The Role of Hernán Cortés in the Conquest of Mexico

The Role of Hernán Cortés in the Conquest of Mexico

The Role of Hernán Cortés in the Conquest of Mexico. Have you ever held a piece of history in your hands? I’m not just talking about any old artifact. I’m talking about silver coins (and bars) minted in the New World during the 16th century, right around the time when Hernán Cortés was making waves in Mexico and long before the formation of America. Let’s dive into the fascinating story of Cortés and his pivotal role in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, and how it ties into the allure of those ancient silver coins.


Early Life and Ambitions


To truly understand Hernán Cortés, we have to go back to his roots. Born in Medellín, Spain, in 1485, Cortés grew up in a time of great exploration and discovery. As a young man, he focused on the allure of the New World, filled with dreams of adventure, riches, and glory. Like many of his contemporaries, Cortés sought to make a name for himself and carve out a fortune in the uncharted lands across the ocean.


Expedition to Mexico


In 1519, Cortés embarked on his journey to Mexico with ambitious intentions. Landing on the Yucatán Peninsula, he encountered the indigenous peoples of the region and began his audacious conquest. Cortés was not just seeking to explore. The incredible wealth rumored to be in these lands—gold, silver, and other treasures that charged the European vision.

Sailors of the Sea

We are all fascinated by the bravery and determination of explorers like Cortés. Imagine sailing across the vast ocean into the unknown, driven by sheer ambition and curiosity. It was even thought, for a time, that such a voyage could chart a course to death and sail off the edge of the ocean into an abyss. Never to be seen again. It’s no wonder these men became legends of their time.


Alliance and Confrontation


Cortés was a master strategist, adept at forging alliances with indigenous groups who were discontent with Aztec rule. One of his key alliances was with the Tlaxcalans, who saw an opportunity to overthrow their powerful Aztec overlords. Together, they formed a formidable force against the Aztec Empire.


The road to conquest was not without its challenges. Cortés faced fierce resistance from the Aztecs, led by the formidable Emperor Montezuma II. The clashes were intense, and each battle was a testament to Cortés’ tactical brilliance and determination to succeed against all odds.


Capture of Tenochtitlan


The turning point came in 1521 with the siege and ultimate fall of Tenochtitlan, the jewel of the Aztec Empire. Cortés orchestrated a relentless assault. The spoils of war were immense, including vast quantities of precious metals like silver.


It’s incredible to think about the impact of these conquests on history. The weakening of Tenochtitlan not only established the end of an empire but also fortified the way for Spanish domination in the territory.


Legacy and Impact


Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Mexico had far-reaching consequences. The influx of wealth from the New World , including silver mined from regions like Zacatecas and Potosí, fueled the rise of the Spanish Empire. Silver became a crucial component of global trade, circulating through networks that spanned continents. Many of the silver Reales made in the New World even made their way to Asia.


The legacy of Cortés is a complex one.  Celebrated in some circles as a daring explorer and conqueror.  Others view him as a symbol of European imperialism and the devastating impact it had on indigenous cultures.


Silver Coins of the New World


Now, let’s talk about those intriguing silver coins. In the wake of Cortés’ conquest, Mexico became a major center for silver production. The Spanish minted coins from the rich veins discovered in places like Taxco and Guanajuato. These coins not only served as currency but also translated the story of Cortés’ conquest into the unspoiled lands. The transformation of the New World expanded the Old World’s momentum.



One of the most coveted items today from the New World is one of the silver bars from a 1522 shipwreck off Little Bahama Cay. Today, known as the “Tumbaga” shipwreck,  bars of silver melted as quick as possible loaded on a ship. Not much information is known about the wreck returning to the Old World from Mexico. The items found from the wreck is one of the few existing items that show a tangible link to the era of Cortés and the Spanish conquest.


Only about 200 of these artifacts were found below the “Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (1656)” shipwreck. Very rare bars! And if the bars could talk, they would reveal an unbelievably history of how the bars were made. One could only guess if the mix of “silver, gold, and copper combined bars” came from an Aztec warrior, or from the mines of Mexico?




Hernán Cortés played revealing role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, forever altering the course of history. His quest for wealth and power unleashed a chain of events that shaped the New World and left an indelible mark on global commerce.


As we reflect on Cortés’ legacy, let’s also appreciate the tangible artifacts that connect us to this remarkable era. Whether it’s a silver coin, silver bar, or a piece of pottery, each artifact tells a story—a story of ambition, conquest, and the enduring quest for knowledge and wealth.


Embracing History


The next time you see a silver coin (or bar) from the New World, take a moment to ponder its origins. It’s not just currency; it’s a piece of living history—a testament to the bold explorers and conquerors who dared to venture into the unknown.


We hope this journey into the role of Hernán Cortés has sparked your curiosity about the past. As we delve into the stories of those who came before us, we gain a deeper appreciation for the tapestry of human experience.


Click below to see a very good documentary on Hernán Cortés.

Hernan Cortes – Conquistador of the Aztecs Documentary


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