The Spaniards were permitted to remain at the opulent mansion of Axayacatl, a former tlatoani of the empire and Montezuma's father. The Spanish unearthed a large treasure behind one of the walls one day: money, diamonds, idols, jade, feathers, and other items. They estimated the value of the treasure at about 5 million pesos (about $250,000 in today's dollars). The location of this treasure is now known as El Dorado, since there is no evidence that the Aztecs ever found its like again.
The king of Spain, Charles V, wanted for himself and his heirs all the gold and silver they could get their hands on, so he made it a policy to grant licenses to any Spaniard who would go abroad and bring back some wealth. Thus began the golden age of Spanish exploration. In 1536, a small group led by Francisco de Orellana discovered the upper reaches of the Amazon River. In 1567, another group led by Pedro de Ursua reached the Pacific Ocean.
Aztec culture was based on commerce, and they dominated central Mexico as traders with many friends. So it isn't surprising that many Spanish explorers went home with their pockets full of Mexican coins.
The pillage of the huge metropolis had so begun. The Spaniards wanted gold all the time, and their captive, Montezuma, commanded his people to deliver it. As soon as the Indians saw the approach of the white men, they ran away with their treasures, leaving their emperor destitute.
In a short time, the Spaniards collected hundreds of pounds of the metal. They delivered it to Spain, where it was used to make objects of beauty and luxury for the royal family. Thus were born the ideas of freedom and equality that later led to the American Revolution.
This is one of many interesting facts about Mexico's history that can be learned through casual conversation. In this case, the story helps illustrate the important role that gold has played in shaping Mexican history.
By 1521, the Mexica capital city of Tenochtitlan was in ruins, Emperor Montezuma had died, and the Spanish had taken strong control of what they dubbed "New Spain." Cortes and his troops amassed hundreds of pounds of gold, silver, gems, and valuable Aztec art along the route. The conquest took years and cost thousands of lives, but it was all worth it for the riches that were found in Mexico.
The Spanish empire was by no means a fair or just system, but it did result in great changes for both Europe and America. The Aztecs' world view was based on clans and tribes who fought wars over land and resources. The Europeans brought new technologies and ideas to the Americas, such as writing, math, and medicine, which helped the indigenous people develop their own culture further. In addition, the Spanish empire gave women in Mexico access to education, which wasn't common at the time.
Cortes was born in 1485 into an aristocratic family in the Spanish town of Mallorca. When he was 21, he joined the army as a soldier fighting the Ottoman Turks. He earned the trust of Hernan Cortes, who later made him one of his generals. Together, they defeated the Aztecs in 1520 after a long war of attacks and defeats. After the conquest, Cortes divided up what he thought would make money, giving parts of Mexico to his friends and allies.
When the conquistadores arrived in town, Montezuma greeted them with open arms rather than attacking them. It was an opportunity for him to pacify the Spaniards while assessing their force. If the Spanish were strong enough, he might be able to work out a deal where both sides would benefit.
The Spanish told Montezuma that they were looking for gold and other riches in order to support more missionaries. Montezuma replied that there was plenty of gold in Mexico City itself and that if the Spaniards wanted to share their wealth, then he should be given guns so that his people could defend themselves against other Indians who might want to take their treasure.
This shows that the Aztecs knew how to get along with others rather than fighting them constantly. They used their intelligence to their advantage by negotiating deals with the Europeans instead of trying to kill them every time they saw them.
After hearing this, the Spanish decided to stay in Mexico instead of going on to Spain. This is because they could establish trade routes with the natives and make money this way rather than spending all their time hunting and no time making money.
The Spanish Empire's sinking treasure: A 400-year-old shipwreck yields gold, silver, pearls, and even parrots. During a hurricane in 1622, the Buen Jesus and Nuestra Senora del Rosario were demolished. The loss of the fleet pushed the bank to its knees, precipitating the collapse of the Spanish Empire. When the storm had passed, officials began to search for the lost ships. They found the Buen Jesus first -- but it was in such bad shape that they had to abandon it immediately. The Nuestra Senora del Rosario was located two months later by another vessel from the fleet that had survived the hurricane. It too was in need of repair so the officers decided not to go on board until they could find other ships to join together into one large enough to handle the weight of the gold and silver.
In all, the storms had destroyed three out of four ships in the fleet, leaving only one remaining vessel. This last ship was barely able to make its way back to Spain with its precious cargo. When the captain got close to port, he sent word that there was no longer any hope of repairing the ships or adding more to them. Thus, the decision was made to sell the goods off in order to pay for new ones.
The Spanish government bought back the rights to the treasure from the fleet's owners and divided it among themselves. Some people say that this is why there is still money floating around in the world today; because some of it belongs to me!