Defeat of the Aztecs

Defeat of the Aztecs

Arrival of the Spanish

  • In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés arrived on the eastern coast of present-day Mexico with a fleet of 11 ships and around 500 men.
  • Cortés defied the governor of Cuba, who had ordered him not to proceed, driven by rumours of vast wealth in the region, which was part of the Aztec Empire.
  • The Spanish were armed with superior weapons and armour, including horses, which the Aztecs had never seen before.

Initial Relations and Conflict

  • Initially, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II welcomed Cortés, believing he was the god Quetzalcoatl returning as prophesied.
  • Relations quickly soured; in a notorious episode known as the Massacre in the Great Temple, Cortés’s forces killed many Aztec nobles and priests during a religious festival.
  • Moctezuma was killed, although accounts differ on whether the Spaniards murdered him or if he was stoned by his own people during an uprising.

Alliances and Siege

  • Cortés managed to form alliances with various native groups who were enemies of the Aztecs, particularly the Tlaxcalans, providing him with significant additional forces.
  • The Spanish laid siege to the great city of Tenochtitlán, using a strategy of cutting off supplies and attacking from the waters of Lake Texcoco with brigantines.

Final Defeat

  • The Aztec Empire finally fell to the Spanish invaders in 1521 after three months of fierce fighting.
  • The Aztecs were weakened by smallpox brought by the Europeans, which killed large numbers of their people, including their new emperor, Cuitláhuac.
  • The city of Tenochtitlán was virtually destroyed during the conquest.

Conquest and Aftermath

  • Following the defeat of the Aztecs, the Spanish proceeded to build Mexico City in the place of Tenochtitlán, marking the beginnings of Spanish colonial rule.
  • Many surviving Aztecs were enslaved or died from diseases brought by the Spanish, such as smallpox and measles.
  • The fall of the Aztec Empire was a significant event in the Spanish conquest of the Americas and heralded a shift in global power dynamics, paving the way for further European expansion and colonialism.
  • Controversy surrounds figures like Cortés today - some view him as a valiant explorer, while others see him as a symbol of European violence and oppression against indigenous peoples.