s encounter was, as one of his men later recalled, like an “enchanted vision.” Aztec wealth was unlike any Europeans had seen in the New World. The Aztec empire had been built on the domination of nearby peoples. Aztecs were warriors, with a well-developed nobility headed by a king. The Aztecs were at their height of power, but faced a rebellion from surrounding tribes who resented Aztec demands for tribute, including male and female sacrificial victims. Aztec ceremonies might sacrifice thousands of captives at a time. Aztec nobles feasted on human parts. Europeans were acquainted with death. Burning religious heretics at the stake was a common practice, but it was not a ceremonial occasion and did not include thousands of people at a time. …

Aided by thousands of rebel Indians, Cortéz conquered the Aztecs with only a few hundred soldiers. To the Aztecs, he was a conquerer. To the subject peoples, a liberator. Shortly thereafter, however, the Spanish began enslaving the Indians to work the gold and silver mines. Many of the earliest debates about human rights resulted from the complaints of Spanish priests about the treatment of the Indians, beginning with Bartolomé de las Casas.

  1. How should we evaluate these encounters? Who were the “good guys” and who were the “bad guys”?
  2. Should the way we evaluate them today take account of circumstances? Or of the values of the time?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

21st, August 2018, Aztec sacrifice [Digital image].  Retrieve from <google.com>.