Aztec Empire

The Aztec Empire, or the Triple Alliance (Classical Nahuatl: Ēxcān Tlahtōlōyān, [ˈjéːʃkaːn̥ t͡ɬaʔtoːˈlóːjaːn̥]), began as an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés defeated them in 1521.

The Triple Alliance was formed from the victorious factions in a civil war fought between the city of Azcapotzalco and its former tributary provinces.[3] Despite the initial conception of the empire as an alliance of three self-governed city-states, Tenochtitlan quickly became dominant militarily.[4] By the time the Spanish arrived in 1519, the lands of the Alliance were effectively ruled from Tenochtitlan, while the other partners in the alliance had taken subsidiary roles.

The alliance waged wars of conquest and expanded rapidly after its formation. At its height, the alliance controlled most of central Mexico as well as some more distant territories within Mesoamerica, such as the Xoconochco province, an Aztec exclave near the present-day Guatemalan border. Aztec rule has been described by scholars as "hegemonic" or "indirect".[5] The Aztecs left rulers of conquered cities in power so long as they agreed to pay semi-annual tribute to the Alliance, as well as supply military forces when needed for the Aztec war efforts. In return, the imperial authority offered protection and political stability, and facilitated an integrated economic network of diverse lands and peoples who had significant local autonomy.

The state religion of the empire was polytheistic, worshiping a diverse pantheon that included dozens of deities. Many had officially recognized cults large enough so that the deity was represented in the central temple precinct of the capital Tenochtitlan. The imperial cult, specifically, was that of Huitzilopochtli, the distinctive warlike patron god of the Mexica. Peoples in conquered provinces were allowed to retain and freely continue their own religious traditions, so long as they added the imperial god Huitzilopochtli to their local pantheons.

Aztec Empire
Triple Alliance

Ēxcān Tlahtōlōyān
1428–1521
Flag of Aztec Empire
State emblems
Maximum extent of the Aztec Empire
Maximum extent of the Aztec Empire
CapitalMexico-Tenochtitlan (de facto)
Common languagesNahuatl (lingua franca) Also Otomí, Matlatzinca, Mazahua, Mazatec, Huaxtec, Tepehua, Popoloca, Popoluca, Tlapanec, Mixtec, Cuicatec, Trique, Zapotec, Zoque, Chochotec, Chinantec, Totonac, Cuitlatec, Pame, Mam, Tapachultec, Tarascan, among others
Religion
Aztec polytheism
GovernmentHegemonic military confederation of allied city-states
Huehuetlatoani of Tenochtitlan 
• 1427–1440
Itzcoatl (Alliance founder)
• 1520–1521
Cuauhtémoc (last)
Huetlatoani of Texcoco 
• 1431–1440
Nezahualcoyotl (Alliance founder)
• 1516–1520
Cacamatzin (last)
Huetlatoani of Tlacopan 
• 1400–1430
Totoquihuatzin (Alliance founder)
• 1519–1524
Tetlepanquetzaltzin (last)
Historical eraPre-Columbian era
Age of Discovery
• Foundation of the alliance[1]
1428
August 13, 1521
Area
1520[2]220,000 km2 (85,000 sq mi)
Currency
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Tenochtitlan
Tlatelolco (altepetl)
Tlacopan
Azcapotzalco
Colhuacan (altepetl)
Texcoco (altepetl)
Chalco (altépetl)
Xochimilco (altépetl)
Xoconochco
New Spain
Today part ofMexico
Full list of monarchs at bottom of page.[3]

Etymology and definitions

The word "Aztec" in modern usage would not have been used by the people themselves. It has variously been used to refer to the Triple Alliance empire, the Nahuatl-speaking people of central Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest, or specifically the Mexica ethnicity of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples.[6] The name comes from a Nahuatl word meaning "people from Aztlan," reflecting the mythical place of origin for Nahua peoples.[7] For the purpose of this article, "Aztec" refers only to those cities that constituted or were subject to the Triple Alliance. For the broader use of the term, see the article on Aztec civilization.

History

Before the Aztec Empire

Aztlan codex boturini
First page of Codex Boturini, showing the migration of the Mexica

Nahua peoples descended from Chichimec peoples who migrated to central Mexico from the north in the early 13th century.[8] The migration story of the Mexica is similar to those of other polities in central Mexico, with supernatural sites, individuals, and events, joining earthly and divine history as they sought political legitimacy.[9] According to the pictographic codices in which the Aztecs recorded their history, the place of origin was called Aztlán. Early migrants settled the Basin of Mexico and surrounding lands by establishing a series of independent city-states. These early Nahua city-states or altepetl, were ruled by dynastic heads called tlahtohqueh (singular, tlatoāni). Most of the existing settlements had been established by other indigenous peoples before the Mexica migration.[10]

These early city-states fought various small-scale wars with each other, but due to shifting alliances, no individual city gained dominance.[11] The Mexica were the last of the Nahua migrants to arrive in Central Mexico. They entered the Basin of Mexico around the year 1250 AD, and by then most of the good agricultural land had already been claimed.[12] The Mexica persuaded the king of Culhuacan, a small city-state but important historically as a refuge of the Toltecs, to allow them to settle in a relatively infertile patch of land called Chapultepec (Chapoltepēc, "in the hill of grasshoppers"). The Mexica served as mercenaries for Culhuacan.[13]

After the Mexica served Culhuacan in battle, the ruler appointed one of his daughters to rule over the Mexica. According to mythological native accounts, the Mexica instead sacrificed her by flaying her skin, on the command of their god Xipe Totec.[14] When the ruler of Culhuacan learned of this, he attacked and used his army to drive the Mexica from Tizaapan by force. The Mexica moved to an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, where an eagle nested on a nopal cactus. The Mexica interpreted this as a sign from their gods and founded their new city, Tenochtitlan, on this island in the year ōme calli, or "Two House" (1325 AD).[3]

Aztec warfare

The Mexica rose to prominence as fierce warriors and were able to establish themselves as a military power. The importance of warriors and the integral nature of warfare in Mexica political and religious life helped propel them to emerge as the dominant military power prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.

The new Mexica city-state allied with the city of Azcapotzalco and paid tribute to its ruler, Tezozomoc.[15] With Mexica assistance, Azcopotzalco began to expand into a small tributary empire. Until this point, the Mexica ruler was not recognized as a legitimate king. Mexica leaders successfully petitioned one of the kings of Culhuacan to provide a daughter to marry into the Mexica line. Their son, Acamapichtli, was enthroned as the first tlatoani of Tenochtitlan in the year 1372.[16]

While the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco expanded their rule with help from the Mexica, the Acolhua city of Texcoco grew in power in the eastern portion of the lake basin. Eventually, war erupted between the two states, and the Mexica played a vital role in the conquest of Texcoco. By then, Tenochtitlan had grown into a major city and was rewarded for its loyalty to the Tepanecs by receiving Texcoco as a tributary province.[17]

Tepanec War

In 1426, the Tepanec king Tezozomoc died, and the resulting succession crisis precipitated a civil war between potential successors.[17] The Mexica supported Tezozomoc's preferred heir, Tayahauh, who was initially enthroned as king. But his son, Maxtla, soon usurped the throne and turned against factions that opposed him, including the Mexica ruler Chimalpopoca. The latter died shortly thereafter, possibly assassinated by Maxtla.[12]

The new Mexica ruler Itzcoatl continued to defy Maxtla; he blockaded Tenochtitlan and demanded increased tribute payments.[18] Maxtla similarly turned against the Acolhua, and the king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, fled into exile. Nezahualcoyotl recruited military help from the king of Huexotzinco, and the Mexica gained the support of a dissident Tepanec city, Tlacopan. In 1427, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, Tlacopan, and Huexotzinco went to war against Azcapotzalco, emerging victorious in 1428.[18]

