20.11.2018 in Analysis
The Conquerors by Cortez

The documentary, The Conquerors – Cortez details the facts about the Spaniard conquest of Mexico, according to the book, the Five Letters of Cortés to the Emperor. According to the film, Cortez faced the impossible situation and set all his ships to fire to force his troops to attack the Aztec during the conquest battle. In the Five Letters of Cortés to the Emperor, Cortez asserts that “Juan Escudero, Diego Cermeño, Gonzalo de Ungría, pilots, and Alonso Peñate” and other men wanted to run from Mexico to Cuba. Therefore, Cortez decided to pile the ships on the shore to prevent other men from deserting duty and that helped him plan the movement from Vera Cruz for Cempoal. The action was implemented to diminish fear among the troops, who faced a bigger enemy in numbers. The Aztec captured the troops and made a sacrifice out of them, a critical situation that scared both the local collaborators and the Spaniards.

Cuba Island provided the best location for planning since it was relatively small and undefended to Spaniards. The King of Spain, Charles V, directed expeditions to Mexico to discover new land, resources, and slaves. Cortez was asked to make expeditions to Mexico, but the Spain emissary later cancelled the order. Therefore, Cortez decided against the cancellation and without official authorization travelled by sea from Cuba with 11 ships to Mexico. The military expedition was prepared in advance in Cuba, where Cortez acquired canons, crossbows, muskets, horses, troop men, and dogs to ensure the success of the war against the king of the Aztecs. Crossbows and gun were assigned to different troops and on arrival on the shore of Mexico. The Maya people were auspiciously religious that they welcomed the Spanish conquers taking them for the promised return of the founder King of Aztec people. Cortez sailed along the coast of the new land to avoid direct confrontation with unknown king and arrived at Potonchan in 1580.

The documentary asserts that Cortez used different military tactics during the expedition. Whereas the documentary is a summary of the Spaniards expedition, the letters contain detailed information that highlights the challenges the group faced to colonize Mexico. Cortez used harsh military tactics as unleashing trained bulldogs to attack and maul the Aztec warriors. The film states that the local people labeled these dogs as the demon animals. Introduction of a horse in the war front gave the Spaniards a better chance to attack from different flanks. Fire that issued from canons confounded the Indians, who ran to cover. Cortez used the confusion to shoot both fire and arrows against the enemy. Similarly, the letters mention how the “crossbows and muskets” became the most crucial weapons during the conquest battles. The Maya people were unable to overcome the attackers and many depended on the lordship of Muteczuma. Similarly, Cortez states that he subdued many provinces and cities, so the Spanish King would own the mines and wealth that was under the control of Muteczuma. In 1427, Aztec was established as an empire and Muteczuma used spies to track the movement of Cortez. Religious ideology confounded Muteczuma from attacking the approaching Spaniards. Believing that he was immortal, Muteczuma welcomed Cortez to the capital city. A rebellion among the troops forced Cortez curve a new territory in Mexico and he made himself the governor so that he was answerable to the Spanish King. Moreover, Cortez sent gifts such as slaves and gold to the Spanish King to recognize the newly established Spanish colony of Vera Cruz. However, the governor has to travel to Cempoala to make new allies to fight Muteczuma. Cempoala accepted the offer to fight Muteczuma in order to avoid paying taxes to the Aztec. Similarly, Cortez asserted in his letters about the constant change of position in Mexico while tracking down the tyranny, who ruled the land. Besides providing over 400 porters to help with movement of canons and war supplies, the documentary asserts that Cempoala and Tlaxcala tribes were enlisted and constituted among the best warriors, who attack the Cholula.


