Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian. I’m taking a break from writing books and painting Gundam models to talk about a subject that is just too butt kickingly awesome and absolutely horrible to not talk about.
Anna – That was weak, Zach.
Zach – Hey, I’m making it up as I go. I don’t stress over every sentence like you do.
Buffalo – Can we get a little solidarity?
Anna – But of course.
Zach – So, as I was saying…what was I saying?
Cornwallis – I do believe that you were about to discuss the nature of today’s conversation.
Zach – Yes, of course. Today my panel of historical guests and I will be discussing the Conquistadores!
Anna – We’ll be discussing both the Spanish and the Portuguese and their bloodthirsty bid for gold and power.
Buffalo – Good one.
Anna – That’s how you do it, Zach.
Zach – Whatever. We have a new panelist with us, Olga of Kiev!
Olga – Is good to be here darling. I so glad you accepted my request to on panel.
Zach – Well, it’s not like we could really deny you.
Olga – Not unless you want house burnt down.
Zach – (Nervous laughter.) Right. Of course. Um…so…we have Me, Anna Komemne, Byzantine historian, Buffalo Calf Road, American Indian female warrior who fought Custer. Lord Cornwallis, General of British army that fought George Washington and Olga of Kiev, Russian leader who converted to Christianity and killed everyone that ticked her off.
Olga – (laughs) Da! I lack great patience and I no turn so called “other cheek.”
Zach – First, let’s talk about the New World.
Buffalo – New world? That’s so silly.
Cornwallis – It’s new to us, my dear.
Buffalo – Is arrogance genetic?
Zach – Okay…let’s talk about the Aztecs then.
Anna – The Aztecs were a society that ritually murdered thousands of people to their false gods. In one day they killed 40,000 people for one temple dedication. They had rotating teams of priests that would kill the victims and kick them down the stairs. That was greater than what the industrialized mass murder the Nazis were capable of. They would get these victims as tribute from their conquered “allies.” Every city and town they beat in their ritualized wars had to surrender children to the Aztecs.
Buffalo – Like Hunger Games?
Cornwallis – Worse my dear.
Zach – I wouldn’t imagine that the Spanish viewed this mass murder with a lot of tolerance.
Anna – Not at all. They thought they had come across a land of devil worshipers.
Buffalo – It’s not like these conquistadors were saints either.
Olga – I am saint.
(Buffalo looks around nervously.)
Buffalo – Yes. Of course you are. Ha ha…. Well, these conquistadors only cared about two things; converting or killing the Aztecs and gold.
Zach – Right then, let’s talk about the conquistadors. (If you can’t figure out what “conquistadors” means then you either need to use bablefish or hide in a hole somewhere.)
Anna – At first glance, the conquistadors appear to be mindless, brutish, savage, merciless killers. This is only partially true. They weren’t mindless. Far from it. They were actually quite intelligent. It is true that Spain at this time was he most fanatical Christian nation in Europe but there’s an explanation for that. They had just spent the last few hundred years liberating Spain from the Moors. Also, they were fighting to Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean. This produced generations of hard core, religious, hard hitting veterans with little upward mobility in Spain. So they began to seek their fortunes elsewhere doing the one thing they knew how to do, killing in the name of God.
Buffalo – Isn’t that a Rage Against the Machine song?
Anna – And to top it off, they were huge fans of the Inquisition. They went after Muslims, Jews, protestants, protestants’ dogs, and Catholics that just weren’t Catholic enough. Before battle the conquistadors would have mass and confession with the small army of priests that they brought along with them.
Zach- These weren’t the kindly “Father O’Malligun’s playing bingo tonight” kind of priests, these were warrior monks that figured “if we can’t convert these heathens, it’s better to just kill ‘em.”
Cornwallis – I do say! I imagine that upon viewing the blood thirsty sacrifices of the Aztecs they grew rather cross.
Anna – That’s a slight understatement.
Zach – When Cortez was surrounded and outnumbered in a desperate situation in the Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan, he had the cahones to demand that the Aztecs throw down their pagan idols!
Olga – I like these Conquistadors! They have priorities straight. Russia during the so called “Great War” had priests and icons for every unit.
Anna – Spain became a repressive, xenophobic, war-like society that saw enemies everywhere it looked and showed mercy to none of them.
