Hernando Cortés wrote five letters to the rulers of Spain, documents collectively called Cartas de Relacion.

First Letter: sent to the Queen, Doña Juana and the Emperor, Charles V, her son, by the Justiciary and Council of the Rica Villa of Vera Cruz. Dated July 10th, 1519. pp. 1-29 (in) Hernando Cortés. Five Letters 1519-1526. The Argonaut Series. Edited by E. D. Ross and E. Power. Translated by J.B. Morros. New York: Robert M. McBride and Co.

The Island of Cozumel is small, without so much as a single river or stream; all the water that the Indians drink is from wells … The Indians only produce is that obtained from bee-keeping, and our procurators are sending to your Majesties samples both of the land and of the honey for your Majesties’ inspection (p. 8).

Early next morning a few Indians approached us in a canoe bringing several chickens and enough maize to make a meal for a few men and bidding us accept these and depart form their land … Cortés attempted to speak with them four times … but seeing that it was the determined will of the Indians to resist his landing and that they were beginning to shoot their arrows against us, ordered the guns which we carried to be fired and an attack to be made … Having patched up this friendship the Captain pointed out that the Spanish troops who were with him…had nothing to eat and had brought nothing from their ships. He therefore asked them to bring us sufficient food so long as we [were] remaining on land, which they promised to do on the following day and so departed. But the next day and another passed without any food arriving so that we were faced with extreme shortness of provisions (pp. 11-12).

The soil is excellent and very fertile, both in maize and fruits, and the rivers abound in fish and the other produce which they use for food…All kinds of hunting is to be met with in this land and both birds and beasts similar to those we have in Spain, such as deer, both red and fallow, wolves, foxes, partridges, pigeons, turtle doves of several kinds, quails, hares and rabbits: so that in the matter of birds and beasts there is no great difference between this land and Spain, but there are in addition lions and tigers about five miles inland … The natives who inhabit the island of Cozumel and the land of Yucatán from its northern point to where we are now settled, are of middle height, and well proportioned, except that in our district they disfigure their faces in various ways, some piercing the ears…Their food is composed of maize and such cereals as are to be found on the other Islands, potuoyuca [cassava] almost exactly similar to that eaten in Cuba, except that they roast it instead of making it into bread; in addition they have whatever they can obtain by fishing or hunting; and they also breed large numbers of hens similar to those of the mainland which are as big as peacocks (pp. 14-22).


Second Letter: The Second Despatch of Hernando Cortés to the Emperor: sent from Segura de la Fontera [Tepeaca]. Dated October 30th, 1520. pp. 31-133 (in) Hernando Cortés. Five Letters 1519-1526. The Argonaut Series. Edited by E. D. Ross and E. Power. Translated by J.B. Morros. New York: Robert M. McBride and Co.

[Description of Tlascala] Its provisions and food are likewise very superior — including such things as bread, fowl, game, fish and other excellent vegetables and produce which they eat. There is a market in this city in which more than thirty thousand people daily are occupied in buying and selling … There is earthenware of many kinds and excellent quality … Wood, charcoal, medicinal and sweet smelling herbs are sold in large quantities…there are also public baths…they behave as people of sense and reason (pp. 50-51).

[At Choula] The city is very fertile, with many small holdings, for there is an abundance of land which is for the most part well irrigated … the city is better fitted for Spaniards to live in than any other I have seen on our journey from the coast, for it possesses certain common lands and streams for pasturing cattle such as we have seen nowhere else … many [at Choula] suffer from lack of bread, and there are many poor who beg from the rich in streets, houses, and market places just as they do in Spain and other civilized countries (p. 59).

This city is about twenty leagues away from Muteczuma’s palace … [A messenger returned from Mexico City with gifts for Cortés] ten plates of gold, fifteen hundred different garments, and great store of chickens and panicap, a kind of liquor which they drink (p. 60).

[City of Iztapalapa] must contain from twelve to fifteen thousand inhabitants and is situated on the shore of a large salt lake half in and half out of the water … There are many lofty rooms and sunk gardens with flowering trees and shrubs; likewise there are pools of fresh water very beautifully hollowed out with steps … within the lake there are innumerable fish and birds, such as wild duck, widgeon, and other waterfowl (pp. 67-68).

On the following day I set out again and after half a mile entered upon a causeway which crosses the middle of the lake arriving finally at the great city of Tenochtitlan which is situated at its center … In these towns [on the lake] there is a brisk trade in salt which they make from the water of the lake and what is cast up on the land that borders it; this they cook in a certain manner and make the salt into cakes which they sell to the inhabitants and neighbouring tribes … Muteczuma himself came out to meet us…a servant of his came back to me with two necklaces wrapped up in a napkin, made from the shells of sea snails, which are much prized by them; and from each necklace hung eight prawns fashioned very beautifully in gold some six inches in length (pp. 69-70).

[After entering the city and concluding talks with Muteczuma] On his departure we were very well regaled with [a] great store of chickens, bread, fruit, and other necessities, particularly household ones (p. 72).

[In the province of Malinaltepec south of the city, near the sea] I made the request to Muteczuma that seeing that the province of Malinaltepec was most suited for it he should settle a small farm there for your Majesty, and he carried out the suggestion with such zeal that in two months’ time already about a hundred and ten acres of maize and ten of beans had been sown, and two thousand square feet of cacao, a fruit resembling our almonds which they sell crushed, and of which they have such stores that they are used as money throughout the land to buy all necessities in the public markets and elsewhere. Moreover he built [for your Majesty] several very fine dwellings [and in one] he constructed a large tank of water, and placed some five hundred ducks there … he added also as many as fifteen hundred head of chicken (p. 79).

The great city of Tenochtitlan is built in the midst of this salt lake … Four causeways lead to it, all made by hand and some twelve feet wide. The city itself is as large as Seville or Córdova … The city has many open squares in which markets are continuously held and the general business of buying and selling proceeds. One square in particular is twice as big as that of Salamanca and completely surrounded by arcades where there are daily more than sixty thousand folk buying and selling. Every kind of merchandise such as may be met with in every land is for sale there, whether of food and victuals, ornaments of gold and silver, or lead, brass, copper, tin, precious stones, bones, shells, snails, and feathers … There is a street of game where they sell all manner of birds that are to be found in their country, including hens, partridges, quails, wild duck, fly-catchers, widgeon, turtle doves, pigeons, little birds in round nests made of grass, parrots, owls, eagles, vulcans, sparrow-hawks, and kestrels … They also sell rabbits, hares, deer and small dogs which they breed especially for eating. There is a street of herb-sellers where there are all manner of roots and medicinal plants that are found in the land. There are houses as it were of apothecaries where they sell medicines made from these herbs, both for drinking and for use as ointments and salves … There are other shops where you may obtain food and drink … There is a great quantity of wood, charcoal, braziers made of clay and mats of all sort, some for beds … All kinds of vegetables may be found there, in particular onions, leeks, garlic, cress, watercress, borage, sorrel, artichokes, and golden thistles. There are many different sorts of fruits including cherries and plums very similar to those found in Spain. They sell honey obtained from bees, as also the honeycomb and that obtained from maize plants which are as sweet as sugar canes; they also obtain honey from plants which are known both here and in other parts as maguey, which is preferable to grape juice; from maguey in addition they make both sugar and a kind of wine, which are sold in their markets. All kinds of cotton thread in various colours may be brought in skeins … There are leathers of deer both skinned and in their natural state … A great deal of chinaware is sold of very good quality and including earthen jars of all sizes for holding liquids, pitchers pots, tiles, and an infinite variety of earthenware all made of very special clay and almost all decorated and painted in some way. Maize is sold both as grain and in the form of bread and is vastly superior both in the size of the ear and in taste to that of all the other islands or the mainland. Pasties [pastries] made from game and fish pies may be seen on sale, and there are large quantities of fresh and salt water fish both in their natural state and cooked ready for eating. Eggs from fowls, geese and all the other birds I have described may be had, and likewise omelets ready made. Each kind of merchandise is sold in its own particular street and no other kind may be sold there: this rule is very well enforced (pp. 86-89).

[Describing characteristics of Aztec priests] They are all dressed in black and go habitually with their hair uncut; they do not even comb it from the day they enter the order … They are denied all access to women, and no woman is ever allowed to enter one of the religious houses. Certain foods they abstain from and more so at certain periods of the year than at others (pp. 89-90).

