Here is Part 1 of a new series by our contributing writer Michal Pawlus, describing in more detail the conquests of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas.
Let’s begin with the very first article on the Aztecs Crusade to Tenochtitlan. Enjoy the journey!
If you’d like to read the full series, you will find all 5 articles linked at the bottom of this page.
Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Arrhythmic Worlds (Part 1 of 5)
The expansion of the Spanish sphere of influence in the 16th century was impressive in terms of the technological conditions and resources of the conquistadors.
The first serious opponent of the Conquistadors was the Aztec Empire. This empire was a federation of city-states with highly developed culture, science, architecture, and a large indigenous population.
The spaces between Eurasia and the Americas were a factor that previously prevented permanent contacts between the Civilizations of Eurasia and Africa with the Civilizations of the Americas.
This article begins the series Crusade to Tenochtitlan (the capital and core city of the Aztecs). It will focus on the conquest of the State of Moctezuma (last before the arrival of the Spanish) Tlatoani (ruler of the Aztecs) by the Spanish Conquistadors.
The Crusade to Tenochtitlan is a Pentalogy that has the following five parts:
1. Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Arrhythmic Worlds
2. Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Return of the White gods
3. Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Among the Cactus Rocks
4. Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Storm over Realm of Sacrifice
5. Crusade to Tenochtitlan: Templo Mayor Has Fallen
This Series of Articles ends with the capture of Tenochtitlan event, which is a symbolic collapse of Aztec hegemony over the surrounding Indian peoples.
Summary of Spain before the Conquest of Mexico
Timeline of Reconquista:
1043 – 1099
Life of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid.
King Alfonso VI of León and Castile captures Toledo from the Moors.
June 1147 – Oct 1147
The siege of Lisbon during the Second Crusade.
17 Oct 1147
Almeria in northern Spain is captured from the Moors during the Second Crusade.
21 Oct 1147
The capture of Lisbon by the Second Crusaders.
30 Dec 1148
Tortosa in eastern Spain is captured from the Moors during the Second Crusade.
Foundation of the Order of Calatrava in Spain.
Foundation of the Order of Santiago in Spain.
Foundation of the Order of Montjoy in Aragon, Spain.
Foundation of the Order of Alcantara in Spain.
Foundation of the Order of Evora in Portugal.
The Moors win a victory over the Christian kingdoms of Spain at the Battle of Alarcos.
A coalition army of three Spanish kingdoms defeats the Moors at Las Navas de Tolosa.
Cordoba is captured from the Moors during the Reconquista.
Valencia is captured from the Moors during the Reconquista.
Seville is captured from the Moors during the Reconquista.
Granada, the final Muslim territory in Spain, is captured.
Spaniards took advantage of the opportunity that was the possibility of conquering new territories in America, and then Spanish settlement in new territories, which Spain conquered thanks to the conduct of the wars.
Each war requires technological development, modernization of the army, new tactics, and when the war is successful, there are tendencies to continue the war and look for new enemies.
Most of the Iberian peninsula was conquered by the Moors of North Africa in the eighth century, and the period of Islam would begin and ended with the fall of Granada (the capital of the Emirate of Granada) in 1492.
The Middle Ages in Europe and the Middle East are the constant religious struggles of Christians against the then growing power of Islam. But religious justification was needed to convince the fighting masses of people, another cause was economic benefits and spheres of influence. It was seen during the Crusades of the Cross to the Holy Land and it was seen during the Crusades against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Christian kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula waged a war against the Moors, which is known as the Reconquest (re-conquest). The territories of present-day Spain and Portugal under the rule of the Moors developed economically and culturally, while the Christian kingdoms that led the Reconquista received financial and military support from the Pope. So the process of conquest itself was beneficial for the Iberian Christian kingdoms, they had a clear and legitimate goal of expansion into rich territories and the support of the Catholic world.
The Reconquista was focused on the re-conquest of territories under the rule of the Moors and the dislocation of the Islamic population into a Christian, which was helped by depopulation in Europe, caused by the Black Death (the largest epidemic in human history, prevailing in 14th-century Europe)
Spain participated in the European development of technology and war tactics. From the 13th century on, more and more kingdoms began to employ professional soldiers, where the dominant force was infantry and artillery, not heavy cavalry. The countryside in Spain was unfavourable for heavy cavalry, so the Spaniards adapted infantry to the needs of their battlefield. At the end of the Reconquista, infantry armed with pikes, swords and shields dominated, and town militias were organized in the cities, which had a defensive and seasonally offensive character. The dependence on the infantry culminated in 1536, the trecio (corps) system initiated and organized around the commander of ten 250 companions, each divided into 25 man squads. This gave the Spanish army enormous mobility and flexibility.
