The Fall of Aztec Empire

The Aztec civilization lasted until the conquest of Tenochtitlan by the Spaniards took place in 1521. The Aztec Empire ruled from the beginning of the 14th Century and its control extended from the Valley of Mexico to Guatemala. It has been establis

By that year, some 38 provinces were under the rule of Tenochtitlan. Payments, tributes, and human sacrifices were compulsory events that subordinated people had to experience in order to maintain the greatness and domain of this city-state. Therefore, Aztecs were rather loathed by the surrounding neighbors and other cultures under their yoke. So it was no surprising that Cortez could ally with people like the "Tlaxcaltecans" in his march toward Tenochtitlan in order to defeat the Aztecs.

Several different factors contributed to the downfall of the empire and, at the same time, to the Spanish conquest. According to their beliefs, Aztecs knew that the so called Fifth Sun was about to decay and a sign for this was the presence of a god. Moctezuma II, then the ruler, saw in Cortez the presence of that ominous god and interpreted that the end was approaching. On the other hand, the greed of Spaniards was huge and it increased incessantly when they saw the gold at reach of hand. Catholicism and militarism replaced Aztec cosmogony through the cross and the sword. Moreover, if greed motivated Cortez and his men, diseases such as smallpox, introduced by Europeans, helped his mission by killing thousand of natives.

In 1519 Cortez, sent by Governor of Cuba Velazquez, arrived near "Villa Rica de la Veracruz" and announced himself supreme commandant. With 400 soldiers and 15 horses, Cortez was welcomed by Moctezuma who even assigned him a translator, a woman named Malintzin. When Aztecs realized that Cortez was no god, they treated him with respect and presented him with gold and treasures. Thus, Cortez took Moctezuma as a hostage and demand more gold.

Spanish soldiers remained in the city without opposition about six months. However, during Cortez' absence, Spanish officer Pedro de Alvarado massacred 200 Aztec nobles gathered for a religious ceremony. Aztecs fought to expel Spaniards from Tenochtitlan and many of them drowned in the canals surrounding the city along with heavy freight of stolen gold. Moctezuma died in these battles and Cuitlahuac, his younger brother, succeeded him. However, Cuitlahuac ruled only a few months since he died from smallpox. Cuauhtemoc, Moctezuma's nephew, was named emperor then.

Spaniards retreated to gather forces and allies and returned to Tenochtitlan to siege it. Finally, on August 13th, 1521, after several months of unequal battles, concluded the fall of Tenochtitlan. The weapons Spanish featured including iron, gunpowder, and horses, unknown by the Aztecs, as well as the determination of allied people who had been under Aztec oppression, were crucial factors to the fall of the city.

The empire of the Aztecs was destroyed. The ruins of Tenochtitlan were the base upon which Spaniards built their colony. Nowadays, Mexico's cathedral rises over the ruins of an Aztec temple and the National Palace occupies the grounds of what once was Moctezuma's Palace. The greatness of this civilization notoriously influenced the development of Mexico. Agriculture, architecture, religion, astronomy, trade, craftsmanship were only a few fields in which Aztecs stood out.

Extensively documented, the end of Aztec civilization marked the end of Mesoamerican civilizations as well. Hence, the formation of a new race was about to begin. A Spanish colony, New Spain and later a new nation, Mexico, began to flourish as a result of the clash of two worlds, Europa and Mesoamerica.