I was unable to find out exactly the extent of Muteczuma’s kingdom … But so far as I could understand his kingdom was almost as large as Spain … In [his palace] there was room to lodge two powerful princes with all their retinue. There were also ten pools of water in which were kept every kind of waterfowl known in these parts, fresh water being provided for the river birds, salt for those of the sea, and the water itself being frequently changed to keep it pure: every species of bird, moreover, was provided with its own natural food, whether fish, worms, maize or the smaller cereals (pp. 94-95).

Other large rooms on the ground floor were full of cages made of stout wood very firmly put together and containing large numbers of lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, and wild cats of various kinds; these also were given as many chickens as they wanted … In another palace he had men and women monsters, among them dwarfs, hunchbacks and other deformed in various ways, each manner of monster being kept in a separate apartment (p. 96).

At the time when the king took his meals food was served to [his personal servants] with equal profusion and rations were likewise dispensed to their servants and followers. His larders and wine cellars were open daily to all who wished to eat and drink. The meal was served by some three or four hundred youths. The dishes were innumerable since on every occasion that the king ate or drank every manner of dish was served to him, whether it were meat, fish, fruit, or herbs of whatever kind was found in the land. Since the climate is cold every plate and dish had under it a little brazier filled with lighted coals that it might not get cold. All the dishes were placed in a large hall in which he took his meals. It was almost entirely filled but kept ever fresh and clean, the King himself being seated on a small delicately fashioned leather cushion. While he ate some five or six ancient nobles stood a little way off to whom he gave morsels from his own dish. One of the youthful servitors remained on foot to place the dishes before him and remove them, and he requested from others who were further off anything which was lacking. Both at the beginning and end of the meal he was always given water with which to wash his hands, and the towel on which he dried his hands was never used again, nor likewise were the plates and dishes on which the food was brought ever used twice and the same with the little braziers which were also new for every meal. Every day he changed his garments four times, always putting on new clothes which were never worn more than once (pp. 96-97).

[Spaniards trapped and in difficulty] We had … no way to escape except by water. Moreover, they [the Indians] knew well that we had but slight store of food and drinking water so that we could not hold out long without dying of hunger, even if they should not kill us themselves. And in truth they were perfectly right: for had we no other foes than hunger and general shortness of provisions, we were like to die in a short time (p. 115).


Third Letter: Sent by Don Hernandoa Cortés, Captain-General and Chief Justice of Yucátan to the Emperor Don Carlos. sent from Coyoacan. Dated May 15th, 1522. pp. 135-241 (in) Hernando Cortés. Five Letters 1519-1526. The Argonaut Series. Edited by E. D. Ross and E. Power. Translated by J.B. Morros. New York: Robert M. McBride and Co.

[Aztec water supply cut] Early next morning the two captains joined together according to my orders to cut off the fresh water that was led by pipes into Tenochtitlan … During this time … [our] horsemen riding through the land and cutting down many of the enemy…also gathered in large quantities of maize from the hillsides to store in camp. Maize takes the place of bread and food in these parts and is much superior to that found in the Islands (pp. 168-169).

[Spanish suffer a defeat] In this defeat the enemy killed from thirty-five to forty Spaniards and more than a thousand of our Indian allies; they wounded more than twenty of us, I myself receiving a wound in the leg … The citizens, so soon as they had gained the victory…carried all the Spaniards they had captured, both living and dead, naked, up to certain lofty towers near the market place, and there sacrificed them, cutting open their breasts and tearing out their hearts to offer them to their gods. This the Spaniards under Albarado could plainly see from where they were fighting, and from the whiteness of the naked bodies they knew that they were Christians who were being sacrificed (p. 199).

Sandoval slept that night at a frontier town of the Otumíes which he found deserted and in large part burnt; riding further across the plain…he found a large band of enemy warriors, who had just finished burning another town. Seeing the Spaniards they began to fly, and our men pursuing them came across many bundles of maize dropped on the road together with the roasted bodies of children which they were carrying with them as provisions (p. 204).

[Spanish and Aztecs undertake negotiations] While they were thus conversing with our interpreter, but a short distance from our men, with only a demolished bridge between them, an old warrior in the sight of everybody leisurely took out of his knapsack a few eatables which he ate, so as to give us plainly to understand that they were not in need of food, as a reply to our men who told them that they would die of hunger (p. 206).

That night our native allies dined well enough, for all those that we killed they cut to pieces and took off with them to eat: and such was the terror and astonishment of the enemy in finding themselves thus suddenly put to route that during the whole of that evening they uttered not so much as a word or yell (p. 212).

We knew that the Indians within the city were panic-stricken and we now learnt from two of them who left the city at dead of night and came to our camp that they were dying of hunger; they were forced to come out at nightfall and fish in the water running between the houses of the city, and were going about the part which we had won from them seeking wood and weeds and roots to eat…I now decided to enter the city before dawn and do all the damage that we could (p. 213).

[Having entered the city] From the top of the tower [temple] I examined how much we had won of the city which could not be less than seven-eighths, and considering to myself that so large a number of people could not possibly maintain themselves in such narrow squares…and moreover that they were like to perish with hunger — for in the streets we found the roots and even the bark of trees gnawed off — I decided to desist from fighting that day and attempted to make some treaty to save so great a multitude of people from being destroyed (p. 217).

[Consequences for the population of the city] for as it afterwards appeared, the drinking of salt water, hunger and the stench of dead bodies had worked such havoc upon them that in all more than fifty thousand souls had thus perished (p. 226).

All fighting ceased, which it pleased God to fall on Tuesday, the day of Saint Hippolitus, the 13th of August in the year 1521. Thus the siege which had started on the 30th of May in the same year had lasted seventy-five days (p. 228).

[Cortés sent men to search for a great sea to the south of Mexico city] I ordered them not to halt until they should reach the sea, when they should take full and royal possession of it in the name of your Majesty (p. 230).


Fourth Letter: Governor and Captain-General of New Spain to the Emperor, Don Carlos. Sent from Temixtitan (Tenochtitlan, New Spain). Dated October 15th, 1524. pp. 243-286 (in) Hernando Cortés. Five Letters 1519-1526. The Argonaut Series. Edited by E. D. Ross and E. Power. Translated by J.B. Morros. New York: Robert M. McBride and Co.

[After battle] The horses [that the Indians killed] served us for supper, for we had no other food. On the morrow we took the road again … and came upon three or four towns, deserted alike of people and provisions, save for certain stores of wine such as they are wont to make which was contained in a considerable number of earthen jars … [We] slept the night following in the open, for we came upon some maize fields where both men and horses broke their fast … We were finally so much in need of provisions, for during this time there were not more than fifty pounds of bread between the lot of us…Now that the land was at peace I sent persons to visit every part of it and bring back news of its towns and people (pp. 250-251).

After it had pleased God that we should capture the great city of Tenochtitlan it seemed to me unwise for the time being to reside in it on account of many inconveniences, and I took up my residence with all my company at Cuyoacan, a town lying on the shore of the lake (pp. 270-271).

And I can assure your Majesty that if plants and seeds from Spain were to be had here, as I requested in my last letter that your Majesty might be pleased to order to be dispatched, the natives of these parts show such industry in tilling land and planting trees that in very short time there would be great abundance (pp. 271-272).

Since finding…tin I have continued to cast guns at regular intervals, and five in all have been finished up to the present…Thus, God be praised, we can now defend ourselves (p. 275).

I have also informed your Majesty of the necessity of sending plants of every kind to this land and of the opportunities that exist for agriculture of the most varied sorts: and since till not nothing has been done in this matter I once more beg your Majesty, since it will be greatly to his profit, to give orders to the provisioning house at Seville that every ship bound for these lands shall carry a certain number of plants, without which it shall not be allowed to set sail (p. 284).


Fifth Letter: Sent to the Emperor from the City of Temixtitan (Tenochtitlan, New Spain). Dated September 3rd, 1526. pp. 287-380 (in) Hernando Cortés. Five Letters 1519-1526. The Argonaut Series. Edited by E. D. Ross and E. Power. Translated by J.B. Morros. New York: Robert M. McBride and Co.

[Regarding the southern expedition] We continued our march having the two Indians as guides, and late that night arrived at the town where I found all the men of the advance party in good spirits, since they had found many small maize fields, together with yucas and red pepper, a food commonly used in the Islands and not unpalatable (p. 293).

It happened that a Spaniard found a Mexican Indian of his company eating a portion of the flesh of an Indian who was killed when we took the town. He reported this to me and I ordered the Indian to be burnt in the presence of the chief of Istapán giving him to understand the reason … For I desired that they should kill no one, but rather according to your Majesty’s commands was set on aiding and defending them, both their persons and property (pp. 294-295).

