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Study Guide: Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire
Directions: We used the following scenarios in class to analyze the Spanish conquest of the Aztec
empire. Use your notes from class to study the events surrounding the conquest. It might help to have
someone quiz you. For example for #1, someone might ask, “What did Cortes do when he first met with
Tendile? Did he try to set up a meeting or take some other course of action?”
Don't forget to study the potential essay questions at the end.
If You Were There I
1. Tendile has given you gifts from the great Montezuma. You are curious if there are more riches and
are anxious to meet Montezuma. However, you know that it might be offensive if you ask Tendile for a
meeting. After all, you have just arrived on these lands with your men. As Cortes, what do you do?
2. Tendile asks Cortes to borrow one of the Spanish conquistador helmets to show to Montezuma, do
you let him? Explain why or why not. As Cortes, what do you do?
3. After receiving Montezuma's gifts – this time much more impressive – you are given strict instructions
from the emperor to leave the area. What do you tell Tendile in response to those instructions? As
Cortes, what do you do?
4. From your governor and from spies, you have heard many things about these newcomers - from the
beasts they bring with them to the thundering weapons they fire. You also believe that this could be the
return of Quetzalcoatl, your distant relative and god. Some members of your council are even advising
you to attack the Spanish along the coast. Knowing that the Spaniards could possibly make their way to
Tenochtitlán, what do you decide to do? As Montezuma, what do you do?
If You Were There II
5. Some of your men are sick and tired and would prefer to take the riches and return home. In fact,
some men are more loyal to Diego de Velasquez than you and disagree with the way that you have
disregarded him throughout these first few weeks. You are interested in getting more gold, what do you
do to continue the conquest and settle the men who are perhaps planning an uprising?
6. Tlacochcalcatl - fat chief of the Totonacs (town of Cempoala) - is interested in forming an alliance
against Montezuma and the Aztecs. What do you do? As Cortes, what would you do?
7. The Aztecs send tribute collectors to Cortes' new allies, the Totonacs. These men eat food and drink
wine, yet still are angry with the Totonacs for forming an alliance with the Spaniards without the approval
from Montezuma. As a result they demand 20 young men and women for ritual sacrifice. This is on top
of the tribute that the Totonacs must already pay. As Cortes, what do you do?
8. Cortes gets involved in a regional dispute between the Totonacs from Cempoala and Cingapacingas.
As an ally of the Totonacs, Cortes knows that it is important to have peace between these groups if they
are going to mount a force against the Aztecs. He is willing to sit down with leaders of both tribes to help
form an alliance, but strongly disagrees with their religious beliefs and practices of sacrifice. As Cortes,
what do you do?
8.5. Cortes decides to send all of the treasure from Montezuma home to King Charles V in an attempt to
“bribe” him. (He needed the king to accept his plan to sever ties from Velasquez and head into the
interior of the Aztec Empire.) Again, some of the men, especially those who support Velasquez, decide
to plan a mutiny: board a ship, kill the captain, and then sail after the treasure ship. Cortes finds out.
As Cortes, what do you?
9. The Spanish, though outnumbered, have shown that they are a powerful force and can withstand the
attack of thousands of warriors. Seeing many of your own warriors die and retreating twice after two full
days of battle, you realize that the Spanish have suffered no deaths. You believe they might be gods.
Cortes asks for peace. As Xicotenga the Younger, what do you do?
10. After learning about Cortes' victories against the Tlaxcalans, a group that even the Aztecs could not
defeat, Montezuma sends more gifts and tries to make a deal with Cortes. He is willing to become a
vassal of Spain and pay tribute to King Charles V as long as Cortes and his men leave.
As Cortes, what do you do?
11. Defeated three times, the Tlaxcalans still send spies into the Spanish camp, posing as gift bearers.
As Cortes, you learn of this plan, what do you do?
If You Were There III
12. Cortes continues to be disgusted by the native tribes' religious practices. In Tlaxcala, he sees much
evidence of these practices, specifically prisoners being fattened up for ritual sacrifice. Cortes starts
preaching Christianity and the need for his allies to convert. Xicotenga, the elder, is not interested.
There is potential for another “Cortes-style” conversion forced upon another new native ally.
As Cortes, what do you do?
13. After resting and recovering, Tlaxcalans offer the best route to get to Tenoctitlan. Aztec leaders say
they should go through Cholula since they were peaceful and friendly with Aztecs, which means they
would be friendly to the Spanish. The Tlaxcalans said it might be a trap and urged Cortes to go to
Huexotzinco, whose people were friends of the Tlaxcalans. As Cortes, what do you do?
14. Cortes is welcomed by the Cholulans, who greet them with a huge feast, house them, and continue
feeding them for several days. NOTE: Tlaxcalans stay outside of the city since they are sworn enemies
of the Cholulans. Eventually, food is cut off, people seem to be fleeing the city, and Cortes hears rumors
that the Spaniards' new allies, the Cholulans, are planning an attack. As Cortes, what do you do?
15. The Spanish enter Tenochtitlan and are amazed at its beauty and grandeur. This is the coming
together of two worlds from opposite sides of an ocean. It is truly an historic moment. For the first time,
Cortes sees the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, who is elaborately dressed with many men waiting on him
hand and foot. There's an awkward moment when Montezuma first steps down to meet Cortes and
smells him. As Cortes, what do you do?
