Aztecs Meet the Spanish

  Teacher notes

rightSpanish explorer Hernan Cortés encountered the Aztecs in 1519 and conquered them in 1521, claiming their empire for Spain.  He then destroyed the Aztecs capital city of Tenochtitlan and rebuilt a Spanish city on its ruins.

 It is the year 1527 and an Independent Counsel has been chosen by the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church to determine a policy for the Church toward future exploration, conquest and conversion of the native people of Mexico

You and your partners will represent either the Spanish or the Aztecs.  You will be assigned a role and asked to find information and report to the Special Counsel so that he may help to formulate the Church Policy.  The Spanish will want to present an argument supporting the conquest.  The Aztecs will want to present logical objections to the actions of the Spanish.

Your research and report needs to be done as quickly as possible since another Spanish explorer, Coronado, is planning to search for the legendary "Seven Cities of Gold" and Pizarro is readying an expedition to find another rich Indian culture to conquer. Also, Portugal is planning an expedition to its new land called Brazil and the Church needs to formulate its policy without delay

Photo from, ""

The Process

As part of the process you will:

  1. Keep a daily journal of your research and other activities.
  2. Study maps and documents.
  3. Look for information to support your objection to, or support of the conquest.
  4. Check the opposing sides version.
  5. Record the similarities and differences between your view and, that of the opposing side on a venn diagram or other graphic organizer.
  6. Answer the questions provided and post them, as a group, on a poster created for that purpose, as mentioned in Step 2, Part 13.
  7. Write a 5 paragraph position paper based on your role, in order to help the Counsel decide what Church policy should be.
  8. Report to the Independent Counsel in front of the College of Cardinals and Pope where you or your representatives will also be asked to explain how your information may help to change history.
Step 1:  Divide the class in half and assign roles as follows:
Aztec Representatives:
Spanish Representatives:

Step 2:  Assign Jobs as follows:

  1. Keepers of the Historical Archives will research information about the history of their people.
  2. Religious historians will research the historical information about the religion of their people.
  3. Priests will research and describe the ceremonies and beliefs of their people.
  4. Cultural historians will research information about the lives of their people (marriage, clothing, food, family).
  5. Cartographers will research and recreate maps of their areas with appropriate legends (keys) and dates.
  6. Military leaders will research and describe methods of fighting, weapons available, uniforms worn, etc.
  7. Representatives of each of the leaders will research their leader, and describe their motivation for the actions taken.
  8. Cortés will be allowed his own representative to plead his cause before the Independent Counsel.
  9. Investigative reporters will organize and coordinate research, checking both sides.
  10. Horoscope writers will use research (calendars, etc.) to organize and write monthly horoscopes for the parties involved.
  11. Cartoonists/artists will create drawings of information gained from the research.
  12. Sports writers will describe the various sporting activities of their culture.
  13. Legal staff members will attempt to organize the information into a legal presentation.  (see legal brief form)  Before the legal staff members have information to organize, they shall create a large poster with the headings matching the questions to be researched below in Step 5.  Each side should have matching posters.  As information is obtained, the answers to the questions should be put on the poster

 Step 3 First Journal Entry

Step 4:  Everyone will need to have the answers to the following questions. 

Divide the research topics among the group and, as the information becomes available, write the question and the answer in your journals:

  1. What do you know about Christopher Columbus, his four voyages, and motivations for his explorations?
  2. Who were "the major players" ? 
    a. Spanish Rulers 1470 to 1521? Pope(s).
    b. 1470 to 1521? 
    c. Aztecs rulers 1470 to 1521?
  3. What occurred in the years 1519 to 1521 on the mainland of Mexico (from the time of Cortés landing to the final conquest of Tenochtitlan)?
Step 5:  Assign the following questions according to the assigned roles.

Make sure that all questions are covered and answers explained.   Answers will be recorded in the daily journal of the person doing that research and posted on the poster.