This province of Acalán is indeed of great size … It is likewise abounding in food of all kinds, especially in honey … I observed in the town of Nito…cocoa, cotton clothes, colours for dyeing (p. 307).

We killed eighteen [fallow deer] on horseback with our lances … Our hunting done, we pursued our way and soon came up with some of the outriders who had stopped, with four Indian huntsmen whom they had caught, together with a dead lion and some iguanas, a kind of large lizard which are to be found also in the Islands … I was about to enter the town…Two [Indians in a canoe approached] bringing about a dozen chickens and game quite near to where I had stopped … We reached the town that night and slept in it. The town is called Thecon and its ruler Amohan. I remained here four days getting together provisions sufficient for six, which was the time, so the guides told me, it would take to cross the desert (p. 315).

I stopped … It was a feast day and the delay gave the men who were going ahead [of] time to open up the road. We had some excellent fishing in the river, catching a large number of shad without losing so much as a single one out of the nets … I again set out on the morrow, the guides telling me that nearby there was a village called Asuncapin belonging to the ruler of Taica … we arrived at the village and found no natives there … we resumed our road passing through Taxuytel five leagues further on where we slept the night and found great abundance of peanuts but only a meagre quantity of maize and that green (pp. 316-317).

I arrived at this village of Tenciz on the Saturday before Easter … during the last eighteen days we had eaten nothing but the shoots and nuts of cocoanut palms, and but meagerly of these since we had not the force to cut them. The headman of the village told me, however, that a day’s journey up the other bank of the river there was a large town in the province of Tahuycal and that there we should find great store of maize, cocoa and chickens (p. 319).

I not found myself truly in dire straits, for were it not for the few pigs remaining of those we had brought with us, which were strictly rationed and eaten without bread or salt, we should have been entirely cut off from food (p. 328).

This gulf must be about twelve leagues long … I proceeded to skirt one shore … We found there a great quantity of green maize in the fields which we ate that night … I then crossed to the other side of the lake … I here alighted … I followed up the path and after about a quarter of a league came upon a village which had been apparently deserted for many days … there were good orchards containing bread-fruit and other trees … [We continued] On the way we came upon a maize plantation … Our arrival … had been perceived and all the people had fled into the hills…and consequently left us certain of them, in particular, fowls, ducks, partridges and pheasants, which they kept in cages, but of dry maize or of salt we found none whatever. I camped there that night and we somewhat appeased our hunger with some green maize which we found and ate with the flesh of the birds (pp. 332-333).

[At the town of Chacujal] We came to certain large farms … As soon as day came we examined the whole town which was very well laid out, the houses close together and stoutly built, and found there much cotton both spun and unspun and clothes such as they wear, in good condition, together with abundance of dry maize, cacao, kidney beans, pepper and salt, and many fowls and pheasants in cages, also partridges and the ducks which they breed for eating purposes and which are tasty enough, together with all kind of provisions: in such quantity, indeed, that had we had ships there and been able to load them I should have accounted myself well provided for many days; but to profit by them we had to bear them twenty leagues upon our backs and we were in such plight unless we should rest there for some days that it would have been as much as we could do to make our way back to the ship without any other burden (pp.336-337).

I ordered four rafts to be made of stakes and exceptionally large reeds. Each one carried forty measures of maize and ten men, together with abundance of other stores such as kidney beans and red pepper and cocoa, which each of the Spaniards threw in for himself … Commending myself to God I set off down the river…[after having an adventure on getting the rafts to the mouth of the river] … On beginning to unload the rafts and transfer their contents to the brig, however, we found that the greater part of the maize was wet; and seeing that unless it were dried all would be lost and our labour [in] vain … I gave instructions to set apart all the dry which I ordered to be placed in the brig, and the wet was cast into the two boats and two canoes, which I dispatched to the town with all haste that they could to dry their load … On [doing this] I also set sail and came to the place where I was to meet the party coming by land. At the end of three days they arrived all in good health and spirits, with the exception of one Spaniard whom they said had eaten of certain shrubs growing by the way and had died almost at once (p. 340-343).


Account by Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Written c. 1576 when the author was 84 years old. Published first in 1632. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. Edited by G. Garcia. Translated by A.P. Maudslay. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956.

[The expedition under Grivjala] In the year 1518 the Governor of Cuba, hearing the good account of the land which we had discovered, which is called Yucatan, decided to send out another fleet [under the command of Juan de Grivjala] … Diego Velásquez provided the four ships, crossbows and guns, some beads and other articles of small value for barter, and a small supply of beans (p. 17).

[They encounter Indians] I remember this fight took place in some fields where there were many locusts (p. 20).

Two of the Indians … said that they would bring the food which we asked for … our Captain [Juan de Grivjala] embraced the Indians as a sign of peace … The following day more than thirty Indians with their chief came to the promontory under the palm trees where we were camped and brought roasted fish and fowls, and zapote fruit and maize bread, and braziers with live coals and incense, and they fumigated us all … [they told us] in the direction of the sunset, there was plenty of gold, and they said Colua, Colua, Méjico, Méjico but we did not know what this Colua or Méjico could be (pp. 22-23).

It is a fact, as we now know, that their Indian ancestors had foretold that men with beards would come from the direction of the sunrise and would rule over them. Whatever the reason may have been many Indians sent by the Great Montezuma were watching for us at the river…with long poles, and on every pole a banner of white cotton cloth, which they waved and called to us, as though making signals of peace, to come to them (p. 24).

So we took formal possession of the land in the name of His Majesty, and as soon as this had been [done] one the General spoke to the Indians and told them that we wished to return to our ships (p. 25).

We stayed [on a sandy beach to escape mosquitoes] for seven days, but we could not endure the mosquitoes, and seeing that we were wasting time, and that our cassava bread was very moldy and dirty with weevils and was going sour … it was agreed that we should send to inform the Governor Diego Velásquez of our condition, so that he could send us help (p. 26).

We came in sight of the Sierra de Tuzpa … we came to a great and rapid river which we called the Rio de Canoas and dropped anchor at the mouth of it … and we reached the mouth of the great Rio de Coatzacoalcos … we entered the Rio de Tonalá … while we were repairing the ship many Indians came in a most friendly manner from the town of Tonalá…and brought maize bread, and fish and fruit, and gave them to us with great good will (p. 27).

[The expedition under Cortes] We embarked…and set sail in the month of March, 1519 … Juan de Escalante’s ship with all the cassava bread on board was sinking, and Cortés cried, ‘Pray God that we suffer no such disaster” (p.44).

When they arrived on the coast of Cozumel and were disembarking, some soldiers who had gone out hunting, for there were wild pigs on the island, told Cortés that a large canoe … had arrived near the town (pp. 44-45).

[Indian attack] The Indians thought that the horse and its rider was all one animal, for they had never seen horses up to this time … After this we bound up the hurts of the wounded [Spaniards] with clothes, for we had nothing else, and we doctored the horses by searing their wounds with the fat from the body of a dead Indian which we cut up to get out the fat, and we went to look at the [Indian] dead lying on the plain and there were more than 800 of them, the greater number killed by thrusts, the others by the cannon, muskets and crossbows, and many were stretched on the ground half dead…after posting sentinels and guards, we had supper and rested (p. 59).

The next day thirty Indian Chieftains, clad in good cloaks, came to visit us, and brought fowls, fish, fruit and maize cakes, and asked leave from Cortés to burn and bury the bodies of the dead who had fallen in the recent battles, so that they should not smell badly or be eaten by lions and tigers. Permission was at once given (p. 60).

[On Palm Sunday] When our solemn festival was over the chiefs approached and offered Cortés ten fowls and baked fish and vegetables, and we took leave of them, and Cortés again commended to their care the Holy image [Virgin Mary] and the sacred crosses and told them always to keep the place clean and well swept, and to deck the cross with garlands and to reverence it and then they would enjoy good health and bountiful harvests (p. 65).

Doña Marina knew the language of Coatzacoalcos, which is that common to Mexico, and she knew the language of Tabasco, as did also Jerónimo de Aguilar, who spoke the language of Yucatan and Tabasco, which is one and the same. So that these two could understand one another clearly, and Auguilar translated into Castilian for Cortés. This was the great beginning of our conquests and thus, thanks be to God, things prospered with us. I have made a point of explaining this matter, because without the help of Doña Marina we could not have understood the language of New Spain and Mexico (p. 68).

