The Aztec Empire was one of the most powerful entities in Mesoamerica during the Post-Classic period. The Aztecs founded the city of Tenochtitlan in 1325. The city later forged an alliance with two other major cities and became the basis of an Empire which spawned over most of the area of Mesoamerica and existed for hundreds of years.
Aztecs were noted for their extensive warfare, innovations in agriculture, excellence in astronomy and many other sciences. The Empire reached its zenith towards the end of the 15th century but early 16th century marked the influx of Spaniards into Mesoamerican which brought about the collapse of the Aztec Empire.
The original home of the Mexica people who were later called Aztecs was somewhere in northern Mexico. It was called “Aztlan” in the Aztec accounts of their history but the location of the place is disputed. The Mexica travelled for hundreds of years before reaching the Valley of Mexico in the 13th century. They first settled near Lake Texcoco in 1248 but were soon expelled.
In 1325, the Mexica people founded the city of Tenochtitlan on an island in Lake Texcoco. Later mythological narratives of Aztecs stated that the priests of the Mexica people saw an eagle nested on a cactus at the site of the city and that is how they decided on the exact place for founding of the Aztec city.
The city of Tenochtitlan flourished from 1325 until 1427 as a tributary of the city of Azcapotzalco. Aztecs helped the city of Azcapotzalco rise as a regional power and defeat its regional enemies. In 1427, the new ruler of Azcapotzalco took an unfavourable view of Tenochtitlan and took many steps against it, including the alleged killing of the Mexica ruler Chimalpopoca. This led to the creation of a Triple Alliance which comprised of Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and Texcoco. These three cities waged war against Azcapotzalco and defeated it. The alliance laid the basis of the Aztec Empire.
Montezuma I became the fifth ruler of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and the second Emperor of the Aztec Empire. His ascension marked a period of stability and political expansion of the Empire. Montezuma I took steps to ensure the hold of the Aztec Empire over tributary and allied city-states. He also enacted reforms which clearly defined the roles of the nobility and the commoners, separating the two by law. His reign saw the frontiers of the Aztec Empire significantly pushed to bring vast new regions of land under the Empire.
The city of Tenochtitlan was situated in the middle of Lake Texcoco. In 1452, a great flood ravaged the city and left it in ruins. This was followed by a large-scale drought that affected the region for many subsequent years. During these years, Aztecs became more religious and increased the frequency of human sacrifices to the gods. To provide people for these sacrifices, Flower Wars were fought during the reign of Montezuma I which helped the Aztecs find captives for sacrifice.
The Grand Temple of the city of Tenochtitlan, called “Templo Mayor”, was completed in 1487. This temple came to be identified with the Aztec Empire itself. The temple was used by the high priests of the city for important religious occasions and to offer sacrifices to the gods. It was dedicated to the highest deities in the Aztec pantheon.
In 1502, Montezuma II became the Aztec Emperor, during the initial period of his reign, Montezuma II consolidated the areas of the Aztec Empire and re-established control over them. At the same time, he gave a lot of attention to the political and civil laws governing the Empire. He placed more powers in the hands of the Mexica rulers of Tenochtitlan so that compared to the two other allied states, Tenochtitlan now had greater power and authority in the matters of the Aztec Empire. He also enacted certain reforms which decisively divided the nobility and the commoners, so that the commoners could no longer ascend to the nobility class.
Hernan Cortes, the Spaniard explorer who led the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, arrived at the gates of Tenochtitlan in November, 1519. He was welcomed by Montezuma II with great splendour and allowed to stay in a palace. However, differences soon emerged between Montezuma II and Cortes and Spaniards took the Emperor hostage in his own palace. Later, the Emperor was killed as the city rose against the Spanish soldiers.
In the start of 1521, Hernan Cortes laid siege to the city of Tenochtitlan with his Spanish army and the allied tribes of Mesoamerica. He had already brought the other areas of the Aztec Empire under his control and Tenochtitlan remained the last citadel of the Empire. The siege lasted for eight months during which the city faced extensive damage in cannon fire. Eventually, the siege came to an end when the reigning Aztec Emperor, Cuauhtemoc, was captured. After the fall of the city, it was razed by the conquerors and the Aztecs were banished from the city permanently.
The basis of the Aztec Empire were first laid when the city of Tenochtitlan was founded by the Mexica people in 1325. The city was initially a tributary state of Azcapotzalco. In 1427, Tenochtitlan developed sharp differences with the ruler of Azcapotzalco. This precipitated in the creation of the Aztec Triple Alliance in 1427. The alliance included Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and Texcoco.
Together the three states defeated Azcapotzalco and formed the basis of the Aztec Empire. The city of Tenochtitlan became the nerve-centre of the Empire and its rulers such as Montezuma I and Montezuma II significantly expanded the frontiers of the Aztec Empire. The end of the Empire came about in 1521 when the Spanish conquistadors, in the leadership of Hernan Cortes, conquered the city of Tenochtitlan after a long siege.