16th-century Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, also known as the Conquest of Mexico or the Spanish–Mexican War (1519–21), was one of the primary events in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquerors, their indigenous allies, and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.
Following an earlier expedition led by Juan de Grijalva to Yucatán in 1518, Spanish settler, Hernán Cortés, led an expedition (entrada) to Mexico. Two years later, in 1519, Cortés and his retinue set sail for Mexico. The Spanish campaign against the Aztec Empire had its final victory on 13 August 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. The fall of Tenochtitlan marks the beginning of Spanish rule in central Mexico, and they established their capital of Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlan.
Cortés made alliances with tributary city-states (altepetl) of the Aztec Empire as well as their political rivals, particularly the Tlaxcalteca and Texcocans, a former partner in the Aztec Triple Alliance. Other city-states also joined, including Cempoala and Huexotzinco and polities bordering Lake Texcoco, the inland lake system of the Valley of Mexico. Particularly important to the Spanish success was a multilingual (Nahuatl, a Maya dialect, and Spanish) indigenous slave woman, known to the Spanish conquistadors as Doña Marina, and generally as La Malinche. After eight months of battles and negotiations, which overcame the diplomatic resistance of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II to his visit, Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan on 8 November 1519, where he took up residence with fellow Spaniards and their indigenous allies. When news reached Cortés of the death of several of his men during the Aztec attack on the Totonacs in Veracruz, Cortes claims that he took Motecuhzoma captive. Capturing the cacique or indigenous ruler was standard operating procedure for Spaniards in their expansion in the Caribbean, so capturing Motecuhzoma had considerable precedent but modern scholars are skeptical that Cortes and his countrymen took Motecuhzoma captive at this time. They had great incentive to claim they did, owing to the laws of Spain at this time, but critical analysis of their personal writings suggest Motecuhzoma was not taken captive until a much later date.When Cortés left Tenochtitlan to return to the coast and deal with the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez, sent to rein in Cortés's expedition that had exceeded its specified limits, Cortés's right-hand man Pedro de Alvarado was left in charge. Alvarado allowed a significant Aztec feast to be celebrated in Tenochtitlan and on the pattern of the earlier massacre in Cholula, closed off the square and massacred the celebrating Aztec noblemen. The official biography of Cortés by Francisco López de Gómara contains a description of the massacre. The Alvarado massacre at the Main Temple of Tenochtitlan precipitated rebellion by the population of the city. Moctezuma was killed, although the sources do not agree on who killed him. According to one account, when Moctezuma, now seen by the population as a mere puppet of the invading Spaniards, attempted to calm the outraged populace, he was killed by a projectile. According to an indigenous account, the Spanish killed Moctezuma. Cortés had returned to Tenochtitlan and his men fled the capital city during the Noche Triste in June 1520. The Spanish, Tlaxcalans and reinforcements returned a year later on 13 August 1521 to a civilization that had been weakened by famine and smallpox. This made it easier to conquer the remaining Aztecs.Many of those on the Cortés expedition of 1519 had never seen combat before, including Cortés. A whole generation of Spaniards later participated in expeditions in the Caribbean and Tierra Firme (Central America), learning strategy and tactics of successful enterprises. The Spanish conquest of Mexico had antecedents with established practices.The fall of the Aztec Empire was the key event in the formation of the Spanish Empire overseas, with New Spain, which later became Mexico.
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