On Holy Thursday, in the year 1519, we arrived with all the fleet at the Port of San Juan de Ulúa … two large canoes came out to us, full of Mexican Indians … Then the Indians paid many marks of respect to Cortés…and bade him welcome, and said that their lord, a servant of the great Montezuma, had sent them to ask what kind of men we were … Cortés … ordered food and wine to be given them and some blue beads, and after they had drunk he told them that we came to see them and to trade with them and that our arrival in their country should cause them no uneasiness but be looked on by them as fortunate (pp. 69-70).

The next day, Saturday, Easter Eve, many Indians arrived … they brought fowls, and maize cakes and plums, which were then in season (p. 70).

When Tendile departed and the other governor, Pitalpitoque, stayed in our camp … they brought Indian women there to make maize bread, and brought fowls and fruit and fish, and supplied Cortés and the captains who fed with him. As for us soldiers, if we did not hunt for shell fish on the beach, or go out fishing, we did not get anything (p. 73).

Th Indian Pitalpitoque, who remained behind to look after the food, slacked his efforts to such an extent that no provisions reached the camp and we were greatly in need of food, for the cassava turned sour from the damp and rotted and became foul with weevils and if we had not gone hunting for shell fish we should have had nothing to eat … So all the soldiers set about bartering, and the gold which we gained by this barter we gave to the sailors who were out fishing in exchange for their fish so as to get something to eat, for otherwise we often underwent great privations through hunger (pp. 76-78).

It was arranged that Pedro de Alvarado should go inland to some towns which we had been told were near by and see what the country was like and bring back maize and some sort of supplies, for there was a great want of food in camp…When Pedro de Alvarado reached these towns he found … bodies of men and boys who had been sacrificed … most of the bodies without arms or legs, and that he was told by some Indians that they had been carried off to be eaten … I will not say any more of the number of sacrifices, although we found the same thing in every town we afterwards entered … Alvarado found the towns well provisioned but deserted … by their inhabitants, so that he could not find more than two Indians to carry maize, and each soldier had to load himself with poultry and vegetables … We were pleased enough in camp even with the little food that had been brought, for all evils and hardships disappear with there is plenty to eat (pp. 84-85).

[Marching along the shore] we came on some towns subject to the large town named Campoala … we found … many paper books doubled together in folds like Spanish cloth … we slept there … went without supper … we continued our march inland towards the west … and we came on some good meadows called savannas where deer were grazing … twelve Indians approach[ed] … They came straight from their Cacique [chief], and brought fowls and maize cakes, and they said to Cortés through our interpreters, that their chief had sent the fowls for us to eat, and begged us to come to his town (p. 86).

[At Campoala] Twenty Indian chieftains came out to receive us in the name of the Cicique [sic.], and brought some cones made of the roses of the country with a delicious scent, which they gave to Cortés and those on horseback with every sign of friendliness, and they told Cortés that their Lord was awaiting us at our apartments, for, as he was a very stout and heavy man, he could not come out to receive us himself … and as we got among the houses and saw what a large town it was … we were struck with admiration. It looked like a garden with luxuriant vegetation … we gave thanks to God at having discovered such a country (p. 87).

We reached the buildings and the fat Cicique came out to receive us in the court. He was so fat that I shall call him by this name … Cortés embraced him and we were lodged in fine and large apartments that held us all, and they gave us food and brought some baskets of plums which were very plentiful at that season, and maize cakes, and as we arrived ravenous and had not seen so much food for a long time, we called the town Villa Viciosa (p. 88).

Cortés displayed much friendship toward them, and he gave them some green beads and other trifles from Spain; and they brought fowls and maize cakes … While this conversation was going on [tax collectors from Montezuma arrived in town] … When they [the people from Villa Viciosa] heard the news they turned pale and trembled with fear, and leaving Cortés alone they went off to receive the Mexicans, and in the shortest possible time they had decked a room with flowers, and had food cooked for the Mexicans to eat, and prepared plenty of cacao, which is the best thing they have to drink (pp. 90-91).

We set out on our expedition to Cingapacinga and slept that night at the town of Cempoala … we arrived at some farms near the town of Cingapacinga … eight Indian chieftains and priests came out to meet us peacefully and asked Cortés with tears, why he wished to kill and destroy them when they had done nothing to deserve It … these Cempoala Indians who accompanied us were hostile to them … Cortés … [ordered the Cempoala Indians restrained, but] they had already begun to loot the farms. This made Cortés very angry … he ordered them to bring the Indian men and women and clothes and poultry that they had stolen from the farms, and forbade any Cempoala Indian to enter the town, and said that for having lied and for having come under our protection merely to rob and sacrifice their neighbors, they were deserving of death … the Cempoalans brought to Cortés everything they had seized, both Indian men and women and poultry, and he gave them all back to their owners (pp. 100-101).

A [Spanish] soldier took two chickens from an Indian house in one of the towns, and Cortés who happened to see it, was so enraged at that soldier for stealing chickens in a friendly town before his very eyes that he immediately ordered a halter to be put around his neck, and he would have been hanged there if Pedro de Alvarado, who chanced to be near Cortés, had not cut the halter with his sword when the poor soldier was half dead (p. 101).

Every day we saw sacrificed before us three, four or five Indians whose hearts were offered to the idols and their blood plastered on the walls, and the feet, arms and legs of the victims were cut off and eaten, just as in our country we eat beef brought from the butchers. I even believe that they sell it by retail in the tianguez as they call their markets (p. 102).

[Description of Indian priests] These priests were the sons of chiefs and they abstained from women, and they fasted on certain days, and what I saw them eat was the pith of seeds of cotton when the cotton was being cleaned, but they may have eaten other things which I did not see (pp. 104-105).

[Cortés burned his ships so they could not retreat and would have to march overland to Mexico] As far as I can make out, this matter of destroying the ships which we suggested to Cortés during our conversation, had already been decided on by him, but he wished it to appear as though it came from us, so that if any one should ask him to pay for the ships, he could say that he had acted on our advice and we would all be concerned in their payment … [orders were made to bring on shore] all the anchors, cables, sails, and everything else on board which might prove useful, and then to destroy the ships and preserve nothing but the boats [launches] who were old and no use for war [and the pilots, sailing masters and sailors] should stay at the town, and with the two nets they possessed should undertake the fishing, for there was always fish in that harbor (p. 109).

[War in Tlaxcala] Where these skirmishes took place the ground was level and there were many houses and plantations of maize and magueys, which is the plant from which they make their wine. We slept near a stream and with the grease from a fat Indian who we had killed and cut open, we dressed our wounds, for we had no oil, and we supped very well on some dogs which the Indians breed for food for all the houses were abandoned and the provisions carried off, and they had even taken the dogs with them, but these came back to their homes in the night, and there we captured them, and they proved food enough food (p. 125).

The place where this battle took place is called Tehuacingo, and it was fought on the 2nd day of the month of September in the year 1519 … We dressed the wounded men, who numbered fifteen, with the fat of an Indian. One man died of his wounds. We also doctored four or five horses which had received wounds, and we rested and supped very well that night, for we found a good supply of poultry and little dogs in the houses (p. 127).

As the country was level and thickly populated, we set out with seven horsemen and a few musketeers and crossbowmen and about two hundred soldiers and our Indian allies … we captured about twenty Indian men and women without doing them any hurt, but our allies, who are a cruel people, burnt many of the houses and carried off much poultry and many dogs for food. When we returned to the camp which was not far off, Cortés set the prisoners free, after giving them something to eat (p. 128).

[September 5th, 1519, we were attacked … we buried our dead] then we doctored all the wounded with the fat of an Indian. It was cold comfort to be even without salt or oil with which to cure the wounded (p. 132).

Already over 45 of our soldiers had been killed in battle, or succumbed to disease and chills, and another dozen of them were ill, and our Captain Cortés himself was suffering from fever [and we suffered from] want of salt, for we could never find any to eat, we began to wonder what would be the outcome of all this fighting, and what we should do and where we should go when it was finished (p. 134).

Doña Marina … heard every day how the Indians were going to kill us and eat our flesh with chili (p. 135).

[At Tzumpantzingo] These priests of the town quickly searched for more than forty cocks and hens and two women to grind tortillas, and brought them to us, and Cortés thanked them for it (p. 138).