The Spaniards in the time of conquest can be compared to a ball that has gained speed and wanted to roll.
When we gain some experience, we want to behave appropriately, it will be beneficial for us if a similar situation repeats itself.
For the Spaniards, the experience during the reconquest had an impact on the conquests in Amea and the Caribbean.
One of these situations was the religious justification of wars, from the Spanish side and Aztecs side.
The second is the dislocation of the population. When Christopher Columbus came to America, it was estimated that the Caribbean population was 6 million in the islands of Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. The population of Hispaniola (Haiti) in 1492 was 1 million, in 1518 it was 16,000. Depopulation caused by diseases that the Spaniards brought, helped in the early years of colonization to Spanish settlement and the exchange of indigenous people to their own or mixed.
The first Puerto Rico settlements were in 1508, Jamaica in 1509, Cuba 1511, Florida (failed) 1514.
Hispaniola was the most populous, followed by Cuba and Darien (Panama).
The entire population that came to Hispaniola before 1520 was 5,481 people, of which only 308 were women. In 1499, a fleet of thirty ships brought 2,500 settlers to Hispaniola. The entire European population in the Caribbean by 1519 was approximately 27,000.
Mesoamerica summary before the arrival of Europeans
Timeline of Aztecs and Mesoamerica:
1100 – 1200
The Valley of Mexico is first settled by migrating tribes (Chichimecs, Tepanecs, Mexica and Acolhua).
1345 – 1521
The Aztec civilization flourishes in Mesoamerica.
Traditional date for the founding of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on Lake Texcoco.
1350 – 1522
The Tarascan civilization flourishes in Mesoamerica.
New Fire Ceremony celebrated by the Aztecs.
1375 – 1395
Acamapichtli reigns as leader of the Aztecs.
1396 – 1417
Huitzilihuitl reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
New Fire Ceremony celebrated by the Aztecs.
1417 – 1426
Chimalpopoca reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
Texcoco is temporarily conquered by Mexica and Tepanec forces.
The Sun Stone depicting the ages of the five suns of Aztec mythology is carved and set up at Tenochtitlan.
1427 – 1440
Itzcoatl reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
The Triple Alliance is formed between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan.
Netzahualcoyotl officially becomes tlatoani or leader of Texcoco.
1440 – 1469
Motecuhzoma I reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
The Aztecs establish a garrison at Mitla in the Oaxaca Valley.
New Fire Ceremony celebrated by the Aztecs.
1469 – 1481
Axayacatl reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
The Coyolxauhqui Stone is carved depicting the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, dismembered by the god Huitzilopochtli.
1481 – 1486
Tizoc reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
The Stone of Tizoc is carved depicting the Aztec king Tizoc attacking warriors from the Matlatzinca.
1486 – 1502
Ahuitzotl reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
The Templo Mayor is completed at Tenochtitlan and inaugurated with the sacrifice of 20,000 captives.
Aztec leader Ahuitzotl conquers the central valleys of Oaxaca.
1502 – 1520
Motecuhzoma II reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
New Fire Ceremony celebrated by the Aztecs.
The Throne of Motecuhzoma II is carved. Also known as the Monument of Sacred War.
Motecuhzoma II receives Cortes at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.
Cuitlahuac is briefly the successor to Motecuhzoma II as leader of the Aztec Empire.
30 Jun 1520
Death of Aztec ruler Motecuhzoma II.
Texcoco provided ships and men to aide the Spanish siege of Tenochtitlan.
1521 – 1525
Cuauhtemoc reigns as leader of the Aztec Empire.
13 Aug 1521
The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan falls into the hands of Spanish forces led by Cortes.
Mesoamerica, which is the area known today as Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and most Mesoamerican civilizations and cultures in its area.
As in Greek and Roman times, there was a division into Civilized people and Barbarians, nomadic people.
Mesoamerica had highly developed agriculture, with farmers harvesting twice a year, sophisticated religions, religious centres, astronomical innovation, art, and rising kingdoms
One of the first military powers was the former Olmecs, they had a professional army, equipped with notably clubs, maces, slings. The Olmecs were expanding along the shores of the bay and the lowlands, but they had too little manpower to control larger areas, over great distances.
Logistically, Mesoamerica was inferior to the rest of the Civilised World.
They didn’t have horses, they didn’t use the wheel. They used their feet to travel, trade, and transport. The goods were carried by human porters (tlamemes), each of them capable of carrying a load of 23 kilograms for 21 to 23 kilometres. An adult in Mesoamerica consumed 0.95 kg of corn and two litres of water daily.
Mesoamerican society, with the exception of the late Mayan period in Yucatan, did not build roads. Presumably, the speed of the Olmlek army’s march was 19 kilometres per day. Warfare within a radius of approximately 60 kilometres would take 3 days of travel, 1 day of combat, 1 day of recuperation, 3 days of return.
