Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia Verdadera, Volume 2, Chapter 109

As Captain Diego de Ordas and the other soldiers already named by me, arrived with samples of gold and the report that all the land was rich, Cortés, by the advice of Ordas and the other Captains and soldiers, decided to speak to, and demand of Moctezuma, that all the Caciques and towns of the land should pay tribute to His Majesty, and that he himself as the greatest Chieftain, should also contribute from his treasure. Moctezuma replied that he would send to all his towns to ask for gold, but that many of them did not possess any, only some jewels of little value, which they had inherited from their ancestors.

He at once dispatched chieftains to the places where there were mines and ordered each town to give so many ingots of fine gold, of the same size and thickness as others that they used to pay as tribute [to Moctezuma], and the messengers carried with them as samples two small ingots. From other parts they only brought small jewels of little value. Moctezuma also sent to the province whose Cacique and Lord was a near kinsman of his who did not wish to obey him, who has already been mentioned by me. This province was about twelve leagues from Mexico Tenochtitlan]. For our response, the messenger said that he neither wished to give any gold nor to obey Moctezuma, that he also was Lord of Mexico and that his wealth belonged to him as much as to Montezuma and that he was sending a messenger to ask him [Moctezuma] to pay tribute. When Moctezuma heard this he was so enraged that he sent his seal and sign by some faithful captains with orders to take him as a prisoner. When this kinsman was brought into Moctezuma’s presence he spoke to him very disrespectfully and without any fear, and very valiantly, and they say that he had intervals of madness, for he was as though thunderstruck. Cortés came to know all about this, and he sent a messenger to beg Moctezuma as a favor, to give this man to him as he wished to place a guard over him, for he had been told that Moctezuma had ordered him to be killed.

When the Cacique was brought before him Cortés spoke to him in a most amiable manner and told him not to act like a madman against his prince, and wished to set him free. However, when Moctezuma heard this he said that he should not be set free but should be attached to the great chain like the other Kinglets already named by me.

[After Spaniards begin gathering gold, they insist that Moctezuma open the place where his gold is. Eventually, Moctezuma told the Spaniards that he welcomed the opportunity to give them his gold.]

After a more polite conversation Moctezuma ordered one of his majordomos to turn over all the treasure and gold that was in that white chamber. We spent three days taking it over and taking off all the embroidery and in undoing it and breaking it into pieces. And goldsmiths came from the town of Escapuzalco to help us dismantle it. And I say that there was so much, that after it was in pieces there were three heaps of gold, worth more than six hundred thousand pesos, and as I will explain later on, this is not counting the silver and other riches, and not counting in the ingots and slabs of gold, and the gold in grains from the mines.

We began to melt it down with the help of the Indian goldsmiths, who were, as I have said, natives of Escapuzalco and they made broad bars of it, each bar measuring three fingers of the band across. When it was already melted and made into bars, they brought another present separately which the Grand Moctezuma had said that he would give, and it was a wonderful thing to behold the wealth of gold and the richness of the other jewels that were brought, for some of the chalchihuites [precious green stones or turquoise] were so fine that among these Caciques said they were worth a vast quantity of gold. The three blowguns with their pellet moulds, and their coverings of jewels and pearls, and pictures in feathers of little birds covered with pearls and other birds, all were of great value. I will not speak of the plumes and feathers and other rich things for I shall never finish calling them to mind.

Let me say that all the gold I have spoken about was marked with an iron stamp, which had been made by order of Cortés and the King’s Officers, who had been appointed by Cortés with the consent of all of us and in the name of His Majesty until he should give other instructions.