As Xicotenga [one chief at Tlaxcala] was bad tempered and obstinate and proud, he decided to send forty Indians with food, poultry, bread, and fruit and four miserable looking old Indian women, and much copal and many parrots’ feathers. From their appearance we thought that the Indians who brought this present came with peaceful intentions … They said: ‘The Captain Xicotenga sends you all this so that you can eat. If you are savage Teules, as the Cempoalans say you are, and if you wish for a sacrifice, take these four women and sacrifice them and you can eat their flesh and hearts … but if you are men, eat the poultry and the bread and fruit” … for the food they had brought he [Cortés] gave them thanks … It seems that these Indians whom Xicotenga had sent with the food were spies … So as to learn the truth, Cortés had two of the most honest looking of the Tlaxcalans taken apart from the others, and they confessed that they were spies … Then [Cortés] had seventeen of those spies captured and cut off the hands of some and the thumbs of others and sent them to the Captain Xicotenga to tell him that he had had them thus punished for daring to come in such a way … [thus it was that] Xicotenga … lost his courage and pride (pp. 140-141).

[Outside Tlaxcala] The Ciciques of Tlaxcala, who when they saw that we did not go to their city, came themselves to our camp and brought poultry and tunas [prickly pear, the fruit of nopal cactus or Opuntia, which were then in season, each one brought some of the food which he had in his house and gave it to us with the greatest good will … and they … begged Cortés to come with them soon to their city (p. 147).

We entered the city [of Tlaxcala] on the 23rd September, 1519 … Many of the chieftains came near to Cortés … Although we could see clearly that we were in a land where they were well disposed towards us, and were quite at peace, we did not cease to be very much on the alert … Cortés and all of us marveled at the courtesy and affection with which they [the chieftains] spoke … When this conversation was over, other chiefs arrived with a great supply of poultry and maize bread, and tunas and other fruits and vegetables which the country produced .. .[and we stayed there] twenty days (pp. 151-152).

I must tell how in this town of Tlaxcala we found wooden houses furnished with gratings, full of Indian men and women imprisoned in them, being fed up until they were fat enough to be sacrificed and eaten … These prisons are common throughout the land (p. 160).

One morning we started on our march to the city of Cholula … This same night the Ciciques of Cholula sent some chieftains to bid us welcome to their country, and they brought supplies of poultry and maize bread … Cortés thanked them both for the food they had brought and for the good will which they showed us (p. 169).

[Montezuma makes plans to attack the Spaniards] After the people of Cholula had received us in the festive manner already described … they fed us very well for the first two days, but on the third day they neither gave us anything to eat nor did any of the Caciques or priests make their appearance … When our Captain saw this, he told our interpreters to tell the Ambassadors of the Great Montezuma to order the Caciques to bring some food, but all they brought was water and fire wood, and the old men who brought it said there was no more maize (pp. 171-172).

[On the battle at Cholula] Their ill will however had been plainly shown, and they had not been able to hide their treason. They had not even given us food to eat, and as a mockery had brought us firewood and water, and said that there was no maize … So in return for our having come to treat them like brothers and to tell them what Our Lord God and the King have ordained, they wished to kill us and eat our flesh, and had already prepared the pots with salt and peppers and tomatoes … Not two hours had passed before our allies, the Tlaxcalans, arrived … The Tlaxcalans went about the city, plundering and making prisoners and we could not stop them (pp. 178-179).

The city [Choula] is situated on a plain, in a locality where there were many neighboring towns, and it is a land fruitful in maize and other vegetables, and much chili pepper, and the land is full of magueys from which they make their wine … I think that the curious reader must be already satiated hearing this story about Choula and I wish that I had finished writing about it, but I cannot avoid calling to mind the prisons of thick wooden beans which we found in the city, which were full of Indians and boys being fattened so that they could be sacrificed and their flesh eaten. We broke open all these prisons, and Cortés ordered all the Indian prisoners that were confined within them to return to their native countries, and with threats he ordered the Ciciques and captains and priests of the city not to imprison any more Indians in that way, and not to eat human flesh. They promised not to do so, but what use were such promises as they never kept them (pp. 181-182).

Just as we were starting on our march to Mexico there came before Cortés four Mexican chiefs sent by Montezuma … [and they told Cortés where was little food to support them in the city and Cortés replied] that we were men who could get along even if we have but little to eat, and we were already on the way to his city, so let him take our coming in good part … We went to sleep at a town [Ayotzingo] where half the houses are in the water and the other half on dry land, and there they gave us a good supper (pp. 188-189).

During the morning, we arrived at a broad causeway [land that separated the lake of Chalco from the lake of Xochimilco] and continued our march towards Iztapalapa … we were amazed…on account of the great towers and cues [temples] and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream … we arrived near Iztapalapa … and then when we entered the city … how spacious and well built [were the buildings] of beautiful stone work and cedar wood, and the wood of other sweet scented trees … When we had looked well at all of this, we went to the orchard and garden…I was never tired of looking at the diversity of the trees … and the paths full of roses and flowers, and the many fruit trees and native roses, and the pond of fresh water .. .then the birds of many kinds and breeds which came into the pond (pp. 190-191).

[The Spanish enter Mexico City] When Cortés was told that the Great Montezuma was approaching, and he saw him coming, he dismounted from his horse … they simultaneously paid great reverence to one another … it seems to be a great mercy that our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to give us grace and courage to dare to enter into such a city … As soon as we arrived and entered into the great court, the Great Montezuma took our Captain by the hand, for he was there awaiting him, and led him to the apartment and saloon where he was to lodge, which was very richly adorned according to their usage, and he had at hand a very rich necklace made of golden crabs, a marvelous piece of work, and Montezuma himself placed it round the neck of our Captain Cortés … When the necklace had fastened, Cortés thanked Montezuma through our interpreters, and Montezuma replied, “Malinche [Aztec name for Cortés], you and your brethren are in your own house, rest awhile.” … A sumptuous dinner was provided for us according to their use and custom, and we ate it at once. So this was our lucky and daring entry into the great city of Tenochtitlan Mexico on the 8th day of November the year of our Savior Jesus Christ, 1519 (pp. 193-196).

The Great Montezuma was about forty years old, of good height and well proportioned, slender and spare of flesh, not very swarthy, but of the natural color and shade of an Indian … He was very neat and clean and bathed once every day in the afternoon (p. 208).

For each meal [eaten by Montezuma], over thirty different dishes were prepared by his cooks according to their ways and usage, and they placed small pottery braziers beneath the dishes so that they should not get cold. They prepared more than three hundred plates of the food that Montezuma was going to eat, and more than a thousand for the guard. When he was going to eat, Montezuma would sometimes go out with his chiefs and stewards, and they would point out to him which dish was best, and of what birds and other things it was composed, and as they advised him, so he would eat, but it was not often that he would go out to see the food, and then merely as a pass time (p. 209).

I have heard it said that they were wont to cook for him [Montezuma] the flesh of young boys, but as he had such a variety of dishes, made of so many things, we could not succeed in seeing if they were of human flesh or of other things, for they daily cooked fowls, turkeys, pheasants, native partridges, quail, tame and wild ducks, venison, wild boar, reed birds, pigeons, hares and rabbits, and many sorts of birds and other things which are bred in this country, and they are so numerous that I cannot finish naming them in a hurry; so we had no insight into it, but I know for certain that after our Captain censured the sacrifice of human beings, and the eating of their flesh, he [Montezuma] ordered that such food should not be prepared for him thenceforth (p. 209).

Let us cease speaking of this and return to the way things were served to him [Montezuma] at meal times. It was in this way: if it was cold they made up a large fire of live coals of a firewood made from the bark of trees which did not give off any smoke, and the scent of the bark from which the fire was made was very fragrant, and so that it should not give off more heat than he required, they placed in front of it a sort of screen adorned with figures of idols worked in gold. He was seated on a low stool, soft and richly worked, and the table, which was also low, was made in the same style as the seats, and on it they placed the table cloths of white cloth and some rather long napkins of the same material. Four very beautiful cleanly women brought water for his hands in a sort of deep basin which they call xicales [gourds], and they held others like plates below to catch the water, and they brought him towels. And two other women brought him tortilla bread, and as so as he began to eat they placed before him a sort of wooden screen painted over with gold, so that no one should watch him eating. Then the four women stood aside, and four great chieftains who were old men came and stood beside them, and with these Montezuma now and then conversed, and asked them questions, and as a great favour he would give to each of these elders a dish of what to him tasted best. They say that these elders were his near relations, and were his counselors and judges of law suits, and the dishes and food which Montezuma gave them they ate standing up with much reverence and without looking at his face. He was served on Cholula earthenware either red or black. While he was at his meal the men of his guard who were in the rooms near to that of Montezuma, never dreamed of making any noise or speaking aloud. They brought him fruit of all the different kinds that the land produced, but he ate very little of it. From time to time they brought him, in cup-shaped vessels of pure gold, a certain drink made from cacao, and the women served this drink to him with great reverence (pp. 209-210).