Logistical problems were the main reason why Olmecs and other Mesoamerican civilizations did not extend their borders to the size of the Roman, Persian and Chinese empires.
Instead, the Olmecs, beyond their territories, dominated the neighbouring peoples with trade and culture. They spread religious ideas, mathematics, writing, calendar system, community organization.
Over time, the Olmec family lost its leadership status in the region. The next power emerging in the storm of regional conflicts and political instability was the city of Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan was the first to aspire to become a supra-regional power.
They had a strong professional and numerous armies, armed with spears and bucklers, shields, spear throwers, darts, rectangular shields. The Teotihuacan population was around 60,000 in 100 AD and 200,000 in 500 AD.
It was a multicultural city with a large obsidian industry. Teotihuacan established mineral-producing settlements in central Mexico and established colonies in Guatemala in the Mayan lands. They protected these colonies thanks to their largest army and scattered garrisons in the region. Same as with the Omlecs, keeping many colonies without good logistics and surrounded by other small powers in the regions made it difficult to maintain the empire. Another reason was that Teotihuacan became dependent on the supply of raw materials from the colony, and was not self-sufficient. In 650 AD, the city’s population dropped 60 percent and the empire was lost.
The next empire after Teotihuacan were the Toltecs with their capital in Tollan.
The construction and organization of the Toltec Empire was similar to the Teotihuacan Empire. The Toltecs built their own power on the commercial network and obsidian industry. They were the most populous city and innovative. They invented a 50 cm long curved sword with an obsidian blade. As in Teotihuacan, military development was standardized and under state control.
In 1119 CE, rebellions and the invasion of barbarians ended their empire.
The last great power was the Aztecs, who came from outside in 1345 CE, and were barbarians to indigenous cultures.
This was a situation similar to that in Greece, and while Macedonia was on the border of the Greek world, it was not considered a fully Greek culture. It was Macedonia that created a Hellenistic (Greek) power in the world. A similar collection can be seen in the history of the Mēxihcah (Aztecs).
The triple alliance then became the dominant force.
The Aztecs did not mean much in the beginning and were tributaries of the Tepanec Empire. In times of political turbulence in the region, caused by the weaknesses of succession in the Tepanac Empire. Itzcoatl became the fourth king of the Aztecs and laid the foundations for a future empire. It formed a Triple Alliance with the city-states of Tetzcoco and Tlacopan against Tepanec. The Triple Alliance won and became the dominant force in the Mexico Valley.
When creating the Empire, the Aztecs chose the path of decentralization, based on tributes, leaving local authorities, which was more economical. This method was similar to the Roman Republic at the time of the great conquests. Due to the problems with maintaining a civilian army outside Italy, the Romans were reluctant to direct annexation, preferring other forms of subordination. In the mind of the Romans, their empire was very large – in this perspective, it did not matter who supervised the fulfilment of these orders, the Roman governor or the King-vassal. As in previous Mesoamerican empires, logistics was burdensome to maintain Aztec power.
Trade and military supplies were carried by porters.
The Aztecs did not build roads for military use, they relied on those for local trade. Enough just for two-way traffic, they limited the army to double files that extended the standard Aztec command of eight thousand troops (xiquipilli) to a distance of 12 kilometres, disregarding the accordion effect which further lengthens the line. This meant that the last men would not start marching until five hours after the first marches had started. To finish their march before nightfall, each xiquipilli began its march the day after the previous xiquipilli – a necessary measure, but greatly extending the time it takes to gather all strength to attack.
The Aztec army was equipped with breechcloths, sandals, shields, archers, slingstones, broadsword (macuahuitl), thrusting spears (tepoztopilli), they where protected by wearing quilted cotton armor under suits of woven feathers or skin and sometimes helmets, and carrying shields.
Aztec expansion was geographically dictated.
They omitted insignificant towns and hard-to-reach areas. In the years 1450-1454 AD, a drought struck the Aztecs, the Priests, as a remedy, recognized the need to make more human sacrifices. In order not to run out of casualties, an agreement was concluded between Tenochtitlán, Huexotzengo and Tlaxcala to conduct wars among themselves annually in a predetermined place of wars. These wars were called the Quarter Wars (xochiyaoyotl)) and were always fought in the spring. Their only goal was to capture as many prisoners as possible, intended as sacrifices to the gods.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztecs had two serious opponents.
One was the Tarascan Empire, which was the second-largest empire, and a bit more centralized than the others. They had military successes against the Aztecs, but had smaller human and resource reserves, which made it impossible for them to conduct a long campaign, so they went on the defensive, building a number of fortifications on the border with the Aztec Empire.
