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Saving Mexico from the Devil

The Conquest of Mexico was justified by the Spanish as an evil necessary to save a people who practised human sacrifice and worshipped false gods. 

illustration of Aztec cannibalism, from the Codex Magliabechiano, 16th century.In 1542, the ‘Protector of the Indians’, Bartolomé de las Casas, sent his Brevíssima relación de la destrucción de las Indias to Philip II of Spain. Las Casas’ intention was to force the king to take notice and do something about the atrocities being committed in his name (which, to some extent, worked). But the Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies was also ready-made propaganda for Spain’s enemies. It challenged the heroic narrative of the conquistadors and, following its publication in 1552, was translated and published in numerous editions throughout Europe for centuries after. Given the influence of Las Casas, the violent nature of the Conquest and the enormous toll that it took on the indigenous people and their way of life, it is difficult to see how events surrounding the Conquest of Mexico could be cast in a positive light, as something that ultimately benefited them. This, however, is exactly what happened. In the early colonial period, ‘histories’ of the Aztecs were created that to some extent sanitised the Conquest of Tenochtitlán, recasting it as a benevolent act, saving Mexico from the devil.

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