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sâmbătă, 4 august 2012

Alvarado And Tenochtitlan

While Hernan Cortes is known as the primary conqueror of the Aztec people and Mexico, he didn't do it alone. History has also shed light on his second in command, Pedro de Alvarado. 

This military strategist, later to be named Governor of Guatemala, became infamous for his role in the dramatic fall of Tenochtitlan and the ensuing battles for supremacy and survival.

Alvarado was born in 1485 in Spain, the son of a wealthy military commander. The young Don traveled to Hispaniola, the colonized Caribbean islands, in 1510, taking up residence in Cuba. Havana was a major launch point for expeditions to the mostly-unexplored mainland; Alvarado went on one such mission to the Yucatan in 1518, returning with tales of untold wealth and splendor. When Hernan Cortes announced his own expedition to colonize the interior of Mexico, Alvarado was made a lieutenant on the mission. The large party landed in Veracruz and traveled inland until they found the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, commanded by Montezuma II.

The Aztecs and conquistadors weren't terribly trusting of one another, as one can probably picture. Cortes had already met with and defeated several independent bands of warriors, and he had taken Tenochtitlan by force, making alliances with Aztec enemy tribes like the Tlaxcaltec and Totonacs. They took Montezuma hostage and banned any idol worship or human sacrifice; Alvarado was second in command of the operation, and proved to be an effective strategist when it came to quashing native resistance. But the taking of Tenochtitlan had mostly been a noble battle, at least by colonial standards.

Then, the Spaniards received word that a hostile expedition had arrived at Veracruz--nine hundred men, sent by Cuban Governor Velazquez to arrest Cortes, who had defied orders and committed treason. Cortes took 200 soldiers back to the coast to fend off the army, leaving Alvarado in charge. He became a legend for both the Spanish and for the Aztecs but it was more in terms of infamy than for honorable reasons.

In Cortes' absence, Montezuma asked Alvarado for permission to celebrate the Aztec festival of Toxcatl, celebrating one of their main gods. The Aztec leader infuriated many of his subjects, because he had allowed the Spaniards to take him hostage without really putting up a fight; the festival might bring a modicum of normalcy back to the people at large. Alvarado granted permission, not realizing that the Toxcatl celebration involved ritual human sacrifice. There are multiple accounts of the story from both Aztec and Spanish perspectives, but it's agreed that Alvarado became nervous at the furious dancing and sacrifice, convinced that it was all an attempt at rebellion. He stormed the main temple, slaughtering the nobles and priests inside.

Long-lasting and dramatic results were the result of the massacre. Cortes discovered the Spaniards under siege, once he returned to Tenochtitlan. This had a violent outcome because the Aztecs were not pleased; even Montezuma's pleas for calm weren't enough to quash the outrage. Alvarado sent word to Cortes, explaining that the attack had been preemptive, and warning that a full-on uprising was underway. Montezuma was killed during the fights, and it was the beginning of the end for the Aztecs. In the ensuing battles, Alvarado barely escaped with his life. Cortes used other indigenous tribes as allies so that he could strike back harder after the Tenochtitlan warriors drove the Spaniards away, and his alliances resulted in some of the bloodiest fights during the three-year Spanish conquest.

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