After the war, Huexotzinco withdrew, and in 1430 [1], the three remaining cities formed a treaty known today as the Triple Alliance.[18] The Tepanec lands were carved up among the three cities, whose leaders agreed to cooperate in future wars of conquest. Land acquired from these conquests was to be held by the three cities together. Tribute was to be divided so that two-fifths each went to Tenochtitlan and Texcoco, and one-fifth went to Tlacopan. Each of the three kings of the alliance in turn assumed the title "huetlatoani" ("Elder Speaker", often translated as "Emperor"). In this role, each temporarily held a de jure position above the rulers of other city-states ("tlatoani").[19]

In the next 100 years, the Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan came to dominate the Valley of Mexico and extend its power to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Tenochtitlan gradually became the dominant power in the alliance. Two of the primary architects of this alliance were the half-brothers Tlacaelel and Moctezuma, nephews of Itzcoatl. Moctezuma eventually succeeded Itzcoatl as the Mexica huetlatoani in 1440. Tlacaelel occupied the newly created title of "Cihuacoatl", equivalent to something between "Prime Minister" and "Viceroy".[18][20]

Imperial reforms

Shortly after the formation of the Triple Alliance, Itzcoatl and Tlacopan instigated sweeping reforms on the Aztec state and religion. It has been alleged that Tlacaelel ordered the burning of some or most of the extant Aztec books, claiming that they contained lies and that it was "not wise that all the people should know the paintings".[21] Even if he did order such book-burnings, it was probably limited primarily to documents containing political propaganda from previous regimes; he thereafter rewrote the history of the Aztecs, naturally placing the Mexica in a more central role.

After Moctezuma I succeeded Itzcoatl as the Mexica emperor, more reforms were instigated to maintain control over conquered cities.[22] Uncooperative kings were replaced with puppet rulers loyal to the Mexica. A new imperial tribute system established Mexica tribute collectors that taxed the population directly, bypassing the authority of local dynasties. Nezahualcoyotl also instituted a policy in the Acolhua lands of granting subject kings tributary holdings in lands far from their capitals.[23] This was done to create an incentive for cooperation with the empire; if a city's king rebelled, he lost the tribute he received from foreign land. Some rebellious kings were replaced by calpixqueh, or appointed governors rather than dynastic rulers.[23]

Moctezuma issued new laws that further separated nobles from commoners and instituted the death penalty for adultery and other offenses.[24] By royal decree, a religiously supervised school was built in every neighborhood.[24] Commoner neighborhoods had a school called a "telpochcalli" where they received basic religious instruction and military training.[25] A second, more prestigious type of school called a "calmecac" served to teach the nobility, as well as commoners of high standing seeking to become priests or artisans. Moctezuma also created a new title called "quauhpilli" that could be conferred on commoners.[22] This title was a form of non-hereditary lesser nobility awarded for outstanding military or civil service (similar to the English knight). In some rare cases, commoners that received this title married into royal families and became kings.[23]

One component of this reform was the creation of an institution of regulated warfare called the Flower Wars. Mesoamerican warfare overall is characterized by a strong preference for capturing live prisoners as opposed to slaughtering the enemy on the battlefield, which was considered sloppy and gratuitous. The Flower Wars are a potent manifestation of this approach to warfare. These highly ritualized wars ensured a steady, healthy supply of experienced Aztec warriors as well as a steady, healthy supply of captured enemy warriors for sacrifice to the gods. Flower wars were pre-arranged by officials on both sides and conducted specifically for the purpose of each polity collecting prisoners for sacrifice.[26] According to native historical accounts, these wars were instigated by Tlacaelel as a means of appeasing the gods in response to a massive drought that gripped the Basin of Mexico from 1450 to 1454.[27] The flower wars were mostly waged between the Aztec Empire and the neighboring cities of their arch-enemy Tlaxcala.

Early years of expansion

Aztecexpansion
Map of the expansion of the empire, showing the areas conquered by the Aztec rulers.[28]

After the defeat of the Tepanecs, Itzcoatl and Nezahualcoyotl rapidly consolidated power in the Basin of Mexico and began to expand beyond its borders. The first targets for imperial expansion were Coyoacan in the Basin of Mexico and Cuauhnahuac and Huaxtepec in the modern Mexican state of Morelos.[29] These conquests provided the new empire with a large influx of tribute, especially agricultural goods.

On the death of Itzcoatl, Moctezuma I was enthroned as the new Mexica emperor. The expansion of the empire was briefly halted by a major four-year drought that hit the Basin of Mexico in 1450, and several cities in Morelos had to be re-conquered after the drought subsided.[30] Moctezuma and Nezahualcoyotl continued to expand the empire east towards the Gulf of Mexico and south into Oaxaca. In 1468, Moctezuma I died and was succeeded by his son, Axayacatl. Most of Axayacatl's thirteen-year-reign was spent consolidating the territory acquired under his predecessor. Motecuzoma and Nezahualcoyotl had expanded rapidly and many provinces rebelled.[12]

At the same time as the Aztec Empire was expanding and consolidating power, the Purépecha Empire in West Mexico was similarly expanding. In 1455, the Purépecha under their king Tzitzipandaquare had invaded the Toluca Valley, claiming lands previously conquered by Motecuzoma and Itzcoatl.[31] In 1472, Axayacatl re-conquered the region and successfully defended it from Purépecha attempts to take it back. In 1479, Axayacatl launched a major invasion of the Purépecha Empire with 32,000 Aztec soldiers.[31] The Purépecha met them just across the border with 50,000 soldiers and scored a resounding victory, killing or capturing over 90% of the Aztec army. Axayacatl himself was wounded in the battle, retreated to Tenochtitlan, and never engaged the Purépecha in battle again.[32]

In 1472, Nezahualcoyotl died and his son Nezahualpilli was enthroned as the new huetlatoani of Texcoco.[33] This was followed by the death of Axayacatl in 1481.[32] Axayacatl was replaced by his brother Tizoc. Tizoc's reign was notoriously brief. He proved to be ineffectual and did not significantly expand the empire. Apparently due to his incompetence, Tizoc was likely assassinated by his own nobles five years into his rule.[32]

Later years of expansion

Aztec Empire 1519 map-fr
The maximal extent of the Aztec Empire, according to María del Carmen Solanes Carraro and Enrique Vela Ramírez.

Tizoc was succeeded by his brother Ahuitzotl in 1486. Like his predecessors, the first part of Ahuitzotl's reign was spent suppressing rebellions that were commonplace due to the indirect nature of Aztec rule.[32] Ahuitzotl then began a new wave of conquests including the Oaxaca Valley and the Soconusco Coast. Due to increased border skirmishes with the Purépechas, Ahuitzotl conquered the border city of Otzoma and turned the city into a military outpost.[34] The population of Otzoma was either killed or dispersed in the process.[31] The Purépecha subsequently established fortresses nearby to protect against Aztec expansion.[31] Ahuitzotl responded by expanding further west to the Pacific Coast of Guerrero.

By the reign of Ahuitzotl, the Mexica were the largest and most powerful faction in the Aztec Triple Alliance.[35] Building on the prestige the Mexica had acquired over the course of the conquests, Ahuitzotl began to use the title "huehuetlatoani" ("Eldest Speaker") to distinguish himself from the rulers of Texcoco and Tlacopan.[32] Even though the alliance still technically ran the empire, the Mexica Emperor now assumed nominal if not actual seniority.

Ahuitzotl was succeeded by his nephew Motecuzoma II in 1502. Motecuzoma II spent most of his reign consolidating power in lands conquered by his predecessors.[34] In 1515, Aztec armies commanded by the Tlaxcalan general Tlahuicole invaded the Purépecha Empire once again.[36] The Aztec army failed to take any territory and was mostly restricted to raiding. The Purépechas defeated them and the army withdrew.

