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The Aztec realm flourished between c. 1345 and also 1521 CE and dominated old Mesoamerica. This young and also warlike nation was extremely successful in spreading its reach and also gaining fabulous wealth, yet then all too conveniently came the strange travellers from one more world. Led by Hernán Cortés, the Spaniard"s formidable firearms and also thirst for treasure would bring devastating destruction and also disease. The Conquistadores instantly found willing neighborhood allies only too eager to aid topple the brutal Aztec routine and totally free themselves indigenous the load of tribute and also the necessity of feeding the insatiable Aztec appetite because that sacrificial victims, and also so within 3 years dropped the biggest ever realm in north and main America.

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Cortés & the Siege that Tenochtitlan
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

The Aztec Empire

By roughly 1400 CE several tiny empires had created in the sink of Mexico and also dominant among these were Texcoco, capital of the Acholhua region, and Azcapotzalco, capital of the Tepenec. These two empires came confront to face in 1428 CE with the Tepanec War. The Azcapotzalco pressures were beat by one alliance the Texcoco, Tenochtitlan (the resources of the Mexica) and also several various other smaller cities. Complying with victory, a Triple Alliance to be formed between Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, and also a rebel Tepanec city, Tlacopan. A project of territorial development began, whereby the spoils of war - typically in the kind of tributes native the dominated - were shared in between these three great cities. Over time Tenochtitlan concerned dominate the Alliance, its leader ended up being the supreme leader - the huey tlatoque ("high king") - and the city developed itself as the resources of the Aztec Empire.

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The empire continued to expand from 1430 CE, and the Aztec military - bolstered through conscription of every adult males, males supplied native allied and conquered states, and also such elite teams as the Eagle and also Jaguar warrior - brushed up aside your rivals. War were focused in or around major cities, and also when these fell, the victors declared the totality surrounding territory. Constant tributes were extracted, and captives to be taken earlier to Tenochtitlan for ritual sacrifice. In this way, the Aztec empire concerned cover most of north Mexico, an area of part 135,000 square kilometres with a population of around 11 million. As the chronicler Diego Duran put it, the Aztecs to be "Masters of the world, their empire so vast and abundant that castle had overcame all the nations." (Nichols, 451)


Aztec realm Map
Simeon Netchev (CC BY-NC-SA)

The realm was loosely kept together v the appointment of officials from the Aztec heartland, inter-marriages, gift-giving, invitations to important ceremonies, the structure of monuments and artworks which supported Aztec imperial ideology, imposition that the Aztec religion (especially praise of Huitzilopochtli), and also most important of all, the ever-present threat of military intervention. This meant that that was not a homogenous and mature empire where its members had actually a common interest in its preservation. Some says were integrated much more than rather whilst those ~ above the four times of the realm were exploited just as buffer area against more hostile neighbours. In addition, the Aztecs were heavily defeated by the Tlaxcala and also Huexotzingo in 1515 CE. One neighbouring power in particular, a continuous thorn in the Aztec flank, was the Tarascan civilization. Infinite troublesome, they, the Tlaxcalans and others, would certainly prove to be vital allies for the Spaniards as soon as they pertained to plunder and also conquer the large riches of Mesoamerica. Fighting because that their self-reliance from Aztec preeminence they did no realise the they would just be instead of one rapacious overlord for an additional even more destructive one.

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By 1515 CE rumours in the Aztec heartlands and several negative omens the a quickly approaching situation were fuelled by sightings off the shore of fantastic floating temples. The tourists from the Old civilization had ultimately come.

Hernán Cortés & the Conquistadores

The Spanish branch of Cuba, Diego Velasquez, had currently sent several expeditions to check out the mainland coastline of America beginning in 1517 CE, and these had actually reported strange ancient stone monuments and brightly dressed natives from whom to be bartered fine yellow objects. Ironically, one group of natives had actually been sent out by the Aztec king Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin (Montezuma) to view for themselves who these secret bearded guys were, but a lack of a usual language meant the Spanish went back to Cuba unaware they had actually missed an possibility to lastly prove there was a large civilization and resource of treasure beyond the coast. Velasquez was encouraged enough through the yellow objects, though. The governor organised one more expedition and chose as its leader Hernán Cortés. In his fleet of 11 ships walk 500 soldiers and 100 sailors, all of them adventurers and also treasure-seekers.

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Cortés, a indigenous of Extremadura, had studied law at university, but at 19 years old that had made decision to leave Spain and try his luck in the Caribbean colonies. After to run a plantation and also participating in the conquest of Cuba, the was currently in his mid-30s and ready because that his stab in ~ fame and glory. Perhaps not just out for gold, Cortés was a deeply religious man, and the heart of evangelism, for him if not his followers, was an extra motivation to open up up this new World.

