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Ancient Battles

Tenochtitlan— Fight between Aztecs and Spanish

Invasion of America by the Spanish directly influenced to the decline of the civilizations like Incas and Mayas. Those wars between Spanish and Native Americans were most astonishing stories of all the time. For example, in one battle fought at the Inca capital of Cuzco, 190 Spaniards defeated an army of 40,000 Inca warriors with a loss of only one man. Similarly, in two years, Cortés, with fewer than 1,000 Spaniards, utterly destroyed the Aztec Empire.

Aztec Warrior
Aztec army and its strength

In 1500, the Aztecs were at the height of their power. But few years earlier they were a wandering tribe with no home land. In 1325, Aztecs settled on a swampy island on the lake Texcoco. The Aztec society was both militant and theocratic, with priests and religion playing central roles. The Aztec pantheon of gods was a frightening collection, most of whom demanded regular human sacrifices. In Aztecs belief, the world had been created by the gods using their own blood, and only regular offerings of human blood would enable it to continue. To meet the god’s insatiable demand for blood, Aztec warfare eventually became focused not so much on killing enemies in battle as on trying to immobilize and capture them so that they might later be ritually be sacrificed.


The Aztec army was large and well organized. They were aggressive in war. The elite soldiers were members of warrior fraternities who had repeatedly proven themselves in battle. The Aztec soldier’s main weapon was a wooden club, lined on both sides with razor-sharp pieces of obsidian. The knights also carried small wooden shields, and their armor consisted of wooden helmets and quilted cotton body armor. Aztec helmets and armor were often coated in bright feathers or animal skins. In Aztec army there were soldiers specified for special tasks. They were archers with bows and arrows, slingers who threw stones with great accuracy, and men equipped with the atlatl, or dart thrower.

Hernan Cortez
Spanish Army and its strength

In between 1506 and 1518 there were some Spanish ships that were travelling to search new lands. They settled on islands of Carrabin and were headquartered in Cuba. They wanted to conquer Mexico. For that, in 1518, the governor of New Spain selected a minor nobleman named Hernan Cortes to lead an expedition to conquer Mexico. 

Cortes landed in Mexico in early 1519 with approximately 500 men. His soldiers were an unruly lot motivated by varying degrees of greed and piety. The majority were Castilian Spaniards, and most were already well-trained and experienced. All were equipped with high-quality Spanish steel swords and steel helmets that gave good protection to their heads. Many also had high-quality steel body armor, consisting of either solid breastplates or chain mail. Cortes also had some crossbowmen, whose weapons could accurately propel a deadly dart more than 200 meters, and a number of Spanish-Arabian war horses; the men who rode them were highly experienced and would play a key role in the battles to come.
The army of Cortes also included some soldiers equipped with technologically advanced weapons: the arquebusiers, who carried an early type of gun; though heavy, awkward, and slow, this weapon could fire a powerful bullet. Cortes also had several light cannons. These were crude and small but still had a sizable shock value against those who had not previously encountered such weapon.

The Battle

Cortes landed at Veracruz and marched to the inland. The force he led to conquer the Aztecs consisted of merely 300 soldiers. Of these, 40 had crossbows, 20 had arquebuses, and 15 were mounted on horses. In addition, he had three cannons and his pack of war dogs. The Aztec emperor at the time, Moctezuma, seemed uncertain how to react and may even have believed that the appearance of the Spanish marked the fulfillment of a prophecy.It was the height of the harvest season, when the Aztecs normally did not wage war; thus, Moctezuma invited Cortes to visit him at Tenochtitlán.

On November 8, 1519, Cortes and his 300 companions entered Tenochtitlán; they were housed in a palace and treated as honored guests. After several days of sightseeing, Cortes kidnapped Moctezuma, taking him to the Spaniards’ enclosure. The Aztecs did not know what to do; a tense stand-off ensued, during which Moctezuma was the “guest” of the Spanish. Now Cortes learned that 900 Spaniards had landed on the coast and that their commander, Narvarez, had orders to arrest Cortes and take over the expedition. Leaving only 80 men in Tenochtitlán under the command of Pedro de Alvarado, Cortes rushed back to the coast and rounded up some of the men he had left behind, amassing a force of 350.

He entered into negotiations with Narvarez while secretly communicating with friends within Narvarez’s forces and spreading bribes among Narvarez’s troops. Cortés then launched a surprise night attack on Narvarez’s headquarters. Narvarez and his lieutenants were captured, and through a mixture of bribery and skilled oratory, Cortes persuaded the rest of the soldiers to join him. Meanwhile in Tenochtitlán, Alvarado had been invited to attend a religious festival at which many high-ranking Aztecs were present. Perhaps seeing this as an opportunity to paralyze more of the Aztec leadership, Alvarado had broken the sacred peace and attacked the unarmed worshippers, slaughtering many of the Aztec aristocracy. Alvarado was now besieged in the palace by mobs of furious Aztec warriors.

Cortes, to impress upon his troops the message that they had to succeed or die trying, ordered that the ships be destroyed. There would now literally be no turning back. Cortes managed to break through to Alvarado and join his forces, but the Spaniards were surrounded and besieged in the palace. The captive Moctezuma, who all along seems to have favored a conciliatory policy, agreed to urge the Aztecs to be calm. When he appeared, they stoned him, fatally wounding him. The new emperor, Cuauhtémoc, viewed the Spaniards solely as enemies to be exterminated and launched an all-out attack. On the night of July 1, 1520, Cortes and his army tried to flee across one of the causeways. Many of the conquistadors, in addition to their weapons, could not resist burdening themselves with the gold treasure, and as they tried to swim across the gaps in the causeways, hundreds drowned.

Cortes escaped but lost half his army. As they marched away, the bedraggled survivors had to suffer the additional horror of watching their captured friends and comrades being dragged to the top of the main temple to have their hearts ripped out by priests and their bodies flung down the steps. This disaster became known as LA Noche Triste, “the Sad Night.” Cortes retreated to the territory of his Tlaxcalan allies and began the final assault on Tenochtitlan. It was during the gap that that a new factor made its presence known: A smallpox epidemic broke out and swept through both the Aztecs and their allies.

In 1521, Cortes returned to Lake Texcoco and began systematically capturing all the cities around its shore.He then constructed a fleet of 13 small ships, each equipped with a light cannon. These were used to seize control of the lake and cut off the causeways, thus preventing food and reinforcements from reaching the city. The Aztecs were driven back into Tenochtitlán, and Cortes and his allies laid siege. Under the leadership of Cuauhtémoc, the Aztecs refused to surrender, and Cortes had to invade. After months of bitter street fighting by August 1521, the smoking ruins were finally in Spanish hands and the Aztecs had been virtually exterminated.

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