The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

The book The Broken Spears is a very interesting and illuminating scholarly work about the important historical event of the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs.  Author Miguel Leon-Portilla had undertaken the arduous task of translating key passages from the native-American Nahuati language accounts of the Spanish invasion and conquest.  In the latest edition of the book the author has fleshed out more details and facts, making it a definitive work of this event.

I learn a great deal by reading this book.  I was particularly moved by the capitulation of the Aztec empire under the technologically superior Spanish army was an early historical instance of mass brutality bordering on genocide.  Although the demise of the Aztec empire opened up the New World for European settlers, it is a tragic event when seen from the viewpoint of the natives.  Their millennia long indigenous culture and civilization was abruptly and most violently cut short by the foreign conquest.  In my opinion, rather than merely being a historical fact, this tragic facet to this historical episode should serve as a warning for contemporary politicians and policymakers, and make them realize that greedy ventures lead to humanitarian losses.  I would like them to understand that while Spain and later European contingencies benefited from this conquest, from broader perspective humanity was the loser.

Another aspect of the book I was most impressed with is its objectivity.  Although author Miguel Leon-Portilla was trained in western scholarly tradition, his analysis and presentation does not betray this fact.  At the same time, the empathy shown toward the disadvantaged Aztecs is matter of fact and not melodramatic.  In this regard I like the subaltern approach adopted by the author in constructing history. I appreciate this book for features such as these.  The extensive research conducted by the author is also quite impressive.  Not only did he peruse primary sources for gathering evidence (which are in indigenous Aztec language), he also gives numerous cross references for further study, which is useful for college students like me.  The detailed list of bibliographical entries at the end of the book is another handy feature.

As I read through the book, I was able to appreciate the effort that went into researching this book.  For example, previous to this work there was scarce scholarship on pre-Columbian culture in Mexico and the Americas.  This book fills that void that its value cannot be overstated.  The author also succeeds in bringing lots of poignancy to the unfolding drama, for there was lots of cunning, intrigue and violence employed by both sides as they fought over the land.  But throughout the narrative, the bravery and honor displayed by poorly-armed Aztecs is emphasized, and rightly so.  These courageous men fought valiantly with primitive tools and weapons that they could manufacture.  They refused to surrender at the command of the superior Spanish forces and thus laid their lives in service of the noble Aztec civilization.  The author manages to bring out these powerful emotions through the narrative, which I particularly appreciate.

Overall, the book The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico is a stellar work of revisionist history.  It could be considered the people’s history as it is centered on the lives and concerns of the natives of the land as opposed to the intruders.  I thoroughly enjoyed the depth and breadth of scholarly rigor exhibited by the author.  I also learnt a lot about how high the stakes were for the native people of Mexico, newly confronted with European colonialists.  I would recommend it to be included in collegiate syllabi.