"The tragic irony to the gold-thirsty Spanish missions to the New World is that prior to their arrival gold was not particularly precious to the Amerindians. The Aztecs had no metallic currency and used gold and silver only for ceremonial and personal decoration. In fact, due to an over-abundance of gold, the Aztecs referred to it as "the excrement of the gods," eagerly trading their substantial supplies of the "excrement" in the feathers and turquoise markets. This is perhaps humorously telling as to why the Aztec leader Montezuma first offered the Spaniards gold in an attempt to get them to leave his land, rather than the feather and turquoise commodities that carried higher Aztec market value. However, Montezuma was not aware of the European mercantilist system that bestowed upon gold more value than any other natural resource. Rather than invoking a retreat from Mexico, the gifts of gold only served to whet the Spanish appetite for extreme wealth.
Marching across the Valley of Mexico from Veracruz to Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City), Cortés encountered the heart of the Aztec Empire and soon thereafter he and his entourage revealed their true colors concerning gold. As recorded in the Florentine Codex (an account of the Spanish conquest from the Aztec perspective, written by Bernardino de Sahagún), the Aztecs were transfixed by the behavior of the Spaniards in the presence of gold: "They picked it up and fingered it like monkeys. It was as if their hearts were satisfied, brightened, calmed. For in truth they thirsted mightily for gold; they stuffed themselves with it; they starved for it; they lusted for it like pigs." Dramatically, Cortés himself told an emissary of Montezuma that his people were stricken by a "disease of the heart which can only be cured by gold." "
"Cortés and Aztec Gold" by Stuart Matthews
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