MEXICA is the true story of the death of the great empire of
the Aztecs and the birth of a great nation called Mexico via a
total clash of radically different civilizations, a war of armies,
a war of religions, a war of naked conquest, a war of liberation,
and the first media war the world has ever seen.
In 1519, Hernando Cortes landed on the coast of what is now
Mexico with some five hundred soldier, a score horses, and within
two years, this force had conquered the enormous empire of the
Aztecs and the equally enormous armies of their Emperor, Montezu-
But it was not superior European arms and the Aztecs fear of
the cannon and horses that they had never before seen that allowed
Cortes to conquer Mexico against such impossible military odds.
By the time he reached the capital of the Mexica, great Tenochti-
tlan, he commanded not merely five hundred Spaniards, but native
armies of scores of thousands who believed he was the god Quetzal-
coatl returned from across the sea.
Cortes, his troops, even his cunning and knowledgeable advi-
sor, scribe, speech-writer and soon-to-be spin doctor, Alvaro de
Sevilla, a secret Jew on the run from the Spanish Inquisition,
knew nothing of the Aztec empire when they landed on the Mexican
shore, save rumors of souls to be won for the Cross and gold for
themselves. The Spaniards didn't speak the language, had no idea
a city larger and grander than anything in Europe was less than
three hundred miles away.
To the Mexica, it was exactly as if aliens from outer space
had invaded, out to conquer, possessed of magical weapons, and
looking like nothing they had ever seen before.
There had been a previous and higher civilization, whose
paramount god cum warrior chieftain was in his human incarnation
indeed a bearded man with white skin--Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered
Serpent. Quetzalcoatl, the legend went, had departed to the east
with a promise to return to rule with his bearded minions, over-
throw the cruel and rapacious Aztecs and bring about a new golden
age. And as far as the Aztecs' subject tribes were concerned,
anything would be more golden than what they were presently endur-
ing. Not only did the Aztecs tax them severely in the usual
manner, they also required tens of thousands of human sacrifices,
whose hearts they fed to their war god Huitzilopochtli, and whose
choice cuts of meat they ate themselves.
Montezuma, Emperor of the Empire of the Aztecs, unquestioned
lord of all he surveyed, commander of armies of hundreds of thou-
sands, capable of ordered the hearts of scores of thousands ripped
out on the altar of their war god, was nevertheless highly educat-
ed, sophisticated, and cultivated after the manner of his own
people, and a mystic whose sincere and passionate desire to carry
out the will of his gods, if only they would tell him what it was,
made him something of a vacillator, and an all-powerful ruler who
would nevertheless willingly become the vassal of Quetzalcoatl if
he came to believe that Cortes was truly that god.
Cortes and Alvaro knew none of this until Cortes was given a
group of female slaves that chanced to include one now known to
history as "Duna Marina," consort of the man she made Mexico's
conqueror. Daughter of a tribal chieftain, educated princess
betrayed and sold into slavery, and passed around from tribe to
tribe before being given as tribute to Cortes, she knew the local
languages, histories and legends. Marina knew it all
Betrayed by her own mother, by her tribe, more pragmatic than
vengeful, brilliantly intelligent, loyal to no one more than to
herself, she straightaway latched onto Cortes like a lamprey eel,
as interpreter, mistress, and soon much more.
Alvaro had been a vizier to the last Moorish sultan, friend
of Cortes after his fashion, but no more truly loyal to the King
of Spain or the Cross than Marina was to either the Aztec over-
lords or the tribe than had betrayed her. He and Marina became
confidants, occasional secret lovers, and most of all co-conspira-
tors with Cortes, spin-doctors, speech-writers, who garbed Cortes
in the mantle of Quetzalcoatl, the three of them using the return-
ing god they created to raise a series of insurgent armies from
among the subject tribes, beginning a war of Spanish conquest
disguised as a war of liberation led by the Feathered Serpent.
As these armies marched, fought, conquered, moved inland
towards the great Valley of Mexico, heartland of the Aztec Empire,
the visionary prevaricator Montezuma alternately threatened,
attacked with proxy armies, sent lavish tribute in gold which only
whetted the Spanish appetite for much more, for he could not
decide whether he was confronting an alien enemy to destroy or a
returning god whose will must be obeyed.
In end, Cortes and his armies entered the great and magnifi-
cent city of Tenochtitlan without having to ever confront the
mighty armies of Montezuma himself in battle, welcomed as honored
guests by the subtle but vacillating emperor but also effectively
made prisoners in an impregnable fortress city in the center of a
When Cortes finally realized he had been cozened into enter-
ing this lavish prison, he hatched a plot to take Montezuma cap-
tive within the palace that the emperor had given the Spaniards.
Who was the prisoner and who the jailer? Who now now really
The Aztec princes decided that it was neither, and they and
their armies, priests, and tribesmen, rose up against both the
Spaniards and their allies and the captive emperor Cortes had made
his puppet, and what followed was a long, bloody war, a total war,
a war of conquest and resistance, with the Spaniards forthrightly
there to conquer for King and Cross and the Aztecs fighting to
prevent not only destruction of their entire civilization but
their gods themselves, a ruthless no-quarter Holy War, in which,
as far as both sides were concerned, with their very gods fighting
for the world they knew with them.
Cortes was a sincere Christian out to convert the heathens
and so save their souls from eternity in hell but just as sincere
a sophist, able to convince himself that since he was serving the
cause of his god, that god was serving his quest for conquest and
Montezuma was just as sincere a believer in his own gods, who
not only fed them human hearts and his own blood as well, but
sought to learn their will so that he could faithfully carry it
out, even if it mean surrendering his empire to an invader, even
if it meant his own death, even if it meant the passing of the
entire world as he knew it.
If this all too familiar in our post 9/11 world, in a very
real sense it is, for while history does not really repeat itself,
historical patterns do, and when two human civilizations at dif-
ferent levels of technological and particularly military develop-
ment, worshipping different gods, harboring different worldviews,
and so different beliefs and moralities at the deepest level of
consciousness, confront each other, such a clash of civilizations
is inevitable and a war of cultural extermination or survival,
alas, almost as inevitable.
Is this story then a triumph or a tragedy?
The victors write the history and the Conquest of Mexico is
usually written as the triumph of European civilization and Chris-
tianity over heathen barbarism, of Cortes over Montezuma, of New
Spain over the Aztec Empire.
And so it was. Hernando Cortes became a hero and ruler of
New Spain and his consort became Dona Marina, a great Spanish lady
who bore him children. Montezumas vacillations lost him an empire
that might otherwise have been preserved by his superior military
forces and the gods he believed he was obeying were cast down.
Cortes and Marinas triumph was Montezumas tragedy.
Alvaro, confidant and adviser to Cortes on his path of con-
quest, confident and friend of Montezuma during his captivity,
came to understand both worlds from the outside as a man truly
believing in neither, but sympathetic in his sardonic manner to
both, survived the sack of Tenochtitlan, retreated to a small
village high on a volcano, to write down the true tale, as
penance, as expiation for his part in bringing it all about.
And there he remained for the rest of his life, long enough
to see something new being born below in the conquered land,
something that was neither the Aztec Empire nor a conquered Span-
ish province called New Spain, but in the end the coming together
of both into something more complex and deeper than either.
A unique culture and a great nation calling itself Mexico.