Abstract

This article provides an analysis of Chimalpahin’s additions to Francisco López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista de México. In his account, Chimalpahin draws attention to the plurality of ethnic states, their cultural practices, and political conflicts. In this article, the author argues that Chimalpahin’s modifications depict a Nahua version of the conquest in which the emphasis on the native’s active participation reflects its effect in the outcome of the war even though such contributions are often unseen in the most representative narratives of the event. It shows that Chimalpahin participates in the production of an indigenous collective memory and that he had the agency to create an account that clarifies, and even challenges, Spanish-centered narratives such as López de Gómara’s work.

The most representative, lasting narratives of the Conquest of Mexico tend to provide a Spanish-centered view of the event that highlights the efforts of the conquistadores while briefly mentioning the active participation of indigenous groups. Among these narratives, Matthew Restall (2003: 16) identifies Hernán Cortés’s Cartas de relación, Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s firsthand report Historia verdadera de la conquista de México, and Francisco López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista de México as the most influential accounts of the conquest.1 López de Gómara’s work, initially published in 1552, stands out as it exalts Cortés’s military tactics that defeated indigenous peoples and makes him the center of the narrative.2 Because of his focus, López de Gómara does not give the deserved credit to some of Cortés’s allies, such as the people of Tlaxcala, and excludes relevant information of the existing social dynamics among indigenous groups. Nevertheless, a few decades after the publication of López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista, the Nahua historian don Domingo de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin decided to elaborate on some elements that were missing in López de Gómara’s account. Instead of just reproducing the history word by word, Chimalpahin made highly suggestive additions in which he draws attention to the plurality of altepetl (ethnic states),3 their cultural practices and political conflicts, and how they reacted to the presence of the Spaniards.

How do the changes made by an indigenous historian modify the narrative of a Spanish chronicler? And how do these deviate readers’ attention from Cortés’s efforts? In this article, I answer these questions by analyzing the additions that draw attention to the larger number of altepetl existing at the time of the so-called Conquest of Mexico. I discuss how these modifications address pivotal native contributions and bring into focus the importance of existing power and social dynamics. I argue that all these elements combined depict a new version of a war in which the emphasis on the native’s active participation reflects its effect in the outcomes of the war. Furthermore, Chimalpahin’s work offers a unique Nahua perspective on the way indigenous peoples perceived and reacted to the presence of the Spaniards. Overall, these modifications show the agency of a Nahua historian who had the cultural capital to create a narrative that aimed to influence our understanding of this historical event while contesting a Spanish-centered narrative.

Current research has paid attention to the contributions of indigenous figures such as Chimalpahin in the field of cultural production. The valuable scholarly work of Susan Schroeder, Rafael Tena, Arthur J. O. Anderson, José Rubén Romero Galván, and David Tavárez, among others,4 has contributed to our understanding of Chimalpahin’s works, mainly those written in Nahuatl, and has established him as the most prolific indigenous writer in early colonial Mexico. Regarding his version of López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista, also known as the Browning Manuscript,5 Schroeder, Tavárez, Anne J. Cruz, and Cristian Roa-de-la-Carrera prepared an edition in which they highlight the editorial work of Chimalpahin and translated the text into English (see Chimalpahin 2010).6 Their introductory essays provide a description of the eighteenth-century copy of Chimalpahin’s work, explain the approach used to translate it, and give information about the life and work of López de Gómara. Schroeder (2010: 5) explains that the Browning Manuscript (1746) is a copy made by Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci and that there are six existing copies of Chimalpahin’s work even though its original is now lost. Tavárez (2010) offers thoughtful insights on Chimalpahin’s additions pointing out that these are related to Nahua history and culture, the author’s perspective on the Spaniards, and his concerns as an annalist. He states that Chimalpahin “manages to turn the tables on the frequent appropriation of indigenous annals and narratives by Spanish chronicles and doctrinal authors” (28). The work of these scholars provides, indeed, a solid basis to further analyze Chimalpahin’s modifications.

Regarding the conquest of Mexico, recent influential scholarship has reframed its analysis by challenging the image of natives as subordinated peoples and recognizing that they played a cardinal role in the conquest. Following a revisionist approach, recent monographs by Restall and Florine Asselbergs have shown how the intricate network of agreements between indigenous states and Spaniards secured victory for these allies in the Spanish-Mexica wars and resulted in privileges for native allies after the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The existence and success of native armies are, as Schroeder (2007: 30) states, the most widely known and accepted aspect of this revisionist view of the conquest. Indigenous involvement was such that the so-called Conquest of Mexico can rather be seen as rebellion against Mexico-Tenochtitlan (see Restall 2003: 46). As Barbara E. Mundy (2015: 75) puts it, “The fall of Tenochtitlan was precipitated by the uprising of longtime enemies and resentful vassal states who joined with the Spaniards and waged a deadly war against the island-bound Mexica.” Ross Hassig (2006: 5) states that the natives even had control since they were the ones who actually understood their political system and people.7 In this article, I draw on the growing corpus of historiography of new conquest history by carrying out a close reading of Chimalpahin’s modifications to López de Gómara’s work.8 These additions stress the natives’ participation, social dynamics, politics, and cultural practices. I focus on indigenous works to create a more complete analysis from their perspective while comparing Chimalpahin’s work with two prominent narratives of the conquest: Cortés’s Cartas de relación and Díaz del Castillo’s Historia verdadera de la conquista de México.