Landing ~ above the Tabasco coastline at Potonchan, Cortés immediately met hostilities, however the Europeans quickly subdued the natives with their exceptional weapons and tactics. Together a gift the reconciliation Cortés to be presented with some servant girls, and one that these, a certain Malintzin (aka Marina or Malinche), would prove an invaluable asset as she speak both the regional Mayan language and, crucially, likewise the Nahuatl language the the Aztecs. Among Cortés" men spoke the previous so that now the means was open to parley with any kind of representatives the invaders came across. Malintzin would continue to be at Cortés" next throughout the campaign, and together they would have a son, Don Martin.

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Cortés was directed to sail north, and also this the did, landing near the city of Cempoala whereby he came across two Aztec tax collectors extracting the king"s tribute native the locals. Word soon got to Motecuhzoma the a big force of violent males was confidently pull close the Aztec heartlands.

Facing the enemy - Montezuma

Motecuhzoma, ~ consulting his council of elders, decided on a strategy the diplomacy. The sent presents to the Spanish, which contained ceremonial costumes, a huge gold disk representing the sun, and an even bigger silver- one representing the moon. These to be gratefully received and likely do the Spanish even more interested in plundering the soil for every it was worth. Skip instructions to go back to Cuba, Cortés rather sent a shipload that the prizes they had so much acquired and also letters requesting royal support come Charles V the Spain. Then a garrison was developed at Veracruz on the coast. Cortés following burned every one of his pearl to remind his guys that in the following months that hardship it was to be occupation or death. In august 1519 CE, Cortés marched directly to Tenochtitlan.


Montezuma Meets Cortés
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

The resources was situated on the western coast of Lake Texcoco and boasted at the very least 200,000 inhabitants making that the biggest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas. It to be a substantial trading center with goods flowing in and out, such as gold, turquoise, foodstuffs, and slaves. The Spanish invaders, enabled to freely get in the city, to be hugely impression by that splendour, its magnificent architecture and artwork, its exorbitant gardens, artificial lakes, and also flowers. Cortés was passionate to meet the Aztec king Motecuhzoma. Taking the place of tlatoani, definition "speaker" in 1502 CE, the ruled as an pure monarch and also was thought about a god through his people and a manifestation and also perpetuator of the sun. Initially, connections were friendly and an important gifts to be exchanged between the 2 leaders. Cortés received a necklace of gold crabs, and Motecuhzoma a necklace the Venetian glass strung on yellow thread and also scented v musk.

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The background of the conflict around to open minded is lot debated amongst scholars, and it is unlikely the the Spanish chroniclers presented a fully impartial account the events. It has been noted that the does it seems to be ~ strange that such a an effective ruler as Motecuhzoma should reduced such a passive figure in the document of events carried down to us. However, versus that that is certainly true that the Spanish had already shown their armed forces prowess and also the terrible effectiveness of their superior weaponry - cannons, firearms and crossbows - in quickly defeating a force of Otomi-Tlaxcalan, and also they had additionally taken quick and ruthless reprisals versus a treacherous plot by the Cholollan. Possibly Motecuhzoma had taken keep in mind of this and also took the an ext prudent policy of appeasement fairly than interact the adversary in the field, at least as an opening strategy. This appears a more reasonable explanation than the classic view, currently rejected by contemporary historians as a post-conquest rationalising fiction, the Motecuhzoma reverently believed that Cortés to be the returning god Quetzalcoatl the Aztec mythology.

Whatever the reasons, the initial air of cordiality in between the 2 sides soon turned sour for within two weeks the Aztec leader was audaciously taken hostage and placed under residence arrest by the small Spanish force. Motecuhzoma was forced to declare self a subject of Charles V, handover more treasure and also even enable the place of a crucifix on optimal of the an excellent Pyramid or Templo market in the city"s spiritual precinct.

The loss of Tenochtitlan

The situation deepened once Cortés was compelled to return to Veracruz and also face a new force sent out from Cuba come arrest him because that disobeying his orders to go back to Cuba. Few of the continuing to be Spanish, commanded through Pedro de Alvarado, to be then eliminated at Tenochtitlan after lock tried to interrupt a awareness of human sacrifice. This occurrence was simply what Cortés needed, and also after battling the Cuban relief pressure at Veracruz and also persuading that is leader Panfilo Narvaez to sign up with his cause, he returned to the city to relieve the besieged continuing to be Spanish. The Aztec warrior commanders, dissatisfied at Motecuhzoma"s passivity, overthrew him and collection Cuitlahuac as the new tlatoani. The Spanish tried to have Motecuhzoma patience the populace, but he to be struck in the head by a thrown rock and killed. Some think the Spanish strangled the in secret as that was plainly of no usage to one of two people side any type of longer.