Sometimes at meal-times there were present some very ugly humpbacks, very small of stature and their bodies almost broken in half, who are their jesters, and other Indians, who must have been buffoons, who told him witty sayings, and others who sang and danced, for Montezuma was fond of pleasure and song, and to these he ordered to be given what was left of the food and the jugs of cacao. Then the same four women removed the table clothes, and with much ceremony they brought water for his hands (p. 210).

As soon as the Great Montezuma had dined, all the men of the Guard had their meal and as many more of the other house servants, and it seems to me that they brought out over a thousand dishes of food of which I have spoken, and then over two thousand jugs of cacao all frothed up, as they make it in Mexico, and a limitless quantity of fruit, so that with his women and female servants and bread makers and cacao makers his expenses must have been very great (p. 210-211).

Let us speak of the Stewards and the Treasures and the stores and pantries and of those who had charge of the house where the maize was stored … while Montezuma was at table eating, as I have described, there were waiting on him two other graceful women to bring him tortillas, kneaded with eggs and other sustaining ingredients, and these tortillas were very white, and they were brought on plates covered with clean napkins, and they also brought him another kind of bread, like long balls kneaded with other kinds of sustaining food, and pan pachol, for so they call it in this country, which is a sort of wafer. There were also placed on the table three tubes much painted and gilded, which held liquidambar mixed with certain herbs which they call tobacco, and when he had finished eating, after they had danced before him and sung and the table was removed, he inhaled the smoke from one of those tubes, but he took very little of it and with that he fell asleep (p. 211).

When we arrived at the great market place, called Tlaltelolco, we were astounded at the number of people and the quantity of merchandise that it contained, and at the good order and control that was maintained, for we had never seen such a thing before … There were … Indian slaves both men and women … traders who sold great pieces of cloth and cotton … and there were cacahuateros who sold cacao…There were those who sold …s weet cooked roots, and other tubers which they get from this plant, all were kept in one part of the market in the place assigned to them. In another part there were skins of tigers and lions, of otters and jackals, deer and other animals and badgers and mountain cats, some tanned and other untanned (pp. 215-216).

Let us go on and speak of those who sold beans and sage and other vegetables and herbs in another part [of the great Tlaltelolco market], and to those who sold fowls, cocks with wattles, rabbits, hares, deer, mallards, young dogs and other things of that sort in their part of the market, and let us also mention the fruiterers, and the women who sold cooked food, dough and tripe in their own part of the market; and then every sort of pottery made in a thousand different forms … then those who sold honey and honey paste and other dainties like nut paste, and those who sold lumber, boards, cradles, beams, blocks and benches … But why do I waste so many words in recounting what they sell in that great market — for I shall never finish if I tell it all in detail. Paper, which in this country is called amal, and reeds scented with liquidambar, and full of tobacco … and much cochineal … and there are many vendors of herbs and other sorts of trades … I am forgetting those who sell salt, and those who make the stone knives, and how they split them off the stone itself; and the fisherwomen and others who sell some small cakes made from a sort of ooze which they get out of the great lake, which curdles, and from this they make a bread having a flavour something like cheese. There are for sale axes of brass and copper and tin, and gourds and gaily painted jars made of wood (pp. 216-217).

[Cortés and other Spaniards climbed the Aztec great temple for a view over Mexico City] So we stood looking about us … and we saw the three causeways which led into Mexico, that is the causeway of Iztapalapa by which we had entered four days before, and that of Tacuba, and that of Tepeaquilla [Guadalupe], and we saw the fresh water that comes from Chapultepec which supplies the city, and we saw the bridges on the three causeways … and we beheld on that great lake a great multitude of canoes, some coming with supplies of food and others returning loaded with cargoes of merchandise … we turned to look at the great market place and the crowds of people that were in it, some buying and others selling, so that the murmur and hum of their voices and words … could be heard more than a league off. Some of the soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, and all over Italy, and in Rome, said that so large a market place … so well regulated and arranged, they had never beheld before (pp. 218-219).

[While on top of the temple — distrust rises between the Spanish and Aztecs after Cortés condemns the Aztec gods and temple sacrifice; he asks that a cross be placed there for worship and Montezuma said to Cortés] Señor Malinche, if I had known that you would have said such defamatory things [about our religion and practices] I would not have shown you my gods, we consider them to be very good, for they give us health and rains and good seed times and seasons and as many victories as we desire, and we are obliged to worship them and make sacrifices, and I pray you not to say another word to their dishonor … [Montezuma then told Cortés that it was wrong to have allowed the Spanish to climb to the top of the temple pyramid, especially after Cortés had defamed the place by asking if the Spanish could place a cross on the top of the temple tower and set up a space where the Virgin Mary could be worshipped] … Cortés then said to Montezuma “I ask your pardon if it be so [a sin],” and then we went down the steps, and as they numbered one hundred and fourteen, and as some of our soldiers were suffering from tumors and abscesses, their legs were tired by the descent (pp. 220-221).

A little way apart from the great Cue [temple] there was another small tower which was also an idol house, or a true hell … for it was here that they cooked the flesh of the unfortunate Indians who were sacrificed, which was eaten by the priests. There were also near the place of sacrifice many large knives and chopping blocks, such as those on which they cut up meat in the slaughter houses … I always called that house ‘The Infernal Regions’ (p. 223).


[The Spanish soldiers then began to fear for their lives] When Cortés heard … he replied [to his soldiers]: “Don’t you imagine, gentlemen, that I am asleep, or that I am free from the same anxiety.” … Some of us soldiers also told Cortés that it seemed to us that Montezuma’s stewards, who were employed in providing us with food, were insolent and did not bring it courteously as during the first days … So we stayed a good hour discussing the question whether or not we should take Montezuma prisoner [as a hostage for Spanish protection], and how it was to be done (pp. 226-227).

As we had determined the day before to seize Montezuma, we were praying to God all that night that it would turn out in a manner resounding to His Holy service, and the next morning the way it should be done was settled … Cortés took with him five captains who were Pedro de Alvarado, Gonzalo de Sandoval, Juan Velásquez de Leon, Francisco de Lugo and Alonzo de Avila, and he took me and our interpreters Doña Marina and Aguilar, and he told us all to keep on the alert, and the horsemen to have their horses saddled and bridled [if we needed to escape quickly]. As for our arms … we always went armed and without our sandals on our feet … and Montezuma had always seen us armed in that way when we went to speak to him, so did not take it as anything new, nor was he disturbed at all … When we were all ready, our Captain sent to tell Montezuma that we were coming to his Palace … Cortés entered … and made his usual salutations … [he then accused Montezuma of ordering his men to attack the Spanish at the coast near Tuxpan … and reminded him of the Aztec attack at Cholula … and how he did not want to start a war and destroy the city of Mexico … and said] ‘I am willing to forgive it all, if silently and without raising any disturbance you will come with us to our quarters, where you will be as well served and attended to as though you were in your own house, but if you cry out or make any disturbance you will immediately be killed by these my Captains, whom I brought solely for this purpose.” When Montezuma heard this he was terrified and dumbfounded … [and said] he would not go. Cortés replied to him with very good arguments … In this way more than half an hour was spent over talk … [Cortés’ captains became impatient and said] ‘What is the good of you making so many words, let us either take him prisoner, or stab him, tell him once more that if he cries out or makes an uproar we will kill him ‘… And Doña Marina was [then] very clever, she said [to the Aztec king]: ‘Señor Montezume, what I counsel you, is to go at once to their quarters without any disturbance at all, for I know that they will pay you much honor as a great Prince such as you are, otherwise you will remain here a dead man” … Then Montezuma said to Cortés: ‘Señor Malinche, if this is what you desire, I have a son and two legitimate daughters, take them as hostages, and do not put this affront on me, what will my chieftains say if they see me taken off as a prisoner?’ Cortés replied to him that he must come with them himself and there was no alternative … Montezuma [then] said that he would go willingly, and then Cortés and our Captains bestowed many caresses on him and told him that they begged him not to be annoyed, and to tell his captains and the men of his guard that he was going of his own free well … that it was beneficial for his health and the safety of his life that he should be with us … and he went to our quarters where we placed guards and watchmen over him (pp. 228-230).

[Some days later] Let us stop talking of this and tell how of a morning after saying his prayers and making sacrifices to his idols, [Montezuma] took his breakfast, which was a small matter, for he ate no meat, only chili peppers (pp. 236-237).

