Siege of Tenochtitlan 1521: A Brutal Introduction to the Conquest of the Americas
One of the most underrated cities of the Medieval and Renaissance period was Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec Empire. The city may well have been the largest population center in the world before smallpox decimated its inhabitants. Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs is often glossed over and made to seem as if it was almost easy for Cortez. In reality, it was a terribly difficult campaign that was on the brink of failing countless times.
Cortez and his men were initially welcomed into the great island city of Tenochtitlan with curiosity, but tensions soon ended with the kidnapping of the Emperor Montezuma. The Spaniards were attacked and fled the city on what would be known as the night of sorrows. Many captured men were drug to the top of the great temples and sacrificed for Cortez and his men to see.
Led by revenge, but also be greed and glory, Cortez took about a year to prepare his forces and secure thousands of native allies to attack the city. The island city had three great causeways and huge canoe fleets that would put enemies on three sides of anyone pushing to get into the city.
Cortez was able to build several larger ships and had three separate forces push up each causeway as the bigger Spanish ships cleared the canoes. Aztec elite eagle warriors sprung from the shallows of the lack to hit the flanks of the attackers as the assaults inched forward.
When a large group of Spaniards was cut off and captured the Aztecs tried psychological tactics. They again sacrificed the men in full view of the causeways, but they then threw the heads at the Spanish and reportedly ate the bodies, telling the Spanish allied coastal natives that they were filled with the flesh of the so-called Gods.
Eventually, the Spaniards pushed through the causeways and into the city. Here, the bulk of the 100,000 native Spanish allies took out centuries of hatred against the Aztecs who regularly took human tributes for sacrifices and acts of cannibalism. Over 200,000 inhabitants were killed and the Spaniards tortured the royal classes to find all the gold that they could get their hands on. The tremendous siege and fall of the great Aztec Empire opened the door for mass colonization and a new era of history in the Americas.