Mayans VS Aztecs
Some of the weirdest, longest wars around have been on the other side of the Big River, but for some reason most American war nerds would rather read about Eurasian battles. Not sure why, except I remember when I was growing up, Mexico just seemed like a depressing place. That was because us gringos don’t go much past the border towns, which are as scummy as border towns anywhere. Once you get past the zebra-striped burro zone, it gets a lot more interesting—still depressing, but a lot more interesting.
I’ve written about a few of the bigger Mexican battles like Celaya, and Black Jack Pershing’s Elmer-Fudd hunt for Pancho Villa, but there was (still is, in fact) a longer, weirder war down in the Yucatan.
The Yucatan is where the Maya had their wacky world. The Mayans are the leading candidate for alien-bred humans, and you can see why when you look into them. They were weird even by local standards, little big-nosed people who had lots of interesting habits including building uninhabitable mini-pyramids, mutilating themselves to celebrate every holiday—you know it’s Arbor Day if the local Mayans are sticking sharp thorns into their dicks. An interesting set of people, with a kind of depth you don’t get from the Aztecs. Those Aztecs were pretty straightforward: We’ll kill ya, period. In that way the Aztecs were a good match for the Spanish, another bunch of shoot-firsters. The difference came down to weapons and the fact that the Spanish, who were a new brand in Mexico, hadn’t had time to piss off all potential allies like the Aztec had. By the time the Tlaxcalans and other tribes got their buyers’ remorse, they were already enslaved and the Aztecs were gone, another top-heavy over-centralized empire that fell fast.
The Maya were always a deeper, stronger people. By the time the Spanish arrived, their glory days were over, but they still had a sense of themselves as being worth something, empire or no empire, and they held on a lot longer than the Aztecs. It helped that the Spanish didn’t like the hot Mayan lowlands as much as the Aztecs’ central highlands, so the Mayans kept the numbers advantage. Not by much, though; fifty years after the Spanish arrived, the Mayan population was down to 150, 000, maybe a tenth of what they had been. They died of European imports like smallpox, but the Spanish overlords died of good old tropical favorites like yellow fever and malaria, so they kept pace—in numbers, anyway: three Mayans for every Spaniard on the semi-healthy west side of the Yucatan, five Mayans for every Spaniard in the hotter east-side lowlands.
Disease discriminates, always has. The whites were able to settle North America because they came from a bigger gene pool than the Injuns; the Africans were able to hold on to Africa in spite of losing damn near every battle against the Euros for the simple reason that the white folks (red folks, if you asked the Africans—Euro skin turns red fast when it’s sweating in 110-degree heat yelling at slaves) came from a middling-big gene pool, compared to the Africans—they say there’s more genetic diversity in some African villages than in a lot of whole European countries.
So if Africa was a clear win for the local genes, and North America overall a clear win for the Euro imports, the Yucatan was a sort of a draw: the Europeans were able to kill off a lot of Mayans with new imported diseases, but the Mayans could count on their friends the mosquitoes and a whole bunch of parasites and gut worms to stand up for the home team.
I’m not even talking about intent here. War isn’t a law court; I don’t know how much the Euros wanted to donate smallpox to the Injuns, although we’ve all heard those stories about the Anglos generously contributing blankets crawling with the virus to the Algonquin. Intent doesn’t mean much; it’s a matter of death rate vs. death rate, and whether the other team cries or cheers at your funeral doesn’t make much difference.
The Mayans are harder to put out than a tire fire, and slower than a peat fire in the Delta. I remember those fires–we used to go up to fish Frank’s Tract every fall and you could smell the peat burning under your feet. Good way to think about guerrilla war: a peat fire in wet delta dirt.
What is good info. About the aztec.
It was against the law to be drunk in public in the Aztec empire, unless you were over 70 years old! use the link for more info!