Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hernando Cortes (1485 - 1547)


Hernando Cortes was one of most the daring and brave leader of the 16th century who conquered a massive and rich Empire of 5 million people with a small force of 600 soldiers, 20 horses and 10 small canons. How he did it and what he did is what that follows in my little essay.

Cortes was born in 1485 to humble and noble Medellin family in the southwestern Spain. As he grew up he briefly studied law after which he sailed away from his country to seek his fortune at the age of nineteen. After working as a farmer in the Caribbean island, he moved over in 1511 and joined the military expedition of Velazquez that captured Cuba. Cortes became the mayor of Santiago after the conquest of Cuba and the seeds of a great leader had been sown in under the tutelage of Velazquez.

In 1518 Velazquez probably under the thoughts to expand his empire asked Cortes to form a small force and sent him on an exploration mission to Mexico. Cortes seized the opportunity to fulfill his ambitions and traveled westward with a fleet of 11 ships ignoring the mission to Mexico thus dishonoring the instructions of Velazquez. Cortez had little trouble in subjugating the native islands of Yucatan and Tabasco which where of little value but which is where he learnt about the massive wealth of the Aztec Empire.

Cortes thus made conquering the Aztec empire as his dream mission and sailed towards its capital. He defeated many small native tribes on the route to the capital but interestingly had the ability to turn his foe into friends by forming an alliance with them to achieve his dream mission.

The chances of defeating such a huge empire of 5 million people remained bleak and impossible to achieve with his small force of 600 soldiers. The odds was heavily in favour of the Aztec army as a single Cortes soldier had to face a massive 600 soldiers Aztec soldiers. However Cortes remained undaunted by these facts and started to dig in for the Achilles heel of his opponent.

Cortes learnt about the Aztec myth of light skinned, bearded God-King named Quetzalcoatl who according to a strong Aztec belief was the one who taught them about Agriculture and Government and whose return they were to welcome with a great ceremony.

As all his soldiers were pretty much similar to the much acclaimed God-King image of the Aztec society, Cortez planned to strategically attack his opponent but even then he was apprehensive on a possible retreat by his own soldiers just at the sight of a massive Aztec army. Hence to counter the apprehension he planned to do something that was unprecedented in the history of Wars.











On the D-day, Cortes with his fleet of 11 ships, 600 soldiers, 20 Spanish horses and 10 small Canons landed on the Aztec capital. Cortes immediately ordered his soldiers to burn all their ships sealing off even the slightest thought of retreat in the minds of his soldiers thus leaving them no option but to win to survive in the war. This strategy happened to be a double blow as the Aztec leader Montezuma and his soldiers began to get scared at such a huge confidence of their opponent. Added with the fact that opponents used Big Spanish horses, Canons and also that they looked similar to their Quetzalcoatl God-King where all unprecedented and put the Aztecs in a quandary.

As a result, the Aztecs offered little resistance and surrendered meekly to the Cortes led army thus writing a new Chapter in the history of Wars as being the first army with such small numbers in them to conquer a huge Empire with a large army and massive wealth.

Truly, Hernando Cortes was a leader par excellence and bravado.