Motecuzoma II instituted more imperial reforms.[34] After the death of Nezahualcoyotl, the Mexica Emperors had become the de facto rulers of the alliance. Motecuzoma II used his reign to attempt to consolidate power more closely with the Mexica Emperor.[37] He removed many of Ahuitzotl's advisors and had several of them executed.[34] He also abolished the "quauhpilli" class, destroying the chance for commoners to advance to the nobility. His reform efforts were cut short by the Spanish Conquest in 1519.

Spanish conquest

Basin of Mexico 1519 map-en
The Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest.
Aztec Empire
The Aztec Empire in 1519

Spanish expedition leader Hernán Cortés landed in Yucatán in 1519 with approximately 630 men (most armed with only a sword and shield). Cortés had actually been removed as the expedition's commander by the governor of Cuba, Diego Velásquez, but had stolen the boats and left without permission.[38] At the island of Cozumel, Cortés encountered a shipwrecked Spaniard named Gerónimo de Aguilar who joined the expedition and translated between Spanish and Mayan. The expedition then sailed west to Campeche, where after a brief battle with the local army, Cortés was able to negotiate peace through his interpreter, Aguilar. The King of Campeche gave Cortés a second translator, a bilingual Nahua-Maya slave woman named La Malinche (she was known also as Malinalli [maliˈnalːi], Malintzin [maˈlintsin] or Doña Marina [ˈdoɲa maˈɾina] ). Aguilar translated from Spanish to Mayan and La Malinche translated from Mayan to Nahuatl. Once Malinche learned Spanish, she became Cortés's translator for both language and culture, and was a key figure in interactions with Nahua rulers. An important article, "Rethinking Malinche" by Frances Karttunen examines her role in the conquest and beyond.[39]

Cortés then sailed from Campeche to Cempoala, a tributary province of the Aztec Triple Alliance. Nearby, he founded the town of Veracruz where he met with ambassadors from the reigning Mexica emperor, Motecuzoma II. When the ambassadors returned to Tenochtitlan, Cortés went to Cempoala to meet with the local Totonac leaders. After the Totonac ruler told Cortés of his various grievances against the Mexica, Cortés convinced the Totonacs to imprison an imperial tribute collector.[40] Cortés subsequently released the tribute collector after persuading him that the move was entirely the Totonac's idea and that he had no knowledge of it. Having effectively declared war on the Aztecs, the Totonacs provided Cortés with 20 companies of soldiers for his march to Tlaxcala.[41] At this time several of Cortés's soldiers attempted to mutiny. When Cortés discovered the plot, he had his ships scuttled and sank them in the harbor to remove any possibility of escaping to Cuba.[42]

Codex azcatitlan222
Codex Azcatitlan depicting the Spanish army, with Cortez and Malinche in front

The Spanish-led Totonac army crossed into Tlaxcala to seek the latter's alliance against the Aztecs. However, the Tlaxcalan general Xicotencatl the Younger believed them to be hostile, and attacked. After fighting several close battles, Cortés eventually convinced the leaders of Tlaxcala to order their general to stand down. Cortés then secured an alliance with the people of Tlaxcala, and traveled from there to the Basin of Mexico with a smaller company of 5,000-6,000 Tlaxcalans and 400 Totonacs, in addition to the Spanish soldiers.[42] During his stay in the city of Cholula, Cortés claims he received word of a planned ambush against the Spanish.[42] In a pre-emptive response, Cortés directed his troops attack and kill a large number of unarmed Cholulans gathered in the main square of the city.

Following the massacre at Cholula, Hernan Cortés and the other Spaniards entered Tenochtitlan, where they were greeted as guests and given quarters in the palace of former emperor Axayacatl.[43] After staying in the city for six weeks, two Spaniards from the group left behind in Veracruz were killed in an altercation with an Aztec lord named Quetzalpopoca. Cortés claims that he used this incident as an excuse to take Motecuzoma prisoner under threat of force.[42] For several months, Motecuzoma continued to run the kingdom as a prisoner of Hernan Cortés. Then, in 1520, a second, larger Spanish expedition arrived under the command of Pánfilo de Narváez sent by Diego Velásquez with the goal of arresting Cortés for treason. Before confronting Narváez, Cortés secretly persuaded Narváez's lieutenants to betray him and join Cortés.[42]

While Cortés was away from Tenochtitlan dealing with Narváez, his second in command Pedro de Alvarado massacred a group of Aztec nobility in response to a ritual of human sacrifice honoring Huitzilopochtli.[42] The Aztecs retaliated by attacking the palace where the Spanish were quartered. Cortés returned to Tenochtitlan and fought his way to the palace. He then took Motecuzoma up to the roof of the palace to ask his subjects to stand down. However, by this point the ruling council of Tenochtitlan had voted to depose Motecuzoma and had elected his brother Cuitlahuac as the new emperor.[43] One of the Aztec soldiers struck Motecuzoma in the head with a sling stone, and he died several days later – although the exact details of his death, particularly who was responsible, are unclear.[43]

Aztec Indians Mexico Tlaxcalan Cortez
Cristóbal de Olid led Spanish soldiers with Tlaxcalan allies in the conquests of Jalisco and Colima of West Mexico.

The Spaniards and their allies, realizing they were vulnerable to the hostile Mexica in Tenochtitlan following Moctezuma's death, attempted to retreat without detection in what is known as the "Sad Night" or La Noche Triste. Spaniards and their Indian allies were discovered clandestinely retreating, and then were forced to fight their way out of the city, with heavy loss of life. Some Spaniards lost their lives by drowning, loaded down with gold.[44] They retreated to Tlacopan (now Tacuba) and made their way to Tlaxcala, where they recovered and prepared for the second, successful assault on Tenochtitlan. After this incident, a smallpox outbreak hit Tenochtitlan. As the indigenous of the New World had no previous exposure to smallpox, this outbreak alone killed more than 50% of the region's population, including the emperor, Cuitlahuac.[45] While the new emperor Cuauhtémoc dealt with the smallpox outbreak, Cortés raised an army of Tlaxcalans, Texcocans, Totonacs, and others discontent with Aztec rule. With a combined army of up to 100,000 warriors,[42] the overwhelming majority of which were indigenous rather than Spanish, Cortés marched back into the Basin of Mexico. Through numerous subsequent battles and skirmishes, he captured the various indigenous city-states or altepetl around the lake shore and surrounding mountains, including the other capitals of the Triple Alliance, Tlacopan and Texcoco. Texcoco in fact had already become firm allies of the Spaniards and the city-state, and subsequently petitioned the Spanish crown for recognition of their services in the conquest, just as Tlaxcala had done.[46]

Using boats constructed in Texcoco from parts salvaged from the scuttled ships, Cortés blockaded and laid siege to Tenochtitlan for a period of several months.[42] Eventually, the Spanish-led army assaulted the city both by boat and using the elevated causeways connecting it to the mainland. Although the attackers took heavy casualties, the Aztecs were ultimately defeated. The city of Tenochtitlan was thoroughly destroyed in the process. Cuauhtémoc was captured as he attempted to flee the city. Cortés kept him prisoner and tortured him for a period of several years before finally executing him in 1525.[47]

Government

The Aztec Empire was an example of an empire that ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more a system of tributes than a single unitary form of government. In the theoretical framework of imperial systems posited by American historian Alexander J. Motyl the Aztec empire was an informal type of empire in that the Alliance did not claim supreme authority over its tributary provinces; it merely expected tributes to be paid.[48] The empire was also territorially discontinuous, i.e. not all of its dominated territories were connected by land. For example, the southern peripheral zones of Xoconochco were not in immediate contact with the central part of the empire. The hegemonic nature of the Aztec empire can be seen in the fact that generally local rulers were restored to their positions once their city-state was conquered and the Aztecs did not interfere in local affairs as long as the tribute payments were made.[49]

Although the form of government is often referred to as an empire, in fact most areas within the empire were organized as city-states (individually known as altepetl in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs). These were small polities ruled by a king or tlatoani (literally "speaker", plural tlatoque) from an aristocratic dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepeme. Even after the empire was formed in 1428 and began its program of expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level. The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control.[50]

It should be remembered that the term "Aztec empire" is a modern one, not one used by the Aztec themselves. The Aztec realm was at its core composed of three Nahuatl-speaking city states in the densely populated Valley of Mexico. Over time, asymmetries of power elevated one of those city states, Tenochtitlan, above the other two. The "Triple Alliance" came to establish hegemony over much of central Mesoamerica, including areas of great linguistic and cultural diversity. Administration of the empire was performed through largely traditional, indirect means. However, over time something of a nascent bureaucracy may have been beginning to form insofar as the state organization became increasingly centralized.

