Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (2023)

Hernan Cortes (1485–1547) was a Spanish conquistador and the leader of the expedition which brought down the mighty Aztec Empire between 1519 and 1521. Cortes was a ruthless leader whose ambition was matched only by his conviction that he could bring the Indigenous peoples of Mexico to the Kingdom of Spain and Christianity, and make himself fabulously wealthy in the process.As a controversial historical figure, there are many myths about Hernan Cortes. What's the truth about history's most legendary conquistador?

He Wasn't Supposed to Go on His Historical Expedition

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (1)

In 1518, Governor Diego Velazquez of Cuba outfitted an expedition to the mainland and selected Hernan Cortes to lead it. The expedition was to explore the coastline, make contact with Indigenous peoples, perhaps engage in some trade, and then return to Cuba. As Cortes made his plans, however, it was clear that he was planning a mission of conquest and settlement. Velazquez tried to remove Cortes, but the ambitious conquistador hurriedly set sail before his old partner could remove him from command. Eventually, Cortes was forced to repay Velazquez' investment in the venture, but not cut him in on the fabulous wealth the Spaniards found in Mexico.

He Had a Knack for Legality

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (2)

(Video) Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire - Fast Facts | History

Had Cortes not become a soldier and conquistador, he would have made a fine lawyer. During Cortes' day, Spain had a very complicated legal system, and Cortes often used it to his advantage. When he left Cuba, he was in a partnership with Diego Velazquez, but he didn't feel that the terms suited him. When he landed near present-day Veracruz, he followed the legal steps to found a municipality and "elected" his friends as the officials. They, in turn, canceled his previous partnership and authorized him to explore Mexico. Later, he coerced his captive Montezuma to verbally accept the King of Spain as his master. With Montezuma an official vassal of the king, any Mexican fighting the Spanish was technically a rebel and could be dealt with harshly.

He Didn't Burn His Ships

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (3)

A popular legend says that Hernan Cortes burned his ships in Veracruz after landing his men, signaling his intention to conquer the Aztec Empire or die trying. In fact, he did not burn them, but he did dismantle them because he wanted to keep the important parts. These came in handy later in the Valley of Mexico, when he had to build some brigantines on Lake Texcoco to begin the siege of Tenochtitlan.

He Had a Secret Weapon: Malinche

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (4)

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Forget cannons, guns, swords, and crossbows - Cortes' secret weapon was a teenage girl he had picked up in the Maya lands before marching on Tenochtitlan. While visiting the town of Potonchan, Cortes was gifted 20 women by the local lord. One of them was Malinali, who as a girl had lived in a Nahuatl-speaking land. Therefore, she spoke both Maya and Nahuatl. She could converse with the Spanish through a man named Aguilar who had lived among the Maya. But "Malinche," as she came to be known, was far more valuable than that. Although she was essentially enslaved, she became a trusted advisor to Cortes, advising him when treachery was afoot and she saved the Spanish on more than one occasion from Aztec plots.

His Allies Won the War for Him

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (5)

While he was on his way to Tenochtitlan, Cortes and his men passed through the lands of the Tlaxcalans, traditional enemies of the mighty Aztecs. The fierce Tlaxcalans fought the Spanish invaders bitterly and although they wore them down, they found that they could not defeat these intruders. The Tlaxcalans sued for peace and welcomed the Spanish into their capital city. There, Cortes forged an alliance with the Tlaxcalans which would pay off handsomely for the Spanish. Henceforth, the Spanish invasion was supported by thousands of doughty warriors who hated the Mexica and their allies. After the Night of Sorrows, the Spanish regrouped in Tlaxcala. It is not an exaggeration to say that Cortes would never have succeeded without his Tlaxcalan allies.

