Did the Expansion of the Aztec Empire Lead to Their Downfall?


The Aztec Indians originated from a place called Aztlan, somewhere in
north or northwest Mexico. At that time the Aztecs were a small, nomadic tribe
living in the border territory on the margins of civilized Mesoamerica. (see map
I) In the 13th century they settled in the valley of central Mexico. The Aztecs
finally found refuge on a small island in Lake Texcoco, where about 1345, they
founded the town of Tenochtitlan. The island was found through a prophecy which
said they would settle where they found an eagle perched on a cactus. (see
diagram I)
During the next century the Aztecs grew to be greatest power in Mexico.
As they grew in political status they became sophisticated and civilized,
learning from established peoples who had been town dwellers for more than 1,000
years. (Ekholm, Gordon F.)
The Aztec empire consisted of numerous, loosely connected urban
communities. Land ownership was communal. Each local group was composed of a
few families that jointly owned a piece of land. Part of the yield of
cultivated land was given to the state as a kind of tax.
Technology depended more on human skills than on mechanical devices.
Iron and steel were unknown, although copper and bronze were used for tools and
Mexican jewelers made ornaments from gold, silver, and their alloys. Wheat,
barley, cattle, horses, sheep, and goats were unknown until introduced from
Europe and the Mexicans were efficient farmers who made full use of irrigation,
terracing, and fertilization of the fields.
Aztec Mexico was rich and civilized. The state controlled every aspect
of life. Schooling and training in the martial arts were compulsory for all
boys, while the girls were trained in gathering, cooking, and the sewing arts.
A centralized bureaucracy looked after the collection and storage of taxes,
matters of legislation and punishment. (Peterson, Frederick)
Life for the Aztec\'s was good. Because of the complexity of their
government all were happy. Then in 1519 Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, met
the Aztec leader Montezuma in Tenochtitlan. Montezuma believed that the
Spaniards had come in peace, but he is proven wrong in 1521 when the Spanish,
lead by Cortes, violently conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
The purpose of this report is to answer the question “Did the Expansion
of the Aztec Empire Lead to Their Downfall ?” I feel that it most likely did.
This is because when the Aztec\'s were conquered they were the most powerful
civilization in the New World. The Spaniards saw them as “the ones to beat” to
gain supreme power in the Americas.
To understand why the Spaniards wanted to conquer the Aztec Empire you
have to be well aware of the power which they possessed in the Americas. The
Aztec power did not come quickly. They started off as a poor, nomadic tribe
and grew in power over time. First they conquered the Huastecs, a small tribe of
people to the north. Then the Mixtecs and Zapotecs to the south were conquered.
The subjugating of these two tribes holds great significance because they were
both powerful tribes at the time. The Mixtecs excelled in the arts including
stonework, metalwork, and wood carving. It is believed that theses people were
of great influence to the Aztecs in this way. The Zapotecs were also powerful
people yet had no traditions or migration legends, but believed themselves born
directly from rocks, trees, and jaguars. (Brandenburg, Frank R.) The Aztecs
conquered these people but did not destroy them. They remained autonomous until
joining the Aztecs to better their chances when fending off the Spaniards.
After these two great conquests the Aztecs power grew rapidly and they
continued to conquer all the surrounding tribes including the Otomis, Totonacs,
Tarascans and Tlaxcalans. The defeated tribes retained their own government
though they often had to accept Aztec garrisons and give lands to Aztec nobles.
All the conquered tribes were required to provide sacrificial victims for the
glory of Huizilopochtil, (see diagram II) and to pay tribute in curious birds
and animals, turquoises, gold and other precious metals, all of which were used
for pleasure among the Aztec nobles and adornment of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec
capital.
Tenochtitlan had been gradually expanding off the island by the
invention of floating gardens and by driving piles into the shallow waters of
the lake. Two stone aqueducts provided the city drinking water from a nearby
spring. Three concrete causeways thirty feet broad connected it with the main
land, while to the east of the islands a dike seven miles long had been built
across Lake Texcoco, cutting the lake in two