ConquistadorsThe Fall of the Aztecs



Cabeza de Vaca
Aztec EmpireCortés' ExpeditionMontezuma's Messengers
From Explore to ConquerSpaniards in TenochtitlánCortés Seizes Power
War Breaks OutSiege of TenochtitlánFall of the Aztecs
More on Cortés in the Learning Adventure

Cortés' LetterThe Great RashSiege Eyewitness
December 1520
Siege, Starvation & Smallpox

At Tlaxcala Cortés pacified his wavering Indian allies and rebuilt his military force. The key to victory, he believed, was the lake and he set out to build a fleet of prefabricated boats. It was at this time that Cortés wrote his long second letter to the King of Spain, outlining his actions since his arrival in Mexico-Tenochtitlán. Meanwhile, the Aztecs thought the Spaniards were gone for good. They elected a new king, Cuautemoc, "The Fallen Eagle." He was in his mid-20s, the son of Montezuma's uncle, Ahuitzotl and was an experienced leader.

The Aztecs cleaned the temple courtyards and again celebrated their fiestas in the traditional way. But by the end of September, people started to die of a mysterious and alien illness that had horrifying symptoms of "racking coughs and painful burning sores." The pestilence, smallpox, spread soon crossed the causeways into Tenochtitlán. It lasted 70 days, until late November, and killed a vast number of people.

At the end of December 1520, Cortés' army moved toward Tenochtitlán; the boats followed later, transported in pieces overland by 8,000 native carriers. The early stage of the siege saw the surrender of towns all around the lake. It must have been plain that Tenochtitlán was doomed. The Aztec leadership was divided, and the annals of Tlatelolco note that the Mexicans were already fighting among themselves. Soon Still the Aztecs would not surrender, even when only the city on the island was left.

Aztec Scroll Feature
The Spaniards Sailed to Xoloco
The Spaniards sailed up to Xoloco, where the wall stretched across the causeway. They fired their big gun. The second shot broke it down.

The Common Folk Took to the Water
The common folk just all took to the water. Those who had boats filled them with their babies and poled away.
Credit: "General History of the Things of New Spain" (Florentine Codex), Books I-IX and XII, translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. Santa Fe, New Mexico and Salt Lake City: The School of American Research and the University of Utah Press. Used courtesy of the University of Utah Press.
War Breaks Out Fall of the Aztecs

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