From the Spaniards' perspective, their timing was ideal. A series of natural phenomena, signs, and portents seemed to augur disaster for the Aztecs. A comet was seen in daytime, a column of fire had appeared every midnight for a year, and two temples were suddenly destroyed, one by lightning unaccompanied by thunder.
These and other apparently inexplicable events seemed to presage the return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl and had an unnerving effect on the Aztecs. They looked on the Europeans riding "wild beasts" as extraterrestrial forces coming to establish a new social order. Defeatism swept the nation and paralyzed its will.
The Aztec state religion, the sacred cult of Huitzilopochtli, necessitated constant warfare against neighboring peoples to secure captives for religious sacrifice and laborers for agricultural and infrastructure work. Lacking an effective method of governing subject peoples, the Aztecs controlled thirty-eight provinces in central Mexico through terror.
When the Spaniards appeared, the Totonacs greeted them as liberators, and other subject peoples joined them against the Aztecs. Montezuma faced terrible external and internal difficulties.
Historians have often condemned the Aztec ruler for vacillation and weakness. But he relied on the advice of his state council, itself divided, and on the dubious loyalty of tributary communities. The major explanation for the collapse of the Aztec Empire to six hundred Spaniards lies in the Aztecs' notion of warfare and their level of technology. But for the Aztecs, warfare was a ceremonial act in which "divide and conquer" had no place.
The Aztecs killed many Spaniards. In retaliation, the Spaniards executed Montezuma.
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The Spaniards escaped from the city and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Aztec army at Otumba near Lake Texcoco on July 7, The Spaniards won because "the simple Indian methods of mass warfare were of little avail against the maneuvering of a well-drilled force. European technology decided the battle. Questionnaire: Why Study History? Corey Prize Raymond J. Cunningham Prize John H. Klein Prize Waldo G. Marraro Prize George L. Mosse Prize John E. Choose a Format.
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Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Richard Howard Translator. Anthony Pagden Foreword by. The Conquest of America is a fascinating study of cultural confrontation in the New World, with implications far beyond sixteenth-century America. Using sixteenth-century sources, the distinguished French writer and cri The Conquest of America is a fascinating study of cultural confrontation in the New World, with implications far beyond sixteenth-century America.
Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published March 15th by University of Oklahoma Press first published More Details Original Title.
Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Conquest of America , please sign up. See 1 question about The Conquest of America…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Todorov creates a loose typology of forms of intercultural interaction through an examination of both major and more minor figures from the Spanish conquest of Mexico. His focus is on the way these various figures communicate and understand different discourses: natural, human, and divine.
His conclusion: the Europeans successfully conquer the Americas because of their superior interhuman communication; it is, "paradoxically, Europeans' capacity to understand the other" that allows them to Todorov creates a loose typology of forms of intercultural interaction through an examination of both major and more minor figures from the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
His conclusion: the Europeans successfully conquer the Americas because of their superior interhuman communication; it is, "paradoxically, Europeans' capacity to understand the other" that allows them to conquer the other. This comes, however, at the expense of a real ability to communicate with or understand the natural world; hence the ongoing myth of the 'noble savage' in the Euro-American imagination.
Todorov writes with the hope of moving us towards a model of communication beyond 'extermination, colonization, or mere commucating to'; one of communicating with the other, in which we come to understand both ourselves and the other better simultaneously.
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As in many of his other works, Todorov is influenced here by Levinas' ideas about the Other. However, his inability to interrogate his own ideas of 'superiority' and 'advanced societies' means that he is almost bound to fail at his own project. At the same time that he is allegedly raising questions about how to create systems of value and the validity of of pushing one's values on another, he continously makes statements about the Europeans' success, advancement, and superiority without discussing at all what values make something 'superior' or 'advanced.
Overall, I often wondered while reading what this book would have looked like written a decade or more later, after the movement through subaltern studies into post-colonial studies, and all the work on cultural studies, cultural hybridity, etc. Much as I didn't enjoy reading Homi Bhabha, I think that some of his ideas here about what constitutes culture and how culture is communicated and transmitted would be useful here. Dec 21, James Murphy rated it really liked it. Todorov's subject is the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and Mexico in the 16th century.
We're familiar with Columbus's discovery of the islands in the Caribbean and their Indians. And how Cortez conquered the Aztecs with a relatively small band of men is an even more familiar story. We've read accounts of priests Christianizing the Indians and how the population was enslaved and decimated by disease. We understand the conquest in terms of the leading edge of 16th century technology coming int Todorov's subject is the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and Mexico in the 16th century.
We understand the conquest in terms of the leading edge of 16th century technology coming into abrupt contact with a society not possessing a written language. Todorov tells us the narrative is one of how information is processed. History understood through semiotics. He sees the indigenous peoples as unable to improvise in the face of Spanish force and manipulation.
Their world operated through ritual and symbol, the interpretations obtained in the past applied to the present. Spanish improvisation overwhelmed ritual. The better, more pragmatic understanding of available information led to the subjugation of a unique civilization. Though his history ends about or so, that central tenet of European-Amerindian contact, the establishment of one rule of law over the other, the submission of one culture to another as one system of information proved more useful than the other, remained the pattern for the next years. Todorov does simplify it somewhat in his "Epilogue" by reducing the evolution of symbology to the possession of writing, which favors improvisation.
He addresses other aspects of the Spanish impact in the New World as well. But he spends more time on the Christianization of the Indians, and it leads to a conclusion I found surprising. Many in the Spanish clergy didn't think Indian society necessarily inferior to that of the Spanish. In fact, Todorov tries to show how many of the stereotypes emphasizing the otherness of Indian society were exaggerated by conquistadores.
The brutality of the conquest suggested there was little difference between them, and Todorov writes the conquest became that of a sacrifice society by a massacre society. The 2 cultures in Mexico formed what he called a massacrifice society. The style is academic and thickly-worded, made even more difficult by the frequent lengthy quotes of contemporary Spanish sources.
But it's an interesting read. It's a subject which has always fascinated me, and this is a different, compelling way to look at a familiar history.
The Turning Point: European Conquests of the Americas (1492-1800)
I came to it aware of its controversies, maybe attracted by them. I'm glad I did. View 2 comments. Sep 15, Kojac rated it did not like it.