To better understand Chimalpahin’s modifications to López de Gómara’s work, it is important to consider that throughout his life Chimalpahin heavily invested time in accumulating cultural knowledge, accessing different sources about pre-Hispanic history. This cultural capital (understood as cultural knowledge, competences, or dispositions) equipped him with appreciation for and competence in deciphering cultural artifacts and relations.9 He was a bicultural agent who used his knowledge of the Nahuatl language to access and analyze information about several altepetl and interact with the authorities who safeguarded such records. Chimalpahin had annals and genealogies from such altepetl as Aztcapotzalco, Chalco, Colhuacan, Tezcoco, and Tlatelolco, among many others (Schroeder 2016).10 In Las ocho relaciones y el memorial de Colhuacan, for instance, Chimalpahin (2003) asserts that he interviewed his uncle Vicente de la Anunciación. In the “Octava relación,” Chimalpahin (2003: 306–8) wrote that he asked him, “Where did you get this huehuetlatolli that belonged to the Tenanca of Tzacualtitlan that you painted by your own hand? Since I recognized the way your hand writes and paints.” As this passage illustrates, Chimalpahin was able to interpret valuable indigenous forms of knowledge such as the huehuehtlahtolli, the ancient word. As a member of the nobility in Amecameca Chalco,11 he also used his social capital to facilitate his interactions with some Nahua elite members, such as Anunciación, and get a deeper knowledge of the documents that he accessed.

Chimalpahin also retrieved copious sources during his tenure at the church of San Antonio Abad, where he arrived at the age of fourteen and worked as a fiscal (a priest’s assistant and steward). While in Mexico City he joined the Nahua’s Capilla de San Josef in the San Francisco church, which was “the hub of indigenous activity in Mexico City” (Schroeder 2013: 64). The library in San Josef, as Schroeder also points out, was important for Chimalpahin since it granted him access to numerous books, manuscripts, as well as indigenous pictorial accounts, broadening his cultural competencies.12 His knowledge of Western European sources, for instance, is visible in his works, which Sam A. D. Messiaen (2003) has studied in detail.13 Recently, Andrew Laird (2018) has also pointed out additional European influences on Chimalpahin’s work, such as Isidore of Seville, even though they are not directly stated. In the Historia de la conquista Chimalpahin uses his knowledge of Western European culture with the possible intention of reaching a larger audience beyond the Nahua community. In one brief intervention, for instance, Chimalpahin (2012: 307) compares Cortés with “Alexander the Great in his munificence.”14

As a bicultural agent, the Nahua historian used this accumulated material to produce cultural artifacts in both languages. On the topic of the Conquest of Mexico specifically, he also wrote a brief description of this event in Nahuatl, which is included in the “Séptima relación.” Here, he briefly touches on such topics as the Spaniards’ arrival in Tlaxcala and Mexico-Tenochtitlan, chickenpox, Moctezuma’s death, and the end of the war. Because it is written as part of his annals, it includes mostly names of nobility, their genealogies, and roles during the war. Even though this version of the conquest is considerably shorter than his modifications to López de Gómara’s work, it provides additional information that I incorporate accordingly in my analysis here.

While Chimalpahin’s version of the Historia de la conquista was initially intended to be a copy of López de Gómara’s work (see Schroeder 2010: 4), the final work displays significant additions. These begin around chapter 49 with the description of the Spaniards’ arrival in Tlaxcala and become more significant as he describes the battles that took place among the Spaniards, Tlaxcalans, Mexica, and many other altepetl.15 It is not clear when Chimalpahin worked on these additions, even though it is known that his Nahuatl annals were prepared between 1610 and 1620 (Schroeder 2016). He wrote at a moment in which possession and production of historical writing were not “a clandestine affair—as the possession of old prayers or incarnations was—for the Spaniards saw nothing wrong in the people’s recording of their histories” (Townsend 2017: 4).16 This particularity of colonial Mexico contributed to the production of a native narrative of the conquest that aimed to provide a more vivid account, which not only contributes to the indigenous collective memory but also modifies our perception of the Nahuas’ participation in the war.

Some of Chimalpahin’s most informative additions concern the contributions of the people of Tlaxcala, the well-known allies of the Spaniards. Their participation is notorious in historical accounts, as Tlaxcalans left a large corpus of works, such as the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, Códice Tlaxcala, and Historia de Tlaxcala, to mention just a few, in which they emphasize their support of the Spanish army. While they mainly wrote to secure exceptions from tribute and gain royal favors,17 Chimalpahin seems to be more interested in providing identities to some of their leaders who took part in determining events. One of these was the initial meeting between the Tlaxcalan leaders Xicotencatl and Mixixcatzin and Cortés. Here, Chimalpahin (2012: 168) deems it appropriate to add Tlehuexolotzin and Citlalpopocatzin to this critical encounter that would bring Spaniards and Tlaxcalans together against the people of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.18 According to Charles Gibson (1967: 18), historians did not put together these four names until the eighteenth century. Chimalpahin, on the other hand, was able to add them to his account, showing a broad knowledge of indigenous history. As a matter of fact, he includes the same information in his account in Nahuatl, emphasizing how Maxixcatzin, lord of Ocetelolco; Xicotencatl, lord of Tizatlan; Tlehuexolotzin, lord of Tepetipac; and Citlalpopocatzin, lord of Quiyahuitztlan, received the Spaniards in peace after they had killed many Tlaxcalans (Chimalpahin 2003: 153).

