The Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez arrived at the Yucatan Peninsula in February of 1519, Mayan speaking territory. Padre Geronimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan friar, was a shipwreck survivor from one of the earlier expeditions. He had been a captive of the local natives. He made his way to and joined Cortez’s entourage. While in captivity Padre Aguilar learned the local Mayan language. This skill would have a profound effect on the conquest of Mexico for Cortez. From the Yucatan, Cortez went north along the Atlantic coast to Tabasco. There he encountered hostile Mayans, who had previously been friendly to the Grijalva expedition. He was attacked by the inhabitants. Cortez’s army won the battle even though they were outnumbered. The natives believed that the horses of Cortez were supernatural; a combination of a man and a horse. A creature that had two heads. Logically, the mythological-religious beliefs of the Amerindians, in gods who were a combination of man and animal, must have been confusing and overwhelmed them. They easily believed that these beings had to be gods. The Mayans surrendered. This belief also would have led Montezuma to give credence to the fact that Cortez could have been the god Quetzalcoatl.
Through the interpretation of Spanish into Mayan, with the help from Padre Aguilar, Cortez told the people that they were now vassals of King Carlos I of Spain. They all converted to Christianity. The ease of conversion may have been due in part to the fact that the cross was also a symbol of the Mayan and Aztec god, Tlaloc. He was a beneficent god, the god of rain, fertility and water; the sustainer of life, but he was also feared for his powerful ability over lightning, thunder and hail.
In the custom of the Mayan, they gave Cortez food as tribute and 20 young women for him and his army. Cortez had the women baptized before they were used, as he forbade his men from having sexual relations with pagans. Among the girls was the daughter of a lower ranking Aztec lord. Her name was Malintzin. She had learned the Mayan language while she was a slave. Cortez took her for himself. After her baptism, she was renamed Dona Marina, due to her rank as a sign of respect. She also bore him a child named Martin.
Her skill in the speaking of her own native Aztec tongue, Nahua, and the Mayan language helped her communicate with Cortez and the Aztecs through Padre Aguilar.
In July of 1519 Cortez secured Veracruz and destroyed his ships so his men could not retreat. He then set out to Tenochtitlan to meet Montezuma. Along the way he made alliances with tribes who probably were tired of paying high tribute to Montezuma. The native Amerindians joined him as carriers and warriors. By the time they arrived in Tenochtitlan to meet Montezuma he had his men, about 600, 15 or 16 horses, 15 cannons and approximately 3,000 natives.
Cortez was expecting a huge horde of gold when he arrived; based upon stories he was told by the tribes he met along the way. However, none of them had actually seen the treasures of Montezuma. And of course, he was disappointed when his expectations were not met in the city of Tenochtitlan. All this only fueled his desire to find it.