The documentary shows how the Spaniards attacked the city of Cholula and massacred the inhabitants before travelling to the city of Tenochtitlan. The valley of Mexico held a big city, which was incomparable to any European civilization. Muteczuma used diplomacy to contain Cortez and introduced the Spaniards into the Aztec empire’s capital. Whereas the diplomacy was intended to cool down the expanding Spanish colony, Cortez was afraid of the human sacrifice edicts and ordered destruction of the temple and shrines. Cortez made a deal to force Muteczuma to talk to his people and stop the war, but during the meeting, the crowd threw stones at the king and he was severely wounded that he died later. Similarly, the letter mentions this particular event in which the King was killed by his men. Cortez stole the Aztec gold and tried to escape, but the Spaniards were killed in many numbers. Therefore, a few troops made it together with Cortez from the Tenochtitlan to Tlaxcala. Cortez attacked Tepeaca to motivate his men and increase his troops. Meanwhile, the group remaining in Tlaxcala made fast moving water vessels to help in the conquest. Moreover, about 200 Spaniards reinforced his army and his father sent more supplies of guns. The city of the Aztec was laid siege for three months, which made it impossible to gain access to food and 1521 the new king, was captured. Cortez became the new leader of the Mexican and married the Aztec princess as his aid and translator. While Cortez is the greatest European conqueror, the Aztec considered him the oppressor from the East. Thus, the people of Mexico requested Cortez to abandon their city and land for good if they wanted them to stop. Furthermore, the letter details the war events in Tenochtitlan, whereby the Spaniards set over 300 houses on fire to cause panic and force the angry residents to divide their attention from the main temple and capital’s fortress.

The documentary film is a formal summary of the Five Letters of Cortes to the Emperor Charles V. While the book is a personal account of Cortez concerning the military raid and siege of Muteczuma in Mexico, the film shows both the negative and positive sides of the expedition. Cortez constructed the letters in such a way as to praise the Spanish monarch as a servant, while benefitting from the raids he conducted to become the wealthiest beneficially of the Aztec empire gold. The documentary clearly shows that Cortez actually stole all that Muteczuma taxed his subjects. Furthermore, Cortez used trickery to gain advantage over Muteczuma by befriending the neighboring tribes. These tribes accepted in return for freedom from paying of taxes. Those tribes that rejected to assist Cortez were attacked and plundered and their people taken as prisoners and slaves. Thus, the troops attached to Cortez’s group grew as he led attacks or conquest by diplomacy all around the capital city of Mexico. Cortez enlisted the conquered and diplomatic tribes, that were trained by his 500 Spaniard troops to face over half a million Aztec inhabitants.

The five letters contain complains that Cortez considered against the Cuban Governor and his deputy for interfering with the Mexican expedition. For example, Cortez complained about Diego Velázquez’s action of sending over 800 experienced crossbowmen and musketeers. Likewise, Diego lodged a complaint with His Majesty against the Haitian presiding Judge, Figueroa, for interfering with the mission of conquering Mexico. Moreover, the author mentions how the sending of troops to derail his mission ended up reinforcing the Spaniards, since he convinced them to fight on his side. Beside, Cortez established a council of Vera Cruz by appointing his top troop men. That way he prevented a mutiny since the troops saw their new land and treasures, and were inspired to fight than to abandon the expedition. Cortez used the tactic of creating vassals to maintain a collaborative effect that made it possible to enlist more tribes to fight against Muteczuma. In general, the five letters contain both the expedition strategy and the results of the war. Similarly, Cortez used the letter to extol the King of Spain since he had attacked Mexico without a formal authority from the monarchy. That is why Cortez addresses the king pleading as a Christian servant, whose work fitted the edicts of the royal Majesty. The report contains statistics concerning the expedition into Mexico. The war was very expensive with adverse effects for both sides, “Spaniards lost their lives, forty-five horses and more than two thousand of the Tlaxcala Indians who had come to serve the Spaniards”. The many Indians that sacrificed their lives to help Cortez show his skill in gaining people by diplomacy.

In conclusion, the Five Letters of Cortes to the Emperor provide an inclusive primary data about the Spaniards expedition in Mexico. On the other hand, the film is a summary of the main events that took place during the war. Both the book and the film provide information about the advanced Aztec civilization and their cities that were set ablaze and plundered by the Spaniards. The colonization strategies that Cortez used to gain an advantage over Moteczuma are clearly shown through the perspective of Cortez.

Related essays