In the following chapters, Chimalpahin (2012: 178) also brings up the participation of Tecuanhuehuetzin, who was “the principal lord of that city, and many other [men],” previously identified by López de Gómara (2006: 93) as just “Capitan General.” While Chimalpahin does not extensively elaborate on Tecuanhuehuetzin or mention his specific contributions, he indicates that Cortés appointed him as the governor of Cholula after its ambush and massacre. His appointment can be understood both as a reward for his service and as an important political strategy that would favor the Spaniards and their allies since it served as a visible sign of the privileges available to leaders who decided to join them. By remarking on specific Nahua leaders, such as the four Tlaxcalan lords or Tecuanhuehuetzin, Chimalpahin gives them an identity. Thereby, they become part of this historical event and part of the indigenous collective memory.

To further elaborate on the participation of Tlaxcalan lords, Chimalpahin includes specifics of Chichimecateuctli, whose contributions are notorious as he is also mentioned by Díaz del Castillo and Cortés himself.19 Díaz del Castillo (2013: 297), in particular, recalled a similar episode in which Chichimecateuctli confronted Gónzalo de Sandoval because he was asked to move to the rear of the army.20 He states that Chichimecateuctli accepted the order of Sandoval once the latter told him that he was going to be on the rear as well. Chimalpahin (2012: 302), on the other hand, stresses how Sandoval was “astonished” by Chichimecateuctli’s reaction to his request. He goes to explain that the Tlaxcalan leader saw this petition as an insult to his honor. After all, Chichimecateuctli had always been in the lead of the army, not only because of his bravery on the battlefield but also because “the Lords of Tlaxcala and other Friends” had elected him Captain of Tlaxcala (Chimalpahin 2012: 303). These additions not only provide a different perspective but also highlight the complexity of power dynamics, as some Nahua leaders were not necessarily submissive to the Spaniards. By the same token, he uses this episode as an opportunity to provide insight into the way natives understood their rank in the army according to their traditions. Chichimecateuctli’s demands to lead his army, indeed, point to pre-Hispanic cultural practices in which this was considered an honor.21

This support by the Tlaxcalans of the Spanish army enabled them to exercise social and political power, which was then transformed and functioned as symbolic power in social practice. As the case of Chichimecateuctli reveals, Tlaxcalans positioned themselves as strong warriors who were perceived as equals and/or superiors of Spaniards, and at the same time that they exercised agency, they demanded what they thought they deserved. This recognition is evident when, according to Chimalpahin (2012: 302), Sandoval decided that “for not going against his will, at the end, he kept his honorable post at the front and two minor captains were posted at the rear.” Chimalpahin’s depiction of the Tlaxcalans proudly leading their armies can be read along with their own records. In the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (Chavero 1979), for instance, there are several plates in which a Tlaxcalan warrior appears ahead of a Spaniard during combat.22

To make such contributions more evident, Chimalpahin (2012: 306) constantly draws attention to how they “courageously resisted” or “bravely fought tooth and nail,” marveling the Spaniards who observed them. What is more, he provides specifics of how they remained present at crucial moments. Chimalpahin writes that, in the war of the Spaniards, Tlaxcala, and Texcoco against Xochimilco and Mexico-Tenochtitlan, for example, when Cortés’s horse fell on the ground from exhaustion, “a noble Tlaxcalteca that was named Ocelotzin defended him furiously because they wanted to take him captive” (322). When defending Cortés, Ocelotzin also killed more than six brave Mexica who “had dared to try to take him and at the end they brought him a better horse, and he went in the company of this Indian who was going ahead to make way” (322) until Cortés reached the Spanish infantry. At this passage illustrates, Ocelotzin, whose name is absent in López de Gómara’s account as well as Cortés’s and Díaz del Castillo’s, takes center stage in this skirmish, bravely fighting against the Mexica and their allies. The Tlaxcalan warrior even protects Cortés, who appears to be on the ground and is symbolically picked up by Ocelotzin himself. By giving specifics on the individual contributions of leaders, such as Chichimecateuctli and Ocelotzin, Chimalpahin makes them part of the indigenous collective memory even though their presence and/or actions went unnoticed in Spanish narratives.

Driven by his interest to highlight the different ways that Tlaxcalans assisted the Spaniards, Chimalpahin provides insight into the work of commoners as the workforce behind the construction of equipment. Regarding the famous brigantines, he makes subtle but informative additions that shift the focus to the indigenous people involved in their construction. Chimalpahin (2012: 304) points out that Tlaxcalans did not rest for “several [days] until they assembled the brigantines,” while the Spaniards were “idle” during the construction. The hard work of the commoners differs from López de Gómara’s (2006: 177) description, in which he states that Tlaxcalans rested “for four days, and then Cortés ordered the carpenters to assemble and nail the brigantines.” In this version, Cortés appears as the mastermind behind the construction and carries the action; however, Chimalpahin stresses Tlaxcalans’ hard labor, while the Spaniard remains in the background, losing centrality in the narrative. His account stresses how actions did not emanate necessarily from Cortés or the Spaniards but, rather, from the natives, who were constantly active as warriors or workforce.23

This depiction of the people of Tlaxcala created by Chimalpahin certainly shares similarities with accounts prepared by this altepetl itself. Nevertheless, his work is unique in the sense that Tlaxcala is not his altepetl of origin, nor does he identify ethnically with them. This is noteworthy since native accounts tend to “represent the point of view of a single Nahua altepetl, or local state, and extended community led by its hereditary elite” (Terraciano 2011: 56). By the same token, Chimalpahin does not make any reference to the role of Tlaxcalans as good Christians who accepted and supported Christianity, something that is strongly emphasized in native accounts. This was, indeed, a central theme in their works, and as Travis Barton Kranz (2010: 60) points out, “as the Tlaxcalteca recognized how important the propagation of the Christian faith was to the Spaniards, they reenvisioned their arguments to show that they had accepted the new beliefs.” Rewriting an individual altepetl’s history was not new to the people of Tlaxcala or any other altepetl. In the Nahua tradition, it was common to construct political arguments, “reinterpreting or reconfiguring past events to fit contemporary circumstances” (Boornazian Diel 2008: 6). The lack of emphasis on Christianity in Chimalpahin’s additions is particularly striking when we take into account that he was “a devout Catholic” who “invested heavily in learning the writing of the great church fathers” (Schroeder 2013: 74).