He Lost the Treasure of Montezuma

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(Video) Hernan Cortes: The Conquistador of the Aztecs | Tooky History

Cortes and his men occupied Tenochtitlan in November of 1519 and immediately began badgering Montezuma and the Aztec nobles for gold. They had already collected a great deal on their way there, and by June of 1520,​ they had amassed an estimated eight tons of gold and silver. After Montezuma's death, they were forced to flee the city on a night remembered by the Spanish as the Night of Sorrows because half of them were killed by angry Mexica warriors. They managed to get some of the treasure out of the city, but most of it was lost and never recovered.

But What He Didn't Lose, He Kept for Himself

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (7)

When Tenochtitlan was finally conquered once and for all in 1521, Cortes and his surviving men divided up their ill-gotten loot. After Cortes took out the royal fifth, his own fifth and made generous, questionable "payments" to many of his cronies, there was precious little left for his men, most of whom received fewer than 200 pesos apiece. It was an insulting sum for brave men who had risked their lives time and again, and most of them spent the rest of their lives believing that Cortes had hidden a vast fortune from them. Historical accounts seem to indicate that they were correct: Cortes most likely cheated not only his men but the king himself, failing to declare all of the treasure and not sending the king his rightful 20% under Spanish law.

He Probably Murdered His Wife

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (8)

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In 1522, after finally conquering the Aztec Empire, Cortes received an unexpected visitor: his wife, Catalina Suárez, whom he had left behind in Cuba. Catalina could not have been pleased to see her husband with another woman, but she remained in Mexico anyway. On November 1, 1522, Cortes hosted a party at his home at which Catalina is alleged to have angered him by making comments about the Indigenous peoples. She died that very night, and Cortes put out the story that she had a bad heart. Many suspected that he actually killed her. Indeed, some of the evidence suggests that he did, such as servants in his home that saw bruise marks on her neck after death and the fact that she had repeatedly told her friends that he treated her violently. Criminal charges were dropped, but Cortes lost a civil case and had to pay off his deceased wife's family.

The Conquest of Tenochtitlan Was Not the End of His Career

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (9)

Hernan Cortes' audacious conquest made him famous and rich. He was made Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley and he built himself a fortified palace which can still be visited in Cuernavaca. He returned to Spain and met the king. When the king didn't recognize him right away, Cortes said: "I am the one who gave you more kingdoms than you had towns before." He became governor of New Spain (Mexico) and led a disastrous expedition to Honduras in 1524. He also personally led expeditions of exploration in western Mexico, seeking a strait which would connect the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. He returned to Spain and died there in 1547.​

Modern Mexicans Despise Him

Fascinating Facts About Conquistador Hernan Cortes You Might Not Know (10)

(Video) Hernan Cortes – Conquistador of the Aztecs Documentary

Many modern Mexicans do not see the arrival of the Spanish in 1519 as bringers of civilization, modernity or Christianity: rather, they think the conquistadors were a brutal gang of cutthroats who plundered the rich culture of central Mexico. They may admire Cortes' audacity or courage, but they find his cultural genocide abominable. There are no major monuments to Cortes anywhere in Mexico, but heroic statues of Cuitlahuac and Cuauhtémoc, two Mexica Emperors who fought bitterly against the Spanish invaders, grace the beautiful avenues of modern Mexico City.


What are some fun facts about Hernán Cortés? ›

Cortes married the sister-in-law of governor Velasquez while living in Cuba. He also had a child with his interpreter Dona Marina. While in Mexico he went on an expedition to the north and discovered Baja California. The Gulf of California was originally named the Sea of Cortes.

What is Cortés most famous for? ›

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés (c. 1485-1547) is best known for conquering the Aztecs and claiming Mexico on behalf of Spain.

What are 3 reasons Cortés easily defeated the Aztecs? ›

The overthrow of the Aztec Empire by Cortez and his expedition rests on three factors: The fragility of that empire, the tactical advantages of Spanish technology, and smallpox.

What happened to Cortez the conquistador? ›

When he reached Seville, he was stricken with dysentery. He died in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville province, on December 2, 1547, from a case of pleurisy at the age of 62.

