What is your response to Chapter 1, First Encounters: The Confrontation Between Cortes and Montezuma (1519-1521)?
Landing in Mexico with only a few hundred men, sixteen horses and cannon, and later a collection of native allies, Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors could have been easily snuffed out by a large Aztec force, should one have been sent early enough.
A huge, unexpected boon was that Cortes was believed by Montezuma to be an incarnation and promised return of the Aztecs' deity, Quetzlcoatl. Cortes used this to gain entrance to Tenochtitlan and eventually sought to gain quicker control over the Aztec empire through seizing and imprisoning Montezuma. Famously burning his ships at the shore, Cortes was able to motivate and galvanize his smaller force to conquer Mexico or die.
Between 1519 and 1521, Cortes and his combined force of Spanish and native tribes, fought a protracted battle against the Aztecs for control of Tenochtitlan and the surrounding country. On August 13, 1521, after fighting one street at a time, Tenochtitlan was firmly in control of Cortes, and it would soon be renamed Mexico City.
While the Aztecs could have wiped Cortes and his forces off the map early on, the mystique around Cortes, the kidnapping and later murder of Montezuma by his own people, and the very real alliances Cortes formed with the tribes who despised Aztec control turned the improbable into the inevitable.
Montezuma and the Aztecs never had a chance. Montezuma thought that the Spanish were a prophecy come to reality, that is they thought that Cortes was god. The Spanish were there for one thing, gold. Cortes was quoted as saying "Spaniards suffer from a disease that only gold can cure". That quote says it all.
Because the Aztecs thought of Cortes as a god, they allowed the strangers in their land many liberties. Cortes used this to his advantage. The Spaninsh had the better technology.
The Spanish conquered the Aztecs gained incredible wealth from this conquest and enslaved the natives and built a huge empire in the new world.
Initially the confrontation can only be compared to the meeting of humans with an alien life form -- each seeing the other as other worldly. The advantages were all on Cortes' side. Moctezuma was the reigning ruler of a warlike land that no longer had anyone who really threatened them. In that there is almost an allusion to the end of the cold War in our epoch and the emergence of the United States as the only Super Power.
Additionally there was the Quetzacoatl effect: the Aztecas were expecting someone who resembled Cortes at least superficially.
Finally there the motive argument, Moctezuma could not afford to lose face to this small contingent of strangers, his whole world was watching. He must remain imperial and imperturbable. Yet Cortes had destroyed his own ships and made it clear to his men that for him it was "todo o nada!"