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 78

Cortés then took those Caciques [Masse Escasi and Xicotencatl] aside and questioned them very fully about Mexica affairs. Xicotencatl, as he was the best informed and a great lord, took the lead in speaking. From time to time, Masse Escasi, who was also a great chief, elaborated.

He said that Moctezuma had such great strength in warriors that when he wished to capture a great city or make a raid on a province, he could place a hundred and fifty thousand men in the field, and this they knew well from the experience of the wars and hostilities they had had with the Mexicas for more than a hundred years past.

Cortés asked: “How is it that with so many warriors which, you have said, came down on you, they have never conquered you?”

They responded: “Although the Mexicas have sometimes defeated us and killed us and carried off many of our vassals for sacrifice, many of them were also left dead on the field and others were made prisoners, and they never could come so secretly that we did not get some warning, and that when we knew of their approach we mustered all our forces and with the help of the people of Guaxocingo we defended ourselves and made counter attacks, that all the provinces which had been raided by Moctezuma and placed under his rule were ill disposed towards the Mexicas, and that as their inhabitants were carried off by force to the wars, they did not fight with good will; indeed, it was from these very men that we received warnings, and for this reason we have defended our country to the best of our ability.”

[They added] that the place from which the most continuous trouble came to them was a very great city a day’s march away in the south, called Cholula, whose inhabitants are most treacherous. It was there that Moctezuma secretly mustered his companies and, as it was near by, they made their raids by night. Moreover, Masse Escasi said that Moctezuma kept garrisons of many warriors stationed in all the provinces in addition to the great force he could bring from the city, and that all the provinces paid tribute of gold and silver, feathers, stones, cloth and cotton, and Indian men and women for sacrifice and others for servants, that he [Moctezuma] was such a great prince that he possessed everything he could desire, that the houses where he dwelt were full of riches and [precious] stones and chalchihuites [precious green stones–jade?–or turquoise] which he had robbed and taken by force from those who would not give them willingly, and that all the wealth of the country was in his hands.

Then they, told us about the great staff of servants in his house, and the story would never cease were I to attempt to describe it all here, and of the many women he possessed, and how he married off some of them; in fact they gave us an account of everything.

Then they spoke of the great fortifications of the city [Tenochtitlan], and what the lake was like, and the depth of the water, and about the causeways that gave access to the city, and the wooden bridges in each causeway, and how one can go in and out [by water] through the opening that there is in each bridge, and how when the bridges are raised one can be cut off between bridge and bridge and not be able to reach the city. How the greater part of the city was built in the lake, and that one could not pass from house to house except by draw-bridges and canoes, which they had ready. That all the houses were flat-roofed and all the roofs were provided with parapets so that they could fight from them.

They also told us about the way the city was provided with fresh water from a spring called Chapultepec, about half a league away from the city, and how the water enters by an aqueduct and reaches a place from which they can carry it in canoes to sell it in the streets. Then they told us about the arms that were used, such as two pronged javelins, which they hurl with throwing sticks, and will go through any sort of armor, and that there are many good archers, and others with lances with flint edges which have a sharp cutting edge, so cleverly made that they cut better than knives, and they have shields, and cotton armor, and there are many slingers who sling rounded stones, and others with very good and long lances and stone edged two handed swords.

They brought us pictures of the battles they had fought with the Mexicas painted on large henequen cloths, showing their manner of fighting.