Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs


Staff Writer J.D. Perry

The Spanish-Aztec War. The Fall of an Empire.

Throughout history, we see empires rise and fall, and often we find out there are multiple contributing factors.

Today we’ll talk a bit about The Spanish-Aztec War also known as The Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, the actual war spanned just two years (1519-1521) when Spanish Conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés with enemies of the Aztec Empire bolstering their ranks fought and defeated the Aztecs and marked the end of the Aztec Empire and the eventual Spanish conquest of the entirety of Mesoamerica.

A fair number of the men that accompanied Cortés on his expedition to conquer the Aztec Empire had never even seen real combat before including Cortés himself, knowing this he spent some time forging alliances with political rivals and rebelling states of the Aztec Empire to bolster the Spanish army’s numbers the Spanish’s success in these negotiations was aided greatly by a multilingual (Nahuatl a Maya dialect and Spanish) slave woman the Conquistadors called Doña Marina.

Somehow, the Aztecs managed to hold out for 2 years scoring actual victories against the Spanish in a few skirmishes despite being outmatched heavily in regards to equipment, the Aztecs didn’t have metal armor, and weapons like the Spanish did, the Aztecs fought with clubs of wood lined with sharpened Obsidian known as Macuahuitl, bows and arrows and a weapon known as Atlatl used to throw spears and darts, shields made of reeds and cloth armor. Yes, CLOTH ARMOR

If you’re a gamer like me, your thoughts may be drifting to that harrowing moment in games like Final Fantasy where you stumble onto the games the first boss a dragon or heavily armored knight and you’re still in rags with a wooden sword and rare healing items.

Cortés and the Spaniards and allies after months of battles and negotiations finally entered the capital city of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519; he later left with a division of soldiers to deal with another Spanish expedition that was sent to arrest Cortés for insubordination leaving his right-hand man Pedro de Alvarado in charge.

Cortés defeated Pánfilo de Narváez’s expedition and told the defeated soldiers about the riches of Tenochtitlan they agreed to join him and they made their way back to the city.

Alvarado allowed a huge feast to take place on May 22nd, 1520 a large number of nobles attended the sounds of a feast and jolly good times was soon replaced with the sounds of a massacre, yes this was the date of what came to be known as the Alvarado Massacre, the Spanish slaughtered the Aztec Nobels this incited rebellion in the citizens of the city, a slaughter of Aztec Nobility taking place in the main temple of their capital city by these Spanish invaders must have been quite the offense.

Accounts vary on what exactly happened next, but Aztec ruler Moctezuma II was killed, some say he was killed by a projectile of some sort while trying to give a speech to calm the people down but they were done with him they saw him as nothing more than a puppet of the Spanish invaders. Indigenous accounts say the Spanish killed him.

Cortés returned to the city on June 20th, 1520 (La Noche Triste or The Night of Sorrows) and managed to pull his men out of the city and after a few weeks on the run fighting off pursuing Aztecs managing to kill a commander they arrived at the safety of the allied Tlaxcala.

Cortés spent the next year licking wounds and eventually marching back to the city of Tenochtitlan over the Summer of 1521 the final year of the war the Aztecs battered and weakened by war, disease, and famine could not hold and surrendered. The capital city fell, and the Spanish sacked and tore down the city establishing a firm foothold to launch further campaigns to take over the rest of Mesoamerica, they dubbed the former Aztec capital, Mexico City.

Yes, the capital of the Aztec Empire stood on what is now known as Mexico City.

Imagine visiting or being a resident of Mexico City nowadays, people going about their lives not knowing or caring that on the ground they walk on today a mighty empire once stood.

After the fall of the empire Aztec leadership changed to Spanish, the Spanish tried to convert the defeated Aztecs into Catholics and made them act like Spanish people.

The Aztec nobles were allowed to become Spanish nobles to make the change from Aztec to Spanish rule easier.

Allies of the Spanish were granted gifts including Aztec slaves that they treated like something less than the dirt they eventually switched to African slaves which were treated even worse.

These slaves were not just working the farmland but the discovery of Silver in them there hills sent the Spanish into a frenzy, and they had these slaves work the silver mines.

Today, not much remains of the Aztecs, there are still people that hold traditional Aztec ceremonies dressed in appropriate garb but its a mere shadow of its former self, throughout history empires, rise and empires fall, and you have to ask yourself will that happen to us?

Published by TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere

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