A lot of stress is placed on Castilian atrocities* in the Mexica Empire between 1519 and 1521, but often the role of the Tlaxcalans, Totonacs, and other native allies of the Spanish is under-acknowledged. In fact, many contemporary sources attest that the Spanish would have much preferred presenting Tenochtitlan as an unspoiled prize for Emp. Charlies V, and when it was clear that the only way to dominate what Cortes considered a Mexica “rebellion,” would be to subdue the city via siege. “Probably all non-Mexica [Indians] were happy at the thought of razing Tenochtitlan. All the peoples of the valley wanted to settle scores with the Mexica. Only the Castilians seem to have had any regrets at all for the policy which their commanders had decided upon”.
Upon entering Tenochtitlan near the end of the conquest, “[the native allies] killed- women and children as well as ‘warriors’ - with a ferocity which shocked the Castilians. Cortes thought that ‘no race has ever practiced such fierce and unnatural cruelty as the naturales of those parts’. All the later accounts agree that the Spanish sought to prevent their allies from carrying out a massacre, but were unsuccessful. Everywhere, there were to be seen broken bones, ruined houses, roofs fallen in, houses stained with blood, unburned bodies in the street. Cortes returned to his camp at Xoloc, glad to leave the smell of dead bodies, and the sight of starving Indians. The Spaniards said that they or their allies killed or captured 40,000 that day.”
Painting, Conquista de Mexico por Cortes, artist unknown.
Quotes text from Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico (503, 522)
*:I’m not comfortable calling the actions of the Castilians, Tlaxcalans, or Mexica “atrocities” since our current moral viewpoint is worlds different from their contemporary places. A great many instances of ethical action, both violent and non-violent were comparable among all three, and I hope to publish a post soon discussing in a bit more detail.