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

Share tips of the week – 2 December
Share tips

Share tips of the week – 2 December

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
2 Dec 2022
Latest issue
Investments

Latest issue

Latest issue of MoneyWeek magazine.
2 Dec 2022
Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash
Personal finance

The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash

Looking to move bank accounts? You can now bag as much as £200 for switching current accounts from two major banks
1 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?

Sales of portable heaters have soared, as households look to cut their energy costs. But which is better: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put them t…
21 Nov 2022
Best regular savings accounts – December 2022
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – December 2022

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
1 Dec 2022
2 investment trusts with growing dividends: which one should you invest in?
Investment trusts

2 investment trusts with growing dividends: which one should you invest in?

They might not have spectacular yields but these two trusts have increased their dividend every year for 55 years.
24 Nov 2022