The conquest of Mexico is one of those conflicts, like the Russian Civil War, that it’s hard to pick a good guy in. I mean, my anti-colonialism is as reflexive as the next guy’s, but it’s hard to feel too sympathetic toward the brutal, repressive Aztrec empire. That’s an over-simplification, of course, and I know that a lot of people who were just hanging out minding their own business got fucked over, but in broad strokes, y’know. I call this type of conflict “the playground of bastards”.
Now, apocalyptic as it may have been, it did produce some interesting maps and documents, and you can read about one of them in this article at The Appendix. It has some great combinations of traditional Aztec art and imported Spanish elements, plus it’s a fascinating story about how the bureaucracy of empire functioned. In fact, if you’re not reading The Appendix in general, can I highly recommend it to you? They publish all sorts of fascinating oddball history. They’re classy folks.
Speaking of the conquest of Mexico, if you’re not doing anything else, you could do worse than read Bernal Diaz’s The Conquest of New Spain. That link will take you to the excellent and affordable Penguin version, but if like me you are cheap and all, you will also be interested in the online translation at Project Gutenburg, which is good value for money in the sense that it is free.
I don’t really know if I have more than an amateur’s interest in the Aztecs. I’ve visited a few sites, just because I happen to have family in the Valley of Mexico, I have some of the basic texts, and I went to the British Museum’s Moctezuma exhibit, but I’m far from a real expert. I sort of worry that if I do learn more somehow it will actually harm my enjoyment of it, which is based on juuuuuuust the right mix of familiarity and alienness. (The Vikings are different — you feel the sense of familiarity before you start to learn about them, and then the weirdness starts to creep in.)
Anyway, this decorated skull could have its own People Will Do Amazingly Fucked-Up Things to Bodies post, but I like to get a picture into these articles and I didn’t want to swipe one from The Appendix in case that stopped you checking it out.