Culture Shock: The Arrival of the Conquistadores in Aztec Mexico

Historian article

By Jenni Hyde, published 10th August 2010

When the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in Mexico during the early sixteenth century there were many repercussions for the indigenous people. Their conversion to Christianity and the sacking of their temples are two of the most well known examples.  However, it is often forgotten that the Aztecs had only a pictorial writing system and relied on speech, song and poetry to pass on their history, ideas and customs. The alphabet that the Conquistadores brought with them was far more flexible in terms of what it could record, and yet was limited in the sense that it froze an oral tradition at a particular moment in time.

The oral tradition of the Aztecs bound them together, through society's collective responsibility to ensure the continued transmission of their culture from one generation to the next. The ancient Aztec books, maps and scrolls were known as codices and were made up of pictorial records, or glyphs, painted onto deerskin or native paper...

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