Conquistadors Sacrificed and Eaten

Monday, October 19th, 2015

In 1520 a convoy of conquistadors and allies encountered the Acolhuas, who killed and ate them:

Somehow, the caravan — archaeologists estimate it included 15 Spaniards, 45 soldiers from the colonies, 50 women, 10 children and a large number of indigenous allies – was captured. Over the next six months, its members met a grisly end.

Traces of construction show that the Acolhuas had to remake Zultepec, a town just east of the capital, then called Tenochtitlan, to accommodate the prisoners, archaeologist Enrique Martinez said in a statement.

The town was eventually renamed from Zultepec to Tecoaque, which in the native Nahuatl language means: “The place where they ate them.”

The Acolhuas housed the prisoners in ad hoc cells, where archaeologists found the remains of the caravan members with signs that they had been sacrificed. Every few days, Martinez said, the priests chose someone to kill, sometimes in the town square, sometimes in their cell and within earshot of the others.

Tecoaque Figurines

Clay figurines, some represented in European-looking garb, are among the 15,000 artifacts unearthed from the site. They likely played a role in rituals, Martinez told the Associated Press. “We have figurines of blacks, of Europeans, that were then intentionally decapitated.”


Sacrifice was not the end for the victims. Skeletons show the marks of cuts consistent with flesh cleaved from bones, Martinez said, suggesting that the townspeople ate not just the horses but the caravan travelers as well.


Some of the human remains were placed around the site, as on a bone rack of skulls that later greeted the avenging Spaniards sent by Cortés. In another case, inside the pelvis of a woman who was sacrificed and dismembered in a plaza, the Acolhuas placed the skull of a one-year-old child.

Only the pigs were spared the full treatment, apparently because they so baffled the native people.

This reminds me, I thoroughly enjoyed Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico years ago. It’s a first-hand account of a hardy band of adventures conquering an empire run by human-sacrificing priests from atop their pyramid-temples built on a lake inside an extinct volcano. Read it.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Good news everyone, the memoirs of the conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, written by himself, are in the public domain and can be download from either the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg: Volume 1 & Volume 2!

  2. Thanks, Slovenian Guest; there goes my lunch break and likely several hours this evening as well.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    * best read while wearing a morion helmet

    Also, greatest occupational title ever, “conquistador”; only “international man of mystery” beats that!

  4. L. C. Rees says:

    It’s a first-hand account of a hardy band of adventures conquering an empire run by human-sacrificing priests from atop their pyramid-temples built on a lake inside an extinct volcano.

    No accident you frame it that way: Bernal Diaz himself framed The Conquest of New Spain with the tropes of chivalric romance, a then popular genre Cervantes would murder 20 years after Bernal Diaz’s death.

  5. Isegoria says:

    There’s certainly a D&D vibe to The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, but it struck me as much more swords & sorcery (Conan) than medieval romance (King Arthur).

  6. Graham says:

    For a fantasy fiction take on the [or a] conquest of Mexico, try John Maddox Roberts’ “King of the Wood”.

    It’s set initially in a Norse civilization in eastern North America. It presents an eerie medievalish take on life in a long-colonized region of eastern woodlands America, the Appalachian frontier, and out on the great plains, and [spoiler] ultimately sees the main character sign on with an unexpected army heading into Mexico to take on the Aztecs.

    A Norse supporting character who also takes part in this invasion notes rightly that from the Aztecs perspective this represents the end of the world, and in a mixture of pride and awe observes that he is taking part in a kind of Ragnarok.

    Good times.

  7. Bruce says:

    Graham, yeah, King of the Wood is even better than Journey to Fusang. I will have both, please.

    When I read Bernal Diaz, I was stuck by how Cortez automatically understood the Aztec empire. Empire formed from a bunch of city-states, check. Run by heart-ripping heathen, check. Form alliance with free republican city-state that has good archers, check. Order 40,000 copper crossbow bolts, check. Hump Malinche, check. Learn local language? No. Just hump Malinche again. Double check. Fight a bunch of all-infantry Agincourts, using small force of cavalry and crossbowmen for command, control, communication, check. Kidnap enemy Emperor, check. Fight your way out of enemy capital, check. Allow disease to trash enemy civilization, check. Come back and conquer enemy empire, write home and make it look good, check.

    Maybe that’s how Cortez really was, or maybe it’s just how Cortez was seen by a guy who spent the rest of his life unable to sleep unless he had his spiked sandals on and a cocked crossbow within reach.

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