Ever hear that Neil Young song about Spanish conquistadors, the one called “Cortez the Killer“? It’s about how the Aztecs lived in a kind of paradise until Cortez and his 150 man army virtually annihilated that “glorious kingdom” in what is now Mexico.
Here’s one of the pivotal lines, lamenting the arrival of the Conquistadores, before which “Hate was just a legend and war was never known.”
As with most propaganda–and Young’s song was merely a symtom of long standing propaganda saturated history lessons–the stuff longstanding myths are made of– that still predominate today–it is a concoction of half truths, and in most cases no truth at all. Look at this recent article by historian Hugh Thompson.
“…When the recently excavated pyramid whose finds provide the centrepiece of the British Museum show was first inaugurated in 1484, there were prisoners lined up for sacrifice stretching in all directions as far as the eye could see. Some estimate that 20,000 victims were killed over four days. The actual reign of the Aztecs was relatively short. They dominated the centre of Mexico properly for less than a hundred years before Cortés’s arrival. Driven by a greed equal to anything the Spaniards were to reveal later, they had mercilessly conquered neighbouring tribes under the direction of emperors who worked closely with priests — indeed some emperors, like Moctezuma, had previously been head priests…The smell and stench of blood at such mass ceremonies must have been nauseous. While the heart itself would have been burnt, each skull was collected on a rack; the rest of the body was flung down the steps of the pyramid, to be eaten later with chilli sauce by nobles or favoured warriors.” Article here.
The quote below is from another article, this one from the Daily Mail commenting on a recent London exhibition of Aztec civilization.
“..Cortes and his men as they reached the precise geometric centre of the city, a huge plaza containing the Great Temple. From a platform high up on this stone pyramid ran steep flights of wide steps. The horror was that, from top to bottom, they were streaked red with human blood, while alongside them were rack upon rack of skulls. A rank smell of putrefaction hung in the air. It became clear to the invaders from Christian Europe that, in this otherwise perfect city of hospitable and well-mannered people, human sacrifice was practised on a massive scale. A stone at the top of the steps was where men – usually but not always tranquillised with ‘magic mushrooms’ – were held down while the high priest slit open their chests with a sharp blade made from flint or volcanic rock, and plucked out their hearts…” (Funny, in the Neil Young song, sacrifice is mentioned, but I wonder how the victims would have felt about this line: “They offered life in sacrifice / So that others could go on…”)
Montezuma’s Revenge, we could say, has been that the myth of his “paradise” would serve as real history.