Why did Tenochtitlan disappear?

European expansion
1. European expansion in the 15th and 16th centuries.
1.4. Dealing with the stranger
1.4.1. Interpretation of the stranger


  Sources: cultural contact 

Columbus on the natives

“Recognizing that these were people who could be saved far better through love than with the sword and who could be converted to our holy faith, I thought of making them my friends and so gave some of them red caps and necklaces made of glass and other little things of little value, which she enjoys immensely. [...] They do not carry weapons that they are not even familiar with; I showed them the swords, and since they touched them by the cutting edge out of ignorance, they cut themselves. "(Logbook, October 11-12, 1492, 89f.)

“Everything they have, they give joyfully for any object, however foolish; they even exchanged the shards of our bowls and broken glass cups ”. (Log, 13.10.1492, 93)

from: Christoph Columbus, log book, letters, reports, documents, selected, introduced and explained by Ernst Gerhard Jacob. Bremen 1957, 89-93.

The Aztecs on the Spaniards: Bernardino de Sahagún (c. 1500-1590)

“They gave the Spaniards gold flags, flags made of quetzal feathers and gold necklaces. After they gave them the gift, their faces became serene, they were very happy and cheerful. They picked up the gold like monkeys. It was as if they had been satisfied, as if their heart was becoming new and relieved. Really! They thirst for gold, their bodies stretch, they become wild with hunger for it. Like hungry pigs, they were greedy for gold. "

from: M. Delgado (Ed.), God in Latin America. Texts from five centuries. A reader on history. Düsseldorf 1991, quoted from: Reinhard Wendt, Since 1492: Encounter of Cultures, in: Anette Völker-Rasor (Ed.), Early Modern Times. Munich 2000, 82.

Pedrarias Dávilla Oviedo on the Indians

“God will soon destroy them [...]. Satan is now driven from this island [Hispaniola]; now that the majority of the Indians are dead, all his influence is gone. [...] Who will deny that the powder used against the Gentiles is incense for Our Lord? "

quoted from: Tzvetan Todorov, Die Eroberung Amerikas: The Problem of the Other, Frankfurt a.M. 1992, 183.

Hernán Cortés' report to Emperor Charles V on the advanced civilization of the Aztecs from October 20, 1520

“The big city of Tenochtitlan [Mexico] is located in a salt lake. It has four entrances to piled-up embankments that are as wide as the length of two horsemen's lances. The city is as big as Seville and Cordoba. Its main streets are very wide and straight, and some of them, like all the others, are partly solid roads and partly canals where barges are used [...]. This city has many places where there is a constant market. Another square is twice the size of the city of Salamanca, completely surrounded by colonnades, where over 60,000 people buy and sell every day and where all kinds of goods are found. People are constantly walking around on it who are careful and observe the measurements that are used in sales, and one has seen them break a wrong measurement [...]. In order not to be more lengthy in the report on the things of this great city, I just want to say that there is almost the same way of life in its intercourse and in the company of the people as in Spain and just as much order as there. If one thinks that these people are barbarians and far removed from the knowledge of God and from contact with other reasonable peoples, it is astonishing to see how intelligently they regulate all things.

There is so much to write about Moctezuma [the Aztec Emperor] and the wonderful things of his empire and rule that I assure Your Royal Highness that I don't know where to begin to be able to tell only part of it, for what can be greater than that a barbaric ruler like this one possesses all things that are under heaven in his kingdom, made of gold, silver, precious stones and feathers in such natural replica that no goldsmith or silversmith in the world could do it better and that of the precious stones it is impossible to understand with what tools they could be worked so perfectly and that, as far as the feather ornaments are concerned, nothing more wonderful could be done in wax or in embroidery? [...] Whoever enters Moctezuma's palace must do so with bare feet. Whoever is called to him approaches him, head and eyes lowered and in a humble demeanor. Even if someone speaks to him, he must not look him in the face. This requires awe and respect. I know that it is done out of deference, because individual Mexican noblemen criticized the Spaniards for standing casually when they talk to me and looking me in the eyes, which seems disrespectful and insolent. When Moctezuma goes out, which rarely happens, everyone who goes with him and those who meet him turn their faces away from him and under no circumstances look at him, and everyone else throws themselves to the ground until he is over. [...] One day I spoke to Moctezuma and told him that Your Highness needed gold for some works that he ordered to be made and that he would ask him to send some of his people along with some Spaniards to the countries and houses of his vassals and to ask them to deliver some of their treasures to Your Majesty. It so happened that all those vassals offered in great abundance what was asked of them, as well as jewelry, as well as small bars and leaves of gold and silver and other things that they owned, so that only a fifth of the molten precious metal, that Your Majesty is entitled to 32,400 gold pesos, excluding all gold and silver jewels, feather ornaments, precious stones and other valuables that I selected and determined for your majesty and whose value is estimated at 100,000 ducats and more. Apart from their value, these objects were so wonderful that they could not be valued for their novelty and strangeness, and it is unbelievable that any prince in the world who is known to have such treasures of this quality. "

quoted from: Richard Konetzke (ed.), Latin America since 1492. Stuttgart 1971, 15-16.


© 2003 by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger • mail: [email protected]