Buffalo – In short, the Aztecs happened to have their first meeting with the absolute worst Europeans they could possibly meet.
Zach – It was a perfect storm of fanaticism, aggression, experience, greed and intelligence.
Buffalo – And don’t forget “evil.”
Buffalo – They were after gold, but for gold’s sake. Gold could buy them status. Gold could be sent to Spain to buy guns and ships to fight the Ottomans and Moors. Gold could decorate their churches. To them, gold was power. But here’s my question. How fanatic were they? I mean, the Aztecs fought whole wars just to get human sacrifices and believe Cortez to be Quetzalcoatl, the white bearded god that promised to return one day. How were they compared to the Aztecs?
Anna – There’s a difference between the two cultures. Both were highly religious and violent, but Spain had a long Western tradition of reason, logic and rationality. They had many myths and legends, but the Spanish were very much rooted in the real world. The Aztecs viewed the world in supernatural terms. When confronted with something new they either feared it or worshiped it. The Spanish on the other hand tried to figure out what was really going on and how best to exploit it. When they saw Aztecs doing horrible human sacrifices, they did not think “those must be devils!” No, they knew they were just men. The Aztecs on the other hand took months and months to finally wonder “Hmm…maybe they’re not gods and maybe those centaurs might just be men on a strange animal.” The Spanish had a tradition of rationalism that dated back to the Romans. Cortez was also educated and could read Latin and read the works of Julius Caeser.
Cornwallis – It seems we could have used the expertise of both Martel and Caesar. I do say that we British did not seek to exterminate the locals like these Spanish did. Our British colonies came seeking freedom of religion, not as missionaries with swords. The French merely wanted to trap fur and we British wanted to colonize. The Spanish just wanted to exploit and rule the locals.
Buffalo – Ha! Let’s not go there Corny! I can talk about that all day.
Anna – Another tradition the Spanish brought was that they debated, even with Cortez. Common soldiers could propose ideas and talk to their leaders. No such freedom of thought or access to the leadership was available to the Aztecs.
Olga – Cortez allowed minions to question him? This is strange, da? I would never allow men to question me!
Zach – Alright, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I’ll make a long story short. The Spanish came into Mexico, fought, explored and made alliances with the locals. They got to the Aztec capital and were greeted like gods. Gods that demanded all their gold. Some Aztecs thought that these strange white gods must eat gold. Well, their divine visitors soon wore out their welcome. Destroying shrines, temples, and killing your people might do that. Eventually the Aztecs said, “That’s enough of this basura! Let’s get these pendejos! There’s 100,000 of us and only 500 of them!”
Buffalo – Where do you get your quotes?
Zach – My notes.
Buffalo – Where do you get your notes?
Zach – Somewhere.
Buffalo – Anyways…I’d get sick of a bunch of strangers coming into my home, killing my people and stealing our land. But that would never happen. No sir. Never. (that was sarcasm, btw) Well, understandably, the natives got ticked off and surrounded the Spanish in the palace. They would shoot arrows into the compound constantly and try to bash the doors in.
Anna – Cortes knew they couldn’t stay there for long. Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time, cleaner, and had bigger buildings. They called it the Venice of the New World. It was made on an artificial island in the middle of a lake and had causeways (long bridges) that led to the city.
Cornwallis – The Spanish were besieging there for months and after all food and water ran out, they realized that their situation was unsustainable. They had some choices before them. They could wait and starve to death. They could wait for the Aztecs to break in and swarm them with numbers, or they could fight their way out. They chose the latter.
Zach – Now, here’s an example of conquistador ingenuity. They used the wood from the palace and built mobile fortresses that they could stab and shoot out from in safety. They’d sally out of the palace in these wooden tanks and clear the streets. One night, when they thought the streets were clear enough, they muffled their horses hooves and they all snuck out. They carried transportable bridges to make it over the canals and to the nearest causeway that led to shore. But, a few hundred Spanish wearing armor and carrying weapons weren’t the stealthiest bunch and soon the whole city was in alarm and coming after the. The lake filled with their war canoes and attacked the Spanish from the sides as other attacked from behind. They would club the Spanish and drag them away to be sacrificed later. They seldom attacked to kill.
Anna – And that was a weakness of them! Cortez himself was clubbed and almost dragged away but was saved by his men.
