On last night’s Darkstream, I was asked if I could think of a single group of immigrants who genuinely made their new residence a better place for the previous residents. And the only group of whom I could think that truly fit the description was the Conquistadors:
These men stepped off their wooden sailing vessels, accompanied by warhorses and armoured war mastiffs, clad in steel breastplates, armed with sword, axe, dirk, arquebus, and cannon, and ventured into an unknown land inhabited by an alien people speaking an incomprehensible tongue, whose nobles sported head-dresses of brilliant quetzal feathers, whose warriors clad themselves in jaguar skins and painted skulls on their faces, whose men and women pierced and tattooed the flesh of their faces, elongated their skulls, and whose smiles showed teeth filed to a point and replaced with jade and turquoise.
As they made their way into the heart of this land they found themselves standing beside racks of skulls at the bases of vast stepped pyramids, watching as waterfalls of blood cascaded down the steps from priests wearing the flayed skins of victims offering up beating hearts torn from the chests of butchered men to the stone idols of savage gods whose fangs and claws glared out across the arid landscape. Surrounding them was a city of unparalleled magnificence, larger in scale than anything these men had ever beheld, of smooth white adobe walls shining in the merciless irradiance of the tropical sun, wide canals carrying the canoes of trade and strange tribute from every corner of the empire, its avenues thronged with richly attired citizens.
To be in the midst of such power and beauty, while to be confronted with such an incomprehensible scale of cruelty and bloodlust, led these men to come to the only possible conclusion: where their homeland was the land of God and His people, this, surely, must be the earthly domain of His adversary. The people around them were in thrall to Satan and his demons, and had constructed about them all the terrors and tortures of Hell.
And so those hard men from a hard people responded as such men must respond, when cut off from home, surrounded and outnumbered, exposed and alone in the heart of an evil the depth of which even their darkest nightmares and ugliest legends had never hinted might exist. They did the only thing they knew how to do.
For gold, yes. For riches and for land and for glory. These were adventurers seeking fortune, after all.
But they also fought for souls.
They fought, desperately, to kill all they must, in order to save who they could, and wipe an abomination from the face of God’s Earth.
What people tend to forget is that the Conquistadors didn’t defeat the ruling Mexica tribe and wipe out its Aztec Empire by themselves. In fact, they were merely the iron core around which the native tribes who were savagely oppressed for over 100 years by the Mexica used to free themselves. It’s worth noting that the Mexica – a Nahuatl-speaking tribe – were themselves immigrants to the region.
Nahua peoples were not originally indigenous to central Mexico, but are instead descended from Chichimec peoples who migrated into the region from the north in the early 13th century.
Of course, given that most history is written by servants of the very Empire That Never Ended that was defeated at Tenochtitlan, it should not be surprising that they are now regarded as the villains of the piece.
UPDATE: One cannot truly grasp the extent of Aztec evil, or the extent to which the Conquistadors benefitted humanity, without learning about the philosophy and theology that underpinned Aztec society.
The Nahautl Weltanschauung was not a mindless or unreflective cruelty, but a sophisticated body of ideas and axioms, developed over centuries of debate and discord. In this way, we can approach the Aztec ‘mindset’ on its own terms and attempt to understand the metaphysical logic behind their civilisation.