Description

The goal of this assessment is for you to demonstrate that you understand the different perspectives and are able to accurately identify how these perspectives influence the interpretation offered by each writer. 

Please make sure you have the document entitled "Three Perspectives on the Massacre at the Festival of Toxcatl" in front of you so that you can refer to them as you take the Assessment.

Do not try to take this Assessment without first reading and thinking about each of the three documents.

INTRODUCTION:

 

Historians often review several sources when writing an account of the past. In doing so, they read documents from the period they are studying (primary documents) and also accounts written by others that comment on the period they are studying (these are known as secondary sources).
The historian then selects what they understand are facts from the documents and decide how best to rely on that account in determining what happened in the past. This is not a precise process, but it does require trying to recognize obvious bias in sources to provide as objective an account as possible.

This assessment will ask you to read several accounts and then to figure out where modern historians used facts and where those historians made decisions of interpretation. 

The accounts focus on the Conquest of the Mexica people that included a massacre. The first was written by Fray Bernandino de Sahagun after he interviewed Mexica people about 70 years after the massacre.  A Spanish historian, Lopez de Gomara, wrote the second account after interviewing soldiers who had returned to Spain. Mexica people wrote neither account.
In this assessment you will be asked a series of questions about the sources described above and how historians interpret original historical documents.
Read the two primary source accounts just described and then read the secondary source account written by modern historians. As you read please think about how the modern authors might have used the older sources you have read. Think about how closely the modern interpretation of the events matches to the accounts by Sahagun and Gomara. Ask yourself, "Does the modern historians interpretation rely on one of the sources more than the other? Is their interpretation offered supported by the sources by Sahagun and Gomara? Is there information in one of the older sources that raises questions about what they have written?"
Please note–it is imperative that you not rush this process and that you take good, written notes when reading the several documents. Indeed, print the documents and keep them and your notes with you as you then take the quiz. 
One last important point–do not start the quiz until after you have studied and taken notes on the documents you’ll be reading.
Well wishes!

 

 

Perspective 1 (primary source):  From Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, The Florentine Codex, Book 12, Chapter 20 (1590)

"Here it is told how the Spaniards killed, they murdered the Méxicas who were celebrating the Fiesta of Huitzilopochtli in the place they called The Patio of the Gods.  At this time, when everyone was enjoying the fiesta, when everyone was already dancing, when everyone was already singing, when song was linked to song and the songs roared like waves, in that precise moment the Spaniards determined to kill people. They came into the patio, armed for battle.   They came to close the exits, the steps, the entrances [to the patio]….

"Once they had done this, they entered the Sacred Patio to kill people. They came on foot, carrying swords and wooden and metal shields. Immediately, they surrounded those who danced, then rushed to the place where the drums were played.   At that moment, they then attacked all the people, stabbing them, spearing them, wounding them with their sword.  They struck some from behind, who fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out [of their bodies].  They cut off the heads of some and smashed the heads of others into little pieces.  …

 

Some tried to escape, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gate while they laughed.  …  And the Spaniards walked everywhere, searching the communal houses to kill those who were hiding. They ran everywhere, they searched every place.

 

NOTE: to read the full account, click 

 

Perspective 2 (primary source):  From López de Gómara on Méxica Rebellion (1552)

More than 600 gentlemen and several lords gathered in the yard of the largest temple; some said there were more than a thousand there.  They made a lot of noise with their drums, shells, bugles, and hendidos, which sounds like a loud whistle.  Preparing their festival, they were naked, but covered with precious stones, pearls, necklases, belts, bracelets, many jewels of gold, silver, and mother-of-pearl, wearing very rich feathers on their heads. … They danced in circles, holding hands, to the music of the singers, to which they responded.  …

 

While the Méxicas gentlemen were dancing in the temple yard of Vitcilopuchtli [Huitzilopochtli], Pedro de Alvarado [a Spanish conquistador] went there. Whether on [the basis of] his own opinion or in an agreement decided by everyone, I don’t know, but some say he had been warned that the Indian nobles of the city had assembled to plot the mutiny and the rebellion, which they later carried out; others, believe that [the Spaniards] went to watch them perform this famous and praised dance, and seeing how rich they were and wanting the gold the Indians were wearing, he [Alvarado] covered each of the entrances with ten or twelve Spaniards and went inside with more than fifty [Spaniards], and without remorse and lacking any Christian piety, they brutally stabbed and killed the Indians, and took what they were wearing."  

 

NOTE: to read the full account, click 

 

Perspective 3 (secondary source):  "Massacre of Aztec in the Great Temple"  (historycrunch.com)

Pedro de Alvarado was left in charge of the Spanish mission in Tenochtitlan.  Alvarado was a Spanish conquistador and is famous for participating in expeditions throughout the Caribbean and Central America, including places such as: Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Several historians have noted the brutality he displayed in these conquests, particularly against the indigenous people of the different regions.  Anyways, soon after Cortés left, Moctezuma II requested that his people be allowed to celebrate the festival of Toxcatl.  The festival occurred every May and was carried out to honor the Mexica god of Tezcatlipoca. 

 

Essentially, the Spanish conquistadors attacked the Mexica (also called the Aztec) and killed most of the people, who were unarmed and did not actively fight back.  There are differing accounts of why Alvarado carried out the attack, such as: he attacked the Aztec after seeing the gold religious items they brought to the festival or he attacked in an attempt to stop a human sacrifice that was part of the  ceremony.  Regardless, in both accounts, Alvarado massacred unarmed Mexicas.