Central administration

Tlacochcalcatl
A tlacochcalcatl pictured in the Codex Mendoza

Before the reign of Nezahualcoyotl (1429–1472), the Aztec empire operated as a confederation along traditional Mesoamerican lines. Independent altepetl were led by tlatoani (lit., "speakers"), who supervised village headmen, who in turn supervised groups of households. A typical Mesoamerican confederation placed a Huey Tlatoani (lit., "great speaker") at the head of several tlatoani. Following Nezahualcoyotl, the Aztec empire followed a somewhat divergent path, with some tlatoani of recently conquered or otherwise subordinated altepetl becoming replaced with calpixque stewards charged with collecting tribute on behalf of the Huetlatoani rather than simply replacing an old tlatoque with new ones from the same set of local nobility.[51]

Yet the Huey tlatoani was not the sole executive. It was the responsibility of the Huey tlatoani to deal with the external issues of empire; the management of tribute, war, diplomacy, and expansion were all under the purview of the Huey tlatoani. It was the role of the Cihuacoatl to govern the city of Tenochtitlan itself. The Cihuacoatl was always a close relative of the Huey tlatoani; Tlacaelel, for example, was the brother of Moctezuma I. Both the title "Cihuacoatl", which means "female snake" (it is the name of a Nahua deity), and the role of the position, somewhat analogous to a European Viceroy or Prime Minister, reflect the dualistic nature of Nahua cosmology. Neither the position of Cihuacoatl nor the position of Huetlatoani were priestly, yet both did have important ritual tasks. Those of the former were associated with the "female" wet season, those of the latter with the "male" dry season. While the position of Cihuacoatl is best attested in Tenochtitlan, it is known that the position also existed the nearby altepetl of Atzcapotzalco, Culhuacan, and Tenochtitlan's ally Texcoco. Despite the apparent lesser status of the position, a Cihuacoatl could prove both influential and powerful, as in the case of Tlacaelel.[52][53]

Early in the history of the empire, Tenochtitlan developed a four-member military and advisory Council which assisted the Huey tlatoani in his decision-making: the tlacochcalcatl; the tlaccatecatl; the ezhuahuacatl;[54] and the tlillancalqui. This design not only provided advise for the ruler, it also served to contain ambition on the part of the nobility, as henceforth Huey Tlatoani could only be selected from the Council. Moreover, the actions of any one member of the Council could easily be blocked by the other three, providing a simple system of checks on the ambition higher officials. These four Council members were also generals, members of various military societies. The ranks of the members were not equal, with the tlacochcalcatl and tlaccatecatl having a higher status than the others. These two Councillors were members of the two most prestigious military societies, the cuauhchique ("shorn ones") and the otontin ("Otomies").[55][56]

Provincial administration

Traditionally, provinces and altepetl were governed by hereditary tlatoani. As the empire grew, the system evolved further and some tlatoani were replaced by other officials. The other officials had similar authority to tlatoani. As has already been mentioned, directly appointed stewards (singular calpixqui, plural calpixque) were sometimes imposed on altepetl instead of the selection of provincial nobility to the same position of tlatoani. At the height of empire, the organization of the state into tributary and strategic provinces saw an elaboration of this system. The 38 tributary provinces fell under the supervision of high stewards, or huecalpixque, whose authority extended over the lower-ranking calpixque. These calpixque and huecalpixque were essentially managers of the provincial tribute system which was overseen and coordinated in the paramount capital of Tenochtitlan not by the huetlatoani, but rather by a separate position altogether: the petlacalcatl. On the occasion that a recently conquered altepetl was seen as particularly restive, a military governor, or cuauhtlatoani, was placed at the head of provincial supervision.[57] During the reign of Moctezuma I, the calpixque system was elaborated, with two calpixque assigned per tributary province. One was stationed in the province itself, perhaps for supervising the collection of tribute, and the other in Tenochtitlan, perhaps for supervising storage of tribute. Tribute was drawn from commoners, the macehualtin, and distributed to the nobility, be they 'kings' (tlatoque), lesser rulers (teteuctin), or provincial nobility (pipiltin).[58]

Tribute collection was supervised by the above officials and relied upon the coercive power of the Aztec military, but also upon the cooperation of the pipiltin (the local nobility who were themselves exempt from and recipient to tribute) and the hereditary class of merchants known as pochteca. These pochteca had various gradations of ranks which granted them certain trading rights and so were not necessarily pipiltin themselves, yet they played an important role in both the growth and administration of the Aztec tributary system nonetheless. The power, political and economic, of the pochteca was strongly tied to the political and military power of the Aztec nobility and state. In addition to serving as diplomats (teucnenenque, or "travelers of the lord") and spies in the prelude to conquest, higher-ranking pochteca also served as judges in market plazas and were to certain degree autonomous corporate groups, having administrative duties within their own estate.[59][60]

Schematic of hierarchy

Executive & Military Tribute System Judicial System Provincial System
  • Huetlatoani, the paramount or external ruler
  • Cihuacoatl, the lesser or internal ruler
  • Council of Four, an advisory body of generals and source of future Huetlatoani
  • Petlacalcatl, central head of tribute
  • Huecalpixque, provincial overseers of tribute
  • Calpixque, pairs of tribute administrators
  • Supreme Court
  • Special Courts
  • Appellate Courts
  • Pochteca Courts
    • Pochteca agents
  • Tlatoani, a subordinate ruler of a province, otherwise ruled by a:
  • Cuauhtlatoani, a military governor
  • Heads of Calpōlli wards
    • Heads of households within calpōlli wards who served as corvée labor

Provincial structure

Territorial Organization of the Aztec Empire 1519
Territorial Organization of the Aztec Empire 1519

Originally, the Aztec empire was loose alliance between three cities: Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and the most junior partner, Tlacopan. As such, they were known as the 'Triple Alliance.' This political form was very common in Mesoamerica, where alliances of city-states were ever fluctuating. However, over time, it was Tenochtitlan which assumed paramount authority in the alliance, and although each partner city shared spoils of war and rights to regular tribute from the provinces and were governed by their own Huetlatoani, it was Tenochtitlan which became the largest, most powerful, and most influential of the three cities. It was the de facto and acknowledged center of empire.[61]

Though they were not described by the Aztec this way, there were essentially two types of provinces: Tributary and Strategic. Strategic provinces were essentially subordinate client states which provided tribute or aid to the Aztec state under "mutual consent". Tributary provinces, on the other hand, provided regular tribute to the empire; obligations on the part of Tributary provinces were mandatory rather than consensual.[62][63]

Aztec Triple Alliance
Nahuatl glyphs for Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, and Tlacopan.

