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Aztec History

QUESTION: What are the main events in Aztec history?


Aztec History is believed by most experts to have begun in regions of what is now southwestern United States. However, it is legend that they hailed from the mythical Aztlan, a Nahuatl word meaning “place of the heron.” Their trek to the Valley of Mexico is thought to have been in the 1200’s AD. They lived a nomadic life and endured many hardships before settling in the area of the main lake of Mexico in 1325.

For whatever reason they left Aztlan, the Mexica (as they called themselves) settled in Lake Texcoco and became a great empire. On the southern shores of the lake they built the city of Tenochtitlan while another Mexica group settled on the north side of the lake building the city of Tlateloco. The empire spread by gradually conquering other tribes, taking captives and territories, and amassing great wealth. By the start of the 1500’s their dominion ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific and reportedly as far as Guatemala and Nicaragua. The Aztec Empire was at its geographic peak when the Spaniards arrived in 1519.

A Spaniard named Hernando Cortes had heard of the rich empire and set out to find the Mexica. The Aztecs first saw the Spaniards as white gods and showered Cortes with many riches of gold. Cortes’ arrival and the Spaniards’ greed led to the fall of the Aztec Empire. Cortes and his armies were reinforced by many of the tribes who had been embattled with and conquered by the mighty Aztec warriors over the years. In 1521, Mexico became a Spanish Colony after a long siege on the capitol city, Tenochtitlan. But much of the city’s population had also died from hunger and smallpox as well as the long battle with the Spanish.

The smallpox epidemic of 1520-1521 was the first of three outbreaks on the Great Aztec Civilization. The next came in 1545 and then typhus hit them in 1576, destroying a total of 75% of the population of Mesoamerica. Their population before the Spanish Conquest is estimated at 15 million; by 1550 it is estimated to have been about 4 million and less than 2 million by 1581.

The Spanish finally defeated the Aztecs and diseases aided in bringing them to destruction. Adding to the Aztecs’ demise were the Catholics who came with the Spaniards, believing it was their duty to destroy every trace of the Aztec people and their ways. The Aztec’s pagan rituals and belief system propagated these notions with their practices of human sacrifice and polytheism. A few Aztec survived and descendants today have carried on much of the culture.

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