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Spanish Conquest & Aztecs: Spanish Conquest

Year 8 History | Exploring the Spanish conquest of the Americas

Source: Library of Congress

Between 1519 and 1521 the Spanish, under the leadership of conquistador Hernan Cortés, conquered the Aztec Empire. But how did this happen? Read through the resources below to find out more about the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Conquest of Mexico Paintings (Library of Congress)

Click through this interactive study of Conquest of Mexico paintings. The eight detailed canvases tell the story of the 1521 Spanish conquest of the native Aztec people.

Conquistadors (Factmonster, n.d.)

Who was the god from the sea? How did the conquistadors defeat so many people? Who killed the Inca Emperor? Find out more in this article. 

Cortes & the Fall of the Aztec Empire (World History Encyclopaedia, 2016, July 4)

The Aztec empire flourished between c. 1345 and 1521 CE and dominated ancient Mesoamerica. This young and warlike nation was highly successful in spreading its reach and gaining fabulous wealth, but then all too quickly came the strange visitors from another world. Led by Hernán Cortés, the Spaniard's formidable firearms and thirst for treasure would bring devastating destruction and disease. The Conquistadores immediately found willing local allies only too eager to help topple the brutal Aztec regime and free themselves from the burden of tribute and the necessity of feeding the insatiable Aztec appetite for sacrificial victims, and so within three years fell the largest ever empire in North and Central America. Read this article to find out more.

Expansion of Spanish Rule (Britannica, n.d.)

An article from Britannica on the history of Mexico and the Spanish conquests in the region.

How Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire (History Channel, 2021, May 21)

The Aztec Empire, Mesoamerica’s dominant power in the 15th and early 16th centuries, controlled a capital city that was one of the largest in the world. Itzcoatl, named leader of the Aztec/Mexica people in 1427, negotiated what has become known as the Triple Alliance—a powerful political union of the city-states of Mexico-Tenochtitlán, Tetzcoco and Tlacopán. As that alliance strengthened between 1428 and 1430 it reinforced the leadership of the Aztecs, making them the dominant Nahua group in a land mass that covered central Mexico and extended as far as modern-day Guatemala. And yet Tenochtitlán was swiftly conquered by the Spanish in 1521—less than two years after Hernándo Cortés and Spanish conquistadors first set foot in the Aztec capital on November 8, 1519. How did Cortés manage to overthrow the seat of the Aztec Empire? Read this article to find out more.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs (Jakeb Lovejoy, 2020, July 28)

Following the Age of Exploration and Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World after he reached Cuba in 1492, Spanish colonisation had centred primarily around the islands of the Caribbean. However, after Vasco Nunez de Balboa's expedition across Central America to reach the Pacific Ocean in 1513, Spain began to see the full potential of the New World: a potential full of economic gain and glory, which could be achieved through conquest. These motives spurred Spain to explore beyond the islands of the Caribbean, and adventure into a phase of conquest that would see the Americas fall under the Spanish crown. This series of conquests began with Hernan Cortes and his conquest of the Aztec Empire. Read through this interactive story map to learn more about this conquest.

Hernán Cortés to Emperor Carlos V., 1522. In Hernán Cortés: Letters from Mexico. Translated and edited by Anthony Pagden, 72-74. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986.

This excerpt from Cortés’ Second Letter, written to Charles V in 1519 and first published in 1522, is one of only two instances in Cortés’ letters to the King that explicitly mentions his indigenous translator. The letters represent eye-witness accounts of the conquistadors’ deeds and experiences. In spite of the close relationship between Cortés and doña Marina, his comments are terse and emphasize her usefulness. In the most frequently cited passage about doña Marina from these letters, Cortés describes her not by name, but simply as “la lengua…que es una India desta tierra” (the tongue, the translator…who is an Indian woman of this land).

Click the link above to access a translation of this letter.

Mexica (Aztec) & Tlaxcala accounts of the Spanish Conquest

Miguel León-Portilla, a Mexican anthropologist, compiled native accounts of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, publishing them in Visión de los Vencidos (Vision of the Vanquished, 1959) to present a chronological account from the perspective of the Indians of Mexico, including the Mexica (Aztec) and the Tlaxcala.

Click the link above to read this resource.

Excerpts from 'A short account of the destruction of the Indies'

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is an account written by the Spanish Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas in 1542 about the mistreatment of and atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas in colonial times and sent to then Prince Philip II of Spain.

Click the link above to read an excerpt of this book.