The Course of Mexican History

By Michael C. Meyer; William L. Sherman et al. | Go to book overview

8
The Settlement of New Spain

The conquerors withdrew to nearby Coyoacán, leaving the Aztecs to remove their dead. The Spaniards decided to build a new city over the ruins of Tenochtitlán, and soon armies of native laborers under the direction of Spanish architects and artisans laid the foundations for the splendid city of Mexico. It would be the capital of New Spain, by which name the country would be officially known for the next three centuries.


THE ENCOMIENDA SYSTEM

The Conquest had been the result of a great effort by individual adventurers who received no pay for their work. Many had gone into debt to outfit themselves for the enterprise; all had suffered great hardships and had seen companions die horrible deaths; almost all had been wounded. Those who survived thanked God and prepared to enjoy the fruits of victory. But the treasure for which they had endured so much proved to be a pittance. Some of the survivors of the Noche Triste had escaped with a few valuable objects, but the bulk of the riches had been lost in the lake waters.1 Of the spoils, a horseman received as his share only about a hundred gold pesos, one-fifth of the cost of a horse. Foot soldiers, who constituted the bulk of the army, received even less. As the mood of his companions grew more ugly, Cortés relented and allowed the torture of Cuauhtémoc and other lords, hoping thereby to learn the location of any remaining hoard of riches. The royal feet of the nobles were oiled and held over fire. Despite their agonies, they gave no information, for there was no cache—or at least none has ever been found.

One of Cortés’s first concerns was to secure the tribute rolls of the Aztec treasurer, which contained paintings identifying the subject towns

1. In 1981, several feet underground in Mexico City a crude gold bar was found. Quite
possibly it was dropped on the retreat.

-123-

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