Ideology and state

Tovar Codex (folio 134)
This page from the Codex Tovar depicts a scene of gladiatorial sacrificial rite, celebrated on the festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli.

Rulers, be they local teteuctin or tlatoani, or central Huetlatoani, were seen as representatives of the gods and therefore ruled by divine right. Tlatocayotl, or the principle of rulership, established that this divine right was inherited by descent. Political order was therefore also a cosmic order, and to kill a tlatoani was to transgress that order. For that reason, whenever a tlatoani was killed or otherwise removed from their station, a relative and member of the same bloodline was typically placed in their stead. The establishment of the office of Huetlatoani understood through the creation of another level of rulership, hueitlatocayotl, standing in superior contrast to the lesser tlatocayotl principle.[64]

Expansion of the empire was guided by a militaristic interpretation of Nahua religion, specifically a devout veneration of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli. Militaristic state rituals were performed throughout the year according to a ceremonial calendar of events, rites, and mock battles.[65] The time period they lived in was understood as the Ollintonatiuh, or Sun of Movement, which was believed to be the final age after which humanity would be destroyed. It was under Tlacaelel that Huitzilopochtli assumed his elevated role in the state pantheon and who argued that it was through blood sacrifice that the Sun would be maintained and thereby stave off the end of the world. It was under this new, militaristic interpretation of Huitzilopochtli that Aztec soldiers were encouraged to fight wars and capture enemy soldiers for sacrifice. Though blood sacrifice was common in Mesoamerica, the scale of human sacrifice under the Aztecs was likely unprecedented in the region.[66]

Law

The most developed code of law was developed in the city-state of Texcoco under its ruler Nezahualcoyotl. It was a formal written code, not merely a collection of customary practices. The sources for knowing about the legal code are colonial-era writings by Franciscan Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, Franciscan Fray Juan de Torquemada, and Texcocan historians Juan Bautista Pomar, and Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl. The law code in Texcoco under Nezahualcoyotl was legalistic, that is cases were tried by particular types of evidence and the social status of the litigants was disregarded, and consisted of 80 written laws. These laws called for severe, publicly administered punishments, creating a legal framework of social control.[67]

Much less is known about the legal system in Tenochtitlan, which might be less legalistic or sophisticated as those of Texcoco for this period.[68] It was established under the reign of Moctezuma I. These laws served to establish and govern relations between the state, classes, and individuals. Punishment was to be meted out solely by state authorities. Nahua mores were enshrined in these laws, criminalizing public acts of homosexuality, drunkenness, and nudity, not to mention more universal proscriptions against theft, murder, and property damage. As stated before, pochteca could serve as judges, often exercising judicial oversight of their own members. Likewise, military courts dealt with both cases within the military and without during wartime. There was an appeal process, with appellate courts standing between local, typically market-place courts, on the provincial level and a supreme court and two special higher appellate courts at Tenochtitlan. One of those two special courts dealt with cases arising within Tenochtitlan, the other with cases originating from outside the capital. The ultimate judicial authority laid in hands of the Huey tlatoani, who had the right to appoint lesser judges.[69]

Rulers

Tenochtitlan Texcoco Tlacopan
Huetlatoani Cihuacoatl
  • Tlacaelel, r. c. 1426–1487
  • Tlilpotonqui, r. 1487–1503
  • Tlacaeleltzin Xocoyotl, r. 1503–1520
  • Matlatzincatzin, r. 1520
  • Tlacontzin, r. 1521–1524
    • Tlacontzin was baptised don Juan Velásquez and made ruler under Cortés, r. 1524–1526
Huetlatoani Huetlatoani

[70][71][72]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "El tributo a la Triple Alianza". Arqueología Mexicana. 14 February 2017.
  2. ^ Rein Taagepera (September 1997). "Expansion and Contraction Patterns of Large Polities: Context for Russia". International Studies Quarterly. 41 (3): 497. doi:10.1111/0020-8833.00053. JSTOR 2600793. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Smith 2009
  4. ^ Hassig 1988
  5. ^ Smith 2001
  6. ^ Smith 2009 pp. 3–4
  7. ^ Smith 1984
  8. ^ Davies 1973, pp. 3–22
  9. ^ Alfredo López Austin, "Aztec" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Culture, vol. 1, p. 68. Oxford University Press 2001.
  10. ^ Smith 2009 p. 37
  11. ^ Calnek 1978
  12. ^ a b c Davies 1973
  13. ^ Alvarado Tezozomoc 1975 pp. 49–51
  14. ^ Alvarado Tezozomoc (1975), pp. 52–60
  15. ^ Smith 2009 p. 44
  16. ^ Alvarado Tezozomoc 1975
  17. ^ a b Smith 2009 p. 46
  18. ^ a b c d Smith 2009 p. 47
  19. ^ Evans 2008, p. 460
  20. ^ The term cihuācōātl literally means "woman-snake" or "female snake", and the origin of this designation is not well understood. The position was certainly not reserved for women, although the title may perhaps suggest a metaphoric dichotomy between the "masculine" Tlahtoāni dealing with external imperial affairs and the "feminine" Cihuācōātl managing the domestic affairs.
  21. ^ Leon-Portilla 1963 p. 155
  22. ^ a b Smith 2009 p. 48
  23. ^ a b c Evans 2008 p. 462
  24. ^ a b Duran 1994, pp. 209–210
  25. ^ Evans 2008 pp. 456–457
  26. ^ Evans 2008, p. 451
  27. ^ Duran 1994
  28. ^ Based on Hassig 1988.
  29. ^ Smith 2009 pp. 47–48
  30. ^ Smith 2009 p. 49
  31. ^ a b c d Pollard 1993, p. 169
  32. ^ a b c d e Smith 2009 p. 51
  33. ^ Evans 2008, p. 450
  34. ^ a b c d Smith 2009 p. 54
  35. ^ Smith 2009 pp. 50–51
  36. ^ Pollard 1993 pp. 169–170
  37. ^ Davies 1973 p. 216
  38. ^ Diaz del Castillo 2003, pp. 35–40
  39. ^ Frances Karttunen, "Rethinking Malinche" in Indian Women of Early Mexico, Susan Schroeder, et al. eds. University of Oklahoma Press 1997.
  40. ^ Diaz del Castillo 2003, pp. 92–94
  41. ^ Diaz del Castillo 2003, p. 120
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h Hernán Cortés, 1843. The Dispatches of Hernando Cortés, The Conqueror of Mexico, addressed to the Emperor Charles V, written during the conquest, and containing a narrative of its events. New York: Wiley and Putnam
  43. ^ a b c Smith 2009 p. 275
  44. ^ The Early History of Greater Mexico, chapter 3 "Conquest and Colonization", Ida Altman, S.L. (Sarah) Cline, and Javier Pescador. Pearson, 2003.
  45. ^ Smith 2009, p. 279
  46. ^ Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Ally of Cortés: Account 13 of the Coming of the Spaniards and the Beginning of Evangelical Law. Douglass K. Ballentine, translator. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969.
  47. ^ Restall, Matthew (2004). Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (1st pbk edition ed.). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517611-1. p. 148
  48. ^ Motyl, Alexander J. (2001). Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 13, 19–21, 32–36. ISBN 0-231-12110-5.
  49. ^ Berdan, et al. (1996), Aztec Imperial Strategies. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC
  50. ^ Smith, Michael E. (2000), Aztec City-States. In A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures, edited by Mogens Herman Hansen, pp. 581–595. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, Copenhagen.
  51. ^ Evans, Susan T. (2004). Ancient Mexico & Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. Thames & Hudson: New York, pp. 443–446, 449–451
  52. ^ Coe, Michael D. (1984). Mexico, 3rd Ed. Thames & Hudson: New York, p. 156
  53. ^ Townshend, Richard F. (2000). The Aztecs. Revised Ed. Thames & Hudson: London, pp. 200–202.
  54. ^ a b Berdan, Francis F. and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. 1992. The Codex Mendoza Vol. 1. University of California Press, p. 196
  55. ^ Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. (1983). Aztec State Making: Ecology, Structure, and the Origin of the State. American Anthropologist, New Series (85)2, p. 273
  56. ^ Townshend, Richard F. (2000). The Aztecs. Revised Ed. Thames & Hudson: London, p. 204.
  57. ^ Calnek, Edward E. (1982). Patterns of Empire Formation in the Valley of Mexico, in The Inca and Aztec States: 1400–1800. Collier, Rosaldo & Wirth (Eds.) Academic Press: New York, pp. 56–59
  58. ^ Smith, Michael E. (1986). Social Stratification in the Aztec Empire: A View from the Provinces, in American Anthropologist, (88)1, p. 74
  59. ^ Kurtz, Donald V. (1984). Strategies of Legitimation and the Aztec State, in Ethnology, 23(4), pp. 308–309
  60. ^ Almazán, Marco A. (1999). The Aztec States-Society: The Roots of Civil Society and Social Capital, in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 565, p. 170.
  61. ^ Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. (2001). Religion and state in the Aztec Empire, in Empires (Alcock et al, Eds). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 284
  62. ^ a b Evans, pp. 470–471
  63. ^ a b Smith, Michael E. (1996). The Strategic Provinces, in Aztec Imperial Strategies. Dumbarton Oaks: Washington, D.C., pp. 1–2
  64. ^ Almazán, pp. 165–166
  65. ^ Brumfiel (2001), pp. 287, 288–301
  66. ^ León-Portilla, Miguel. (1963). Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the ANcient Nahuatl Mind. Davis, Jack E., Trans. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, pp. 6, 161–162
  67. ^ Offner, Jerome A. Law and Politics in Aztec Texcoco. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983, pp.81-82.
  68. ^ Offner, 1983, p. 83
  69. ^ Kurtz, p. 307
  70. ^ Coe, p. 170
  71. ^ Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin. (1997). Codex Chimalpahin, Vol. 1. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.
  72. ^ Tlacopan. Updated March, 20120. Retrieved from http://members.iinet.net.au/~royalty/states/southamerica/tlacopan.html.

