Tuesday, January 15

We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma

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In the early 16th century, Spanish colonies were already well established in the Caribbean islands and they were turning their eyes westward.  Under the leadership of Hernán Cortés, the Spaniards looked to Aztec territory in present-day Mexico.

The island capital of Tenochtitlan, built on islands in Lake Texcoco, was a bustling metropolis of the era!  It was linked to mainland by causeways, had a freshwater source, and was an engineering feat.  Thousands of people visited and lived in this empire.  The area is present-day Mexico City.

The Aztecs who lived here had an ordered system, but were often regarded as brutal because of their practice of human sacrifice.  They often captured victims for this purpose, and occasionally allowed themselves to become victims to obtain a privileged afterlife.

Upon his arrival, Montezuma (ruler of the Aztecs at the time) thought Cortes was the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and he greeted him with great honor.  However, within a few months, Montezuma was captured and killed.  While historians aren’t sure how he was killed, they do know that the Spaniards tried to flee after his death.  The Aztecs attacked them as they fled, killing half of the Spanish army; this is known as the “Night of Sorrows.”

The Aztecs had already been weakened, though, by diseases that the Spaniards introduced to the area.  After a three-month siege of the area, the Spaniards were able to conquer the Aztecs in August 1521.  In only two years, Hernán Cortés brought about the downfall of this great military civilization.

Even now, five centuries after his death, many modern Mexicans have little respect for Montezuma, who they blame for the fall of the Aztec empire due to poor leadership.

Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Amanteca 
  • Aqueduct
  • Calpulli
  • Causeway  
  • Chinampa
  • Huitzilopochtli 
  • Mesoamerica
  • Sacrifice
  • Tenochtitlan
  • Tlaxcala
  • Toltecs
  • How did the region of Central Mexico (Mexico City) affect the evolution of the Aztec Empire?
  • How did the Spanish Conquest change the culture of the native groups? 
Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!


  1. It's interesting that people still have feelings about him. Kinda like Spanish who still hate Elizabeth I b/c of the Spanish Armada defeat.

  2. i now know what the Night of Sorrows was all about!

  3. Interesting information. Thanks for sharing about these men.