Who discovered Mexico? ›

The first contact with Mexico occurred in 1517, when explorer Francisco Hernández de Córdoba landed on the Yucatan coast. A subsequent expedition by Juan de Grijalva confirmed a land dominated by a powerful people who were despised by those forced to pay tribute to them.

How many horses did Cortez? ›

Cortez landed in Mexico with 600 Spanish Infantry, 250 Indians, and 16 Horses. Of the 16 horses, eleven were stallions of the Cordoba Strain, including 'El Mozilla”, Cortez's own horse.

Why did the Aztecs fear Cortés? ›

Many within the Aztec Empire came to believe that Cortés was Quetzalcoatl the god who would return to overthrow the god Tezcatlipoca, who demanded human sacrifice. Cortés was aided by an Indian woman La Malinche or Malintzin, who became an invaluable interpreter for and mistress and confidant of Cortés.

How did Cortés impact the world? ›

Hernán Cortés changed the world by conquering Mesoamerica for the Spanish Crown. The conquest resulted in the wholesale destruction of Mesoamerican culture and peoples. In addition, the conquest inspired other conquistadors to try and emulate it in South America.

What made Cortés a hero? ›

He was a hero in the 16th century, but history remembers him differently. He had many conquests during his life. But he is perhaps most known for his conquer of the Aztec Empire in 1521. He enslaved much of the native population, and many of the indigenous people were wiped out from European diseases such as smallpox.

What killed off the Aztecs? ›

When Europeans began to explore and colonize other parts of the world, smallpox traveled with them. The native people of the Americas, including the Aztecs, were especially vulnerable to smallpox because they'd never been exposed to the virus and thus possessed no natural immunity.

What 3 things helped the Spanish defeat the Aztecs? ›

The Spanish were able to defeat the Aztec and the Inca not only because they had horses, dogs, guns, and swords, but also because they brought with them germs that made many native Americans sick. Diseases like smallpox and measles were unknown among the natives; therefore, they had no immunity to them.

Why did Cortés burn the ships? ›

Those of his men still loyal to the Governor of Cuba conspired to seize a ship and escape to Cuba, but Cortés moved swiftly to quash their plans. To make sure such a mutiny did not happen again, he decided to sink his ships, on the pretext that they were not seaworthy.

Did Cortés defeat the Aztecs? ›

The Spanish campaign against the Aztec Empire had its final victory on 13 August 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtémoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire.

How old is Mexico's? ›

The written history of Mexico spans more than three millennia. First populated more than 13,000 years ago, central and southern Mexico (termed Mesoamerica) saw the rise and fall of complex indigenous civilizations. Mexico would later develop into a unique multicultural society.

What is Mexico original name? ›

Anahuac (meaning land surrounded by water) was the name in Nahuatl given to what is now Mexico during Pre-Hispanic times.

Who sold Mexico to the US? ›

Santa Anna refused to sell a large portion of Mexico, but he needed money to fund an army to put down ongoing rebellions, so on December 30, 1853 he and Gadsden signed a treaty stipulating that the United States would pay $15 million for 45,000 square miles south of the New Mexico territory and assume private American ...

Which horse was kidnapped in 1983? ›

Shergar was stolen from the Aga Khan's stud farm by an armed gang on 8 February 1983. Negotiations were conducted with the thieves, but the gang broke off all communication after four days when the syndicate did not accept as true the proof provided that the horse was still alive.

Who is the most famous war horse? ›

Sergeant Reckless is America's greatest warhorse. During the Korean War, Reckless carried ammunition to the front lines and helped rescue wounded soldiers.

Who brought horses to Mexico? ›

For 10,000+ years, horses did not exist in the Americas. That changed in 1519, when the Cortes expedition brought horses with them to Mexico.

Did Aztecs think Spanish were gods? ›

The Aztecs first thought the Spanish were gods due to their light skin and dark hair. The Aztecs would pay the Spanish gold and other gifts to celebrate them. The Spanish saw these riches and realized they wanted more but were outnumbered by the Aztecs.