Bibliography

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Secondary sources

  • Calnek, Edward (1978). R. P. Schaedel; J. E. Hardoy; N. S. Kinzer (eds.). Urbanization of the Americas from its Beginnings to the Present. pp. 463–470.
  • Davies, Nigel (1973). The Aztecs: A History. University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Evans, Susan T. (2008). Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History, 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York. ISBN 978-0-500-28714-9.
  • Hassig, Ross (1988). Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2121-1.
  • Leon-Portilla, Miguel (1963). Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Náhuatl Mind. University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Pollard, H. P. (1993). Tariacuri's Legacy. University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Smith, Michael (1984). "The Aztec Migrations of Nahuatl Chronicles: Myth or History?". Ethnohistory. 31 (3): 153–168. doi:10.2307/482619.
  • Smith, Michael (2009). The Aztecs, 2nd Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23015-7.
  • Smith, M. E. (2001). "The Archaeological Study of Empires and Imperialism in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 20: 245–284. doi:10.1006/jaar.2000.0372.
  • Soustelle, Jacques, The Daily Life of the Aztecs. Paris, 1955; English edition, 1964.
Aztec emperors family tree

The following is a family tree of the Aztec Emperors from 1376 to 1525.

Aztec society

Pre-Columbian Aztec society was a highly complex and stratified society that developed among the Aztecs of central Mexico in the centuries prior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and which was built on the cultural foundations of the larger region of Mesoamerica. Politically, the society was organized into independent city-states, called altepetls, composed of smaller divisions (calpulli), which were again usually composed of one or more extended kinship groups. Socially, the society depended on a rather strict division between nobles and free commoners, both of which were themselves divided into elaborate hierarchies of social status, responsibilities, and power. Economically the society was dependent on agriculture, and also to a large extent on warfare. Other economically important factors were commerce, long distance and local, and a high degree of trade specialization.

Aztecs

The Aztecs () were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec peoples included different ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Aztec culture was organized into city-states (altepetl), some of which joined to form alliances, political confederations, or empires. The Aztec empire was a confederation of three city-states established in 1427, Tenochtitlan, city-state of the Mexica or Tenochca; Texcoco; and Tlacopan, previously part of the Tepanec empire, whose dominant power was Azcapotzalco. Although the term Aztecs is often narrowly restricted to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, it is also broadly used to refer to Nahua polities or peoples of central Mexico in the prehispanic era, as well as the Spanish colonial era (1521–1821). The definitions of Aztec and Aztecs have long been the topic of scholarly discussion, ever since German scientist Alexander von Humboldt established its common usage in the early nineteenth century.Most ethnic groups of central Mexico in the post-classic period shared basic cultural traits of Mesoamerica, and so many of the traits that characterize Aztec culture cannot be said to be exclusive to the Aztecs. For the same reason, the notion of "Aztec civilization" is best understood as a particular horizon of a general Mesoamerican civilization. The culture of central Mexico includes maize cultivation, the social division between nobility (pipiltin) and commoners (macehualtin), a pantheon (featuring Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl), and the calendric system of a xiuhpohualli of 365 days intercalated with a tonalpohualli of 260 days. Particular to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan was the patron God Huitzilopochtli, twin pyramids, and the ceramic ware known as Aztec I to IV.From the 13th century, the Valley of Mexico was the heart of dense population and the rise of city-states. The Mexica were late-comers to the Valley of Mexico, and founded the city-state of Tenochtitlan on unpromising islets in Lake Texcoco, later becoming the dominant power of the Aztec Triple Alliance or Aztec Empire. It was a tributary empire that expanded its political hegemony far beyond the Valley of Mexico, conquering other city states throughout Mesoamerica in the late post-classic period. It originated in 1427 as an alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan; these allied to defeat the Tepanec state of Azcapotzalco, which had previously dominated the Basin of Mexico. Soon Texcoco and Tlacopan were relegated to junior partnership in the alliance, with Tenochtitlan the dominant power. The empire extended its reach by a combination of trade and military conquest. It was never a true territorial empire controlling a territory by large military garrisons in conquered provinces, but rather dominated its client city-states primarily by installing friendly rulers in conquered territories, by constructing marriage alliances between the ruling dynasties, and by extending an imperial ideology to its client city-states. Client city-states paid tribute to the Aztec emperor, the Huey Tlatoani, in an economic strategy limiting communication and trade between outlying polities, making them dependent on the imperial center for the acquisition of luxury goods. The political clout of the empire reached far south into Mesoamerica conquering polities as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala and spanning Mesoamerica from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans.

The empire reached its maximal extent in 1519, just prior to the arrival of a small group of Spanish conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés. Cortés allied with city-states opposed to the Mexica, particularly the Nahuatl-speaking Tlaxcalteca as well as other central Mexican polities, including Texcoco, its former ally in the Triple Alliance. After the fall of Tenochtitlan on August 13, 1521 and the capture of the emperor Cuauhtemoc, the Spanish founded Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan. From there they proceeded with the process of conquest and incorporation of Mesoamerican peoples into the Spanish Empire. With the destruction of the superstructure of the Aztec Empire in 1521, the Spanish utilized the city-states on which the Aztec Empire had been built, to rule the indigenous populations via their local nobles. Those nobles pledged loyalty to the Spanish crown and converted, at least nominally, to Christianity, and in return were recognized as nobles by the Spanish crown. Nobles acted as intermediaries to convey tribute and mobilize labor for their new overlords, facilitating the establishment of Spanish colonial rule.Aztec culture and history is primarily known through archaeological evidence found in excavations such as that of the renowned Templo Mayor in Mexico City; from indigenous writings; from eyewitness accounts by Spanish conquistadors such as Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo; and especially from 16th- and 17th-century descriptions of Aztec culture and history written by Spanish clergymen and literate Aztecs in the Spanish or Nahuatl language, such as the famous illustrated, bilingual (Spanish and Nahuatl), twelve-volume Florentine Codex created by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, in collaboration with indigenous Aztec informants. Important for knowledge of post-conquest Nahuas was the training of indigenous scribes to write alphabetic texts in Nahuatl, mainly for local purposes under Spanish colonial rule. At its height, Aztec culture had rich and complex mythological and religious traditions, as well as achieving remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments.