Chimalpahin’s focus, rather, seems to be on the deeds and shortcomings of Tlaxcalans as warriors, which allows him to provide a fuller and less biased account of them. He aims to reveal an army of people who played a key role in the war and deserve to be acknowledged and remembered by future generations. This is why he is also able to describe their abuses, such as robbing and capturing women, which produces a less glorifying representation of them. By doing so, he also distances his work from Tlaxcala’s own records, such as Códice Tlaxcala (see Wake 2002: 91), whose main purpose was to demand privileges from the Spanish Crown based on their military service.24 Furthermore, Chimalpahin provides an alternative native perspective in which they are not portrayed as mere traitors who served the Spaniards or as ambitious thieves, as Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl depicts them. By adding all these specifics, Chimalpahin presents a more impartial viewpoint in which their efforts can also be appreciated as a result of their actual contributions.

To that extent, Chimalpahin also indicates that Tlaxcala’s alliance to the Spaniards was a consequence of the rivalry between them and the Mexica, underlining in particular the distinct impact of the xochiyaoyotl (flower wars) in their power dynamics.25 By the time the Spaniards arrived, Tlaxcala had been at constant war with the Mexica and were not willing to pledge alliance with them. Following the perspective of those who were under the Mexica’s rulership, Chimalpahin (2012: 176) writes that “they said that ever since they had begun waging wars, their men trained in these battles where captives were taken, or were rescued, as I said, for salt or mantas or cotton, and other necessities.” The xochiyaoyotl, Chimalpahin observes, served as training camps that mostly benefited the Mexica since they used them to train their young warriors. This military aspect of the xochiyaoyotl is something that Chimalpahin also covers in Las ocho relaciones y el memorial de Colhuacan, where he describes the wars between the Mexica and multiple altepetl.

Yet, in the additions to López de Gómara’s work, Chimalpahin underscores the economic aspects involved in this military cultural practice. As the previous passage suggests, there was the option to rescue captives in exchange for salt and cotton after the wars.26 Nevertheless, these two commodities were rarely available to those alienated by the Mexica since they were cut off from trade (Gibson 1967: 15). Moreover, the socioeconomic system of the region was under their control. This context forced the enemies of the Mexica to buy salt “secretly and clandestinely” from the “pochtecas who are like Merchants that sell slaves for salt and cotton that they paid” (Chimalpahin 2012: 176). It explains why Tlaxcalans usually took “salt loads” and mantas (blankets used as tribute items) with them after attacking towns during the wars against the people of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and their allies. By the same token, it is noteworthy that he mentions the pochtecas. These merchants played the role of spies, bringing back “information for the state as well as general assessments of the political climate, based on the way they had been received” (Hassig 1988: 30). López de Gómara certainly mentions the xochiyaoyotl and that Moctezuma denied his enemies access to these products; nevertheless, he does not elaborate on their significance in natives’ economic and power dynamics. Chimalpahin, on the other hand, underscores their overreaching impact among the natives and the alliances to be formed. That is, by the time the Spaniards arrived, indigenous peoples were dealing with their own political, social, and economic problems, and in this context, they found potential allies as they were perceived as the lesser of two evils.

There were, without a doubt, several altepetl whose rulers chose to join the Spaniards. Among these, Chimalpahin mentions the support of Chimalhuapan, Cuitlahuac, Chicualoapan, and Totoquihuatzin. Their acknowledgment is key because it is well known that rulers were routinely followed by their commoners. Lori Boornazian Diel (2008: 2) reminds us that “city-states were politically obligated . . . and expected to provide supplies and men in the time of war.” As early as their arrival in Cholula, for example, Chimalpahin (2012: 190) stresses how the Spanish army was a “mighty thriving army and fleet” and then in Cholula “gathered more people and arms.” The physical presence of the commoners, whom Cortés encountered on his way to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was necessary to maintain the army as they provided and carried supplies, such as weapons and food. Their presence and aid made the Spanish army larger and stronger, even though Cortés (1993), for instance, barely mentions their contributions in his account. As Chimalpahin stresses with his additions, in the case of the Spaniards’ allies, the larger the number of people and supplies, the smaller the distance to win the war.

Going beyond the indigenous allies of the Spaniards, Chimalpahin’s work also offers a glimpse of the way the people of Mexico-Tenochtitlan reacted to their presence while emphasizing the importance of Nahua social dynamics. The iconic encounter between Moctezuma and Cortés is indeed one of his longest additions. Here, Chimalpahin goes into detail about the noblemen who came along with Moctezuma, informing readers of their names, rank, and altepetl of origin. He observes that Cacatmatzin and Cuetlahuatzin from Tezcoco, Tetlepanquetzatl (lord of Tlacopan), Itzcuauhtzin Tlacochcalcatl (lord or lieutenant of Tlatelolco, son of Tlacateotl), Atlixcatzin Tlacatecatl (general captain, son of Ahuitzol from Mexico), Tlepehuatzin Tlacochcalcatl (son of Tizoctzin from Mexico), Totomotzin (son of Tlacaelel Chihuacoatl, founder of the Mexica Empire), Quetzalaztatzin, Ticocyahuacatl, Ecatenpatiltzin, and Quahuapiatzin were also present when Cortés arrived in Mexico-Tenochtitlan (Chimalpahin 2012: 198–99). As Tavárez (2010: 22) observes, this “emphasis on names and titles is very familiar to any reader of Chimalpahin’s annals, which feature systematic and painstaking renditions of Nahua titles.” Furthermore, by adding their names, Chimalpahin not only makes them exist but also creates a more complex conceptual image of the politics involved in this meeting. He thereby underscores their instrumental position in social practice and, at the same time, displaces Cortés in the narrative as just another participant. This first meeting was not an affair between two leaders, showing that, as Restall (2018: 180) puts it, “decisions were made by numerous individuals . . . and even more by councils of noblemen and by groups of captains, by factions and cohorts.”

