This section of the web site offers readings, images, and maps that can help students to further understand course assignments, but which are not required reading. In other words, the readings on this page are for your Information (FYI). Links from the five sections of the course come here, and are marked thus: Optional (FYI) Reading.
Members of the expedition
The core group of the expedition was represented by Spaniards who had arrived too late to Cuba to be granted favorable "encomiendas" or allotments of land and Taíno Indians (used as slave labor). A large number of the later (estimates vary) also set sail in the ships. The soldiers came largely from three areas of Spain: Andalusia (reconquered from the Moors within recent memory), Extremadura (a land poor in resources), and Old Castile (a poor and overcrowded domain of petty nobility).
Organizing the expedition
Initial contacts with Yucatán were the shipwreck of Guerrero and Aguilar (1510), Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (1517) and Juan de Grijalba (1518). Upon learning of Grijalva's discovery of the Yucatan, Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, chose Hernán Cortés as Captain-General of the Armada. This was due in large part to Cortés' promise to help finance the expedition, but his proven experience and courage as well as his popularity with his fellow adventurers also played a role in Velasquez' decision. Cortés invested all the money he had, mortgaged his lands and even called on his friends to help outfit the ships. Those who had nothing but themselves to invest in the expedition were enticed to join in hopes of future wealth.
Although there was never such a thing as a Maya Empire, the diverse peoples and politico-religious formations that in the past occupied Yucatán and modern day Belize, Chiapas, Guatemala and Honduras, all had common cultural characteristics: a highly developed calendar, a rich complex writing system, and sophisticated mathematics. Archeologists and historians recognize several periods in the history of these cultures: the Preclassic (2000 B.C.E.-100 C.E.), Classic (100 C.E.-900 C.E.) and Postclassic (900 C.E. 1500). The Maya of today occupy the same lands their ancestors did and preserve their important cultures and languages.
Quetzalcoatl, whose name means Plumed Serpent, is credited in Mexican thought with the creation of humans and their instruction in the use of metals and the cultivation of the land. According to tradition, Quetzalcoatl was involved in the creation and destruction of the Four Suns, a succession of eras and worlds each with its own distinct lifeforms. At the end of the Fourth Sun, Quetzalcoatl was forced to flee the city of Cholula for Tlapallan. "...then he went to reach the sea coast. Thereupon he fashioned a raft of serpents. When he had arranged (the raft), there he placed himself, as if it were his boat. Then he set off going across the sea. No one knows how he came to arrive there at Tlapallan." (Florentine Codex) In all accounts, his return was eagerly anticipated.
Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin
Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin, the ninth ruler of Tenochtitlan, was born in 1467. He was described in the Códice Mendoza as "wise, an astrologer, versed in all the arts, military as well as others..., in comparison with his ancestors none of whom had as much power or majesty as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin". Bernal Díaz del Castillo leaves in his accounts a more personal description of Motecuhzoma: "He was of medium height, well-proportioned, thin, not very dark...his hair was not long...and his face was somewhat long and happy and his eyes showed on one hand love and, when it was necessary, gravity. He was neat and clean. He bathed once every day. He had many wives." He ruled Tenochtitlan from 1502 to 1520. He was very religious and well-versed in the ancient doctrines which led him to consult the códices to decide if the arrival of the Spanish heralded the return of Quetzalcóatl rather than immediately chasing them from the land.
Two heads and six legs
Although there is a folkloric tradition to the effect that in early encounters the Mexica took the Spaniards on horse to be a beast with "two heads and six legs", most early nahuatl accounts refer to the horses invariably as "mazaitl" (deer) as that was the closest equivalent in American fauna at the time. The illustration from the Codex Telleurianus (at left) shows the horse with definite deerlike qualities. "The animals they rode--they looked like deer--were as high as roof tops." (Florentine codex)
Ten years before the arrival of the Spaniards, eight omens were seen which seemed to foretell calamities in the future (condensed from various sources): (UL)