Published Date

May 1, 2004

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

Adelantado [Spanish]. Spanish military governor with administrative control over lands he conquered.

Aguilar, Francisco de (1479-1571). A conquistador, who fought along side of Cortés, later became a Dominican friar, and published his own account of the Conquest.

Aguilar, Jerónimo de (c. 1481-1539). Lost in a shipwreck, he washed ashore on the coast of Yucatán, where he was captured by the Mayans. While living with the Mayans, he learned to speak their language. One of Cortés first action to was to find a translator. Throughout the conquest de Aguilar served as a translator of Mayan into Spanish.

Alcade [Spanish]. Spanish magistrate or justice of the peace.

Altepetl [Nauhtl]. A Mexican city or city state before the Spanish conquest of the country.

Alguazil Mayor [Gonzalo de Sandoval] [Spanish]. Cortés named de Sandoval as the alguazil mayor or sheriff of Vera Cruz. Later, impressed by his loyalty in the Narváez affair, he made him one of his major captains along side Pedro de Alvarado in the final reconquest of Tenochtitlan. In general, Cortés only referred to him as the alguazil mayor in his letters.

Alvarado, Pedro de (1485-1541). A commander in one of Cortés’s armies, he was responsible for events which led to the revolt of the Mexicas, the death of Moctezuma and the flight of the Spaniards out of Tenochtitlan on La NocheTriste. The Mexicas called him “the Sun” because of his very blond hair.

Brigantine [Spanish]. One of Cortés’s most ingenious military inventions, a large barge powered by sail and oars and covered with a canopy to protect Spaniards from spears, arrows, and darts. Cortés had thirteen of them constructed. They allowed the Spaniards to gain complete control of the lake while they besieged Tenochtitlan.

Cacique/Cacica [Taino, from the Indies]. The word the Spaniards used to describe Mexican rulers. The word was actually brought from the Indies, and not a word used by the indigenous populations of Mexico. Cacica was a word most often used to describe the daughters of the caciques given to the Spaniards. Malinche’s mother was also called a cacica, apparently because she ruled in her own right in the area she controlled.

Caravel [Spanish]. A small sailing ship with two or three masts used in this period.

Cihuacoatl [Nauhtl]. “Woman-snake,” an earth goddess.

Charles V (1500-1558). King of Spain (as Charles I) and Holy Roman Emperor during the Conquest.

Cholulans [Nauhtl].  People from Cholula.

Cortés, Hernán (c.1485-1547). Born in Medellin Spain and arrived in Hispaniola in 1504. Led the third expedition to Mexico in 1519 and defied the Governor of Cuba, Diego de Velázquez, to continue to fight until Tenochtitlan fell in 1521.

Cortés, Martin. Cortés’s son with Malinche, Doña Marina.

Cuauhtómoc. Mexica ruler from December 1520 until the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521. Spaniards killed him after baptizing him in 1525. Grandson of Moctezuma I.

Cuitlahuac. Officially Mexica ruler from September 16, 1520 to December 4, 1520, when he died of the plague. He was named tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlan while Moctezuma was imprisoned and still alive.

Cue [Spanish]. A word that Bernal Díaz del Castillo used as a synonym for “temple” in describing Mexican sanctuaries. The Spaniards really did not know what word to use to describe them, initially calling them mosques before describing them as temples.

Cuitlahuac. Moctezuma Xocoyotl (II)’s nephew. Succeeded Moctezuma after his death during the Mexica revolt against Pedro de Alvarado and the Spaniards, but died of smallpox eighty days later.

Díaz del Castillo, Bernal (1495-1583). Born in Spain but moved across the Atlantic in 1514. He was a member of all three expeditions to Mexico (Córdoba’s in 1517, Grijalva’s in 1518, and Cortés’s in 1519). Eventually, he wrote his own “true” history of the conquest in response to an account written by Cortés’s secretary, López de Gómara, which he believed was inaccurate.

Durán, Diego (c. 1537-1588). Born in Spain but became a Dominican friar in New Spain in 1556. Wrote detailed accounts of Nahua religion and history by reading earlier codices and listening to indigenous informants.

Grijalva, Juan de (c. 1480-1527). Nephew of Cuban Governor, Diego Velázquez. Led second expedition to Mexico in 1518.

Guerrero, Gonzalo. Said to be on the same shipwreck with Jerónimo de Aguilar. By 1519, he was doing very well and did not want to join Cortés as an interpreter.

Huitzilipochtli [Nauhtl].  Mexicas’s patron god.  Legend claims he led the Mexicas to central Mexico.  Also god of war.  Mexicas constructed a temple to him, where they may have sacrificed tens of thousands.

Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1484-1576). Born in Seville, he arrived in Hispaniola in 1511. Upset at a massacre of indigenous people, he became a Dominican friar and devoted the rest of his life to defending and protecting native populations.

López de Gómara, Francisco (1511-1566). Cortés’s personal secretary after he returned to Spain. Using Cortés’s records, he wrote a history of the conquest that glorified Cortés, prompting Bernal Díaz del Castillo to write his “true” history. Was not present during the conquest.

Macehualtin [Nauhtl]. Peasants.

Malinche (also known as Malintzin and Doña Marina). According to Díaz del Castillo, she was a daughter of a cacique who was given away as a slave after her mother remarried. She had learned Nahuatl as a youth, Yucatec Mayan as a slave, and became Cortés’s translator and mistress, eventually giving birth to Cortés’s son, Martin.

Masse Escase. A Tlaxcalan chief, often with Xicotencatl.

Moctezuma Xocoyotl (II). The ninth Mexica ruler, who ruled the Mexica empire from 1502 until 1520 when he died.

Narváez, Pánfilo de (1480-c. 1528). Sent by Cuban Governor Diego Velázquez to capture Cortés in 1520. Cortés defeated and captured his army and continued with his conquest of the Mexicas.

Olid, Cristóbol de (1488-1524). Like Pedro de Alvarado, Olid commanded one of Cortés’s army during the siege of Tenochtitlan. Later went on to conquer Honduras in defiance of Cortés, which led to Cortés’s long and difficult march overland to Central America, only to discover that Olid had long since died and posed no threat.

Popocatépetl. One of two volcanos east of Tenochtitlan, through which the Spaniards marched to reach the Mexica capital. At 17,000 feet above sea level, It is the second highest mountain in Mexico. The other volcano was renamed Malinche at some time after the conquest.

Quetzalcoatl [Nauhtl].  Originally a Toltec god of the sky and wind.  Became merged with an historical ruler, Topiltzin.  Driven out of his homeland near Tula, Quetzalcoatl/Topiltzin vowed to return to recover his lands.  Many Mexicas, including Moctezuma, may have believed that Cortés was Quetzacoatl returning, however this entire legend may have been invented after the conquest.

Sahagún, Bernardino de (c. 1499-c. 1590). A Spanish friar who devoted much of his life to studying Nahua religion, history, culture, and medicine. The Florentine Codex, the best known Nahua narrative of the conquest and the main source of a Mexica perspective used here, was put together by indigenous peoples who worked with Sahagún.

Sandoval, Gonzalo de [the alguazil mayor] (1498-c. 1529). Commander of Cortés’s third army in the siege of Tenochtitlan. Most often referred to simply as the alguazil mayor or sheriff of Vera Cruz.

Tenochtitlan. The Mexica capital located on an island in Lake Texcoco and connected to the mainland via three large causeways.

Tepustles. Nauhtl for bullets.

Tezcatlipoca.  God of the night sky and divination.

Tezcocanos [Nauhtl].  People from Tezcoco.

Tlaloc.  God of rain.  Mexicas sacrificed children to him.

Tlameme. Nahuatl for porter or carrier used to carry object. The Spaniards used thousands of indigenous tlamemes to carry their weapons and supplies over the mountains in central Mexico.

Tlatoani. Technically, Nahuatl for speaker, tlatoani is the word used to describe a dynastic ruler, perhaps chosen on the basis of one’s ability to speak.

Tlatelolcas [Nauhtl].  People from Tlatelolco.

Tlaxcalans [Nauhtl].  People from Tlaxcala.

Topiltzin.  (See Quetzalcoatl).

Velázquez, Diego de (1465-1524). Had sailed with Columbus on his second voyage and then conquered Cuba in 1514. After become the first Cuban Governor, he launched three exploratory expeditions to Mexico. Viewed Cortés as an adventurer and unsuccessfully sent Pánfilio de Narváez to capture him and bring him back to Cuba.

Xicotencatl the Elder. Viewed the Spaniards as a positive force that might help the Tlaxcalans to overthrow the Mexicas. Lobbied for an alliance with the Spaniards.

Xicotencatl the Younger. Son of above, he was a Tlaxcalan General who fought bitterly against the Spaniards, saw them as a threat, and continued to oppose an alliance with the Spaniards even after such an alliance was completed. Eventually hung by the Spaniards for joining the Mexicas in a revolt against the Spaniards.

Xiutecuhtli [Nauhtl]. A fire-serpent, the god of fire, may be the serpent coming with flames from buildings, an image frequently used in indigenous pictures as symbolic of defeat.