Buffalo – And woman. Let’s not forget Maria De Estrada! She was the only Spanish woman on Cortez’s expedition. She fought on horseback and led several cavalry charges. Yes, she’s an imperialist European, but we warrior women have to stick together.
Olga – See? Never show mercy to enemy. It’s how I live so long.
Zach – The Spanish fought their way out of the city and onto the causeway that was broken in places. So, like a bad 8-bit Nintendo game, they had to jump from platform to platform while wearing heavy armor.
Anna – But their heavy armor also saved their lives. The Aztecs use weapons of stone and wood. They had nothing that could penetrate their armor or even their thick clothing at times. For every Spaniard they lost, they killed hundreds of Aztecs. It was like some ridiculous Anime.
Zach – They cut a bloody swath through the Aztecs. When they finally reached shore there was only a few hundred Spaniards left. They had lost most of their guns and all of their cannons. They only had a few horses left, most of those belonging to Cortez’s right hand men.
Buffalo – And woman.
Cornwallis – At this point the Spanish were scattered and disorganized. If the Aztecs had pressed their attack they would have finished off the Spanish easily. But instead they took their captives and ran them back to their temple to celebrate their “Victory.” They let the leader and his crack troops escape. I would hardly call that a victory, but I suppose that is the difference between European and Aztec ways of war. We fight to destroy the enemy’s means of resistance. The Aztecs fought to prove bravery and collect sacrifices. I would never have made such a fundamental mistake.
Zach – So the Spanish retreated all the way back to the coast and stole, bought and bribed the Spanish there at Vera Cruz for more men and supplies. Then Cortez said “This just got real.” He spent the next year gathering allies, destroying the Aztec’s allies and means of supply to the island city and finally surrounded Tenochtitlan. They made battle barges that they hauled across the mountains and launched onto the lake. These boats had soldiers and cannons. With the boats protecting the causeways, they marched their army up the causeway with their cannons. Then began one of the most systematic and ruthless destruction of any city ever. When the Romans defeated Carthage, they left some of the more impressive parts alone. Not the Spanish. Block by block they progressed, demolishing every house and wall to make room for more troops and cavalry. They were destroying what was possibly the largest and most beautiful city in the world. Aztecs made pyramids larger than the Egyptians. Cortez didn’t care. He wanted his gold and his revenge in that order.
Anna – This was no easy task. It took several months to progress through the city, fighting the whole way. When they finally captured the Aztec emperor, their victory was complete and the Aztec nation ceased to exist.
Buffalo – Not counting the plagues they brought, they were estimated to have had a kill ratio of over a thousand to one. But we can’t ignore their native allies. They simply could not have done it in only two years without the thousands of natives fighting and working at their side.
Cornwallis – But their allies could not defeat the Aztecs without the Spanish.
Zach – Now let’s talk about the Portuguese conquistadors for a bit.
Anna – The two Portuguese we’ll be talking about are Vasco DeGama and Gaspar Correia. Vasco was the leader of an expedition. The Portuguese more on the side of explorers than say…bloodthirsty maniacs. Vasco went around the Horn of Africa and all the way to India where he set up shop. Along they way he had his official historian Gaspar Correia write down everything that happened. Well, Gaspar wasn’t as concerned with accuracy as I was when I wrote the Alexiad. When Gaspar didn’t know something, he would simply make it up. He would see a far off land from the ship and if they didn’t stop there to find out what was there, he would just make it up. He’d write about flying people with two heads or fantastical monsters.
Zach – It so happens that Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter series, the Grimnoir series and the Dead Six series, is a descendant…probably…of Gaspar Correia! He’s a novelist that…um…makes up stories about monsters and such for a living.
Olga – Must be in the blood, da? Like conquistadors, comrade Correia is also trained in so called killing arts.
Anna – We have a living conquistador with us today!
Zach – So, there you have it: conquistadors Vicious, brutal, merciless, greedy and insanely clever. Steel armor trumps stone weapons and it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Anna – That was lame, Zach.
Zach – I know. Believe me, I know.
Olga – Do better next time or I cut out tongue.
Anna – In all seriousness, these were horrible, evil men that loved to slaughter people, sometimes for no reason. They destroyed one of the most beautiful cities in the world along with almost all of their historical records. If the destruction of the library of Alexandria irks you still, imagine the knowledge lost at the hands of these butchering zealots.