13 August 1521: The fall of the Aztec Empire

Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, fell to the Spanish conquistadors on this day in 1521, bringing an end to Aztec rule.

The Aztec Empire, begun around 1345, was formed from three great city states – the Triple Alliance - with the city of Tenochtitlán the capital. The Alliance was very keen on war, and conquered many of the other city states in the Valley of Mexico. At its largest extent, the empire covered some 11,000,000 people. And it amassed huge wealth.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, the Spanish had recently arrived in the Caribbean, and they were hungry for gold. Once the Spanish got wind of their treasures, the Aztecs' days were numbered.

Hernán Cortés was put in charge of an expedition to Mexico in 1519. He soon met a messenger from Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, and gave him a display of the Spaniards' might, with cavalry charges, guns and cannon blasts. The Aztecs were suitably intimidated.

Cortés moved on, subjugating cities here and there, until he got to Tenochtitlán. The inhabitants venerated the Spaniards as gods, showered them with riches and put them up in sumptuous lodgings. But the Spanish were very ungrateful guests. And, despite being hugely outnumbered, Cortés arrested Montezuma and demanded he submit to the King of Spain.

The Aztecs staged a rebellion in 1520, in which Montezuma was killed. But they succeeded in driving the Spanish out of Tenochtitlán. The Spaniards may have fled, but they left the Aztecs a most unwelcome gift – smallpox, and the city's population was ravaged. And it wasn't long before the Spanish were back. Cortés returned with a bigger force of soldiers and laid siege to the city for four months.

On 13 August, Cortés captured Cuauhtémoc, the Aztecs' new leader, and Tenochtitlán fell, effectively ending the Aztec Empire. The city was looted, and Cuauhtémoc was tortured to find the location of the rest of the gold. Eventually, Cortés had Cuauhtémoc killed, after he suspected him of plotting to kill him.

Recommended

Russia and Ukraine: what does Putin want?
Global Economy

Russia and Ukraine: what does Putin want?

Russia's president Vladimir Putin has many reasons for his military build-up on the border with Ukraine, but the costs of an invasion would be extreme…
29 Jan 2022
The charts that matter: gold proving no safe haven
Global Economy

The charts that matter: gold proving no safe haven

Tech stocks fell yet further this week, while gold followed suit. Here’s what happened to the charts that matter most to the global economy.
29 Jan 2022
Cryptocurrency roundup: Putin backs crypto-mining, and spoof McDonald’s coin takes off
Bitcoin & crypto

Cryptocurrency roundup: Putin backs crypto-mining, and spoof McDonald’s coin takes off

Saloni Sardana looks at the cryptocurrency stories that caught our eye this week.
28 Jan 2022
Are recession fears justified? Maybe it’s time to look on the bright side
Economy

Are recession fears justified? Maybe it’s time to look on the bright side

There's a lot to feel nervous about right now, and many people are worrying about an impending recession. But it's by no means certain, says John Step…
28 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Shareholder capitalism: why we must return power to listed companies’ ultimate owners
Investment strategy

Shareholder capitalism: why we must return power to listed companies’ ultimate owners

Under our system of shareholder capitalism it's not fund managers, it‘s the individual investors – the company's ultimate owners – who should be telli…
24 Jan 2022
Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments
Personal finance

Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments

Amazon has said that it is to shelve its proposed ban on UK customers making payments with Visa credit cards.
17 Jan 2022
Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing
Investment strategy

Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing

Ian Lance and Nick Purves of the Temple Bar investment trust explain the essence of “value investing” – buying something for less than its intrinsic v…
14 Jan 2022