[Cortés leaves Mexico City because of events along the coast at Vera Cruz: this period is called the expedition under Navarez] Now let us return to Navares and a black man who he brought [to New Spain] covered with smallpox, and a very black affair it was for New Spain, for it was owing to him that the whole country was stricken and filled with it, from which there was great mortality, for according to what the Indians said they had never had such a disease, and, as they did not understand it, they bathed very often, and on that account a great number of them died (pp. 293-294).

[Spanish version of how Montezuma died] It was decided to sue for peace so that we could leave Mexico, and as soon as it was dawn many more squadrons of Mexicans [Aztec soldiers] arrived and very effectively surrounded our quarters on all sides…and cannon and muskets availed nothing, although we did them damage enough. When Cortés saw all this, he decided that the great Montezuma should speak to them [the assembled soldiers] from the roof and tell them that the war must cease, and that we wished to leave his city … And he [Montezuma] did not wish to come [do what the Spanish asked] … Then the Padre de la Merced and Cristóbal de Olid went and spoke to him with much reverence and in very affectionate terms, and Montezuma said: ‘I believe that I shall not obtain any result towards ending this war, for they [my people] have already raised up another Lord and have made up their minds not to let you leave this place alive, there I believe that all of you will have to die.” Montezuma was placed by a battlement of the room with many of us soldiers guarding him, and he began to speak to his people, with very affectionate expressions telling them to desist from the war, and that we would leave Mexico … suddenly such a shower of stones and darts were discharged that … he was hit by three stones, one on the head, another on the arm and another on the leg, and although they begged him to have the wounds dressed and to take food, and spoke kind words to him about it, he would not. Indeed, when we least expected it, they [Spanish guards] came to say that he was dead. Cortés wept for him, and all of us Captains and soldiers, and there was no man among us who knew him and was intimate with him, who did not bemoan him as though he were our father, and it is not to be wondered at, considering how good he was. It was stated that he had reigned for seventeen years and that he was the best king there had ever been in Mexico (pp. 309-310).

[Spanish flee Mexico City: departure called the Sad Night].

[Preliminary expeditions prior to the re-taking of Mexico City: in the region of Xochimilco] Water was found in the houses, but not very much of it, and owing to the hunger and thirst that they suffered some of the soldiers ate some plants like thistles which hurt their tongues and mouths (p. 379).

[Four Spanish soldiers captured] When these four soldiers were taken to Guatemoc [Aztec leader after Montezuma] he learned how few of us [Spanish] we were … and that many of us were wounded … When he had thoroughly informed himself about all this, he ordered the arms, feet and heads of our unfortunate companions to be cut off and sent them to the towns of our [Indian] allies, to those that had already made peace with us, and he sent to tell them that he did not think there would be one of us left alive to return to Texcoco. The hearts and blood were offered to idols (p. 385).

[The Spanish attack Mexico City and cut the water supply] After hearing Mass, which was said by Father Juan Díaz, and commending ourselves to God, we agreed that with the two Divisions together, we should go out and cut off the water of Chapultepec by which the city was supplied which was about half a league distant from Tacuba. As we were marching to break the pipes, we came on many warriors who were waiting for us waiting for us on the road, for they fully understood that would be the first thing by which we could do them damage … the Tlaxcalans followed them so that they killed twenty and we captured eighteen of them. As soon as these squadrons had been put to flight we broke the conduits though which the water flowed into the city, and from that time onwards it never flowed into Mexico so long as the war lasted [and there was no drinking water then available in the city] (pp. 398-399).

[Much later] When we drew off in the night we treated our wounds by searing them with oil, and a soldier named Juan Catalan blessed them for us and made charms, and truly we found that our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased … for the wounds healed rapidly … did we perchance have enough to eat? I do not speak of want of maize cakes, for we had enough of them, but of some refreshing food for the wounded. The cursed stuff that kept life in us was some herbs that the Indians eat, and the cherries of the country while they lasted, and afterwards tunas [or nopales] which came into season at that time (pp. 416-417).

[The siege of Mexico City lasted 93 days] (p. 424).

[Spanish saw their own captured soldiers being sacrificed] And we all looked towards the lofty Cue [temple] where [horns] were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured when they defeated Cortés were being carried by force up the steps, and they were taking them to be sacrificed … they immediately placed them on their backs on some rather narrow stones which had been prepared as places for sacrifice, and with stone knives they sawed open their chests and drew out their palpitating hearts and offered them to the idols that were there, and they kicked the bodies down the steps and Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off the arms and feet and flayed the skin off the faces, and prepared it afterwards like glove leather with the beards on, and kept those for the festivals when they celebrated drunken orgies, and the flesh [of our comrades] they ate in chilmole. In the same way they sacrificed all the others and ate the legs and arms and offered the hearts and blood to their idols, as I have said, and the bodies, that is their entrails and feet, they threw to the tigers and lions which they kept in the house of the carnivores which I have spoken about in an earlier chapter. When we saw those cruelties all of us in our camp said the one to the other: ‘Thank God that they are not carrying me off to-day to be sacrificed” (p. 436).

[Cortés demanded peace] Cortés sent to Guatemoc begging him to surrender, and not to have any fear [and said that he] should govern Mexico and all his territory and cities as he was used to do, and he sent him food and presents such as tortillas, poultry, tunas and cacao, for he had nothing else to send … Guatemoc took counsel with his captains … [and sent] four Mexican chieftains … and we believed that the promise of peace was true, and Cortés ordered the messengers to be given plenty to eat and drink … [but war resumed] … [then there were more negotiations and] at that time two of the chieftains who were talking to Cortés drew out from a bag which they carried some tortillas and the leg of a fowl and cherries, and seated themselves in a very leisurely manner and began to eat so that Cortés might observe it and believe that they were not hungry … we went on in this way from another four or five days without attacking them, and about this time many poor Indians who had nothing to eat would come out every night, and they came to our camp worn out by hunger (pp. 449-451).

[When fighting ended: Guatemoc was captured and brought to the Spanish] While they were bringing him, Cortés ordered a guest chamber to be prepared as well as could be done at the time, with mats and clothes and seats, and a good supply of the food which Cortés had reserved for himself … [and Cortés said] What he wished was that Guatemoc had made peace of his own free will before the city had been so far destroyed, and so many of his Mexicans had died, but now that both had happened there was no help for it and it could not be mended, [therefore] let his spirit and the spirit of his Captains take rest, and he should rule in Mexico and over his provinces as he did before. Then Guatemoc and his Captains said that they accepted his favour, and Cortés asked after his wife and other great ladies … Cortés at once sent for them and ordered them all to be given of the best that at that time there was in the camp to eat, and as it was late and was beginning to rain, Cortés arranged for them to go to Coyoacan, and took Guatemoc and all his family and household and many chieftains with him…Guatemoc and his captains were captured on the thirteenth day of August at the time of vespers on the day of Señor Hipóolito in the year one thousand five hundred and twenty-one, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ and our Lady the Virgin Santa Maria, His Blessed Mother. Amen (p. 454).”


Forentine Codex. dated c. 1555. The War of Conquest. How It Was Waged Here in Mexico. The Aztecs’ Own Story As Given to Fr. Bernardino de Sahaún. Translated by A.J.O., Anderson and C.E. Dibble. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 1978.

[Moctezuma’s emissaries visited Cortés] Then Cortés ordered them to be bound. The Spaniards put irons about their necks; they fettered them. Then they shot off the great Lombard gun. At this, Moctezuma’s emissaries’ fainted dead away — fell — knew no more, until the Spaniards sat each one up, revived them with a drink of wine, and made them eat some food (p. 15).

[Moctezuma’s emissaries’ returned] We must warn Moctezuma; we must report what we saw, which has filed us with terror…So they hastened on, reaching Mexico deep in the night. Meanwhile Moctezuma had been unable to rest, to sleep, to eat … He sighed. He felt weak. He could enjoy nothing .. .[Moctezuma said] My heart is burning as if dipped in chili sauce … [after sacrificing several Indian captives] … After this they reported to Moctezuma all the wonders they had seen, and they showed him samples of the food the Spaniards ate … Moctezuma was shocked, terrified by what he heard. He was much puzzled by their food … The animals they rode — they looked like deer — were as high as roof tops … They [the Spanish] were very white. Their eyes were like chalk. Their hair — on some it was yellow, on some it was black. They wore long beards; they were yellow, too. And there were some black-skinned ones with kinky hair. What they ate was like what Aztecs ate during periods of fasting: it was large, it was white, it was lighter than tortillas; it was spongy like the inside of corn stalks; it tasted as if it had been made of a flour of corn stalks; it was sweetish. Their dogs were huge … They were thin — their ribs showed. They were big. They were restless, moving about panting, tongues hanging. They were spotted or varicolored like jaguars. When Moctezuma was told all this, he was terror-stuck. He felt faint. His heart failed him (pp. 16-17).

