We were taught in elementary schools that the great American civilizations, namely the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca, perished shortly after the arrival of the Spaniards, in which the locals saw the Gods. However, this rumor was born only in the minds of some Spanish propagandists. But why aren't these nations today what they used to be? What really happened after the arrival of the Spaniards? Were the Spaniards the main driving force behind the fall of the Aztec Empire?
The Aztec Empire was located in present-day central Mexico, in an area called Mesoamerica. In its greatest glory, it reached approximately 220,000 km2, which is imaginable the area of less than Romania or 2.79 times the area of the Czech Republic. The empire itself had a relatively short duration, from 1428 to 1521. Indeed, it formally disappeared only two years after the arrival of the Spaniards in the area. When we talk about the Aztec Empire, we mean the so-called Aztec Triple Alliance, which was formed by the union of the three city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan in 1428. Tenochtitlan was the most influential of these city-states and served de facto as the capital of the empire.
Prior to the creation of the Aztec Empire, the region of Mesoamerica was inhabited by many different tribes that coexisted in peace and in war. One of these tribes was the Mexica, who, according to legend, came to central Mexico from Aztlan, probably from the area of today's northern Mexico or the southern United States. Legend has it that the Mexicas settled permanently on the island of Lake Texcoco, which their chief god Huitzilopochtli chose because he saw an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake. The city that the Mexicas founded was called Tenochtitlan.
Tenochtitlan was founded by Mexicas in about 1325 and gradually gained in importance mainly due to its militant policy and alliance with the stronger city-state of Azcapotzalco. After the death of King Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco, a war for power broke out, invading several surrounding city-states. The states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, Tlacopan and Huexotzinco emerged victorious from this war in 1428. The first three then formed an alliance in 1430, which gave rise to the so-called Aztec Empire.
The alliance of the three city-states created a dominant force in the region, which was slowly growing. Many legal and educational reforms were made, but great power was retained by the church and the nobility. Power was more or less decentralized in the empire, and the conquered territories retained some autonomy as long as they respected their conquerors in many strict aspects. The captured soldiers were sacrificed for ecclesiastical purposes. The conquered territories had to make regular and relatively high payments, they also had to accept the main Aztec god Huitzilopochtli into their own and supply troops to constant and exhausting wars. Due to the fighting nature of the Aztecs and the growing greed of the powerful, there were very frequent riots that had to be constantly suppressed. However, growing unrest has led to stronger suppressions, which in turn have led to even greater unrest.
The last ruler of the Aztec Empire before the arrival of the Spaniards Moctezuma II tried to reform the country significantly. However, his came short due to the events after the landing of the Spaniards under the leadership of Hernán Cortéz on the Yucatán Peninsula. After conquering the territory of Tabasco, the Spaniards learned about the rich Aztec empire and, with a view to possible profit, landed near the present-day city of Varacruz, where they joined the local Taxcalans and Totonacas. The Spaniards then managed to get to Tenochtitlan and capture Moctezuma II, which they then used as a puppet. During Cortéz's absence, however, an uprising broke out in the city. The locals probably killed Moctezum II, elected a new ruler and expelled the Spanish conquerors. However, after this incident, an epidemic of smallpox broke out in the city, which the Spaniards brought together from Europe. The disease has claimed more than 50% of the local population in the region. The Spaniards, meanwhile, mobilized forces and with a large army, but also heavy losses, conquered Tenochtitlan on August 13, 1521, destroyed the city and in its place founded the current capital of Mexico, Mexico City.
Although the Spaniards decimated the Aztec Empire within a few months, even without their arrival, the empire would probably not last long. Decentralized management of society and the constant rebellions imposed by strict secular and ecclesiastical rules in the conquered territories would sooner or later bring an end to it. The Aztec Empire was the first of two American civilizations whose internal operation was unsustainable. The second is the Inca Empire.