This passage also stands out as it elaborates on the largest account in Nahua of the conquest. In book 12 of the Códice florentino, the Nahua intellectuals and fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1979: fol. 26r–v) also remark on these lords and rulers, along with their respective altepetl of origin.27 Yet, Chimalpahin goes into detail about the lineage of some of them and thus bridges their presence to a distant but significant pre-Hispanic past. His account and the Códice florentino markedly contrasts with López de Gómara’s (2006: 98–99) grandiose, vague narration in which he states that there were “four thousand noblemen, courtiers, and residents,” “Cuetlauac and Camama,” as well as “two hundred lords” along with Moctezuma’s servants. Chimalpahin’s details create a more complete narrative that makes these Nahua lords and rulers part of the indigenous’ collective memory.

This iconic encounter is also the place where Chimalpahin inserts his name as the author behind the additions. This is indeed a very well-known particularity of his writing style.28 In the Historia de la conquista, in particular, Chimalpahin (2012: 198) affirms that “even though here the author Franzco Rodriguez de Gomara takes Cuitlahuatzin to be a nephew of the great lord, he was not a nephew but a blood brother by his father and mother, I say this, Don Domingo de San Anton Muñon Quauhtlehuantzin.” In spite of the fact that there is an obvious mistake with López de Gómara’s last name,29 Chimalpahin’s assertion “I say this” exposes his agency as an indigenous historian who had the cultural capital to create a reliable account from a Nahua perspective in Spanish.30 In doing so, he also shows confidence in his additions, making them subversive to López de Gómara’s work.

In a broader context, the Nahua historian joins the voices of other chroniclers that reacted to the publication of the Historia de la conquista de México.31 One of the most notorious reactions comes from Díaz del Castillo, who knew Cortés very well since he participated in the war under his command. A few decades after the conquest, Díaz del Castillo wrote his Historia verdadera de la conquista de México in response to the glorifying image of Cortés presented by López de Gómara. Here, Díaz del Castillo (2013: 265) criticizes López de Gómara for his “rétorica muy súbida” (lofty rhetoric) and corrects him directly several times in his work, expressing at one point that he is “harto de declarar sus borrones que dice que le informaron, los cuales no son así como él lo escribe.” While the truth of Díaz del Castillo’s account, as he asserts, relies on his role as an eyewitness and a humble observer, Chimalpahin bases his work on his profound knowledge of indigenous cultures and their history. This is especially evident in his works in Nahuatl, in which Chimalpahin (2003: 294) provides significant information about his sources and explains how he gathered, compared, cross-referenced, and compiled them to create his work. This accumulated cultural capital gave him the agency to construct a Nahua-oriented account that also aimed to correct López de Gómara’s glorifying narrative of Cortés.

To further enhance this indigenous narrative, Chimalpahin provides unique insight into the way the Mexica reacted to the presence of the Spaniards. Even though he praises and extensively elaborates on their bravery on the battlefield, he also criticizes the way they facilitated the arrival of the enemies in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. His evaluative testimony can be perceived, for instance, when Chimalpahin (2012: 194) keenly wonders why the Mexica “never apprised a single thing or destroyed the causeways with many bridges that the Spaniards crossed or the numerous springs.” His assessment, indeed, echoes the voice of the people of Tlatelolco in the Códice florentino who loudly criticized how Moctezuma did not react promptly to the imminent threat the Spaniards represented, and even when he did, it was considered a “vain attempt” (Lockhart 1993: 104).32 As Kevin Terraciano (2014) explains, this negative representation of Moctezuma can be related to the rivalry between the Tenochca and the Tlatelolca. It is noteworthy, however, that Chimalpahin chooses to use a collective subject pronoun to make his assessment about who was at fault for this lack of action.

Yet, Chimalpahin holds Moctezuma somewhat accountable for the help provided to the Spaniards. He writes that it was Moctezuma who ordered his people to build huts for them wherever they arrived. These huts, Chimalpahin (2012: 192) explains, were like “big palaces, which they were indeed, because in ancient times the Mexica Lords had such lodgings for what was needed to wage war against the enemies.” As this passage suggests, Moctezuma not only provided accommodations for the enemies but also gave them the same treatment as Nahua lords received when they went to war. This addition, however, shifts the attention from Cortés to Moctezuma regarding who was in charge of the action. In López de Gómara’s (2006: 96) account, the focus is on Cortés, who finds a place to stay and Moctezuma only made huts “for the tamemes (human carriers).” Whether Moctezuma made it easier for the Spaniards or was just trying to keep them away from Mexico-Tenochtitlan, his actions seemed to have been interpreted as if he indirectly helped them by enabling them and passively waiting for them.33 Yet, it is remarkable that Chimalpahin also presents Moctezuma in a positive light, stressing that he had a strong presence and only occasionally engaged in cannibalism, in contrast with his predecessors (Tavárez 2010: 23).