The second major player in the region was the Tlaxcallan confederation – an alliance of city-states Tlaxcallan, Cholollan, Huexotzinco, Atlixco, Tliliuhqui-Tepec. This alliance, however, was not strong enough to threaten the Aztecs.
The Aztecs were the most powerful empire of their time, but a great empire that relied on very wide decentralization.
The rules of decentralization are based on the fact that individual regions have autonomy, in the Mesoamerican world, as in the Greek world, each city-state was a separate country. Similar imperial structures also existed in the republics of the Italian Renaissance, Venice, and Genoa.
After the first phase of the conquest and the collection of tributes, they were not able to colonize their kingdoms well, and there was no widespread Auto-Aztecization. Which meant that, if necessary, could and did happen in an instant to the revolt of their entire empire.
Timeline of the Conquest of Mexico:
Columbus reaches the New World.
King Ahuitzotl dies and Moctezuma Xocoyotl becomes the ninth Aztec king King.
Nezahualpilli of Tetzcoco dies and is succeeded by Cacama.
Córdoba sails from Cuba.
Córdoba reaches Yucatan.
Córdoba reaches Campeche.
Córdoba returns to Cuba.
Grijalva reaches Cozumel.
Grijalva reaches Laguna de Términos.
Grijalva reaches Coatzacoalco.
Grijalva returns to Cuba.
Cortés sails for Yucatan.
Cortés reaches San Juan de Ulúa.
Aztecs decamp, abandoning Cortés.
Cortés reaches Cempohuallan.
Cortés dispatches a ship to Spain.
Cortés leaves Cempohuallan on his march inland.
Cortés fights first battle with Tlaxcaltecs.
Cortés enters city of Tlaxcallan.
Cortés leaves Tlaxcallan for Cholollan.
Cortés leaves Cholollan for Tenochtitlan.
Cortés enters Tenochtitlan.
Cortés seizes Moctezuma.
Narváez lands at San Juan de Ulúa.
Feast of Toxcatl
Alvarado massacres the Aztec nobles.
Cortés reaches Narváez’s camp at Cempohuallan.
Cortés attacks and defeats Narvaez.
Cortés reaches Tenochtitlan.
Cortés and the Spaniards flee Tenochtitlan.
Cortés and the Spaniards reach Tlaxcallan.
Cortés marches against Tepeyacac
Cuitlahua becomes the tenth Aztec king.
Smallpox epidemic begins in Tenochtitlan
Smallpox epidemic ends in Tenochtitlan
King Cuitlahua dies for smallpox.
Cortes Begins his return to Tenochtitlan.
Cuauhtemoc becomes the eleventh Aztec king.
Cortés marches on Xaltocan.
Cortés returns to Tetzcoco.
Cortés reaches Yauhtepec.
Cortés conquers Cuauhnahuac.
Cortés reaches Xochimilco.
Cortés is forced to withdraw from Xochimilco.
Cortés returns to Tetzcoco.
Cortés launches his brigantines.
Alvarado, Olid, and Sandoval are dis- patched with three armies to begin the battle for Tenochtitlan
Sandoval and Olidacan at Cohuacan.
Sixty-eight Spaniards are captured in battle and sacrificed.
Fresh munitions arrive from Vera Cruz
Spaniards reach the great market in Tlatelolco
Cuauhtemoc is captured and the Aztecs surrender.
This is the end of Part One in the Crusade to Tenochtitlan series.
Thank you for reading this article, I encourage you to comment and share your own thoughts on the issues raised in this article. Please look out for the next article in this series, Return of the White Gods. Below are a few introductory paragraphs.
The first exploratory expedition to reach the Yucatan was 3 ships with a crew of 110, led by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba (a Spanish conquistador from the 16th century, known to history mainly due to an unsuccessful expedition to the Yucatan).
In the Yucatan, they saw an organized urban community clad and more technically advanced than the earlier Native Americans they had known before. It is likely that the Maya had heard of the Spaniards earlier than the Caribbean people who were treated bitterly by the Spaniards. These Mayans had more knowledge about alien visitors, therefore they provoked the Spaniards to abandon the ships and began fighting with them. The Spaniards were armed with crossbows and arquebuses. Crossbows had a weight of 6 kilograms and fired 1.5 to 3 ounce wooden bolts with metalheads for a distance of more than 320 meters in an arc, or 64 meters point-blank, in comparison with a probable maximum range of 180 meters for native American bows…
Best regards for all readers,
If you have specific questions on this topic, you are also welcome to email me.
All articles in this Crusade to Tenochtitlan series:
Part 2: Return of the White Gods
Part 3: Among the Cactus Rocks
Part 4: Storm over Realm of Sacrifice
Part 5: Templo Mayor Has Fallen
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