[Further attempts were made to negotiate with the Spanish] Nevertheless, Moctezuma then again sent emissaries … With them he sent the old men and the warriors necessary to requisition all the food the Spaniards would need, the turkeys, the eggs, the best white tortillas, everything necessary … [Moctezuma sent captives for sacrifice because he did not know whether or not the Spanish needed sacrifices] … But the sacrifice nauseated the Spaniards. They shut their eyes tight; they shook their heads. For Moctezuma’s men had soaked the food in blood before offering it to them; it revolted them, sickened them, so much did it reek of blood .. .In due course the Spaniards ate; they had white tortillas, degrained corn, eggs, turkey, various kinds of sweet potato, manioc, avocado, acacia beans, and jícama, and ended with a choice of custard apple, mamey, sapota, plum, jobo, guava, cuajilote, tejocite, American cherry, blackberry, prickly pear, and pitahaya. Fodder was provided the deer — horses — which the Spaniards rode: stuff called pipillo and tlachicaztli (pp. 19-20).

[The Aztecs recognize that one of their kind was a traitor] Then word came which pierced Moctezuma’s heart: that a woman of our own race was bringing the Spaniards towards Mexico, was interpreting for them, a woman named Marina [La Malinche; Doña Marina]. She came from Teticpac (p. 20).

[How Moctezuma was described] And at about this time the Spaniards’ questions about Moctezuma became urgent. ‘What kind of a man is he? … To these questions of the gods — the Spaniards — the reply had been, ‘He is in his maturity. He is not fat; rather, he is slender, spare, thin” (pp. 20-21).

[The Spanish enter Tlaxcalla] The rulers of Tlascalla went to meet the Spaniards with food offerings of turkey, eggs, fine white tortillas — the tortillas of lords (p. 22).

[Aztecs attempt to halt the Spanish advance] Moctezuma now had the road, the highway, blocked off in an last attempt to deflect the Spaniards from Mexico. The fork which led direct to Mexico he had planted with maguey, with century plant; he let them see the other road, which would take them to Texcoco. But they knew that it was only a false wall of maguey. They heeded into only to take it up; they kicked each plant aside; far away did they cast them (pp. 26-27).

[The Spanish approached Mexico City] Now Moctezuma peacefully, docilely, himself went to meet the Spaniards at Xoloco, at Uitzillan, the strategic point on the causeway from the mainland…They went carrying gourd vases of helianthus [sun flowers] and talauma surrounding popcorn flowers, yellow tobacco flowers, and cacao blossoms (p. 33).

[Later the Spanish issued demands] Next day a proclamation called for all the things which the Spaniards needed: fine white tortillas, roast turkeys, eggs, fresh water, firewood, charcoal, bowls, vessels, water jars and pitchers, cookery ware — all manner of crockery. This Moctezuma had commanded. But when he called the noblemen to him, they would not come; they were angry. They never would come to him after that. He was not neglected; he was given all that he asked in food and drink and in water and fodder for the deer — that is, the horses. But he was no longer obeyed (p. 35).

[The Spanish strip Mexico city of treasure] When they had removed all the gold, they tossed all else away — those precious feathers, too — in the middle of the courtyard. Then, the gold having been torn off Moctezuma’s stock of finery, Marina had all the noblemen summoned. Standing upon a roof terrace, she addressed them: ‘Mexicans, come here! The Spaniards have tired themselves. Bring them food, fresh water, and all that is needed. For they have wearied themselves, they are exhausted … Why do you not wish to come? Can you be angry? (p. 36).

[Cortés forced to leave Mexico City to deal with de Narváez leaves Pedro de Alvarado in charge] While he was away, Pedro de Alvarado asked Moctezuma what the Feast of Uitzilopochtli was like. He wanted, he said, to see how it was celebrated. So Moctezuma gave a command to those of his governors who could still enter the palace; they brought forth and passed on the word … The women who had fasted for a year [dedicated to the service of Uitzilopochtli] ground the amaranth seed, the fish amaranth seed, in the courtyard of the temple…When finally the Feast of Toxcatl [honoring the war god, Tezcatlipoca] came, towards sundown the women began to form the image of Uitzilopochtli in amaranth seed dough. They gave it the shape of a man; they shaped it on a framework of sticks — thorny ones, sticks forming angles. Then they pasted its head with feather down, gave the face its diagonal painting of stripes … Early in the morning of the feast day, those who had made vows to Uitzilopochtli uncovered the figure’s face. They stood in a row before it; they offered it incense; before it and on all sides they laid gifts – fasting foods, rolls of amaranth seed dough … Those who had fasted twenty days and those who had fasted a whole year faced the rest of us … The participants called Uitzilopochtli’s elder brothers, those who had fasted a whole year, were regarded with real fear; they were regarded with terror, with dread. They were consequently treated with respect … no one stopped them … So the feast began to be celebrated; already there was dancing … Having bided their time, having awaited the opportune moment, the Spaniards came forth to slay us … They blocked [the entries and exits to the courtyard temples] … No one could get out. Then, each with shield, each with iron sword, they filed on food into the courtyard to kill us. They surrounded us dancers and then set upon the drummers. They first struck a drummer; they severed both his hands and cut off his head … they slashed the backs of some, so that their entrails poured out;. They cut to pieces the heads of others — pulverized them … The blood of the young warriors ran like water; it gathered in pools … Blood and entrails lay everywhere … Thus open war broke out … [then after Cortés returned] they put Moctezuma in irons (pp. 38-45).

[The Aztec version of the death of Moctezuma] It was after another four days [of battle] that the Spaniards threw the dead bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin out of the palace [NOTE: Aztec sources say that Moctezuma, Itzquauhtin, and others were stabbed or strangled by the Spaniards], at a place called Teoayoc, the stone turtle carving (pp. 50-51).

[Spaniards flee Mexico City] The Spaniards continued to an isolated place called Calacoayan … There they at once killed the inhabitants — speared them … killed them without notice … Then, coming down to the small, flat plain called Tizapan, they climbed up to Teocalhueyacan, where they settled in .this Otomí village. They arrived at about noon. Everything was at hand, everything was arranged for them: the food, the turkeys … They gave [the Spanish] all they asked for: fodder for the deer they rode … water; degrained corn; ears of corn, raw, cooked, roasted; green corn tortillas and tamales; squashes cut in sections. They kept pressing these upon [the Spanish], wishing to become their friends (p. 57).

[Battle about to be joined] Just at this time our Mexican forces caught up with the Spaniards, to try to intercept them as they camped at the foot of Mt. Tonan. At dawn, the Spaniards attired themselves and ate; we Mexicans likewise attired ourselves, ate, and drank the war ration of pinole mixed with water (p. 61).

[Disease strikes] But at about the time that the Spaniards had fled from Mexico, before they had once again risen against us, there came a great sickness, a pestilence, the smallpox. It started in the month of Tepeilhuitl and spread over the people with great destruction of men. It caused great misery. Some people it covered with pustules, everywhere, the face, the head, the breast. Many indeed perished from it. They could not walk; they could only lie at home in their beds, unable to move, to raise themselves, to stretch out on their sides, or lie face down, or upon their backs. If they stirred they cried out with great pain. Like a covering over them were the pustules. Indeed many people died of them. But many just died of hunger. There were so many deaths that there was often no one to care for the sick; they could not be attended. On some the pustules broke out far apart. They did not cause much suffering, nor did many die of them. Many others were harmed by them on their faces; face and nose were left roughened. Some had their eyes injured by them; they were blinded. Many were crippled by it — though not entirely. The pestilence lasted through sixty day signs before it diminished. When it was realized that it was beginning to end, it was going towards Chalco. The pestilence became prevalent in the month of Teotleco; it was diminishing in Panquetzaliztli. The brave Mexican warriors were indeed weakened by it. It was after all this had happened that the Spaniards came back [from the coast] (p. 64).

[Famine] Nevertheless, great became the suffering of the common folk. There was hunger. Many died of famine. There was no more good, pure water to drink — only nitrous [salty] water. Many died of it — contracted dysentery which killed them. The people ate anything — lizards, barn swallows, corn leaves, saltgrass; they gnawed colorin wood, glue orchid, the frilled flower; or leather and buckskin, cooked or toasted; or sedum and adobe bricks. Never had such suffering been seen; it was terrifying how many of us died when we were shut in as we were. And quite imperturbably the enemy pressed about us like a wall; quite imperturbably they herded us (p. 79).