This lack of action against the enemies differs significantly from the representation that Chimalpahin makes of the Mexica army under Cuauhtemoc’s leadership. One representative example of the multiple additions in which he praises the Mexica’s bravery can be found in his description of the battle in Xochimilco. Here, Chimalpahin (2012: 308) underlines how they fought “so loudly startling everyone; [and] they fought bravely for several hours those days.” Additions like this make more evident the powerful resistance the Spaniards and their allies encountered on the battlefield. Indeed, their active participation complicated the fall of the city and the standard narrative of the interactions between the natives and the Spaniards. As Chimalpahin’s version suggests, Mexico-Tenochtitlan did not surrender to Cortés easily or rapidly.

Chimalpahin credits Cuauhtemoc for the reorganization of the Mexica army that resisted the Spaniards and allies. In his account, it is significant the amount of details that show how this tlatoani created alliances, communicated with his allies, led them on the battlefield, and provided help when his allies asked for it. In one intervention, for instance, Chimalpahin (2012: 291) writes that Cuauhtemoc sent messengers everywhere “to summon and prepare armies for the war, and it was so real, that soon the natives stirred up; and then, in a matter of days, countless natives responded to his call that the towns of near Mexico overflowed with soldiers and their captains.” His leadership, as the episode illustrates, prompted an eager response and support of many altepetl that chose to fight along with them. Furthermore, just like the Spanish army became larger because of the altepetl that joined them, the Mexica army was also reinforced by many under Cuauhtemoc’s leadership.

These allies of the Mexica also appeared to be more proactive and followed strategies that they lacked during Moctezuma’s rule. According to Chimalpahin (2012: 320), when an altepetl knew they were about to be attacked, they were ready for the enemies and had “drawbridges lifted and canals breached, with all that, these were defended by the neighbors and Mexica courageously.” Besides showing a contrast in the Nahuas’ reaction to the presence of the Spaniards, this particular addition also reveals the craftsmanship of what might have been initially perceived to be just a copy of López de Gómara’s work, as this modification goes along with a previous one where the Nahua historian noted that these natives did not care about destroying bridges. This consistency points to the intention of Chimalpahin to create a narrative that maintains flow and coherence by adding information that he considered necessary to understand fully the outcomes of the war.

This is why, in addition to giving credit to Cuauhtemoc for the reorganization of the Mexica army and its allies, Chimalpahin depicts him as a defiant leader unwilling to negotiate with the enemies, showing how some Nahuas resisted the Spaniards’ invasion. Chimalpahin (2012: 315) writes that Cuauhtemoc “had no desire to see the letters of men who came to take away his reign; that he did not want peace but war, but avenge the insults and death of his vassals; that they should, therefore, leave his land which was of his ancestors.” This depiction of Cuauhtemoc is that of a defiant leader who is willing to make enemies pay for the destruction they caused in Nahua society. Likewise, by underscoring the significance of the interconnection between their land and their ancestors, Chimalpahin provides another reason that some altepetl might have joined the Mexica army to fight against the Spaniards and their allies.

Spaniards certainly used violent attacks that caused great destruction among the indigenous peoples. Chimalpahin (2012: 179) indicates that, as early as their arrival in Cholula, the Nahuas “were frightened to see the Spaniards.” This initial feeling contrasts with López de Gómara’s (2006: 89) description that indigenous peoples “marveled” to see them. Fear was soon reinforced by the constant violent actions of the Spaniards and their allies. About the very well-known ambush in Cholula, Chimalpahin (2012: 184) writes that “it was pitiful to see the slaughter done, there they were terrified.” Bloody ambushes were indeed used as military strategies to create terror among indigenous populations. Hassig (2006: 110) states that, while Spaniards are usually blamed for this attack, it was the Tlaxcalans who were behind it since they were aware of the noble’s loyalties. The viciousness of these tactics even forced some altepetl to leave their land before Spanish arrival. There were times when, according to Chimalpahin (2012: 319), the Spaniards and their allies “did not find inhabitants, because they had taken their belongings, and ran away to the mountains.” Commoners had not necessarily “marveled” at the Spaniards’ presence but, rather, were placed in a state of fear that drove them into forced alliances with them, as was the case of the Tlaxcalans and their allies, or away from them, as some fled to the mountains.

These violent strategies were also used to make tangible the social changes that were taking place at the time. One example of this is the burning of the houses of Nahua lords at the end of the battles. Chimalpahin (2012: 324) observes that, after the defeating the Mexica and their allies in Xochimilco,34 “Cortes ordered the most principal houses in town to be set on fire, only the houses in which our men were lodged remained.” As this passage illustrates, the Spaniards and their allies asserted their presence by creating a physical and therefore tangible destruction of the rulers’ space. Yet, by leaving some of these houses standing and taking them for themselves, they established a new order, which was at the same time concrete and symbolic. They therefore made visible this substitution of power in which they and their allies were replacing the Xochimilca and Mexica’s rulers.

Nevertheless, this substitution was not easily accepted or interpreted as such by some Nahuas, who saw it accordingly to their own position in social practice. Chimalpahin (2012: 315) explains that Cuauhtemoc not only did not want to negotiate with Cortés but also told him to go back to “Tlaxcala and the rest of the domains that he had won, that he was the absolute Lord that he should leave his Reign and tend for his, since he had won it and spilled with blood.” From Cuauhtemoc’s perspective, Cortés appeared as the “absolute Lord” of “Tlaxcala and the rest of the domains.” That is, for some Nahuas, Tlaxcala was a defeated altepetl under the Spaniards’ rule even though they might have perceived and portrayed themselves as their equals or even superior to some of them. This perception of altepetl subservient to the Spaniards is also evident in the Códice florentino, which states that the lords of Iztapalapan, Mexicatzinco, Colhuacan, and Huitzilopochco peacefully submitted to them (Lockhart 1993: 106). Chimalpahin’s craftsmanship also emphasizes the existing social and power dynamics among indigenous peoples during the war, offering insight into how they conceptualized the changes in their social reality at the time.