Battle of Otumba

The Battle of Otumba was a battle during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. The battle was fought at Otumba de Gómez Farías, Mexico in 1520.

Fall of Tenochtitlan

The Siege of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, was a decisive event in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

It occurred in 1521 following extensive manipulation of local factions and exploitation of preexisting divisions by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, who was aided by the support of his indigenous allies and his interpreter and companion La Malinche.

Although numerous battles were fought between the Aztec Empire and the Spanish-led coalition, which was itself composed primarily of indigenous (mostly Tlaxcaltec) personnel, it was the siege of Tenochtitlan—its outcome probably largely determined by the effects of a smallpox epidemic (which devastated the Aztec population and dealt a severe blow to the Aztec leadership while leaving an immune Spanish leadership intact)—that directly led to the downfall of the Aztec civilization and marked the end of the first phase of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

The conquest of Mexico was a critical stage in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Ultimately, Spain conquered Mexico and thereby gained substantial access to the Pacific Ocean, which meant that the Spanish Empire could finally achieve its original oceanic goal of reaching the Asian markets.

Governorate of Cuba

Since the 16th century the island of Cuba had been under the control of the governor-captain general of Santo Domingo. The conquest of Cuba was organized in 1510 by the recently restored Viceroy of the Indies, Diego Colón, under the command of Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, who became Cuba's first governor until his death in 1524.

Velázquez founded the city of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa in 1511 and convoked a general cabildo (a local government council) to govern Cuba, which was authorized by the king of Spain.

Hernán Cortés's Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was undertaken from Cuba. Cuba was incorporated in New Spain after the conquest of Mexico.

Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca (; Spanish: [eɾˈnaŋ koɾˈtes ðe monˈroj i piˈθaro]; 1485 – December 2, 1547) was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Born in Medellín, Spain, to a family of lesser nobility, Cortés chose to pursue adventure and riches in the New World. He went to Hispaniola and later to Cuba, where he received an encomienda (the right to the labor of certain subjects). For a short time, he served as alcalde (magistrate) of the second Spanish town founded on the island. In 1519, he was elected captain of the third expedition to the mainland, which he partly funded. His enmity with the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, resulted in the recall of the expedition at the last moment, an order which Cortés ignored.

Arriving on the continent, Cortés executed a successful strategy of allying with some indigenous people against others. He also used a native woman, Doña Marina, as an interpreter. She later bore his first son. When the Governor of Cuba sent emissaries to arrest Cortés, he fought them and won, using the extra troops as reinforcements. Cortés wrote letters directly to the king asking to be acknowledged for his successes instead of being punished for mutiny. After he overthrew the Aztec Empire, Cortés was awarded the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, while the more prestigious title of Viceroy was given to a high-ranking nobleman, Antonio de Mendoza. In 1541 Cortés returned to Spain, where he died six years later of natural causes but embittered.

Because of the controversial undertakings of Cortés and the scarcity of reliable sources of information about him, it is difficult to describe his personality or motivations. Early lionizing of the conquistadores did not encourage deep examination of Cortés. Modern reconsideration has done little to enlarge understanding regarding him. As a result of these historical trends, descriptions of Cortés tend to be simplistic, and either damning or idealizing.

History of the Aztecs

The Aztecs were a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. They called themselves Mexicah (pronounced [meˈʃikaʔ]).

The capital of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan. During the empire, the city was built on a raised island in Lake Angels. Modern-day Mexico City was constructed on the ruins of Tenochtitlan. The Spanish colonisation of the Americas reached the mainland during the reign of Hueyi Tlatoani Moctezuma II (Montezuma II). In 1521, Hernán Cortés, along with an allied army of other Native Americans, conquered the Aztecs through germ warfare (germ theory not being established until 1560 by earliest records, this was an unintentional result of Europeans coming to the New World), siege warfare, psychological warfare, and from direct combat.

From 1376 until 1572, the Mexicah were a tributary of Azcapotzalco. The Aztec rulers Acamapichtli, Huitzilihuitl and Chimalpopoca were, in fact, vassals of Tezozomoc, the Tepanec ruler of Azcapotzalco.

When Tezozomoc died in 1421, his son Malazia ascended to the throne of Azcapotzalco. Matla (nick name) sought to tighten Azcapotzalco's grip on the nearby city-states in the Valley of Mexico. In the process, Chimalpopoca, tlatoani of Tenochtitlan, was assassinated by Maxtla's agents while Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco was forced into exile.

La Noche Triste

La Noche Triste ("The Night of Sorrows", literally "The Sad Night") also known as La Noche Victoriosa ("The Night of Victory" or "The Victorious Night") by Toltecayotl traditional groups (in the line of thought of The Broken Spears), was an important event during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, wherein Hernán Cortés, his invading army of Spanish conquistadors, and their native allies were driven out of the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlan.

Mexican Indian Wars

The Mexican Indian Wars were a series of conflicts fought between Spanish, and later Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Salvadoran and Belizean forces against Amerindians in what is now called Mexico and surrounding areas such as Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Southern/Western United States. The period begins with Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1519 and continued until the end of the Caste War of Yucatán in 1933.

Moctezuma I

Moctezuma I (c. 1398-1469), also known as Moteuczomatzin Ilhuicamina (modern Nahuatl pronunciation ), Huehuemoteuczoma or Montezuma I (Classical Nahuatl: Motēuczōma Ilhuicamīna [moteːkʷˈsoːma ilwikaˈmiːna], Classical Nahuatl: Huēhuemotēuczōma [weːwemoteːkʷˈsoːma]), was the second Aztec emperor and fifth king of Tenochtitlan. During his reign, the Aztec Empire was consolidated, major expansion was undertaken, and Tenochtitlan started becoming the dominant partner of the Aztec Triple Alliance. Often mistaken for his popular descendent, Moctezuma II, Moctezuma I greatly contributed to the famed Aztec Empire that thrived until Spanish arrival, and he ruled over a period of peace from 1440 to 1453. Moctezuma brought social, economical, and political reform to strengthen Aztec rule, and Tenochititlan benefited from relations with other tribes.

Moctezuma II

Moctezuma II (c. 1466 – 29 June 1520), variant spellings include Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to in full by early Nahuatl texts as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Moctezuma the Younger, modern Nahuatl pronunciation ), was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlán, reigning from 1502 to 1520. The first contact between indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to escape from the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

During his reign the Aztec Empire reached its greatest size. Through warfare, Moctezuma expanded the territory as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and incorporated the Zapotec and Yopi people into the empire. He changed the previous meritocratic system of social hierarchy and widened the divide between pipiltin (nobles) and macehualtin (commoners) by prohibiting commoners from working in the royal palaces.The portrayal of Moctezuma in history has mostly been colored by his role as ruler of a defeated nation, and many sources describe him as weak-willed and indecisive. The biases of some historical sources make it difficult to understand his actions during the Spanish invasion.

Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, or the Spanish–Mexica War (1519–21), was the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish Empire within the context of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquerors, their indigenous allies and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.

Following an earlier expedition led by Juan de Grijalva to Yucatán in 1517, Spanish settler, Hernán Cortés, led an expedition (entrada) to Mexico. Two years later, in 1519, Cortés and his retinue set sail from Cuba for Mexico. The Spanish campaign against the Aztec Empire had its final victory on August 13, 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. The fall of Tenochtitlan marks the beginning of Spanish rule in central Mexico, and they established their capital of Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan.

Cortés made alliances with tributaries city-states (altepetl) of the Aztec Empire as well as their political rivals, particularly the Tlaxcalteca and Texcocans, a former partner in the Aztec Triple Alliance. Other city-states also joined, including Cempoala and Huexotzinco and polities bordering Lake Texcoco, the inland lake system of the Valley of Mexico. Particularly important to the Spanish success was a multilingual (Nahuatl, a Maya dialect, and Spanish) indigenous slave woman, known to the Spanish conquistadors as Doña Marina, and generally as La Malinche. After eight months of battles and negotiations, which overcame the diplomatic resistance of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II to his visit, Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519, where he took up residence with fellow Spaniards and their indigenous allies. When news reached Cortés of the death of several of his men during the Aztec attack on the Totonacs in Veracruz, he took Moctezuma captive, along with Cuitláhuac, his kinsman. Capturing the cacique or indigenous ruler was standard operating procedure for Spaniards in their expansion in the Caribbean, so capturing Moctezuma had considerable precedent.

When Cortés left Tenochtitlan to return to the coast and deal with the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez, sent to rein in Cortés's expedition that had exceeded its specified limits, Cortés's right-hand man Pedro de Alvarado was left in charge. Alvarado allowed a significant Aztec feast to be celebrated in Tenochtitlan and on the pattern of the earlier massacre in Cholula, closed off the square and massacred the celebrating Aztec noblemen. The official biography of Cortés by Francisco López de Gómara contains a description of the massacre. The Alvarado massacre at the Main Temple of Tenochtitlan precipitated rebellion by the population of the city. Moctezuma was killed, although the sources do not agree on who murdered him. According to one account, when Moctezuma, now seen by the population as a mere puppet of the invading Spaniards, attempted to calm the outraged populace, he was killed by a projectile. According to an indigenous account, the Spanish killed Moctezuma. Cortés had returned to Tenochtitlan and his men fled the capital city during the Noche Triste in June 1520. The Spanish, Tlaxcalans and reinforcements returned a year later on August 13, 1521 to a civilization that had been weakened by famine and smallpox. This made it easier to conquer the remaining Aztecs.Many of those on the Cortés expedition of 1519 had never seen combat before, including Cortés. A whole generation of Spaniards later participated in expeditions in the Caribbean and Tierra Firme (Central America), learning strategy and tactics of successful enterprises. The Spanish conquest of Mexico had antecedents with established practices.The fall of the Aztec Empire was the key event in the formation of the Spanish Empire overseas, with New Spain, which later became Mexico.

Tenochtitlan

Tenochtitlan (Nahuatl languages: Tenōchtitlan pronounced [tenoːt͡ʃˈtit͡ɬan]; Spanish: Tenochtitlán), also known as Mexica-Tenochtitlan (Nahuatl languages: Mēxihco Tenōchtitlan pronounced [meːˈʃiʔko tenoːt͡ʃˈtit͡ɬan]; Spanish: México-Tenochtitlán), was a large Mexica city-state in what is now the center of Mexico City. The exact date of the founding of the city is unclear, but the most commonly accepted date is March 13, 1325. The city was built on an island in what was then Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. The city was the capital of the expanding Aztec Empire in the 15th century until it was captured by the Spanish in 1521.

At its peak, it was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Today, the ruins of Tenochtitlan are in the historic center of the Mexican capital. The World Heritage Site of Xochimilco contains what remains of the geography (water, boats, floating gardens) of the Mexica capital.

Tenochtitlan was one of two Mexica āltēpetl (city-states or polities) on the island, the other being Tlatelolco.

Tenochtitlán, Veracruz

Tenochtitlán is a municipality (municipio) in the Mexican State of Veracruz, southeastern Mexico, and the name of the main township which serves as the seat of the municipal government. It is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, with the township lying at an altitude of approximately 900 m (2953 ft) above mean sea level.

In the year 2000 census, the municipality reported a total population of slightly over 5600 people.

The same census also revealed that the municipality had no hotels, no restaurants, no cafeterias, no bars, and no discothèques or night-clubs. [1]

The town and the municipality are both named after Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire prior to the Spanish conquest.

Texcoco (altepetl)

Texcoco (Classical Nahuatl: Tetzco(h)co pronounced [tetsˈkoʔko]) was a major Acolhua altepetl (city-state) in the central Mexican plateau region of Mesoamerica during the Late Postclassic period of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology. It was situated on the eastern bank of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, to the northeast of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The site of pre-Columbian Texcoco is now subsumed by the modern Mexican municipio of Texcoco and its major settlement, the city formally known as Texcoco de Mora. It also lies within the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City.

Pre-Columbian Texcoco is most noted for its membership in the Aztec Triple Alliance. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, it was one of the largest and most prestigious cities in central Mexico, second only to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. A survey of Mesoamerican cities estimated that pre-conquest Texcoco had a population of 24,000 and occupied an area of 450 hectares.The people of Tetzcohco were called Tetzcocatl [tet͡sˈkokat͡ɬ] (singular) or Tetzcocah [tet͡sˈkokaʔ] (plural).

Tlacopan

Tlacopan (meaning "florid plant on flat ground"), also called Tacuba, was a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city-state situated on the western shore of Lake Texcoco on the site of today's neighborhood of Tacuba in Mexico City. Nearby was the city of Tiliuhcan.

Tlatoani

Tlatoani (Classical Nahuatl: tlahtoāni pronounced [t͡ɬaʔtoˈaːni] (listen), "one who speaks, ruler"; plural tlahtohqueh [t͡ɬaʔˈtoʔkeʔ] or tlatoque) is the Classical Nahuatl term for the ruler of an āltepētl, a pre-Hispanic state. It may be translated into English as "king". A cihuātlahtoāni (Nahuatl pronunciation: [siwaːt͡ɬaʔtoˈaːni] (listen)) is a female ruler, or queen regnant.The term cuauhtlatoani refers to "vice-leader". The leaders of the Mexica prior to their settlement are sometimes referred to as cuauhtlatoque, as are those colonial rulers who were not descended from the ruling dynasty.

The ruler's lands were called tlahtohcātlālli [t͡ɬaʔtoʔkaːˈt͡ɬaːlːi] (listen) and the ruler's house was called tlahtohcācalli [t͡ɬaʔtoʔkaːˈkalːi] (listen)The city-states of the Aztec Empire each had their own Tlatoani or leader. He would be the high priest and military leader for his city-state. He would be considered their commander-in-chief. As the Tlatoani he would make every decision for his city-state from taxes to warfare. He would often be a descendent of the royal family; however in some cases he would be elected. Since the Tlatoani was allowed to have several wives his legacy would be easily maintained. After being established as the Tlatoani, he would be the Tlatoani of his region for life. The Tlatoani was chosen by a council of elders, nobles, and priests. He would be selected from a pool of four candidates.

Tlaxcala (Nahua state)

Tlaxcala (Classical Nahuatl: Tlaxcallān [tɬaʃ.ˈká.lːaːn̥] "place of maize tortillas") was a pre-Columbian city and state in central Mexico.

During the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Tlaxcala allied with the Spaniards against the Aztecs, supplying a large contingent for – and at times the majority of – the Spanish-led army that eventually destroyed the Aztec empire.

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