Who did the Aztecs fear? ›

Without a doubt, the one thing all Mexica (Aztec) people were afraid of was the end of their world - what they called the Fifth Sun. They believed that our world has 'come and gone' (been created and then destroyed) four times in the past and that we're now living (so were they) in the fifth and last Sun.

Who first colonized Mexico? ›

The ancient civilizations of Mexico lasted about 2500 years. Then, in the 15th Century, a group of Spanish explorers arrived in the newly discovered continent of America. They were under orders from the Spanish Crown to turn what is today's Mexico territory into a Spanish colony.

Why is Cortés still important today? ›

Nevertheless, Cortés was important in reshaping the world. "Cortés' victory secured new and profitable land and opportunities for the Spanish monarch. He helped oversee the building of Mexico City, which is still Mexico's capital today," Cosme said.

Why did Spain invade Mexico? ›

Spain's purposes to colonize Mexico and the other colonies were getting new land, resources, and to spread Christianity. As they conquered Mexico, they got new land. Spain plundered lots of resources from their colonies, opened up trade and get profits and spread Christianity.

How do Mexicans feel about Cortés? ›

To many Mexicans, Cortes is a symbol of rape and plunder. He tore down Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire, and imposed Spanish rule over Indian civilization. With the concubine Malinche, he produced a new mixed-blood or mestizo race.

Were the conquistadors good or bad? ›

To some, the Spanish conquistadors were heroes. They bravely sailed into the unknown, gathered untold riches and wealth and spread Christianity to the New World. To others, the conquistadors were evil villains who slaughtered native empires, enslaved thousands, and cheated and stole great fortunes.

Why is Cortés a villain? ›

In real life, Hernán Cortés was most notable as the leader of the Spanish conquistadors who brutally wiped out the Aztecs, slaughtering women, children, and entire families while enslaving what precious few they did not kill.

What was Cortés goal? ›

Introduction. Hernán Cortés arrived in what is now Mexico in 1519. He was sent by the Spanish king Charles V to explore more of the Caribbean territories, search for gold and other resources, and claim this land in the name of the king.

What killed 15 million Aztecs? ›

Scientists Find New Clues. Salmonella could be partially to blame for a 16th century epidemic that killed millions. From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died.

Are the Aztecs still around? ›

Are there any Aztecs still around? Yes and no. Nowadays, around one and a half million people still speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. And there are quite a few indigenous peoples who perform rituals that hark back to the Aztecs.

What language did the Aztecs speak? ›

Nahuatl was the lingua franca of the Aztecs, who ruled Mexico between the 14th and 16th centuries before they were conquered by the Spaniards. It is still spoken by nearly 1.5 million Mexicans, but otherwise is largely unknown.

How did Spain beat the Aztecs? ›

Spanish conquistadores commanded by Hernán Cortés allied with local tribes to conquer the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán. Cortés's army besieged Tenochtitlán for 93 days, and a combination of superior weaponry and a devastating smallpox outbreak enabled the Spanish to conquer the city.

Did the Aztecs ride horses? ›

No, the Aztecs did not have horses. Horses were introduced into the New World by Europeans, and in the case of the Aztecs, it would have been the Spanish Conquistadors that would have brought horses with them. The Aztec Empire, however, would not last long enough to adopt the horse into their culture.

Who helped Spain defeat the Aztecs? ›

Working in alliance with some 200,000 Indigenous warriors from city-states, particularly the Tlaxcala and Cempoala (groups who had resented the Aztec/Mexicas and wanted to see them vanquished), the Spanish conquistadors held Tenochtitlán under siege from May 22 through August 13, 1521—a total of 93 days.

Who burnt the ships? ›

If you are a history buff, you may know the story of Cortés and the burning of his ships. In the year 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World with six hundred men and, upon arrival, made history by destroying his ships. This sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back.

