Cortez Saw an Empire Where There Was No Empire

Cortez saw an empire where there was no empire. The semi-civilized communities dwelled in palaces identified with the cities founded by the bishops. They were referred to as “the seven cities of Cibola” by Coronado in 1540 and Fray Marco de Niza in 1539 when they saw them. Coronado fully describes the “great houses of stone,” “with ladders instead of stairs,” thus identifying them unmistakably with the still-existing pueblos. Whether they were the seven pueblos of the Zuñis or those of the Moquis in Arizona is as yet unsettled, but they were certainly identical with one another, and as Fray Marco declared them to be in his day” more considerable than Mexico,” we have something like a standard of comparison.
The great communal houses, which could shelter a whole Spanish army within their walls, could seem nothing less than palaces to those wholly unused to the social organization that they represented. The explorers reasoned, as archaeologists had for three centuries prior, that only tyranny could have built such enormous monuments. They saw an empire where there was no empire; they supposed themselves to be in the presence of feudalism like their own; all their descriptions were cast in the mold of this feudalism, and the mold remained unbroken until the civilized world, within thirty years, rediscovered the pueblos.
So long as the Pueblo Indians were unknown to us, there appeared to be an impassable gap between the roving Indians of the North and the more advanced race that Cortez conquered. Yet writers have long since pointed out the seeming extravagance of the Spanish descriptions and the exaggeration of their statistics. In the celebrated Spanish narrative of Montezuma’s banquet, Bernal Diaz, writing thirty years after the event, describes four women as bringing water to their chief occurrence, which is not at all improbable. In the account by Herrera, written still later, the four have increased to twenty. According to Diaz, Montezuma had 200 of his nobility on guard in the palace; Cortez expanded them to 600, and Herrera to 3000.
Zuazo, describing the pueblo or town of Mexico in 1521, attributed to it 60,000 inhabitants, and the “anonymous conqueror,” who was with Cortez, wrote the same. This estimate, Morgan believes, was twice as large, but Gomora and Peter Martyr transformed the inhabitants into houses. The estimate that Prescott follows, while Torquemada, cited by Clavigero, goes still further and writes 120,000 houses. Supposing that, as seems probable, the Mexican houses were of the communal type, holding fifty or a hundred persons each, we have an original population of perhaps 30,000 swollen to 6,000,000.
These facts illustrate the extravagances of the statement to which the study of the New Mexican pueblos has put an end. This study has led us to abate much of the exaggeration with which ancient Mexican society has been treated and, on the other hand, to do justice to the more advanced among the tribes of Northern Indians. This exaggeration, once removed, makes the two types appear less insuperably separated than they were formerly supposed to be. Let us compare the habits of the Pueblo Indians with those of more northern tribes.
Therefore, Lewis and Clarke thus describe a village of the Chopunish, or Nez Percés, on the Columbia River: The village of Tunnachemootoolt is only a single house 150 feet long, built after the Chopunish fashion with sticks, straw, and dried grass. It contains twenty-four fires, about double that number of families, and might perhaps muster one hundred fighting men.”
Read More: William Ewart Gladstone – England’s Greatest Statesman
Cortez saw an empire where there was no empire. The semi-civilized communities that dwelled in palaces were thought to be identified with the cities founded by the bishops.
Cortez saw an empire where there was no empire. The semi-civilized communities that dwelled in palaces identified with the cities founded by the bishops.

Originally posted 2024-02-01 11:26:34.