Questions for the Spanish Group
  1. Was Spain an empire?
  2. Were all Spanish subjects the same?
  3. What was Spain or Europe like from 1250 to 1519 and what role did Spain play in the European community?  In its history?
  4. What was Spanish culture like?  (sports, holidays, foods, etc.)
  5. What was the Spanish religion like?
  6. What was the Spanish Inquisition?
  7. What kind of weapons, uniforms, warfare, did the Spanish use?
  8. Who ruled and how did they get the job?
  9. What did the land look like?
  10. What legal or historical right did Cortés have to attack and conquer the Aztecs?
  11. What was Cortés motivation?
  12. Who authorized his actions?
  13. How did the conquest affect the history and people of Spain? 
 Questions for the Aztec Group
  1. Did the Aztecs have an empire?
  2. Were all the Aztec subjects of Aztec culture?
  3. What was Mexico like from 1250 to 1519 and what role did the Mexica (Aztecs) play in its history?
  4. What was the Aztec culture/mythology like? (sports, holidays, foods, etc.)
  5. What was the Aztec religion like? Why were there Aztec sacrifices?
  6. What kind of weapons, uniforms, warfare did  the Aztecs use?
  7. Who ruled and how did he get his job?
  8. What did land look like?
  9. Why did Montezuma invite Cortés to Tenochtitlan? What was his motivation?
  10. How did the conquest affect the history and people of the area to be called Mexico?

Questions for Both Groups 

  1. How different were the Spanish from the Aztecs?
  2. If the Aztecs (and other Native Americans) had been able to voice their objection to the activities of the Spanish (Portuguese, French, English, etc.) other than by fighting and losing, how might history have been changed?
  3. What information can you give the College of Cardinals and their Independent Counsel in the year 1527?   Would your recommendations have changed history?
Task 6:  Based on your role, write your 5 paragraph position paper.   (Artists/cartoonists can create their position in art)

Task 7: Organize your information. 

As a group, organize your information for your representatives to present before the Special Counsel and the College of Cardinals and the Pope.  You may use charts, maps, drawings, cartoons, documents, etc. to present your case.

Task 8:  Present your position(s) to the Independent Counsel

Decide if each person will present or your legal advisors will present.  Use visuals, your posters and cartoons or drawings to help show your point of view.  Stay focused on the issues.  Support your side with all the relevant information you have found.

The Photo from, ""

Learning Advice

Stay organized and on task.  Be sure to:

  1. Write in your journal every day, recording what you did, what you found, the questions you can answer and what the answers are.
  2. Identify the people involved and be sure you understand your role.
  3. Have a dictionary on hand so you can look up any word you do not understand in text(s) you are using for research.
  4. Have your history-social science textbook in front of you to access maps you cannot find on the Internet or in Atlases.
  5. Evaluate your sources for prejudice or bias. Reassign work among members of the research team if necessary.


The class will create a rubric for grading this activity.  Each individual is responsible for his/her job and based on a 5 point scale, with 5 being the top and 1 being the score for a non-work, will be evaluated by other group members for an individual grade.  The presentation before the Independent Counsel will be graded by a student-created rubric which must include evaluation of preparation, validity of argument, amount of research used, use of visuals if available and attention to detail. Appropriateness of behavior during the testimony may also be included as part of the rubric's evaluation.  The teacher will be grading the journal entries and five paragraph position papers.


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The students will reflect on this activity after the presentation and judgment by writing a 1 to 1.5 page essay that answers the following questions:


As times change, the ideas of culture, nationhood, government, conquest, empires, civil rights , legality and differences between people have changed too.  Were the indigenous peoples of the New World so different from their European counterparts?  Were the empires they created so different?  Should similarity or difference make any difference in judging historical events of the late 15th to 17th centuries?  Students need to understand that history does not take place in a vacuum and that surrounding events and prevailing attitudes do shape decisions made in context.  Could history be changed based upon understandings and information available in our times?  We can just imagine....