What did Cortés do with the gold? ›

A year after being welcomed into the capitol city of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, he arrested the emperor and demanded all of his gold. Cortés and his men then melted the treasure down into bars.

Did they really burn the boats? ›

Approximately 1,000 years before Cortez's Aztec conquest, Alexander the Great also burned his vessels when he and his army arrived on Persian shores. By burning the boats, the great general committed his army to winning over the Persians who greatly surpassed Alexander's army of men.

Who discovered Aztec? ›

European Invasion & Fall of the Aztec Civilization

The first European to visit Mexican territory was Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, who arrived in Yucatan from Cuba with three ships and about 100 men in early 1517.

Who kidnapped the Aztec leader? ›

After a three-month siege, Spanish forces under Hernán Cortés capture Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire. Cortés' men leveled the city and captured Cuauhtémoc, the Aztec emperor.

Why was Montezuma afraid of Cortés? ›

Much has been made of the Aztecs' “superstitious” belief that Cortés was a god, and that Montezuma was paralysed with fear by a series of omens predicting the downfall of the city.

Who helped Cortés defeat the Aztecs? ›

Working in alliance with some 200,000 Indigenous warriors from city-states, particularly the Tlaxcala and Cempoala (groups who had resented the Aztec/Mexicas and wanted to see them vanquished), the Spanish conquistadors held Tenochtitlán under siege from May 22 through August 13, 1521—a total of 93 days.

What did Hernán Cortés do to slaves? ›

"Cortés, conqueror of Mexico, may have had more unfree Indians than anyone else in the world. In addition to owning three thousand or more indigenous slaves outright, his estate forced as many as twenty-four thousand laborers a year to work as tribute (they were sent by their home villages for a week at a time)."

How many Aztecs died from Cortés? ›

Fall of the Aztec Empire

On August 13, 1521, the city fell to Cortes. Sources suggest that the loss of human life was disproportionately one-sided; during the siege, it is estimated that 100 Spaniards lost their lives, compared to as many as 100,000 Aztecs, many of whom died to smallpox.

How many Aztecs died from Hernán Cortés? ›

It will never be definitively determined how many Aztecs were killed by the Spanish, but it is estimated that they killed as many 200,000 people during the Battle of Tenochtitlan alone.

Who killed Cortez? ›

As revenge for Cortez having Bilal lobotomized, King George cuts Cortez up with a chainsaw, killing him.

Why did the Aztecs trust Cortés? ›

Alliance with Cortés also had a divine appeal. He was offered many gifts, as they believed him to be the god Quetzalcoatl. This became vital to the continuation of the alliance well after the fall of the Aztecs and, more significantly, in building trust with the Aztecs before ultimately taking them down.

What did Cortés steal? ›

It is said that Cortés got the gold when he sought out Aztec emperor Moctezuma for his treasure. A year after being welcomed into the capitol city of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, he arrested the emperor and demanded all of his gold. Cortés and his men then melted the treasure down into bars.

Which explorer burned his ships? ›

In the year 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World with six hundred men and, upon arrival, made history by destroying his ships. This sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back. Two years later, he succeeded in his conquest of the Aztec empire.

What virus killed the Aztecs? ›

Smallpox took its toll on the Aztecs in several ways. First, it killed many of its victims outright, particularly infants and young children.

What killed 80 of the Aztecs? ›

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language.

Who wiped the Mayans? ›

Hernán Cortés in the Maya lowlands, 1524–25

In 1524, after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Hernán Cortés led an expedition to Honduras over land, cutting across Acalan in southern Campeche and the Itza kingdom in what is now the northern Petén Department of Guatemala.

When did Mexico become Mexico? ›

After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico officially became the "United Mexican States." The American independence movement had inspired Mexican leaders of that era and since Mexico, in fact, also was a territory composed of states, the name stuck and became official in 1824.

Did Cortés wipe the Aztecs? ›

Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors toppled the Aztec Empire.


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