THE AZTEC DEFEAT Fall of the Aztec empire at the hands of the coalition formed by Indigenous peoples and Spaniards
BY LORENA MEDINA MARTíNEZ
After being defeated in the battle known as “La Noche Triste” (The Sad Night), led by the emperor Cuitláhuac, the Indigenous-Spanish coalition went to take refuge in Tlaxcala. The coalition concentrated and developed the tactics they would carry out to return and attack Mexico Tenochtitlan to defeat the Aztec empire. Hernán Cortés organized the construction of thirteen brigantines (two-masted ships) to besiege the cities of Mexico Tenochtitlan and Mexico Tlatelolco from the water. In addition, the divisions of indigenous and Spanish that would attack the Aztecs and the points from where the attacks would be made were planned. The brigantines were built in Tlaxcala, using the tools of the ships that had been stranded in Veracruz; then, they were assembled and put together in Lake Texcoco on April 28, 1521. When everything was ready, the Indigenous-Spanish coalition began the war against the Aztecs on May 26, 1521.
The defense was in charge of emperor Cuauhtémoc, who, together with the army and the inhabitants of Mexico Tenochtitlan and Mexico Tlatelolco, defended the cities from every point, every canal, and every bridge. Among the tactics used by the Indigenous-Spanish coalition were: cutting off the drinking water that came from Chapultepec, cutting off communication with the mainland, as well as eliminating any channel of aid, support, and supplies that the Aztecs could receive. During the siege of the Aztec capital, groups of indigenous divisions such as the Otomí and Xochimilcas continued arriving to offer their support to the army led by Hernán Cortés. In addition to hunger, thirst, and fatigue, the Aztecs were fighting against another enemy never seen before, the smallpox epidemic brought by Europeans to today’s American continent, which claimed the lives of many indigenous people.
According to the chronicles and historical sources, it is known that the battles were very violent and bloody. Both commanders experienced many deaths and setbacks of both groups, in which Cuauhtémoc, the last Mexica tlatoani, never surrendered. On several occasions, Hernán Cortes sent communications to Cuauhtémoc asking him to surrender, to which a permanent refusal by so and so was received.
Finally, on August 13, 1521, Cuauhtémoc was captured in a canoe in Tlatelolco and brought before Hernán Cortes. This event marked the fall of the Aztec empire at the hands of an army made up mainly of Mesoamerican indigenous groups and approximately one thousand Spaniards. It should be mentioned that from 1519 to 1521, and due to the war situation in which the Aztec empire fell, the Aztecs had three tlatoanis, that is, three emperors: Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, who received the Indigenous-Spanish coalition in Tenochtitlan and who, after his unclear murder, was followed by the emperor Cuitláhuac, who defended the Mexican capital in the well-known “Noche Triste” battle, and later died of smallpox. And the third and last tlatoani or Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc, who defended the city from the enemy until he was captured on August 13, 1521. A new political, social, religious, and economic system was promoted in the territories from this moment on. In the years to follow, the territory was named by Hernán Cortés as New Spain and was controlled by the Spanish crown.
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