What Were the Similarities & Differences Between the Aztecs & the Spanish?
29 SEP 2017
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico was considered a turning point in the history of the Americas. After the conquest and that of Peru, indigenous civilizations never ruled the Americas again and the Spanish hold on it grew to encompass most of the Western Hemisphere. Though the Aztecs and the Spaniards came from separate continents and had many differences, there were a number of similarities between them, too.
Both the Aztecs and the Spaniards were expansionist and imperialist peoples, but the Aztecs used a tribute system while the Spaniards used colonialism. The Aztecs conquered the city-states surrounding Tenochtitlan and their own city-states and demanded tribute and persons to use as human sacrifices. After the Spaniards reclaimed southern Spain from the Moors, the Spaniards participated in an expansionist rivalry with Portugal, which resulted in the conquest and direct control of Melilla (in north Africa), the Canary Islands (off the coast of Africa), Puerto Rico and Cuba before the conquest of Mexico.
Both the Spaniards and the Aztecs were deeply religious peoples who acted in the name of their religion and had priests. Their religions, however, differed greatly. The Spaniards worshiped God and revered the Virgin Mary and the saints, while the Aztecs worshiped a variety of gods and goddesses that governed activities or qualities such as agriculture, war, the sun and growth. Christian beliefs encouraged the Spaniards to try to convert the non-believing (non-Christian) peoples they encountered, while the Aztec beliefs encouraged them to use prisoners of war and other people for human sacrifices to appease their gods.
Both the Spanish Empire and the Aztec Empire were ruled by a strong central figure. In the case of the Spaniards, this was the king, or more specifically, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castile; these were hereditary positions. In the case of the Aztecs, the emperor was the supreme leader and was worshiped as a god. In fact, the emperor was the leader of Tenochtitlan’s supreme city council, with Montezuma II being the last Aztec Emperor before the conquest of Mexico. The emperor position was not hereditary.
Before the cross-fertilization of foods and cooking techniques that occurred after the conquest of Mexico, the Aztecs and the Spaniards had vastly different diets that included some foods not found on the other continent. The Aztecs ate foods such as corn tortillas (a flat bread made from ground corn), beans, squash, tomatoes, potatoes and a type of cheese made with algae, and they drank chocolate. Sometimes they ate fish and meat. The Spaniards ate leavened bread made from wheat, and stews made from legumes like garbanzo beans and lentils. In season, they also ate fish, meat and eggs. They drank wine from fermented grapes.