The Aztecs were different ethnic groups of Central Mexico who formed the basis of an Empire spanning across Mesoamerica between the 14th and 16th centuries.
The Mexica people first came to Central Mexico in the 12th century. They eventually settled near Lake Texcoco in 1248 but were soon expelled by the Tepaneca. Then in 1325, the Mexica founded the city of Tenochtitlan which became the focal point of the Aztec Empire. In 1428, a Triple Alliance of the three city states including Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and Texcoco marked the beginning of the Empire.
The Aztec Empire came to dominate the entire Valley of Mexico, subjugating all other city states and people. In 1521, Spaniards laid siege to the city of Tenochtitlan and destroyed it, thereby ending the Aztec Empire.
The Mexica first settled near Lake Texcoco in 1248. Later they settled in Tizapan in 1299 but eventually, they founded the city-state of Tenochtitlan in 1325.
This marked the beginning of the Empire. In 1376, the first King of Tenochtitlan ascended to the throne and under him, the construction of Templo Mayor began.
In 1428, an alliance with city-states of Tlacopan and Texcoco was forged, although over time Tenochtitlan became the major power of the alliance.
Between 1440 and 1510 the Aztec Empire reached its height and expanded to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific shores.
In 1520, Spaniards arrived in Tenochtitlan and in 1521, the Aztec Empire fell to these invaders.
The Aztec history can be broadly categorised into three periods. The first period begins with the start migration of the Nahua peoples from northern Mexico to Mesoamerica.
This started in 6th century and culminated with the arrival of Mexica people in 12th century. The second period is that of the Triple Alliance and the Aztec Empire. The final period is the decline of Aztec Empire and the conquest of Spaniards.
Arrival in Mexico & Chapultepec
The Mexica people arrived from the north to the Valley of Mexico, in 1248. They initially settled by the Lake Texcoco in Chapultepec. But they were soon expelled by the Tepaneca people of the powerful city-state of Azcapotzalco.
City of Tenochtitlan
The Mexica built the city of Tenochtitlan on one of the swampy islands of Lake Texcoco, This city was founded in 1325.
First Ruler Acampichtli
The first ruler of the city of Tenochtitlan was elected in 1376. Acampichtli was not a native of the city but lived rather in Texcoco. However, he was from an influential family with Mexica ancestry and so he was chosen to lead the city.
During his reign, Tenochtitlan was able to emerge as a powerful state. Acampichtli forged alliances with major city states and paid them tribute.
In 1427, The Triple Alliance was forged between Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan and Texcoco. Following this, Itzcoatl became the king of Tenonchtitlan while also effectively becoming the first emperor of the new Empire formed as a result of the alliance.
During his reign, the Aztec Empire defeated many other tribes and states in the valley of Mexico and effectively ended the domination of the Tepaneca and firmly established the foundations of the Aztec Empire.
In 1426, the dominant power in central Mexico, Azcapotzalco, saw civil war over the question of succession. The heir was supported by Tenochtitlan, Tayahauh, lost in the struggle to his brother Maxtla and soon the city found itself at odds with Azcapotzalco.
In the ensuing revengeful measures by Maxtla, Tenochtitlan went to war with him by forging alliance with Tlacopan and Texcoco. Azcapotzalco was defeated in the war and the three members of alliance divided the Tepanec land between them.
Montezuma I was the second Aztec Emperor. During his reign, a double aqueduct pipe system was built to bring fresh water to the city of Tenochtitlan.
He expanded the Empire beyond the Valley of Mexico so that it reached the Gulf Coast. His reign consolidated the Aztec Empire and made Tenochtitlan effectively the most important part of the Triple Alliance.
Tenochtitlan Great Flood
In the year 1452, the Lake Texcoco overflowed ravaging the city of Tenochtitlan and damaging it severely. Following this, the city was rebuilt under Ahuitzotl in an even grander way.
The Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor was among the key temples in the city of Tenochtitlan and was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture.
Its construction began in 1325 and the base measured 100 by 80 meters. It was reconstructed six times after the first construction.
Montezuma II ruled Tenochtitlan from 1502 to 1520. During his reign, the Aztec Empire reached its largest size.
In 1519, the Spaniards under the leadership of Hernan Cortes reached the Aztec Empire. Cortes met Montezuma in 1519 and earlier meetings began on a friendly note but soon the Aztec and Spaniards were pitted against each other.
With the death of the Montezuma II in 1520, possibly at the hands of Spaniards, the Aztec Empire fell.
In 1517, a comet was seen in the sky which the Aztecs interpreted as the harbinger of doom and destruction. When Hernan Cortes reached the gates of Tenochtitlan in 1520, the people of the city were under the influence of this superstition according to some historians.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes
Hernan Cortes landed on the Gulf Coast in 1519 and reached Tenochtitlan at the end of 1519. He was received by the Emperor and hosted by him.
Soon afterwards, Spaniards led a massacre of the local population in the Great Temple in 1520 and fled. Cortes returned in 1520, laid siege to Tenochtitlan and the city fell to his army in early 1521.
Cuauhtemoc ruled Tenochtitlan from 1520 to 1521, after the death of Montezuma II and before the city finally fell to Spaniards. He fought valiantly against the Spaniards but was finally taken prisoner in 1521 and ultimately executed by Cortes in 1525.
Cortes defeats the Aztecs
Following the massacre in the Great Temple in 1520, Spaniards fled the city fearing repercussions. Cortes was away when the incident happened. He later returned with an army and laid siege to Tenochtitlan which finally fell in 1521 with the capture of Cuauhtemoc.
Rebuilding the city of Tenochtitlan
Cortes undertook the rebuilding of the city and renamed it Mexico City. He rebuilt the main square of the city and named it Plaza Mayor.
Aztec Timeline Summary
The Mexica tribe came to the Valley of Mexico in the 12th century and eventually founded the city of Tenochtitlan by Lake Texcoco. In the 14th century, the city formed a Triple Alliance with two neighbouring city states and thus the Aztec Empire was born.
The Aztec Empire steadily grew in size and power, reaching its culmination by the beginning of 16th century where it stretched from Gulf of Mexico to Pacific coast. It was brought to an end when Spaniards, led by Hermes Cortes, invaded and destroyed Tenochtitlan.