Lastly, Chimalpahin made brief but insightful additions about Cortés and the Spanish army. While he does not make negative statements about the Spaniard, these interventions reveal the manipulative nature of his feigned thoughtfulness. Chimalpahin (2012: 320) points out, for instance, that Cortés addressed the people of Cuernavaca and “soothed them with warm words, and a lot of friendship telling them by the interpreter who was Malintzin Tepenal . . . that the Captain wanted them to calm down and not riot, that he had not come to kill them or take their properties.” He goes on to write how Cortés aimed to depict himself as the one who could set indigenous peoples free and protect them “against the taxes and labor obligations imposed to them as subjects of the Mexica empire, that they should take note and consider that he brought with him many men to punish rebellious towns” (320). As these passages show, behind Cortés’s “warm words” there was an implicit intimidation in which he was reminding the natives to weigh their options and consider that punishment was a possibility for rebels. Likewise, it is remarkable that Chimalpahin acknowledges Malintzin Tepenal as the interpreter in this exchange when Cortés rarely mentioned her in his own account. It was perhaps her presence and voice that gave Cortés’s speech the gentle, caressing tone expressed in Chimalpahin’s work.

About the overall Spanish army, it is noteworthy to mention a unique description about their physical appearance. Chimalpahin (2012: 194–95) writes that, when they first arrived in Mexico-Tenochtitlan, people noticed “the dress and the appearance of their faces and that they had beards and long hair which at that time in the Spanish nation [men] used long wavy locks to their shoulders; and they were more frightened to see people on horseback well armed in full armor.” In addition to portraying how Spaniards used to look back in those days as well as the idea of fear that has been consistent in Chimalpahin’s work, this paragraph illustrates his unique writing style, in which he tends to include some sort of description of people’s appearance. In his Diario, for instance, Chimalpahin (2001: 221) incorporates a vivid depiction of the Japanese who visited Mexico and underscores details such as their hairstyle and clothing. Attention to this sort of specifics is part of his craftsmanship as an indigenous writer who uses a very distinctive narrative style to create his own account.

It is remarkable that, along with his interventions about the Spaniards, Chimalpahin identifies himself with them and their native allies in his work. In his additions to López de Gómara, he uses verbal markers such as our or we had when describing the actions of the Spaniards or the allies. This contrasts with his use of theirs, which he applies when writing about the people of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and their allies. There is, however, one occasion when Chimalpahin (2012: 301) calls the Spaniards simply Spaniards, which is we in López de Gómara’s text. On the other hand, Chimalpahin might have aligned himself to the Spaniards due to his affiliation to his altepetl of origin, Chalco.

While it is known that Chalco became an ally of the Spaniards, as it had been conquered by the Mexica in pre-Hispanic times, it is more likely that Chimalpahin was trying to maintain uniformity throughout the account, because he is known to be a meticulous writer who paid keen attention to details and accuracy. In his version of the conquest in Nahuatl, for instance, he actually uses we when describing the actions of the natives. When reading the Browning Manuscript, it is evident that his narrative voice blends with the original version. The elements that separate his version from López de Gómara’s text are the vast details concerning indigenous leaders’ names, practices, and actions throughout the war. This uniformity could also be beneficial for his potential readers. He used these rhetorical strategies not only to destabilize a Spanish account but also to direct attention to the indigenous participation in the conquest and make a wider audience aware of such contributions. After all, he had the cultural capital to craft a credible account and make it accessible to a larger audience.

With his version of the conquest of Mexico, Chimalpahin participated in the accumulation and construction of knowledge by creating an indigenous narrative of this event, which can and should be read as a cultural product on its own. His work challenges traditional Spanish-centered narratives that aimed to keep their own perspectives preserved for posterity. The Spaniards’ implied superiority, which is stated in the works of Cortés, Díaz del Castillo, and López de Gómara, is now subtly contested by the work of a Nahua historian who has put on the table the social, economic, and political issues at stake among the Nahuas at the time of the wars.

In this way, Chimalpahin provides a unique opportunity to examine the social dynamics among indigenous peoples and their role in the war and its outcome. His emphasis on the natives’ contributions and the large number of altepetl involved in the war shows that the armies were sizable and comprised many indigenous people. His version of the conquest allows readers to visualize a significant number of Nahuas that lived throughout the war and had their own complex set of relationships. Chimalpahin thereby challenges the idea of Spaniards winning over a native population that surrendered the Mexica Empire to them.

As a bicultural agent who had access to a significant number of sources, Chimalpahin was able to decide what would constitute the historical past. Thus, his editorial work should also be read as an evaluation of López de Gómara’s work, as it presents an assessment of the materials an official Spanish chronicler used and the knowledge he wanted to share. In this way, Chimalpahin participates in the creation of the social order while contributing to the production of an indigenous collective memory for generations to come. What is more, Chimalpahin joins the voices of those who found Cortés’s depiction problematic. Even though Cortés is not erased from the account, Chimalpahin’s additions shift the attention from the he of Cortés to a they, a mixed army of indigenous peoples that worked together to defeat Mexico-Tenochtitlan and its allies.

Notes

1

Other important firsthand accounts include those of Francisco de Aguilar, Andrés de Tapia, and the “Anonymous Conqueror” (Hassig 2006: 3).

