The Fall of the Aztec Empire

Table of Contents


Aztec Empire was the largest domain on the North American continent before the Spaniards defeated it. The conquest was led by the renowned conquistador Hernán Cortés. His victory over the Aztecs secured Mexico as a colony and ensured the Spanish Empire could establish its influence in the region. This essay will provide an account of Cortés’s conquest and describe the strategy employed by the Spanish commander.

The Aztec Empire

The Aztec Empire was a large state located on the territory of modern Mexico. It was also known as Triple Alliance as it consisted of three city-states, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan (MacKenzie 1). The cities formed a military and economic coalition to reinforce their position in the area. Although Tenochtitlan became the alliance’s capital, all three cities had control over smaller city-states located close to them (MacKenzie 2). Despite the military and economic advantage the Aztecs had over other tribes in the vicinity, they also had many enemies. These rivals played an instrumental role in the fall of the state. By the time the Cortés arrived, the Empire had exhausted all its expansion options and arguably reached its peak (MacKenzie 6). Overall, the Triple Alliance was the largest domain on the continent before the conquest, and its defeat helped the Spanish secure their dominance.

The Conquest

The Spanish invasion of the Aztec territory began in 1519 with the arrival of Cortés. In 1518, Cortés, who resided in Cuba, was ordered to lead an expedition to the newly discovered continent (Szalay). Although the expedition was recalled, Cortés disobeyed the direct order given to him and set sail to Mexico (Szalay). According to Szalay, the Spaniard was a devout Christian and had a negative view of the indigenous people, which was typical for most Europeans of that time. Cortés was driven by his desire to convert the natives to his religion and establish Spanish dominance.

The conquest of the Aztecs can be divided into two distinct stages. In the first stage that lasted from 1519 to 1520, Cortés took the leader of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma, hostage (Brinkerhoff 175). Keeping the city’s leader captive, he hoped to rule the city through him and gradually convert it. During this time, Cortés was considered a fugitive and criminal by the Spanish crown, who sent another conquistador, Narváez, to arrest him (Brinkerhoff 176). The renegade Spaniard defeated Narváez, and his men were conscripted to serve under him (Brinkerhoff 176). Thus, the crown’s intervention in his actions only fueled Cortés’s conquest over the Aztecs. After Narváez’s defeat and a massacre of indigenous people, the leader of the Spanish forces left Tenochtitlan, losing his influence over it (Brinkerhoff 176). Although this was considered a defeat, it allowed Cortés to come up with a new strategy for conquering the Aztec Empire.

The second stage of the conquest lasted from 1520 to 1521. After the Spanish forces’ expulsion from Tenochtitlan, Cortés retreated to the city of Tlaxcalan (Szalay). The people of Tlaxcalan were the most formidable enemies of the Aztecs and managed to remain free of their rule (MacKenzie 6). Thus, the alliance with them was instrumental in the conquest of the Empire. The Spanish and the Tlaxcalans laid siege to the city, cutting out their food supply and forcing them to forfeit (Brinkerhoff 176). The taking of the largest city of the Triple Alliance signified its fall.


In conclusion, the Aztec Empire was the largest domain on the North American continent before the arrival of Cortés. Despite their military and economic prowess, the Triple Alliance exhausted its potential for expansion and had many rivals in the area. The conquistador exploited that weakness and formed a coalition with the Aztecs’ enemies. Overall, the success in defeating the Aztecs was possible only due to the help they received from other indigenous tribes.

Works Cited

Brinkerhoff, Thomas J. “Reexamining the Lore of the “Archetypal Conquistador”: Hernán Cortés and the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, 1519-1521.” The History Teacher, vol. 49, no. 2, 2016, pp. 169-187. JSTOR, Web.

MacKenzie, John M, editor. The Encyclopedia of Empire. 1st ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

Szalay, Jessie. Live Science, 2017, Web.

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