Aztec Civilization and Conquest by the Spanish (Early 16th Century)
The Aztec Civilization was an outstanding Mesoamerican society that existed from the 14th to the early 16th century and was known for its sophisticated agriculture, architecture, and social organization. The Aztecs’ skilled urban planning was on display in the massive temples, causeways, and markets they constructed in and around Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City).
When Spanish conquistadors commanded by Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519, however, their fortunes took a drastic turn for the worst. The Aztecs first embraced the Spanish because they thought the foreigners were gods. Cortés, however, took advantage of imperial infighting by allying himself with local enemies. The Spanish conquered the Aztecs in 1521, and after years of bloody wars and the spread of European diseases, they destroyed Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City on its ruins.
The Aztecs’ demise at the hands of the Spanish exemplifies the disparity in power that existed between Europe and the Americas at the time. The legacy of this time period is a powerful illustration of the dynamic cultural exchanges and life-altering effects of colonization on indigenous communities.