2

On López de Gómara, see Roa-de-la-Carrera 2005.

3

Lockhart (1992: 14) defines the altepetl as “an organization of people holding sway over a given territory.” These city-states varied in size, rank, and ethnic composition.

4

Others include Angel María Garibay, Miguel León Portilla, James Lockhart, Serge Gruzinski, Günter Zimmermann, and Jacqueline de Durand-Forest.

5

On the history of the manuscript, see Schroeder 2010. For this article, I accessed the Browning Manuscript at the Newberry Library in Chicago and used Schroeder’s Spanish and English editions.

6

Published two years later, the Spanish edition includes a prologue by Galván.

7

Hassig (2016: 7) has also stated that Tlaxcalans “quickly recognized how they could use the Spaniards for their own ends.”

8

For a detailed analysis of new conquest history’s development and defining contributions, see Restall 2012.

9

I borrow the term cultural capital from Pierre Bourdieu, who extended the concept of capital to include immaterial and noneconomic forms of capital such as linguistic, social, academic, and cultural. See Bourdieu 1986, 2015.

10

For a list of Chimalpahin’s informants, see Schroeder 1991: 18–19.

11

Chimalpahin (2003: 248) states that his parents are descendents of the earlier lords of Tzacualtitlan Tenanco Amaquemecan Chalco.

12

Chimalpahin knew fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s writings, Alonso de Molina’s dictionary, fray Diego Durán’s work, and Juan de Tovar’s manuscript (Schroeder 1991: 15).

13

Messiaen (2003) categorizes Chimalpahin’s sources used in Las ocho relaciones as those written in New Spain and those with European origin and classifies them either as historical or religious-educative. Messiaen noted that the most important of his sources was Enrico Martinez’s Chronographia y repertorio de los tiempos modernos sources (235).

14

Translations are mine.

15

The largest additions can be grouped in two major sections: from chapter 49 to chapter 79 and from chapter 121 to chapter 134.

16

One aspect that might have played a key role is that Phillip II excepted indigenous subjects from the jurisdiction of the Holy Office in 1571 after Juan de Zumárraga’s strong campaign against the idolatry of the natives, which might have helped them continue writing their histories after this.

17

On the campaigns and commissions made by the Tlaxcalans to the king for privileges, see Gibson 1967: 163–67.

18

Chimalpahin also adds that Tlehuexolotzin was the lord of Tepiticpac.

19

While the ruler of an altepetl was given the title Chichimecateuctli, here this term appears as a personal name.

20

Tavárez (2012: 50) briefly mentions that Chimalpahin adds important details to this episode.

21

Alfredo Chavero (1979: 17), using Juan Bautista Pomar as a source, states that the strongest warriors led the armies.

22

In the version of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala digitalized in the Tulane University Digital Library (digitallibrary.tulane.edu/islandora/object/tulane%3A19311), Tlaxcalans are mostly portrayed on the front lines, and Spaniards appear sometimes in second place or are not included, as in Xonacapan’s scene. Also, in Chavero’s (1979) edition, Tlaxcalans usually outnumbered Spaniards and are depicted with more diverse roles, including several tamemes (human carriers).

23

Cortés (1993) speaks about “master builders and carpenters” (“maestros y carpinteros”), while Díaz del Castillo (2013) credits Martín López, Andrés Nuñez, an old man named Ramírez, Diego Hernández, and Hernando de Aguilar.

24

It is known that Tlaxcalans were helpful allies beyond the Central Valley. Their troops accompanied Pedro de Alvarado to Guatemala in 1524 and took part in explorations of Florida, New Mexico, and Arizona.

25

Hassig (1988: 10) writes that the two most prominent purposes of the xochiyaoyotl were serving as combat training and securing captives for religious sacrifices, but “this explanation is not universally accepted, and sacrificial captives were not taken exclusively in Flower wars.” Códice Ramírez, Crónica Mexicana, Historia de la nación chichimeca, Relación de Tezcoco, and Historia de las Indias de la Nueva España also discuss the xochiyaoyotl.

26

Chimalpahin also mentions the importance of cochinilla (cochineal) as part of the indigenous economic system.

27

These lords and rulers were Cacamatzin, Tetlepanquetzatzin, Tlacochcalcatl Itzquauhtzin, Topentemoctzin, Tlacateccatl, Tepehuatzin, Quetzalaztatzin, Totomotzin, Ecatenpatiltzin, and Quappiaztzin (Sahagún 1979: fol. 26r–v).

28

Schroeder (1991: 7) states that only on one occasion does Chimalpahin identify himself with a different name. For an analysis of his name, see Schroeder 1991: 10–11.

29

According to Tavárez (2010: 21), this suggests that Chimalpahin did not have a copy of Historia de la conquista with López de Gómara’s full name.

30

Tavárez (2010: 29) concludes that this is the “single metadiscursive moment in which Chimalpahin signals his authority as an annalist to the manuscript’s intended audience.”

31

The Council of the Indies banned López de Gómara’s text in 1553, and King Phillip II prohibited it in Spain and America. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Bartolome de las Casas, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega are among the most severe critics of López de Gómara. See Roa-de-la-Carrera 2005: 46–68.

32

Moctezuma is mostly depicted as a weak, cowardly leader incapable of leading his people. See Lockhart 1992 or Gillespie 2008.

33

On Moctezuma’s legends and stereotypes, see Restall 2018.

34

According to the Códice Florentino (Sahagún 1979: bk. 12), Xochimilco submitted to the Spaniards at some point during the battles, yet Chimalpahin’s additions show that the Xochimilca fought along with the Mexica.

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