Tenochtitlan conquest, full of corpses after its fall

When the city of Tenochtitlan fell, it was impossible to enter because it was full of corpses. Overwhelmingly, the great majority of the population died in that war and in the previous epidemic.

Tenochtitlan conquest, full of corpses after its fall
Scenes of the Conquest, by Felix Parra. Oil on canvas (1877). Photo: Munal Collection

After the fall of the city of Tenochtitlan, it was impossible to enter because it was full of corpses. The great majority of the population died in that war and in the previous epidemic. Thus occurred the final defeat of the Mexica empire, on August 13, 1521. La Jornada consulted specialists and intellectuals about the brutality of that event.

The thinker Enrique Semo, the Ayuujk (Mixe) linguist Yásnaya Elena A. Gil, writer and journalist Pedro Miguel, and historian Pedro Salmerón spoke about this event that marked the beginning of the Spanish conquest in the territory that is now Mexico.

For Enrique Semo, after a struggle that lasted 11 months of daily warfare, eight months to isolate the city, and three months of siege, most of the population of Mexico-Tenochtitlan had died. Part of them died in the epidemic of 1520 and the other due to the war, the lack of drinking water and food.

After the surrender of Tlatelolco, on August 13, it was not possible to enter Tenochtitlan, because "it was all strewn with corpses and there was a terrible stench. Only a few of the population had fled. The human tragedy was very great in the city, which was a marvel comparable to the best cities of Europe at that time".

The intellectual maintains that the Mexica demonstrated a decision, bravery, and resistance worthy of the best army, of the best people; also, that they had understood what the Spaniards meant: the dominion of all.

"We can see in the struggle of that city and in its final defeat, which came after many battles won by the Mexica, the symbol of the resistance of the original peoples. That resistance was the beginning of a long history of the defense of the native peoples against colonial domination, which continues to this day".

The Ayuujk Yásnaya linguist Elena A. Gil Yásnaya argues that the fall of Tenochtitlan, although loaded with meaning and taken over by the subsequent nationalist narrative, marked the beginning of the wars of conquest and colonial order, which led to the death of "nine out of 10 native people in a few years. It is a brutal impact.

Another of the violence that occurred at that time was that when "the territory was so depopulated, they also went to Africa and kidnapped people to bring them to this continent. It is a date that carries a lot of things that are not minor".

It was the end of many cultures

Journalist and writer Pedro Miguel refers that Cortés' expedition produced violence and destruction: "It did not end with one but with many cultures, because Mesoamerica was a set of different cultures, fighting each other, a bit like Europe".

Even the conquistador's allies were defeated, because not only Tenochtitlan was razed to the ground, but also all the cities of those who collaborated with him. Tlaxcala, Texcoco, and all those who helped the Spanish invaders were destroyed in urban, human, and cultural terms. Not a temple, a pre-Hispanic style room, nor an administrative building was left. Nothing at all. The art was absolutely destroyed.

"In that respect, it was the same for the enemy peoples of the Mexica, for example, the Purepecha. It took much more work to conquer the Maya."

The death of most of the inhabitants, adds the author of the novel El último suspiro del conquistador ("The Conqueror's Last Sigh"), occurred because of "the tremendous massacres: Cholula, that of the Templo Mayor, the siege of Tenochtitlan, but also as a consequence of the arrival of viruses unknown to the Mesoamericans.

In addition to the above, "conditions of absolute mistreatment, hunger, exhausting workdays to which the conquered population was subjected in the first decades of the Colony, particularly in mining and agriculture, in the encomiendas" ("commissions").

In spite of the fact that "to the extent that Spanish power was able to destroy it, as Guillermo Bonfil would say, the Mesoamerican civilizing project ended up persisting and in many ways is still alive".

Pedro Salmerón affirms that "to fight the traditional version of the so-called 'Conquest' is to fight racism, classism, and machismo derived from the conception of the world based on the fact that we were conquered; to achieve an understanding of a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, diverse, plural and inclusive Mexico".

The capture of Cuauhtémoc, on August 13, and the surrender of the defenders of Tlatelolco concludes the battle for Tenochtitlan, which began in May of the previous year, and the 100 days of the siege of Mexico Tenochtitlan, which began in the spring of 1521, after a year and four months of open warfare.

The date is symbolic, Salmerón continues, because "first Hernán Cortés and then layers and layers of historiography say that, that the right of the Spaniards to have subjugated all of northern America is endorsed since Cortés invented that this was a territorial monarchy, a country, something that many Mexicans still believe and we accuse the Tlaxcalans of being traitors and I don't know what else nonsense".

The author of The Battle for Tenochtitlan, published by Fondo de Cultura Económica, synthesizes that the "Conquest" was built as a symbol of the origin of Mexicanity and the lie that we descend from Mexica and Spanish. It is the political, ideological and legal use of that fact".

Source: La Jornada