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Week 4: Muslim, Mongol & Crusader Interlude; Worlds Apart


Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain


  1. Establishing Context:


Who was Bernal Diaz ? When was he born? When did he die?

When was this narrative produced?

What are Diaz’s intentions in writing this narrative?



  1. Review Diaz’s account of arrival on the island of Cozumel (pg. 57 [page 80 of your reader]-67)


  1. How does Cortes approach the local religious practices?
  2. How does he respond to the story of Gonzalo Guerrero (the man who went ‘native and married an Indian woman)?
  3. How does Diaz square the Spaniards deception of the Indians (p.78 the horse incident) with their proselytizing zeal (81-83; 177-8)? Does he note any contradiction?


Based on this, what can we deduce about Diaz’s representations of the “Indians”?


  1. Think about Cortes’s Mexico expedition.


  1. How does Diaz legitimize a series of nefarious activities: imprisoning the country’s political and religious leader, taking tribute and gold forcibly (in exchange for beads), engaging in battle that kills hundreds of men on either side etc,. See pages 216, p.250.
  2. Think about Diaz’s representation of Montezuma. Is he depicted in a positive light? Or a negative one? Refer to pages 224-227.
  3. What is so repellent in Diaz’s view about Maya/Aztec religion for Diaz? See pg. 229; 236-241.


  1. How does “the Flight from Mexico” end? Who, as readers, are we made to sympathize with?



  1. How does Bartolome de las Casas’s account complicate Diaz’s narrative?

(a) Who is De Las Casas’s intended readership?

(b) How does the account make you feel? What is the intended impact?



Over-arching Question


  1. What is the value for us as historians of reading these two texts together? Do they challenge your own idea of the conquest of the Americas in any way?






Question 1

  • Bernal Diaz was born in a family of low importance in Medina del Campo. Albeit the uncertainty of his date of birth, biographers assert that his birth took place between 1492 and 1496. Diaz was originally a soldier, rising from the position of a foot soldier to captain and later transliterated his memories. Diaz died 1584.
  • Diaz managed to complete his first draft of the True History in 1558. In 1575, he sent a manuscript to Spain. However, as history would have it, it was not published until 1632 with his original manuscript in Guatemala only getting public recognition in 1904.
  • Diaz’s intention for writing the narrative was to not only to describe the entry of the Spanish into the city, the encounter between Moctezuma and Cortes and the reception of the people, but also to highlight his personality and the life of the Mexica tlatoani.

Question 2

  • Cortes approaches the local religious practices with an attitude of change. The conversion of the local people to Christianity was an integral and prominent part of the expansion of the Spanish power. Thus, it was a vital task for Cortes to ensure that formal provisions had been made for the proper religious conversion upon completion of the military conquest.
  • Diaz did not question Guerrero’s refusal to abandon his mixed family and in a way suggested that Guerrero later rejoined the Spanish together with his family, that is, wife and children. However, this is highly questionable. Diaz also mentioned the beauty of Guerrero’s children and his pride in his family.
  • The Spaniards were able to deceive the Indians using the horses given the fact that Indians thought the soldiers and the horses were one person since they had not seen a horse before. The Indians regarded the horse as supernatural to the point of even creating a statue of a horse and worshipping it. The Spaniards also bore the zeal of proselytizing the Indians which in the face of it is contradictory to their deception of Indians using horses. They intended to convert them to Christianity yet the horse incident in a way also bore spiritual significance to the Indians.

Diaz’s representation of Indians was a people of native background with no experience of the outer world. The Indians were swift to attack them and were only deterred by their weapons that seemed to cause more damage. The Indians were also idol worshippers necessitating the need for the Spaniards to convert them to Christianity.

Question 3

  • Diaz suggested that the nefarious acts of the Mexican conquest were never as destructive as they seemed. He mentions how he and the other men were tired of war suggesting that their acts were only a result of no other choice. He also plays down the assertions of their economic gains by saying that he saw how meager the gold was and how their shares were quite mean.
  • Diaz describes Moctezuma as a noble leader who found it difficult to maintain order in his kingdom following his incarceration by Cortes. Diaz’s perception of Moctezuma is a positive one since when he was stoned to his death by his own people, Cortes, and all soldiers mourned his death because he was such a good person.
  • The main resentment of the Maya/Aztec religion according to Diaz was the human sacrifice. Many a times, the Chiefs would complain to Cortes about their urgent needs of victims for human sacrifice. It is this practice that Diaz detested as he saw no honor in surrendering their kinsmen for sacrifice.
  • The Flight from Mexico ended in the defeat of the weapons of the soldiers by the superior weapons of the opponents. Given the diversity of war at that time, the failure of the weapons only resulted in fleeing from Mexico after the defeat of the soldiers who we are the ones who seem to deserve sympathy.

Question 4

  • Bartolome de las Casas’s account complicates Diaz’s narrative in that Las Casas asserted that the actions of Cortes and his trusted soldiers were nothing short of reprehensible given their vicious acts of cruelty during their conquest of Mexico. Diaz is of an opposite opinion that their acts were a matter of no other choice and most of the time they were tired of the protracted war. De Las Casas’ intended readership is the historians and the general public seeking to find out about the conquest of the novel Spain.