Materials and Resources

Materials:  Access to the Internet, maps, historical atlases, encyclopedias, World History or Latin American History textbooks, paper for journal entries, venn diagrams or graphics, and organizers.

Resources:  Internet links

1517, a Novel
All about Charles V (Carlos V), Spain, explorers etc.
All About Spain, History
A short few paragraphs about Spanish History -- scroll down to appropriate spot. 
Information on Dentistry, Stars, Codex Rios, maps, War Drum, Teotihaucan
Aztec Calendar
Information on the Calendar
Aztec Calendar
The Aztec Calendar  Tells the day by the Aztec Calendar
Aztec Mythology
Information about the beliefs of the Aztecs with links to the Maya equivalent
End of an Empire: The Spanish Conquest of the Mexico [PDF]
Bullfight by All About Spain Page
Spanish Culture -- the Bullfight
Charles V
Information about Charles V (Carlos V)

Inquisition Timeline
Click on 1478 and 1515 for more information

Medieval Sourcebook -Christopher Columbus - Extracts and readings from Columbus's journal.
Picture and biography
Origins of Mexico
Patterns in Early Spanish Overseas Expansion by John E. Kicza, Why land was given to explorers as a reward.
Religious Orders, The Indian, And The Conquest:  Fifty Years of Dispute and Contradiction. The feathered and painted beings encountered by the Spaniards confounded the entire Spanish nation, from King to commoner.  Who was the Indian?  Was he man or beast?  Was he a rational being?  A short essay about these questions and more. 
Aztec Art from the Teocalli
Texas Explorers:  Cortez
Interesting contemporary letter about Cortez influence on Texas History 

Books and Magazines:

Burch, Joann J.  Isabella of Castile, Queen on Horseback.  New York:  Franklin Watts, 1991

Carlson, John B.  "America's Ancient Skywatchers."   National Geographic.  March, 1990, pp. 76-132  (Astronomy in Mexico with graphics.)

Crow, John A.  Spain, The Root and the Flower.  New York:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1963

Deagan, Kthlen A.  "Europe s First Foothold in the New World."   National Geographic, January, 1992, pp. 40-52.

De La Haba, Louis.  "Mexico, The City that Founded a Nation." National Geographic.  May, 1973, pp. 638-669.

Edwards, David L.  Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years.  Maryknoll, New York:  Orbis Books, 1997

Johnson, William Weber  Cortés.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company, 1975

Kamen, Henry   Inquisition and Society in Spain.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1985  (They said that they were looking for souls to save from hell...)

Kicza, John E.  "Patterns in Early Spanish Overseas Expansion" .  The William and Mary Quarterly, April, 1992, pp. 229-253.

Lloyd, Alan.  The Spanish Centuries.  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, 1968

Lyon, Eugene.  "Search for Columbus".  National Geographic.  January, 1992,. pp. 3-39.

MacDonald, Fiona.  How Would You Survive as an Aztec?  New York:  Franklin Watts, 1995

McDowell, Bart.  "The Aztecs",   National Geographic. December 1980, pp. 704-752.

Orozco, Cecilio.  The Book of the Sun Tonatiuh.  Fresno, California:  California State University, Fresno, 1992

Moctezuma, Eduardo Matos.  "New Finds in the Great Temple",   National Geographic.   December, 1980, pp. 766-775

Montes, Augusto F. Molina.  "The Building of Tenochtitlan",   National Geographic.   December, 1980, pp. 753-765  (with great foldout map of the Aztec Empire).

Rubin, Nancy  Isabella of Castile, The First Renaissance Queen.  New York:  St. Martin s Press, 1991

Wilkerson, S. Jeffery K.  "Following Cortes: Path to Conquest ",   National Geographic. October, 1984, pp. 420-459.  (The route to Mexico City from Vera Cruz with pictures!) 


Gina Otto
Granada Middle School, East Whittier City SD

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Last Revised: 03/20/06