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Holed up in the royal palace, Cortés stood up to several waves of attacks and also then dealt with to manage the huge Templo market pyramid, which to be being provided as a comfortable vantage point to rain under missiles on the Spanish. A fierce battle ended in Cortés taking regulate of the temple, which he then set fire to, horrifying the population. Cortés got hold of what booty that could and fled the city in a running night fight on the 30th that June, 1520 CE, in what ended up being known as the Noche Triste (Sad Night).

Gathering regional allies native his Tlaxcala base, and also now supported by Texcoco, Cortés first won a good battle near Otumba and then went back to Tenochtitlan ten months later, laying siege come the city through a fleet the specially developed warships. V these ships, Cortés had the ability to block the three key causeways which attached the city come the edge of Lake Texcoco. Doing not have food and ravaged by smallpox condition earlier presented by among the Spaniards, the Aztecs, currently led by Cuauhtemoc, finally fell down after 93 work of resistance on the fateful work of 13th of August, 1521 CE. Tenochtitlan to be sacked and its monuments destroyed. The Tlaxcalans were ruthless in your revenge and also slaughtered men, women, and also children wholesale, also shocking the hardened Spanish veterans through their atrocities. Native the ashes that this disaster rose the brand-new capital the the nest of new Spain, and Cortés was made its first governor in may 1523 CE.

Conquering the Empire

With the loss of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish collection about pacifying the rest of the empire and discovering what various other treasures can be plundered. In this, they were helped enormously by two factors. The an initial was assist from disgruntled subject peoples or traditional enemies of the Aztecs. On the march to Tenochtitlan, Cortés had already enlisted the enthusiastic aid of the Tlaxcalans, both in men and supplies. V the collapse of the Aztec hierarchy, other local areas were just too ready to view the earlier of them and complimentary themselves from heavy tribute and also the systematic record of human being to be sacrificed at the Aztec capital.


Aztec Warriors
Unknown (Public Domain)

The 2nd factor in the Spaniard"s favour was the primitive weaponry and also ritualised war of your opponents. Aztec warrior wore padded noodle armour, lugged a wood or reed shield covered in hide, and also wielded weapons such together a super sharp obsidian sword-club (macuahuitl), a spear or dart thrower (atlatl), and also bow and arrows. Effective though this were versus even much more poorly equipped indigenous Americans, they were beside useless versus the Spanish guns, crossbows, stole swords, long pikes, cannons, and armour.

Cavalry was another devastating weapon in the hand of the Europeans. Upstream Aztec warriors and officers likewise wore spectacular feathered and animal skin costumes and also headdresses to represent their rank. This make them extremely conspicuous in battle and also a prime target come dispatch as at an early stage as possible. Shorn of your commanders, the Aztec systems often broke down into panic. The Aztecs were offered to loose formations in battle; their primary objective had always been to record a valiant enemy alive so the they could be later ritually sacrificed, and also warfare was extremely ritualised with an exact moments for starting and ending. The target of Aztec warfare was never to destroy totally the enemy and overturn their culture, if the Spanish were will on precisely that. The 2 sides to be not just centuries however millennia personal in terms of arms technology and war tactics.

There might only be one winner, and within 3 years Mesoamerica, consisting of the Tarascan funding of Tzintzuntzan and the Maya highlands, to be under Spanish control. Gradually, Franciscan friars arrived to spread Christianity, and the bureaucrats took end from the adventurers. In 1535 CE, Don Antonio de Mendoza was made the very first viceroy of the kingdom of new Spain.

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Montezuma seems to have had actually some instinct that troubled times to be ahead together he gave an excellent importance to omens such together a comet sighted in 1509 CE, and also he continually consulted soothsayers because that advice. Aztec mythology foretold the the current era the the 5th sun would at some point fall simply as the previous four periods had done, and also so it involved pass. The Aztec empire collapsed, its temples were defaced or destroyed, and also its fine arts melted down into coins. Ordinary people suffered indigenous the European-introduced illness which clear all out up to 50% the the population, and also their brand-new overlords walk not rotate out to it is in any much better than the Aztecs. Systematically and ruthlessly, the society of the ancient Mesoamericans, a legacy going back millennia, to be repressed and also where feasible eradicated in an initiative to download the brand-new order the the Old World. Unfortunately, v the ongoing extraction the tribute both in goods and also forced labour, this brand-new order to be no much less brutal and unforgiving 보다 the old one.