If You Were There IV
16. Cortes and his men have just discovered a treasure hidden inside the very palace that they are
staying. It is more gold and riches than any of them have seen. Some men would be content to take it
and leave Tenochtitlan. Cortes thinks that there is more. As Cortes, what do you do?
17. Cortes has been treated very well by the Aztecs but is very aware that he and his men are
vulnerable. The Aztecs could easily raise a few drawbridges and trap the Spanish in the city center.
Cortes starts to worry. On top of that, his Tlaxcalan allies tell him that they are no longer being treated
well by the Aztecs. Finally, Cortes learns that seven of his men at the Spanish colony along the coast,
Villa Rica la Vera Cruz, have been killed by Aztecs. As Cortes, what do you do?
18. Cortes confronts Montezuma about the Spaniards who were killed along the coast, in response to
the Totonacs failing to pay tribute to the Aztec empire. Montezuma is surprised at Cortes' bold actions,
particularly when Cortes threatens to kill him if he doesn't go with the Spanish to their quarters.
As Montezuma, what do you do?
If You Were There V
19. Qualpopoca and a few others return from the coast and are questioned by the Spanish for their
involvement in the deaths of Cortes' men. Qualpopoca eventually reveals that Montezuma ordered him
and other Aztecs to kill any Spaniards interfering with the Aztec tribute collectors?
As Cortes, what do you do?
20. Cortez goes to the coast to put down a Spanish force sent there by Diego de Velasquez, led by a
man named Panfilo de Narvaez. While he is gone, Pedro de Alvarado is left in charge. With just 120
men, a dwindling food supply, and rumors that the Aztecs might be planning to overthrow the Spanish, it
seems to Alvarado that the situation in Tenochtitlan is becoming dangerous, especially with the Festival
of Toxcatl approaching. As Alvarado, what do you do?
21. The Spanish are fighting for their lives after opening fire on the Aztecs at the Festival of Toxcatl.
They manage to kill some of the most important Aztecs but their four boats, their only good way out of
the city, are set ablaze. They make it back to the palace and defend themselves from there. Aztecs are
trying to beat down or burn the doors of the palace. As Alvarado, what do you do?
If You Were There VI
22. Cortes returns from the coast. He presses Alvarado to tell him what happened. Cortes is disgusted
by his actions and demotes him in rank. He is also upset with Montezuma because he believes that he
negotiated with Narvaez behind his back. On top of it all, the Spanish have been cut off of all food and
water and are trapped inside of the palace. Montezuma is still your hostage but seems powerless.
As Cortes, what do you do?
23. Even with Cortes back, the Spanish are suffering at the hands of a rioting Aztec population under
the new leadership of Cuitlahuac. Tenochtitlan is pure chaos. The Spanish still have Montezuma as a
hostage, but they are greatly outnumbered. The Aztecs are calling for Spanish blood.
As Cortes, what do you do?
24. Skip
25. There is still the issue with Montezuma's gold. The Spanish have successfully been able to melt
down many pounds of it into transportable bars call ingots. It is very heavy and very hard to carry, but it's
what the Spanish have risked everything for.
As any one of Cortes' men, what do you do?
If You Were There VII
26. Cortes is healthy once again and has secured the Tlaxcala region by ruthlessly subjugating the local
Aztec population (enslaving and even branding). His force, though depleted after La Noche Triste, has
grown once again thanks to more Spaniards arriving by ship to Mexico. He has sent away his detractors
(those who oppose him). He has even created a second colony/Spanish town in order to restore an
open path from the coast to Tenochtitlan. Finally, a silent killer, smallpox, has ravaged the Aztec
population. Everything is falling into place for him in order to reconquer the Aztec capitol.
As Cortes, how do you do it?
27. In Tenochtitlan, the situation is dire. Much of the Aztec population is dying of smallpox, including the
new emperor Cuitlahuac who eventually dies of the disease on December 4, 1520. His successor is
Cuauhtemoc, nephew of both Montezuma and Cuitlahuac. He knows that the Spanish have not left the
area. As Cuauhtemoc, what do you do?
If You Were There VIII
Other Potential Questions:
1. Describe in detail two occasions when Cortes acted shrewdly. To act shrewdly means to act cleverly,
even to trick someone.
2. Why didn't Montezuma just get his army of warriors together to defeat the Spanish before they arrived in
3. List some of the advantages and disadvantages of Cortes' decision to form alliances with native tribes.
4. Describe the scene when Cortes decided to “convert” some of the native people.
5. Even when greatly outnumbered, how was it that the Spanish were able to defeat native tribes like the
Tlaxcalans, who even Montezuma and his Aztec army could not conquer?
6. Based on his letter to King Charles V, how did Cortes view the city of Tenochtitlan?
7. Describe the Valley of Mexico both in the lay of the land and the climate.
8. In what ways did the natural environment of the Valley of Mexico help or hurt the Aztec people?
9. How did the markets, trade, and agriculture of Tenochtitlán help to shape the development of the Aztec
10. Give some examples of how the Aztecs changed their land and how it helped them to grow their
11. How would you describe the relationship between Cortes and Montezuma over the five month span
when the Spanish held the Aztec ruler captive?
12. How did Montezuma die according to the Spanish?
13. How did Montezuma die according to the Aztecs?
14. Describe La Noche Triste.
15. What was the process that Cortes' shipbuilder, Martin Lopez, undertook in order to launch a naval attack
on the Aztecs?
Study these events early and often in order to be prepared for the test. Ask me to clarify
anything in class on Friday if events are unclear.